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Shinji
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The school day is over, and students are milling about, going to clubs, joining up with friends. I rise from my seat and grab my bag.
Shinji
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I guess I should get going, too. But I don’t really want to go home yet, and I’m not needed at NERV today...
Shinji
Where should I go?
Shinji
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I’m a little worried that if I go to the music room, I might be overheard playing the cello. It’s just an old hobby of mine. I was told to start it as a child, and no one ever told me to stop.
Shinji
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It’s one thing to play during class, but a whole other to be heard on my own...
Shinji
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Still, it beats the alternative. Things have been kind of awkward at home lately.
Shinji
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I come down the hallway and gingerly approach the music room, only to hear the sound of a piano already coming from inside.
Shinji
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When I peer through the glass panel on the door, I see Kaworu, my classmate, sitting on the bench, hands flying effortlessly across the keys. He seems so in his element, blissfully smiling as “Ode to Joy” rings throughout the room.
Shinji
I wonder if I should go inside. It would be nice to listen to him...but what if I’m bothering him?
Shinji
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Yeah. I don’t want to be a burden on him or anything. I might embarrass him or something…
Shinji
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I really hope I’m not interrupting. My curiosity is just getting the better of me…
Shinji
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I open the door. I’m careful to do it slowly, so as to avoid disturbing Kaworu with the noise, but he notices anyway and I’m immediately hit with a pang of guilt.
Shinji
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Sorry, I was just — I don’t know, I —
Kaworu
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Not to worry, Shinji. The company is welcome. After all, music is best enjoyed in the company of others.
Shinji
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With an easy smile, Kaworu stands from the bench. I feel like my presence is forcing him to stop playing, but before I can say anything, he gestures to the keys, looking my way.
Kaworu
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Would you like to try?
Shinji
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There’s a certainty in his eyes when he asks me, so prominent that it makes me wonder if the two of us have ever done anything like this before.
Shinji
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My words catch in my throat. I’ve played cello before, but the piano is another story. Plus, no matter what instrument it is, I don’t think I could play in front of other people.
Shinji
I feel like I’m being put on the spot...what should I do?
Shinji
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I’m almost completely sure I’ll look like a fool trying to play in front of Kaworu, but somehow my desire to spend this time with him overcomes the voice in my head telling me I shouldn’t.
Shinji
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Me? Are you sure? I’m not any good at the piano...
Kaworu
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The only way you will know if you’re good or not is if you try. If you aren’t satisfied, then you practice until you can play something that feels good to you.
Shinji
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I hesitate a moment before finally taking a seat at the piano. Kaworu sits beside me, his shoulder brushing against mine. Why does it make my heart stop for a beat...?
Kaworu
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Try playing this.
Shinji
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He demonstrates with a short riff. I try and replicate it, but it’s clumsy and uncertain.
Shinji
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Suddenly, his hands return to the keys and he’s playing along with me!
Shinji
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I struggle to keep up at first. But each time we repeat the riff, I relax into our sound.
Kaworu
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Very good! Our sounds work well together.
Shinji
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I don’t say anything in response, or else I’ll lose my focus on what I’m playing. It doesn’t come as naturally to me.
Shinji
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Still, I’m beginning to enjoy myself. The two of us are able to lose track of time, completely absorbed in what we’re playing, repeating it until it feels nice. I even start to forget what I was so nervous about.
Shinji
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The two of us go on like this for a while, practicing this duet born from some uncertain first notes. We barely even pay attention to the setting sun.
Shinji
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We only realize how late it is when an announcement sounds over the intercom, saying that the campus grounds are closing and all remaining students need to go home.
Kaworu
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Ah. Perhaps we should take our leave.
Shinji
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Oh — yeah. I didn’t even realize it was that late.
Shinji
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We place the cover over the ivory keys and rise to gather our things.
Shinji
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I can’t, but, well...I can play the cello…
Kaworu
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That’s alright. In fact, that’s something to be proud of. There’s no need to be shy about it. Do you have your cello in the room?
Shinji
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Oh, yeah, for music class...
Kaworu
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If you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to hear something. The cello’s sound is quite poignant. I’m sure you could make it sing beautifully.
Shinji
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Eh? But, I only know how to play a couple of things…
Kaworu
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Not to worry. Just do what feels comfortable.
Shinji
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I hesitate before crossing the room to pick up my case, bringing it back to where I’d been standing. It takes me a bit to lift the instrument out, get settled, make sure it’s tuned — that sort of thing.
Shinji
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All the while, I’m very aware of Kaworu watching me, and I feel as though he’s judging my every movement. But I glance at him now and then, and nothing in his smile gives anything like that away.
