The Pantheon
By Ekai Ungson

DISCLAIMER: Neon Genesis Evangelion copyright GAINAX, Anno Hideaki, and other related enterprises. Characters used without permission.

*

From a distance, only the light is visible, a speeding gleaming horizontal angel, trumpet out on a hard bend. The note bells, the beauty of the stretching train that pulls the light in a long gold thread. It catches in the wheels, it flashes on the doors, that open and close, that open and close, in commuter rhythm.

--"Art & Lies"; Jeanette Winterson

*

Chapter One:
Elios, of the Light

Darkness is nothing but the sheer absence of light, and of late there was scarce anything illuminated by it. Dark halls, dark floors, dim rooms and corners and alleys. There was hardly a glimmer of it anywhere.

On the black floors and inky walls the darkness crept, catching on sharp corners that knife it in half. It adheres but does not die, instead the two parts merely go on to surround more things with murk.

A boy entered a room stricken with the freezing shadows of cold metal and frigid machines. Everything in the enclosed space is cold-frozen with ice from the curtains that hung from a metal divider, unresponsive to the stale air, to the electrical equipment that beeped slowly, supposedly indicating life, when, in fact, it gave off only a slow sound of death, to the scarcity of illumination, and finally, to the prone figure lying on the bed with frail hands on the covers, fingers chilled with the absence of life.

He stood beside the bed, ignoring the chair beside it, with shoulders sloped downwards with the weight of defeat and discontent. He stared at the pale face of the girl that lay unmoving before him and breathed in and out. He did not know why he still tried.

Ikari Shinji could do nothing but sigh once more. "Hey, Asuka," he began, unsure. "Guess I'm here again"

He paused, unsure of what to say next to the girl whose eyes refused to flutter open, refused now for six days and counting.

"I never go home anymore. Nobody goes home. Everybody wants me to stay here, at headquarters. They keep telling me that something's going to happen. Misato never goes home either, but I don't think she's working"

The closed eyes of the Second Child remained closed. Nothing changed in the girl's expression. The machine in the corner beeped constantly, and the one dim bulb lending him sight was casting fleeting shadows across her pale face, her skin a stark contrast to the overwhelming dark.

"Hikari's been very worried about you, Asuka but I've never gotten the chance to talk to her lately. I haven't gone to school in a long time. I think I'm falling behind on Algebra"

Translucent eyelids never opened. Slender fingers never moved. There was nary even the sound of breathing. Pale, weak light tried to diffuse itself as much as it could, but did not succeed outside of a dim glow.

"Asuka I feel so alone," he admitted miserably. And he did. And he couldn't possibly fathom why Asuka would care about all these mundane things about his life, about himself and how he was feeling. Asuka's business was Asuka's alone. And she, from all accounts, never cared about anyone else. But he needed someone to listen to him, and outside of the fallen Pilot there was no one else. And so, regardless of her unconsciousness, he talked, and kept talking. "I don't know who to turn to anymore I'm afraid of Ayanami and Misato. They scare me"

Nothing shifted the silence that rapidly filled the spaces. It was thick, dense, and deafening. The girl's closed eyes remained closed, and he begged for them to open. He knew he was talking the exact sort of gibberish she hated to hear, from him or from anybody.

"Asuka, please," the boy pleaded, taking the girl's hand. It was freezing. He pushed the feeling of recoil aside. "Asuka, please wake up. Please, wake up, Asuka—"

Closed eyes remained closed.

"Asuka, wake up, please open your eyes. I'm so alone. I—" he stopped short and urged on, his voice taking on a higher tinge of desperation. "I need you, Asuka. Wake up and yell at me. Make me strong. Make me brave. Shout at me, insult me, I don't care. Asuka, wake up"

Closed eyes remained closed.

The boy was on the verge of tears.

"Asuka, please I'm sorry"

Apologies are your conditioned reaction, Shinji! What, do you think you cause everything to go wrong?

Her closed eyes remained closed.

Realizing the futility of his actions, the boy set the girl's hand down on the covers and stared at her with remorse in his eyes. He had been able to do not much lately but feel absolute guilt and stare at her. He knew she hated him for it, would hate him for it.

Unresponsive, like the dolls she so hated, the shadows on her face deepening the hollow spaces on her cheeks, he wished desperately for her eyes of sky to ignite something in him. He wished desperately for her life or his death—either way, it did not matter much. The red silk of her hair, brilliant in the sun, lacked luster now, and the spiritless slumber that had overtaken her had reduced her radiance considerably.

