Chapter 1: isaiah 5:30
...while all around there is not a single living soul, not a bird, not a fly, and it is beyond comprehension who the waves are roaring for, who listens to them at nights here, what they want, and, finally, who they would roar for when I was gone.
- sakhalin island, anton chekhov
who the waves are roaring for; part one
In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, there is only darkness and distress; even the sun will be darkened by clouds.
Asuka is the first to dip her toes into the red water. It is warm, like blood. Her toes have never touched a cold ocean before. She has never seen a blue sea, that fabled and mythical thing that exists no more.
She stares out onto the expanse of a broken, bloody universe and thinks of nothing.
Shinji is despondent. Shinji is always fucking despondent and Asuka has no energy for it anymore. He lies there like a broken doll and stares up at the black sky as if some great starship will land and steal him away from this place. She doesn't think she'd care too much if that happened. At least then she wouldn't have to feel his dead eyes on her on the rare occasions he stops staring at the deader stars above.
The space beneath Asuka's eye patch has been doing strange things lately. Sometimes it hurts. Most times it doesn't, only feels as though something is growing there, something warm and tender. Sometimes it glows a deep, sultry blue. Asuka has never been one for blue. That's Shinji's color. Asuka has always been red, like fire and blood. She wishes she could glow red all over and then no one would ever come near her again - and then she's stricken with the reminder that there isn't anyone to come near her anyway. No one but Shinji with his sick face and stained hands. He doesn't care what color she glows. He doesn't care about anything.
Asuka steps deeper into the water until it's up to her knees. Her plugsuit doesn't retain the water, merely shrugs it off and lets it slither back down into the sea as if the suit can't be touched. She wants the water to touch her bare skin, but just her feet will have to do. It took enough pulling and tugging and cursing just to get the feet of the suit to tear off so that she could actually feel something tangible on her skin for once. She can't tear the whole thing off just yet; there's nothing else for her to wear, and she can't very well walk around naked. Ages ago she would have thought Shinji would appreciate that, the pervert, but nowadays on this desolate wasteland of red, she doesn't even think he would notice.
She doesn't know how she feels about that. She doesn't know how she feels about much of anything anymore. Shinji isn't Kaji, wasn't Kaji; Shinji is a dumb boy who doesn't know how to kiss, who just lies there in the sand like a puppet and might as well be dead.
There's no one for Asuka to talk to, at this rate, unless she wants to rattle away to Shinji's corpse. So she looks out at the red sea and finally thinks of something, a quick memory brought on by scent.
When she was seven years old, she'd been taken to a hospital. For what, she can't remember. There had been a separate wing for women giving birth. The doors had been shut but she could still smell it, the blood and the fluids and the reek of new life. She had to be escorted to the bathroom to throw up into the sink.
She realizes now that this is what this water smells like. The same scent that had come from the inside of an Eva.
"Gag me," she whispers to herself, her toes dipped in the red of millions.
"Give me your shirt," she says to Shinji in the evening, or something like the evening, since time doesn't seem to exist anymore. She kicks him in the shoulder when he doesn't respond, but not as hard as she probably could. She's tired and hungry. She's bored with his apathy and she wants him to get the fuck up already because no one is going to save him, especially not her. "Shinji," she says, standing atop him so that she's all he can see, her red hair falling down her face like red rain. "Give me your shirt."
Shinji blinks once, twice. That's a start. But it's not enough.
"I need something to wear besides this damn plugsuit," Asuka says through her teeth. "You have two shirts on. So give me one."
Shinji opens his dry, cracked mouth. When he tries to speak, nothing but the sound of a broken machine comes out, a sort of horrible malfunctioning from somewhere deep inside of him. Asuka guesses he was bound to short-circuit one of these days. She kneels down and straddles his hips, glaring down at him with wide eyes as she yanks the buttons of his shirt free, the same shirt he'd worn in school. Once it's off, she takes his arms out of the sleeves until it's off of his body and takes the shirt for herself. He doesn't react to her rough movements as she starts shredding at the neckline of her plugsuit as if she's grown sharp talons meant for tearing flesh. The plugsuit's firm lining strips away layer by layer until it hangs in strips down her naked chest. Shinji doesn't even look at her. Asuka doesn't care. She just wants the damn thing off.
She shreds and rips until the upper half of the plugsuit is in disarray, only hanging on by the hips as if she's wearing pants. With nothing to keep the suit in its usual uniform, tight shape around her body, it's baggy around the hips, threatening to fall off. Through the discarded strips of red draped over Shinji's chest, Asuka reaches down and tugs the boy's belt off until it's free, steals it and makes it her own. She puts on his button-down shirt, now hers for the keeping. The belt holds up the remains of the plugsuit around her hips.
There. All better.
Asuka stands up and leaves Shinji on the sand. She rolls up the now loose bottoms of her makeshift pants until the baggy plugsuit material is bunched up above her knees. Her feet are bare, and only a few buttons hold the shirt closed around her chest, the bottoms of it fluttering in the stale breeze. It will have to do for now.
When Shinji finally remembers how to speak, it's with a question: "Why are you here?"
Asuka is waist-deep in the water now. She half-turns to glance at Shinji over her shoulder, finds him standing a few feet away with a face like death. Asuka leers at him because she doesn't care for prettiness anymore; she hopes she looks like an animal to him, hopes he thinks she's the ugliest thing he's ever seen in his life. "Definitely not because you wanted me here," she spits at him. "You're the one that choked me."
Shinji blinks his stupid eyes at her. "I choked you?" he asks in a voice like gravel.
Asuka glares at him until her eyes ache at the sight of him. She looks back out at the sea. "Just so you know," she hisses, "I'm here because I actually had some fucking will left in me. So don’t get some wise idea that I'm here because you wished for me or anything. I lived because I wanted to." Because I didn't want to die back there, she doesn't say. Even if she did say it, she doubts Shinji would understand what something like that means anyway.
"So," she says loudly, "why don't you tell me why you're here, Shinji?"
Shinji's hollow eyes drop down to look at the sand. Asuka watches him over her shoulder, her hair blowing across her eyes in dirty strands that smell like blood. And then Shinji opens his mouth and says, "Because it seemed like the better thing to do."
"As opposed to?"
Shinji swallows, coughs a little. "Being one with everyone," he says. "Not existing as me anymore."
Asuka lets out a bark of a laugh. "So the guy who hates himself still wants to be himself. Wow. Says a lot."
"It wasn't just that." Shinji's voice is still like a hollow drum, but there's an edge to it now, something that wasn't there before. Asuka narrows her eyes at him and waits for the catch. "Someone…someone helped me decide."
Asuka wishes he'd shut up. All this time she'd been wishing he'd speak up and now that he's actually doing it she's regretting it already. But there's a sick feeling in her stomach that she needs to assess right away. "Yeah? And who was that?"
Shinji swallows. His face flushes. It's the most alive he's looked all this time, and also the saddest, which goes hand in hand with being alive. "You wouldn't know him," he says.
Asuka takes that as a challenge. "And why not?"
Shinji's eyes remain on the sand for a moment before they slowly lift to look at her. "Because he was your replacement pilot," he says, "and because I killed him."
She learns how to fashion a fishing pole of sorts out of broken splinters of driftwood and tight snaps of red seaweed that wash up onto the shore. Logically she knows there won't be any fish in these waters. But there sure as hell will be something, and she's going to reel it in and see it for herself. Anything that she'd catch would be better to look at than Shinji right now.
She sits with her legs criss-crossed on the sand and waits.
She reels in tiny skulls and tinier teeth. Holding them up to the bleak sun peering through a smoky layer of dead clouds, she examines each little bone she catches and dries them off on her stolen shirt so that it's stained with little pink water spots. She sets each bone beside her on the sand like little friends.
Shinji stands nearby, his back to her and his eyes fixed on a point in space. His uniform pants are too big on him now that he's without a belt, so he has to roll them twice at the waist to keep them from falling off. He looks skinny and breakable in his blue t-shirt, weirdly out of character without his button-down. Asuka wears it better than he does, fluttering off of her back like a drape in the salty breeze and half-buttoned to only cover what needs to be covered. She feels wilder and wilder with every bone she reels in. Eventually the shirt comes off and she lets herself sit in the sand shirtless and sweating, wearing nothing but the bottom half of her ripped plugsuit and Shinji's belt. The space beneath her eye patch glows blue and flares with warmth. The bloody sun washes along her back and warms it, turns her skin crimson in the light.
Eventually she reels in a piece of vertebrae. She touches it with loving fingertips and dries it off on her discarded shirt to sit with the rest of her new friends.
"I didn't think you'd ever have it in you to kill an actual person," Asuka says after she reels in her hundredth tooth. "Are you gonna tell me about him or what?"
Shinji doesn't seem all that enthusiastic to talk. He looks at Asuka's collection of bones with a look of vague, diluted disgust that his mental shock won't let him express in full. It just looks waxy and pale and not quite there all the way. Asuka supposes he's seen worse. A few teeth and skulls and vertebrae have nothing on that.
"I guess I should've assumed, though," Asuka says, turning back to the water and reeling in her hundredth tooth, a pretty little canine. "You always had this look in your eyes like you were gonna snap and kill someone someday."
Shinji doesn't appear to be listening to her. As usual. His eyes are now on the grotesque, severed head a distance away from the shore; that awful head, that awful giant girl, She's been staring at the two of them with Her one awful eye ever since they woke up in this hell, Her destroyed head like a half-moon in the water.
Asuka can hear Shinji mumbling to himself. She strains her ears to hear him better. "If Rei's here…"
"Ugh, don’t even speak that name in front of me," Asuka spits out. "She's the last person in the world I want to be thinking about right now."
"If Rei's here…" Shinji's eyes are wide and scared, his shoulders shaking. "Then where's…?"
Asuka stares at him with her one eye and watches how Shinji's demeanor changes like the tide changes with the pull of the moon. His breathing picks up; there's a light in his eyes; his mouth opens and closes and opens.
"I could just wish for him," he whispers. "I could just wish for him back."
There's a tug at the end of Asuka's makeshift fishing pole. She reels in a fresh red heart, still beating.
Asuka's hair covers her bare breasts as she walks to a husk of a destroyed building a little ways off from the shore, uphill from the red water. Her button-down shirt is employed in carrying the many bones and the single beating heart she's fished out of the sea. This at least provides her with a roof over her head, ramshackle as it is. She can't tell what this building used to be, but it has enough walls to make for a decent enough shelter for now.
For now? Until when? Until something better shows up on this barren wasteland? Asuka throws her head back and laughs. Then she arranges her treasure trove of bones along the white fabric of the button-down school uniform shirt resting on the sand. She organizes them in groups - a group of teeth, a group of little skulls, a group of the broken pieces of vertebrae. Then she circles the groups with the rogue bones, too miscellaneous and broken to fit into any group - a few finger bones here and there, a bit of a knuckle, a few pieces of a wrist.
Then she sets the beating heart in the middle of her handmade ribcage in the sand. The heart is small enough to fit in her palm. She wonders who it belonged to. She guesses it doesn't really matter now. Probably didn't even matter much when it was still lodged in someone's chest.
"If you sleep there," Asuka says, "you'll drown."
