Neon Genesis Evangelion: Legacy
Episode VII: Awakenings


Chapter 7 – The Best of Both Worlds
May 7, 2020 – Comfort 17 Apartments

The kids were all sitting around the kitchen table, waiting for Misato to come home. After yet another Angel attack, they had been on edge since they were all deployed together. They had all been released from the hospital that day and taken a very quiet ride home while still licking their wounds.

While Mari had gotten the worst wounds, from both charging into the Barakijal's body and being continuously electrocuted, Mari also went in a second time and killed the Angel, surprising herself in the process after having never actually been able or allowed to kill an Angel on her own, she was in good spirits for having brought an end to the Angelic threat they had faced down.

Asuka on the other hand was simply upset they had been back in the hospital again because they had fought an Angel. She didn't enjoy the hospital, and after having spent so much time there either injured or watching over someone who was injured, she wished she'd never go back to the hospital again.

Rei was less affected by the events that had transpired with the Angel, she'd known going into the hospital was bound to happen being back inside an Evangelion and had accepted that, however she did not expect to have feelings creep up about the recklessness of those around her that she cared about so deeply, something that she was able to keep at bay her last time around as an Evangelion pilot, up until she decided to sacrifice herself against Armisael to protect those very same people he cared so deeply for.

Shinji however was more upset that he wasn't able to protect his friends. He had vowed to always protect, and even undertook illegal and secret training in the three years since Averted Third Impact to do just that. But when it came time to protect his friends, he was absolutely powerless. He watched them all get hurt, and was taken down himself without so much as a second chance to take the Angel back on. He was laid out, and he couldn't do anything to help except writhe in pain at the wound that had opened up in his chest after Barakijal stuck him down, useless and afraid like the first time he stepped foot in Unit–01.

"I'm an idiot…" Shinji muttered, breaking the silence.

"Is this some kind of revelation?" Asuka asked.

"No… I just… I'm sorry about how I've been lately." Shinji said. "I haven't been thinking about anything but making sure that I keep everyone safe… I guess I was just being overprotective…"

"Shinji, that's not your only job in life." Mari said. "We can take care of ourselves."

"Says the idiot who ran headlong into an electrified Angel." Asuka said.

"Well, it worked didn't it?" Mari asked. "I mean no one died…"

"We almost did." Asuka said.

"And I couldn't do anything to stop it…" Shinji muttered.

"Onii–chan, stop blaming yourself." Rei said. "In this world, there is no way to avoid to anyone getting injured and it is foolish to try and stop things like that from happening."

"But…" Shinji protested.

"Onii–chan, being an Evangelion pilot comes with certain risks, and one of those risks is getting injured." Rei explained. "Do not try and keep us from getting injured, you lost focus and as a result, you could have died. I do not want you to die, onii–chan, focus and helping, not protecting, and maybe with the next Angel we won't be in so much trouble if you are truly focused."

"I'm sorry…" Shinji said.

"I forgive you, onii–chan." Rei said.

"Of course I do." Rei said. "There is nothing wrong with trying to protect those you care about. Onii–chan taught me that, but you can't let it distract you, otherwise you will create the thing that you're trying to avoid…"

"Yeah…" Shinji muttered. "I was an idiot…"

"Oh, no more self–loathing, baka." Asuka said. "You admitted what you did, so don't hold in any more guilt, ok?"

"I won't…" Shinji said.

"Don't give me lip service." Asuka said. "I want you to mean it."

"Princess, take it easy." Mari said. "This is how he is, you know that."

"I am taking it easy." Asuka replied. "I'm just making sure he gets that I don't want him being over protective again."

"I won't, Asuka, I promise." Shinji said. "I can't let my guard down again." Shinji wiped his face. "Rei's right, I can't be distracted again…"

"Oh, don't be such a martyr." Asuka said. "We're all capable of fighting you know."

"And none of us are ever going to fight an Angel alone again." Rei said. "We have four Evangelions, and Kaji will not let us go into undo danger again."

"How can you be sure of that?" Asuka asked.

"What he did for this most recent Angel." Rei replied. "He and Misato made sure we had all the information we could have possibly needed. It was a very nice change from not knowing what was happening."

"It was a nice change." Mari said. "Better than the usual "go and fight the Angel, good luck" bullshit."

"Yeah, we actually had weapons that worked too." Asuka said.

"It's nice that things changed too." Shinji said. "Maybe we can actually be in a better position to fight…"

"Enough talk about fighting…" Asuka muttered. "It's too late to go to school, so we may as well just go and sleep." Asuka sighed. "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm sill pretty damn sore."

"I could go for some sleep." Mari replied.

"As could I." Rei said.

"Then I suggest we all stop mulling about, leave a note for Misato telling her we went to bed, and sleep this shit off so we can get back to school tomorrow."

"When did school become so important to you, princess?" Mari asked as she struggled to get to her feet.

"Well, I guess when we were normal people again, it was nice to just go to school like any other teenager… so I'm a little upset we missed school." Asuka replied. "Is that so bad?"

"I guess not. It was nice to be normal for a while…" Mari said as she limped towards her room. "See you guys in the morning I guess."

"Yeah, we're going to bed too, Rei." Asuka said as she began heading to her and Shinji's room.

"Goodnight." Shinji said as he followed Asuka to their room.

"Goodnight everyone." Rei replied quietly as she was left at the table by herself.

–––

As Shinji and Asuka crawled into bed, Asuka turned to him and kissed him gently on the cheek and snuggled up against him, causing them both to wince a bit from their injuries.

"What was that for?" Shinji asked. "I don't deserve that…"

"Yes you do, you big worry wart." Asuka said.

"Why?" Shinji said. "I was being an…"

"An ass?" Asuka asked.

"Yeah, an ass." Shinji replied.

"You know, Shinji, you have been your usual baka self by trying to protect all of all from getting hurt, and I can understand that considering what's happened in the past." Asuka explained. "But you really did mean well, so there isn't anything I can really be mad about is there? You cared so much for the rest of us, you almost got yourself killed."

"Yeah…" Shinji replied meekly.

"So don't ever do that again, baka." Asuka said as she flicked his nose. "You need my express permission to die, and I don't intend on ever giving you permission to."

"I'll be more careful, Asuka, I promise…" Shinji said.

"And you'll be less of an ass?" Asuka asked.

"That'll be less difficult than trying not to get killed facing off against an Angel." Shinji said. "And I am sorry if I've been… neurotic lately."

"More like self–absorbed, but I don't really want to talk about that." Asuka said. "But if you do it again, I'll kick your ass."

"I expect nothing less." Shinji said as he kissed her back.

"You know Shinji, you may have been an idiot about being over protective, but you're gonna make a great father someday." Asuka said.

"What?" Shinji asked.

"Did I accidently say that in German?" Asuka asked.

"No, you said it in Japanese." Shinji replied.

"Then why are you confused?" Asuka asked.

"Because, you've never brought up kids before…" Shinji said nervously. "We've neve really… talk about that… ever…"

"Well… there was a time when I thought no one would want to have kids with me… but now that we're together, sometimes I think about having kids…" Asuka explained. "I know it's a little insane to be talking about children… I'm not old enough for that anyway… but uh…" Asuka blushed. "It wouldn't be so bad to have kids if you were the father…" Asuka whispered.

Shinji teared up a bit listening to Asuka talk. "Asuka… I uh… I don't know what to say…"

"Haven't you ever thought about kids?" Asuka asked.

"Well… not exactly…" Shinji said. "But I've… uh… imagined us getting married… sometimes…"

"Sometimes?" Asuka asked. "Am I not waifu material all the time or something?"

