As some of the readers of my other thread have requested to see my other, much longer fic in progress, I now present "A Crown Of Stars", the authorized continuation of LVDB's excellent "A Throne of Bayonets", available here on FFnet. I highly, highly recommend this excellent, post-Third Impact continuation fic. It perfectly captures the bleak, despairing-with-only-the-faintest-glimmers-of-hope-at-the-very-end feel of Neon Genesis Evangelion, so much so that when I read it I felt Shinji and Asuka deserved a happier ending. I asked LVDB if they minded me trying my hand at a sequel, and was granted permission to try. That was 2 years and 232,000 words ago.
Giving them a happy ending was harder than I thought.
This was also a never-meant-to-be-published way to kill time while I was deployed to Afghanistan, so it features a good deal of me taking out an original universe I'd built to play with. But I kept the focus on our Evangelion Pilots: this is their story, not the OU's.
I'm going to start putting the still-incomplete (95% done) work up here. "A Throne of Bayonets" is just 27k words, but if you really can't pop over to read it, here's my attempt at a summarized condensation of both Neon Genesis Evangelion and "A Throne of Bayonets" in 1600 words or so:
Once there was a boy named Shinji. He had a hard life.
His mother died and his father abandoned him at age 4. At 14, his father summoned him back to fight aliens bent on ending the world. His father neglected to mention that he planned to end the world anyway too.
Once there was a girl named Asuka. She had a hard life. Her mother died and her father abandoned her at age 4. At 13, she was sent to fight aliens bent on ending the world. Her commander neglected to mention that he planned to end the world anyway too.
They fought aliens because they had to. They fought each other because they were each convinced they were terrible, unlovable people, and afraid of opening up lest the vulnerability thereby exposed lead to more pain. They could not communicate, and never learned just how alike they were. So they fought together, but alone in spirit, because fear of pain and miscommunication kept them from connecting. Even a shared kiss only led to more tears and distance.
Then things got worse. Their pain and the war beat them down until they both broke, with catatonia and suicidal depression the only ends in sight.
Then the world ended. Shinji's pain led to him betraying Asuka when she needed him most. Asuka's pain led to her betraying Shinji when he needed her most. And because the power of a god had been given into Shinji's hands right as he was betrayed, he told the world it could just go die, if pain was all it offered him.
But his mother's spirit spoke to him, and convinced him that despite all the pain he'd suffered, happiness was still possible, but only in a world where pain could also find him. Shinji decided that the chance of happiness was worth the trial, and restored the world.
But the restored world was still a wreck, a depopulated, chaos-ridden mess of warlords, bandits, and the terrified, starving masses. Six months of keeping a nearly-catatonic and bitterly angry Asuka alive in this world drained Shinji. Then one warlord, General Winthrop, more ruthless and clever than the rest, seized the remnants of NERV-Berlin, its MAGI, and control of the UN's remaining N2 warhead stockpile. He 'acquired' the former Evangelion Pilots from their latest warlord 'hosts', and began work on completing three remaining Mass Production Evangelions.
A desperate Asuka, not yet 16 and convinced Shinji could not protect her or would inevitably let her down again, 'voluntarily' went to Winthrop for protection. She spent over a year as his toy before he tired of her and gave her to his chief of staff, Colonel Jinnai. She spent two years with him before Shinji was allowed to return to Berlin. He had been left in exile in Boston, a precaution by Winthrop to ensure the former Third Child did not do anything like try to 'rescue' Asuka.
His return was because the Mass Production Evas were nearly complete, and as the last two Evangelion Pilots in the world, Winthrop expected them to Pilot for him, so that he could subdue the last parts of the ravaged world that were not yet under his control. But Colonel Jinnai had other plans, and blackmailed Shinji and Asuka into taking part in a coup against Winthrop. Blackmail by means of news about the fate of Shinji's father... and Asuka's reincarnated mother. Learning that she had been brought back to life in the restoration of the world, but then executed by Winthrop's orders drove Asuka to attempt suicide. She was bitterly angry when Shinji stopped her, so much so that she lashed out hard at him, accusing him of never wanting anything from her but selfish comfort and blaming his inaction during the Battle of the Geofront for leading to her death. In the end, she dares him to kill her for real, just like he started to during Instrumentality and on the beach where they awoke.
