The first rays of the morning sun began to filter in through the window shutters, announcing the arrival of a new day, its soft light caressing each surface of the room peeked into one by one. It passed by the small sudy table, and the stack of books piled haphazardly on its smooth top. It bypassed the undersized fold-up chair, with the black cello case draped garishly across it, and the music stand that stood before it, a piece of sheet music settled on its open arms. It skirted by the old cello, its brown wood glinting in the morning light, its frame leaning comfortably a corner. It slipped over the bedside dresser, over the little digital alarm clock, silently ticking away the time of the day.
The room was quiet, the atmosphere in it still. If not for the implements scattered here and there, if not for the artifacts of daily life, one would mistake the room vacant. Abandoned. Without a trace of the vibrancy one would associate to a place where people stayed. Where people lived.
Maybe it was. It certainly looked that way. The place smacked of an air of emptiness, a feeling that is more at home at the places where one is laid to their final rest.
The air was silent. Silent as a grave. The only sounds that permeated were the sounds of the city that was only starting to wake up, embracing the coming of the new day. It was a sentiment that the room didn't seem to share.
Or was it?
Take away the sound of the cars ferrying their owners to their workplaces, filter out the noise of the radios and television sets from the nearby buildings and apartments, shut out the greetings of people meeting each other on the sidewalk, and you could hear it. It wasn't a very loud sound, but it was there, the only sign of life in the empty air of the place.
If one would listen closely enough, one would hear the soft sounds of someone crying.
The slanted rays continued on their course, slowly warming the still air of the area. It seemed to be actively seeking out the source of the sound, of the single aspect that smacked of life in the room. It flitted over the LCD monitor of the clock, moving across a bit, crossing over to two pairs of slippers. One looked like it was almost worn out with use, the other, a smaller, daintier pair, looked like it hadn't been used in a long time, as if it was left in place on purpose.
As if it was commemorating its owner.
The light continued irrevocably, moving up the side of the large bed, progressing over its wrinkled cover, and the blanket that seemed to have seen better days. The ray of sunlight shifted, until it came into contact with the figure lying on top of the bed, back turned. The sunlight seemed to pause for a moment, almost unsure, as a soft sob escaped from the figure.
Then, as if with a sense of purpose, the light pressed on, gliding over the figure's back, which was hunched over, as if clutching something close to itself. The slender shaft of light progressed over the curve of the figure's shoulders, over its neck, briefly caressing the back of the ear, before reaching the lying figure's eyes, which were closed tight, the trail of a tear still visible on the figure's face.
Unable to shut the light forcing its way into his eye, Ikari Shinji, former Evangelion pilot, opened his two sleepy orbs to a world that seemed to always force him to participate in its activities.
Muscles tingling, he slowly uncurled himself from the ball he seemed to have turned into when he fell asleep. Clutched in his left hand was his old and battered SDAT player, its earphones still attached to his ears, the repetitive sounds of the 25th track assaulting his senses, its normally soothing tunes sounding like gibberish to his still sleep-hazed mind.
Seeing it clutched tightly in his grip, a stray thought broke through his still muddled senses. It was a long time since he had sought the small implement's comfort, a long time since he had embraced the reassuring repetitiveness of its music.
Sitting up slowly, he rubbed away the morning glory that still clung to his eyes, his other hand absently turning off the now outdated walkman, pulling its earphones off his ears. Glancing wearily around the room, his eyes eventually settled on the small alarm clock. He looked at the time: it was barely six-thirty in the morning. Then, lifting his gaze a bit, he saw the date that was flashing on top of the time.
Shinji had to look away, the same memories that had assaulted him the night before, robbing him of his sleep, began to creep back into his head with frightening intensity. The same memories that made him dig through all of those storage boxes for his old music player.
Taking a few breaths to steady himself, he wiped away any stray tears that had escaped from his eyes. Today was the day. A day of both happiness and sadness. Each time it came, the memories came as well, like ghosts haunting him, making him want to crawl into a small corner of himself and shut everything out.
If it was only that easy to shut things out. Before, he probably could have. Lost himself in his own mind, run away from the world, and the pain that came with existing in it.
