Advice and Trust
Cards On The Table
Rei's stare remained locked on Misato as she edged closer to Kaworu, putting herself between him and the Operations Manager. She kept her hand raised, the humming orange AT-Field staying up, lighting the room.
Misato shook her head slowly, trying to reject what she was seeing. "No... no, not you too, Rei. Not you too..." she whispered, her gun still raised. It now pointed right at Rei's heart. It trembled minutely.
The door to Asuka and Shinji's room slammed open and a furious Second Child rocketed out. "OK, YOU SON OF A-" She cut off and skidded to a halt as she saw the frozen tableau in the living room. "...Scheiße." Asuka lowered the aluminium crutch she had run in with, ready to unleash it on another SEELE gunman. "This isn't how we wanted to tell you, Misato."
Misato's ashen face swung from Rei to Asuka. "...you KNEW?"
"That talk Rei and I had last night," Asuka admitted. "You can see why I wanted to talk to Shinji and Kaworu before we broke it to you? Because we knew you would... not take it well." She threw a glare at the Fifth Child. "We told you not to do this, idiot."
Kaworu shrugged slightly. "I admit, I did not expect Major Katsuragi to immediately try to shoot me, but-" He waved at the standoff in front of him.
"Asuka, he's an Angel," Misato growled through clenched teeth. "And... Rei?"
"She's... not exactly an Angel, Misato. She's something... else," Asuka tried. It did not seem to pacify the Major.
Misato's gun had not moved. Neither had Rei. No one did until the rattle of an IV stand rolling across the floor broke the silence. "Misato-san, I would appreciate it if you stopped pointing your gun at my friends," Shinji said, fatigue oozing from his voice.
Misato darted a look at Shinji before focusing back on Rei. "Shinji, he's not your friend. He's an Angel. Our enemy."
"He is not our enemy," Shinji replied. He wearily advanced into the room, putting himself in front of Rei, facing right into Misato's gun from almost arm's reach. He closed his eyes for a moment and sagged against the IV stand before taking a deep breath and standing up straight again. "He is my friend. My teammate in combat. And more than that, he loves me, just like Rei and Asuka. I am not going to abandon someone who says that to me and means it. It doesn't matter he's an Angel. He's not like the others. He doesn't want to fight us."
"Whoa, hey, none of that, baka!" Asuka protested. She squeezed in front of him, interposing herself between Misato's gun and her boyfriend. "I told you, no more getting shot."
Kaworu's head swiveled towards the kitchen and the entrance hall to the door. Rei did not break her stare. "There are several Section Two Agents approaching the door to this apartment. I think someone should intercept them before they-"
Asuka was already moving. She spared one second to glare at Misato on her way, then sprinted to the entry hall just a second before the pounding on the door started. Asuka scowled and pressed the 'open' button on the frame.
"Major Katsuragi! One of our-Oh... ah, Second Child. One of our sniper teams saw a sudden flash in here that appeared like a possible gunshot. Is everything alright?" The black-suited agent looked suddenly uncertain. Asuka did not look like someone fleeing a shot. She looked like she was about to punch the much taller man.
Asuka gave him her best 'fick dich und geh sterben' glare and growled, "If someone had been shooting at anyone in this apartment, I think I'd know all about it, especially after today. We just had a bulb blow out when Misato flipped a switch. It's nothing. Now go away and let us sleep. My boyfriend has had a shitty week, and you clowns aren't helping by banging on the door this late." She crossed her arms and practically dared him to do anything but slink away.
He looked around Asuka and stuck his head in the doorway to peer down the short entry hall. The shadowed silence and lack of screaming or more gunshots coming from around the corner that cut off his line of sight seemed to satisfy him. "Sorry to bother you. Goodnight," he said curtly, and stepped back.
Asuka darted her hand towards the 'close' button as fast as she could, but the automatic safties wouldn't allow her to catch his head in the door in any case. She let herself have one second to slump in shaky relief against the inside of the door before slapping the 'LOCK' button and running back to the living room. No one had moved. So she slipped right back into where she'd been standing, between Shinji and a gun.
A gentle hand on her shoulder moved her slightly to the side to let Shinji face Misato directly. "Please put the gun down, Misato-san," Shinji said gently. "Kaworu is not our enemy."
"Shinji, he's an Angel," she repeated. "He has to die. It's the only way to end this war."
"I will not permit you to harm him, Major," Rei said flatly. The hum of the AT-Field between the Pilots and Misato that she had let fade when the door was opened resumed and got a little louder.
"If I die, it would guarantee I do not-" Kaworu began.
Rei snapped her other hand out at him to furiously point at him with one delicate finger. "You shut up!" she snapped. "I love you, you idiot, and I am not going to let you die while there's anything we can do about it! So none of that!" She kept her eyes on Misato.
Kaworu blinked at the sharply pointing digit, then gave Rei a heartbreakingly sad smile. "I love you too," he said wistfully. He shook his head, then looked thoughtful for a moment. He turned his eyes to Misato. "I surrender."
Rei turned around to look at Kaworu. "What?"