Leaving the apartment before Asuka blurts out anything about the impending coup to listening ears, Shinji falls asleep in a park nearby. He has a dream-conversation with Rei Ayanami that he isn't sure is real, wherein Rei reveals that she is saddened to hear he is still with Asuka, even though she does not care for him... while Rei does. Shinji is surprised by the revelation, but tries to decline Rei's offer to harvest his soul when he dies. Rei says she will wait for him.
Waking and returning to the apartment, Shinji decides it's time to take responsibility for his sins, and writes a fake note to Asuka, claiming he was in on the coup and that she knew nothing, in the hope that if the coup fails it will insulate her from reprisal. But when he hides the note in her room, she sees him, reads the note, and assumes he's about to leave. She tries to preempt him, leaving when he falls asleep, and going to Jinnai to make the same offer; start the coup now and I'm in, but leave him out of it.
She is seen by one of Withrop's watchers, and the coup starts a week before Jinnai was ready. Asuka is shot in the stomach in the opening moments, and Jinnai orders Shinji be picked up to pilot the Mass Production Eva in case Asuka is useless. She does not take the implication well, but survives the hazardous trip to NERV-Berlin, where she is reunited with Shinji. He is shocked to see her trying to move with a seeping gunshot wound in her belly, and carries her through the hallways of NERV Central while they are shot at. Asuka tries to get him to leave her, but Shinji adamantly refuses. They crawl through the ducts to reach the Eva cages, only to find two of the three MP Evas have been taken by Winthrop's forces.
When Asuka tries to synchronize with the last MP Eva, she can barely manage 14%, not enough to activate it. Shinji joins her in the Entry Plug, knowing the two of them together can reach the threshold. They launch, and for a while their presence turns the tide.
Then the other two Evas appear.
Shinji balks when Asuka tries to move them into urban Berlin to fight, preferring to avoid civilian casualties even if they lose. Asuka almost attacks him, and gets him to fight only by pointing out that if he really wanted her to die, he shouldn't have stopped her suicide attempt. He reluctantly urges the Eva into battle.
Asuka's hand-to-hand combat skills and a last minute idea with the Positron Rifle and their S2 engine gives them a narrow victory. In the aftermath, Shinji tries to ask Asuka if she loves him at all... and she says 'no' before he even finishes the question. She avoids thinking even to herself that it's because she feels she does not deserve to. But nevertheless, she tells Shinji, 'You win by default. There's no one else alive I can relate to. You're all I've got left,' and surrenders to a psuedo-relationship with him. She even offers sex, but no love, no intimacy at all. Asuka does not expect him to accept it.
Desperate, lonely, and needing her just as much, Shinji tiredly says 'It's better than nothing.' Asuka even tiredly jokes about a kiss. Shinji wonders if they can even trust their memories of their lives before Instrumentality. The thought unsettles Asuka.
On their return to the hangar, Asuka tells Shinji she has an urgent task to attend to, and leaves. The task is the other part of her bargain with Jinnai: That she gets to personally finish off Winthrop. In a dark sub-basement, she confronts the captured dictator with a pistol. He taunts her as a slut, and questions why she is doing this. When she tells him it's for her mother, Winthrop doesn't believe her, sure it's for someone else... someone she's closer to. Asuka empties the pistol into his face, then leaves, reminding Jinnai that Shinji can never hear about any of this.
A month later, Shinji and Asuka are visited by Aoba, the only other surviving NERV Member they know of. He's being promoted and sent to a well-paid sinecure job, lest he get ideas about being part of another coup. Shinji and Asuka are about to set sail from Marseilles for South America with the UN fleet Jinnai as assembled to bring the warlords of that region under his control. Shinji was going to be sent alone, but Asuka threatened to go on strike if Jinnai tried to separate them. They argue about Shinji's giving money to people the secret police haul away as possible subversives, and Asuka leaves, telling Shinji 'if you need to use me for sex, I'll be in the tent. '
He falls into a doze, and has another dream-vision of Ayanami. She asks if this is the life he wanted, and tells him again she will wait for him.
In the tent, he and Asuka argue again when he mentions he bought her a copy of the Time Machine. She knows he is trying to start a discussion about how their lives might have been different, happier, and doesn't want to think about it. She smiles just the slightest bit when he reveals the entire bag of rare working videogames he bought for her. Asuka hints that Shinji's father might not have been executed like her mother. As the sun sets, she asks him to play his cello for her as she falls asleep: Bach's Cello Concerto No.1, the song he was playing the day they kissed, in days long since, before these last so bad.