Shinji is lying on his back in the sand, only a few feet from the water. Every now and then, a wave will creep up dangerously close to him, but he won't move away from it. It's like he's waiting for it to take him under but he won't go near enough to let it. The coward.
"I'm not sleeping," he says.
"Then what are you doing?"
It takes him a long time to answer. "I'm waiting."
Waiting. He's waiting. For what? Asuka laughs and laughs before she realizes the laughter is only in her head. There's silence all around her. She thought she'd been laughing at him, but she's only staring, staring down at him with her one eye and wondering how much he'd like it if she wrapped her hands around his throat and squeezed real tight.
"If I keep wishing," Shinji says in his tiny voice, "he'll come back."
Asuka wants to spit on him. She spits on the sand instead. "Do you think you're some kind of god or something? You think you can make anything happen just because you wish for it? That's some real five-year-old logic right there." She turns on her heel and walks away from him, her toes digging into the cold sand. "Well, good luck with that. Some of us have to figure out a way to survive in this place instead of just lying around looking up at the sky, waiting around for people that don't fucking exist."
She stalks back to her husk of a home uphill from the shore. The roof is broken in slats so that the red sunlight streaks through like a scraped knee. She sits with her treasure trove of bones and wonders who she would wish for if she could be a god just once. A vision of her mother springs to mind, her face rosy and her smile vibrant, alive, not the hollow-eyed shell of a woman gone mad, the only image Asuka has left of her. The memory sits there in her mind like an insect petrified in amber, trapped in time.
She looks up at the roof that lies in strips overhead. She'll have to fix that tomorrow. She'll have to do everything herself if anything is to get done around here.
She falls into a dreamless sleep on the sand beneath her splintered roof and beside her treasures. The red heart is still beating like a little clock; the pulse of it lulls her deeper into slumber.
She doesn't know how long she's out before she wakes up to the vague but chilling sensation of being watched.
Her eye opens. There's red light all around. Rei Ayanami stands in the entrance of Asuka's broken building, staring at her. She has her whole head, her whole body. Her blue skirt flutters around her knees in the stale breeze.
All of Asuka's breath slowly leaves her. She can't hear her heart beating, only the faint whistle of the wind through the strips of the roof above her head. The heart in the sand beats faster, pumping and twitching.
Rei blinks at the heart, then at Asuka. "You found it."
Asuka's hair blows along her bare chest. The space beneath her eye patch is starting to hurt as it gathers with heat. She swallows; her throat is dry and painful. All this time she's thought of horrible, hateful things to say to this girl if she ever saw her again, and now here she is and none of the words will come out. All she can say with her hoarse, gravelly voice is, "Found what…?"
The red light passes across Rei's face. When she steps into the broken shelter, Asuka immediately recoils, bracing for a fight. But Rei sidesteps her and kneels down to the treasure trove laid out on the white button-down shirt. She reaches out a pale, willowy hand to the beating heart, and Asuka springs toward her to stop her, not wanting it to be touched. "Don’t you dare," she pants out, guarding it the way a mother would guard a child if she loved it enough. "Don't touch it. It's not yours."
Rei blinks again, turning her head to look at Asuka straight in the eye. Her eyes are red, like the light, like the sea. "I know," she murmurs. "It's yours."
"I found it. So it's mine."
They stare at each other in silence, Asuka panting and Rei not appearing to be breathing at all. Rei reaches out her hand again, this time to touch Asuka's bare chest. Something hot flares in Asuka's stomach at the sudden touch and she wants to lash out for it but she doesn't; she sits, paralyzed by the cold pass of Rei's palm against her skin, right between her breasts, right where her heart is.
Right where her heart should be.
The red light passes over Rei's face again. Asuka doesn't know where it's coming from. Rei's eyes look to the heart again, then back to Asuka's chest where her hand is settled.
Asuka can't hear her heart beating. And something dawns on her.
"It's mine," she whispers again, the color draining from her face.
Chapter 2: genesis 1:3
who the waves are roaring for; part two
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
Asuka watches her heart beating, her eye wide, her body curled up into itself. The little red thing seems to her less like a clock now and more of a ticking time bomb. She has checked it for wears and tears but has found none. It’s shining and pristine like a piece of jewelry and she can’t fathom such a pretty thing ever belonging to her, let alone living inside of her.
Then what of the teeth? What of the bones? Whose are they? Her paranoid stare has checked every inch of her body in search of anything boneless and disconnected; she has pressed her fingertips to her wrist, ran her palms up and down her spine, bent every joint and checked for proper rotation. Everything is in place. Her ankle had even popped when she rolled her foot, and then came the little cracks of her toes when she scrunched them up and relaxed them a moment later. Her fingertips had probed inside her mouth and found every tooth in its rightful place.
These bones don’t belong to her.
Yet she can’t bear the thought of parting with them if she were to ever find their owner. She knows with certainty that they can’t belong to Shinji. He’d been standing on his feet just fine when he’d asked her why she’s here. Shinji had always looked boneless long before any of this. They can’t be his.
Or rather, Asuka won’t let them be his.
During the intense passage of time that she spends ruminating, Rei remains in the broken doorway of the shelter on the hill, just a few feet away from where Asuka is shaking wide-eyed in the sand. The red light passes over Rei’s face again and again like the rotation of a lighthouse signal.
“What am I supposed to do with it?” Asuka asks her, her voice hollow with fear as she stares at the pulsating heart.
Rei’s eyes remain on the sky. “You can either carry it outside of you,” she murmurs, “or you can carry it inside of you.”
“Don’t talk to me in riddles! Just say what you really mean for once!”
Rei turns her head to look at Asuka. Her stare makes Asuka tremble deep down inside of her; there’s something so alien about it, so piercing, like all of Asuka’s skin is torn away from her body beneath that gaze and she’s left as nothing more than a dismantled skeleton for Rei to fish out of the sea.
“If all goes as it should,” Rei says, “there will be someone else coming here tonight.” And then a pause, cold and pensive. “I don’t think you’ll like him very much.”
“I don’t care about that,” Asuka says, panting. “Just tell me what I should do about my heart!”
Rei blinks at her. Her head tilts to the side for a moment as she thinks. Then it straightens again, the movement strange and birdlike. “How do you eat?” she asks.
Asuka stares at her, expecting another riddle to follow Rei’s words. But the question is raw in itself, nothing more than what it is at face value. That alone is unnerving. “With…with my mouth.”
“Then if you want to carry the heart inside of you,” Rei murmurs, “that is what you’ll have to use.”
A thick wave of nausea passes over Asuka, nearly making her gag. She swallows it down and pushes through the cold sweat that’s breaking out across her skin. “And what if I carry it on the outside? What do I do then?”
“You have to protect it,” Rei says simply. “Like a mother would protect her child.”
Asuka wraps her arms around her shoulders and shakes from the inside out, seething, hurting. A violent, visceral string of memories surges through her mind. White wings and white teeth, red tongues. They’re ripping me apart, Mama. They’re ripping us apart.
"I wouldn’t know what that feels like," she hisses, hiding her face from Rei’s silent gaze. "I wouldn’t know at all.”
“Right,” Rei says, turning her eyes down to the sand. “You wouldn’t.”
Asuka would want to tear her to pieces if Rei didn’t look like she could actually be feeling something for once. Something like sadness, however diluted and faraway it may be. Asuka’s anger melts down into a deep ache and she wants to vomit from the tears that sting at her eyes out of nowhere. “I didn’t want to die back there,” she whispers, staring at the beating heart beside her. “I thought she would protect me. I really thought she wouldn’t leave me alone to those monsters…”
Rei doesn’t outwardly react. She just stares straight at Asuka, straight through her, unmoving and unblinking, a phantom in the heavy curtain of red draped over the universe. Asuka grits her teeth and closes her eyes to center herself but she finds there’s nothing to center around. There’s nothing there even at the center of her; the hollow cavity of her chest cries out in empty echoes for the pulsing red heart beside her, hungry for it. When she opens her eyes, it’s the first thing she sees.
“I’ll protect it,” she whispers, trembling. She unwraps her arms from around herself and kneels before her treasure trove. She stares down at her heart for one hot moment before turning to look at Rei, eyes burning. “I’ll carry it outside of me,” she declares. “I don’t care what it takes. I’ll protect it with all I have.” She swallows hard. The space beneath her eye patch begins to glow. “But I won’t eat my own heart. I’m not an animal.” Yet.
Rei stares and stares at her. Then she turns her eyes back up to the sky. She says nothing. Asuka doesn’t know why she was hoping for praise.
She gathers driftwood to repair the roof of her shelter, carries it in bundles in her arms and lets it stick splinters into her skin. After three trips to and from the shore, she finally decides to speak to Shinji, who’s been sitting in the same spot for hours, staring up at the sky.
“The doll is back,” Asuka says, looking at the skinny angles of Shinji’s shoulder blades. “Did you do that?”
Shinji is breathing very quietly. The air around him is eerily calm; the waters are motionless and silent, mirroring him. He doesn’t look at Asuka when he murmurs, “I thought you didn’t believe I could wish for people.”
“I don’t. But a girl like that can’t just will herself back to life, so something had to have happened.”
Shinji doesn’t respond. His eyes are glazed over as if he’s lost in thought. Asuka bets they’re all pathetic thoughts. She bets he’s sitting there wishing he really could be God and raise the dead and turn the ocean blue.
“She also said someone else was coming here,” Asuka says, her voice low and tense. “That the same person you were talking about before? The guy you killed?”
Shinji turns and looks at her now, the movement faster than Asuka would expect out of him in his lethargic state. The hopeful glint to his eyes makes her feel sick; she thinks she might have preferred him looking dead after all.
Rebuilding the roof is, much to Asuka’s surprise, calming. She likes this sense of purpose. She likes having something to do, to focus on, to force her energy into rather than sitting around and stewing in her own dark thoughts. Most of all, she likes feeling like she’s better than Shinji for that.
All the while, she feels someone looking at her. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who it is without even having to look. Asuka doesn’t bother looking back. She has work to do. She has things to accomplish. She’ll be damned if this place stays a wasteland on her watch.
“Look,” she says, “I’m busy right now. Can’t you go be soulless somewhere else?”
Rei blinks up at her from beneath the slats of the roof. Asuka’s view of her is in pieces, fractures. “Are you looking after it?” she asks.
“Yes,” Asuka snaps, already annoyed at what feels like an accusation of laziness. She gestures to her heart lying atop her shirt in the sand below with a short nod of her head. “It’s right there. And nothing will happen to it as long as I’m here.”
Rei tilts her head to the side for a moment, looking thoughtful. Then, quietly, she says, “I could step on it.”
Asuka freezes in the middle of setting another strip of driftwood onto the roof. She stares down at Rei from between the still broken spaces. “I would kill you,” she murmurs. “I would kill you if you broke my heart.”
Rei blinks her cold eyes up at Asuka through the slats of the roof. Then, without a word, she sits down on the sand with her knees tucked beneath her, staring out at nothing. Asuka’s heart beats beside Rei’s white legs. “I’ll look after it while you work,” she says.
“I don’t trust you.”
“I won’t step on it. I won’t touch it.”
Asuka stares at her warily for a moment before laying another strip of driftwood atop the roof, blocking out a section of Rei so all that’s visible of her is her folded legs. “I’m watching you,” she warns.
“I know,” Rei says calmly. “You always were.”