Shinji
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Okay...that should be fine...um…
Shinji
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I mutter, half to myself, half to Kaworu. Then I lift the bow to the strings.
Shinji
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I play a segment of Cello Suite no. 1, Prelude. Standard fare for a cellist.
Shinji
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I find myself holding my breath as I play, knowing I have an audience. I’ve never had an issue before, since my teacher wanted me to start when I was young. I would just play like I was asked.
Shinji
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But for some reason, this feels different. Is it because it’s Kaworu that can hear me…?
Shinji
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When I finish, I glance Kaworu’s way. His eyes close thoughtfully for a moment.
Kaworu
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You’re quite tense. Your playing is already beautiful, Shinji. Your feelings will inform your sound, so there’s no need to hesitate.
Shinji
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As he speaks, he comes to stand closer to me, until I can feel him standing right beside me.
Kaworu
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Just relax, like so...
Shinji
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I feel him place his hands on my shoulders and draw in a small, sharp gasp.
Kaworu
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Take a deep breath. Release the tension in your shoulders. Your playing is a gift to the people that will hear it, so don’t be afraid.
Shinji
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As I follow his advice, I find comfort in his words. A gift...that feels like high praise. It makes me feel better about my playing. I think I can do this again.
Shinji
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I inhale. Exhale. And then I try again. This time, it feels more natural, more like it usually does. Even I notice an improvement in the sound.
Shinji
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When I finish, I look up at Kaworu from my seat.
Shinji
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Kaworu, that was —
Kaworu
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Very good, Shinji. You played very freely this time. It was beautiful.
Shinji
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For some reason, the praise makes my heart jump inside my chest. I can’t help smiling in my excitement.
Kaworu
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Perhaps I should learn some accompaniment for your playing, for a duet between the cello and piano. Or I could bring my violin some other time.
Shinji
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Eh? You play violin, too?
Shinji
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Upon hearing that, I can’t help but think how talented Kaworu is...it’s amazing.
Kaworu
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Yes, as a secondary instrument. Do you prefer one or the other?
Shinji
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Ah, no, I’m just amazed that you’d want to play music with me at all.
Kaworu
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Of course I would, Shinji. Playing with you would be a pleasure.
Shinji
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I’m burning right up to my ears now, and it takes everything I have not to bury my face in my hands. But it’s not because of shame. Right now, I’m just...the happiest I’ve felt in a while.
Shinji
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Soon the sun begins to set, and the chatter of students in the hallway just outside begins to die down.
Kaworu
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Ah, it’s getting to be late. Perhaps we should go for the evening.
Shinji
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Oh, I guess so...I didn’t realize it was that late.
Shinji
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Kaworu gently places the cover over the piano keys, and I begin to pack up my cello...
Shinji
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I’d better not. I can’t play.
Kaworu
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To live is to change. People must try new things in order to live.
Shinji
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Despite my lack of experience, Kaworu insists.
Shinji
I’m really going to embarrass myself if I try, though it seems like he really wants to hear my playing...if it can even be called that…
Shinji
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I feel a sense of guilt washing over me, but I really can’t do this. I hope he doesn’t hate me for it…
Shinji
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N-No, I really can’t. I mean it, I’m not any good.
Kaworu
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I see. I apologize for imposing, then.
Shinji
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I’m sorry…
Kaworu
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You mustn’t apologize, Shinji. These are your honest feelings. You’re sharing them of your own volition. However, making oneself vulnerable also opens one up to the chance of experiencing great joy.
Shinji
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I’m stuck between feeling relief for being forgiven, or shame for running away. The serious shift in Kaworu’s demeanor is definitely my fault.
Shinji
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Maybe some other time. I just wanted to come and tell you I like your playing before I went home. It’s, um — my night to make dinner.
Kaworu
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I understand. I appreciate the thought, Shinji. I come here often in the afternoon, so if you ever change your mind, or just want to listen, please feel free to come join me.
Shinji
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I nod, shifting the weight of my bag on my shoulders before awkwardly making to leave the room.
Shinji
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Thank you, Kaworu. Um — I’ll see you tomorrow?
Kaworu
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Yes, I’ll see you tomorrow, Shinji.
Shinji
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The air in the room is so heavy, I feel as though it’ll crush me any second. I leave the room before it can happen.
Shinji
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Thank you, Kaworu. I had a lot of fun today.
Kaworu
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The pleasure is mine, Shinji. I’m glad I was able to share that with you.
Shinji
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The two of us leave campus together. Looking at Kaworu, I feel a gentle, pleasant warmth fill my chest. I’m almost disappointed the afternoon ended so soon, but I’m glad it happened at all.