Shinji turned his head far enough to look at the Fifth Child as well. "What?"
Asuka blinked. "Was?"
Misato's hands gripping the pistol lost a fraction of their white-knuckle tension. "What?"
"I surrender. I yield. The war is over," Kaworu said. "And you don't shoot prisoners, do you, Major? I ask to be remanded to Rei's custody. She can control me if anything happens."
"You can't just-" Misato sputtered.
Shinji started to smile. "Who says he can't?"
"He's still an Angel!" Misato insisted. "He's a lethal threat to the entire world just by being here! You know what your mother told us! Angels will be drawn to the Geofront and try to end the world!"
"Well, I am rather drawn to Lilith..." Kaworu said with a small smile of his own.
"Not now, stupid fish!"
"You must be hungry, Misato-san," Shinji said suddenly. "Can I make you something to eat before bed?"
Misato blinked again and looked Shinji in the eye for the first time. "I...what? Shinji, we are-"
"He's surrendered, Misato-san," Shinji said firmly. "You are not going to shoot him. Because that's not war anymore. That's murder. And you are not a murderer. So I will make you something to eat and we will talk about everything Rei and Kaworu were afraid to tell us before. Why they were afraid should be obvious now."
He stepped forward, gently moving Asuka out of the way and then Rei. He stopped with his chest less than three centimeters from the barrel of Misato's pistol. "And I'm not moving otherwise. You want to kill my friend, you'll have to kill me too."
A bead of sweat rolled down Misato's temple and along the side of her neck. "Shinji, please move-"
"Baka, you get the Hell back from there, or-" Asuka began tightly.
Shinji just put his hand back to her and curled his fingers. "Asuka, you still have them in your pocket, yes? Can you hand me one?"
Asuka looked uncertain. "I... I do, but... are you sure about this, Shinji?"
Shinji's gaze never left Misato's face. "Yes. Misato wants revenge for her father, but she's not a heartless killer. She wants to protect us and avenge his death on the ones responsible. Kaworu may be an Angel, he may be a threat... but he's not guilty. SEELE sent Doctor Katsuragi to die, not him. Misato-san knows that."
Asuka bit her lip worriedly for a moment, but dug into her skirt pocket. She pulled out one red-tipped bullet and put it in Shinji's hand. "I hope you know what you're doing, Liebling."
Shinji took the bullet and held it up to Misato. "You know regular bullets won't get through. This is what SEELE tried to kill him with today and yesterday. If you truly want to kill him, you'll have to use this. But you'll have to take it from my hand. And shoot me too." He swallowed, betraying his calm mask. "Or I can make you dinner, and we can talk about how we're all going to live through this and save everyone."
Misato's left hand let go of the gun and reached forward slowly. She took the bullet from Shinji's palm. She mechanically ejected the magazine from her pistol, loaded the new bullet into the top, inserted it back into the gun and racked the slide. The tiny pit-pat of the ejected round hitting the floor of the living room was louder than anything she'd ever heard. She raised the gun again with glacial speed. It shook as it came level. "Shinji..."
Silently, Asuka stepped up right behind him, putting her arms around him. She put her chin on his shoulder and closed her eyes. They breathed together.
Rei was frozen behind them. She'd let the AT-Field fade once Shinji had gotten too close to keep it up, but was poised to snap it back into place in an instant.
Kaworu slowly stood and stepped just behind her. He just stared at his friends' back, enrapt. "They... they're so beautiful. I... I've never seen something so pure..." he whispered to Rei. She just nodded.
"Kaworu isn't the one you want. That's SEELE. You know the difference. He's fought beside us for months. If he wanted to hurt us, he could have a hundred times already," Shinji said, likewise closing his eyes. "I trust you, Misato-san. Please trust me. What do you want for dinner?"
Silence rang for thirty seconds before Misato hoarsely said, "J-just some ramen and a beer. Please."
She lowered her gun.
Shinji and Asuka opened their eyes. They took a deep, relieved breath in unison before Asuka let go of him. She tapped him on the head. "You stay put, baka mine. In fact, you and the fish go sit down. You're supposed to be resting. I'll handle food." She whispered something else into his ear, then headed to the kitchen, with several backwards glances at Misato.
Misato looked at Kaworu, who had carefully taken Rei's left hand. Rei's right was still raised defensively towards Misato. She slowly let it drop, but kept staring at the Operations Director. "I have more reason to want him dead than anyone else in the world, Major Katsuragi. And I refuse to kill him if there is any other way," the First Child said rigidly. "Please listen to Shinji's proposal."
Misato slowly shook her head. "Rei," she rasped. She coughed and cleared her throat. "Rei, if... if he's an Angel, what are you?"
"I am Lilith. I am the source of all life on Earth, sent to seed this world billions of years ago. He is my opposite. Another Seed. We were never meant to be here together. Though I would have wished it if we were not."
"Misato-san, you are not going to believe how things got this way," Shinji said wearily. He sank gingerly onto one of the beanbags, dragging his IV stand closer as he sat. He patted one next to him and waved Kaworu closer. "But I think you will understand it." He nodded tiredly at Rei.