Asuka, won't you shine?

He remembered a tale he'd heard as a child, about the sleeping princess on a tower, sealed away from the rest of the world. He connected this thought to the current situation. Far-fetched and implausible given the current circumstances, where real life and reality collided violently, and there was no hope for such asinine fairy tales—

--but at this point he was about ready to believe anything.

Driven by guilt, sorrow, and desperation, fueled by the knowledge that the girl would not wake, but placing each smoky bet on the belief that this might actually work—he lowered his head, closer, closer to hers, and pressed his lips against hers for the most infinite of moments.

But she did not wake. Made no move to resist or return his actions, which was even more highly unlikely. She remained feeble and limp, without strength, without soul.

Her closed eyes remained closed, and his dark surroundings remained dark, reminding him of the hopelessness of the situation.

Asuka, won't you shine?

She would not.

And this was what broke him most deeply.

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He left the room in considerable distress, closing the door quietly behind him, even if he knew that the girl within could not possibly hear. Still feeling the imprint of her frigid lips against his own, he fought back incredible shame and self-disgust, and tears. He ran from the room without looking back. Asuka would never wake. Maybe she didn't want to, anymore.

He wished he could do the same.

Meanwhile, in another part of NERV HQ, in the synch test room, Akagi Ritsuko stood up and wiped her glasses on her lab coat, absently scanning the screens in front of her, and the glass windows where a view of two entry plugs could be seen, the first labeled 00' and the other 02'.

"Where's Shinji?" she asked, taking notes on a clipboard.

"I don't know," Katsuragi Misato replied. "He should be just around."

"Some guardian you are," Ritsuko muttered.

"00 plug at 0.25," someone reported. "Synch ratio at 52% and rising."

"Lower her by 0.3," Ritsuko ordered. The personnel did as she commanded. "And the other?"

"The Fifth Child is at 0.34, synch ratio 70%. Stable."

"Lower him by 0.1 more."

"Right."

Ritsuko turned to Misato once more. "What are you doing here?"

Misato stared. "Working."

"You know as well as I do that I don't need you around for a standard synch test," said Ritsuko. "What are you doing here?"

Misato kept staring.

"They're not your Children, Misato," the doctor said. "The Children you're supposed to be looking after are not Rei and Kaworu. Your Children are in other parts of HQ, getting lost in one manner or another. The first is in a mental comatose and the other is alone in God-only-knows-where."

"00 has reached its limit at 0.28 meters," reported a personnel.

"And Kaworu?" Ritsuko asked.

"Also reached limit. Synch ratio at 75% and stable."

"All right. Rei, Kaworu—"

Two faces went up the computer screens.

"Yes."

"Yes."

"You're done. Shut it down and you may both go. Thank you."

"Roger."

"Right."

When Ritsuko turned around, Misato was gone.

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The girl took five steps into the lobby in silence, the only sound reverberating was the click of her shoes on the marble tile. She kept walking onward, without aim or direction.

She noted that the lights overhead had dimmed slightly. Not considerable enough to be noticeable, but she had, after all, lived in this place for most of her life, and she knew whether things had changed. Nothing much had, for the past years. She was contemplating this, when—

She turned around abruptly and asked, "Why are you following me?"

She had been followed—rather, was still being followed—by the Fifth, who, now been addressed, gave her a disarming smile.

"Because you are silent," said the boy cheerfully.

Although this did not make much sense to the First Child, she only gave him two seconds of her stare before turning around and resuming her walk.

She heard footsteps behind her and knew that the Fifth had not yet given up. She decided to pay him no attention and kept walking through cavernous halls that never seemed to end. Yes, this was NERV, it never seemed to end. Time, here, though precious and coveted, seemed as if it did not exist entirely.

She stopped, and the footsteps stopped also, from a calculated distance behind her. She turned around once more.

"Why are you following me?"

"Because you are beautiful," came the impertinent reply, smile still in place.

Beautiful. Was she really? She turned around and pondered this. Beautiful. Beauty. How could she be beautiful? She didn't even have color in herself, in her life. And color was beautiful. Beautiful?

Beautiful is applied to that which gives the highest degree of pleasure to the senses or to the mind and suggests that the object of delight approximates one's conception of an ideal.

She was not that.

Lovely refers to that which delights by inspiring affection or warm admiration.

She was not that.

Pretty carries connotations of femininity or diminutiveness.

She was not that.

Comely applies to persons only and suggests a wholesome attractiveness of form and features rather than a high degree of beauty.

She was not that.