Shinji
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Um, hey, Kaworu...do you think we’d be able to do that again?
Shinji
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It’s out of my mouth before I even realize what I said. But Kaworu only replies with a soft, knowing chuckle.
Kaworu
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Of course. I almost always go to the music room when it’s available for use, so feel free to join me anytime.
Shinji
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Something to look forward to during school...the thought makes me happy. Like I won’t have to force myself out of bed in the mornings. I’ve always tended to be alone in school, so even though this is unfamiliar...as long as it’s Kaworu, I think it’ll be a good thing.
Shinji
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Thank you, Kaworu. Um, I guess I should probably start heading home…
Kaworu
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Would you like company on the way?
Shinji
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I consider saying yes, but then I realize the time. I wonder if Miss Misato will care that I was out so late without saying anything. I don’t think I want Kaworu to see that.
Shinji
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I wish I could, but I have some things to take care of at home. S-Sorry.
Kaworu
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It’s nothing to apologize for. Perhaps some other time.
Shinji
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Y — Yeah. When I can, let’s do that.
Kaworu
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In that case, I’ll see you tomorrow. Rest well tonight, Shinji.
Shinji
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Yeah. See you tomorrow.
Shinji
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With that, we each go our separate ways, until we’ll meet up again tomorrow...
Shinji
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Ah, that’s right, I need to take my gym clothes home so I can wash them...I forgot to grab them after gym class ended.
Shinji
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I think there’s an athletics club meeting or something happening in the field, though. I hope I’m not interrupting or anything like that.
Shinji
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I’ll just slip into the locker room really quickly and grab them…
Shinji
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On my way over, I hear a strangely lonely pair of footsteps coming back from the direction of the track field. When I offhandedly glance over my shoulder, I find that they belong to Toji, my classmate.
Shinji
Is he coming back from the club meeting? Or are they just going somewhere else on campus for today?
Shinji
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He’s probably just on his way to meet up with the rest of the club. I’m just gonna go grab my gym clothes and head somewhere else.
Shinji
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Toji and I make eye contact, and as soon as he realizes it’s me, he jogs in my direction. I frown slightly, confused about why he’s on his own.
Shinji
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Toji? What’s up? Don’t you have a club meeting today?
Toji
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Cancelled. Club prez had somewhere to be.
Shinji
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Oh, that’s too bad…
Toji
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Eh, it’s alright. I can get in a quick jog or somethin’ later today. What’re you doin’ here, though? It’s not every day I see you out by the track field after school.
Shinji
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Oh, I just forgot to grab my gym clothes to take home.
Toji
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Ah, gotcha. Well, since I’ve got time to kill now, how about if I go with ya? I gotta grab my bag from the locker room, so I was on my way there anyway.
Shinji
Well, I hadn’t exactly planned on having any company. I’m not doing anything interesting, after all. But maybe it wouldn’t hurt?
Shinji
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There’s not really any reason not to. I smile and nod.
Shinji
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I’ve also got some time before I need to be home. Let’s go.
Toji
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Sweet! Let’s go.
Shinji
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We make our way to the locker room, and to our respective lockers. They aren’t right next to each other, but they’re close enough that we can still hold a conversation while shuffling around for our things.
Shinji
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Toji is quick to grab his bag from inside his locker, and he takes a seat on a bench near me while I fuss a bit with my lock. He idly taps his foot and begins to make conversation.
Toji
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So, what’re you up to after this?
Shinji
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Oh, not much, actually. It’s my night to make dinner, so I do need to be home soon, but not for a little while.
Shinji
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What about you? What are you going to do, since your club meeting was cancelled?
Shinji
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Toji glances up thoughtfully, pursing his lips slightly.
Toji
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Well, since I’ve got the time now, I’ll probably drop in and visit my kid sister after you get goin’. I was gonna go anyway, so this just means I can head on over early.
Shinji
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I nod knowingly. Toji’s little sister has been in the hospital for a while since I transferred into Tokyo-3 Junior High.
Shinji
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I started coming here after my first time piloting Evangelion Unit-01. I didn’t have any experience, and at some point, I went unconscious, so I don’t remember much about it. But apparently, Toji’s sister got caught in the thick of it and was hurt in the debris.
Shinji
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I still feel bad that he’s going through that because of me. And, well, Toji didn’t take it well when he first found out I was the pilot, either.
Shinji
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But we’ve worked things out between us since, and I’ve done what I can to support him, even though that’s not much more than offering kind words.
Shinji
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It’s amazing that you manage to go every day. You two must be really close.
