"You bastard! You don't know anything about her! You have no right to talk about her! I swear, if you do as much as to say her name once more, I'll kill you!"
"Kill me? You don't seem to be in any position to make death threats. That aside..." He calmly pushed his glasses up his nose. "That is not a very motherly way to talk..."
"You... I'll kill you. I'll kill you. I'll kill you! I'll kill you! I'LL K-agh... y-y..."
As the body collapsed before him Gendo unconsciously reached for his neck the cuffed hands had only been inches away from, concealing the betraying motion by adjusting his uniform in the last second. He wouldn't admit it, but there had been a moment of shock when she broke free to leap at his desk. Maybe it would have been better to start with the boy...
The 2nd try
He had always hated these cells.
Of course, cells were not supposed to be liked by its inhabitant, but in this case he doubted they would be legally accepted by any country that held true to the concept of human rights.
Not that NERV ever cared about those.
The only reason why any normal person didn't instantly suffer claustrophobia the moment he was pushed into the small confinement, barely offering any space that wasn't taken by the hard bed and the cold toilet, was the constant darkness. That was probably the worst psychological weapon the place held; taking away the ability to tell the flow of time, leaving you with nothing to do but to think.
Thinking was something Shinji had done a lot since... since he was brought here. Thinking and worrying.
He should have anticipated this. They had thought of every possible way to change what had happened, but they had underestimated one important thing: Gendo Ikari was no fool, and to discount the possibility he'd simply overlook what they were doing had been wishful thinking. They had obviously not been careful enough to prevent his father from discovering some little bit of information.
But why did it have to happen now? They had been so close...
Not knowing what happened with Asuka was the worst for him, though. He hadn't actually expected that they'd be allowed to be together, not even that anyone would answer his questions about her. But the longer he had to endure without any notice from her, the more it was driving him crazy.
For about the hundredth time, he mentally noted to himself to apologize once more for the month he had left her worrying and in doubt.
Just how long had he been there now? For all he knew the JSSDF could already be infiltrating the headquarters, aiming for the holding cells, where they'd be an almost as easy target as he had made out of himself that other time. Or perhaps the ruthless soldiers had already been there and hadn't cared about the cells, which would mean that no one was left to ever let them out.
Shinji kicked the prison wall in frustration. To his surprise, light flooded into the darkness from the door that opened at that very moment, but any ridiculous idea that he had accidentally hit a secret "exit"-button were quickly crushed as the shadowy figures of two NERV agents stepped into view.
"The Commander would like to have a chat with you."
Shinji wondered if he could ever see this man before him as anything else again. The way he sat there at his pretentious desk, staring at his son like just another criminal – the same way he stared at anyone, actually. That he couldn't even show a father's disappointment in his insurgent child...
"You may leave us now," the older Ikari told the two agents who had escorted Shinji to the office.
"Are you sure, Sir?" One of them asked. "After...?"
"Do I have to repeat myself?"
"No, Sir!" both quickly replied with a hasty salute.
Shinji smirked wearily as he watched the brutes closing the door behind them. "You seem to feel rather brave today," he allowed himself to comment sarcastically, tugging demonstratively at the over-the-top three-layered handcuffs that still encased his wrists.
With all the frustration he had pent up in the last hours, he didn't bother to pretend anymore. There was no need to anyway; acting like his old meek self, insecure and unknowing, wouldn't do him any good now. His father wouldn't have gone so far as this without a very good suspicion and he wouldn't let it rest until Shinji would confirm it. Now it was just a question of how much his old man actually knew.
The Commander didn't seem to care much about his unusual cheekiness. "I prefer to keep this discussion private," he said calmly. "And I was under the impression that you would like to do so as well. After all, you have been very cautious so far to keep your return to this time a secret. Nonetheless, I had to take precautions."
Shinji's eyes fell on the gun, on the desk near his father, but it didn't trouble him as much as the previous confirmation of his fears.
"The Second," Gendo continued, "reacted rather harshly when she was confronted with my questions, especially when the subject of our discussion turned to the communication the two of you shared during the incident with the 15th Angel. We had to sedate her after she tried to attack me when asked about the matter of this... 'Aki'."
Shinji's fingers dug into his trembling palms. Rarely before he had felt such raging anger as he did in that moment toward his father. The only thing that held him back was the knowledge that the Commander wanted just that: provoke him. If he really had hurt Asuka, he could pay later for that.
"What... what do you want?" Shinji hissed through gritted teeth.
"I'm sure you are aware of that." His father took his time to readjust his glasses before continuing. "I want knowledge... of what will happen."
"What?" It wasn't that Shinji didn't understand. Future knowledge was probably tempting for anyone, even more so for someone with plans as crucial as the Commander's. What he still couldn't believe was the arrogance of the man before him.
However, the older Ikari misunderstood his reluctance. "You don't have to play dense. I know that you have seen it. The conversation with Soryu has already confirmed my theory, but due to her lack of cooperation, I'm still unaware of the details."
Shinji tried to swallow his anger, but he had little success. "What makes you think I would give you more answers than she did? Are you going to torture me? Or hurt her even more in front of me?"
The Commander's next words, however, hit him much more than any of that. "You are..." he spoke almost pleadingly, "my son..."
Shinji couldn't believe his ears.
"What?" he whispered hoarsely, his trembling arms tugging unconsciously on the cuffs around his wrists. "WHAT?? Those words... those words that I had been longing to hear for so long... and you dare," tears formed in his eyes, but he couldn't tell whether from anger or disappointment, "you DARE to say them now? You've never been a father to me. You've sent me away, only called me back to pilot against my will, forcing me through the worst time of my life. Just in the last few hours, you imprisoned me, indirectly threatened to kill me and worst of all used my missing child to torture the woman I love. And you seriously expect me just to be... a good son... and tell you everything you want to know..."
"It would be the most preferable way," Gendo merely concurred, "but I can also take more drastic measures if necessary."
"I... I hate to be your son. I hate to have you as my father. Because... because I really wish I could hate you with all my heart right now." Shinji managed to stop the flow of tears, but unable to wipe them off, there were still wet streaks on his cheeks as he returned his view from the floor to the man sitting in front of him; a cold, maniacal grin spreading on his face as he did so. "You really want to know? Fine," he snarled calmly. "You will die!"
If that announcement touched the Commander in any way, he didn't let it show. "Hollow threats will not do you any good either."
Shinji's smirk vanished as quickly as it had come as he returned the cold stare of his father with one that easily matched it. "It wasn't a threat! You will die! Everyone will die! You're right; I've seen it! I've seen the end of the world! Just because of that selfish plan of yours!"
The silence that followed his outburst was only disturbed by his low panting, echoing in the vast office.
"It will bring you nothing but death," Shinji added whispering, but it was loud enough in the stillness. "Do you really think she would come back to you because of that?"
