I've got this AU fic here, throwing Shinji and Asuka into the same setting at a young age, where they grow up together. Basically, nothing about their traumas has changed, but how does growing up in one another's company change them and the events in Eva?
It will be divied up into 4 "Acts". The first Act covers the two pilots from age 4-12 over the span of 7 chapters. Each chapter will be about 4-6k, not long, but focused enough to get a sense of the characters and their development as we move into the second Act, where the TV series kicks off.
The most challenging part thus far has been writing in the voice of a child and slowly phasing out of it as the children grow older. But what I really need is help tearing this thing apart, elaborating on what scenes and themes work, and chucking out what doesn't.
tl;dr: read this thing and be mean to me.
The morning air was crisp in the pine laden valley of Hakone. The mists hung lower over the still bare skeleton of a city and the cries of the cranes reached far across the serene country-side, not yet disturbed by the blaring of construction. Gendo stood at the train station, holding Shinji's tiny hand in his. Fuyutsuki stood on the other side of the boy.
“Don't you think a father is what he needs right now?” The elder asked, expression bordering contempt.
“No,” Gendo said, staring off into the fog. “He'll be better off without me.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the unconvinced look Fuyutsuki made, but no further protest left his lips. Instead he said, “Just answer me one thing: why Germany?”
“He must be able to pilot if the need should arise.”
The man looked as though he had been stabbed, “Ikari...”
“The Second is no older,” Gendo said, gaze snapping to Kozo, “we'll gather all of the necessary data while everything is being prepared. Besides, I want him away from all of this.”
The man winced, his expression hardening. “It's just an all too convenient excuse, isn't it?”
Gendo cast his gaze down at Shinji, who was still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. There was no room for weakness. No room for sympathy. Only one thing mattered anymore.
9 Months Ago
The dinner plate shattered and little Shinji screamed, “I hate you!”
Gendo's hand met the table as he stood, chair clattering to the floor, a threat on the tip of his tongue.
Shinji pointed a finger at him. “You killed her! You killed her!”
Gendo's hand lashed out, meeting the boy's cheek with a resounding slap! His blood went cold in an instant and try as he might in the years to come, he would never forget that face – that look of utter betrayal.
“I want my mommy!” Shinji shouted, angry tears spilling free before he ran to his room and slammed the door shut.
Gendo's shoulders slumped and for a while he just stared down the hall, listening to the rhythmic tick tick of the wall-mounted clock and the muffled chirping of the cicada bugs outside. The mid-summer heat pooled over him all at once and he looked out of the open patio doors with a frown. It was always mid-summer... and it always would be. For as long as they were allowed to endure – which did not seem to be very long at all.
His eyes fell to the white shards and desecrated remnants of food that laid scattered across the maroon rug under his feet. He bent his knees and started to collect the pieces bit by bit. The nerves in his fingers danced and flesh parted as sharp glass carved into his hand. Gendo cursed, dropping it and grasping his wrist as if that would do something to ease the searing burn. Red flowed from his fingers and palm, thick globules clinging to his knuckles before falling to soak into the carpet.
All at once the apartment seemed darker, heavier. It weighed down on him like a rolling tidal wave and all energy left him. Eventually, Gendo stood straight, still clutching onto his wounded appendage as he moved to the sink. Water splashed into the steel basin and mingled with drops of blood. At last steam began to rise and Gendo stuck his hand under the scalding water. His skin screamed and he grit his teeth as white-hot pain dove into the wound. He squeezed his wrist tighter while his blood continued to flow, but he kept it there under the hissing water until he couldn't feel it anymore.
He turned the faucet off, flexing his fingers. He found the medical kit in the storage closet off of the kitchen and wrapped it tight in gauze. As he went back to cleaning up the mess, carefully this time, he noticed the answering machine near the door winking a tiny red light.
Another call from the professor? That would be the most logical answer. The staff, the Committee – being Director of a global research group meant he had little time to himself, and it was beginning to wear on his nerves.
Deciding to ignore the waiting messages yet again out of spite, Gendo dumped that night's dinner into the garbage, folding the sleeves of his dress shirt up to his elbows as he started washing the dishes. When he was certain there was not a speck of food left, he dried them to a reflective shine, sparing a moment to inspect them in the light before stowing them away. He checked his watch then: 12:01.
He had spent the entire day home, quietly sorting through the “office”. Discarding what was not needed, boxing other items and possessions. There were still shelves lined with books, from philosophical to scientific, to just plain fiction. The living room was modest, but well furnished – though at the moment felt bigger than a theater without an audience. In the other room, their bedroom, it was a maze of organized chaos. Everything was probably a bit dusty now. He'd been sleeping on the couch for a little while now.
Shinji had been a nuisance most of the day. He had been already a handful before... everything, even with the private tutor. Gendo had attempted to occupy his time with the television and his other playthings. But the boy had been a distraction all day, not to mention... uncooperative.
It hadn't even been a few months. He couldn't do this. He couldn't be a father – he had never believed it to begin with. It was at Yui's insistence that they'd had a child.