"What… I didn't mean it like that…" Shinji stammered. "I meant that I… you'd look beautiful in a wedding dress… and I love you…"

"Oh, I love it when you get flustered, Shinji." Asuka said. "I'm only kidding, you don't have to get so nervous…" Asuka blushed again. "But… you do think about marrying me?"

"Of course I do." Shinji replied. "I mean… I love you so much Asuka, I honestly can't see myself with anyone else."

"I can't see myself with anyone else either…" Asuka replied. "But maybe we shouldn't talk about marriage until we're, you know… older, or at least in college."

"Or until the Angels are gone…" Shinji muttered.

"Hey, we'll kill all those fuckers, don't you worry." Asuka said. "I may not enjoy it like I used to, but I damn sure am going to put all my rage into killing every Angel that darkens our doorstep."

"Just as long as we're both careful." Shinji said.

"Don't tell me what to do, baka." Asuka said sweetly. "You're the worst example to anyone wanting to be careful fighting Angels."

"Maybe, but it's a good example of what not to do." Shinji joked.

"Don't use your logic on me." Asuka said. "Just agree I'm right and kiss me already."

Shinji kissed Asuka lightly on the lips. "Whatever you say, Asuka." Shinji replied cheekily.

"Being cute, huh?" Asuka asked. "I thought that was my job…"

"I thought relationships were equal." Shinji replied.

"There's always someone in a relationship who's cuter and more adorable." Asuka said. "And that is me."

"Then what does that make me?" Shinji asked.

"Lucky." Asuka replied. "Speaking of… we could have sex…" Asuka suggested.

"Asuka, you had trouble walking from the kitchen to here, I don't think that's the best idea…" Shinji replied.

"You know, you're probably right, but what's the harm?" Asuka asked.

"One or both of us getting more injured than we already are?" Shinji suggested.

"Fine…" Asuka muttered. "But the next time we have sex, we have to go thrice to make up for this…"

"Thrice or twice?" Shinji asked.

"Thrice, as in three times, baka." Asuka said impatiently.

"But why three times?" Shinji asked.

"What, you're not up to the challenge?" Asuka prodded.

"No… I can handle it, Asuka." Shinji said. "I was just confused at ow you got to three…"

"Well… one for missing tonight, and one as punishment for leaving me horny tonight." Asuka explained as she yawned. "Think of that third time as a punishment…"

"My kind of punishment then…" Shinji said as he yawned as well.

"Pervert…" Asuka said as she snuggled against Shinji and fell asleep.
–––

As Mari was getting ready to go to bed, she didn't hear her door slide open, or notice that she was being watched from the doorway until Rei spoke up and made Mari jump in fright.

"Mari?" Rei asked suddenly, causing Mari to lose her balance and fall onto her bed.

"Rei, what are you…?" Mari said angrily before she composed herself. "Is everything… alright?"

"No, it is not." Rei replied.

"What's wrong?" Mari asked.

"I… I need to ask you something." Rei said.

Mari sat on her bed and looked confusedly at Rei. "Sure…" Mari said. "Do you… want to sit down?"

"No, thank you." Rei replied. "I just wanted to ask you… why did you run at the Angel so recklessly? What was the point?"

"I don't know… I guessed it wouldn't know what to do with a frontal attack…" Mari said absentmindedly. "It didn't work though… but it was worth a try…"

"It was stupid." Rei said bluntly.

"Well… I certainly wasn't the smartest plan…" Mari replied. "But stupid is a bit harsh."

"Did you not consider how the rest of us felt about you running at the Angel without a second thought?" Rei asked.

"Everyone, or just you?" Mari asked.

"I was worried about you, Mari." Rei said. "It was the first time I've felt like that… I know what the last Rei felt as she sacrificed herself to kill Armisael… but this was different… I believe I understand how Shinji was feeling… being powerless to help…"

"But you did help, you risked your life to pull me out." Mari said. "You weren't powerless…"

"I was powerless to stop you from at the Angel." Rei rebutted. "There was no way to talk you out of your half–baked plan… I don't want to feel that way again."

"You… don't?" Mari asked.

"I can't be with someone who wants to recklessly risk the only life they have in battle." Rei said. "I can't keep feeling like that… I'll end up worrying too much about you and not focus on the Angel…"

"So what you said to Shinji…" Mari began.

"What I said to onii–chan, I was also saying about myself." Rei replied. "Mari… I want you to promise me one thing… that you will stop being reckless and think before you act."

"I will if you answer one question…" Mari said softly. "Why?"

"Because I do not wish you to get injured…" Rei replied weakly.

"But why don't you want to see me get injured?" Mari asked.

"Mari… I…" Rei protested.

"Rei, I just want to know the reason." Mari said kindly. "That's all…"

"Because when you charged the Angel… I thought you were going to die." Rei explained softly. "And in that moment… I realize that I didn't want to lose you… because I… cared about you deeply…"

Mari blushed. "That's what I was hoping you'd say…" Mari muttered. "I'm sorry that I worried you… after I pushed you, I figured you'd hate me…"

"You have already apologized for that, yet you seem to have taken a page out of onii–chan's book and are punishing yourself more than anyone else ever could." Rei said. "Even if it is unacceptable, I have forgiven you."

"I know… but still…" Mari protested.

"You are changing the subject, Mari." Rei said. "I have told you why I want you to be safe, so you have to promise me you will no longer be reckless."

"I promise I won't do that again." Mari said. "I don't want to worry you anymore…"

"You better." Rei said. "I can't care about someone who doesn't regard their life with some kind of respect."

"I do respect it… I just take risks." Mari said. "I've always taken risks…" Mari smiled. "But I won't anymore, unless we're all taking the risk together."

"I think I can agree with that." Rei said.

"So… are we… ok?" Mari asked.

"We are friends… so yes, we are… ok." Rei said. "Now, you need rest, you were far more injured than the rest of us."

"Hey, killing an Angel ain't easy work." Mari replied.

Rei walked over and wrapped her arms loosely around Mari. "Feel better soon…" Rei said a she blushed. "I don't like watching you limp…"

"Thanks, Rei." Mari replied. "But you're hurting me a bit…"

Rei stood up quickly looking horrified. "I… I'm sorry." Rei stammered. "I did not mean…"

"It's ok." Mari replied. "It's the thought that counts." Mari smiled. "And you sounded a lot like Shinji with the stammering… like brother like sister, eh?"

"I presume so…" Rei said. "Goodnight, Mari."

"Goodnight, Rei." Mari said as she crawled slowly into 8, 2020 – Tokyo–3 Senior High School, Class 3–A

As the kids got to school the next morning, they were still hobbling around from their injuries. As they got to the classroom, they were greeted at the door by a less than happy looking Hikari.

"Where have you guys been?" Hikari asked.

"Oh the usual…" Mari said. "Skipping school to deal with an Angel, no big deal."

"I know that, but that was days ago!" Hikari said worriedly. "You had us all worried sick!"

"Us?" Shinji asked as they walked to their desks.

"Yeah, us." Toji said as he and Kensuke walked over. "You guys could have called or something."

"Yeah, we didn't know if you were ok!" Kensuke added.

"Well, we fought an Angel." Asuka said. "It didn't quite go our way."

"Hence my limp." Mari said as she leaned against Shinji for support.

"And we're sorry we didn't call." Shinji said as he shifted under Mari's weight. "But we were in the hospital."

"The hospital?" Hikari asked. "You guys got hurt again?"

"Tends to happen when an Angel throws lightning bolts for fun." Mari quipped.

"And has a body that can electrocute someone." Rei added as she sat down.

"What the hell…?" Kensuke muttered. "What else could it do?"