This would be a lot easier if I had some light, Asuka thinks bitterly in the middle of a short break. There are pieces of wood splintering her hands all over. She plucks them out with her fingertips and drags the deeper ones out with her teeth to spit them out onto the sand. If we had a real sun and real sunlight…
Rei glances up at her through one of the few empty slats left in the roof. Asuka looks down at her, brow furrowed. “What?”
Rei gives a modest shake of her head and goes back to looking out at the red expanse of nothingness. Asuka stares down at her for a few more moments before brushing the girl’s look off and going back to work, bloody palms and all.
And then, there is a faint glow.
It’s so subtle that Asuka could almost pass it off as just her wishful thinking. But then she looks down and sees how the red light passing over Rei’s small form has changed to a flush of gold. The sky lights up in a soft, warm flare. It’s brief, so brief that Asuka is hard-pressed to even say it had really been there, but there’s a breath of residual warmth ghosting along her bare shoulders immediately after the light dies out. When she touches her shoulder with her fingertips, her skin is hot, replenished.
On the square of sand below, Rei seems overcome by a sudden spell of exhaustion and curls up to go to sleep. The red light is back. It passes along her sleeping body over and over and over again.
The roof is rebuilt. Asuka’s manic energy dwindles down into fatigue once the task is complete, and she climbs down from atop the shelter until her feet hit the flat, cold sand beneath. Rei, awake now, remains seated beside the beating heart, her eyes fixed straight ahead. Asuka approaches her cautiously. “I’ll be taking it now,” she says, kneeling down before the heart and her trove of bones.
Rei nods, the movement simple and small like the rest of her. “It is yours, after all.”
Asuka stares at her for a moment. There’s something cold in her chest, an emptiness, an uncertainty, like she’s looking at something alien rather than just Rei’s pale face. It’s not much different from how things felt before the world cracked itself open like this. She swallows with her tight throat and asks, “How did you know?”
Rei turns her head to look at her. Her eyes, so normally vacant, have a strange, inhuman glint to them now, and it makes Asuka feel small, and no one should ever make Asuka feel small - yet here she is, doing just that.
“How did you know?!” Asuka shouts, balling her hands into fists. “How did you know this was my heart?!”
Asuka’s anger floats right over Rei’s head. “Because it could be no one else’s.”
“That’s not an answer! There are probably thousands of them out there in the water! I caught teeth and pieces of spines and fucking wrist bones, hundreds of them! They could be anyone’s!”
Rei blinks. Then she reaches out to touch that spot on Asuka’s chest again, between her bare breasts, where her heart lies not. “How many hearts did you catch?” she asks on a murmur.
There’s that flare again, that hot, uncomfortable thrill in the pit of Asuka’s stomach that sinks down between her legs. It angers her. It shouldn’t belong to a girl like this. Asuka gnashes her teeth together and digs her fists into the sand until her knuckles ache. “Only one,” she admits on a hiss, already knowing where this is going. “Just one heart.”
“Then you have your answer,” Rei says, quiet and still, her palm cool and soft against Asuka’s chest. “What you do with that answer is up to you.”
Asuka takes in a shuddering breath. She won’t cry. There’s no point. Rei would just stare at her like a statue anyway. Asuka bets the girl has never cried in her whole life.
For one glorious hour, the sun really does come out. The wasteland is washed in the brightest gold Asuka has ever seen - the water is gold, the sand is gold, the sky and the clouds and the wreckage of a lost world are gold. She holds her red heart in her hands, cradles it against her chest to keep it safe, but the red of it seems so out of place now, so lost amidst all this light.
Shinji stands in the middle of this bright portrait, staring up at the sky like he’s waiting for someone to fall out of it. His mouth is parted. The light pouring down on him makes him gold, too.
Everything is gold - except for Asuka and her red, red heart.
She feels like a dark smudge on the canvas of this sudden sparkling world.
Rei is standing at her side. Asuka doesn’t know when she got there. The girl seems to materialize out of nowhere, like a specter slipping through walls in the dead of night to haunt the inhabitants of an old home. But this place is no home, and Asuka won’t let herself be haunted by anyone. Not anymore.
“Hey,” Asuka says quietly, “Shinji won’t tell me who the person is that might be coming here. He says he killed him.” She glances sideways at Rei. “Is that true?”
Rei looks out at all the gold in front of her. Asuka can’t read her expression when she says, “Yes.”
“And he was my replacement pilot?”
Asuka scoffs. “Surprised Shinji didn’t keep him around longer,” she says scathingly. “Maybe if this other guy was a shit pilot there’d be less competition for Shinji and he’d never lose his number one spot.”
“He didn’t want to kill him,” Rei says. “And it had nothing to do with piloting.” A pause. “Or you.”
Asuka glares at her, blazing all over again. But Rei’s face is passive, her mouth neither smiling nor frowning. A mild wind blows her pale hair over her eyes. “But saying you haven’t met him before isn’t entirely true.”
Another thick wave of nausea passes through Asuka’s body, climbing up her throat like a slimy vine. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”
Rei turns to look at her. And just like before, she decides to speak without words. She touches Asuka’s eye patch with the very tips of her fingers. Asuka only stares back at her, not understanding. Not wanting to.
The golden hour ends, and the world is thrown back into cold black and bloody red. Asuka’s exhaustion gets the best of her and sends her into a dreamless sleep beneath the driftwood roof. She cuddles her heart to her chest the way she hears adults hold their lovers in their sleep, but Asuka isn’t gross and selfish like adults are with the ways they touch each other and sleep together; she’s a girl with her solitary heart and she’ll be damned if anyone touches it with their dirty paws.
Shinji probably wouldn’t care enough to try and touch it anyway. Too busy looking up at the sky with his mouth open.
Sometime during her slumber, Asuka awakes to that familiar feeling of being watched. Annoyed, she doesn’t move from her spot in the sand and keeps her eye closed, knowing well enough that it’s only Rei, that silent specter slipping through walls again.
But after a few moments of feigning sleep, she realizes that something doesn’t feel right.
This stare doesn’t feel like Rei’s had felt. It’s warmer, softer. Asuka doesn’t like that. She’s grown accustomed to coldness, to emptiness, to people looking at her with nothing in their eyes. But this - this is different.
Her body remains very still, drawn up tight and tense like an animal waiting to strike if anything gets too close. She opens her eye.
It’s not Rei waiting for her at the entrance of her shelter. It’s someone she’s never seen before - a boy, if Asuka can call him that what with how alien he appears to her. In the red light, Asuka sees that his eyes are just like Rei’s in color, but nothing alike in sentiment. His are lidded and soft like water, rimmed with white eyelashes that seem too long, like moth wings. The silver mess of his hair blows across his face in the tepid breeze; he strokes it away with his fingertips, the movement elegant and easy, too fluid to be human.
Asuka, for reasons she doesn’t understand, closes her eye immediately, blocking out the sight of him. When she opens it again, he’s right there kneeling beside her, peering at her closely. She hadn’t even heard his footsteps in the sand. Her breath catches sharp in her throat. She can’t move beneath his gaze.
The boy gives her a slow smile. It’s nothing like the thin, waxy smile that Rei had given her, like she hadn’t known what to do with her mouth. This is the smile of someone who knows everything. The smile of someone who is trying to apologize.
But what for?
The boy reaches out a pale, slender hand to touch Asuka’s cheek. Paralyzed as she is, she can’t move to stop him, only able to stare at him with a wide eye through the darkness that seems to bend around him in such a way that he’s untouchable to the shadows. He radiates a sense of light - soft, soft light - and Asuka wants to snuff it out the way a person pinches a candle’s flame into nothing but smoke.
But what for?
The boy’s fingertips stroke deftly along Asuka’s eye patch. His expression melts into sadness, regret darkening his eyes half-hidden by his moth wing eyelashes.
Asuka stares back at him, not breathing.
“I am sorry,” the boy says. “I didn’t know those creations would be used in such ways. Ways that were made to hurt Lilin such as yourself. I didn’t know…”
His dialect is strange, unnerving, like an alien trying to learn human speech. His inflection seems crooked, backwards, off kilter just enough to be noticeable to a native speaker.
“Rei Ayanami was used in the same respect,” the boy murmurs, staring straight at Asuka with his strange, sad eyes. “For she is just like me. But when one’s own mind is responsible for the birth of a beast, whether aware of it or not…one is forced to question if it is not oneself that is the true beast.”
Asuka stares back at him, trembling and lost. She hopes her confusion is plain on her face and can speak for her, because her voice is lost in the haze that surrounds this boy like a drug.
His long fingers stroke just under Asuka’s eye patch now, lingering there a moment before he draws his hand away. “I hope that one day you can find it in yourself to forgive me,” he says quietly, standing upright again. He’s unsettlingly slender, tall, frail like a flower. When he stands to his full height, he looks down to see that one pant leg has come untucked from within his high-top sneaker. He gives a wistful smile and bends down to tuck it back in. All the while, Asuka gapes at him, cold-blooded, her heart nestled protectively against her chest and beating slower than it should be.
Just as the boy turns away, Asuka finds her voice again, grabs it out of thin air and swallows it back down into her chest before speaking. “You were my replacement pilot, weren’t you?” she asks, her voice hoarse and not sounding like her own. Did she fish out the wrong one?
The boy looks over his shoulder at her and blinks. He looks like Rei when he does that. Asuka doesn’t like it. “Yes,” he says, slowly, waiting for more.
“Shinji said he killed you,” Asuka says, bowing her head and looking up at the boy from beneath her bangs. Her shoulders rise and fall with ragged breaths. “The doll said it, too. Is it true?”
The boy’s mild expression wanes over into something tranquil and serene, almost beautiful if Asuka were able to admit it.
“Yes,” the boy says, his eyes glowing like red stars in the darkness. “But it is okay. It is not the first time.”
When he turns on his heel to exit the shelter, Asuka watches his bony shoulder blades move beneath his shirt. They remind her of broken wings. (White wings, white teeth?) A shard of fractured light passes over the pale silver of his hair and touches it ocean-red. (Red tongues?)
Asuka’s heart thumps within her arms, hammering against the hollow place in her chest where it should be.
Chapter 3: revelation 22:1-2
who the waves are roaring for; part three
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.”
When the strength returns to Asuka's legs, she delicately wraps her heart in the white shirt and cradles it against her chest as she gets to her feet. It pumps nervously against her ribs and for a moment it almost feels like it's inside her again, where it should be. Her knees feel watery, her body cold with lingering anxiety. She briefly wonders where Rei went off to, but sooner pushes the thought away in favor of finding answers on her own, without the need of any company. (Just like before, back in that old life. Always doing things on your own, weren’t you? Look where it got you. Look where it - )
Gingerly, quietly, she takes her leave from her shelter and walks out onto the red night. No breeze is blowing, but there are stars. The air feels stagnant and sticky against her bare chest and back, moist and hot like someone is breathing directly onto her skin. The heavy silence all around her is broken only by the sound of the waves washing up on the barren shore, leaving a faded red afterprint on the sand as the water retreats again and again.
The sand is cold and damp beneath her feet as she stares out onto the sea.
She wishes, more than anything, more than any company or companionship in the world, that the sun would come out. She wishes there was heat and light. She's tired of darkness.