For a second, he could have sworn he actually saw a reaction in his father's face. Though it had most likely been his imagination, as not a single muscle had moved, he had seen the old, broken man behind that hard mask.
Shinji blinked in surprise. The command had been calm, but not in the cold way he was used to from his father. If he hadn't known better, he would have thought it had been the voice of someone else.
"Apparently I have been wrong with my assumption. I have no time for a foolish prank of two kids."
"But..." He couldn't believe his ears. The man who kept them locked up for hours, if not days, who probably even had gone as far as torturing Asuka to get the information he desired, now gave up that easily – after he actually got what he had wanted to hear?
"You can find... the Second Children in room 303 of the infirmary. The guard outside will take your cuffs off. "
"I'm no... I'm not joking!" Shinji fought for words through his confusion. "It's the tru..."
"Go!" the Commander cut him off, with some renewed harshness.
Shinji sighed angrily, but he wouldn't question the decision any more as it was only to his benefit, so he turned and went to the exit without looking back.
Slowly, he realized that while he had answered the man's question truthfully, it had of course not been what he had wanted to hear. It wasn't that his father didn't believe him. But the Commander, his father, that old, broken man; all he had wanted to get was a reassurance. Anything that would say that his wish would never come true – such thing he would never want to believe.
'"Do not ask questions you don't really want to hear the answer to."'
Room 303. Why of all did it have to be this one? It couldn't be that all the other rooms were in use, could it? Was the cranial wing the only one secluded enough that it wouldn't raise too many questions to have her placed here? Destiny must have thought that it would be incredibly funny to remind him of his weakest moment like this.
It was all too similar. Sure, there weren't as many machines to constantly monitor her status and there was no IV to keep her alive through her coma. But seeing her lying on that bed, the slight rhythmic heaving of her form being the only response to his soft calls of her name was enough to make his stomach churn at his helplessness just as it had then.
Another difference were the restrains that had been used to hold her arms to the frame of the bed, but he had quickly undone those, after which she almost instantly rolled onto her side in return, turning her back to him. That only added to the uncomfortable familiarity.
For a while, he had settled for watching her, sitting next to her on the bed, while he held her warm hand, stroking the soft skin with his thumb.
Eventually though, he carefully turned her onto her back again. Cupping her face so it wouldn't fall to one side, he slowly leaned into her slightly parted lips and met them with his own, holding them like that for several seconds.
"Kissing the sleeping beauty awake again?" a hoarse voice asked. "Maybe you should have tried that last time."
His smile surpassed her weary one. "I somehow doubt it would have worked then."
"It would have been better than a certain other activity."
"I know." He ended that topic quickly with another kiss. "How do you feel?"
"Tired. I'm not sure what they gave me, but it was probably enough to knock out an elephant."
Shinji chuckled at that comparison. "You hardly have the figure of an elephant."
"But I probably scared them like a wild one on a rampage." Her face hardened as the memory fully returned. "That... that bastard! He had no right... not about her..."
"Shh." He caressed her cheek. "It's all right now."
She let herself be calmed, easing into the pillow, looking like she was about to drift back to sleep. But then she blinked as if realizing something. "How... how did you get here anyway? Did you escape somehow? You didn't... you didn't tell him, did you?"
"Yes, I did actually. But not quite what he wanted to hear." He paused for a moment and he noticed the curiosity intensifying in her eyes. He quickly shook his head. "Don't worry about that now. Get some rest. We'll need to be in perfect shape much too soon."
Asuka didn't even try to argue. A small nod, then her barely opened eyelids fell shut again.
"Level 1 alert!" Shigeru sneered. "Sometimes I really wonder what they're thinking! First they say the boy was the last Angel and now they say we're not even allowed to leave the base."
"Well, let's hope he WAS the last," Makoto joined into badmouthing the higher-ups. "If they now declare they made a mistake, we better hope the JSSDF has a few N2-bombs to spare."
"Yeah, we have two pilots without EVAs and two EVAs without pilots. With our otherwise limited armory, we're nothing but sitting ducks."
"I don't get this with Shinji and Asuka anyway. They were arrested for conspiracy, but why would they work against us? They're our own pilots."
"Maybe they were brainwashed by some rival faction. It wouldn't be the first time Section 2 let something slip."
"But why didn't they try to get away with the EVAs then, or wreak havoc on purpose to ruin our reputation forever? Or even use them to fight us? We couldn't stop Unit-01 when Shinji disobeyed before, so he at least had all the chance he needed."
"Maybe they wanted to wait until all the Angels were destroyed. No one managed to find a way to destroy them by conventional means after all. But thinking of regular enemies..."
"Don't talk like that," Maya pleaded, shuddering, interrupting their discussion for the first time. "If we don't get disbanded... I hope we won't ever use the Evangelions against humans. I-I'd rather quit then."
An awkward silence fell over the three colleagues and friends. Though they all shared the same moral concerns, Maya was probably the only one of the three to set their importance over her job's, but neither of the two men was willing to voice that.
"Well, there's of course also a lot of talk that Commander Ikari just wanted to get them out of the way now that he wouldn't need them any longer," Makoto eventually shifted the topic.
"Out of the way?" Shigeru asked, raising an eyebrow. "What for?"
Makoto just shrugged, but Maya softly spoke up.
"Do you believe what they say? That Shinji and Asuka are..." Her whispering tone got even quieter, "...from the future?"
"Who's saying that?" Makoto wondered, the disbelief audible in his voice.
The nervous woman bit her lip, just wanting to hide herself behind her mug of coffee. She shouldn't have let that slip, but she was never someone who could stand keeping secrets all to herself. "I-I was there when they recovered the recording that was made, when that boy... during the attack of the last Angel. Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki told me to forget what I've heard, but..." She closed her eyes, almost expecting the wrath for her betrayal any second. "It sounded like they had been together for quite some time. That... that they were married and even had a child. And then got 'sent back' here somehow and lost it because of that."
"Time travel?" Shigeru pondered, sharing a look with Makoto. "Is that even possible?"
"I don't know. But Shinji sounded so upset about the loss of that 'Aki'... I don't think it was just some act," Maya justified. "Apparently they tried to change some things for the better. Maybe the Commander..." she lowered her voice even more, "maybe he doesn't want things to change."
"Change... from what...?"
The three stared at each other questioningly. "Does anyone of you know what the Instrumentality Project actually is about...?"
The bright light of the full moon fell through the window, but it wasn't the reason Rei woke up.
She could feel it. It was calling her, louder than ever before. The time to fulfill her destiny was close.
She didn't make any sound as she stood up, not bothering to dress herself in more than the shirt she wore, and silently stepped to the door.
Just one more time she wanted to swim, before he would call her. Then, she finally would be free again; free from the pains and worries that haunted her in this world.