But now, Ikari Shinji had other reasons to live for, reasons important enough to make him wake up everyday and face a world that had before only shown cruelty and sadness to him all of his life.
And so, with a last shuddering breath, Ikari Shinji rose from his messy bed, putting on his slippers, taking care not to touch the other pair, and walked out the room's door. He couldn't run away from reality anymore, not now. Especially not today.
She wouldn't want him to run away.
A fanfiction by Myssa Elaine S. Rei
Shinji yawned a bit, stretching out the kinks of his muscles as he left his room and entered the main hallway of the small apartment. Looking around, he saw that, other than the sounds coming from the outside, the apartment was totally quiet. It wasn't really surprising, considering the time of the day it was. Still, he hoped to hear at least some sounds, like the buzzing of a radio left open last night. Anything to dispel the air of emptiness, of loneliness the place seemed to make him feel.
What a strange contrast this place was to the apartment he shared with Misato some nineteen years ago. Mornings back there were never this dull. At least there, he could have expected Pen-pen's excited sqwauking when the penguin saw him prepare his food dish, or Misato's usual victory yell after her first beer of the day, and the teasing that came soon afterwards.
"Guten morgen, baka. You'd better not be fantasizing about me behind my back…"
Or that. Shinji unconsciously rubbed the back of his head as a goofy grin found its way to his face. Until now, he never really understood why he never got angry at her for teasing him and insulting him, even hitting him, so early in the morning. Back then, people would have thought him masochistic, the way he just disregarded Asuka's jabs, both physical and verbal. They never understood why he just took it all.
Maybe it was because that simple shout of 'baka' made his day?
There was probably no way around that. That was probably the reason.
And. Other things...
Shinji shook his head, as he unconsciously began to shuffle towards the direction of the kitchen. Things always seemed to be better back then. Sure, things weren't always happy back at Misato's, but at least things weren't boring. Most of the time, anyway.
He sighed. Compared to that old apartment at the edge of Tokyo-3, this place he was living in now looked like a house of spirits.
As he reached the kitchen, a stray thought struck him. In some ways, the apartment was a house of spirits. If memories were ghosts, then this place would be haunted. He'd was half-expecting to hear the dragging walk of the penguin's webbed feet as he followed Shinji to the kitchen. He'd half-expect to hear the sound of the shower running, and the lively female voice that could faintly be heard over the flowing water, singing slightly off-key a song in German, that, although he never understood, seemed to be happy and upbeat. Or the dead groan of a certain Major as she ambled like a zombie, searching for that first sip of Yebisu.
Shinji stopped for a moment. He was not normally like this. He was never really the type of person who reminisced about the past. Most of his life back then, although there were some happy parts, was a study in pain and loneliness. It was only on this particular day, every year, without fail, that those memories came to visit him, like relatives you never expect to see again.
It was only on this particular day. Just this one day in the year.
Shinji had unconsciously put on his customary apron, it's red fabric proclaiming in bold yellow letters 'Kiss the Chef', his body already going through the motions of his morning routine even as his mind was coming to grips with the onrush of memories. His hands were already rummaging through the small refridgerator, when he blinked suddenly, as if awakening from a trance.
He took a look at himself, apron donned, two eggs held in one hand while the other had a few loaves of bread in it. He smiled at this, closing the fridge behind him as he walked over to the kitchen counter. He'd been doing this, waking up early in the morning and preparing breakfast, everyday, for the past nineteen or so years. Ever since he first stayed at Misato's cramped and messy apartment, he'd been going through these motions everyday, as if the very act of making breakfast had been ingrained into his very being.
The smile never left his face, as he flopped the bread into the toaster, as he started the fire of the stove so that he could cook the eggs. He was thankful that, after such a long time, he was still doing the same old routine. It made him happy, that he was doing something worthwhile. Like back then.
It made him happy, even for a little while. Even for today.