From somewhere in the distance, she hears voices. Shinji. He's crying. She hears crooning, a gentle voice, the voice from before. Asuka takes cover behind her shelter and cranes her head around it to scan the red beach. And then she sees them.
Their bodies entwine like twin serpents and Shinji is clinging to that red-eyed boy tighter than Asuka has ever seen him cling onto anything. Even his own life.
Asuka's pallid expression remains frozen in place as she watches Shinji push himself up against the other boy's body, his hands shaking wildly as he grabs at every part of him in a manic frenzy that the other boy accepts wholeheartedly; he lets himself be grabbed at, clutched at, held onto, sobbed upon. He accepts all of this so readily, so gracefully, and the downward arc of his head to catch Shinji's lips in a fervent, breathless kiss makes Asuka feel absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing.
She turns around and walks away. She walks up the slope of the sand and away from her shelter. She doesn't know where she's going, but she walks anyway. There has to be somewhere she can go, somewhere she can get away from all of this. There has to be more than this. Her hungry, dazed mind conjures up images of hidden utopias away from the water, secret kingdoms and golden palaces where only she is allowed, where she can be alone, where Shinji doesn't exist.
She’s lost track of how long she's been walking by the time Rei materializes out of nothing and asks her, "What are you running from?"
"I'm not running," Asuka says flatly. "I'm too tired to run."
"Then where are you going?"
"Away from him."
"Who the fuck else." But then Asuka laughs, realizes her own words are inaccurate, laughs more, and then stops, no more breath in her lungs to kick the laughter out.
Rei is silent, absorbing this. And then, "He came to you?"
"He looks just like you," Asuka spits out, her words all thorns. "Like he isn't human."
Rei doesn't miss a beat when she says, "That's because he isn't."
"Then what is he?"
Asuka wants to be surprised, wants to call Rei a liar, wants more than anything to not believe her - but then again, she's standing in the middle of a fucking wasteland with no sign of civilization in sight, her heart thumping in her arms and her chest a hollow, hateful cavity, and so she decides that no, nothing surprises her anymore, fuck it, fuck it.
"And what does that make you?" Asuka asks, her voice hard as stone, yet breakable as glass. "What are you?"
Rei opens her mouth as if to speak, then closes it. The gesture isn't like her. There's a moment of chilled stillness in which Asuka can only stare sidelong at her, waiting for something to happen. Rei could be a figure straight out of a still-life, painted into motionlessness. The spell is broken when she looks up at the red sky. And then, her voice, steely and resolute: "Everything. Everything and nothing."
They hang all over each other like skin clings to muscle, and muscle to bone. Shinji isn't a skeleton anymore when that boy is around him; his body comes to life and color flushes his cheeks and Asuka thinks she even caught him laughing once when the other boy kissed the curve of his ear and said something sweet into it. Shinji hasn't left his side since their supposed reuniting. They haven't stopped touching each other, kissing each other, lying on top of each other in the sand and holding on for dear life as if some unseen force will rip them apart forever. (As if it’s done that hundreds of times before. As if this isn’t the first time they’ve come back to each other.)
Asuka watches them with hollow eyes, her expression a portrait of nothingness. She's too tired to feel disgust. She's too tired to feel. Her heart pumps slowly in her arms, swathed in its clean white cotton.
Sometimes she gets thoughts of crushing the hideous red thing between her fists, getting it over with once and for all. Sometimes she thinks of tearing it to pieces with her teeth like an animal, spitting it out, letting it hang in grisly strings from her lips. Sometimes – in her softer moments – she imagines tossing it out to the sea, letting it drown, sinking back down to where she fished it out. It would be so easy. So frightfully easy.
"So what stops you?" Rei asks, not leaving a dent in the sand where she stands.
Asuka stares down at the water. It comes up to her shins, red and warm, rich with that horrible hospital-blood smell that makes her want to wretch. She can't go out any farther into the sea, tethered to something invisible on the shore that holds her back every time she tries.
It's the only time she's ever admitted defeat when she says, "I don't know."
Hope, I guess.
"You didn't want to die," Rei says, walking by Asuka's side now, wherever Asuka happens to be leading her. "That's why you're here now."
"Don't remind me."
"Anyone can return if they have the will," Rei says. "You didn't appear here merely by chance. There was a reason for it – ”
"Do you just get off on lecturing people?" Asuka asks, but the accusation doesn't come out as sharply as she wishes it had. She scoffs, wondering where her sharp edges went, wanting to shield herself in them again like the old days. "Don't think I'm so beneath you that I need your help," she mutters.
Rei remains at her side, walking calmly, her eyes fixed on the great expanse ahead. "If you're wondering why you can't throw your heart away," she says, "what I just told you may provide you with the clarity you need."
Asuka blinks at her, momentarily caught off guard. Anyone can return if they have the will. She opens her mouth to speak, closes it again, swallows hard. Then she tries again. "What would happen if I did get rid of my heart?"
"You would look for it again. You would fish it back out of the sea over and over, no matter how many times you'd throw it away."
"And how do you know that?"
"Because that's what you've always done," Rei says, "and that's what will always happen as long as you have hope."
Asuka's mouth feels inexplicably dry. Subconsciously, her arms tighten around the bundled-up heart held to her chest. Only Rei notices. "And what if I don't have hope?"
"Then you're lying." Rei turns to look at her now, smiling her strange, thin smile. "I can feel it inside of you. And so can you, but you don't want to admit it."
Asuka doesn't respond. She couldn't even if she wanted to. She just walks on, leading Rei along the cold sand to a place she doesn't know yet. Strange to think that this wasteland was once the world as she knew it, with cities and streets and buildings and homes. Strange to think that that world never even felt like home before the waves washed everything away.
They walk until they reach the iron carcass of a city.
The hollow bodies of gutted buildings stand brokenly like skeletons without ribcages.
"This feels familiar," Asuka says, moreso to herself than anyone, but Rei, as always, hears everything.
"This was our school," Rei tells her. It feels more than a little strange for her to say that this place belonged to the both of them, to admit that they have common ground. Asuka isn't sure how she feels about that. In the other world, she would have raged against it, fought tooth and nail to deny it, but if she throws a punch, she'll drop her heart, and she can't let that happen. And she guesses that punching Rei might be a little much.
Besides, Rei is right - this was their school. With some effort, Asuka can make out the shattered blueprint of the building's corpse, can pick out where the hallways stretched and the doors once stood, where the classrooms existed in separate little atriums along the corridors.
She turns to her left, sees the now empty space where benches once lined the sidewalk, where she saw and spoke to Rei Ayanami for the very first time.
"Do you miss it here?" Rei asks.
Asuka keeps her eye fixed on the empty space where the bench used to be. Rei had been reading a book, the pages lit up by the sunlight. Asuka had stood within that light, blocking it from Rei's view. She introduced herself, said they should become friends without even knowing what friends were. She had been a different person then, not truly herself. Then is this Asuka her real self?
"No," Asuka says. "I don't miss it."
I just keep thinking there's something I can do to make this place better. But I'm so tired.
They walk on. When Asuka sees the splintered remains of NERV, she takes a sharp left and avoids them, not wanting to get any closer. Rei doesn't question it and abides by the sudden change in direction, looking at Asuka with quiet eyes.
"I don't ever want to go back there," Asuka says, feeling like she needs to explain, even though she doesn't. "That place could be swallowed up by the waves over and over again until nothing was left of it and I wouldn't care."
Rei nods, faintly complacent.
"No one ever really cared about me there," Asuka says, quiet and grave, heart thumping slowly. "Or anywhere. No one cared at all, no matter where I was."
"Did you want them to care?"
"I wanted to be on my own. I wanted...I wanted to rely on no one, to be an adult like them, but a better one. I wanted to be better than everyone. Then I could prove to myself that I could handle anything, that nothing scared me. That no one could ever touch me or hurt me or get too close."
It takes Asuka a moment to realize that she hasn't been speaking aloud this entire time; she and Rei are speaking through the wavelength of thoughts. When she turns to her, alarmed into silence, Rei's eyes are directly on her. They're glinting with something soft and subtle, like a faraway star. It's the most human Asuka has ever seen her.
"That's creepy of you," Asuka mutters, out loud this time. "Knock it off."
"You did it naturally on your own," Rei explains. "It's a good thing."
"Because you're being honest."
The empty space beneath Asuka's eye patch begins to glow a deep blue.
After they've been walking for what feels like hours, Rei asks, "Are you ready to go back to the shore?"
Asuka thinks on that for a moment. The shore is where Shinji and that boy are, no doubt about it. She answers Rei's question with a question of her own. "Does Shinji really have the power to wish people back to life?"
"Not in those terms," Rei says. "You came here on your own volition, after all. You weren't a product of his own wishing."
Asuka snorts in spite of herself. "Of course he wouldn't wish for me to come back. No surprises there."
"He was scared for you."
Asuka's heart stutters uncomfortably in her arms. "Scared? Why?"
"He saw your remains. He saw what became of you after your battle."
Asuka feels a thick rush of nausea lurch in her stomach. She has to stop walking to tame it, to keep from throwing up. "Shinji's – Shinji's too selfish to have ever cared about me – "
"That is funny," Rei says in a voice that is everything but someone reliving something amusing. "He thought the same thing about you."
Deep down I always knew we were too much alike. But I still wanted to be so much better.
They return to the shore, the silence between them thick and strange and, Asuka thinks, maybe even a little comfortable. The strangeness lies in the comfort of it. She’s tired, and Rei knows. The strangeness lies in that knowing, that unspoken understanding. Where did it come from? Asuka has never understood Rei, and always thought in the vice versa, even wished for it, wished to be an enigma to the world, and to Rei especially, the only victory she could have ever claimed over her – and yet here they are, walking side by side along the sand and not having to say a word, not having to even look at one another to know that now isn't the time for speaking. Asuka has used up all of her words for the day, and now her throat lies tired, a sad and withered thing not wanting to play with sounds anymore.
Shinji and the boy are still there. Of course they're still there, they're everywhere, even in the places they're not. The boy is trying to get Shinji to come out into the water with him. Shinji stands helplessly a few feet away from where the water licks at the sand. The boy in the water is laughing softly, the sound like a church bell, his white arm outstretched in a graceful gesture of beckoning. His clothes are strewn on the sand at Shinji's feet, yet Shinji remains clothed, looking skinny and vulnerable even while fully covered. Asuka wants to roll her eye at him, still shirtless and her chest only covered by her long hair, but she doesn't have to energy to be annoyed at him, or to feel anything at all. It's almost nice, feeling nothing. She thinks it would be nicer if she hadn't already felt it so many times before in another life, another universe.
The red-eyed boy's adoring gaze shifts from Shinji to where Asuka and Rei are standing. The adoration is softly exchanged for curiosity, a pleasant sort of questioning that, if she had the will for it, Asuka would bare her teeth at. But she merely looks back at that unblinking boy - an angel, Rei said - and waits for him to give up and look away. But he doesn't. That apologetic glimmer to his eyes and that sympathetic smile still haven't faltered from his ghost-white face. Feline mouth, swan throat, eyes of an alien. Uncomfortable beauty, like ten thousand different shapes thrown together at the last minute and forced to fit, puzzle pieces mashed together at the misshapen edges to make a picture, yet producing an image prettier than the one the pieces were intended to make. Accidental elegance, accidental divinity, yet a watchful stare so filled with unshakable purpose that there's no possible means of writing off this creature as an accident.