Yes, that was the voice she was supposed to listen to. Not the one that frightened her; the one telling her that her whole reason for existence was wrong, that his selfish wishes didn't matter any longer. The one that lately made her question the righteousness in this way for humanity.
If she listened to that voice, she would never be able to –
"Where're you goin'?"
Rei's eyes shot wide open. Her hand didn't even touch the door's handle.
Misato's fingers flew over the keyboard of her laptop, a convenient way to keep them from freezing in the narrow confinement of her hideout in the vast depths of the MAGI's cooling systems. Hacking into the database from these nodes had been much easier than she had thought, but it was hard to tell whether that was because of Kaji's excellent instructions, because NERV didn't expect any potential spy to find this place (or to come this far) or if this place was so unprotected because it had simply been forgotten when the base and the super computers were still under construction.
She hadn't used Kaji's farewell gift to its limits yet. Having two time-travelers at home, she could get many answers directly. But even those two hadn't known everything that was going on deep inside NERV and they were reluctant to let her in on all the crucial tidbits until their possible exposure wouldn't pose a threat anymore.
Apparently, that secrecy had been for naught.
Misato couldn't help but feel guilty for hiding while Shinji and Asuka were arrested. It felt wrong, like she was running away, abandoning them. But she knew she wouldn't be able to help them either if she were to be imprisoned herself. So, until she could be sure that the Commander didn't know about her involvement in the sadly not quite as secret transmission, a tactical retreat had been in order, leaving the Command Center as discretely as possible after the Angel had been taken care off, watching out that no one had tracked her as she entered her hiding place of the last, uncomfortable hours.
A loud sound suddenly pierced the silence, making the Major instinctively jump, which sent the computer on her lap crashing to the floor.
'Did they find...?' Her hand was already on her weapon as she realized that the sound was the ringing of her cell phone. She had reactivated it when it became apparent that NERV would have better things to do than pinpointing her to lock her up. If what she had found out held any truth, they couldn't afford to lose their Director of Operations now – though much less their only two active pilots. Who knew what the Commander was thinking these days... 'Giddy, my ass...'
Pulling the phone out of her jacket, she contemplated her decision once more. The caller ID only indicated that it came from the Command Center. But if they really wanted to find her, they already could have anyway. She pressed the button.
"Katsuragi here... Makoto? ... No, I was... doing some research... Any occurrences?... What? They were? Really? That's great!... Yeah, I'll visit them as soon as possible. Room 303 was it? ... Yes, thanks."
Terminating the connection, Misato let out a sigh of relief. Finally some good news, even if it made her doubt Ikari's decisions more than she had already done. Had he just wanted to scare and intimidate them to show he was still the boss? Not necessarily the best way to motivate your subordinates.
Shaking her head, she speed-dialed another number.
"Rits? It's me. How far are you? ... You are?... He's there? Oh, you read my mind." Glancing at the display of the overturned laptop, she shivered slightly at the sight of the picture of the white creature. "I know I may have had my assumptions, but you really could have told me that Ikari was leading us into a holy war against SEELE."
Shinji had tried to catch some sleep himself while he sat next to Asuka's bed, but the anxiousness about the upcoming day barely let him doze off for more than a few minutes at a time. He had tried to contact Misato as soon as possible to inform her, but no one had seen her for hours. More than ever he cursed himself for not having let her in on the details earlier. If they couldn't warn her in time, they wouldn't be able to make the necessary preparations anymore, just because they had wanted to play it safe.
Asuka woke up after the darkness of the night had long settled in. It wasn't until she was out of the bed and stretching her tired limbs that a familiar purple-haired woman finally came through the door.
"Hey you two, Hyuga said you wanted to talk to me?"
"Misato!" Shinji exclaimed with relief. "Where have you been for so long? I tried to reach you hours ago."
"Sorry. Since the two of you were out of action, I decided to make use of Kaji's farewell present and do some research of my own."
"Never mind! If we don't hurry, then..." he trailed off, feeling the nausea rising inside him as he thought back to the gory details of that day.
"The JSSDF will attack us any time now," Asuka answered for him.
"The JSSDF? Why would they...?" she broke off, quickly figuring it herself. "SEELE..."
"Most likely. I guess they were told that we would initiate Third Impact. Otherwise I can't explain how they... they..." Shinji clenched his eyes shut to suppress the urge to empty his stomach as the memories that he usually tried to bury as deep as possible surfaced again. "It wasn't just an attack, it was a massacre! I hadn't been all there at the time, that helps not to think about it. But I still heard most of it, and that alone was enough to give me nightmares up to this day. The gunfire, the screams. They didn't care if people were armed or not. Sometimes it even smelled of burned flesh."
Misato shuddered visibly. "I found out myself that SEELE wants to use the EVA Series to initiate the Impact themselves. But I only expected them to send those against us. I knew they had some high ranking officers on their pay list, but that their influence goes far enough to manipulate the JSSDF into such a drastic, unquestioned attack..." she sighed, rubbing her temples. "I guess I need some sleep. At least Ikari must have some expectations of his own already, at least that would explain the curfew."
"Curfew?" Shinji wondered, surprised.
"Yeah, didn't he do that last time?"
He shook his head. "As I said, I was pretty much out of it. Shit, and I wanted..." He quickly ceased his mumbling as he noticed that he was about to give himself away, but too late for the two women who looked at him expectantly. "N-never mind..."
Asuka kept her suspicious glare awhile longer than Misato, obviously not happy about a possible change in plans that she didn't know of, but eventually she turned her attention to the Major. "We also need to get Rei under surveillance so she won't get to the giant down there."
Shinji nodded. "She was the center of the actual Third Impact, after she somehow fused with that Lilith."
"Similar to what happened to EVA-00?" Misato figured.
"Well... in a way. She seemed more conscious of what she was doing than with the EVA. And... much more powerful. And she chose me of all people to decide how to handle those powers. Because of the state of my mind at that time... I just wanted to die... and take the world that had brought me so much pain with me."
Misato's eyes widened in shock. "You? You were the reason for...?"
Again he nodded solemnly. "I was still ridden with guilt for having killed Kaworu, I was scared of Rei for what I had recently found out about her, Asuka was in a coma. And I did something to her that made me feel even more miserable, at least at that time."
"It's still gross," Asuka interjected growling, before a slight smirk appeared on her face, "But at least you're waiting till I'm awake now."
Shinji laughed weakly, but it quickly faltered. "Soon after that, the attack began. During that... you... you were shot as you tried to drag me to my EVA. You tried to make it look like it wasn't that bad, but after you were out of sight, I knew..." he raised his hand to his chest,
"I knew that you died. Just because I had been too messed up to go the cages by myself."
By now he had to force himself to look at her, trying not to be overwhelmed by the upcoming pictures of the past. That sad smile when the elevator's doors closed... "As-Asuka had meanwhile woken up from her coma and was fighting, but again I... I just sulked. EVA-01 had been frozen in bakelite and that sight alone had been enough to make me give up. By the time I finally got out there to help her, there... there was nothing left of Unit-02 except a mutilated corpse."