Shinji began to hum to himself as he fried the eggs in the pan, watching them slowly cook, the popping sounds of the egg white against the hot oil of the pan filling his ears. Inevitably, some oil splattered unto his hands, making him recoil in pain. Opening the faucet, he resisted the urge to whimper as the cool water washed over the burnt spot, soothing away some of the pain.
Another stray thought. A smile, and a proffered hand, faintly spotted by oil burns. "You're such a baby, really. At least I don't complain when I get burned…"
Shinji closed his eyes, letting the memory wash over him like the water washing over his burns. Yes, he said to himself, you never did complain over the little things.
Closing the tap, he returned to the eggs, which he found were almost done. Turning off the stove and closing the gas, he placed the eggs on a small platter, placing it on top of the counter. He waited for a few more moments, before a satisfying 'ding' rang out through the kitchen, signalling that the toast was ready as well.
He placed the food on the table, before setting on it two dinner plates, a spoon and fork on each. Walking a small distance to the fridge, he took out the small stick of butter he had bought a few days ago, setting it beside the toast.
Breakfast was ready. The only thing missing to the picture was the people who were supposed to be eating it.
Shinji took a look at the wall clock that hung beside the fridge. It was already more than a quarter to seven. His household companion wouldn't awake for a little while. Taking a look at the hot food on the table, he decided that it wouldn't be right to let it go to waste.
Besides, she wanted to start up early today, anyway, he mused, as he took off his apron and walked down the hallway, towards the room of the only other person to share the apartment with him.
Soon, he found himself at the threshold of the room, looking at the sliding door in front of him, wondering how he was going to wake up the room's occupant. A large heart-shaped sign dominated his view, its smooth surface graced by a strange mix of German and Kanji written with a black marker, announcing to the world the name of the room's present owner.
Shinji sighed; he couldn't think of a proper way of doing this. Deciding for the most expedient course of action, he took a deep breath, before knocking on the door's soft wooden surface.
"Teri, wake up, it's time for breakfast."
A muffled groan was heard from inside the room, followed by a dull thump, as if someone had just fallen off a bed. Even more groans followed that.
"Get up, Teri-chan. You wouldn't want that toast to get cold now, would you?"
More moans, punctuated by a few groans and some snatches in German. Then, a few shuffling sounds, before the door slid open before him, revealing a young girl still clutching her blanket, one of her hands rubbing away the bits of sleep that were still on her eyes. "Otousan, it isn't even seven o' clock yet," the girl said blearily, her dark blue eyes unfocused, the red hair framing her face sticking out at odd angles. "Let me sleep some more, please?" The girl, looking a bit unsteady on her feet, yawned for added effect.
Shinji smiled down at his daughter. "Well, you did say that you wanted to start early today."
The girl looked at her father, squinting her eyes a bit as she tried to focus on his face. "I didn't mean this early…" she whined. Or at least tried to.
The elder Ikari shrugged his shoulders. "It's too bad. And here I was cooking a nice hot breakfast, thinking that you'd join me for once. I guess it'll have to go cold now…"
The girl looked like she was about to say something in response, when a loud rumbling noice echoed through the hallway. Blushing, the girl shut her mouth, disappearing into her room for a moment, before reappearing with a bath towel draped over her shoulders. As she passed him by on the way to the kitchen, Teri muttered, "Cheater." Shinji just smiled, before following her.
Teri nibbled a bit on her toast, before excusing herself and headed for the bathroom. As Shinji sat at the dining table, cup of coffee in hand, the sounds of water running were soon heard. Taking a sip, he instinctively began to count to himself. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
...0. Shinji grinned into his cup. It wasn't his fault that she didn't ask for him to run a hot bath. Besides, the blast of cold water should help wake her up a little more.
Helping himself to the last of his toast, his ears suddenly perked up, as a brand new sound began to petter down into the kitchen/dining area.
"Ich bin von Kopf...bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt...Denn das ist meine Welt..." Over the splashing of water, the young girl's voice could be heard. She seemed to be singing. A bit off-tune, but singing nonetheless.
Eh, what's this? Shinji stood up and walked over to the main hall. Teri singing? While taking a cold shower? This was certainly odd. Standing there, he listened carefully, as his daughter's voice carried more clearer to him. There was something about that song. Something very familiar.