She had believed.
Gendo looked around the living room again to keep his thoughts from drifting, to keep his heart from stinging. But everything reminded him of her. The scent of her citrus body wash permeated every pillow – the heavy lavender aroma of her perfume that had soaked itself in the walls washed through his lungs.
A sparse few photos hung upon simple white plaster: their wedding day – and the night they had brought Shinji home. Upon the mantle piece over the fireplace sat her violin; red wood lighted with warm streaks of gold and cherry, sleek and polished. Though he noticed, with some annoyance, that one of the strings had broken.
It was so quiet.
Even the slow, oscillating pattern of the ceiling fan couldn't keep it at bay anymore, it just became more empty noise. It broke into the house, pouring over every inch and worming its way into his ears in a dull whine. His hands began to tremble and his heart beat faster and faster as his chest swelled – constricting his throat and making it difficult to breath.
Gendo clasped his hands over his ears, trying to make it stop clawing over his brain and gnawing a void in his stomach. He hunched over, eyes squeezed shut, while his body trembled and shook with soundless sobs.
The ringing silence persisted, but as with his quiet grief, eventually subsided. The world seemed to come back to sound and feeling, though his chest felt no less numb.
Gendo slid his hands down his face, a half-hearted attempt to clear his watery vision and streaked cheeks. He sniffed and folded his hands, blinking several times as his eyes drifted to the coffee table in front of him, sliding lethargically over the manilla folders spread across it. Then they snapped back, a name catching his eye.
Gendo thought he could be strong enough.
He was weak. He'd failed as husband... and he was failing as a father. Shinji didn't deserve to be living around so much hate and death. But he had helped bring him into this hellish world and because of him, his mother had been taken away.
The accusation snapped a cord in his heart, twisting his veins with virulent malice and disgust all at once. What was he supposed to do – how was he supposed to raise this child alone? Just the idea terrified him, sinking its fangs into his ribcage and threatening to rip him apart.
That night, Gendo Ikari did not sleep.
Soon, the narrow rail-car squealed into its berth, announcements droning over it. Gendo looked to his son. “Grab your things,” he said. Little Shinji did as he was told, struggling as he hefted the oversized duffel bag.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“You are going away for a while.”
Shinji flinched as if struck, eyes wide, “But – I don't wanna'!” he protested, searching for his father's eyes.
The train doors parted, revealing a man in a long-sleeved white button shirt and black khakis, hair shaved close to his head.
“Inside,” Gendo said in his quietly firm voice, a hand pushing against Shinji's back. His bag dropped out of his hands as they went to his eyes. “But why?” he whimpered, trying to wipe away gathering tears.
Gendo's heart twisted and a gnawing pit formed in his stomach, his hands trembling. He stuffed them in his pockets, eyes lingering on Shinji only a moment longer, one that stretched on forever – spanning nearly a hundred breaths. In that instance, he felt doubt. A torrent of emotion swept over him, though failed to move his impassive features.
That night he had struck his son howled over his raging typhoon of thoughts and it were as though he was standing in that house again, watching Shinji run from him as he screamed – I hate you!
Gendo shoulders started to sag, but he stiffened, hands clenching as he clung to resolution before hesitation was able to grip him again. “You mustn’t run away, Shinji,” he said and fished his old SDAT player from a pocket, taking a knee and putting it in little Shinji's hand. He stood straight, sliding his hands in his pockets again to keep them from shaking as he turned and began walking down the platform, Fuyutsuki at his side.
“Dad!” Shinji cried, but a hand on his shoulder from his waiting tutor kept him from giving chase, “don't leave me dad! Please, I'm sorry – I'm sorry!”
“Please don't leave! I'll be good, I promise!”
Act I: Elysium
Shinji held his knees close to his chest, staring down at his white shoes. The train ride had been really long and he had been asleep most of the plane trip – wherever it was he was going with his Teacher. It seemed like he was being taken to the other side of the world. His chest felt tight and he hated how much it hurt.
Shinji looked up from his knees and the world outside was brighter, trees way taller than the ones at home making the sun wink as they passed by. He had to twist in his seat belt to look out of the window and briefly wished he was grown-up sized, but found his discomfort whisked away by the bright countryside. Beyond the driveway stretched fields of green, reaching up to a huge house – Shinji's brow furrowed in thought – three stories tall!
“Where are we?” he asked, face practically pressed to the glass.
“I'll tell you when you sit properly,” his teacher said. Shinji's shoulders sagged, but he did as he was told and the man nodded, “this is the Langley estate. The Doctor is very generously providing us with housing here.”
Shinji's face scrunched. “Why?”
“It is what your father wishes.” Teacher said and Shinji sunk in his seat a little, staring at the car door as weariness pulled at his body. He reached into the pockets of his shorts, one hand finding the music player father had given him...
The vehicle squealed to a stop.