Misato's shocked eyes wandered over to Asuka's distant-looking face at his words. Shinji could tell that it must feel sickening to hear about her own death, but at least, unlike the redhead, she couldn't remember it.
"You see, I was not in a very objective state of mind to judge mankind's fate at that time," he continued. "But I finally realized my mistake. I realized that in a world without pain, no other emotions were able to exist either. If I ever wanted to feel real happiness, I had to return to reality, even if that also meant to endure pain, sadness and loneliness again, just as long as they would be real. So I ended it and with that gave everyone else the chance to return as well. But for some reason, as you already know, only Asuka chose to.
"As you can see," he took a breath, "aside from SEELE, we also need to stop Rei from fusing with Lilith. We have no idea if she would this time grant my father's wishes or do something on her own. Even if she would choose me again, we can't be sure that everything will be fine if I ask her to stop everything and return to normal."
The Major nodded, but her face looked anything but reassured. "There's just one problem: We don't know where Rei is. We already tried to get her here when the curfew was imposed, but she wasn't home anymore and left her phone behind."
Shinji's shocked expression met Asuka's. Was it too late already?
"Why don't we just destroy Lilith then?" Asuka proposed aggressively. "We have to get rid of that thing eventually anyway and during the attack..."
"We'll need anything we have," the tactician finished for her, dismissing the idea with a shake of her head. "And if it is as important to the Commander as I think it is, I doubt the JSSDF would create enough of the diversion we'd need to get the necessary means to destroy it past him without him noticing."
The redhead shrugged. "Alright, alright! But let's get going!" Asuka urged them on and headed for the door. "If we can't do anything about it now, we'll have to handle it when we can. I don't want to still be sitting here when our 'guests' arrive."
"Don't you want to change beforehand?" Misato asked her, pointing at the hospital gown she was still wearing.
"Not much point in it. I'll change right into my plugsuit in the locker room."
'"Do you really think she would come back to you because of that?"'
Why wouldn't the boy's words leave his mind? Was it the punishment for wasting precious time and effort?
What had he been thinking? He didn't have time for such foolishness. The old men would make their move soon, and he had to make his before. The chances that neither of them would succeed were almost nonexistent. He couldn't afford to lose his head start by interrogating rebellious, lying teenagers. Whether they made that story up for their enjoyment, directly to spite him or if it was true madness on their part; soon enough, it wouldn't matter anymore. However, the longer they'll hold off SEELE, the better for him.
It was as though even the implant in his palm knew that the promised day had arrived.
Ironically, so did Keel. "The promised time has come!" his voice boomed, undistorted, but still hiding behind his monolithic hologram. "With the Lance of Longinus lost, complementation using Lilith is impossible. Our only hope is to proceed with Lilith's only true offspring, EVA-01."
Gendo had expected this move, but tensed at the words anyway, even though he was professional enough not to let it show. Sacrificing her for the old men's sake was definitely not acceptable. "This differs from SEELE's original scenario."
"Humans have reached their pinnacle to create the Evangelion," Fuyutsuki protested in his own way. It had almost been a surprise to find the professor to his side. As of late, he had seemingly become more distant.
"Humans must evolve into a new world. That is what the EVA series was created for," Gendo reminded everyone, still maintaining his act of being only true to the plans made long ago.
"We have no intention of giving up our human form to use the EVA as our Ark," one of them naturally showed his true face behind his holographic mask and others agreed.
"It's merely a part of the process to rebirth those who are imprisoned."
"The fate of destruction is also the joy of rebirth."
"A sacrament of death to unite God, humans and all other life forms."
Hypocrites. That was all they were. Talking about bringing the greater good for all mankind. But that was not how humans were.
Gendo had enough of them. "Death creates nothing." he spoke defiantly.
"Then we will bring you death!" Keel's voice announced before the monoliths faded into thin air.
'"It will bring you nothing but death."' He frowned as his son's words echoed in the back of his mind. 'Not if I can forestall it.'
Shinji took a deep breath, fidgeting with the object in his pocket as he stood in front of the door. He wasn't as nervous as most other men in his situation, at least not for the same reasons. He wasn't afraid of rejection. But he knew what she could be like when someone made her worry – and he had little doubt that he had. She would love it; that much he was sure of. But it didn't save him from the slap he had already expected when he eventually entered the locker room.
"'I'll be right after you', my ass! You were gone for three hours!"
"Sorry, I just had to get out to..."
"OUT? Where the hell have you been?!" Asuka yelled at him. As she had announced, she was already clad in her plugsuit, ready to sortie any time. "How did you get out with the curfew on anyway?"
"Just like we got in during the blackout. We should tell Misato to guard the ventilation shafts better."
"You idiot! What if they had? You could have been shot before anyone noticed it was you crawling around!"
"Yeah, I know. The guards at the entrance were quite fidgety despite knowing me when I got back," Shinji shrugged. "But I needed to get something from home before the fight."
"What were you thinking?!" Asuka continued unfazed. "You know they could be here any time now! What if they had caught you? You were risking you're life for some stupid thing? You... you could be..."
"Relax," Shinji cut her off, placing his hands on her shoulders. "My mind might not have been working its best at that time to remember every detail, but I'm quite sure it wasn't at night when they attacked."
"That doesn't mean they're not around already! They could have..." Again she was interrupted, this time by his finger on her lips.
"Even if they could have, they didn't," Shinji attempted to calm her, though trying to suppress the involuntary shiver that ran down his spine, as he really hadn't thought of that possibility. But now wasn't the time for guilt. Carefully, he nudged her towards the bench running between the lockers. "Wh-why don't you sit down?"
She complied, though looking rather puzzled at the request, even more so when he knelt down in front of her, reaching into the left pocket of his trousers.
"As for the 'stupid thing'... well it might be, but..." He smiled, hearing her surprised gasp as he produced the velvet box. "I wanted to do this before we go out there."
"But... Shinji, we already..."
"I know we are, at least in mind. And... and it was the best time in my life. But after all that happened, it felt right to me if we would renew that bond, also to the law and our friends." Looking up, he saw her biting her quivering lower lip as he opened the box to reveal the golden ring. "Asuka? Do you want to marry me again?"
"Baka!" she cursed quietly, averting her eyes from him. That was not quite the reaction he had hoped for. "Don't you know that something like this brings bad luck before a fight? You know... like saying that it'll be your last job before retiring."
"Asuka...?" he asked bewilderedly, hardly able to believe that she was about to refuse because of such a superstition.
He wasn't disappointed as she turned back to him with watery eyes and a wide smile. "You can be glad that I don't believe in luck," she announced eagerly before leaning down, cupping his face in her hands to give him a tender kiss, first on his lips then another one on his nose and finally his forehead.. "Of course I do, Baka," she whispered with a voice quivering with joy.