Fair suggests beauty that is fresh, bright, or flawless.

She was not that.

She barely noticed that she had turned at least three corners and was in the rather untouched' parts of NERV.

And still, the Fifth followed.

She turned around once more and queried, once more, "Why are you following me?"

The Fifth smiled at her. Smiling. She wondered how he could manage that.

"You're just like me"

No, I'm not. I'm not as happy.

"Because I fancy you."

She stared. And kept staring. Finally, she came to a conclusion and said, "You fancy everyone, Nagisa."

His smile widened. "Is that not a good thing?"

"I would not know of such things." And with that, she walked past him to get back to more familiar terrain.

A feeling in her abdomen began to rise. Something unfamiliar and alien to her. Something she had never yet felt before. It spread across from her stomach to the rest of her body, but she pushed it aside, and failed. She kept walking, and her steps became faster, and faster still, as if she were running away from the very feeling itself.

And still, the Fifth followed.

Ayanami Rei came to a dead end at the end of the hall, something she entirely did not anticipate. So she turned around and asked again "Why are you following me, Nagisa?"

Nagisa Kaworu stopped at a precise five steps from her, and stared.

She stared back, eyes looking into identical eyes.

"Because," he began, "if you didn't want to be followed, you wouldn't run away, now, would you?"

It took some time before the gist of what he said hit her fully. And when it did, she laughed.

Her shoulders were shaking uncontrollably and her eyes had narrowed into slits. She felt a sensation from very, very deep in her heart surface and blossom within her. Was this what they called laughter? She had never had this before.

She laughed and laughed and he stood there with a faint smile on his face as if he were contented with only watching her.

"It seems there is a lot to teach you, First Child."

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In another part of NERV, a woman was also wandering the premises without direction or goal. Letting her feet lead her to wherever it chose, she walked with a pace that appeared to be slurred with alcohol. She had taken none of the stuff.

Katsuragi Misato had one purpose in mind, and that was to find her charge, the Third Child, Shinji. However, numerous attempts to contact the boy had been futile, and were he inside the headquarters, he wasn't listening to her pleas over the intercom. Feeling dejected and alone, she decided, rather foolishly, now that she thought about it, to search for him on foot.

Which was a really stupid idea. NERV was, in a nutshell, a gigantic facility. Ritsuko was right when she said that the boy could be in God-only-knows-where.

She had never been a woman of much patience. But Shinji was one thing she just couldn't give up on, now. Finding him, that is. It seemed as if she had given up on a lot of things, including the care of Shinji, over the past few days. And it had taken the excellent Ritsuko to snap her out of it.

Her knees were now protesting on the force she was exerting on them. She paid them no heed. She had been walking for some time now, granted, but Shinji. Shinji

She stopped and leaned against the wall in an expression of futility. She would never be able to find the Child this way. The lost, after all, would never be able to find their fellow lost.

Misato looked around and realized that she had taken herself directly outside her other charge's door.

Asuka's room.

It was as if the place had become some refuge for the damned or shrine to the unworthy, as everyone who entered it seemed to be dealing with demons personal or otherwise. Misato entered the room and felt the cold. Almost freezing cold, and the current state of the Second Child helped none.

"Hello, Asuka" she began. "Sorry I haven't been here. I've been out of sorts."

Sohryu Asuka-Langley had become some sort of saint-like paragon to whom humans with voids in their respective souls went to search for some sort of solace. Maybe it was because the girl was unresponsive, verbally, that they came to her—she could do nothing but listen' to them.

"I can't find Shinji anywhere, Asuka like he doesn't want to be found. I don't know what to do anymore. Asuka—"

Misato stared at the Child's pale countenance and encountered the same feelings of guilt that Asuka's first visitor had. "Asuka, I'm sorry I failed you, both you and Shinji I failed to protect you, failed to protect Shinji when I was supposed to. I—"

Unlike Asuka's first visitor, however, Misato did shed tears, both for herself and for her frail charge. "—was too busy being selfish, protecting my own interests.. I didn't even think about you, about Shinji. I'm a wretched woman I don't deserve you"

Misato, sobbing now, took Asuka's hand from the covers and felt the chill seep from the girl's skin to hers. "You're so cold, Asuka when are you coming back?"

The Second Child did not, could not, answer.

"I'm sorry for everything, Asuka I'm just like Shinji. I'm exactly like him"

And with that, Misato let all gates break open and cried, and cried, and cried.

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The Second Child, Sohryu Asuka-Langley, was dreaming.