And with that, my story begins, just after the last notes of Bach fade away.
"Long is the way and hard,..."
A wide tent sat on a seashore near what was left of Marseilles, the wan light from a camp lantern faintly glowing inside. On one wall the light threw a silhouette of a thin young man with a cello, slowly sawing his way through Bach's Cello Suite No. 1. Within, a red-haired young woman lay on her side in a sleeping bag, facing away from the young man so he would not see the tense, worried expression on her face. But the deep notes of the cello gently worked their magic on her, and her face slowly began to relax into a calm, restful state. She began to truly relax, and allowed herself let go of the day and her legion of worries, not a few of which orbited around the cellist. Asuka Langley Sohryu was nearly asleep by the time Shinji Ikari reached the end of the piece, and silently rose to place his cello back into its case.
Asuka's rest did not last long undisturbed. Shinji was just rising from replacing his cello in its padded trunk when the sun rose in their tent.
Shinji whirled around. "What?" He blinked his eyes repeatedly against the sudden blaze of gold. A perfect seven-foot circle of seeming daylight stood on the far side of the tent, filling the tent with noontime brightness. Shading his eyes with his hand allowed Shinji a slightly better look at it. Almost too bright to look at directly, it seemed for all the world like a floodlit pool stood on its side. Shinji had only a moment to stare in confusion when the light dimmed as a man stepped out of it. This did not diminish his puzzlement.
"Pilot Ikari Shinji-san?" The man inquired in Japanese.
"Third, what's th-" Asuka blinked awake in her suddenly brightly lit sleeping bag, then bolted upright. "Who the hell are you?! What is that?"
"Fräulein Pilot Asuka Langley Sohryu? I'm sorry to interrupt your rest, but this is the earliest I could arrive." Shinji still could hardly see the backlit figure, just a caped silhouette. The figure noted his squint. "Ah, my apologies for the brightness of the portal. Rather a large energy differential between here and home. Let me get that." He snapped his fingers and the glowing mini-sun shrank to a point and vanished. The near-daylight illumination dropped to just the solitary camp lantern hanging at the tent's entryway.
Shinji and Asuka now had a much better view of their strange guest. The gold-trimmed royal blue armor-and-cape outfit the stranger wore was in keeping with the bizarre nature of his entrance. His face was rather more normal in appearance, blue eyes calmly regarding them over a short red beard. The dim light of the tent hid further details. He met their stares for a moment, then began again.
"Good evening, Pilots. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am a man of wealth and ta… great power." He smiled for second. "My name is Daniel. I come from …mm…far outside your world. I have heard your story and consider you two to have been very poorly treated by your gods and your fate. I have a passionate interest in justice, so I have come in the hope that you will allow me to help you. I would like to be your friend. I would like to offer you…well, as much as I can, I'd like to give back everything that has been taken from you."
"What are you talking about? Who are you? What do you want?" Asuka snapped at him. 'Damn it, why didn't I make sure I had a weapon?' she thought urgently. There was nothing in the tent more dangerous than a pocketknife, forget an actual pistol or anything. She shot a look at Shinji. He was close to the tent door, still standing next to the trunk holding his cello. 'Baka could make it out to get someone, but probably won't want to 'leave me defenseless''.
"'Who are you?' and 'What do you want?' are the questions I want to ask you, actually. I wish to restore everything; your faith, your hope, your innocence, your friends, your…families. I have powers that can do almost anything, and I want to help you both. I realize that my odd manner of arrival and the intrusion may make it difficult to believe, but I assure you I mean you no harm," Daniel replied. "I know that given your pasts, you are hardly likely to trust someone just popping up and offering to help you, so I'll promise you two things right up front; I'll never lie to you, and I won't look into your minds without permission. As for believing me, I brought with me a couple of people that I hope you will trust enough to extend at least a little to me as well." He snapped his fingers again. A spark of light in the air behind him swiftly expanded into the golden portal again. He stuck his hand back through it and gestured.