Rei pursed her lips, but nodded, and sat down on the floor next to Kaworu, still holding his hand. "We were the first. There were no others," she began once more.
Asuka breathed a quiet sigh of relief as Misato's bedroom door slid closed behind the exhausted Major. This evening had been emotionally taxing enough even before Kaworu's spectacularly poorly executed revelation. At least now the end was in sight. She had already helped Shinji to lay down in their bed, once the confrontation with Misato had ended and she'd eaten the small meal they'd hurriedly prepared for her. She was about to follow him and wrap herself around her boyfriend to recharge. Only one more thing to do.
She turned around to face Rei and Kaworu, who were awkwardly not-quite meeting each other's eyes as they stood by the door to the kitchen. Asuka snorted slightly at them. "Gott, were Shinji and I this bad last year?"
Rei snapped out of her distraction and raised her head. "What?"
Asuka rubbed her face tiredly. "You two. Look, it's really late, I'm nearly as tired as Shinji, and this is the first night I'll have gotten to lay down in the same bed as my love in three days. So I want to go to sleep. I bet you do too. But I'll also bet this is the first time you two have had alone together since the assassin, and there's probably some talking you want to do before tomorrow and we have to tell Kaji and decide what the Hölle we're doing next. I'm going to bed. You two make the most of the next few minutes. Don't stay too long, or Section 2 might notice you both are the last ones leaving, at the same time."
She gave Kaworu a pointed look. "You might start by apologizing to Rei for nearly getting shot again. We told you not to do that. It's a good thing my sweet baka is so... him. I don't know how things might have broken if he hadn't done that little stunt. But I'm still not happy with any play that has Shinji in front of a gun. So you apologize to her for making her worry, and then... talk. I know how few chances you two have to be alone together in ways that won't look too suspicious. I remember what it was like for Shinji and I early on.
She gave Rei a hug, then stepped back to point at Kaworu. "Remember what I texted you, Fifth Child."
Kaworu just smiled. "I know. I am. And she is."
Asuka just nodded, went down the hall to her room with Shinji. The door sliding closed behind her left the two Nephilim in silence.
"I am sorry," Kaworu said quietly. "I... could have done that better."
"Yes, you could," Rei said tightly. "You are never to do something like that again, understand? You could have...grraah!" She stepped closer to him and wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in his neck. "Never do that again. You have made me love you, stupid fish, and now the idea of you dying hurts more than I ever thought it could. You promised me to live."
Kaworu had stiffened as she pulled him into the hug, but slowly relaxed, his arms coming up to hold her too. "I'm sorry. I have no idea what I'm doing. But making sure you and Shinji are safe is more important than me. And Asuka too. I know how much she is to you, and even more to Shinji."
"You truly are an idiot," Rei muttered into the curve of his neck. "Shinji just faced down the woman who is practically his mother now at gunpoint for you. And Asuka stood right with him. You think you are any less important to us?" She squeezed him harder. "You have been such a stupid, stupid boy and made me love you. I will not let you run away and leave me. You and I are just like them. We go together, come what may. I will have no other way."
She gently kissed the side of his neck.
He nearly levitated off the floor with the shiver of delight that ran through him.
The silence held for a moment as they just held each other. It was a thing neither of them had ever had a chance at before. It had never been quite like this before. Rei could feel his AT-Field molding and shaping to conform with hers again, but it was no longer the careful avoidance of the time after Arael. Now their fields pressed flush together, curling and twining with each other like they were trying to make their embrace even closer. It was no longer an irritating buzz to feel his Light so close. Now it was warmth, reassurance... intimacy. A curious feeling she'd never known she could want so much. And somehow every moment of enjoying it only made her desire for more grow.
"There is a part of me that is... joyful right now," Rei said quietly. "That remembers being Lilith. That remembers feelings for Adam she never had the courage to voice. We are not her and him, but... I am not unhappy to know those feelings have now been... redeemed." She kissed his neck again and sighed. "I want to do this for hours. But we cannot."
Kaworu shivered all over again at the kiss. "I... um... yes." He cleared his throat. "D-do not look dow-"
"It's fine, Kaworu. I do not mind anymore." She wiggled her hips slightly, drawing a muffled moan from Kaworu's suddenly bit lips. Rei raised her head enough to let him see the tiny smile on her lips. "Things change, no? Maybe not everything 'has happened before'. There is always hope."
He coughed and smiled nervously. "You... you are completely unknown territory for me, Rei." He lowered his own lips to carefully press against her neck in matching. "But I want to explore."
Rei felt a frisson of excitement run up her spine. The kiss had made her AT-Field hum in interesting ways. "We- we do not have time tonight. I wish. In the morning we will have to figure out what happens next. Major Katsuragi will still have great difficulty accepting your continued existence without some sort of plan for dealing with both SEELE and the Call." She gently pushed him away. "You should leave first. I will wait a few minutes and return to my own apartment."
She looked back in the direction of Shinji and Asuka's room. Their Lights were cuddled close together, pulsing gently with support back and forth to each other. Shinji's was slightly drained, but they could see it gaining strength with each breath. "I wish we could lay together like they are. To feel you next to me as we sleep."