Toji
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I mean — yeah, I really care about her, y’know? I gotta do what I gotta do to make her recovery bearable.
Shinji
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I bite my lip, purposely taking my time putting my clothes in my bag, pretending to shuffle my things around to make room. Really, I just feel bad that there’s anything she has to recover from at all.
Shinji
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Is she doing okay?
Shinji
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I ask it before I even realize. The way Toji reacts to the question, I guess my voice betrayed a little bit of my guilt.
Toji
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Better than she was, yeah. She’s still in bed, but they’re gonna have her back on her feet and walkin’ again soon.
Shinji
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Oh, that’s good. I’m glad…
Shinji
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I pause, debating whether I should voice the thought or not. I find myself staring blankly at the clothes in my bag before zipping it back up and looking back Toji’s way.
Shinji
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Toji, you’re not...still upset, are you?
Shinji
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Toji’s brow raises at the question.
Toji
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Upset? I mean, yeah, I’m upset that she’s hurt. She’s my sister. I wish I didn’t have to see her in bed every day.
Shinji
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I wince. But Toji continues. His tone shifts, and his expression relaxes.
Toji
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But upset with you? No way. I saw what happened to you when Kensuke dragged my ass out to see you fight. There’s no way I could be upset after seein’ that.
Toji
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Hell, I’m probably the idiot for hittin’ you as a welcome.
Shinji
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The way he says it, I think he’s mostly joking with me about the last part. Yet I can’t help but feel there’s something genuine about that feeling, too, that he’s not quite letting me see.
Shinji
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I find myself at a loss for how to answer, and the concern must show on my face. Because before I can think of anything to say, Toji huffs, hauling me up playfully by the collar and clapping me on the back.
Toji
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Seriously, dude, no sweat. She’s gonna be fine, and I’m gonna be fine.
Toji
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So no hard feelings, or I’m gonna have to beat ‘em out of ya again.
Shinji
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I can’t help snorting at the obvious joke. But still, I can tell that behind the humor, there are real feelings that he’s being open about.
Shinji
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Something in the way he delivers it makes it an easier pill to swallow. It’s kind of nice...it helps me feel more at ease. And the fact that he’d go out of his way to put my worries to rest at all...well, I…
Toji
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Come on, Shinji. Let’s head back, yeah?
Shinji
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Oh — right, yeah. Let’s go.
Shinji
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I’d forgotten about my gym clothes during that conversation. Now that I have them — and now that I know Toji doesn’t have any lingering resentment towards me — I guess we can start heading to where we need to go.
Shinji
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The more I think about it, the more I realize I don’t really want to be in the locker room. What if there are other people in there? I don’t want them to notice I forgot my stuff.
Shinji
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I think for a bit before turning to Toji.
Shinji
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Actually, uh...sorry, would you mind grabbing my stuff for me?
Toji
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Huh? I mean, sure, no skin off my nose, but how come?
Shinji
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Oh, I just...in case anyone else is in there. I don’t want to bother them...
Shinji
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When I say it out loud, I realize how dumb it sounds. But Toji just grins and claps me on the back.
Toji
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Sure thing, man. Just gimme a minute, I’ll be back.
Shinji
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Thank you. I can go get drinks for us or something, if you want.
Toji
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Oh, could ya? I’ll take a coffee or something. Lemme grab some change from my bag, and I’ll give it to you when I get back.
Shinji
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Sure. I’ll meet you back here, okay?
Toji
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Sure thing. See ya in a few.
Shinji
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I head over to the pastry corner to grab the drinks, shuffling around in my pockets for loose change. I find myself taking my time, thinking.
Shinji
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I can’t stop thinking about the look of confusion on Toji’s face when he heard my request. It must have sounded really stupid.
Shinji
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Yet, he was completely fine with it. He really didn’t seem to mind. I’ve never really had anyone like that in school before…
Shinji
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I pick up two canned coffees before returning to the track field. By the time I get back, Toji’s already waiting with the money for his.
Toji
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Thanks, man. Here’s your stuff.
Shinji
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I hand him his drink, and he hands me my gym uniform.
Shinji
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Thanks, Toji. Sorry for making you do that…
Toji
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Nah, seriously, don’t worry about it. I kinda owe ya, after all.
Shinji
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Owe me?
Shinji
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My brow furrows in my confusion. Owe me for what?
Toji
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For that one time, y’know? The whole thing when you transferred in and all that.
Shinji
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Understanding washes over me, and I recall my first day in Tokyo-3 Junior High. It was after my first sortie in my EVA, most of which I don’t remember.