“Come,” Teacher said. Shinji climbed out of the car, stumbling and scuffing his knee. Waiting for them was a very tall man with an ugly face. It was all square and more than a little wrinkly. There must have been something wrong with him, because he did not look like anyone else Shinji had ever seen. Teacher approached and bowed. The man did the same and then they shook hands, speaking... something. Those weren't words! It was just gibberish!
The man then motioned to Shinji, and Teacher nodded. With that, his face stretched as he smiled a little and faced him directly before bowing slightly. Shinji looked to Teacher, who motioned impatiently for him to do the same.
The man chuckled as he did, “It’s nice to meet you, Herr Shinji.”
Herr? Shinji wondered, straightening up a little. He looked from the man to Teacher curiously. But the two continued their conversation, forgetting about him entirely. The taller man made a few hand gestures, pointing somewhere beyond the big house.
“Come along, Shinji,” Teacher said, pulling the boy from his gazing. As they walked by, Shinji noticed the little girl in a yellow dress frowning at him from the open doorway. He stopped to stare at her – red hair and big blue eyes. The girl sniffed and ran out of sight.
Red. He thought, struck dumb on the spot. Red like fire. Shinji turned to Teacher, only to find he had been left behind. His short legs raced to catch up, “Who was that girl?”
“Never you mind.” He said, leading the way through a winding path with white archways wrapped with white flowered vines. The wide and tall house quickly disappeared behind the trees and bushes of purple and yellow, spilling strange stinging scents into his nose. He sniffed and itched it, which only seemed to make things worse.
There were many pathways and he was thankful that at least Teacher knew where he was going, at the same time, Shinji couldn't help but wonder what else lay down those paths. Smaller trees reached over the smelly bushes, cooling small lily-pad laden ponds with their shade. The world darkened and turned to shades of yellow and orange, painting the sky the same color as the sun disappeared.
The trees started to grow taller and the trunks became thicker – bigger than anything he'd ever seen. It was like they were walking into another world and Shinji glanced behind him, thankful that he could still see the red-brick castle on the hill. But even that became distant as they reached a very small house that looked like the ones where he lived.
Shinji frowned at the house, searching from side to side. The tallest spires of the castle poked over the tall trees, but he could not see much beyond the alien bushes and hulking trunks. Keys jangled and something clicked, Teacher calling him inside. Shinji hesitated at the threshold, staring down at that small line between stone and wood. He couldn't move his feet and his knees felt tight, as if someone had glued his shoes to the ground. His eyes traveling up again, he was met with darkness and the vague outline of his Teacher.
“Shinji,” Teacher said, making his shoulders rise. A light snapped on, casting his tall caretaker in shadow, but bathing all else in a glowing warmth.
“Why... can't I...” he started, but couldn't get the words past the choking lump in his throat.
“This is your home now.”
Shinji swallowed, but the lump didn't go away and he stepped inside. The house was open and the walls were very tall – or maybe the rooms were just too empty. His house had lots of stuff. His room had lots of stuff...
Teacher turned to the right, sliding open a door to what must have been his room, a musty smell creeping forth. He set down Shinji's olive green duffel bag and walked past him down the hall. “Go to bed now. Your studies will begin first thing in the morning.” Then he disappeared into the other end of the house. Shinji wandered into his room, grimacing at the lumpy looking futon. There was also a small black table in the left corner, an empty closet to his right.
Shinji turned back to the hallway and the closed door far beyond it. He reached for the panel, struggling as it got stuck along the floor. With a final push, he managed to slam it closed before falling on his rump. Something thumped along the carpet, the black SDAT player lying behind him. He twisted and picked the thing up, the wires curling in his fingers.
The plastic frame creaked as he squeezed it, his body suddenly warm – and he cast the thing across the room. He regretted it as soon as it happened, scrambling to snatch the player up as it clacked against the wall and bounced over the floor. He twisted it every which way to make sure it was not broken before pressing it to his chest.
Shinji's lips pulled down and his shoulders trembled, his chest heaving with gasping breaths as tears rolled down his cheeks.
A light taptaptap pulled Shinji from his dreams, casting him bleary-eyed into the world. He sat up on the floor, one hand rubbing his eyes while the other still clutched the SDAT player. The tapping came again and this time his door slid open to reveal Teacher, clad in a white buttoned long-sleeved shirt and black pants.
“Change your clothes and then we will begin your lessons.” he said, sliding the door shut.
Shinji blinked, searching for his duffel bag. Finding fresh new clothes, he changed and, not really knowing where to put the dirty ones, threw them to a corner of the room. When he left, Teacher was waiting kneeled at a low table piled with books. He motioned for Shinji to sit on the pillow across from him.
“Do you know where we are?” he asked.
Several answers came to mind, but Shinji just shook his head.
“It is a country called Germany. Since you will be living here for an extended period, you must learn the native language. Thus, in addition to your normal vocabulary and pronunciation lessons, you will start learning German as well,” Teacher explained, patting one of the books on the table.
“Why do I have to live here?”
“Because it has been deemed necessary. No more questions now.”