Kaworu swallowed against a suddenly dry throat. "Yes," he squeaked, then coughed. "That would be... warm."
"I think so too." Rei pulled him back close again, tugging him by his shirtfront into another deep kiss. She then pushed him back. "Now go, before this gets harder than it already is. I can see why Asuka and Shinji spend so much time like this."
Kaworu nodded stiffly. "Goodnight, Rei." He turned and walked through the kitchen towards the entrance hallway leading to the front door.
He looked back just before he turned down the hall. "My First..." he said quietly, just loud enough for her to hear.
"Stupid fish," she replied with a soft smile. "Go."
Asuka swapped out the mostly empty IV drip bag on Shinji's stand with a fresh one full of the orange liquid Doctor Akagi had sent them home with before she laid down. She tried not to disturb Shinji as she undressed and slipped under the sheets next to him, but his eyes slid open quickly enough she knew he hadn't been asleep. The drowsy smile he gave her said sleep wasn't far off, though.
"Asuka," he mumbled. "Tired. Think I... used up energy I didn't have for that. Dizzy."
"Shinji, please stop jumping in front of guns for me? I'm too young to have this many heart attacks." She scooted closer until she could cuddle up against his side and throw an arm and leg over him, holding him protectively. She desperately needed the reassurance of skin-to-skin contact with him right now. "I'd be madder if I didn't expect this kind of stupid heroics out of you by now." Her eyes traced the line of plastic tubing up from his far arm to the bag hanging from the IV stand. "But I'm glad it worked. How did you- you didn't know Misato would listen to you, did you?"
"Took a chance," Shinji muttered tiredly. "Had to. She was ready to kill him."
"Rei would have stopped her from actually hurting him," she rebutted.
"But that wouldn't have calmed her down. I had to try." He smiled weakly. "And I was mostly sure Misato-san wouldn't hurt me."
Asuka frowned. "I don't like you risking yourse-... but you had to, because Kaworu is our friend and you'll do that for any of us, wouldn't you? That's what you're going to say, aren't you?"
Shinji's tired smile said it all. "Love you. Do it for you the most. Always." His eyes began to droop.
"Oh no you don't, baka! Together, I told you!"
"Always 'n' frver," Shinji mumbled, and fell asleep. He was still smiling.
Asuka sighed and buried her face in his neck. "Goddamit, baka. You better. I want you with me for... always and forever, yes, damn it."
She tried to let her warmth soak into him, giving as much as she got.
Misato stared at the ceiling and tried to force sleep. It wasn't coming.
She'd slowly slurped her way through the ramen and beer Asuka had whipped up, no worse than any effort of her own. But her mind had been chewing on Rei's explanation of her past and her and Kaworu's origins. A few follow-up questions confirming Kaworu still felt the Call had not made her feel much better about knowing any of it. Eventually, sheer tiredness had led her to tell everyone to go to bed, since she was in no shape for going into the necessarily tangled discussion of 'what next?' in her current state.
But sleep had proven elusive despite her head swimming with fatigue. Knowing there was an Angel, the last Angel, sleeping four floors below her right now was not a comfortable thing, keeping her from drifting off. The presence of her fiancé would have perhaps helped her relax... if he too hadn't been worryingly off the radar since this afternoon. It had been hours since his last cryptic and brief message.
So of course her phone decided now was a good time to go be-beep!
Misato was too tired to vibrate right into the air in surprise, but she was together enough to flinch at the sudden sound, then roll over and grab her phone like a lifeline.
The text message read, I'M OK. FOUND THINGS OUT. WORRYING STUFF. WILL GET BACK IN THE MORNING, AS SOON AS IT'S SAFE.
She glared at the message for a second before slumping in relief. 'At least he's alive. And left me hanging all day on that, the jerk.' She picked the phone back up and replied.
GET BACK HERE RIGHT NOW.
I'M OK, REALLY.
RYOJI KAJI, ON MY FATHER'S GRAVE GET BACK HERE NOW.
There was a long pause. He'd know she wouldn't say that without a very good reason. Her phone beeped one more time.
I'M ON MY WAY.
Communication was important in a relationship. She finally began to relax enough to drop off.
Her hand was halfway around the grip of the pistol under her pillow before she woke up enough to relax. The footsteps approaching her room were familiar. A second later her door slid open slowly and quietly to admit a somewhat haggard Ryoji Kaji. "Hey," he whispered when he noticed her eyes were open. He shut the door behind him with a faint 'toc' of wood on wood. "I'm here. What is it?" He began undressing without waiting for an answer.
"Just... get in here and hold me. This is big, but... fuck. If I tell you right now, neither of us will get any sleep. It will wait to the morning." She lifted the sheet enough to let him lay down beside her.
He settled in beside her, frowning lightly. "Katsu-... Misato, you called me back here invoking your father. I know what that means to you. So wha-"
"I'm warning you, this will mean you get no sleep. It's world-shaking, but not going to blow before sunup," Misato interrupted in warning.