"Well, it was really stubborn about dying. It was basically bullet and beam proof with the high density EM field like this. Had to stab the fucker with a lightsaber to kill it." Mari said. "And the lightning bolts didn't just go straight, they could follow you…"

"And those fuckers burned!" Asuka said.

"So, Shinji, how's it feel to kill another Angel?" Toji asked.

"Did you just assume the puppy did the killing?" Mari asked.

"Because onii–chan didn't kill the Angel." Rei said.

"Who did?" Hikari asked.

"I did." Mari said proudly.

"Because the rest of us were out cold." Asuka quipped.

"No, because the rest of you can't handle a little pain." Mari said. "I just happen to have a high tolerance than the rest of you."

"No you don't." Asuka said.

"Don't ruin this for me, princess." Mari protested. "This is my only solo kill…"

"Asuka, she's right." Shinji said. "Mari was electrocuted by the Angel when she tried to stab it the first time."

"And she got back up after we were all laid out." Rei said. "It was impressive."

"Oh, whatever…" Asuka muttered. "She was never mauled to death…"

"Mari, please leave it alone." Rei said before Mari could speak.

"Anyway…" Hikari said. "You guys also missed a load of schoolwork."

"What else is new, freckles?" Mari said.

"Unfortunately, Angels take precedence over school work." Rei said.

"This is our life now…" Asuka said sullenly.

"Well, try not to miss so much next time." Hikari said. "Cause we have a test tomorrow on everything we learned this week."

"Of course we do…" Asuka grumbled.

"So, I guess we're not sleeping much tonight then…" Mari said. "How wonderful…"

"So, with the next Angel, what do you say we yell at it to die quick so we don't get hurt and miss school?" Asuka asked.

"I don't see why we can't try…" Shinji said.

"Sarcasm, baka." Asuka said.

"Well, it sounded more convincing than usual." Shinji joked.

"Oh, be quiet." Asuka said. "Anyway, where are our handouts?"

"Your desks…" Hikari mumbled. "Didn't know where else to keep them."

"Thanks for collecting them, freckles." Mari said as she hugged Hikari. "You're a great Class Rep."

"And an even better friend." Shinji added.

"That too." Mari chuckled.

"Well, you four do keep us all safe." Hikari said. "At the expense of your own health apparently."

"Again, not new." Mari said as she plopped down in her chair.

"I'm quite used to it." Rei replied.

"Well you shouldn't have to be." Hikari said. "It's ridiculous."

"Well… some things are unavoidable." Shinji said.

Ding dong ding ding… ding dong ding ding

"Like hearing that damn bell…" Mari grumbled.

"Oh relax, in no time it'll be lunch." Asuka said.

"Yeah, but that's hours away!" Mari moaned. "And my body is killing me!"

"That's the price you pay for wanting to be the hero…" Asuka quipped. "So either deal with it, or never kill an Angel again."

"Enough you two, it's time for class to start." Hikari said as the teacher walked in. "Rise… Bow… Sit!" Hikari commanded as the class followed her instructions.

"Another day in paradise…" Mari quipped as she as down and class began.


May 10, 2020 – NERV HQ

Misato was sitting impatiently in the Command Center, high above where she was used to commanding operations with her old staff. It was an adjustment period for her, where she was no longer in direct command, but in command over everyone watching while tasks were delegated to her subordinates. Still, because it was an adjustment period, she would sometimes forget that she was mainly there to observe and issued orders like old times, something no one really had an issue with, but Misato still felt quietly embarrassed about forgetting her new, higher position.

"Sumire, how are we doing?" Misato asked.

"The transport planes are coming into range now, Commander." Sumire replied. "We're tracking their trajectories into Tokyo–3 airspace."

"As soon as it's within visual contact range, hail them." Misato ordered. "And call Maya up here as well, she should be here for this."

"Understood, ma'am." Sumire said. "Colonel, is that what you were about to tell me to do?"

"More or less, Sumire." Kaji replied.

"Sorry, Kaji." Misato called out.

"It's alright, Commander. It's within your power to give orders however you see fit." Kaji said. "Plus, old habits die hard." Kaji smiled. "And it'll keep these folks on their toes with two of us ordering them around."

"Well, at least we're on the same page." Misato said.

"Like old times." Kaji replied.

"Uh, Colonel, Commander, I'm seeing some air traffic coming into the path of our descending transports." Sumire reported. "Orders?"

"Hideki, please let local air traffic control know to clear the air for these planes to land. These panes take top priority." Kaji ordered. "We don't need anything colliding with them and having an EVA drop on some poor, unsuspecting neighborhood."

"Got it." Hideki replied as Maya walked in.

"Are they within range yet?" Maya asked.

"Three minutes to visual contact range." Midori replied. "Why are we waiting for visual contact range?"

"It makes these kinds of conversations easier." Kaji said.

"What kind of conversation are we talking about?"

"A secure conversation about the cargo." Kaji said.

"Wait, what cargo?" Midori asked.

"Oh, you'll find out." Kaji said.

"Don't you read your briefs in the morning, Midori?" Sumire asked.

"What briefs?" Midori asked.

"You know, the info packets in your inbox." Hideki said to Midori's confused look. "In your e–mail inbox."

"We get e–mail on these things?" Midori asked.

"Wow, you have a lot to learn…" Hideki muttered.

"But we'll help you learn." Sumire said.

"See, that's teamwork." Kaji said. "But Midori, do you really not know what's flying in?"

"I really don't, sir." Midori replied.

"It's Unit–04." Maya said. "Fresh from repairs at NERV's First Branch. It was then transferred back to the Second Branch in Nevada for direct shipment to us."

"Why wasn't it shipped by boat like Unit–05 and Unit–07?" Midori asked.

"Flying over the pacific is a lot safer than flying over Europe and Asia." Kaji said. "Safer too considering all the radiation left over from WWIII."

"Sir, the planes are coming within visual contact range." Hideki reported. "Hailing them on an ultra–secure frequency."

"On screen." Kaji said as Kotomi's face filled up the main screen in front of them.

"Hello everyone." Kotomi said brightly. "Long time no see."

"Glad to see you've made it in one piece." Kaji said.

"Kaji?!" Kotomi asked. "I thought… aren't you… ya know… dead?!"

"Wait, you didn't tell her?" Kaji asked.

"Sorta slipped my mind…" Maya said.

"What about Kaji?" Takao asked as he also entered the frame. He saw Kaji staring back at him and laughed. "I knew you weren't dead. Takes more than some errant mission to kill someone as stubborn as you."

"Well, I won't say I didn't come close." Kaji said. "But those stories can wait, we have business to discuss Takao."

"Well… short and sweet till we land I presume?" Takao asked.

"If you could." Misato said.

"Second Branch has been cleared for reactivation." Takao said.

"And the cargo?" Misato asked.

"In short, its secured, and we should be delivering it officially from the U.S. government to NERV's control when we land." Kotomi said.

"And what's your ETA?" Kaji asked.

"Twenty minutes according to the pilot." Kotomi replied.

"Then we have time to meet you on the runway." Misato said. "Maya, would you care to join me?"

"I would not mind in the slightest." Maya said happily.

"Alright then, we'll see you down there." Misato said. "HQ out."

The screen went blank and Misato looked down towards Kaji. "I hope that I can leave you in charge while I'm gone."

"I can keep the place from burning down of that's what you mean." Kaji joked.

"I meant just keep an eye out for Angels." Misato said. "But if you keep everyone from destroying the place while the boss is away, I'd appreciate it."

"Not to worry, Commander." Kaji replied. "We'll have things well in hand."