Shinji wanted to ask lots of questions, but Teacher waved them away as he was busied with math, science and geography. There were so many books – and they read through each of them! He even learned how to say 'good morning' in German. But his pronunciation, as his Teacher had said, required extensive work. He wasn't sure what that meant, but Teacher did not look very pleased with him when he said the weird words. It seemed to take forever to the sun to crawl up into his sky, so long he could have sworn another day passed by and his stomach grumbled loudly.
Teacher made soup that tasted like ash and syrup, at least, that’s what he imagined ash and syrup would taste like together. It did little for his stomach and afterwards he was given permission to play outside.
Shinji stepped out of the front door, where several gray stones sat among a small sea of white rocks. Beyond that there were a few large boulders and woodchip pathways that led into bunches of Sakura trees and other plants he recognized. Even further in there were other things: plants and bugs he'd never known existed and reaching above it all was the brick house that stood like a castle.
His right hand tightened around the SDAT and he marched forward, cautiously, ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble. He ventured down one of the safer looking paths; at least, it was set wider apart than the others and lined with cobblestones.
The plants became stranger and stranger as he went – tall things with flat leaves, or stubbier ones with sharp stalks and pointy frills. The flowers were what took his breath away – so many and all of them every color he could possibly imagine. Some even looked like the water birds from home with the long legs that bent backwards. His nose began to itch with the plethora of new smells.
The earth started to slope down and the pathway became less defined, giving way to the reaching roots and yellow flowered weeds. Thin, spindly white trees stretched up higher than he could see into the canopies of the bigger trees. A sea of orange ferns grew around the base of the trunks. A wind darted through the garden, clacking branches together and making the woods creak.
The foliage rustled further down the path and Shinji froze – jumping out of his skin as a snake slithered onto the overgrown trail, it's body slick and black. The thing seemed not to notice him as he staggered back, glad it was heading in the opposite direction further into the valley.
The call of his name echoed over the garden and Shinji could not run fast enough back to the new house. He had not strayed far. Teacher was waiting for him at the door and ushered him in.
That night Shinji was in his room again, straining his ears for the chirping bugs. Other things and noises clicked softly beyond, a droning buzz rising over the otherworldly garden and into his room from what Teacher told him were frogs. They'd never been this noisy at home.
Home. He thought, wondering about his things and his bed and his toys. Didn't anyone want him? Why did mommy leave him? Why did father...?
Was he broken? Was there something wrong with him? A feeling like ice water spiraled down his back and he sat down, hugging his knees close. There must have been. No one would want a boy who was broken. That's why he'd been sent away to this... other place, far away. The thought made his lips quiver, a warm sting touching his cheeks.
He wished he knew how to fix himself.
The door behind him slowly slid open and Teacher was there, standing over him. “You mustn't cry, Shinji. You must be a good boy from now on.” he said.
Little Shinji nodded, trying to wipe away his tears.
Despite trying his hardest, Shinji had barely slept. Everything hurt and he was tired and his eyes burned and he hated this place. But Teacher didn't care. It was time for lessons.
The minutes stretched by and the lessons seemed harder. When he started to throw a fit, Teacher whacked his knuckles with a ruler. Shinji felt the sting on his cheek too, from when...
He behaved himself the rest of the day and as the sun started to sink, was given an hour to himself before they resumed. He stood outside the small house again, the white rocks were warm on his bare feet. An endless forest was laid out before him, bustling with birds and bugs.
The snake from yesterday came to him. He'd never seen one before outside of picture books, all he knew was that he didn't like them. This one had not been a very big one – and didn't have the rattle or strange colors he'd read about. It was all shimmering black scales as dark as night.
SDAT secured once more in his pocket, Shinji ventured forth, trying to remember the trail he had taken last afternoon. The walk took longer than it had before, to the point he was sure he had lost himself in the garden as he wandered into the valley. The sounds of the birds faded to echoes here, the golden ferns soon appearing again. He froze, straining his ears. The quiet was what told him he was in the right place. The ghostly white trees were like sentinels in the grove, keep any other animals that might find shelter within their branches at bay.
He wanted to run, to just curl up and listen to his SDAT and dream the rest of the day away. But running would mean he would have to go back to that tiny house. Running would mean he would have to face Teacher and more lessons. Frowning, Shinji stepped into the valley, cautious – flinching at every sound that might've been the snake. The sounds became different, much of the chirping howls disappearing as the trees became sparse, giving way to clear sky and heavy smells that stuck in his lungs.
A whispering breeze chased the humid air from the valley, shaking life into the still ferns along the ground.
The black snake slithered free and Shinji's heart stuck in his throat, beating like a jackhammer. It continued on the same route it had last time and in his fear Shinji almost lost it. He gave chase, trying to be careful not to make much noise and scare it – could snakes even get scared? His frantic thoughts ceased as it came in sight again, a shadow moving between the shrubs and roots. As if sensing him it began to moved faster, winding in that unnatural way off the beaten paths of mulch and pebbles.