Shinji
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I lost consciousness at some point, but apparently Toji’s younger sister was harmed in the collateral damage. When my classmates learned I was the pilot, Toji took out his anger on me and beat me up.
Shinji
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We’ve worked things out since. He even insisted that I punch him back to get even. I had no idea he was still feeling guilt over it.
Shinji
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Toji, you really don’t need to worry about that. It was a while ago already.
Toji
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But why’re you so cool with it? It was an asshole thing to do.
Shinji
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It was your sister. I get why you’d be so upset about it.
Shinji
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Besides, I’m used to it. I mean — not the EVA, but people acting that way.
Shinji
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Toji knits his brow and pulls the tab on his coffee. He takes a large swig with a troubled expression.
Toji
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That’s just the thing, though. I thought you were a real piece of work at first, but you really shouldn’t have had that comin’ to you.
Shinji
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I pause, searching for words. I’ve never been the person that people go to for advice or a shoulder to cry on. Plus, I’ve never really seen Toji open up this way before. I’m kind of surprised.
Shinji
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But I don’t mind. I want to try and help the best I can. I owe it to him.
Shinji
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I mean...when you came all the way to find me before I almost left, that felt good. I felt like we could be friends, and like...um…
Shinji
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Like I wasn’t really that alone, so...you actually ended up doing me a favor. If not for that, I probably would have really left.
Shinji
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There’s a thoughtful silence. Then, Toji’s back to smiling — laughing, even.
Toji
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Man, I didn’t mean to get all soft on ya. Not like me at all.
Toji
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But seriously, thanks, Shinji. Didn’t expect you to be easy to talk to about this kinda thing.
Shinji
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The way he says it is a bit tongue and cheek. Maybe he’s covering up after we were both so unusually vulnerable. I don’t blame him one bit.
Shinji
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I don’t manage much more than a grin in reply before Toji stretches, nudging me in the shoulder.
Toji
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C’mon, let’s get goin’, now that we’ve got all our stuff.
Shinji
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Oh — yeah, sure.
Shinji
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I pack my gym uniform into my bag, and we make our way to the front of campus.
Shinji
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For some reason, I get a knot in my stomach at the thought of being with Toji. Is it butterflies? Or just plain old nerves? Either way, I hadn’t really been hoping for company…
Shinji
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Oh, well, I mean, I’m kind of in a hurry…
Toji
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Ah — my bad, then. Don’t let me hold you up.
Shinji
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There’s something in the way he says it that seems...confused? Let down? I should think of an excuse to make my exit a little more graceful. Or, well...maybe it wouldn’t hurt to hang back for a bit?
Shinji
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There’s some stuff I have to do at NERV, and I’m running kind of behind…
Shinji
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My gaze wanders to the side as I deliver the lie, but Toji seems to understand. It sort of makes me feel worse about it.
Toji
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Guess it can’t really be helped, huh? Pilots sure do seem busy. I’ll let you get goin’, then.
Shinji
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Sorry, Toji — m-maybe some other time?
Shinji
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Yeah, maybe sometime when I haven’t got club activities or somethin’. Good luck with the pilot stuff.
Shinji
next
I hurry to the locker room and hope the guilt doesn’t show in my expression. The sooner I grab my clothes, the sooner I can get off campus…
Toji
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Phew! I feel like I got a load off my chest.
Shinji
next
I guess we sort of did, huh?
Shinji
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I guess it’s true. We kind of navigated a tricky subject earlier. But even though it was scary, strangely enough...I’m sort of glad we did.
Shinji
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I’m not normally one to talk about these kinds of things, since usually no one cares to listen. But today, that was different. And truth be told, I’m a little surprised about who that happened with.
Toji
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It’s kinda funny, y’know. When you transferred in I kinda got the feeling you were the broody type, but you’re really not. I mean, not entirely.
Shinji
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Really?
Toji
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Yeah, there’s a lotta stuff I thought at first. But a lot of it’s totally off base. You’re cooler than I woulda thought.
Shinji
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Cool — ? Oh, I don’t know about that…
Toji
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No, really! I mean, like — that kinda talk hasn’t happened with, say, Kensuke. I guess I’ve never really had to with him, but this is just — it felt different, y’know?
Shinji
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The “cool” label makes my face burn. I never would have applied it to myself in a million years. But at the same time, there’s something special about it, and I can’t help a little smile.
Shinji
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I’m glad. I mean — that we could talk about it and stuff.
Toji
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Yeah! For sure. It just kinda came easy with you.
Shinji
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Toji stretches, and I’m left to mull that comment over in my head.
Toji
next
Well, don’t lemme keep you any longer than I have to. I should probably start headin’ over to see my kid sister, anyway.