The light dimmed again as two more people stepped through. Asuka could just make out a man and a woman, holding hands. Daniel snapped again. The portal once more shrank out of existence, and Asuka and Shinji's eyes widened. The new pair were smiling nervously, and very familiar. Impossibly familiar. Shinji's first thought after a long, stunned pause was 'Am I really that tall?'
Shinji and Asuka stared back at Shinji and Asuka. "Um….hi," the new Shinji ventured. He glanced aside at Daniel. "You were right, this is really strange from the other side," he said quietly.
"You get used to it, Shinji. And technically, I will be right. I haven't said that yet. This is six months in my past, too." He smiled again and waved towards the stunned pair on the other side of the tent. "You kids talk for a bit. I'll go make some other pick-ups and be back shortly." He snapped his fingers again and vanished.
Asuka's mouth was still hanging open. Her mind was nearly as paralyzed as her body, stuck in a repeating loop of 'What….how…we…they…holding hands? …is she…am I pregnant?! What…how…' The newly arrived pair looked at each other, smiled, and broke their handclasp to each walk towards their counterpart. Asuka watched her…self?...approach with the frozen focus of a mouse watching a hawk swoop closer. Her eyes kept snapping between the other Asuka's face and the distinct bulge to her abdomen. The loose red dress she wore had an intricate, swirling pattern, but that did not conceal the unmistakable bulge of a little guest. The doppelgänger stopped next to her sleeping bag and sat down. "Good evening, 'me'." She laughed weakly.
"I…I…" Asuka couldn't even begin. It was her own voice, speaking plain German. Asuka felt dizzy. Her double looked at her for a moment, then sighed.
"Ok, you're in shock, I know. I remember. So I'm going to say the same thing I heard when I was sitting where you are: He can give us Mama back."
Asuka's mind slammed to a stop. "W..what?"
"He…didn't bring it up at first because he knew we'd think it was crazy. Or that he was. But he told…is telling the truth. He can give us everything back! Including Mama!" The smile on the double's face was fragile but intense. "He…he…does it. He brings her back. Shinji's mother too. And more…I'm not supposed to say too much. Too many good surprises I would give away. But you can trust him. He hasn't lied to us yet. And wait until you see Avalon! You won't believe…I mean, you will…the world he takes us to…" She trailed off, noting her counterpart's confusion. "Right, now you've gotten as far as wondering 'How do I know you're me?' I remember. So here, something that only I know because only I was there: When I ran into the bathroom to 'wash my mouth out' after I kissed the Third Child that first time, I did it to hide the fact I was about to break down in tears because he hadn't held me. I was turned on and wanted the embrace, and he froze. And I thought he was rejecting me. Do you remember that?"
"My God…you are me." Asuka finally got out. Her eyes widened again. "Shit! Did he hear that?" She turned to look at… the Shinjis. They were likewise quietly talking across the tent. The new Shinji was talking, rather, and hers was staring at him as wide eyed as her.
"No, he didn't hear. You tell him later, after you kiss him."
Asuka's gaze snapped back to her double. "What?!"
The other pair turned to look at her shriek. The new Shinji smiled, then turned back and resumed talking. Hers shook himself and refocused on his double.
"What the Hell were you thinking?!" Asuka hissed "How could you-"
Her double snorted. "A lot of things are different between Baka-Shinji and I now. Or are you going to pretend you didn't notice?" She gestured at her belly. Her face softened as the wave became a caress. Her stare was aimed far away from Asuka now, inward. "I told him... I told him because I wanted to. Because he'd just told me something I wanted to hear from him. Because he deserved to know. Because I wanted him to know. Because I…" She stopped, and looked back in Asuka's eyes. "Look, 'me', you can tell yourself whatever you want, but we both know what we were thinking. We liked it. We liked him. Don't…that's something else they told us. You don't have to be afraid anymore. Of anything. And 'you're allowed to be happy now.' Don't miss this chance."
"A month ago I took on an entire army and two Evas with nothing but a half-functioning Mass Production Unit that couldn't produce an AT-Field and the Third Child. Afraid? I'm not afraid of anything already," Asuka said disdainfully.
"Right." Her double's tone became slightly mocking. "Sleeping all right? No bad dreams? No little bad moods grabbing your attention?"
Asuka gave her double a nasty glare. "Shut up."
