She hated the night shift. She hated the loneliness of the empty hallways, the silence of the sleeping patients. Most of all she hated almost drifting off to sleep before being rudely awakened by the shouts that signaled the arrival of another patient barely clinging to life.
Tonight was one of those nights, where the dim lights had quickly sealed Hazuki-san's eyes before a loud shout drew her out of her trance. Annoyed, she shook her head and clamped her hair back, then ran to the scene.
She could hardly believe what she was seeing.
Her first reaction was fury, to lash out at the purple-haired woman who had allowed this to happen. In her heart she had always felt that that woman could not be trusted. The anger dissipated quickly into guilt. She should not have let that precious child go with her.
Asuka-chan lay motionless on a stretcher, an oxygen mask clamped over her face. Her arms and legs were loosely strapped down with wide strips of black Velcro--not that it mattered, since they weren't moving. Her copper hair bounced with the rapid movement of the cart. Paramedics were running along beside her, some yelling out instructions, another opening her eye to shine a light on it.
Hazuki-san put a hand to the girl's forehead. She was hot and feverish. The anger surged back again. Who would have let someone her condition out in the middle of the night?
But this was not her place--at least, not yet. She would not be permitted inside while the surgeons fought to save Asuka-chan's life. Only later, and Hazuki-san shivered--if she lived, would she be allowed to see her through her recovery.
There was nothing she could do now but wait. She hovered by the doorway, watching the paramedics hurry Asuka-chan into the operating room.
There would be no more rest for her tonight.
= = = = = = =
Somehow--he didn't know how, the last half hour was an utter blur--Shinji had convinced the paramedics to let him on the ambulance, but they had paid no attention to him afterwards. Alone and terrified, he walked in circles around the hospital waiting area, not daring to wander in the direction that they had taken her. His ears were strained from listening, yet he was terrified of hearing the low, flat beep that would signal the end.
He glanced hopefully towards the front desk, but the woman was busy talking on the phone. The only other nurse on duty was sitting in a corner, facing away. She appeared distraught and near tears. He'd seen her hurry towards Asuka when they had first brought her in, but she'd been quickly pushed aside.
He pulled out his cell phone and pressed a tiny elusive button on the side. Immediately the screen lit up to display the following words:
You have no new voice messages.
Shinji fiddled with the buttons using only his thumb, and a minute later held the miniscule device to his ear.
There was only one person he could turn to. Misato.
The phone rang over and over again as Shinji counted in his head. He knew that Misato liked to stay up late--a habit that had often irked him. Why then, was she not doing so the one night that mattered?
Ritsuko's answering machine came on. Frustrated, Shinji hung up, then immediately redialed.
He was greeted by the recording again. In the hope that it would wake one of them up, Shinji strode outside, redialed, and yelled out at the top of his lungs what had just happened. Then he hung up and walked back in amidst stares from the two nurses.
Within ten minutes there was a call from a groggy-sounding Ritsuko, who almost instantly snapped awake upon hearing what had happened, and hurried to wake the still-sleeping Misato.
Misato wanted to hurry over right away, but both Ritsuko and Shinji dissuaded her, not trusting her driving skills in the middle of the night. The call ended with Misato promising to hurry over at daybreak and Ritsuko sending her best wishes and hopes for Asuka. With no one to talk to now, Shinji chose a squashy armchair by the fake fireplace and sat down.
There was no way to describe what he was feeling; he hadn't had this sensation since the days he piloted Eva. Since the day he'd heard of Toji's death. Shinji felt the old wave of sorrow and regret washing over him again. It had been his fault then, and it was his fault now.
His fault that Toji had lost his leg and died so young. His fault that Toji's life had been such a waste. His fault that Hikari had suffered so needlessly afterwards.
And now, his fault that Asuka was--he cringed at the thought--possibly dying.
Shinji realized that his muscles were sore from being so taut in anxiety. He stretched them a bit, then noticed he was attracting even more odd looks from the nurses. He sat still, looking down at the ground. His feet were bare. In the panic of the last hour, Shinji had long since forgotten what he was wearing. He pulled his legs up to his chest and hugged his knees to his body. It seemed like an eternity ago that he, Asuka, and Kimie had been sitting around Misato's dinner table laughing and talking.
If only he'd been sterner, stayed with her to make sure she was all right. He'd known she was sick. Anybody would have known from her flushed face and bright eyes. If only he hadn't been so lenient...
The wait seemed interminable.
Shinji came slowly to realize that the shouts had stopped. He could only think of two things this could mean: either the worst was over, or ... Shinji shivered and cut off the idea mid-thought.
A deep, resonating sound made him jump, but neither nurse reacted. He looked up to see that he was sitting right in front of an elegant grandfather clock. The time was exactly 3:00 AM.
Why didn't I stop her?
She wanted to be alone.
Shinji closed both eyes and placed his forehead against his knees, plunging himself into a world of darkness. He thought of Asuka across the years. Asuka before he knew her, at the bedside of her mother. Asuka at her mother's funeral, wearing a glare much too old for her young face. Asuka slapping Toji in Germany. Asuka climbing into his bed. Asuka arguing with Rei. Asuka piloting Eva. Asuka emerging, victorious time after time.
Asuka, her face red and feverish. Asuka, limp on a stretcher.
Shinji gasped for air, both hands clutching at his hair.
He heard sharp rhythmic clicks. A moment later he found a large, worn blanket being draped around his shoulders.
"I'm going to check on her," a voice said, and he turned around to see the older nurse, the one that had been sitting in the corner, standing by his side. "Keep yourself warm. I'll be back soon."