Shinji was starting to lose sight of it, but no matter how terrified he was he wasn't going to let that happen. He staggered as he crashed through a tall, scratchy bushel. It snagged his shirt and he went tumbling, elbows scuffing as they scraped across stone. He groaned, pushing his now aching body up, otherwise he'd lose the snake. He made it to his knees before frantically searching his surroundings – but it was gone.
A sharp anger coiled around his heart and he stood up, brushing himself off. He found more flowers that changed to shades of color he didn't even know existed. He noticed the red ones right away. They stood along a wide stone walkway, stacked in front of one another neat and ordered. The trees were absent, leaving the blue sky open and bare. Pointed trees guarded the edges of the strange clearing within the garden and further back he could see a small dome with pillars, the castle lording in the background.
He meandered along the path, leaning in to smell the strangely colored and bulbous flowers. Down this same passage were roses on high bushes perched atop this stalks. They made a series of rings around something beyond sprinkling water into a pond. Like a whisper, a sliver of color in the corner of his eye summoned his attention. He was looking at the roses like before, but there was one flower that wasn't quite right. It had a green stalk and violet hues as its long, pointed flowers reached up, struggling to grow within the gaps of the roses – which encased it in a cage of thorn-laced vines, allowing only the purple flowers to rise up into the clear air.
Lying next to the out of place flower was something brown, white fluff sticking out of its torn chest. It was so stained and dirtied, he might never have noticed it was there if he'd just passed right by. Shinji picked it up and realized it was a monkey, or at least it used to be, before getting dirty and ripped up.
He looked around, trying to find its owner. They must have been worried over it. Looking up towards the castle, he saw a shadow in one of the windows. It was hard to tell since he was so far away, but he could have sworn he saw a brief wisp of flame.
It still smelled funny in Germany, thick and pungent, every intake hitting his nostrils like a hurricane. Noises were still missing too, like the bugs chirping and tall birds calling. Even the fireflies mother used to take him to see at night had yet to appear.
Shinji sniffed, curling a little tighter in his small sanctuary. It was sunk in the ground a little, the squared out floor thick with soft grass. Most of the metal roof and walls had been worn away until sage and red splotches spattered what remained. The light from the sun still had difficulty reaching down through the thick branches high above. It was quieter here and farther from the castle with the girl and the screaming.
Teacher said he was not allowed to go to the big house. Probably because he was broken. That was why he was with Teacher in this garden with no one in it. He had been bad and now he was being punished.
Sometimes, though, he would find his way towards it, where the garden ended and wood and stone platforms began. Sometimes, when he was there just looking up at the massive building, he heard a girl's voice. Maybe the girl he'd seen before? Who else lived in the castle?
Face quirking, he fished out the SDAT and poked a bud in each ear.
No one had red hair – she must have been a forest spirit. Only spirits had colored hair. But why did she live in the house? And why did she wear a dress? Ghosts didn't wear dresses... at least not like that. Ghosts were ugly too... and she wasn't ugly at all.
It didn't really matter anyway. Why would anyone up there care what he was doing down here? Still, he wished there was at least someone else down here to play with. The only real playmate he had was the snake – and it was no playmate at all. More of an adversary than anything else. Maybe the reason no one came into the garden was because of the snake. Maybe they were afraid of it.
That must be it.
As another day passed, Shinji started watching the snake. During his hour of recess, he went into the valley with the ghost trees, waiting for the slithering thing to appear. At the same time everyday it would come chasing out of the sunset ferns and travel down the narrow dirt path – up and out of the valley. Shinji never chased it. Last time he followed it he'd gotten lost in those strange stone ruins by the castle. Yet it became more infuriating than anything to simply watch the snake. It was as though it were taunting him, smug in its assurance that he could neither catch it nor keep pace with it.
Shinji would show that stupid snake.
The next day, he was ready for the serpent when it wriggled free of the ferns, hiding behind one of the birch trees. Shinji pounced, fingers poised to snare the slithering creature. It moved like lightning, bolting beyond his falling trajectory before his hands even met the dirt. Even as it glided over the ground side to side, it didn't seemed perturbed by the incident in the slightest. Not even so much as an annoyed hiss. That just brought a snarl to Shinji's face.
The boy scrambled to his feet and ran after its black form. It only moved faster, darting between the plants in clever zig-zags. He chased it to no avail until his lungs stung from his heaving breaths and his sides ached and his legs screamed for rest. Foliage smacked his face, branches snagging his clothes.
Shinji's foot thwacked against something hard and he went tumbling to the ground onto his stomach. His left knee stung and his arms were dirtied. Shinji groaned, looking for the cause of his fall, before realizing the SDAT had skittered from his pocket.
It sat under the crux of a gnarled root, crumpled and oozing sap. He snatched it up quickly, lest the tree steal it from him. He searched the clearing for the snake – but it was gone, again. Shinji blinked, craning his neck as he looked about. He hadn't been to this part of the garden yet, thistles and thorn bushes enclosed it, wrapping around the other trees and plants – consuming them in their biting embrace. All except the tree in the middle of the clearing.