She dreamt that she was in the middle of a dark, deep void, without physical constraints, much like being a spirit, or a soul, if such things truly did exist. She was in a world made up solely of feeling, and the first of those was the one called "freedom".

So at peace, she felt, but when she tried to say the words none came out, for she had not the lips to say them with. However, she felt no surprise at this revelation. It seemed as if it were the most natural thing, to have no voice and no lips to talk with.

She saw not with eyes but with her entire being, and suddenly, pictures came pouring out from all sides of the void. Snapshots of herself in different parts of the world. At tourist attractions and fairs, in Germany and Spain, Indonesia, America, China. Snapshots of her sparkling, gleaming self, smiling as if she had no cares in the world. Pictures with friends and acquaintances, at school dances and her graduation, where none of her parents were present. There was one of her in her toga for her college graduation, beaming beside a proud Kaji.

Kaji. The man who had been her home for some years. She knew he was gone now, though she scarce knew even why she knew.

Suddenly, all the sparkling, gleaming pictures dulled, and finally, they faded. She stared at them with a detached sort of fascination.

Oh Everyone's forgetting about me.

How nice for them.

Then, a scene from her childhood. "You're strong, Miss Asuka, but it's all right to cry."

I don't want to cry. But I did. Some strength that is.

"Mama, Mama! They chose me! I'm an elite pilot! I'll defend mankind as the best in the world! It's a secret to everyone, but I'll tell you, Mama! Everyone's so nice to me! Everyone loves me! I'm not sad anymore, Mama! Hey, Mama! Look at me! Look at me! Me!"

I didn't want to cry. But I did. Some strength that is.

I don't want to live anymore.

Come die with me, sweet daughter"

Yes, Mama, this time, I think I'll die with you

Come die with me, sweet Asuka'

Yes, Mama, this time, I think I'll die with you

Come die with me, my Asuka'

Yes, Mama, this time, I think I'll die

With you

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From a world outside that of the Child's dreams, a laboratory technician notices the patterns on the Pilot's mental monitor screen.

It was responding to the electric signals in her brain.

That line hadn't moved for eight days now, and here it was, jolting up every other 0.6 seconds or so.

It was something to the effect of a miracle, that needed to be reported immediately.

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"You're positive that there is brain activity in the Pilot?" asked Ritsuko through the phone.

"Yes, Ma'am, most absolutely. The Pilot's mental activity is rising every minute. Her brain is out of comatose. She's alive."

"Thank you for that," Ritsuko breathed, and hung up. The next order of business was—

"Let Major Katsuragi know about the Second Child's condition. I suspect she'd want to know about this."

And so, it was reported to everyone in NERV that a miracle had occurred, somehow, that the pilot of Unit-02 was slowly coming out of her stupor. Misato wasted no time. She informed Shinji at once, and the boy raced out of whichever cave he was hiding in to be at Asuka's side. He felt it important that he be there for her, if for nothing else than the purpose that he could be the first target of her wrath if she woke up.

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I'll give you a different sort of dying, my Asuka..'

Mama?

I'll give you back to them'

Mama?

I'll give you back to them'

Mama, are you leaving me again?

My Asuka you need to lend them light'

Mama, I can't shine anymore

My Asuka, you need to keep walking'

Mama, I don't want to go back there!

My Asuka, you need to lend them light'

Mama? Mama!

so that they can lend you theirs'

Mama!

is a different sort of dying, my Asuka'

MAMA!

MAMA!

MAMA!!

Sohryu Asuka-Langley opened her eyes to light that seemed to be infinite and was thrust back into the world of the living after two weeks of unconsciousness.

And when the Third Child saw this, he threw his arms around her in his happiness regardless of whether he knew she would react violently or not.

She did not react. At all.

She said only one word. "Cold."

He didn't mind the cold, for once. The light, finally, was shining brightly overhead.

And that was all that mattered to him.

--to be continued

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A/N: I think I've made some things clean-cut and dried. The pairings are pretty clear, I think, and how I established them is the way it will stay. Until further notice, that is. In any case, "The Pantheon" will consist of eighteen or more chapters. If I have any mistakes or errors regarding canon concepts (except for the fact that Nagisa Kaworu is alive here) please leave me a review or an email. Any criticisms, comments, suggestions, and violent reactions will be accepted and appreciated muchly.

Acknowledgements and thanks to the Otaku Board people for help, lots and lots of help regarding Evangelion nuances and other such things. Wuberly people.

--Ekai Ungson

http://innocenceneon.blogspot.com