He shook his head. "I'm here, and that message tells me you really needed me. So share."
"Kaworu's the last Angel. Rei's some kind of Angel-ish hybrid. They can both generate AT-Fields strong enough to stop bullets. I know, because I tried to shoot Kaworu when he confessed and Rei blocked it."
The only sound in the room for a full minute was the hum and whisper of the air conditioning.
Kaji swallowed. "...fuck."
Rei's eyes snapped open at precisely 0645, as usual. She immediately sat up to check on Shinji and Asuka. To her mild surprise their lights were not entwined together still in bed. Shinji's slightly dimmed Light still was, but Asuka's was already moving around nearby, in the direction of the kitchen. Major Katsuragi and Inspector Kaji were still asleep together in the Major's room.
Satisfied to their well-being, Rei swung her legs off the bed and looked down four floors. Kaworu was still sleeping, but Rei could not suppress the desire to see him again as soon as possible. She carefully nudged his AT-Field with her own, trying to rouse him without making it feel too intrusive. A smile grew on her face when he woke right away, and caressed her AT-Field back after a moment's disorientation as he shook off sleep. She tugged gently, indicating she wanted him to rise and come up. Another caress, and she felt his attention shift as he began to get dressed. His attention had shifted, but the contact remained, like a warm hand on hers. She was beginning to understand better why Shinji and Asuka spent so much of their time holding hands or some other form of physical contact. Smiling, Rei got out of bed to get dressed herself. This... was a new sort of day. She could get used to this.
Kaworu forced himself to walk steadily and unhurriedly towards Major Katsuragi's apartment. It was difficult to keep his normal vague smile on his face. He wanted to grin and practically skip. He could Hear how eager Rei was for him to come in. It added an even sweeter note to the already beguiling, fractured harmony of her Song. She wanted to see him! He pressed the doorbell and carefully did not fidget while he waited.
The door slid open to reveal the Second Child. She had a red kitchen apron on that read 'Küss den Koch'. "Oh, guten Morgen, Fisch." She stepped back and waved him inside. "[I should have expected it would be you. She's hovering right out of sight of the door.]"
Kaworu barely remembered to mutter "Thank you," as he zipped in the door, around the corner, and right into Rei's arms. "Hi."
"Hi," was the soft, barely voiced answer from the bluenette. Her arms tightened around him. His eyes slid closed, the hum of her Song washing over him, her AT-Field buzzing happily against his. All was right with the world.
Asuka slid around them to get past where they blocked the hallway to the kitchen. She rolled her eyes as she passed. "[Well, I can see you two will be useless for a while. Go sit on the couch and make out or something. I'll be in the kitchen making breakfast for everyone, because if I don't my beloved baka will try dragging himself out here to do it himself. God knows I'm not going to let that crazy drunkard do the cooking.]"
"[Thank you, Asuka,]" the two Nephilim murmured in synch, eyes still closed.
Kaji looked like he'd gotten little sleep. He carefully nursed the steaming cup of coffee Misato had placed in front of him before likewise slumping into a chair next to him. Misato had taken the daylight repetition of the story of Rei and Kaworu's true natures with no change to her already haggard expression, but Kaji's face had gotten longer and longer as Rei once more told the story of the downfall of an unimaginably ancient civilization and the creation of the Seeds. He kept darting nervous looks at Kaworu, then at Rei. He finally looked down at his coffee. "I really want a drink," he muttered. Misato grunted agreement next to him.
An uneasy silence fell. No one seemed to know what to say next, and Kaji appeared fully occupied just digesting Rei's story. Asuka pressed her lips together and looked back and forth between the two pairs sitting at the table. She was still standing, herself. She'd been about to take a tray of breakfast to Shinji when Rei had started talking, and it had suddenly seemed wise that she stay and keep an eye on Kaji's reaction.
The strained silence was broken by the squeak and rattle of Shinji's IV stand rolling across the floor and turning into the kitchen. Asuka was torn between a worried frown at seeing him up and weakly leaning against the stand for support and a happy smile at seeing him brighten up and smile himself as soon as he saw her. "G-good morning, everyone," he said, sounding like he was ready to fall back down.
"You are supposed to be resting, my baka love," Asuka said as she walked over to hug him. "Doctor's orders, very specific, remember?"
He shook his head and hugged her back. "Had to come out. I think..." He eyed the tense situation at the table. "I think everyone will be a little more comfortable if I'm here to help... um, keep things calm."
"Like last night?" Asuka muttered just loud enough for him to hear. She shook her head anyway. "You're probably right, Liebling. Sit down, then. I'll get your breakfast."
Shinji moved to sit down on the third side of the table, but stopped short when he noticed there was no place. The four chairs at their small table had always been enough before. "Oh. Um..."
Kaworu stood. "Take my seat, Shinji. I'll just stand. It's fine." He moved his chair over to let Shinji take a seat.
As he returned to stand next to Rei, she got up herself, pushed him into her vacated spot, and then settled herself sideways in his lap. She snaked one arm around his neck. "This is better. You do not have to stand," Rei said, her face perfectly calm and not a hint of anything out of the ordinary in her voice.