Pressing the button at the wristband of her plugsuit, she loosened the tight outfit around her upper body, pulling it down enough to peel her arm out. She let him hold her hand while he removed the ring from the box with his free one. Their eyes remained locked at each other as he slipped it on her finger.
As her gaze eventually wandered to the golden band with the small red stone embedded in it, Shinji could see in her eyes that she finally noticed.
"Shinji... is that...?"
He nodded. "It sure did cost me more than last time, but in return it's whole and your size." Smiling at her bafflement he stood up, kissing her forehead while her gaze was still fixed on her hand. "Well, I better go now and get ready myself."
He turned to leave, but only managed a few steps.
Stopped by her quiet call, he looked back to hear what she had on her mind. She let him wait though. Her eyes downcast, she was apparently contemplating whether or not she really wanted to say what was on her mind.
"Would... would you stay here for the night... with me?" She didn't leave much doubt to the deeper meaning of her request, exposing her chest a little more than it already was.
Shinji swallowed hard as he slowly walked back to her. Technically, it was hardly their first time, but it had been so long that it almost felt like it.
"Are you sure?" he asked as he sat down next to her, pulling her into a light embrace. "Don't we need to be in shape for tomorrow?"
"Baka," she whispered, smiling, her arms loosely going around his neck. "I'm not asking for a wild night of passionate sex. We don't even have to go all the way until the literal climax. I... I just want to make love for a while, okay?"
"Okay," he answered with a kiss. "Though a bench in a changing room wasn't quite what I had in mind for our 'new first time'. Aren't you afraid of those 'old perverts' with their security cameras?"
She joined into his chuckling. "Let them watch. They'll probably die from an enormous nosebleed anyway if they do."
Their lips met again, the kiss quickly growing in passion as their hands roamed each other's body in their tight embrace; his shirt falling to the floor while her suit was slipped down inch by inch.
"Just remember," Asuka breathed between her panting, breaking the kiss shortly. "At least... at least in body, I'm..."
"Yeah, I know," Shinji reassured her. "I'll be careful this time."
No more words were spoken for the next hours between the lovers as they became one for the first time – once again.
It hadn't been the best time to take a break, but Fuyutsuki wasn't the youngest anymore and the seemingly endless waiting for SEELE's first strike had taken its toll on him. But of course, the kettle boils just when you're not watching.
He hurried back to the Command Center as fast as he could when the alarms sounded. If his informant had been right they would use a subtle approach at first, trying to hack the MAGI and without a doubt wanting to use them to gain control of the facility. Though somehow he doubted that it would happen completely without bloodshed even in that case. And the result would be even worse.
If they'd somehow managed to hold up against this initial attack, it wouldn't take long until SEELE would attempt to take the headquarters with all the force they could come up with. Either way, it wasn't looking good for NERV. One way or another, this day would surely be the one to end it all.
As he hurried through the corridors, he noticed many agitated personnel, but he was surprised to see one figure, clad in its black uniform, nearing him.
"Ikari, the alarms." he reminded the younger man. "Aren't you coming?"
"No," Gendo spoke clearly as he walked past him. "Fuyutsuki... Take care of the stones the old men are going to throw at us."
"Already?" the elder asked spitefully enough to startle the Commander. Though Ikari didn't show it except to halt and stare back at him.
"I will forestall them. And I will not take any chances," he merely announced before resuming his way.
Kozo knew he should stop him. This scenario of his, it went against their old plans, against her wish. No one, probably not even Ikari himself, could tell if its outcome would be any better than the one that SEELE desired.
He knew he should stop him. But... he could understand him, too. Because he as well, missed her.
"Ikari," he gravely called after his superior. "Greet Yui from me."
Misato hated this. All she could do was stare at the diagrams and listen to all the technical details that she could hardly grasp. She preferred to have the enemy in sight. It reminded her all too much of the 11th Angel, only worse. This time it were their own MAGI systems from around the world trying to hack into their original.
And if that hadn't been bad enough, every communication going outside was blocked, even satellite connections were jammed. So even if they wanted to, they couldn't even surrender, let alone explain themselves and call for help.
Ritsuko had assured her that their plan was not threatened by this, but all Misato could do was to hope the doctor was right. After all, her friend had already explained that they couldn't use this remaining means of communication to send a message, as it was bound to that one terminal and no human would be there to receive it.
Glancing down to the lower levels of the Command Center, she saw the raised housing of MAGI-Caspar where Ritsuko was busy working on something for those now hostile computers to chew on for a good while.
Long enough for the JSSDF to open the gates of hell for NERV.
Even if she hadn't heard about it already, she'd have come to this conclusion easily. Not handing anything over after the A-801 order demanded was equal to open rebellion after all and would be met with severe punishment – especially given their potential threat. But just letting SEELE have their way was out of the question.
"Hacking against MAGI has been stopped," Maya announced, accompanying the change of display, which now showed overlapping meshes of hexagons indicating the successful activation of a 666-type firewall "A Danang Type-B defense screen has been deployed. External access is impossible for the next 62 hours."
"Is it over then?" Misato heard one of the operators ask naively.
"No. They won't give up this easily," she muttered sadly. "It's just about to begin..."
Closing her eyes, she tried to clear her head for the upcoming task. This wouldn't be a fight against an unknown enemy. It wouldn't be against huge monsters with tremendous powers. This would be against other humans. An enemy who will easily outnumber them. An enemy who knew their strengths and more importantly, their weaknesses. An enemy they were never prepared to face. This would be their hardest fight yet.
'With the Angels gone, it might be all over after this. Maybe I can finally put you to rest then...' Her view went down to where her hand was clutching the cross around her neck. 'Father...'
Down below, within the depths of MAGI-Casper, Ritsuko granted herself a small, victorious sigh as she put the keyboard aside. Now that this was done, she had to get back as fast as possible. Without doubt, SEELE would bring the heavy artillery soon and if she wanted to avoid running through embattled areas, she'd better hurry.
'That'll probably be my last affront against him. I know he would have deserved worse, but I'm sure it will hurt him more than death. Don't you agree...' her hand caressed the steel that housed Casper's cybernetic "brain", 'Mother...?'
Toshiki Asakura had always prided himself as being a "hardliner". The time of chaos after the Second Impact hadn't allowed any weaknesses. The nation had been in need of strong men like him to guide it, to rebuild it to its former glory. And his course had eventually granted him the position of Prime Minister.
But learning of NERV's treason, a para-military organization fitted with the most powerful weapons on earth was certainly... unsettling, even to him. To think he once had been proud to have their main base on Japanese soil. But then again, he had never really trusted that Ikari.
He hadn't realized how much the tension was affecting him until he flinched when the door to his vast office suddenly flew open. He wanted to bark an angry reminder to knock, but then he recognized the person entering in such rude manner, followed by his visibly stressed secretary.