–––

The previous day had been a rough day for all of them, having to take a test the day after leaving the hospital, so they decided to use their day off to stay in bed and literally do nothing. Shinji was lying next to a still sleeping Asuka and contemplating what had happened over the past two months.

'I'm not used to this anymore…' Shinji thought. 'I mean, we had normal lives for three years… it's hard to go back to this…' Shinji looked at Asuka sleeping peacefully in front of him and smiled. 'So many fun things have happened the past few years, everything a teenager could ever want… friends, someone to love, someone who loves you… it was basically perfect…' Shinji breathed in deeply taking in the scent of Asuka's shampoo in the process.

'But I still found a way to mess it up… Asuka's right to call me dumb sometimes because I am… and sometimes I don't think I deserve someone as great as her in my life…' Shinji smiled. 'But I am lucky to have her nonetheless.' Shinji sighed. 'I know I lied to her and Misato… and I know it was wrong… and if the Angels had never come back, would I have ever told them the truth? Could I have lived with keeping that secret until I died?' Shinji adjusted himself in bed.

'Would I have trained on the Evangelion until I died too? Would Misato have made me do that indefinitely? Asuka almost found out so many times… about that and about Kaji… I doubt it could have been kept a secret forever… Asuka would have found out eventually… she's so smart, it was really only a matter of time…' Shinji sighed again. 'But Asuka forgave me… even if she wasn't happy about it, she understood why I did it, even if it sounds stupid in hindsight… I thought she'd have been less forgiving… but I guess after a week without talking, we both realized how much we need each other… I'm glad she saw that as punishment enough too… I really am lucky to have her…' Shinji rolled over onto his back to stare at blankly at the ceiling.

'Maybe it was a good thing the Angels came back after all… it forced the truth out… which was really for the better… and Kaji's back too… so even if I don't want to fight the Angels… I don't think any of us really do… at least we're all in it together… and maybe if we defeat them all, we'll have a chance at more happiness…' Shinji smiled. 'Which means all we have to do is survive… we've done it once… we can certainly do it again…' Shinji smiled and rolled back towards Asuka, wrapping his arm around her. 'I know one thing for sure…' Shinji continued. 'As long as we stick together, we can accomplish anything…' Shinji chuckled silently to himself. 'If I ever said out loud Asuka would make fun of me… it does sound corny… but it's true… we're stronger together…'

–––

Asuka was pretending to be asleep so she didn't wake Shinji up. Little did she know, Shinji was also wide awake and contemplating their current circumstances, which Asuka herself was also doing.

'I hate this…' Asuka thought. 'Things have been so weird lately, it's ridiculous. Everything was going fine, we were normal teenagers doing teenager shit… and then… boom, fucking Angels… way to ruin three years of happiness… three beautiful years… all gone… and for what, to fight for humanity?' Asuka frowned. 'After watching the JSSDF invade and try to kill us like rabid dogs… maybe humanity isn't worth saving… maybe Shinji made the wrong choice letting us all go…' Asuka shook her head. 'No… we're not irredeemable… but we are flawed… we all have our weaknesses…' Asuka rolled onto her stomach.

'I used to love piloting, I loved fighting, piloting was everything to me… but that changed when I fell in love… piloting wasn't the only thing holding me together anymore… I had worth other than just being a pilot… I had friends… and I had Shinji…' Asuka shuttered. 'And after feeling my insides being ripped out, maybe I lost the lust for battle because I had something else to love for… a future to strive for beyond being just an EVA pilot…' Asuka sighed. 'But then I find out that Shinji lied to me for three years… I didn't think that was possible… it was so stupid too! Two fucking secrets! TWO!' Asuka exhaled angrily.

'He could have just told me the truth about piloting, I wouldn't have been mad if he'd just told me sooner… I would have sat there with him… but he has to go all macho and protect us… ugh, he is so frustrating sometimes…' Asuka sighed. 'Still… it was sweet, even if it was misguided, to want to protect us all… so his heart's in the right place… its always in the right place…' Asuka smiled. 'He always thinks of others… even when it's not in his best interest. Still, I love my baka…' Asuka blushed. 'And he wants to marry me… or at least see me in a wedding dress…' Asuka blushed.

'I honestly never thought the day would come where I would even think about marrying someone… I never dreamed about it when I was little… I just wanted to be the best pilot ever… but now… all I see in my future is Shinji…' Asuka grimaced. 'At least… well… as long as we wipe out the Angels, that future may… no it will exist… we may still be lucky enough to have normal lives again… someday…' Asuka felt Shinji wrap his arm around her. 'I think Shinji's awake… but I don't want to talk now… we can talk later… about everything… we'll have all the time in the world once this is all over…' Asuka smiled. 'As long as Shinji is there to cheer me on… I can do anything…'

–––

Misato, Maya, Takao, Kotomi, Hyuga, Aoba, Yuki, and Kaji were al sitting in Misato's conference room. Takao and Kotomi looked a bit tired, mostly because of their long flight from Nevada directly to Tokyo–3, but they had a report to make, and then they could go home and finally get some sleep after their two month long trip abroad.

"Ok, so which of you wants to go first?" Misato asked.

"I'll go, Commander." Takao said.

"But uh… what about the Kaji thing?" Kotomi asked.

"Long story short, Kaji was a secret mission and they pretended to kill him off." Hyuga explained. "Though he did almost die, right?"

"Yeah, that's the short version." Kaji said. "If I told you the long version, id have to kill you, obviously."

"And he's what again?" Kotomi asked.

"He's got my old job." Misato said.

"And he's a Colonel to boot." Aoba added.

"Nicely done… sir." Takao joked.

"Well, it could be worse." Kaji said.

"I know it's a shock to see Kaji back… it was certainly unexpected… but we have a meeting to conduct." Misato grumbled. "Whenever you're ready, Takao."

"Right." Takao said. "Well… after cleaning out the… remains… the base was thoroughly inspected for damage. Surprisingly, there wasn't much damage to be seen, save for some burn marks in the Evangelion holding area. We sterilized and aired out the base to make it habitable again, and a small crew from the First Branch in Massachusetts are occupying the base and fully bringing it online."

"What about a permanent staff at the base?" Misato asked.

"Well… people are uneasy being in there considering how many people died." Takao explained. "Still, the First Branch will most likely diverge its own staff to fill positions there on a more permanent basis."

"I'll contact the head of the First Branch later and hash that out with them…" Misato said. "But beyond being an interdimensional graveyard, it was completely intact?"

"Eerily so." Takao replied. "All we know is that Shinji was lucky to survive his time in a Sea of Dirac."

"You mean the mutilated bodies right?" Kaji asked. "The… uh… effects of being unprotected in there?"

"Yeah… the examination of the bodies before they were cremated only showed us they were exposed to radiation encountered only twice before." Takao said. "When Leliel attacked and swallowed things up… and that whole wormhole insistent shortly before Third Impact, the same radiation that triggers a Pattern Violet from what those science guys explained."

"Maya, can you confirm this?" Misato asked.

"Yes, I got the data the other day and can confirm what Takao explained." Maya replied. "The wormholes and Sea of Dirac share some similarities. This has led me to believe that the Sea of Dirac is simply an interdimensional void between universes, like the two other we're aware of that contain Gundams."

"Interdimensional void?" Hyuga asked. "Like the void of space?"

"Yes, the same concept applies, just spanning different dimensional planes." Maya explained. "Or so the theory goes anyway. The radiation shows up in a Sea of Dirac because that is where it comes from, and it bleeds from the wormholes as they pierce the dimensional walls after creating a bridge through the void."

"But how can different universe inhabit such a small space?" Yuki asked.