He looks so much like Rei, yet so much not like her. There are no apologies in Rei's eyes, only a plaintive, wordless comprehension that leaves Asuka feeling naked in ways more than one. But this boy, his eyes are all I'm-sorrys, all for Asuka, and I-love-yous, all for Shinji. What Rei doesn't outwardly show, this boy is all but flooded with it, every expression magnified a tenfold. What Rei dilutes, this boy exemplifies. Involuntarily, Asuka imagines the two of them combined, one-bodied, grafted together and shifting in and out of each other's skin like water passing from one glass to another, Siamese and divine –
"I can't swim," Shinji says in a voice like trembling fawn legs. "I...I can't come out to where you are, Kaworu, it’s too far.”
Kaworu. So he has a name, this angel. Then again, so did all the others. This one isn't special, even if he has the face of a human, or at least a good imitation of one.
"You can," Kaworu says, his strange eyes flitting back to Shinji, back to that adoring splendor that Asuka has never seen aimed at her before, by anyone. "You can if you try, Shinji."
Asuka's lips turn down in a frown. She's sick of the smell, the hospital stench of that water. She's sick of how the dark sky makes it appear so much like blood. If there were just sunlight and a breeze, perhaps then it would be better, less bloody and hot and choking.
"This is what you were born from, Shinji," Kaworu says in his church bell voice. "It will not hurt you. All you have to do is make the first step towards me."
Asuka glances back at Rei, flatly bemused at the scene playing out before them. Rei looks back at her, then out to the water. "It's true," she says. "It won't hurt you."
"I'm not afraid of it hurting me," Asuka says, through thoughts, her throat still too tired for words aloud. "It just reminds me of too many things."
Blood. Babies being born. My mother hanging from a rope.
"The Eva," she says again.
"You look tired," Rei says, her voice an echo in Asuka's ears as the words pass between them without sound.
Asuka nods. "I want to sleep."
"To rest or to forget?"
Asuka tries to shoot her a poisonous look that falls flat in an instant. It doesn't hold up as it should; the toxins bleed out of it and all that's left is a bedraggled carcass of a stare that Rei sees right through without even trying.
Asuka turns her back to the water and goes off to her shelter, where there's no water, no Shinji, no angels, nothing at all.
She sleeps for an unprecedented amount of time, unprecedented in that time seems at a stand-still here, the hollow moon a broken watch in the sky. She could have slept for ten minutes or ten years. It all means the same here.
But when she wakes, Rei is there, curled up beside her like a fallen sliver of moon. She's fast asleep, her small mouth parted and her delicate chest rising and falling with her every breath. Asuka's heart lies between the two of them, beating steadily. The trove of bones from the sea remains settled safely in the sand; Rei's slender fingers are curled just millimeters away from a broken jaw bone and tiny fractures of a stranger's wrist. Pieces of someone’s spine lie parallel to her white knuckles.
Asuka stares at her up close, as though this is the first time she's ever truly seen her. Rei's breath sighs out against Asuka's lips, warm. That warmth startles her. For so long she has imagined this girl as bloodless, robotic, stuffed with sand and beads and cotton to give her shape, every human warmth snuffed out of her and replaced with cold, unfeeling wire. But she looks so human when she sleeps, and her breath, so warm...
Asuka holds her own breath and, without thinking, reaches out to touch Rei's face. She expects her skin to be freezing cold, but it's hot. Hot like someone burning up from a fever. So much hot blood beneath the skin. The heat of it sears through Asuka's palm, lights up her insides in a sudden, wild rush that makes her gasp. She takes her hand away, still not breathing. Rei's eyes open with an easiness that speaks of having been wide awake the whole time, only with eyes closed, but Asuka knows she'd been asleep, she'd felt her breath steady on her face, her mouth...
And then she sees how the light slanting through the slatted roof is golden, not red, how it falls upon Rei's face in a soft amber glow, giving color to her skin. Asuka blinks, breathless, and looks up at the roof to see the light. She tries to speak, but all that comes out is, "What..."
"It makes me very tired," Rei says; and then, with a slight frown, "Which is why I was sleeping."
Asuka's hands begin to shake. The light, it's just like the sun. She looks over to the entrance of the shelter where the gold floods over everything, glittering and alive. "You mean you...?"
"You were tired of darkness," Rei says frankly, slowly, as if Asuka has forgotten her own wishes and needs to be reminded of them. "So I made it light."
Just like the time before? Asuka looks at her again, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. She almost feels as though her heart has lodged itself back into her chest, because she feels something beating and hot within her, a strange adrenaline that makes her quiver and sweat.
"I'm going back to sleep," Rei says, curling back into her little moon on the sand. "Please don't wake me up again."
Asuka doesn't have the words to respond; she can only nod dazedly as Rei closes her eyes and drifts into an effortless sleep, falling into it as easily as Asuka's thoughtless touch had pulled her out of it.
Rei doesn't have to sleep long, and Asuka finds herself still lying on the sand beside her when the other awakes. Even Rei looks surprised in that diluted way of hers – a blink, a tiny tilt of the head, a light furrow of the brow. "I thought you would be out in the light," she says.
So did Asuka. Yet here she still is, lying on her side next to Rei, staring dumbly at her as if gazing at an abstract painting and slowly pulling shapes out of it that are recognizable to her. She wets her dry lips and tries her hand at speaking; the words come out hoarse when she does. "I was tired."
Rei's eyes lid the barest bit, and Asuka can feel the lie being dragged out of her and into the light. "I don't know how long it will last," Rei murmurs, looking up at the slatted roof where the golden light still seeps through in bright rays. "It was barely even a minute the last time. How long has it been this time?"
Asuka tries to work her mind around time but falls short. Her pride stings when she admits, "I don't know. Time is weird here. But...it stayed the whole time you were sleeping, so..."
Rei gives a sage nod and a stroke of a smile. "Then I must be getting better at it."
Asuka thinks she hears a note of quiet pride in Rei's words, something she has never heard from her before. At the sound of it, another recognizable shape is pulled out of the abstract painting she had spent an hour trying to understand as it lay dormant in its sleepy pastels.
"You should go," Rei says, sitting up and running her palm along her hair to smooth it down after being rumpled from sleep. "If it gets dark again, you'll regret not being out in the light while it lasted."
Asuka, still dumbstruck, nods at her and shakily gets to her feet, taking her heart with her. Obeying an order from Rei? Why? Then again, perhaps it's not an order; Asuka wants to be out there in all the gold. Perhaps she just needed a push, a reassurance that it's real and not just her sun-hungry mind throwing funhouse tricks at her.
She walks on watery legs out into the light. She feels Rei's eyes on her back, and for once, the look doesn't sting at her skin. It feels warm.
She returns to a scene much like the one before. Shinji's eyes are wide like a deer's as he stares out at the waves in which Kaworu stands, a perfect marble pillar in the water with arm outstretched. Kaworu's smile is no less patient, no less accepting than it had been an hour or ten thousand years ago, and Asuka almost wants to applaud his longevity to deal with someone as maddening as Shinji Ikari and still be able to smile like that, like he loves him or something.
But when Asuka's feet settle into the sand, something seems to urge Shinji to look around at her. Asuka doesn't sneer at him, doesn't turn up her lip; she only looks at him, waiting for a reaction, a movement, anything. Shinji opens his parched mouth, and his words come out dry. "You...you can swim, right?"
Asuka huffs out a breath through her nose, a laugh without smiling. "Oh, you don't remember my bathing suit? The red one with the stripes?"
Shinji's eyes turn down to the sand, like he's ashamed of something that Asuka has only stated in subtext. He’s so transparent.
"But it's whatever," Asuka sighs out with a shrug, taking a few steps toward the water. "I can swim. In fact I'm pretty damn good at it. Only I prefer swimming in pools rather than tomato soup.”
Shinji's eyes lift again and latch onto the heart in Asuka's arms, cradled in the shirt that was once his. "It doesn't hurt?" he asks quietly.
"Hm?” Asuka lifts the heart a little for Shinji to see. “This thing?"
"Yeah. It...it doesn't hurt in your chest, not having anything there?"
Asuka rolls her eye, holds the heart a bit more gently. "Idiot. It can't hurt if there's nothing there inside me to be hurting."
"Then does it feel better?" Shinji's throat bobs in a nervous swallow, looking from Asuka to the heart and to Asuka and then to the heart again. "Does it feel better not having anything there?"
The frankness of the question momentarily takes Asuka off guard. She blinks at him, her mind working around a proper answer, but can only say, yet again, "I don't know."
"It's not like you to say you don't know something," Shinji says softly, looking like he's trying to smile but doesn't want to let himself do it. "You used to know everything."
Asuka scoffs and looks away from him. "If you're just gonna insult me and try to pass it off as normal conversation, then I won't talk to you at all. I didn't come here to be lectured by someone who can't even step into the water without pissing himself."
When she glances back at Shinji to see his reaction, she's thrown to find him smiling. It's a subtle smile, kept only to himself, but it's still there, tilting up one corner of his tired mouth, his eyes downcast and gentle. A sad, nostalgic smile, maybe even a little hopeful if Asuka squints. When Shinji notices her staring, he lets out a winded laugh and gives a small shrug of his shoulders. "I don't know. It kind of felt like the old times just now."
"Don't talk like we're both eighty years old in a retirement home," Asuka says, approaching the water again, where the red-eyed boy stands with that smile on his face from another world. "The last thing I wanna do is get all fake-nostalgic about 'the old times.' Not while the sun's out for once." Because of Rei, she thinks, accidentally.
"Are you really going out into the water?" Shinji asks, a note of apprehension making his words breathy and short.
"Sure am," Asuka says, rolling her shoulders back and hearing her spine pop. "Bet your skinny boyfriend or whatever is gonna be real disappointed that it’s me and not you. Better get your ass in gear.”
"But what about your...?"
Asuka lifts her eyebrows, turning to look quizzically at Shinji as she passes him by. Then she feels the weight of her heart still in her arms and she sees the ocean that she reeled it out of and suddenly stops cold in her tracks. How could she have forgotten? She has to keep it safe. If the waves swallow it up, there's no telling how long it could take it fish it back out again. And why even go out to the water? The sunlight might paint it golden rather than blood-red but it's still red anyway, in reality, only lit up differently by little more than smoke and mirrors. Funhouse tricks. It'll still smell like a hospital no matter how long she holds her breath.
Kaworu's eyes are on her. His gaze is neutral and waiting. He stands waist-deep in the water, looking like a sentient extension of the waves themselves, both ocean and shore in one body. Then his gaze flits to Asuka's left, where Rei has appeared in a soundless cloud. Asuka looks to her, then down at the heart in her arms. She takes a breath, holds it. And then she decides.
"Don't hurt it," she says quietly, not looking at Rei, not able to. Not yet.
"I won't," Rei murmurs.
Shakily, she hands the bundled heart to Rei's waiting hands. It feels strange not being in her arms anymore, but Rei holds it carefully, not too tightly, and so Asuka lets out the rest of the breath she'd been holding and looks back out to the rippling womb of the sea.