"Sir, I'm terribly sorry, but he didn't..." she babbled, but was cut off by the unshaven newcomer.
"Excuse my sudden entrance, Sir, but this is very urgent. If you want to, I'll repeat my security clearance, but it already took too long the first 34 times to get here."
Toshiki nodded thoughtfully. "Please excuse us, Ms. Yamashita," he told his secretary who followed his order to leave after a formal bow.
"I remember you, Mr. Kaji," he addressed the newcomer as soon as the thick doors shut. "You are one of the agents working for the Intelligence Office. Appointed to infiltrate NERV to keep an eye on their intentions, if I'm not mistaken."
"Yes, but I'm afraid there is not much time for formalities. Prime Minister Asakura, I have received several data in the last few months that is indicating that there is at least one high-ranking traitor in the military. General Kato is apparently influenced by a powerful secret organization named SEELE. And as I've heard, he recently took command over an unsettling operation against NERV."
"Hmm, if what you say is true, then it might be unsettling indeed. But back to your personal data, it came to my notice that you were... dead," he spoke calmly as he drew his hidden gun from under the table and aimed it at the spy without any hesitation, "and I really hate to have all that paperwork going to waste."
However, the pony-tailed man didn't seem to be fazed by this turn of events at all. In fact, he was grinning. "Did you think I wouldn't know of the highest-ranking traitor against the Japanese nation as well?"
"That might be a matter of the point of view." Toshiki smirked. "But either way you must be very courageous or just a fool to confront me with this so directly."
"Cancel the attack on NERV," Kaji demanded calmly.
Not believing his ears, Toshiki waved the gun. "I think you're not quite aware of the situation you're in. If you think I would hesitate because of my reputation you're making a fatal mistake. My staff here is very discrete. It wouldn't be the first time this office had to be cleaned up."
"I think you are not quite aware of your situation," Kaji said, chuckling softly. "I've naturally taken some precautions to make it out of here in very good health. If I don't check back, a lot of unpleasant documents will be released to the public. About Second Impact, SEELE, their intentions and of course their little pawns like you."
Toshiki frowned. This guy couldn't seriously come here with such a weak story and expect him to just accept it, could he? "There is no national or international police, news agency or government that would make use of anything you might have ready to be sent to them. SEELE will intercept it before it will be made public."
"SEELE might be in control of all or at least a lot of important positions to reroute the truth from the people. So of course I took action to take it directly to them." His smirk widened. "The Internet is a fabulous thing, wouldn't you agree?"
"The Internet?" the Prime Minister suddenly burst out laughing. "The Internet is a farce! Conspiracy theories are popping up there all the time. Their followers however are too small to be a threat. No one will take it seriously."
"Oh, I think that depends on the scale. In two hours, a worm that is already implanted in the servers of every major news publication will activate, replacing the regular content with my 'special report'. And even if you could take the servers down in time, which would get a lot of attention and suspicions on its own, it will only stale things a bit. As worms usually do, it will spread over the entire net, always reminding the people of your schemes."
"So-called proofs can easily be denounced," Toshiki spat, a bit too angrily, as he noticed himself. He couldn't show any weakness in front of this much too smugly grinning bastard.
"Oh, I can't wait to hear the story you're going to throw at the masses to cover this up. A meteor probably won't do this time, I guess. But no matter what it is, the people will remember this event and there will always be loud voices questioning your honesty."
Noticing that his hand holding the gun was shaking too much, he put it reluctantly on the desk. He hated to admit it, but for now he was in this guy's hands. He would have to make sure that he'd get his revenge later on. "W-what do you want?"
"Cancel the attack on NERV," Kaji spoke, now serious.
Toshiki couldn't believe his ears. "You... you fool! Do you honestly want NERV to initiate the Third Impact?!"
The spy's features hardened. "You are the fool if you honestly believe that SEELE wants to prevent it! Just because they funded your career doesn't mean they're always right!"
"They... they wouldn't!" Toshiki paled. They wouldn't. They were the good ones. Taking some drastic and unpopular measures that forced them to act in secret, but always working for the right goals. Why would they have helped him reach his position if not for Japan's greater good...?
He slumped back in his chair as he made the uncomfortable connections. "It's too late," he merely muttered. "It has already begun. And they have strict orders not to communicate with us once the signal is given."
"So whatever happens there won't be tracked back to you and can be dismissed as the gruesome solo act of a few traitorous soldiers if it doesn't quite go as planned," Kaji spat scornfully. "Then get the remaining troops to Tokyo-3 as fast as possible! If we can't tell them by radio, we have to tell them face to face – or gun to gun if we must!"
Arms crossed in front of her, Misato's fingers of her right hand tapped nervously against her left elbow. "How's the evacuation of non-combat personnel coming along?"
"About half of them have reached the inner shelters."
Not fast enough. "Not fast enough," she repeated out loud. "We could be attacked any..."
The first explosions cut her off just that moment.
"Radar sites 8 to 17 have gone dead!" someone yelled, as one monitor after another showed nothing but noise.
"JSSDF tech battalion breaching through Gora defense perimeter!"
"Two battalions approaching from Gotemba!"
Misato's fists clenched as more and more reports of casualties and lost ground came in, her mind racing to analyze the situation. If only Shinji had been able to remember anything of tactical importance. The enemy forces were already invading, but why would they...?
'Wait! They're surely moving to take out their biggest threat first, but they have nothing against the EVAs. But they could take out the EVA's weak point...'
"The forces attacking the west side are a decoy!" she yelled out her realization. "If their real target are the EVAs, they'll be going after the pilots! Where are Shinji and Asuka?"
"They're already at the cages and signaling that they're ready to move out," Makoto told her.
"Good. At least one piece of news that isn't devastating," Misato sighed with relief. "Deploy the Evangelions directly to the surface as soon as they're ready. What about Rei?"
"Whereabouts unknown," Shigeru reported. "We're still unable to confirm her location."
Misato gritted her teeth. That she couldn't be found either meant that she was with the Commander and about to initiate Third Impact or that she was already dead. And a sickening part of her almost wished for the latter. But that the Commander wasn't here, now of all times, lessened the chances of that by a great deal.
However, she had other things to worry about now. The invading forces were still seeping into the halls of the headquarters so much faster than she had anticipated, breaching through any kind of blockade NERV could come up with as if it wasn't even there.
Shinji had told her that they'd kill everyone in their way, but maybe she had underestimated their brutal efficiency. She had been thinking of upping the manpower to intercept the expected attack force, though now it was obvious that she'd just have sent them to certain death.
No, this wasn't a fight they could win face to face.
She had to think! What would she have done before? What could she do to make it even more effective? She heaved a frustrated sigh before she braced herself and opened the comm. "Everyone retreat into the central complex! Block your path behind you as much as you can, but don't try to hold them off by yourself. If you can't make it in the next minute..." Her voice dropped. These were the decisions she always hated about being in command; decisions that reduced a human life to a mere number in a cruel cost-benefits analysis. "Hide and pray they won't find you."