But she didn't. Shinji watched the second hand dally by each black line before hopping to the next.
The clock read 3:10.
= = = = = = =
"Are you sure about this? I could come with you--no, actually I can't--"
"It's fine." Misato cut her old friend off. Ritsuko didn't look convinced, however; Misato seemed to have developed numerous wrinkles overnight and there were deep purple bags under her eyes. She nodded slowly. "Drive carefully. Tell Asuka I'll be thinking of her."
Misato nodded, not meeting Ritsuko's eyes. The blonde stood up and waved as Misato backed into the street. She knew the former commanding officer had been eaten up with worry all night.
Misato remembered Ritsuko's worried face as she pulled into the parking lot of the hospital. She glanced at her watch. It was just past eight. It had taken her just over two hours to make the long drive from Kyoto back to Tokyo-3.
She pulled out her cell phone as she ran, desperate yet fearful of any messages that had come in during the drive. She'd shut it off earlier, not really wanting to know the latest news. The device whirred slowly to life, then informed Misato she had no new messages.
Is that a good thing? she wondered as she hurried in.
The room was deadly silent. No cries of children like last time, no anxious relatives waiting for news of their loved ones. Shinji was nowhere to be seen.
Misato steeled herself, then walked up to the front desk.
"I'm here to see Sorhyu Asuka Langley."
The nurse looked her up and down, an odd expression on her face. Had Misato not been so worried, she might have let out a sharp retort. Years of giving orders at Nerv had taught her to expect quick, nimble responses.
Slowly the nurse moved her hand to the computer and clicked twice with one elegant, manicured finger. "Room 355."
Misato moved rapidly towards Asuka's room, hoping for Shinji to look at her with a face of relief, or anything--anyone--to tell her that she was all right. The elevator doors opened to reveal not Shinji, but instead--
One hand flew to the cheek that had been slapped, while the other flew out in retaliation.
"What were you thinking?" the nurse ground out. "Letting her out in the middle of the night, in her condition?"
"I--wasn't--home!" Misato retaliated, extremely annoyed now that her cheek was stinging, one wrist was clasped in the fingers of this overprotective nurse, and on top of everything, she was being accused of hurting Asuka.
Shinji turned around just in time to see Misato throw the nurse against the wall before running towards him, one cheek glowing brilliantly red.
"I'm sorry, Misato..."
But Misato only shook her head, brushed Shinji aside with a light motion, and ran to the window where she clutched the windowsill so tightly that her knuckles were white. She looked as if she were going to be sick. Shinji ran to her side, thinking he couldn't handle another woman collapsing on him.
Her voice was weak when she asked, "Is she all right?"
Shinji nodded, and Misato's knees nearly gave way in relief. His next words, however, made her look at him with anguished eyes.
"They let me in to see her earlier. She seemed very upset... she kept mumbling a lot about her mother.
"I'm so sorry, Misato."
Misato looked at him, her eyes filled with bewilderment. "Why?"
"It's my fault... I should have looked after her... I should have made sure she went back to sleep..."
Had the nurse not come up, trembling with rage, and ushered Misato away, she might have lashed out at Shinji. The last thing she needed was him acting like the weak child he had once been.
= = = = = = =
Come away with me, Asuka-chan.
No. I don't want to go.
Die with me.
Her fingers, armed with nails that hadn't been cut in months, tore at the neck of the poor doll. The head came off easily and soared across the room before coming to a stop at Asuka's feet.
She turned away.
= = = = = = =
Mama, they chose me! I'm an elite pilot now. I am the best in the whole world! I must keep this a secret, but I'll only tell you Mama. Everybody's so nice to me now. I don't feel lonely anymore. I'm okay now, even without Papa. Look at me, look at me Mama. LOOK, MAMA!
Her feet came to a stop. Her eyes widened, the smile still plastered across her young face.
The scene remained frozen in front of her. Her mother hanging lifelessly in front of her. The tattered doll at her feet.
= = = = = = =
I don't need you. I don't need anyone!
Leave me alone!
I hate your sympathy. I don't care! Stop telling me I'm a little girl! I will become an adult before other people!
Sorhyu Kyoko Zeppelin.
Silent as the stone bearing her name.
= = = = = = =
I'm only interested in Kaji-kun.
Kaji-kun... Ryoji Kaji...
The only one for whom she cared.
The image of a grinning, unshaven man swam in and out of her sight.
You're too young, Asuka.
Those things are for when you're older.
Kaji-kun's dead, Asuka. Misato's living in his home now.
Don't lie to me!
= = = = = = =
We must triumph over Misato and Rei. I must have revenge for my hurt pride.
But Misato's a good person...
Shut up! Leave me alone!
Anger. Hot and red as the color of her hair.
Why did you hate her so much?
I can't take this...
Fading into blue loneliness.
I'm no different from that doll. Ayanami.
= = = = = = =
I can't fight anymore.
Do you hear me, Asuka?
She turned her head as his fist connected with her cheek. A blur of copper. Her hair, unwashed, tangled and tousled, across on her face.
He's progressed from human to monster, Asuka. You are alone.
I should never have left Misato...and... and...
= = = = = = =
Shinji? Misato? Can you hear me? Can you see me?
I'm trying to tell you something.
Your lips are moving. You're talking. But I can't hear you.
= = = = = = =
With Misato ushered off, promising to return as soon as she got the nurse off of her back, Shinji was left alone again. Through the glass pane he could see her tossing and turning, mumbling words known only to herself. He pressed a hand to the cold glass and lowered his head slowly.
I'm sorry, Asuka.
Author's notes: Now I feel bad for torturing Shinji, but at least Asuka's not going to die... I promise that!