The thing could have been from an alien planet for all its strangeness, twisting up as though it were made of huge roots and vines wrapping around themselves, not a proper trunk at all. Its stubby branches reached out in jagged arcs, tiny leaves gathered around bunches of small green and purple balls. He blinked, grimacing as he tried to remember the things mother used to pick off the trees for him –
These, however, looked nothing like apples. He wondered if he could eat them like he could the apples?
Shinji collapsed by the base of the tree, legs too weak to hold him up any longer. His lungs still starved for air and he obliged as best he could, wondering just how lost he was now. The snake had escaped him too. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't catch it. His hands slapped over his face as his expression twisted, sliding up into his hair and pulling. A frustrated growl clawed through his teeth before he let his hands fall into his lap.
“Du weinst viel.”
Shinji jumped so fast he was sure his heart had gone into his throat. He edged back, wide-eyed gaze fixed upon the yokai-girl standing at the other side of the tree, hands on her hips. Those blue eyes were staring at him and he felt himself shrink.
“W-what?” he stuttered.
The girl's brow scrunched and her lips pouted. When he just stared – wishing his legs weren't frozen – her cheeks reddened and for a moment Shinji thought she might burst.
“Cry – a lot,” she said, pointing at him.
Shinji wilted and was at the same time perplexed. He understood the words, but they didn't sound like they were supposed to. “No I don't,” he said, rubbing his fists over his eyes, just to be sure there weren't any tears. There were.
The girl didn't seem to understand what he said and it made his chest sting. He wished he could speak her weird words. Why didn't everyone say the same things? Maybe then she would want to play with him. Did she know he was broken?
The girl continued to stare at him intently, as if searching for something. Shinji fidgeted, now wishing she would go away. Instead, the girl stepped over the gnarled roots and shoved him. He fell to his back with a yelp, anger tightening his veins only to start shivering with cold as the girl stood over him, icy blue eyes glaring down at him.
“Wer bist du?!” she demanded. Shinji quirked his head and made a questioning sound, which only seemed to make her angrier. The girl leaned over to poke his chest – hard, “Nah-meh?” she asked. It took him a moment because she said it so funny, but then he realized –
“S-Shinji,” he squeaked.
She stood straight again, a finger touching her chin as she looked up, “Sh-in-ji,” she repeated, nodding as she tested the name. Then, without warning, she snatched up one of his arms. He yelped as she tugged him to his feet – she was really strong for a girl. He let himself be pulled along as she took him back into the garden.
The girl abruptly stopped and he almost crashed into her. Her eyes scanned him up and down, searching in a restless manner about his face. Then, still holding his arm, she jabbed a thumb at herself and declared, “Asuka!”
It had been six days since he'd seen her. At least he thought it had been six days. He honestly wasn't sure, and six days seemed like a long enough time. It made his stomach flutter and the sun seemed to stay out longer, just to taunt him. He had asked Teacher about the girl one more time just the other day and as retribution was made to endure lessons past his bedtime. Sometimes he wished he could squish Teacher with his fingers – it was stuffy and warm here and he didn't know anyone. Why had he been left here?
Because you're broken, dummy. He thought venomously. That's why Asuka doesn't want to play with you anymore. There really wasn't any other explanation. His head fell a little, but it was okay. He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't run away. Where would he even run to? If his mother and father didn't want a broken boy, who in the world would?
The slap of a book drew his eyes up, finding Teacher's stern expression. He closed his eyes and released a sigh through his nose. “I suppose we will break for now then, since you are clearly preoccupied.”
“Sorry Teacher,” he said, looking down at the table.
Teacher only grunted, standing to make himself tea. He made tea a lot. Shinji wobbled to his feet, glancing to his room and then to the door. Even the heavy air and scorching sun seemed better than his empty room. He sighed and struggled for a moment to push the front door open, bringing a hand up to shield his eyes as he stepped out.
A rock cracked into his head.
“Ow!” he cried, a hand flying up to grab the wound as his left ear whined. His head swung side to side as he searched for the offender, water gathering in his eyes.
“Ich hab dich!” Asuka shouted, grinning.
Shinji almost forgot how much that had hurt. He rubbed the spot sullenly, inspecting his hand for blood. There was a little.
“Sei kein Baby!” Asuka snapped, stomping a foot. At his befuddled look, she squeezed her eyes shut before saying, “you're a boy – ja?”
Shinji thought about picking up a handful of rocks and throwing them at her. But... she was a girl. Boys weren't supposed to hurt girls.
“Du kriegst mich nicht!” she sang, turning on her heels to run into the garden.
He ran after her, struggling to keep pace as she ducked and weaved through the garden, disregarding the paths entirely. For a moment, panic bolted his heart to his chest as he lost sight of her. What if he got lost? He'd never make it back and Teacher would leave him too!
He burst through one of the bushes, tumbling into the clearing. He groaned as he stood up in a cloud of dust, finding Asuka standing in front of the ugly tree they had first met at. Brushing his shirt down he walked towards her, about to ask what she was doing when the girl dashed forward, doing her best to scramble up the tree trunk.