"The void as we see it, or its aperture anyway is nearly microscopic, but seems to fold local space around it and can draw things in." Maya explained. "Inside the void is indeterminate in size but infinitely vast at the same time, it's very difficult to explain."

"And it's fatal to humans?" Hyuga asked.

"Apparently." Takao said.

"The regular laws of physics don't apply in the void, we can surmise that much." Maya replied. "Shinji was protected by Unit–01 and its powerful A.T. Field, but everyone in the Second Branch didn't have that protection, so they were…"

Yuki shuttered. "We saw what happened to them." Yuki said. "I don't think we need to describe it in any detail."

"What about Unit–04 itself?" Kaji asked. "Is it safe to even have here considering what happened?"

"I ran every test I could on Unit–04 itself, its Core, and its S2 Engine." Kotomi explained. "Every test came back perfectly normal, no damage detected, no microscopic cracks in the Core and no degradation of the S2 Engine matrix. There were physical signs on the armor of charring and burning, but beyond that, everything was perfectly normal."

"What about the data recorders?" Misato asked. "The ones set up for the experiment?"

"Well, we were able to recover them without an issue." Kotomi said. "And I sent the data to NERV HQ for analysis."

"To who?" Yuki asked.

"To me." Maya replied.

"What did you find out?" Misato asked.

"Well, it took a few weeks for me to comb through everything…" Maya began.

"Why not the MAGI?" Kaji asked.

"It was easier to look at it myself." Maya replied. "But after I analyzed everything, the MAGI did confirm my results."

"And…?" Misato asked.

"Looking at the data that was recovered from the incident, it appears the S2 Engine overloaded from damage we wouldn't have known was there until it was brought online." Maya explained. "The damage caused a massive power spike which triggered the Sea of Dirac's creation. Thankfully, after the power spike and being transported, the instruments kept running, so we got a lot more data I still have to go through about the void itself… but I digress. While in the void, the S2 Engine repaired itself and any damage that was physically done to Unit–04. When Unit–04 had finished healing itself, the Sea of Dirac closed, and the Second Branch emerged from the void with no signs of even being gone… save for the dead…"

"So it healed itself and brought itself back from the void?" Yuki asked bewilderedly.

"Yeah, that seems… off." Hyuga added.

"It requires more research, but long story short, Unit–04 is ready for combat as soon as they're a pilot available." Maya replied.

"And Unit–03?" Misato asked.

"Now that I'm back, I'll take over the repairs of Unit–03 and finalize its repairs and upgrades." Kotomi said.

"What about Unit–04's upgrades?" Misato asked.

"Those will be completed at the same time, seeing as the upgraded items for the shoulder pylons were here." Kotomi explained. "The armor was already taken care of, and we painted it the same color as Unit–00 used to be."

"That gaudy yellow?" Misato asked.

"Yeah, that and white were the only paint we had available." Kotomi said. "But we can repaint at a later date."

"No, for now its fine, just focus on getting them both fully operational while we wait for Unit–06." Misato replied.

"Understood, Commander." Kotomi replied.

"But I think we've covered everything too, so let's get back to work people, there's a lot still to do." Misato said. "Dismissed."


May 15, 2020 – Tokyo–3 Senior High School, Courtyard

School had just ended, and Kensuke, decided he wanted to meet his girlfriend, Sakura, somewhere quiet so they could talk, or more than likely, make out, because they had so little time to spend together considering the secret nature of their relationship. Kensuke found Sakura hidden in clutch of bushes in the courtyard of the school and ducked in to find her sitting there happily waiting for him to arrive.

"Kenny–kun, what kept you?" Sakura asked as Kensuke sat next to her. "School got out ten minutes ago, and Hikari said you weren't cleaning today."

"Hey, I couldn't just disappear on your brother." Kensuke said nervously. "He gets suspicious when I try and duck out quick."

"He's not as attentive as you think he is, Kenny–kun." Sakura said sweetly. "But I'm glad you're finally here."

"So am I." Kensuke said. "I just wish it didn't have to be like this."

"Look, we can either sneak around and hide in bushes, or we tell my brother what's been going on the past three years." Sakura said. "And I'd rather not see you get beat up, which is why I don't mind this…"

"I know… but he's almost found out a few times now." Kensuke said. "And…"

"Ok, it's time to stop worrying about this because we're wasting time, Kenny–kun." Sakura said as she leaned in and kissed him passionately. Kensuke moved his arms back to support her weight and Sakura straddled him and wrapped her arms around his torso to be in a more comfortable position to kiss. As they lost themselves in the moment, they heard Toji's voice coming from outside the bushes where they were hidden. Kensuke moved his arms and lay flat on his back with Sakura on top of him as they lay completely still and silent, hoping he wouldn't come upon them or their compromising position.

"Damn, where did that fool go?" Toji muttered. "I need his help finding Sakura…"

"Shit…" Kensuke whispered.

"Stay quiet…" Sakura whispered back. "He might hear us…"

"Toji!" Hikari called out. "What are you doing out here? You were supposed to meet me!"

"Huh, oh hey babe." Toji said smoothly. "I was just looking for my pal and my sis. Have you seen them at all?"

"Kensuke went home, and Sakura said she was going out with friends today." Hikari said as she leaned in and kissed Toji. "So, you know what that means…"

"Oh… yeah I do." Toji said. "My place or yours…"

"Mine, my sisters are out." Hikari said. "And that way if Sakura comes home early, she won't find us…"

"Ya know, we could get an early head start in this bush here…" Toji suggested.

"You know I'm too loud to be in public, we could get caught." Hikari replied. "And I don't intend to be quiet today either…"

"Oh… then let's go…" Toji said as they walked away.

"Shit, that was close." Sakura said she sat up.

"Way too close…" Kensuke muttered. "If Hikari hadn't of shown up…"

"I told Hikari our plans." Sakura said. "She isn't going to let him find out, cause he'll be devastated or whatever… at the expense of my happiness…"

"Hey, we'll just have to be more careful…" Kensuke said.

"Fine, then let's go back to your place." Sakura said. "If I know Hikari, she'll keep him occupied all night…"

"And what about us?" Kensuke asked.

"Well… I think I have some ideas that'll keep us busy for the afternoon…" Sakura said coyly. "Come on… I'll check if the coast is clear." Sakura cautiously popped her head out of the bushes. "The coast is clear, Kenny–kun."

Kensuke stood up and the pair of them walked towards their cars. "So, I'll see you in a little while then?"

"Yeah, let me stop home first to get something…" Sakura said as she kissed him on the cheek. "Then we can spend some quality time together."

"You're the best girlfriend a guy could hope for." Kensuke said.

"No need to compliment me, we're already planning on having sex." Sakura said. "No go, before someone sees us."

"Right, right." Kensuke said as he got in his car. "Love you."

"I love you too, Kenny–kun." Sakura replied.

–––

Misato was walking down to the Cage to speak with Maya and Kotomi about the Evangelions and their combat readiness. As she walked in, she saw the pair conversing lovingly. After spending two months away from each other, Misato felt bad interrupting what looked like a happy movement, but her first priority would always be the safety of Tokyo–3, which required every Evangelion they now had access to, including Unit–03 and Unit–04. Misato walked up to them cheerfully and interjected.

"Sorry to interrupt." Misato said. "But do you two have a moment?"

"Of course, Commander." Maya said.

"What can we help you with?" Kotomi asked.

"Unit–03 and Unit–04." Misato said. "Are they ready yet?"

"Unit–03 is undergoing the final fitting and painting of its armor." Maya said. "Same color scheme as before, should be done by this afternoon."

"And Bardiel?" Misato asked. "It's totally gone?"