"You're not afraid of it?" Shinji asks. "That's...that's what we came out of. That water. It smells just like - "
"An Eva. I know." Asuka keeps her eye fixed on Kaworu as she walks out into the water, without stopping now. "And of course I'm afraid of it," she says with a dry laugh; when was the last time she admitted fear? She bares her teeth against the confession, smiles, lion-like in her determination. "But I've been through worse shit than this."
Kaworu smiles. The water is up to Asuka's waist; she stands only a few feet away from him. Asuka looks down at the soft waves lapping at her skin before glancing over her shoulder at Shinji, who stands frozen on the shore, staring longingly at Kaworu but still too scared to take the first step towards him. Asuka sniffs out another laugh and shakes her head. "And so have you, Shinji. This is nothing compared to all that."
Shinji's eyes flash with a momentary revelation. Asuka looks back at Kaworu, whose eyes remain on her, lips slung in an easy smile.
Asuka takes in two lungful's of breath. Her eye is drawn to Rei behind her. Her heart is in the girl’s hands; she holds it softly against her chest.
Asuka closes her eye, and goes under.
Chapter 4: isaiah 9:2
who the waves are roaring for; part four
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
Asuka finds her mother beneath the water.
Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu’s eyes are closed, her bright hair sighing in dreamlike movements in tandem with the flow of the water. She looks like a broken mermaid forced into a drowned human body, her glittering scales replaced with a drab hospital gown. Asuka momentarily thinks that she’s never seen her look so peaceful before.
She isn’t surprised to find her here. There’s no leap in her stomach, no rush of her blood, no surge of fear or feeling. Perhaps she’d even expected to find her before she went under. Breathing in the familiar taste of LCL – warm like blood, warm like a mother’s womb – she can’t help but admit a tiny, sardonic smile at the very corner of her mouth, shaking her head like this is just so silly, just so sublime.
I know that’s not really you, she thinks. You were gone long before any of this. I’m only seeing what I want to see.
Even still, she never knew her own mind could paint such a pretty picture to play out before her eyes. This is so much nicer to watch than the recurring flash-bang vision of her mother swinging gently from the ceiling like a chandelier with all the lights burnt out.
But it’s fake, Asuka thinks, still smiling tiredly. It’s all fake. See? She reaches out a hand, the movement slowed by the current of the waves, to touch the apparition of her mother drifting gracefully before her. Her fingers nearly grace the fluttering hospital gown before the vision vanishes just before the moment of contact. The last part of Kyoko that Asuka sees is her peaceful smile – the smile of death, of no more feeling, no more beating hearts or flowing blood.
And Asuka thinks, I don’t want that.
That’s the last thing in the world I want.
She breaks the surface of the water, breathing slowly as the red drips from her face. Kaworu is the first person she sees. He’s looming over her, smiling that patient smile from another world. He touches her bare shoulder. “How do you feel now?” he asks her in his voice like someone who has just come out of a long sleep.
Asuka looks from him to back down at the water. It laps around her, passive and soft. “I feel fine,” she murmurs. “I’m fine.”
“You did very well.” Kaworu’s hand slips from Asuka’s shoulder. “Just as I knew you would. You have a firm resolve and a strong spirit.”
Asuka feels both vaguely annoyed and vaguely appreciative of his praise. She feels more comfortable with being annoyed by it, but her mouth doesn’t screw up into its familiar scowl; instead, she lets his words slide down her back and into the water, unsure of how to hold and accept them. She looks at him again, finds his red eyes smiling at her. “And what about Shinji?” she asks. “What’s his deal with staying out of the water?”
Kaworu’s smile is slow and warm like honey. “Shinji doesn’t like water,” he says. “He cannot swim. But it is also more than that.”
Kaworu nods his silver head. “He is afraid of what he might find beneath the waves.”
Asuka does scoff now; she can’t help it. “Well, it can’t be anything too bad. I didn’t have a heart attack.”
“And what was it that you found?”
None of your business, she wants to say. But something in Kaworu’s soft, unmoving gaze pulls the words out of her like it’s of no effort to him at all; no effort to pull the words someone wants to say out into the open. “My mother,” she tells him. “But it wasn’t really her. She vanished the moment I tried to touch her.”
Kaworu gives a slow nod.
“I knew it from the start, though,” Asuka says, shrugging. “I knew it even before I went under. Somehow I knew she’d be there.”
Kaworu nods again. His gaze hasn’t left her this entire time. Asuka doesn’t think she’s seen him blink once; he’s just like Rei in that respect. Only nerdier, Asuka thinks. Look how high his pants are pulled up. Weirdo.
“Perhaps,” Kaworu says, “seeing you persevere will inspire Shinji to come out into the water.”
Asuka snorts. “Doubt it. But I guess you can hope for that if you want.”
“I will.” Kaworu looks out to the shore where Shinji is. Asuka’s gaze follows, but she sees Rei before anything else – Rei, a slender figure on the pale sand, holding Asuka’s heart in both palms, clasping it softly like a baby bird fallen from its nest. When their eyes meet, Asuka thinks she sees her smile, just a tiny upturn of the corners of her little mouth. And how can Asuka feel her heart skip a beat if it’s in that girl’s hands? Maybe she really is crazy, feeling skipped beats in her empty chest at the sight of Rei Ayanami, of all people. (Though it doesn’t disturb her as much as it should, that thought. It almost feels exciting. It almost feels like she wants more of it.)
Asuka looks back at Kaworu. The question that keeps coming to her every time she looks at him reaches its breaking point. “When you first came here and apologized to me…what the hell was that even about?”
Kaworu’s serene expression is suddenly splintered quite roughly. The gentle glow to his skin flattens and the soft air around him grows bristly spikes of anxiety. “My mind – ” His attempt at speaking is cut short; he has to stop himself, take a breath, and it’s the first time he’s looked away from Asuka since she broke the surface of the waves. “My mind was used in horrific ways against you. It created a monster. No. Many of them, many monsters. They…flew from the sky like winged beasts, and they pounced. And they…”
Ah. White wings, red tongues, white teeth. So that’s why. Asuka sees Kaworu trembling. The water around him doesn’t seem to touch his body. She holds up a hand to stop him from going on. “Alright, alright. Don’t get all worked up. I’m tired of people getting all worked up on me.”
Kaworu’s skinny shoulders rise in a deep breath. They fall on a slow, shaky exhale.
“Let’s get one thing clear right now,” Asuka says quietly, staring at the strange angel-boy with something almost like pity. “I’m done with thinking about all the bad things that happened to me once upon a time ago, okay? I don’t wanna think about that life anymore. I’m living now. That’s what I care about. Does that make sense to you?”
Kaworu swallows. He gives a tentative nod. “Yes, it does.”
“Good. I don’t care about what happened back then. Because I’m here now. I don’t care if it was you who did it or someone else – ”
“It wasn’t me, I would never, it was SEELE – ”
“Stop. Okay. It was SEELE. But SEELE isn’t here right now. So I don’t care.”
Kaworu looks at her with his strange eyes. A light seems to come back into them, and the glow returns to his skin, albeit hesitantly.
“Lemme ask you this, angel-boy,” Asuka says. “You know what it’s like to feel tired, yeah?”
Kaworu’s eyes close. “Yes,” he says, almost sighing the word out of his chest. “I know that feeling…better than almost any feeling in the world.”
Asuka opens her palms, a truce. “Well, there you go. I’m tired. We’re both tired. So we don’t have much energy to waste on thinking about that old life, now do we.”
And Asuka isn’t sure what exactly it is, but something within Kaworu seems to come loose at those words; a quiet sort of tension ebbs out of him slowly as his eyes reopen, pale lashes settled low over the red of his gaze. He gives a small smile. “And what about a hundred lives?”
Asuka furrows her brow at him. “What? What are you talking about?”
Kaworu looks up at the bright gold of the sky, still smiling that nameless sort of smile – rueful, almost sad but not quite. A shred of hope at the edge of it intermingled with regret and love and ten thousand other feelings that Asuka doesn’t have the energy to sift through right now.
“She did this for you, you know,” Kaworu says suddenly, his voice touched with a warm note of amusement.
Asuka doesn’t have to ask him to clarify. She already knows. The sunlight is soft and hot on her skin. And there’s that skipping feeling again.
“I didn’t crush it,” Rei says. She offers out the heart that beats quicker at the sight of her. “Look.”
“I can see that.” Asuka doesn’t want to smile, keeps the urge of it bitten back, but still there’s a twitch at the corner of her mouth that’s too stubborn for her to conceal. “But how do I know you didn’t think about breaking it?”
Rei blinks at her, her expression unmoving.
“I was joking,” Asuka mumbles. She suddenly feels bashful, foolish, her face hot. She blames it on the sun. “Anyway, uh.” She reaches out to take the heart from Rei’s hands. Their fingertips just barely touch during the exchange. The sight of the heart beating faster once more makes Asuka’s face feel all the hotter. Say thank you, she thinks. Just say it, get it over with. Thank you thank you thank –
You’re welcome, Rei thinks back to her. Her voice is gentle and clear in Asuka’s mind, like a lullaby.
“I really don’t get what you’re so scared of.”
Shinji is sitting on the sand, his knees tucked up against his chest, arms wrapped around his shins. “Yeah. You wouldn’t get it.”
“How am I supposed to?” Asuka asks, annoyed. “I was just in that water. You saw me go under. Unless you weren’t paying attention as usual.”
“You don’t…have the same sorts of things to be afraid of as I do.”
“Like that even matters. Everyone’s scared of something.”
Shinji sends her a sideways glance. His eyes are nervous and cold.
“Why are you even keeping him waiting out there?” Asuka asks, nodding out to Kaworu, who still stands luminescent in the water. Rei is with him now, the two of them alternately trying to float atop the water. Kaworu laughs good-naturedly whenever Rei slips up, but Rei’s face is firm with concentration, her body still and taut with finely-controlled energy.
“If I tell you my honest answer,” Shinji mutters, “you’ll just laugh at me.”
“I thought you were glad we were back to how we used to be. You saying stupid things and me laughing at you.”
“This is different.”
Asuka sighs and goes quiet, watching Rei and Kaworu try their demigod tricks above the waves. Rei is doing much better than Kaworu, though she slips every now and then, going either too high or too low, as if she still has to get used to inhabiting her small body again instead of that of the ice-white giant that held the entire world.
“When I first woke up…” Shinji whispers, and then trails off. Asuka has to nudge him in the shoulder to prompt him to continue. “When I first woke up beneath the water, before coming to the shore…I already saw what I needed to see.”
Asuka turns to him, watching his face carefully. Shinji’s profile is sad and pale; inherently human, even now. How easy it always was to forget that.
“I hadn’t seen my mother alive in so many years,” Shinji says, very quietly. “Since I was just a baby. I couldn’t even remember her face for the longest time. And…when she spoke to me beneath the water, the both of us just…slowly, slowly drifting away from each other, me to the surface, her to sink lower into some place I couldn’t see…” Shinji’s eyes close. Asuka hears him take in the tiniest of breaths. “When I finally saw her then…it was almost like we’d never been apart in the first place. Everything about her seemed so familiar. And yet…”
Asuka picks up on what Shinji is leaving unsaid, pins words to it to speak them aloud. “You knew deep down it wasn’t real?”
Shinji opens his eyes and stares out straight ahead of him. “Yeah,” he says. “Exactly that.”