"There's no point in telling me you're not afraid. You're me. I know what I feared. Every time I closed my eyes I'd have to relive what Arael did to me, or Zeruel tearing me apart, or Winthrop getting ready to shove into me, or see Mama…"
"Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" Asuka glared at herself. "I do not need to hear this!"
Her double looked back sadly. "Yeah, you do. That's what I'm talking about. I had a lot of wounds locked up inside. He helped. So did Doctor Leibshott. So did Shinji. It's not half as bad as you think, to face it, once you know you are not alone."
"I can be alone! I've always been alone! I don't need anyone!" Asuka almost shouted back at her. "And I've got the Third right here anyway!" She waved angrily towards the two young men at the door.
"He may be sleeping next to you, but you know damned well you're not exactly 'together'," the pregnant Asuka retorted. "He's almost had sex with you, Hell, he's practically almost had sex at you for all you were part of it, but you've never made love together. That was part of the deal, right? He gives you everything, and you don't have to give anything back. Because I was too burned-out and soul-weary to even try anymore. And I didn't even feel worth it, deep down. But I still wanted someone to be there with me. So I wouldn't have to be alone."
She leaned back. "You just had that argument with him about The Time Machine, right? About going back in time to change things?
"Yes," Asuka replied, still angry. "It was a stupid attempt by the Third to make us go over 'what-might-have-beens' that were bad enough the first time. I don't want to have to waste time going over them again."
"Well, now you might want to. Daniel can't…stop some things from happening that we remember happening because that would mean changing our past and we'd be someone else. But he can…change things, at least mitigate the harm. In a world with Evangelions, mitigation is wonderful. And now you'll have an army at your back, and gods on your side."
"There is no God, and he's for sure not on my side. Look at this place, does it look like 'God's In His Heaven, All's Right With The World?'" Asuka wearily quoted NERV's old motto with more than a little bitterness. "The half-starved wretches ruled by rapists and thugs are the lucky survivors."
"I didn't say 'God's'. I said 'gods'." Asuka looked up in confusion to see her double beginning to grin hugely. "A whole Family of them, in fact. They're really nice."
"What are you talking about?" Asuka finally said, her brow furrowed in bewilderment.
"That's the biggest thing Daniel didn't mention, because it would sound way too crazy. He's not some 'man of wealth and power'. He's a god."
"Hi, 'me'." Shinji had barely blinked since 'he' stepped out of the portal. The greeting snapped him out of the freeze.
Well, sort of.
"You're not any crazier than you were yesterday, you're not dreaming, and this isn't Instrumentality again. This is real. And yes, I'm you. Or you're me. Whatever you like. And yup, this is just as weird the second time around from this end. This is six months ago to me. Six months from now, you'll be standing on this side, watching yourself try to figure this out and saying what you're hearing." The new arrival scratched the back of his head in a mannerism Shinji found disorientingly familiar to watch from outside. "Man, he was right. This is a lot harder to make sense of in Japanese."
"What….why are you here?
"To convince...uh, 'us' that this is a good idea. I remember how weird this felt before, and how neither of us is really the kind to accept that this kind of out-of-nowhere offer is real. But it is. Daniel's real, he means what he said. He…gets mother's spirit out of Eva Unit-01. He gets Asuka's mother back too. Heals a lot of her wounds. Asuka, I mean. I know I tried to reach out to her, a little, after that fight with Winthrop's forces, but…you know how that went. She said she didn't love me, but I'd 'won by default'. She was with me, but she wasn't 'there'. She was still too broken up inside and hurt to let anyone in. And I was too afraid to push. He helps with that a lot. There are things Asuka and I talk about now that I'd never dreamed we would—"
They both turned to look at Asuka's shriek. Shinji knew only a little German, despite years spent living with Asuka, but he knew enough for that, and it was hard to mistake the shock in her tone. The other Shinji just smiled a bit and turned back to face his present day self. "Things like that, for example. I've got a pretty good idea what my Asuka just told yours, and it's the kind of thing I wish I'd known back before the Third Impact. I might have been able to help her back then if I'd known."
"What was it?" Shinji asked, his eyes still wide as saucers.
"Oh, Asuka will tell you when she's ready. She was even more hurt inside than I was, she's just a lot better at holding it in. …than you are, whatever. And I know how bad I felt. I blamed myself for failing to protect everyone. Asuka, Rei, Misato, Kaji...everyone in the world. But…it's not all my…your fault. You were a kid in an impossible situation, and you did well to do as much as you did."