Kaji and Misato stared.
Rei stared right back, unflinching.
Kaworu stared straight ahead at a point a thousand miles away and slowly turned pink.
Asuka put Shinji's breakfast tray down in front of him and, after a regretful glance at Shinji's lap, elected to stand beside him. "Come on, Misato. I'd have thought you'd be more used to this, after Shinji and I did practically the same thing."
Misato snapped out of it and wryly glanced at her. "This is not quite the same thing, Asuka."
"Yes," Rei said coldly. "You had not tried to shoot Shinji the night before they informed you of their relationship."
Misato bristled. "Look, Rei, he's an Angel, a threat to everyon-"
"You tried to kill him!" Rei almost shouted back at her. "I-"
"Rei, it was me," Kaworu interrupted the spiraling argument.
Rei looked at him, eyes narrowing.
"If you want to blame anyone, blame me. I knew it was a risk, telling her like that. But... if she had killed me, at least it would have solved one problem," Kaworu said softly. His arms finally came up to hold her. "I want you all to be safe."
"And I want you to be alive, you idiot," Rei growled. "I do not want you to die! How many times do I have to say it?"
"Was I this clueless?" Shinji muttered to Asuka.
"Yes, you were, baka, I love you anyhow." She bent down to kiss his cheek.
Rei closed her eyes and made a visible effort to calm down. She opened them again and looked back to Misato. "I apologize. But his survival is important to me, Major. More than I ever would have believed. So I am prepared to negotiate."
Kaji frowned. "Negotiate? Rei, if I'm understanding what you've told us right, as long as he's alive he'll be drawn to Adam, compelled to wipe out life on Earth even worse than Second Impact. I'm not happy with the thought of killing him, but he's right, isn't he?"
"No," Shinji said firmly. "We have to keep him alive."
Kaji and Misato both looked at him curiously.
He met their stares without a sign of doubt. "All the Angels have to die before SEELE can start their plan. Same for my father. That's why SEELE tried to kill him. They need him to die. So we need him to live." He looked at the two Nephilim at the table and his face softened. "That it keeps someone who loves Rei and I alive is good too."
"We're all together on this, Misato," Asuka added from beside him. She put her hand on Shinji's shoulder. "We gave you that bullet, but if it comes to having to stop Kaworu the hard way, any of us will do it. But not until there's no other choice."
"He's still an Angel, even if his being right now alive blocks SEELE," Misato complained. "That's a problem of its own, even if we accept the status quo."
"He's as human as I am, Major," Rei replied coldly. "And there is no one more dedicated to stopping Third Impact than I. I like how things are now. Humanity must be protected as it exists now. And that includes him." She took a deep breath. "And as I said, I am prepared to negotiate."
"Negotiate what, Rei?" Miasto asked. "You're asking us to accept a permanent risk to the whole world because you like him."
Rei's glare was cold and hard. "He is also an innocent who did not choose this, driven by his nature and the schemes of those we already oppose. He is a comrade who has fought beside us bravely from the moment he arrived. Yes, I love him. But I was also the first person here who promised to end him if he could not stop himself from turning on us. He asked me to promise him that. He hates that he has to fight that side of him, that is a threat to us. And if it comes to that I will still keep my promise, because I love him."
Rei turned her head to glare at Kaworu. "And you are to keep your promise, idiot. Or I will beat you over the head with a tree again."
Kaworu just smiled at her. "I love you."
Asuka snickered. "Man, I am such a good influence on Rei."
Kaji rubbed his face and took a long drink of his coffee. "Alright, Rei, accepting for the moment that Kaworu-kun stays alive... what are you talking about for 'negotiations'? What mitigates the long-term threat?"
Rei broke off staring into Kaworu's eyes and turned back two the two adults. "We have been discussing this. Asuka and I may have an idea. But I meant what I could offer, to balance the risk of Kaworu."
"What's worth a risk to the world?"
Kaji and Misato shared a look. Misato turned back to Rei. "Explain."
"I remember everything. Everything Lilith knew. Including..." Rei hesitated. "Including the full details about the theory and construction of compact S2 Engines. I can replicate the technology. Unlimited power to propel humanity to expand off Earth alone."
Kaworu started. "Rei, that... you said that was exactly what caused their downfall. S2 Engines for everyone just led to wars until their entire planet and star were destroyed."
Rei nodded. "That is why the compulsion was imprinted on us, to keep the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Knowledge apart until we were mature enough as a species and a civilization to handle that power again. The Forbidden Union. But... Asuka has some ideas."
All eyes swiveled to the redhead.