There was much doubt that anyone would be able to survive if it came to that. Those who, just like the invading forces, were still in the outer levels hardly had a chance to make it in time. But they didn't have much choice.
"In 50 seconds, fill Levels 2 to 4 entirely with bakelite," Misato ordered calmly. "Open every gate, every door to flood every passage and every room. We should get quite a number with that, and at the very least hold them off for a while. If we're lucky it'll be long enough."
"Long enough... for what?"
Misato wished she had an answer for that question.
The tanks instantly turned their cannon barrels at the two giants, wasting their munitions against the impenetrable AT-Fields. VTOLs roared around the titans' heads like huge, annoying bugs; the pilots apparently taken by surprise by the obstacles that had suddenly been catapulted into their flight-path, as one evaded too late, crashing against EVA-01's orange defense shield.
Shinji's comm-window appeared on her left, showing his downcast face. "Asuka..."
"It's all right," the redhead said gently, knowing all too well that he wouldn't kill humans unless there was really no other way. It wasn't like the thought of taking lives was a pleasant one to her either, but she could more easy convince her conscience that it was a necessary act of self-defense than he could. "I'll handle them. These guys aren't the real problem after all. Just take care of my cable, okay?"
He smiled weakly as he nodded. "Of course."
Asuka smirked back at him, before closing her eyes; taking a deep breath. Then she charged.
General Kato didn't like at all what he saw through his binoculars, a few miles away from the battle zone; though given the size of their enemies, they could have just as well have been standing right next to them. The red monster took out their VTOLs like swatting flies, smashing their tanks like squashing bugs under the giant heels and worst of all, not taking any visible damage itself as even heavy bombardments with multiple warheads were stopped short by that damned forcefield before they could even get near.
There had been a single moment of hope as one missile found its target, impacting directly against the beast's ugly head, but that hadn't even scratched the surface. Either that shield could constantly change its perimeter or the armor was thicker than they had been told. To see the puny progress they had made so far in their advancement; such an amount of power, money and not to mention human lives wasted against that apparently impenetrable red wall was devastating.
But he wouldn't be worthy of his rank if such a setback would already be enough for him to lose all hope of victory. It would have been preferable to "secure" the Evangelions and their pilots before they could enter the fight, but it wasn't like they hadn't been prepared at all for this situation.
"The cable!" he barked the command over to his comm-officer. "Concentrate all fire on that power cable!"
"It's no use, Sir! Purple's guarding it!"
"WHAT?!" Instantly, he spun around to focus his view on the second behemoth that hadn't seemed to have engaged in combat yet, and indeed, it kept close to the red one's cable, impressively ducking and jumping to evade it without letting Red's pilot having to worry about her partner accidentally restricting her movements. Whenever one of his forces started to fire at the power supply, those orange hexagons would appear, obviously being emitted by the purple unit.
And Purple itself had no cable as a weak point.
Kato grunted in frustration. "I guess that's it for us then..."
One of his officers looked at him, waiting for clarification. "Retreat, Sir?"
The General closed his eyes in thought. He still had a N2 mine at his disposal, but that was valuable and he had seen Angels withstanding even more than one of them. Who could guarantee him that it would be enough to dispose of two of the beasts that had proved to surpass the others? And he had planned to breach the Geofront with it.
"Yes," he finally confirmed grimacing. No matter how futile a fight was, it was always a stab at his honor to give it up, even if only for tactical reasons. "Give the signal and ask for the big boys. Let the monsters kill each other."
"I'm picking up eight, no, nine transport aircrafts!" Aoba reported. "Releasing... releasing EVAs?"
"The EVA series," Misato muttered, not nearly as surprised, though she was anything but gladdened by the news. "Took them longer than expected."
"N-nine?" Maya gasped. "Against two?"
"Well, I'll see about the odds," Misato mumbled to herself, working on her cell phone. It had to ring only once. "Ritsuko? Are you ready down there?"
"Already on the way," came the blonde's short reply through the speaker.
The Major grinned. "Good girl," she praised, before ending the short call and putting the phone away again.
Hyuga, like most of the others, hadn't even noticed the exchange. "Seriously, nine to two. They're overdoing... WAIT! There's yet another signal, quickly coming closer!"
"Don't worry about that one," Misato now announced loudly. "That's one of ours!"
"Are you ready?"
"As ready as I could be," she answered warily smiling, not taking her eyes off the small white spots that could just as well have been birds from this distance. "Which isn't much."
Watching them so high above, she wondered if they shouldn't have asked for a long range weapon and try to snipe one or two of them as long as they were in the air. But she knew better than anyone that they'd take more than one shot to go down, no matter how precise.
Her heart beat wildly, but it was hard to tell whether it was from the strain of the previous fight or the thought of the upcoming one. Most likely both. Taking a deep breath, she flexed her hands to ease the tingling feeling in them that was transmitted from her EVA's. Most likely a result from being hastily reattached after being cut off by the last Angel. Better than fighting with nothing but stubs, though hardly calming when the possibly hardest fight of her life was ahead of her.
Back to back, the two Units waited for the white beasts to end their descent as they were circled by them. Shortly before the nine EVAs landed crashing on the ground, Shinji and Asuka both stormed forward, towards the ones closest to them, tackling their foes before they could steady themselves, let alone be ready to fight.
At least that was the plan.
Not even a second after she had wrestled her target down, she felt its feet kicking into her own EVA's back, toppling her instantly over. She used the momentum to roll away before she would be an immobile target for the others, turning back while rising up again.
The Unit she had sent to the ground was already up on its feet as well, being awfully close already so that she barely had time to evade the blow of the sword that it still wielded. Much to Asuka's surprise, the retaliating kick was just as elegantly dodged by the grinning MP-EVA, as well as the following attempt to grip its arm to haul it over, letting her run past it.
Noticing from the corner of her eye that two other Units were closing in on her and another one nearing her cable, she decided she'd better retreat. Shinji must have had experienced similar problems because they met where they started, back to back, facing the leering monstrosities.
"Something isn't right here! They shouldn't be so strong!" Asuka shouted as she drew her prog knife from the shoulder holster, a move that was copied by Shinji.
"But I thought they've... well..." his voice became so quiet that it was barely audible between his breaths, "beaten you..."
She quickly shook that thought off. "But only because they regenerated. And because of the..." A gasp stuck in her throat as she noticed with a flicker of her eyes that the two that had fought with Unit-01 had already transformed their swords, "Lances... They weren't nearly as good fighters then. Unless..."
Her sudden realization produced an icy feeling deep in her guts. It wasn't just death they had brought her, it had been a total destruction. And for that she felt a cold rage rising in her, even far beyond the hate she had felt then. "They just toyed with me..."