“Asuka!” he cried, a mixture of worry and excitement lacing his limbs as she wedged her hands into the knots to pull herself up. She was really close to the– the not-apples.
“What are those?” he asked.
Asuka sent him a scowl, eye lids fluttering as though she were trying to figure out what he had said. She reached for the next branch. “Olives dumko–” she missed her grab and slipped, hitting the ground with a loud thud and a puff of dust.
Shinji rushed forward only to stop halfway. She hadn't fallen too far, the branches were not very high – at least not like most of the other trees. What should he do? She rolled over with a pout that made him think of turning tail to find Teacher, but, if she was hurt...
“Stupid Shinji!” she yelled, rubbing her arm and seemingly on the brink of tears, “Du hättest mich auffangen sollen!”
He stiffened. “B-but I–”
She let loose a loud growl. “You're annoying,” she said with a frown, opening her hand to reveal a few of the green olives things in her palm, only a little squished. He eyed them suspiciously as the girl split one in half, digging a black pebble out and tossing it away before eating the mangled olive. It made his mouth water and he inched closer.
When she noticed, she closed her hand and turned to hide them. “Mine.”
Shinji grimaced, but by the look on her face, he would not be convincing the girl to share anytime soon. He looked up to the tree and then around to the nearby brush. Spotting exactly what he needed: he snatched a long stick up from the ground and ran back to the tree. Tongue pinched between his lips, he reached up on his tippy toes and swung the branch at the hanging olives. Three more times he repeated the process, jumping on the third strike – and the bundles fell free, landing on the roots nearby. The bottom ones were all dirty now, but the ones on the top seemed tasty enough. Asuka looked down at her handful of olives and then looked back at his arguably larger catch.
She scooted over to where he crouched, shooting him a threatening look when he opened his mouth. He picked one of the deep green balls, doing like Asuka had done and ripping out the hard black thing inside. Before he could put it in his mouth, Asuka gave him a serious look and leaned close while holding up one of her olives. “Es wird schlimm ersten Geschmack, nicht ausspucken,” she said.
He made a questioning grunt and Asuka poked her cheek, face pinching. “Taste bad – chew.”
It tasted bad? He could not imagine why she would be eating them if that was the case. Either way he was far too curious now to not eat one. So, he tossed the olive into his mouth and chomped.
His tongue shrank in on itself from the horrid and bitter taste of burnt sour milk. The throat-searing flavor was worse than dad's black coffee he'd sneaked a sip of once – he might as well have been eating a fistful of mowed grass! He wanted to spit it out, but a hand clamped over his mouth, planted there by Asuka.
“Chew,” she commanded.
Face puckering, tears starting to form at the edges of his eyes – and not because he was sad, for once. A full minute went by as he chewed and the stinging, biting taste started to fade. His mouth felt slick and the throat tingling bitterness wouldn't quite leave, yet the olive started to taste well... not so bitter. It nearly tasted sweet, like a hint of it as he swallowed, its tantalizing touch disappearing with the remnants of olive. Asuka removed her hand as he did so, his face smarting from the lingering aftertaste that hung about his mouth like an acrid cloud and clung to the inside of his cheeks. Almost like when his breath smelled really bad in the morning before he brushed.
Asuka smirked as he eyed another of the olives hesitantly, popping one nonchalantly in her mouth as if to show off. So they sat together and ate from the olive tree, fingers and shirts smeared and slick with their oils, mouths stained blue, until it was time for Shinji to return to his lessons.
The days proceeded more or less so.
Sometimes Asuka would come and find him, either waiting at the door to his house or throwing pebbles at his room window in the afternoon. Play usually consisted of king of the hill – and Asuka always won. Victorious, she would claim he should be better at wrestling because he was a boy. He could not disagree. Other times they would see who could climb the olive tree the fastest. She always won that too.
Eventually, Asuka stopped waiting and would invite herself into their house whenever she pleased, much to the ire of his Teacher. After a talk with her father – the man he'd met his first day – Asuka came in only when Shinji was allowed to play. Some days she was not there and others she was only outside for a few minutes. But as the months passed by, he became used to the exotically haired girl and her mysterious house and the big garden, at times forgetting about his father far away.
He never saw the black snake again either and wondered if he'd merely been imagining it the whole time.
The dirt was cool between his fingers, a soft golden yellow mingling with the stubborn chunks of brown earth that hid it. Skin stained up to his elbows, Shinji continued to dig, using his fingers to shovel the now loose dirt up in a mound that nearly reached up to his chest. It needed to be bigger.
He gathered yet another armful atop the mound, sand collecting around his filthy knees. The thorn bushes cracked around the other side of the olive tree and Shinji's body tensed, waiting for a flash of black scales by the roots. Instead Asuka stepped out from behind the trunk, wearing a dark blue dress with a big red bow around her stomach. He quirked his face at that, but didn't ask about it. Talking was too hard sometimes since they didn't speak the same.