"The Angel Bardiel has been completely eradicated." Maya said reassuringly. "Every muscle fiber and sinew was inspected and any signs of contamination were burned away, which lengthened the healing process considerably. Thankfully it was so heavily damaged that Bardiel's parasitic nature had nothing to feed off of and died… but at least the damn thing left us another workable S2 Engine which has also been totally cleared of contamination as well."

"Good… one problem out of the way." Misato said. "Now, what about Unit–04?"

"Unit–04's been fitted with all the pylon technology, and the paint color's been altered a bit." Kotomi said.

"I thought I said that it was fine."

"Well, it looked weird up against the uh… bright and unique colors of the rest of the Evangelions." Kotomi said. "Unit–04 is now olive green with goldenrod and vermillion highlights."

"Why?" Misato asked puzzledly.

"So it would stand out." Kotomi replied. "And it looks really nice too."

"I'll take your word for it." Misato said. "And any word on Unit–06's delivery date?"

"Two weeks, give or a take a few days." Maya replied. "It's coming by naval convoy again, so it'll depend on the currents."

"And then we'll have seven…" Misato said sullenly.

"Yeah, it's certainly a lot of power." Maya replied. "What do even need seven for? Wasn't four enough?"

"It's out of my hands." Misato said. "I can't really change it, and we'll just have to deal with the danger a cage almost full to the brim with Evangelions."

"Like how Kaji was shipped off on a secret mission no one knew about?" Maya asked.

"Yeah, kinda like that, but this isn't as depressing, more worrisome." Misato replied.

"How are you two… doing?" Kotomi asked nervously.

"Well…" Misato looked around and didn't see anyone else near them. "We're taking it slow… his request."

"Why?" Maya asked.

"It's his way of apologizing." Misato said. "As dumb as it is to apologize like that, he's at least trying to make up for it in his own way…"

"Maybe we could go on a double date again!" Kotomi said excitedly.

"Kotomi, I don't think…" Maya began.

"Actually, that would be nice." Misato said. "Maybe it'll help move things along…"

"Move them along?" Kotomi asked.

"Look, as mad as I am about his… choosing to do whatever he did… I still love the jerk." Misato replied. "He did it to protect me… I just wish he'd have told me… even if it was a risk… it would have been nice to know."

"Sounds like he's punishing himself." Kotomi said.

"Well… he did say if he could do it over, he'd have chosen to stay with me." Misato said. "I just don't know if I trust what he's saying."

"You should." Maya said. "Look, he should have told you he wasn't dead, but maybe he regrets is decision… just ask him."

"Maybe after the double date." Misato said. "He's still a little skittish about going anywhere but here and the apartment."

"Wait, you live together?" Kotomi asked.

"Yeah, you said you were taking it slow!" Maya said. "Cause that's not slow."

"He's living in the old apartment." Misato said. "It's nice that he's so close by… but it's enough distance he can brood or whatever men do on their own."

"You're far more qualified to answer that question than either of us." Kotomi joked.

"I guess…" Misato replied. "Anyway, what were we talking about again?"

"Sorry…" Maya said. "We said Unit–03 and Unit–04 are online."

"Right, Unit–04's been repainted, Unit–03 is Angel free." Misato repeated. "Wat about the other four? Has the battle damage been repaired?"

"All damaged armor has been replaced, the paint's been refreshed on the four of them." Maya explained. "All tissue damage has been healed, they're all ready for whenever the next Angel decides to show itself."

"Good." Misato replied. "I just hope another Angel never shows up."

"Well, let's just hope that's what happens." Maya replied.

"Agreed." Kotomi said.

"It's always nice to have hope." Misato replied. "Now, I think I've interrupted enough of our time together… I'll see you both later."

–––

Mari was wondering thorough NERV HQ late in the evening. She had snuck out late to go and clear her head. NERV wasn't necessarily her first choice, but she needed someone to talk to, and Mari had a pretty good idea of where to turn, even if it had been some time since the time she'd gotten advice like this, she still hoped they would listen. Mari walked calmly into the Cage and looked around. She didn't see anyone in the vicinity, but she saw not four Evangelions, but six. Mari strolled down to where Unit–01 and Unit–02 were standing across from Unit–04.

"What an odd color choice…" Mari said. "But it works…" Mari turned to Unit–01 and Unit–02 and smile broadly. "Hi…" Mari said quietly. "I know it's been a long time… but I just… I just wanted to talk, ok? You don't even have to respond… I'm fine just like this…" Unit–01 and Unit–02's eyes lit up and appeared to look directly at Mari. "Oh… so you can hear me." Their eyes flashed once. "Oh good…" Mari sighed. "You know, after coming face to face with Lilith again and getting away, I was happy not piloting. After things settled down, it was nice to be able to just be… normal." Mari frowned.

"Ever since my parents died, I haven't been normal… I was an odd kid… I was never quite like everyone else… and then I was pushed through grades because I'd be bored and cause trouble… and then I ended up in college with you two… I felt more normal then… but then I was trapped for what seemed like an eternity with a sadistic bitch… and then I was free and fighting to save the world… but I still didn't really get to relax… I had to protect Shinji and Asuka… even if I did a bad job a lot of the time, I still did my best… but then Shinji and Asuka saved the world and we didn't have to pilot anymore… and I was happy… I was finally normal with friends and unrequited love, and it was great… but now we're back piloting and I can't take risks anymore… but I do have a new Evangelion… it's the pink one if you couldn't already guess… but I can't take risks anymore because I made a promise to rei… she begged me to not do anything reckless again… so how can I fight properly if I can't just run and do something dangerous… Angels aren't exactly safe and cuddly…" Mari sighed.

"I don't know… maybe I'm just being stupid… Rei is so much like Shinji… she may not understand her feelings, but who really does? She's kind an cares so much about the people she considers friends… and I'm finally friends with her again… so much has happened… she avoided talking to me for three years too… she would talk around me and avoid saying anything directly to me… it was tough, having someone talk to your mutual friends and ignore anything you contribute to the conversation… I'm surprised she kept it up as long as she did… but I finally got her to talk to me… even if I didn't go about it right…" Mari sniffled. "And I regret pushing her so much… I shouldn't have overreacted like that… it makes me no better than some jerk asshole who doesn't get what they want… but she forgave me… and I know it doesn't make it better… but at least she doesn't think less of me for it…" Mari wiped her face. "And you know what? Rei thought that I loved her because of how much she's like you, Yui. I kinda get her concerns… but it still hurt to be told that she thought I was like that… she's just so special… so different from anyone I've ever met… we're two weird peas in a weird pod… and when I'm with her, I feel happy… its better now because we're talking again… kinda… it's not like we talk a lot, but she says good morning to me… and I know she cares about me because she said so…" Mari sighed again.

"I know we can't talk directly… but you're the only ones I felt comfortable enough to vent all this to… Shinji and Asuka have their own shit to deal with… they don't need me piling on… but it feels good to just say it and get it off my chest… and it feels like old times with me coming here just to talk to you… I guess I missed it after all… anyway… its late and I should walk back home before anyone gets worried… I don't want them sending out search parties to find me…" Mari smiled. "Thanks for listening to me ramble… I'll come back and visit soon, ok?" Unit–01 and Unit–02's eyes flashed once and then shut back off. "Goodnight…" Mari said as she left.


May 17, 2020 – Tokyo–3 Senior High School, Class 3–A

Rei was sitting in class staring out the window. She had been thinking the past few days about her feelings for Mari, which were still very confusing to her. There was still a lot to understand about them and her emotions in general. But now, Rei had moved onto a different subject altogether, her purpose as a pilot and how things have changed since she last piloted an Evangelion.