"An S2 Engine doesn't have to be in a person. We've been trying to use them in the Evas," she said. "An unlimited power supply, not constrained by fuel supply could push a constant-burn spacecraft to Pluto in less than two weeks. It could lift thousands of tons into orbit or the Moon without difficulty. If we keep S2 technology to inorganic use, and use it to fast-track human expansion into space, we'll fortify humanity's survival even if a worst-case scenario like what happened to the First Ancestral Race comes up. Rei's offering us the ability to make sure no one threat, not even the Angels or S2 tech run wild or a freaking real Impact meteor can ever wipe out mankind. The union of the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Knowledge was meant to be delayed until we met in the stars, to prevent the loss of one world from destroying everything, as it did to them. But we can accomplish the same goal from the other end: forge that union, then use it to reach the heavens," Asuka said as calmly as she could, resting one hand on Shinji's shoulder. "The end is the same: a species and a civilization mature enough to withstand the forces of having both, or at least endure in the event of disaster. And believe me, Misato, Rei and Kaworu are very, very motivated to make this union work. We use S2 tech to get into space in a big way, and the mission the Seeds were built for is finally met."
Rei nodded. "That is what they were for. To ensure that our souls and everything we had created was not lost forever. The Forbidden Union is only such until those conditions are met. Once the children of the two Fruits are ready, union is the intent. And to save his life, I am ready to try."
"What about the risk? By his own testimony, Kaworu says he's come close to," Misato groped for the right term, "falling no less than three times in the last week!"
"Misato-san?" Shinji interjected quietly.
The Operations Major looked at the Third Child.
"I hate this job. I hate every time I have to get into the unholy thing that ate my mother, go out into battles that scare me senseless, and risk dying for a world I never much gave a damn about. I hate every second of it. But I do it. Do you know why?"
"You save lives every time you do, Shinji. You do something only you five can do and protect everyone alive."
Shinji shook his head. "Misato, do you remember when I ran away for a few days, shortly after I got here? And you had to have Section Two's goons drag me back from Kensuke's campout?"
Misato nodded. After Shinji's risky disobedience of orders during the fight with the Fourth Angel, he'd run away from the stress. Section Two having to drag him back had earned him a chewing out from her. In response, Shinji had asked to resign as an Eva Pilot and leave. Only talking to his friends at the train station had made him change his mind and stay. Misato had understood he'd been unwilling to leave behind the closest thing to a home and family he'd had in ten years.
"When I was up in the hills, I sat on the edge of a cliff and thought about jumping."
Misato blanched in shock. Kaji stiffened beside her. Asuka flinched, and squeezed his shoulder tighter. It wasn't news to her. They'd shared such dark memories in whispered confidences in bed at night over the last year. But she still hated hearing how empty Shinji had been before they'd met.
"The only thing that stopped me was that I didn't want to inconvenience you with my death. At the train station, I stayed for you. For offering me a home. For my friends. I hated myself. I didn't think I deserved to live in this world. But you told me to. Other people needed me to. So I did it because I had to. It was an obligation." He looked up at Asuka and smiled wearily. He squeezed her hand and returned his gaze to Misato. "Then I met Asuka. We may not have gotten along at first, but no one could deny how powerful we were together in a fight."
Asuka snorted lightly. "Yeah, once we harnessed the awesome power of interpretive dance," she snarked. "And I got you to notice I kinda thought you were cute."
Shinji just smiled a little more. "So now I fight because Asuka needs me. Loves me. I choose to fight beside her because I love her back. I still hate having to be an Eva Pilot. But as long as she needs me, I will never stop fighting to be the best Pilot I can. I don't do it anymore because I have to. I do it because this is what the one I love needs me to do. I will fight every battle she does, and take any risk. We all would."
He nodded pointedly at Kaworu and Rei. "Can you offer them any less? SEELE knows Kaworu is rebelling against them. They're trying to shoot him to set him off. Because he won't do it voluntarily anymore. Because he loves us. I'll take any risk for Asuka. He'd take any risk for Rei. I bet you and Kaji-san would do the same for each other. Kaworu's as human as we are. He was ready to let you shoot him last night. If it comes to it, all of us have promised we'll stop him. But as long as there's a chance, I will take any risk for someone who loves me."
Silence filled the kitchen when Shinji finished. No one said anything for a minute. "And that is why I love this man," Asuka said quietly. She bent down and carefully turned his head to face her with hands on his cheeks, and kissed him.
Misato's mouth was a grim line. She looked from Rei to Kaworu and back, then to Kaji. He held her stare for a moment, then nodded. Misato turned back to Rei and sighed, closing her eyes. "Fine. I'll provisionally extend that trust you all have. But I'm holding on to that bullet, too. You all may trust him, but we cannot let that be the only thing we have against this kind of risk. And even if so, now what? This 'Call' isn't going to go away, Rei. Are we going to just hope he can resist it forever?"
"Asuka and I discussed that. We have some ideas," Rei said. She shifted a little in Kaworu's lap, getting a strangled gurgle from the Fifth Child and a further reddening of his face. "Both immediate and longer term."
Asuka nodded. She stood up and started to pace back and forth a little behind Shinji's chair. "SEELE and Commander Asshole's plans both call for all the Angels to be out of the way before they can act. But Kaworu with the Call breathing down his neck is a threat on his own, we know. If we can nullify the Call, as long as we keep Kaworu alive, we also block both of them. So we take care of the Call first."
"How?" Kaji probed. "Isn't it inherent in his nature? How do you change that?"