"I didn't...I could have done more." Shinji looked down and to his side. "I should have done more. If I hadn't run away before the JSSDF attacked, Misato wouldn't—"
"If you hadn't run away, you'd still have been stuck with Eva Unit-01 trapped in the Bakelite, and Misato would have died with everyone else in the NERV command bridge when the Third Impact hit. You'd just have been stuck in the Entry Plug instead of on the catwalk. Father was not going to let anything stop his precious Scenario, and that includes Eva Unit-01 being loose before the end. Even if they somehow managed to launch Eva Unit-01, even if you'd made it to the fight and helped Asuka, father would still have been able to trigger the Third Impact down in Terminal Dogma," The other Shinji interrupted. "Just because we were piloting the most powerful weapon on the planet, that didn't make us God. And when Rei dumped something like that power on our head in the middle of the Impact, we weren't exactly in the best state of mind to handle it. It's easy to look back now and think what we might have done differently."
Then he grinned. "And now it's not only easy, it means something. You can trust Daniel. Go with him. He really can let you go back and make things better. Time travel is the least of what he can do." He laughed. "And doing that's almost as hard as getting Asuka to admit she really thinks I'm kind of hot sometimes."
Elsewhere, five years prior...
"Yo, aren't you late?"
A pistol barked. A man fell bleeding, dying. The pair of black suited SEELE agents lowered their semi-automatics, and one who hadn't fired knelt to feel for a pulse on the neck of the man they'd just shot. He rose, nodded to his partner, and they left without a look back. The blue-armored man standing in the deep shadows off to the side in the dilapidated warehouse waited until they'd slammed the far off exit door before stepping over to look down at the ponytailed man in the pool of his own blood.
"Idiot. Death-seeking idiot. Do you have any idea how many people you just disappointed by standing there like that?" He sighed. "I guess you are 'late' now, eh? All right, on your feet, look alive!"
"And here I am, punning at a dead guy. Oh well, work work work..." He crouched down and placed his hand on the dead man's chest. He closed his eyes, and the air went still. The pool of blood stopped spreading, then began to retreat. The scent of blood and gun smoke faded, and the air began to smell of ozone.
The dead man gasped and blinked his eyes open again. "Hunh,...ah...ahh. Ungh...wha...what?" He slowly rolled over and sat up, hands patting at his chest, and stopping to poke a finger through the distinct bullet hole in his still bloody shirt. And feeling around on his skin underneath the hole to very definitely not find a matching hole in his skin. His eyes finally noted the pair of armored feet next to him, and travelled up to meet the blue eyes staring back down at him.
"Hi! Can I interest you in a really fine set of encyclopedias? It's a little late to sell you life insurance," the stranger greeted him cheerfully.
"What? Who are you? What just happened to me? They shot me, and...and? What?" The no longer dead man trailed off in total confusion. He looked back down at his bloody shirt, then back up, still at a loss.
"They shot you, you died. This is what comes after. You've been judged, and found deserving," the armored man intoned solemnly. He stuck his hand down to the man. "On your feet, Kaji-san."
Kaji Ryoji took his hand and hauled himself up. He looked around in confusion. "So, I'm dead? This is the afterlife?"
"While I could probably get hours of entertainment out of messing with your head on that note; no. Most people hope to see their God or somesuch after they die. You got luckier and got me instead. My name's Daniel. And I take that 'luckier' part back. You're going to have to face something worse than all the tortures of Hell on our next stop."
"...the Third Impact? The end of the world? ...Commander Ikari coming on to me?"
"Your pissed off ex-ex-girlfriend." He snapped his fingers, and the warehouse was empty of movement save the whirling vent fan.
In a tent on the shore, a pair of identical exchanges was underway.
"No, seriously, it's true."
"Right, sure. In those exact words, that's what you've heard?"
"Ask Daniel. He'll confirm it."
"So he's going to heal the sick, raise the dead, and feed us all with a few loaves and fishes?" Asuka asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.
"As a matter of fact, yes." Her double's grin sharpened. "Though that 'loaves and fishes' part may have been just for you saying that." She held out her right arm. "Notice anything missing?"
Asuka stared, at first seeing nothing. "I don't...wait. No scar?" She looked up.