"...Das ist...was soll ich machen...meine Natur..."
The song was in German. Trust Teri to sing something he couldn't understand. This was one of those times that he began to regret that he gave in to Misato, and let Teri be schooled in her mother's native language. His German was just as strong as his alcohol tolerance. Meaning that he barely understood a single word of the language.
"...Ich kann halt lieben nur...und sonst gar nichts..."
Shinji closed his eyes. Yes, he couldn't understand what his daughter was singing. But there was just something about it that touched him deep inside, in the way her young voice played with those words. Then again, all sorts of things seemed to touch him in one way or another.
"Manner umschwirren mich...wie Motten um das Licht..."
Maybe because the song itself was in German. Yes, that's probably it. Heck, anything about Germany made him feel funny, he mused. Shinji turned to go back to the kitchen to finish up, when the next line of the song reached his ears…
"...And if their wings burn...I know I'm not to blame..."
...He suddenly understood what they meant. He stopped, his eyes widening as he remembered just where it was he heard that song.
A moment together. Cuddled close to each other on the couch, a small battery-powered fan spinning away in front of them, as they waited for the apartment's electricity to be turned on. She was singing softly to herself, and he had wanted to know what it was.
"It's called 'Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt', stupid. I think, if you translated it to Japanese, the nearest thing that it could mean is 'I'm falling in Love again'. Or something like that. Why, do you want me to translate it for you?"
A smile. Then, a kiss. Followed by something else...
Another memory. Shinji tried to keep himself steady, leaning on the wall for support, as he slowly made his way back to the dining table. Sitting down, he tried to find solace in his cup of coffee, his shaking hands gripping its porcelain surface for all it was worth.
But the coffee had gone cold.
It was a few minutes before Teri re-emerged from the bath, now fully dressed in her school uniform. Drying her hair with a towel, she was surprised to see her father sitting at the table, his head bowed, his hands holding his coffee mug, his eyes staring into its bottom, as if trying to puzzle out some greater meaning to its black-tinged depths.
She blinked, surprised at the total reversal of her father's attitude. He's was almost like, well, perky, when he had woken her up. Now, he just looked like a puppet whose strings had been cut, his normally lively blue eyes now blank and lifeless. It made her shiver just by thinking about it.
He wasn't normally like this. It probably has something to do with today…
"Otousan?" she asked uncertainly. No response. She tried a few more times. Shinji barely even blinked.
Now this was really freaky. She really wasn't comfortable seeing him like this. But how was she supposed to reach out to him?
A thought crossed her mind. In a moment, her worried expression was slowly replaced by something more mischievious. The transformation was so surprising, that someone else who had been observing what was happening would have sworn that Teri had just turned into someone…else…
Though she didn't really want to do this, she couldn't come up with anything else at the moment. Taking a deep breath, Teri stomped over to the table, stopping before her dazed father. Well, I hope I get this right.
Shinji was shaken from his stupor by the sound of impact on the table in front of him. Looking up, he found himself facing an angry, red-haired visage, her face leaning forward against his. Instinctively, he leaned back, as a very, very long stream of inflectives began assaulting his ears…
"Du...Du SCHIESSEKOPF! Mussen Du so unempfindlich immer sein??!? Ich kann nicht glauben, daß Du solch ein ernstes Gesprach unterbrechen wurden! IDIOT!!"
...Inflectives that seemed to get all the more juicier because of the language used in its delivery...
Shinji blinked, his mind jumpstarting itself back to awareness. The more he heard what was being said, the more he looked at the young girl cursing in front of him, the quicker he returned to the present.
Teri stopped in her tirade as she noticed her father's face change from confusion, to concern, to annoyance. She straightened as her father leveled out in his seat, giving her a stare that made her want to run back to her room and hide underneath her covers. He looked like granny Misato whenever she found out that her stock of Yebisu had gone dry.
"Eep," She squeaked. Yep, hiding underneath her bedcovers sounded very nice right now.