Asuka nods, running an idle hand through the sand in which she sits. The fine white grains slip through her fingers with a delicate sound much like sighing.
She feels Shinji’s eyes shift to her after a moment of shared silence. “How did you know what I meant? Did you see…?”
“My mother, yeah.” Asuka stops with her idle sand-sifting and places her hand back in her lap where her heart is. “She looked peaceful.”
“Did she look…alive?”
“No. She was dead.” Asuka lets out a grim, empty laugh. “That whole ‘peaceful’ thing, though. It’s such bullshit. No one looks peaceful when they’re dead. If they’re smiling it’s only because their mouths got frozen that way during rigor mortis. That’s all there is to it. It’s just science. And yet we always try to sugar-coat that. We tell ourselves ‘oh, they look so happy, like they’re having a nice dream.’ We only say it to comfort ourselves, but it’s such shit, isn’t it?” She catches her breath for a moment, looking down at her beating heart. “Because I’ve been dead before,” she says. “And you don’t feel peace. You don’t feel anything. That’s why it’s death. There’s nothing to feel, to see, to experience. Just a black nothingness emptier than anything you could ever imagine. And if someone ever looked over my dead body and said ‘she looks so peaceful,’ I’d rise from the dead and knock their fucking lights out.”
Shinji is watching her with wide eyes now, looking a bit sickly. “That’s…that’s what I used to want.”
Asuka snorts out a laugh. “What? Me knocking your lights out?”
“No…” Then, after a long pause, “Being dead.”
I sat in a rusty bathtub in the middle of nowhere with my wrists slit and I wanted to die. I wanted it all to be over right then and there. But then when you’re really faced with it, when you’re not prepared to lose everything, when you want to keep fighting, dying is the last thing in the world you want. And it was the last thing in the world I wanted when it came for me.
“And what about now?” Asuka asks.
Shinji’s eyes are on Kaworu. His face softens. “I don’t think so. Not anymore. I mean…it’s hard to call myself cured of it or anything. It’s always sort of there in the back of my head when I get bad. I don’t think it ever really vanishes for good. But…” He shrugs and looks at Asuka, his eyes almost sheepish. “Guess we just have to pick up and keep going, right?”
Asuka stares at him. A lopsided smile breaks upon her face. “That’s the last thing I ever thought I’d hear come out of your mouth.”
“Maybe I’ve changed a little.”
“Yeah,” Asuka says without thinking. And then, since it’s too late to take it back, she adds, “You have changed. We all have.”
“You’re suddenly getting all sentimental.”
“Oh, don’t even.”
And, against Asuka’s expectations, Shinji laughs. It’s an honest laugh. She can count on one hand the amount of times she’s ever heard Shinji laugh like that.
They both turn their attention back out to the water. Shinji lets out a sigh as if trying to center himself. “Maybe I’ll go out there,” he says. “Just to see if I can do it.”
“You should. It wouldn’t be fair if I did it and you chickened out.”
Shinji smiles. “Yeah. Guess you’re right.”
Suddenly caught by something, Asuka glances up at the sky. “Hey. Did the sun just flicker for a second?”
“Hm?” Shinji looks up. “I must’ve missed it. Did it flicker for you?”
“Yeah…like it was about to go out – ”
And in that moment, it dawns on Asuka in a sick rush what’s happening. She jumps up to her feet at the sound of a splash in the water, her heart pounding in her hands. In the water, Kaworu is lifting up the collapsed body of Rei, speaking to her in a frantic, otherworldly language that Asuka can’t understand.
“Shit,” Asuka hisses to herself, and then five more times as she runs out into the water. She hears Shinji get to his feet and follow her. The water splashes beneath their feet in bright red puddles.
Above their heads, the golden sun dies out as easy as someone switching off a lamp.
Asuka’s shelter is too small to hold four people, so Kaworu sits in the entranceway, looking miserable.
“It is my fault,” he says on a near whisper. “She should not have been pushing herself when she was already exerting so much energy into keeping the sun out.”
Shinji sits against the wall, careful not to lean back too much lest the flimsy wood give out beneath his weight. He touches Kaworu’s hand very softly.
“Stop moping,” Asuka says, kneeling beside Rei’s unconscious body. “It’s not your fault, so stop making yourself upset over nothing.”
Besides, she thinks, I’m the one she made the sun come out for. If it’s anyone’s fault…
“Shinji,” she says, half-turning, heart in hands. She hesitates but a moment before bracing herself and saying, “Hold this. And be very careful with it, got it?”
Shinji’s eyes widen. “Are you sure it’s okay?”
“Yes, I’m sure, that’s why I’m telling you to do it. I’m not putting it down in the sand where it’ll get dirty, and I need this shirt to cover her up. Now take it.”
Hesitantly, Shinji accepts Asuka’s heart and holds it gingerly, looking a little green in the face. Asuka turns back around to drape the white button-down shirt over Rei’s chest. The girl’s face is waxy and deathly white. No, Asuka tells herself, her thoughts hissing, don’t think about death. She isn’t going to die. Now calm down and think.
“I meant to offer before,” Kaworu says quietly, “but would you like my overshirt to wear? I can easily spare it if you are in need.”
All this time Asuka had nearly forgotten she’s still bare-chested, only her long hair covering her. But she has better things to worry about than that. “If that makes you feel better,” she says, her thoughts going one hundred miles per hour as she tries to find a solution to Rei’s condition. “I couldn’t care less about something like that anymore.”
“If only to keep you warm,” Kaworu says.
The innocence to his tone is enough for Asuka to believe that’s truly all he means by it. It is getting rather cold. “Fine, go ahead,” she says absently, still thinking hard. A few moments pass before Kaworu leans forward and hands her his uniform shirt. The bright orange t-shirt he’s been wearing beneath it only momentarily distracts her from her ruminating as she carelessly slips on the button-up, still leaving it open in the front, not to be bothered with buttons during a time like this.
“I’m afraid to just let her sleep,” Asuka admits after a long stretch of tense silence. “I’m afraid she won’t wake up.”
“She will,” Kaworu says. “It takes more than exhaustion to take out our kind. There are many ways to kill us, but luckily that is not one of them.”
His words come out strangely heavy, and Shinji looks at him with quietly worried eyes before Kaworu gives him a reassuring smile that, Asuka briefly thinks, looks a little strained at the edges, a little tired.
Asuka sits back on her heels before settling down in a seated position, feeling jittery and agitated all over. She has to shift herself four times just to get close to comfortable, and even then her limbs ache with pent-up energy. She turns her head to look at Shinji, who watches Rei warily. “It’s weird,” she says, “you don’t seem surprised by any of this.”
Shinji’s attention moves to Asuka. “By any of what?”
“Her making the sun come out. This guy coming back from the dead.” She nods her head to Kaworu. “What I told you about my mother. When we talk about this stuff, it’s like we’re just talking about the weather, huh.”
Shinji puffs out a breath of a laugh through his nose. “I guess it’s just hard for me to be surprised by any of this after seeing everything that happened before.” He sends Asuka a weary glance for a moment before looking back at Rei and murmuring, “I saw more of Third Impact than you did, I mean.”
Asuka doesn’t know who’s better off – Shinji, who witnessed the impact in its entirety, or herself, who was dead during it all. But perhaps it’s not a contest. Still, she shivers.
“Another thing I’ve noticed,” Shinji says quietly, “I haven’t felt hungry this entire time we’ve been here. Have you?”
Asuka shakes her head. “Guess that makes us pretty lucky, since there isn’t any food in sight anyway. We’d be screwed if we were hungry.” She looks to her trove of bones still resting in the sand and gives them a morbid sort of smile. “Unless you’re in the mood for bone salad. We’ve got nothing.”
The space beneath Asuka’s eye patch begins to glow warm again. She scratches at the patch with an annoyed huff. “Damn thing,” she mutters. “Always flaring up at the worst of times…”
Her voice trails off. Her gaze meets Kaworu’s, who watches her with a careful, expectant expression. Asuka’s hand slowly falls away from her eye patch. “Do you…” She has to fight to find her voice again. “Do you ever feel hungry?”
Kaworu’s lips turn up in a sad smile, and there’s an air about him that tells Asuka he’s been waiting for this conversation to happen for quite some time now. “Not normally,” he says with a small shake of his head. “I have no need to.”
“But if you could eat, would you?”
“I would. But it is a placebo effect of sorts. If I am around Lilin who are eating, I too will want to do what they are doing, and I will feel hunger. But it is only imaginary, an emotion rather than a sensation.”
“So you could go the rest of your life without eating and you’d get by just fine?”
A strange bitterness ghosts over the corner of Kaworu’s fixed smile, a barely-there twitch that Asuka is surprised she noticed at all. “Theoretically,” he says, the syllables clipped and flat.
Asuka’s eye patch glows hotter. Through the periphery of her one eye she can almost see a blue haze leaking out into the air before her. She rubs her hand down her face and laughs, winded and exhausted. “It’s all so obvious,” she says. “So fucking obvious. I’ve been in denial this whole time, haven’t I. Heart’s carved out of my chest and I’ve got a goddamn nightlight for an eye and I still wouldn’t believe it.”
“Denial?” Shinji’s voice is hollow with anxiety. “What are you trying to say, Asuka?”
Asuka looks to Shinji, taking in his world-weary face and sad eyes. She smiles at him with only one half of her mouth, wanting to laugh at him, at herself, at everything; the past, the present, the future, all the universes and all the stars that have aligned to hand her this exact moment on a silver plate – this ridiculous, absurd, insane moment, so backwards and wrong that it’s almost beautiful, almost right.
And she says, “It means, Shinji, we’re not human anymore.”
There’s no great fanfare. There are no tears, no protestations, no flashing lights of shock or fear. Asuka and Shinji merely stare at each other, absorbing, processing, and it’s the quietest they’ve ever been in their entire lives.
After a long time, Shinji says, “I don’t feel any different. Being human and inhuman…it feels the same to me.”
Asuka smiles, showing her teeth. “Ironic, isn’t it?”
Asuka’s heart is returned to her with a sort of pathetic delicacy that so very much fits Shinji. It’s almost endearing, if she squints. She can’t help but notice that he doesn’t look green in the face anymore when handling the beating red thing. It doesn’t leave any marks on his hands, no blood, no signs of him ever having held it; but there’s something burning in Asuka’s mind that she has to exorcise herself of before it burns a hole clean through her.
“Shinji,” she says, looking down at her heart rather than at Shinji’s back as he takes his leave from the shelter. She sees his bare feet in the sand, sees him come to a stop in the middle of following Kaworu back out onto the dark beach.
Asuka stares at her heart for a few more moments before she looks up at him. “Back then, you were the last person in the universe I ever wanted anywhere near my heart. Back then I tried really hard to hate you, and eventually it worked. I think.”
Shinji’s expression looks momentarily wounded. But he doesn’t say anything. He waits. And Asuka doesn’t have to clarify how long ago “back then” might have been. Months, weeks, days, hours, ten minutes ago – none of them would be correct. Time is fluid and wild and lost to them. All that’s left is feeling, raw and stripped down to its bare bones.