'So much has changed in the past three years…' Rei thought as she looked out the window at the birds perched in a tree. 'I am no longer the same person who blindly followed orders… I think for myself now… no one is telling me what to do… or how I should behave… I am no longer isolated from others… I no longer live alone… am I am no longer in the dark about my origins…' Rei sighed.

'But… now that my higher purpose is gone… what is left? Am I just to be human? I know onii–chan says that I am human, he is incorrect… I was made partly from an Angel… which means I am not purely human… I do not suffer as other women do… something that makes me feel less than… but Asuka says it doesn't make me any less of a woman… that all people are different…' Rei smiled. 'I know they mean well… but I do not view myself as human… I do not understand what it is to be human…' Rei shuttered slightly. 'I used to be tethered to life… I used to be replaceable… my death was meaningless to others for a time… I could be reborn… yet now through the actions of another… I am unique… so perhaps I am now human because now… I can die… my next death will be my last…' Rei paused.

'But what does mortality mean? It is not something I have thought about it before… I have never had to worry about dying… but now… I am mortal… it isn't scary… it just is…' Rei shifted her gaze from the birds in the tree to a few kids sneaking through the courtyard. 'But I am no longer immortal… so will I feel fear inside the Evangelion? I did feel fear for the first time piloting in the last battle… fear for myself… fear for onii–chan… fear for Asuka… and fear for Mari… I have never felt fear before while piloting… it was not a good feeling… but how will things change now that I am not replaceable… I cannot sacrifice myself again to save everyone… because it will be permanent… but I used to pilot knowing I was replaceable… so I will have to change how I pilot… but I also have to work on my fear of dying… I have never had to think about my own mortality… I certainly did not enjoy knowing I couldn't simply die… being forcibly resurrected until my usefulness was gone…' Rei sighed.

'I am not sure how to feel now… but I need to ask someone about it… onii–chan may not be the best choice… he will worry too much about me… Asuka has died before… but perhaps it would be selfish of me to ask her to relive that… I know I dislike thinking about my own deaths… perhaps…' Rei began as the bell interrupted her thought.

Ding dong ding ding… ding dong ding ding

'Oh… class went by very fast today…' Rei thought. 'So it looks like it's time to go home.' Rei looked over to Mari and remembered what had been thinking. 'Perhaps Mari is best suited to ask… she has faced her own mortality against Lilith… and she would know how to face her fears… and it would nice to get her advice again… but… I don't want her to think I'm afraid… I don't want her to worry…' Rei sighed. 'Perhaps I should just figure it out myself… I don't want to be a burden to anyone…'


May 25, 2020 – Comfort 17 Apartments

It was early morning and Rei was in a restless sleep. It had been a while since she had dwelled on the past, but in recent weeks, after two Angel attacks, and upon contemplating her own mortality, and refusing to ask anyone's advice for fear of over burdening them, Rei's mind wandered one night to a series of particularly horrible memories, her two deaths, and one other from when her third life began, which compared to her deaths, was far worse than anyone could ever imagine.

Flashback

Rei got to her feet unsteadily. Even though she had memories of standing and walking before, this was her first time experiencing it. When she was mostly steady on her feet, she turned slowly to the opening and faced Ritsuko. "Who are you?"

"What, you don't remember me?" Ritsuko asked. "Do you remember your name?"

"I am… Rei Ayanami." Rei replied. "I remember… other things… but it is all… jumbled. I cannot piece my memories together. I am… confused."

"Well, at least you're not that stupid." Ritsuko said absentmindedly.

"I am not stupid." Rei replied. "I know I am the third."

"Excuse me?" Ritsuko asked. "Are you contradicting me?"

"I am defending my self–worth from your baseless accusations." Rei said. "I know I am not stupid… am I not supposed to correct others when they are wrong?"

"No… you're supposed to be obedient to your elders." Ritsuko said.

"I do not have any elders." Rei said. "I was created… not born… I do not have parents…"

"Good, so you know that you're an abomination." Ritsuko said coldly.

"I am not an abomination." Rei replied. "I did not wish to be created… I do not even remember who you are… yet you hate me. Why do you hate me? What did I do to hurt your feelings?"

"Your attitude and lack of respect annoys me." Ritsuko said. "Now, lay down on the table."

"Why?" Rei asked.

"I need to make sure you're healthy." Ritsuko said.

Rei gave her a puzzled look and went over to the table on the side of the room. Rei laid down and was then surprised when she was forcibly restrained to the table by Ritsuko.

"Why have you restrained me?" Rei asked.

"Well, it's quite simple really…" Ritsuko said as she grabbed a heavy bag full of tools. "No one else knows what you are… and they are to assume that you have survived, you have to be injured, don't you?"

Rei got a worried look in her eye. "What do you mean?"

"I mean I am going to break your bones and cause you many different injuries to make it look as though you barely lived through that stupid stunt of yours." Ritsuko said coldly.

"What did I do?" Rei asked. "I do not remember any of this."

"You will… in time…" Ritsuko said angrily.

"Why are you doing this to me?" Rei asked.

"I don't like you." Ritsuko said. "Do I need more of a reason?"

"I do not know." Rei said nervously.

"Seeing as you don't know, we should begin." Ritsuko said as she grabbed a tool from the bag. "This will hurt you far more than it will hurt me."

"AAAAHHHHH!" Rei screamed as Ritsuko began.

End Flashback

Rei woke up, screaming loudly

"AAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Rei continued screaming as she awoke, frozen with fear and writhing in pain as she thought she felt her body being broken once again by the bad doctor. Rei's door slammed open and Asuka, Shinji, Mari & Misato appeared in the doorway and turned the lights on.

"Rei!" Misato shouted as everyone ran to her bedside. "Rei, wake up!"

Rei opened her eyes and looked around, still reeling from her dream. "I… where am I…?"

"You're in your bed, in your room." Shinji said.

"Why were you screaming?" Asuka asked.

"I was… I thought…" Rei stammered as she sat up. "I am sorry…"

"Are you ok?" Mari asked worriedly.

"I… I will be fine…" Rei replied shakily as she got out of bed. "It was just a bad dream… I am sorry I woke you all up…"

"Are you sure, Rei?" Shinji asked as Mari slipped out of the room. "You sounded afraid when you wake up."

"I am sure, onii–chan…" Rei replied. "I will just get some water and go back to sleep…"

"Ok…" Misato replied. "Feel better, Rei."

"As long as you're sure." Shinji said as he hugged Rei.

"I am." Rei replied. "You don't have to worry."

"Ok, goodnight." Shinji said as Mari slipped back into the room.

"Yeah, goodnight." Asuka said as she gave Rei a quick hug. "If you ever need to talk…"

"I know, Asuka." Rei said. "Thank you."

Shinji and Asuka left the room, and Mari stood there awkwardly for a moment after everyone left, and she nervously held out a glass of water. "Here… drink this." Mari muttered. "As long as you're ok…"

"Mari, I… can I… uh…" Rei stammered. "Could you stay for a moment?"

"Sure…" Mari said as Rei sat down on her bed.

"Would you like to sit down?" Rei asked. "Next to me…"

"Yeah…" Mari said as she sat nervously next to Rei. "What… what did you need to talk about?"

"Well… the past few weeks, I've been thinking about my life." Rei said. "I'm a pilot again, but I'm no longer immortal… I can die now… I could die the next time we face an Angel… any of us could die…"

"I know." Mari replied. "We all take that risk going out to pilot."

"It's not only that." Rei replied. "The last time I piloted… I was replaceable… I could be resurrected. But now… I can actually die… I won't remember how I die, I won't be stuck with the memory of it… but I've never had to deal with this before…"

"How long have you been thinking about this?" Mari asked.