"...Where did learn language like that, young lady?" Shinji had this sort of weird grin on his face. All of the sudden, the younger Ikari felt her knees go weak, and had to sit down to keep herself from collapsing on the floor.
Teri chuckled to herself a little, before giving a sheepish smile. "From granny Misato?"
Shinji seemed to consider the answer. Leaning back against his chair, he shook his head, and began to laugh, as if the idea was so logical to the point it became silly. Teri just stared at her father strangely, wondering if she made him snap or something.
"I should have known," Shinji said, wiping his eyes as his laughter subsided. The smile was still on his face, though, but it wasn't the same threatening smile it held before. "Well, I guess I have to thank you for that. I'm alright now."
"No problem, otousan," Teri replied, a little smile finding its way to her face.
"...Next time, I don't want to hear those words coming from your mouth ever again." He waved an admonishing finger at his daughter. "I may have gotten used to that from your mom, but it still isn't nice."
Teri began to blush heavily. "Okay." She looked up, a concerned look in her eyes. "Just don't do that again. Even if it is just today."
Shinji nodded. "I'll try my best. It is an important day, after all," He crossed his finger over his heart. "I promise."
The two sat in silence for a while, as Shinji refilled his cup, while Teri tried to finish her breakfast. Finally, Teri pushed away the plate in front of her, having finished the last of her food. "Well, I've gotta go now."
"Leaving for school?" Shinji put down his cup and escorted Teri to the door of their apartment.
"Yeah. But I'm going to stop by some places before going there." Teri retrieved her book bag, which was lying next to her shoes. She looked up at him, and smiled. "I'm going to buy some things for today."
"Oh, I see. So that's why you wanted to be woken up early."
"Yep." Teri stepped off to put on her shoes, hopping a bit as she tried to put on her right shoe while standing on one leg. Looking up, he saw her father rifling through his pants' pockets, eventually emerging with some money in hand. Teri shook her head. "Otousan, there's no need for that..."
"Take it." Shinji took his daughter's hand, and put the money on her palm, before enclosing it with his own. "Don't you think that I didn't know you've been starving yourself this past month just trying to save enough money from you allowance. Saving money is all fair and well Teri, but it isn't worth your health." Taking his hands away, he beamed. "Besides, you'll never know if what you have is enough to buy what you want."
Teri just shook her head, placing the money in her purse, before replacing it in her bookbag, smiling all the while. "Thanks, otousan." She gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Are granny Misato and Auntie Ayanami coming over?"
Shinji nodded. "They wouldn't miss this day for the world. Maybe even your Uncle Touji and aunt Hikari might be here too."
"Great. So, can I bring some friends over?"
"Why not? The more the merrier." Shinji shrugged. "Just remember what we have to do after the party."
Teri nodded vehemently. She gave her father one more kiss to the cheek, before turning to go. There was a noticeable light skip to her step.
"What is it, otousan?" Teri turned back to her father, who was pointing to something in her hair. Feeling the side of her head, she found what he was pointing at. "Oh, these. I just thought that they just might be appropriate. Today at least."
"Why? I'll take them off if you they make you feel uncomfortable." Teri put down her bag, and began to fiddle with her hair, ready to take off one of the two red neural interface clips that held her hair up.
Shinji waved his hand, shaking his head. "No, no, keep them on. They actually look good on you."
"Well, if you say so." Teri picked up her bag, and waved at her father as the front door slid open behind her. "Ja, otousan. See you later!"
"Yes?" The young girl stopped at the brink.
"Thanks, otousan." Ikari Teri Rougedötter smiled her brightest smile, waving one final time before the door closed before her.
"Well, there she goes," Shinji said to himself, as he stared at the closed door before him for a while after Teri had left. "The light of my life." He sighed, taking a look once more at the apartment he lived in. With Teri gone, the place seemed to lose a bit of the life that animated it.
Shaking his head, he walked over to the small table that held the small vid-phone. Dialing a number, he stood and waited for a few moments, before saying into the receiver he held, "Oh, hello. Good morning. Could I speak to General Katsuragi Misato? Yes, that Katsuragi. Could you tell her that Ikari Shinji wants to talk to her…"