"Yes! They healed up all those little leftover scars from fighting the Mass Production Evas, took care of the bullet scar from the coup, and gave me a full once-over on nerves and bones. I'm as healthy as I can possibly be, and undamaged, intact everywhere." She giggled for some reason. "Well, not intact everywhere. And raising the dead? Heh. Mama's just the beginning. But if you don't come along, you'll never know." Her double stared the dare at her and waited.
"...you are low, nasty bitch. Alright, I'll go." Asuka looked over at the other pair. "And I bet the Third is just jumping to go, the idiot."
"She told you she thinks I'm hot? Are we talking about the same Asuka?"
"Come with us, or you may never know." The other Shinji smiled. "I know she's going to go. For the chance to get her mother back, Asuka would definitely go for it." His smile faded. "And this will also give you a chance to make a lot of things right."
"Like what?" Shinji asked quietly
"Like everything I held myself responsible for. Misato, Kaji, not being there for Asuka when she needed me. More, but I'm not supposed to ruin a lot of happy surprises. But I'm betting you can guess at least one." He looked over at the Asuka in the flowing red dress and smiled tenderly.
Shinji looked at her more closely himself. Her leaning back made it even more apparent.
"You see, when a man and a woman love each othe—"
Shinji flushed bright red. "That's not what I mean!"
"I know, I just couldn't resist." The other Shinji chuckled. "How? All I'm supposed to say is 'Be honest, be there for her, and don't be afraid.' Remember the Fifth Angel? 'Aim for the center, and pull the trigger'? Just like that, focus on what you really want, and follow through. Remember all those times back in Misato's apartment when you wanted to do something to help her, and do it, even if she pushes you away. Because in the end, she was afraid that I'd abandon her like everyone else in her life had. She needed to know I'll never leave her." He looked back at Shinji. "'I mustn't run away,' right? I was...you were ready to take all the risk in that coup to protect her. Now you just have to be ready to face her and your own fears. Willing to try?"
Shinji took a couple of deep breaths. "I mustn't run away. Right. If she's going, I'm going too." His right hand flexed and released, flexed and released.
The pair of newcomers looked at each other. New-Shinji nodded, and they stepped back towards each other. Their hands met, and they folded smoothly into a close embrace, their heads on each other's shoulders, eyes closed. Shinji flushed again at the sight of an image from too many wistful dreams come to life in front of him. He dared a glance over at the redhead still sitting up in her sleeping bag. She was staring as well, the look on her face half aching, half angry. She glared at Shinji for a moment when she noticed him looking at her, then stood up muttering, and began to pull on a dress and shoes.
Daniel's sudden reappearance in the tent broke the slightly awkward silence. All four jumped as he abruptly was standing right where he'd been before. "And we're back, ladies and gentlemen. Who's ready to see the other side of the multiverse?"
The hugging pair looked at each other, then softly kissed before turning to face him. "All set here." The pregnant Asuka looked over at her double, who was stuffing clothes into a backpack. "Oh, don't worry about that, 'me'. This trip's 'all-inclusive'. You don't have this dress yet, yes?" She flared the skirt out with her left hand. Her right never left her Shinji's touch.
Asuka opened her mouth to make a sharp retort. The she stiffened, her mouth hanging half open in shock again. For the first time there was enough light on her doppelgänger's hand for her to see it. There was a tiny sparkle of light on the third finger of her left hand. "Impossible..." was all she managed, a bare whisper.
Her double noticed her paralysis. She flicked her eyes at her Shinji and winked. Asuka felt dizzy, then shook herself. 'I am not going to pass out, damn it!' Anger was always close to hand to help block out thinking of such... madness. She stood up and walked over. "Fine!" she bit out. "Let's go, then!" She glared at Daniel, then looked over at the boy still standing by the tent door. "Come on, Third!"
Daniel snapped his fingers once more, and the golden portal flared open. He nodded at the two that had come through with him. "You two first."
They stepped through, and vanished into the light. Daniel looked at Asuka and Shinji. "Alright, kids, follow me." He stepped into the light himself.
Shinji nervously glanced at Asuka. She was staring fixedly at the glowing portal.
"Let's go, Third."
Shinji made a tentative motion to take her hand, but she was already stepping forward.
Shinji followed after her.