Shinji
next
Oh — right. I should be heading back, too.
Toji
next
Cool, then I’ll see you tomorrow?
Shinji
next
Yeah, see you tomorrow.
Shinji
next
We come upon a street corner, and I start to head home, glancing briefly over my shoulder as Toji goes the other way.
Shinji
next
I decide to slip out of the crowd of students and get some fresh air on the roof. The noise becomes distant, and though the air is thick with summer heat, there’s a breeze up here makes it bearable.
Shinji
next
At this height, the cicadas are louder than the students, and you can see where the buildings meet the sky. I can also make out some of the large metal doors to the EVA launch hangars.
Shinji
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Glancing in that direction, I find I’m not alone. My classmate, Kensuke, is also up here.
Shinji
next
He’s leaning over the railing with a pair of binoculars. His backpack sits a safe distance behind him, zipped halfway open. A digital camera sits tucked safely inside. The open bag makes it seem as though he’s ready to grab it at any moment.
Shinji
He doesn’t seem to notice I’m here. I wonder if I should interrupt?
Shinji
next
He looks really into whatever he’s doing. I should probably leave him alone.
Shinji
next
Um...Kensuke? What are you doing?
Shinji
next
Only when I call for him does Kensuke notice I’m here. He lowers his binoculars only for a second to look my way.
Kensuke
next
Watching for the A.T. Field weaponization testing. You know about it, right?
Shinji
next
The what? Um, no, they haven’t told us about anything like that…
Shinji
next
Kensuke always seems to know more about the inner workings of NERV than even I do. I guess I don’t really know much more than what Miss Misato tells me, but still, I do technically work there.
Shinji
next
Once he starts jumping into military jargon and all of that, I’m completely lost. I can’t say I completely understand his fascination with it, but I humor him anyway.
Kensuke
next
I found out about it from my dad’s files. NERV’s technical division is working on offensive uses for the A.T. Field, and they’re practicing with Unit-00 today.
Kensuke
next
They haven’t told you anything about it? I would’ve thought the pilots would be told about something like that.
Shinji
next
No, I really don’t know anything. Ayanami didn’t even tell me this was happening.
Kensuke
next
Well, I guess they wouldn’t need to tell the pilots anything until they’re ready to practice it with their EVA. Maybe it’s only natural that the only one who knows it is the one who’s piloting today.
Shinji
next
Or maybe I’m just clueless...I’m just going to pretend like I don’t know once I get home.
Kensuke
next
Hey, Shinji — wanna stay and watch?
Shinji
next
The target practice?
Kensuke
next
Yeah! I’ve been waiting up here for a while to see the EVA come out. If it works, it’s gonna be something else! Can you imagine? Man, if only I could be the one running the tests…!
Shinji
next
There he goes again...I’ve gotten used to this kind of conversation with him. If I could trade places with Kensuke, I would.
Shinji
next
Not that I mind when he talks about this kind of thing. It’s just not as luxurious as he thinks it is.
Shinji
next
The distant sound of a warning alarm cuts my thoughts short, and Kensuke draws an excited gasp.
Kensuke
next
It’s happening, it’s happening, it’s happening! Shinji, look!
Shinji
One of the large metal gates opens up, and Evangelion Unit-00 is lifted to the surface. Without much of a second thought, I—
Shinji
next
I remember Kensuke’s camera in his bag, and I move to pick it up, nudging his shoulder and handing it to him.
Shinji
next
Here, I don’t think you want to forget this.
Shinji
next
In the back of my mind I question the legality of what I just did, but the goofy smile on Kensuke’s face makes me put the thought on the back burner for now. He hands over his binoculars to free up his hands for the camera.
Kensuke
next
Right — thanks, Shinji! I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this chance! Okay, come on, record, record, record…!
Shinji
next
Having done that, I look out to where Kensuke is pointing the lens.
Shinji
next
Evangelion Unit-00 stands tall at the gate, facing a large dummy balloon I recognize from past target testing. I can’t help but think how strange it is to be sitting here, watching from afar, when I’m normally right in the thick of things.
Shinji
next
Unit-00 takes a stance, and then, with a brief flash of orange light, deploys its A.T. Field. The hexagonal barrier makes the air ripple.
Shinji
next
Then, gradually, it morphs into what resembles a spear of light, and fires at the dummy balloon. Upon impact, the balloon splits in half and collapses.
Shinji
next
Meanwhile, beside me, Kensuke records the whole thing, with the energy of a child on Christmas morning.
Kensuke
next
There it is! Did you see it? Shinji, wasn’t that cool?!