"By incremental implementation of the Forbidden Union," Rei said. "I can manipulate a small portion of Lilith's tissue to integrate into Kaworu. The..." Rei paused for a moment. "The... 'signature' of a Progenitor is similar enough that once I have melded it into his Core, it will satiate the Call. He could still initiate an Impact event if he tried, but he would be freed of the unrelenting urge to do so."
"And I would never want to," Kaworu finally managed to rasp. He cleared his throat and tried again. "As long as my friends live, as long as any of humanity lives, I will never. Never by my will. There is too much beauty in this world."
"Lilith's tissue," Misato said thoughtfully. She looked at Kaji. "In Terminal Dogma. So we need to get some from there?"
Rei shook her head. "No. We must go there. I will need Kaworu there with me, and do it immediately upon taking the tissue from my greater body. It is too unstable to move without extensive equipment that we cannot access."
Misato stared at her hard. "Rei, you do realize you are asking me to not just allow but to help you let an Angel into the exact place we've been fighting so hard to keep them out of, right?"
Kaworu shook his head. "All the Angels have been trying to get into the Geofront to seek Adam, not Lilith. They are simply confused because Lilith is so much stronger and the signatures are so similar." He looked down for a moment. "Adam is in there too, though. I can feel it. There is no Progenitor signature anywhere in this world now but below us. Adam is in the Geofront somewhere."
It was Kaji's turn to shift uneasily. "Commander Ikari has it, definitely. That's what I stole for him from SEELE. I handed it to him in his office."
The Pilots all glared at him. "Kaji, was zum Teufel?!" Asuka said angrily.
Kaji waved his hands placatingly. "I was getting inside Commander Ikari's operation, and hindering SEELE at the same time. I'll admit I didn't know exactly what Adam was, or what either of them had planned for it. I wasn't trying to end the world, believe me."
None of the Pilots looked happy, but they subsided with some sour looks.
"It is most likely in the Commander's office, or Terminal Dogma. He would not keep it anywhere else," Rei said.
Asuka nodded in agreement, resuming her pacing. "Right, he's too paranoid to let it be far. He needs it and Lilith as his key components for his own 'end the world' plan, with Rei to act as an intermediary since she's half-Lilith, half-human DNA. He can't do it without her to act as a 'buffer circuit', right, Rei? Or he'll explode or something?"
Rei bobbed her head slightly. "Correct. His own soul would not take the integration with raw Progenitor well, let alone leave him with any degree of control, or even identity. Attempting to force a Union with both would be... unfortunate. A hybrid soul is required. SEELE's plan must have its own means of obtaining or controlling similar components. Their original plan was to utilize the Lance of Longinus and Lilith and Adam's bodies. Commander Ikari's decision to use the Lance in battle and lose it was almost certainly a deliberate move by him to frustrate their plan. They will have to try something else."
Misato took a sip of her coffee and rolled her neck. "Like what? Both hybrid souls are right here, correct? And so are Adam and Lilith. If SEELE doesn't trust the Commander, what are they going to do?"
"They have cloned Adamite tissue in quantity from building the Evas," Kaworu mused. "But the other things they'd need are all here: Lilith, Unit-01, and Rei. They will have to come here."
Asuka stopped pacing and looked up, frowning. "And they'll have to do it soon. Them trying for Kaworu must mean they're close to the endgame, and Commander Asshole even more so. They'll try to stop him somehow." She looked at Rei and Kaworu and shivered. "And if they've got as total control of the UN and everything as it sounds, they could throw almost anything at us, and really soon. We're going to have to move fast ourselves to stay ahead of all that."
Misato looked at Kaji. "We're going to need to figure out what Commander Ikari is doing right now. The moment he summons Rei to him could be the start of the end. You need to start sneaking around hard."
Kaji sighed and nodded. "And knowing him, he's got something slippery we haven't thought of brewing." He drained his coffee and stood up. "I better get moving."
He took one last look at Rei and Kaworu. Kaworu had closed his eyes and leaned his head against Rei's chest. Kaji squeezed Misato's shoulder. "I think, after all we've been through to get here, we can rely on Rei's judgement about him."
"We all trust Rei, Kaji," Shinji said. "There's nothing that will change that."
The office at the heart of NERV's headquarters was a dim study in black and blood red, as cold, hard, and quiet as the man who occupied it.
Gendo stared across his desk at the key to all his plans. His perfect weapon. "The time is near. SEELE has begun to move. Are you ready to fulfill your destiny and function?"
"Then it is time to kill the last Angel."
"I will obey your orders," said Rei Ayanami.
End of Chapter 11
Authors's Note: Well! This took a bit. Sorry. There was the whole deploying to Iraq again thing, and then it got a little busy here, plus some writer's block... but I did it! Chapter 11 is done! ...how the fark did it take 2 years? Yikes. But we're there: Rei and Kaworu are together, their friends know the truth about them, and everyone is ready for the final challenge... but they don't know what's coming. Anyhow, Have 8.5k words to finish out things and lead us into the endgame, Chapter 12 - Götterdämmerung.
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