When she saw him, she just stayed by the tree's big roots, making him feel very small with those staring eyes. He glanced down at himself – yellow shirt marred with grass stains and smudges of dirt, nails and fingers utterly caked with it. His gray shorts with the big pockets he liked fared no better.
“Why are you here?” she asked. At least, that's what he assumed she had asked while pronouncing the words in that weird drawn-out way. He shrugged and gestured with splayed hands to his crumbling dirt castle.
Asuka bit her lower lip as she stood straight with her arms tight to her sides. She looked to the trees and foliage around them, throwing her hands out and spinning. She set her bright blue eyes on him expectantly. He cast his gaze about, mouth making an O shape. His focus fell to his half-finished mountain, fingers sinking into the dirt. “I don't know.”
“What you mean?” she asked in muddled Japanese, making him bite back a snicker. Nostrils flaring, she squeezed her hands tight. “Bist du dumm?”
His mirth vanished. He hadn't learned what most of her words meant and she always talked slower when speaking his. But by her tone it probably wasn't something nice that she'd said.
“My dad said that I have to live here,” he answered, pushing a hand through the dirt and collapsing the upper half of it. The chunks spilled over into the trenches he'd dug, half covering the tiny roots that had been exposed in his excavations. Asuka didn't say anything and Shinji looked at the mess of his work. The idea he'd had when he started was shattered and he couldn't remember what it was even supposed to be. He could try rebuilding it by himself, but the more he stared at it, the more hopeless the task seemed.
Asuka's shoes scuffed across the ground as she fell to her knees on the other side of the dirt mound. Sitting up, she twisted her bow so that it was on her back instead. “Like this,” she said, bending and scooping some of the dirt out of the trenches. He watched as her hands padded the dirt ever higher, shifting and swiping at it to make a smooth surface.
He started grabbing handfuls of dirt too and they quietly worked on the mound, staining their clothes and smearing their arms and faces with streaks of black. They made it perfect, all four sides inclining to a sharp point like the pyramids he'd seen in his books.
Asuka brushed her hands off on the ends of her dress, rising to a crouch with her knees together, hands resting on them as she peered at their work. A cacophony of birds and bugs sounded their calls in the late afternoon. The sky was fading to a deep blue, streaks of white from planes spearing across it.
From that day on, one way or another, they would always find themselves in the secret spot by the olive tree, building their own worlds together.
Shinji shivered as another soft but pleasantly chilling wind swept through the trees and tickled his neck and arms. The sun was still bright and burning, yet the gardens welcome a low breeze. Shinji threw another rock, this time managing to skip it three times across the water, though it missed the stone statue by quite a bit. He pinched his tongue between his lips and prepared another rock.
There was shouting and the toss went wide – again. Shinji turned to the source, sighting the taller towers of the mansion over the cherry trees. Answered by silence as he searched, he started to slink towards the back patio. Hands beginning to sweat, he did his utmost to be as silent as specter. It had been made law his first day that he was not allowed to leave the garden – yes, Teacher had made that very clear. So if he stayed away from the mansion, there was no way he could get into trouble.
But Asuka had not been out in the gardens for several days now, maybe she would be just outside the mansion. He reached the edge of the treeline to see the house in full, just as a familiar redhead burst out of an open back door.
“I don't want another stupid doll!” she cried.
Someone unseen called after her, stopping Shinji from doing the same. She disappeared into the dizzying array of flowers and tall ferns. He knew that side of the garden – that was where the rose bushes were. Frowning, Shinji entered the comparatively sparse part of the terraced plants, adorned with marble pillars and stone statues. He walked carefully, keeping a sharp eye out for Asuka. He found her in a wide ring of sandstone bordered by deep crimson roses, at the center of which was a fountain with a square pool. She had her back to him, staring into the bubbling waters. He inched forward as if approaching a wild animal.
Her hair whipped as she spun to meet him. “What do you want?”
He flinched. “I, uh.. a-are you okay?” he asked in a small voice. Her expression fell and she showed him her back. His eyes met the stones at his feet. The thought of leaving twitched his hands, though he couldn't get his legs to move. He reached out to touch her shoulder. As if sensing his closeness, she tensed.
“No!” she screamed, turning and shoving him.
Shinji tripped, rosebush thorns ripping down his right arm as he fell. He hissed, struggling to sit up in the dirt. He grabbed his throbbing arm – deep red streaks snaking down to his elbow.
Asuka's eyes went wide.
“Go away!” she shouted, dashing beyond the borders of the garden and leaving Shinji, his blood seeping into the earth around a lone purple flower.
Du weinst veil: You cry a lot. [Note: Du is an informal means of saying 'you'.]
Wer bist du? Who are you?
Ich hab dich! I got you!
Sei kein baby! Stop being a baby!
Du kriegst mich nicht! Can't catch me!
Du hättest mich auffangen sollen! You should have caught me!
Es wird schlimm ersten Geschmack, nicht ausspucken: It'll taste bad first, don't spit it out.
Bist du dumm? Are you stupid?
More or less a rough draft of the first chapter, which I can hopefully refine with some help from the forum. If not, I'll soldier on.