“But,” Asuka says, grinding her teeth for a moment to make room for the words to come out. “But…I don’t know. You didn’t hurt it this time. My heart, I mean. So…” Another grinding of her teeth, chewing the strange words in her mouth until she’s able to speak them aloud without choking on them. “So…thanks.”
They don’t have to speak. Shinji’s nervous expression softens into something akin to peace, and the unspoken I’m-sorrys between them hang like white clouds that slowly disperse into a perfect quiet, a perfect understanding. A string is gently cut, and they part ways, Shinji following Kaworu out onto the sand and Asuka going back to her watch over Rei, who breathes slowly, so very slowly.
You better have heard all of that, Asuka thinks to her. I couldn’t have done that all on my own.
Something compels her to lie beside Rei’s sleeping body. It’s a simple urge and so Asuka doesn’t question it. She is tired. People lie down when they’re tired, it’s normal. Of course it has nothing to do with Rei. Of course.
But she still doesn’t understand why her body tells her she needs to watch Rei sleep.
Or why she needs to lie close enough to her so that she feels the girl’s steady, warm breaths on her mouth every time she exhales.
Or why, gazing at the silvery paleness of Rei’s skin, Asuka is suddenly overcome with the thought of why would you work so hard to make the sun come out when you look more like the moon? Wait, what? What the hell kind of thought was that? Ew. If you heard that thought I’m totally done for.
Asuka sits up and runs her hands down her face, compressing a long sigh within her palms. A thin sheen of sweat dampens her face. She dries it off with the edge of Kaworu’s shirt still lazily hanging off her back. She looks to Rei again, her eyes drawn to her easily, magnetized.
Come on. Wake up.
Somewhere in the air above her, Asuka feels something almost imperceptible – a faint pulse, a single beat of energy on some invisible wavelength. But Rei still appears to be sleeping as deep as ever, not a muscle moving, not even a flutter of a nerve twitching near an eyelid or the corner of a lip.
Asuka watches her every not-movement.
Her heart suddenly feels heavy in her lap. Frustrated, she slips off Kaworu’s shirt and spreads it out on the sand behind her, not wanting to put any space between where she sits and where Rei lies. Her heart is dispatched gently atop the white cotton. Rei remains still, only breathing, a pastel Aurora whose fingertip was pricked by golden sunlight and threw her into the deepest sleep.
Drawn back down to the sand, Asuka curls up close to Rei, close enough to feel the other’s tentative body heat but not close enough to touch.
The sound of the waves is a calm, steady sigh across the sand, whispering up the hill and into the shelter where two girls lie side by side.
Rei just breathes, the rise and fall of her chest an automatic, habitual thing.
Wake up. I can’t stand the silence here.
Asuka squeezes her eye shut. Behind her eyelid is the same blackness that permeates outside on the beach now that the sun is gone. Asuka clenches her teeth and grabs at Rei’s hand, giving up the pretense of keeping distance, not caring for it anymore.
Please wake up. Come on. I never say ‘please’ for anything, so just…
A muscle in Rei’s palm twitches. Asuka opens her eyes in a flash, looking at Rei’s face with a hopeful expectancy that, were she to look at herself from the outside, would make her scoff in embarrassment. But that doesn’t matter – Rei’s eyes are opening, just barely, a soft, sleepy sound slipping from her lips. It’s so human that it makes Asuka’s chest ache.
Rei blinks blearily up at the slatted ceiling, coming back to the wakeful world with the tiniest of steps. Asuka is holding her breath, clutching the girl’s hand. Rei blinks again and slowly turns her head to look at her. Their faces are mere inches apart.
Your breath on my mouth. It feels nice.
Rei’s sleepy eyes drift down, and then back up at Asuka. “You’re holding my hand,” she states, softer than a whisper. “Why?”
“Are you stupid?” Asuka breathes out, shaking her head with wide eyes. “Are you actually stupid?”
“No.” Rei looks back down to where their hands are clasped together. “You’re still holding it. Very tightly. And your fingers are shaking.”
“Don’t ever do that again,” Asuka whispers, a desperate fierceness making her words hiss like steam. “I…I don’t need the sun that badly, okay? You can’t just go and wear yourself out like that. If it weren’t for angel-boy telling me otherwise, I’d’ve thought you were…that you were…”
She can’t even say it. How pathetic. She goes from one life of screaming at the girl in too-slow elevators, comparing her to ball-joints and marionettes with glass eyes, to diving headlong into this new life where she’s suddenly breathless and cold at the thought of her dying. Asuka squeezes her eye shut again, covering her face with her free hand. “God,” she whispers, “here I am calling you the stupid one…when really it’s been me this whole time.”
After a moment, Asuka feels Rei squeeze her hand. It’s the most subtle sensation, the quietest of gestures, but to Asuka, it’s no less than a lightning bolt struck straight through her body.
“No,” Rei murmurs. “You’re aren’t stupid.”
Asuka scoffs out a laugh. “Yeah, right.”
“You’re only feeling.”
“I’m feeling a bunch of stupid things.”
“They don’t sound stupid to me.”
Asuka rubs her eye furiously; her fingertips come back wet. “Oh, great. So you didhear that dumb thought.”
“I can hear everything you feel,” Rei says, “when you let me in.”
“When I…?” Asuka’s hand drops away from her eye. Rei is gazing at her up close, her face calm, her gaze bright and alive with a new light. “When I what?”
“I only hear the thoughts you want me to hear. Otherwise your mind is a closed door that I won’t force open. As I said before, you open it all on your own, and that’s when I come in.”
“Why wouldn’t you just open the door yourself?” Asuka asks, breathless. “Why wait for me?”
Rei gives a tiny smile, more of an air about her than a physical thing. And she says, “Because that would be cheating.”
Asuka stares at her in disbelief. The tears that had been welling in her one eye slip down her cheek, easy and slow. A strange peace floods over her, an incredible exhaustion, as if she has lived one hundred consecutive lives of nothing but pain and this is the only life she’s ever had in which she can rest. In a flash, she remembers Kaworu’s tired, sad eyes, his strained smile. One hundred lives. Perhaps that isn’t so far-fetched after all.
She wipes her cheek dry and lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. “You should tell angel-boy that you’re okay. He was all worked up, blaming himself.”
“I told him.” Rei touches her temple with the tip of her pointer finger. “He knows now.”
Asuka gives a slow nod, feeling heavy all over. She’s so tired. So relieved. And yet there’s still more, so much more she needs to say. She thinks she would need one hundred more lives just to get it all out.
In between moments of almost-sleep:
Did you enjoy the sun?
Asuka, eye closed, can’t help but give a huff of a laugh. Would’ve been nicer if I didn’t, y’know, see you collapse from it.
I’m sorry. A pause. But did you enjoy it before that?
Asuka peeps open her eye to look at Rei, who watches her with something much like pensiveness. It suddenly becomes impossible to poke fun at her, to lie, to brush it off as nothing when that small, almost hopeful look might as well mean everything. Yeah,she answers. I did. I felt…more like myself, but better.
When she sees Rei soften at that, her face flushes hot, and she looks past the curve of Rei’s shoulder to the wall just to have something else to focus on. But I could probably do it if I tried, she thinks to her, so it’s not like I was too impressed or anything…
Rei says nothing, only smiles that sort of smile that touches the air around her more than it touches her mouth.
When Asuka dreams, she dreams of the sky glowing a wild silver-gold, everything dead coming to life, everything cold flushed with warmth. She dreams of that fabled blue ocean. Things bloom and expand and are flooded with color. There’s heat on her skin, fresh and real – real – too real for a dream –
She’s yanked out of sleep faster than she can keep up with, her head spinning and her empty heart-space pounding with blood that shouldn’t be there. Rei isn’t beside her anymore. Overhead, there’s golden light streaming through the roof. A thick wave of panic surges through Asuka’s stomach as she looks wildly about the shelter – only to find Rei standing in the entranceway, staring up at the sky with that muted sort of surprise that, on anyone else’s face, would translate to full-fledged shock.
Asuka bolts over to her and grabs her by the hand. Rei turns to look at her, eyes gleaming. “What the hell are you doing?” Asuka gasps out. “Do you want to pass out again?”
Rei’s expression remains rooted in that soft surprise. “It’s not just me doing it,” she says quietly. “I’m barely even trying.”
“That doesn’t matter! You could still collapse if you overwork yourself!”
Rei studies her closely for a few moments. Then, with some unspoken reverie glinting in her eyes, she looks down at Asuka’s hand that holds hers so tightly. “That’s interesting,” she muses. “It seems as though it’s also coming from you.”
“That’s impossible,” Asuka says hotly. “I…god, Rei, I was just kidding when I said I could do it if I tried hard enough! I wasn’t actually being serious!”
“No. Watch.” Rei squeezes Asuka’s hand; outside, the sky flares like a gentle golden pulse. “It’s the both of us. But this sun, it’s almost entirely coming from you.”
Asuka gapes at her, then up at the glowing sky that seemingly stems from her own body. Sweat begins beading at her temples, dampening her wild, overgrown bangs that have long since fallen out of their put-together prettiness – much like the rest of her, and all the better for it.
Her breath comes short when she whispers, “That sun’s coming from you and me?”
Rei squeezes her hand again, that gentle little pulse of heat that makes the gold sky flare up a touch brighter.
Asuka turns her head to look at her. The space beneath her eye patch is glowing hotter than it’s ever been before – hot like the sunlight overhead that beats down on her bare, aching skin.
Rei is staring at her with the expression of someone waiting for something. Her lips are parted.
Biting the bullet, Asuka leans forward with a gasp. And she kisses her. She kisses her right on her pale flower of a mouth. It’s thoughtless and it’s reckless and she pulls away before she can even register the heat of Rei’s lips, but when she leans back to survey what she’s done, Rei’s eyes are closed, and her mouth is still open and waiting for another.
Not fair, Asuka thinks, mind reeling dizzily. I just did it, now it’s your turn.
She expects hesitation. She expects a rebuttal, albeit a quiet one. But she doesn’t get that. What she gets is Rei’s mouth on her own, whisper-soft and yet firm with a resolve that Asuka doesn’t dare doubt or question. Asuka’s back meets the wall, a shaking hand rising to clutch wildly at Rei’s hair, the other still grasping the girl’s hand with enough force that it should hurt. But Rei only sighs out a breath against Asuka’s mouth and kisses her again with that experimental, testing gentleness that drags an animal-like groan from Asuka’s throat. It’s all too much; it’s all not enough. Her bare chest heaves with strained breath as Rei leans in close enough for their bodies to touch, the soft material of the girl’s uniform shirt pressed up against Asuka’s breasts and stomach. She feels the sweet swell of Rei’s chest through that shirt; she feels Rei’s heart beating.
She imagines their ribcages entangling. She imagines their skeletons melding together.
Her mouth is burning when Rei puts a careful clip on the kiss, stepping back to look at her. Asuka, bitten by something rabid, grabs at Rei’s shirt desperately to reel her back in. Every space that Rei’s body isn’t touching hers aches with neglect. Asuka’s back meets the wall again, and Rei’s body melts against her own. And there they stand, breathing, touching, the sky glowing hot overhead – and the waves, the ever-present waves, softly, gently washing up onto the shore.
You’re still holding my hand, Rei whispers.
Asuka’s shoulder bobs with a soundless laugh. If you think I’m gonna let it go after all this, she whispers back, then you’re crazy.