Shinji
next
I just smile and nod, for fear of interrupting his footage with my comments. What’s a spectacle to him has become mundane training for me. I won’t have anything interesting to add — all I can think of is how I’ll likely be doing this in a few days.
Shinji
next
Still, there’s something weirdly refreshing about seeing Kensuke’s enthusiasm. In fact, it’s even...well, a little endearing.
Shinji
next
This goes on for a while, with long pauses in between for deflated dummy balloons to be swapped out for fresh ones. During those pauses, Kensuke asks questions I don’t have the answers to, goes on about things I hadn’t heard about — the usual.
Shinji
next
Time passes, and before I even realize how long I’ve been here, the gates open again and Unit-00 is retrieved. Kensuke stops recording and begins to pack up his camera.
Kensuke
next
That was amazing! I can’t believe we actually saw it! Thanks, man, seeing it with you really made my day!
Shinji
next
I mean, it’s not really, um…
Kensuke
next
No, really! I got to watch the EVA, with my friend who pilots. That just made it even better!
Shinji
next
Caught off guard by the compliment, I have nothing to offer in response but a sheepish smile.
Kensuke
next
Come on, let’s head back together. The test went on for a while. It’s kinda late now.
Shinji
next
Oh — yeah, okay. Let’s do that.
Shinji
next
We pick up our bags and begin heading down the stairs…
Shinji
next
I lean over the railing beside Kensuke, watching Unit-00 and glancing his way every now and then. He leans further forward in his enthusiasm, a huge, excited grin on his face.
Shinji
next
Evangelion Unit-00 stands tall at the gate, facing a large dummy balloon I recognize from past target testing. I can’t help but think how strange it is to be sitting here, watching from afar, when I’m normally right in the thick of things.
Shinji
next
Unit-00 takes a stance, and then, with a brief flash of orange light, deploys its A.T. Field. The hexagonal barrier makes the air ripple.
Shinji
next
Then, gradually, it morphs into what resembles a spear of light, and fires at the dummy balloon. Upon impact, the balloon splits in half and collapses.
Shinji
next
Meanwhile, beside me, Kensuke watches the whole thing, with the energy of a child on Christmas morning.
Kensuke
next
There it is! Did you see it? Shinji, wasn’t that cool?!
Shinji
next
She already figured out how to do it, huh?
Kensuke
next
I bet there were simulations at base to get the hang of it before trying it out on the dummies today. Still, this is as close as it gets to the real thing! Can you believe it?!
Shinji
next
If only the real thing were as controlled as this, I think. But I don’t say it — I don’t want to put a damper on Kensuke’s excitement. Something about it is...kind of charming.
Shinji
next
This goes on for a while, with long pauses in between for deflated dummy balloons to be swapped out for fresh ones. During those pauses, Kensuke asks questions I don’t have the answers to, goes on about things I hadn’t heard about — the usual.
Shinji
next
Time passes, and before I even realize how long I’ve been here, the gates open again and Unit-00 is retrieved. Kensuke moves to grab his bag, and I hear him stop behind me as I pick mine back up.
Kensuke
next
Oh, no — I can’t believe I wasn’t recording it! Man, I got so into it, I didn’t even realize…
Shinji
next
I trip over my words a moment, realizing that indeed, he wasn’t filming. It’s a little strange, seeing as he usually has the camera with him, but I guess it was easy for it to slip his mind in his excitement.
Shinji
next
I hesitate, trying to find words of comfort.
Shinji
next
Oh, well, um — at least you saw it at all, right? Wasn’t that all you really wanted to do?
Shinji
next
Kensuke has a ponderous expression for a moment. But after thinking about it, he’s back to a satisfied smile.
Kensuke
next
I guess you’re right, huh? It kinda sucks that I don’t have video, but the experience was still really cool. Besides, not having to watch it by myself made it better. Don’t you think?
Shinji
next
Taken aback by the subtle compliment, I dumbly stutter out half of a reply.
Shinji
next
I just — I mean, I was only —
Shinji
next
Before I can finish the thought, Kensuke chuckles, elbowing me gently in the shoulder.
Kensuke
next
Come on, Shinji. We should probably get going, don’tcha think? Let’s walk together.
Shinji
next
Yeah...I guess it’s getting kind of late. Let’s go.
Shinji
next
Kensuke zips up his bag, and we begin heading down the stairs to leave school.
Shinji
next
I’m not sure if my idea of a good afternoon is watching the EVAs in training. I do enough of that when I’m on the clock…
Shinji
next
Um, I don’t think I can stay. I have to, ah…
Kensuke
next
Come on, Shinji, just hang back for a little bit! This is like, once in a lifetime! Look, they’re gonna start —
Shinji
He’s already absorbed in his spectating...of something that’s not once in a lifetime for me, on top of that. But if I stay, it’ll probably make him happy, even if this isn’t anything out of the ordinary for me. Should I rethink this?