"Since the Angel attacked." Rei explained. "But I didn't start worrying about until last week… and I wanted to ask you about it, but I didn't want to be a burden…"

"Rei, you're not a burden." Mari said. "And I know we haven't talked about anything like this in a long time… but I'm always here to talk fi you need me. I'll always be here to talk."

"But I didn't want you to worry either." Rei said.

"Considering you came to me worried about my safety, it's really not an issue." Mari said. "I'm worried more about you not wanting to talk about it."

"Well… I don't know if I'm afraid of death or if I will freeze when it comes time to fight." Rei explained. "I don't want to be a hindrance on the battlefield."

"You won't be because you won't be alone." Mari said. "But dealing with mortality… I don't know how to help you."

"You don't?" Rei asked.

"Well… most people never deal with death, let alone die and come back to life." Mari said. "But I not sure how to help you process that…" Mari paused. "Well, maybe think of it this way… just like you want me to be careful, I'd like you to promise to not to think about dying… just fight to survive, just like everyone else."

"Fight to survive?" Rei asked.

"Well… when you know you can die, you have to think about something." Mari explained "Survival is a good motivator."

"What do you think about?" Rei asked.

"I… well… I didn't really think about anything except killing the Angel." Mari said.

"Oh… so you just focus on the task at hand and push everything else out of your mind?" Rei asked.

"That's the long and the short of it." Mari replied.

"Oh… I will try that." Rei said. "Thank you"

"Rei, what were you dreaming about?" Mari asked.

"I…" Rei said nervously "When I was reborn after Armisael. I dreamed of Akagi breaking my bones and injuring me to make it look like I had barely survived the explosion…"

"I know the story." Mari said as she wrapped her arm around Rei's shoulder. "Are you ok to sleep?"

"No." Rei said. "I am afraid to be alone."

"I can stay." Mari said. "I'll sleep on the floor."

"You don't have to sleep on the floor…" Mari said.

"Rei… it'll be easier." Mari said quietly. "We're not at that level with our relationship anymore."

"No, but we will be someday." Rei said. "Are sure the floor is ok?"

"I've slept in worse places." Mari replied as she left to get her pillow. Rei settled herself into bed and covered herself with her sheet. As Mari came back in, she shut off the light.

"Just remember, I'm right here, so you don't need to be afraid." Mari said.

"Ok." Rei said. "Thank you, Mari… its really nice of you to do that."

"It's the least I can do." Mari replied.

"Goodnight, Mari." Rei said as she snuggled into her bed.

"Goodnight, Rei." Mari said as she rolled over and fell asleep.

–––

Misato and Kaji were sitting in her office. Misato had a stack of files in front of her, and the pair of them were looking warily at them. They sat in silence for some times before Kaji broke the tepid silence.

"Why are we doing this now?" Kaji asked.

"Because Unit–06 arrived this morning." Misato said. "Fresh from France, Maya and Kotomi evaluated it already… it'll be combat ready once it's been outfitted with all the pylon enhancements and its S2 engine."

"Well, minus one thing of course…" Kaji muttered.

"I know, Kaji." Misato grumbled.

"Still… are we ready to do this?" Kaji asked. "Because this won't be easy. There's no Marduk to cover for us this time. We will be responsible for whatever decisions are made. If anything happens, we will be the ones everyone will turn to…"

"Don't you think I'm already well aware of that?" Misato asked. "Why do you think I've avoided doing this for so long? But I can't avoid it anymore… we have seven Evangelions and four pilots."

"And now we need to pick out three new victims." Kaji muttered.

"Thinking like that isn't going to make this any easier." Misato snapped.

"I know… but shouldn't Maya be here too?" Kaji asked. "I would feel better if we had someone to break the ties."

"Maya's on her way." Misato said. "But I pulled all the old Marduk files out, so we can go over everyone who's in here."

"You know who those kids are, right?" Kaji asked.

"Yes, I am aware." Misato said. "I've been aware for quite some time."

"So, when are we telling the kids about this?" Kaji asked. "Are they going to be allowed any input with this?"

"No we're not getting input from them… we're the ones in charge, not them." Misato said. "This is our decision, and whatever we decide has to be abided by. We'll inform them after we've made our final selections."

"Alright…" Kaji replied as Maya walked in.

"Sorry it took me so long." Maya said. "I was in the middle of some difficult work on the Second Branch's information. But some good news, Unit–06 is fully combat ready. The S2 Engine integrated itself into the Core without a hitch, and is reading as stable. The French even chose a nice color scheme."

"Blue, white, and red?" Kaji asked sarcastically in a bad French accent.

"No, it's teal with some navy blue and dandelion yellow highlights." Maya said. "Oddly enough, kinda like Unit–04, the colors work…"

"Well, that's a unique choice…" Kaji replied. "Though it'll blend right in…"

"And it's a discussion for another day." Misato said. "Right now we need to focus on choosing three new pilots to fill out our roster and man those Evangelions."

"From these files?" Maya asked as she pointed at the stack of folders in front of her. "That's a lot more than I thought it would be…"

"The old Marduk files." Kaji explained. "The shell company that was used as a front to select the pilots "impartially" or whatever."

"So three out of these will be our new pilots?" Maya asked.

"Yeah…" Kaji replied.

"We're gonna be here for a while." Misato replied. "So let's get started."

To Be Continued


A/N: I do not own Evangelion or any of the characters, GAINAX and the other distributors of NGE related material do. I am simply using them as a backdrop for my fanfic.

Sync Score Rankings!
Shinji – 150.0% (No Change)
Asuka – 125.0% (No Change)
Mari – 77.8% (+8.3%)
Rei – 70.7% (+3.9%)

Ok, just to get this out of the way, yes, this chapter is named after the epic two–part Star Trek: TNG episodes straddling the end of season 3 and the beginning of season 4. I chose this name for the chapter because our intrepid pilots are spanning both their normal lives, which began after Third Impacts, and their lives as pilots which picked back up when the Evangelions awakened after a three year slumber.

In terms of plot, this chapter really only bridges the gap from the last Angel to the next topic in the story, the new pilots. As our four pilots struggle to adjust back into being in combat situations against hostile creatures, the arrival of the final two Evangelions, and the rebuilding of another means that all seven Evangelions are now in Tokyo–3, and are all ready for combat. Now the pilots will be revealed in the next chapter, and it may be surprising how might come out of the woodwork to take up the control yokes.

Now I know it seemed silly to have them wait to contact the planes via video, and given the level of technology possible in the EVA–verse, you'd think that video communications would be easy, and this is correct, however, a secure connection over the air can only be done with a great deal of certainty over a shorter distance from special transmitter/receivers.

So, for the kids' monologues, each one doesn't necessarily stick to one topic, mainly because as I wanted it to be realistic with how our minds can wander when we're thinking about something. Shinji and Asuka stray here and there, while Mari jumps around a lot as she thinks of it, and Rei sticks to her one topic of humanity and mortality with little variation.

For the adults, Kaji and Misato are obviously taking it slow, with Kaji still regretting his time away from Misato. Maya and Kotomi are reunited after a two month separation because Kotomi and Takao were leading the recovery efforts in Nevada, with that base finally coming back online through their efforts. With those efforts, I've also attempted to explain the Sea of Dirac and how universes can be bridged under certain circumstances, as with what happened in Gundam Invasion, where two universes in a multiverse were encountered.

As I said before, and will always say at the end of chapter, please leave comments, as I would like to try to improve the story going forward any way I can. And, hell, constructive criticism is a good thing.


つづく