Shinji
next
Maybe it’s selfish, but I really don’t want to stay. I feel guilty, but I go through enough when I have to be at NERV. I don’t really want to make a sport out of training.
Shinji
next
I say the first thing that comes to my head.
Shinji
next
No, I really can’t stay. If you’re right about the training, they might have me do it tomorrow, so, um — I should really rest.
Kensuke
next
Oh, I guess so, huh? That’s right, this is just normal stuff for you...maybe I should’ve brought Toji along?
Shinji
next
I clench my teeth. Of course, he could’ve just asked our friend...what would have stopped him? There’s no reason it had to be me, anyway. I just happened to be here…
Shinji
next
I try not to look affected by the thought. I’m the one that said I needed to leave, aren’t I…?
Shinji
next
M-Maybe try calling him. See if he’ll come.
Shinji
next
I guess I could...man, that’s too bad, though. I guess we can hang out some other time?
Shinji
next
Yeah. Some other time.
Shinji
next
I feel like I’ve ruined the atmosphere with my graceless departure, but I can’t take it back now. I just need to go, and let Kensuke enjoy watching without me…
Kensuke
next
Man, that was the best!
Shinji
next
I can’t help but chuckle a little at how deeply moved Kensuke seems to be by our experience this afternoon. It really wasn’t much…
Shinji
next
Though I can’t help but wonder what about all of this has him so fascinated. I don’t dislike it, I just...want to understand.
Shinji
next
Hey, Kensuke...why do you want to be an EVA pilot?
Shinji
next
Kensuke pauses briefly, pursing his lips thoughtfully. I wonder if my question was a bit too direct.
Kensuke
next
That’s kind of a random question. I guess...I dunno how to explain it. I just think it’s cool. I wanna be able to do stuff like we saw today, y’know?
Kensuke
next
I guess when I think about what you do, I think about how neat it must be...kinda makes me wonder how anyone even gets chosen.
Kensuke
next
But I guess there’s some reason they picked you, huh? Something special.
Shinji
next
Me? Special? As far as I know, it’s just because no one else can synchronize with my unit. Even my father said no one else can. He really didn’t have a choice.
Shinji
next
But maybe I’m just not meant to understand the way Kensuke thinks. As long as it makes him happy to imagine it, I suppose. And I guess if he’s my friend, I can talk to him about stuff like this.
Shinji
next
You really think that?
Kensuke
next
Yeah, man! If it could be just anyone, I could probably just ask Misato and she’d say yes…
Kensuke
next
...But, like, if you find out what gets people chosen, could you tell me? Could you ask her for me?
Shinji
next
I almost can’t help a lighthearted laugh at the sudden change in his tone. He really is something…
Shinji
next
I told you, I don’t think she’s in charge of that. I don’t know how they pick. But, um...I guess it wouldn’t hurt to ask.
Shinji
next
You know, just for Kensuke’s peace of mind.
Shinji
next
I’m home…
Shinji
next
Not that anyone is home to hear me say it. Miss Misato said she would come home late tonight because of NERV work. And no doubt Asuka is out doing things right now.
Shinji
next
I slip off my shoes and step inside. I guess I have the place to myself for now, but it doesn’t make me feel anything in particular.
Shinji
next
The silence feels oppressive, and my mind feels like static…
Shinji
next
It’s a little early, but I guess I could draw up a bath.
Shinji
next
The water runs and I wait for the bath to fill. Without anyone else here making any noise, there’s nothing to distract me from my thoughts.
Shinji
next
Maybe this was a mistake. My thoughts always wander like this in the bath.
Shinji
next
Still, I ran the water. I should at least use it.
Shinji
next
... ... ...
Shinji
next
Did I really leave because I had to?
Shinji
next
Or was it the thought of being close to someone else?
Shinji
next
I try to stop thinking about it, but I can’t help but wonder what would’ve happened if I’d stayed…
Shinji
next
Was I just afraid? Afraid of what? Maybe I shouldn’t have left…
Shinji
next
No, but I had to! Sharing a moment like that with someone else...it’s never ended well for me in the past. I can’t do it.
Shinji
next
But I can almost hear everyone else in my head, telling me that I’m just lying to myself.
Shinji
next
But if I had gotten my hopes up...if I’d been happy...anything good that happens to me has to end at some point, doesn’t it?
Shinji
next
...I’m really just a coward, after all.