"My energy was running out sooner or later without the cable," she continued in a low voice. "They knew I couldn't beat them. So they just waited; having a little fun with me while they did. They just wanted to fuel my pride so they could shatter it again. They played with me like a cat with a mouse before breaking its neck."
"Asuka..." Shinji gaped unbelievingly. "A-are you sure they can even be malicious? They would have risked..."
"I don't care why they did it!" she silenced him with a yell full of anger. "But I'm going to make them pay!"
She stormed forward with that, not heeding Shinji's calls to wait, to stay calm and think it through, make a plan. But even though these white beasts before her were already ganging up to welcome her, even though they had taken her by surprise for the second time already, she wouldn't back down. She would destroy them, rip them apart until she made sure they'd never stand up again.
But then she came to a screeching stop. A huge shadow leaped seemingly out of nowhere onto the battlefield, crashing down on one of the surprised MP-EVAs, jumping back off, before the others could react.
"W-what is that?" Asuka wondered gasping.
Shinji however easily recognized the bulky gray and red form, but his surprise wasn't any less. "The Jet Alone?"
"Hey there!" A self-assured voice came through the comm. "I've heard you could use some help!"
"Toji?" Shinji asked, perplexed at hearing his friend.
"Yep, it's me."
Asuka found it even harder to believe. "You are piloting that thing?"
"...and no. I think 'controlling' is the better word," Toji said from his seat, down in one of the chambers deep within the headquarters, as he glanced over to Ritsuko. "But I guess the doc can explain it better."
The blonde grimaced at the nickname, but decided that it was not the time for arguments. "As you might remember Shinji, the JA was supposed to work unmanned, receiving its commands from several controllers via radio signals. I just replaced that simplistic setup with a more effective intuitive control that is more similar to the EVA's."
Indeed, Toji's pilot seat was an old model from entry-plug prototypes; he even donned an interface headset. But that, just as the controls, sported wires to a nearby MAGI terminal to let the super computers handle the conversion of the signals sent to the robot.
"But..." Shinji began, noticeably nervous because, as the displays showed, the enemy EVAs were closing in again after the moment of surprise faded. "How did you get it? Wasn't it confiscated by the government after the incident? If at all, I would have expected it to be on the other site."
"You had your secrets, I had mine," Misato chimed in over the open channel, allowing herself a little moment of triumph within this chaos. "But let's say we have a common friend who presented us this little gift."
"We did our first test-run when the ban of access was declared," Ritsuko explained. "Perfect timing as otherwise, we'd never have gotten Toji here in time."
"He never handled it before?" Asuka's shrill voice protested over the comm, instinctively dodging a blow from behind.
"Oh don't worry, Soryu!" Toji barked teasingly back. "I've done some simulations already. And I think I hold up well enough!"
"Whatever," Asuka acknowledged grinning after throwing her attacker over her shoulder. "Just don't get in our way!"
"Me in yours?" the boy laughed in reply, jerking at the controls to let the long arms spin around the robot, hitting two Units at once. "I bet I get more down than you!"
Ritsuko cleared her throat to remind the teenagers of the seriousness of the situation. After all, this was a fight that might decide the life and demise of the entire human race, not a friendly competition. "Remember, the Jet Alone has neither an AT-Field nor can it erode one, so you will have to take care of that," she addressed the EVA pilots. "But on the other hand, it also nullifies the advantage of the lances."
"Also keep in mind that it runs on atomic energy," Misato took over again, grimacing slightly at the memory, when she had tried in vain to stop the colossus. "A nuclear explosion isn't as bad as a Third Impact, but I'd still prefer to avoid it if possible."
"Understood," Shinji complied.
"Then let's show them that numbers don't matter much to us!" Toji announced.
"Don't have to tell me," Asuka chimed in. "I've seen the results of your last test in Math."
Ritsuko shook her head. Kids...
"Shinjo Squad here!" Akita answered into the radio. "Level 2 finally secured, over!"
"What took you so long?" blared the arrogant voice in return.
The soldier was even more pissed off at that. "That bakelite was everywhere! We couldn't find a way around it, so we had to cut through!" He took a breath, deciding whether or not to voice his anger at a superior officer. "And that would have been much faster if we'd had our promised reinforcements!"
"We couldn't get them past Purple and Red."
Akita sighed. "Might not matter anyway. We haven't encountered much resistance since they blocked the first levels!"
"That shouldn't be too surprising; most of them lack a military training. They probably threw all they had at us first before they went hiding."
"No sir, I meant we haven't encountered many people at all." He paused, looking around for the rest of his squad. "Do you think it's a trap?"
Gendo Ikari was not a man to smile openly in mere anticipation, but he certainly felt elated as he walked through the dark halls of the Terminal Dogma, the quickening beat of his heart undeniable as he neared his goal. It was so close now, the years of work finally coming to fruition. Once he had picked up Rei, it was only a matter of minutes that he'd finally see her again.
The last door slipped open.
"I knew I would find..." he trailed off as he realized his mistake. The chamber was empty, only the remains of the clones were floating in the still illuminated LCL-tank.
He had been sure that she would come here, to the place of her birth one more time. Maybe he was too early and she was still preparing herself to leave her form, neutralizing her own AT-Field. But wouldn't he have noticed her on his way here then?
He turned around, speeding up his steps as he started to search the secured area. The pounding of his heart was still there, but it was no longer caused by elation. Uncertainty and dread were now fueling him.
She had to be here! It was her purpose, her destiny! Every fiber of her being would be drawing her here by now. That she couldn't been found by NERV's intelligence had to mean that she was down in the Terminal Dogma! She had to be here somewhere!
But wherever he searched, the basins, her birthing room, the graveyard, the old labs; she was nowhere to be found.
A thought too horrible to be true was haunting him all the while: 'Had the boy been right?'
What if SEELE had gotten their hands on her long before they started their attack? Even if there had been spares left, he wouldn't have any time to resurrect her. But even though his Intelligence had orders not to bother him with trivial matters, he surely would know if something had happened to her – or to the agents watching for her safety. On the other hand, they had proven to lose sight of the pilots before. Could he have more traitors in his ranks than he knew?
Whatever it was that had hindered Rei to come to him, there was nothing he could do anymore to get her here. And without her, everything was slipping from his grasp, all he had worked for, so close that he almost could have touched it already.
It just couldn't be...
He was panting from his search as he already reached the giant hall that had been supposed to be the place of rebirth for the second time. But as before, there was no one but him and the white crucified being hanging limply on its cross in the lake of LCL.
No sign of Rei...
He dropped to his knees, physically tired, but much more so emotionally drained. So close...
As he looked up at the giant's face, the seven eyes on its mask stared back at him. They seemed to burn into his soul, mocking him for his foolishness. Lilith might have been imprisoned, helpless to their probing, to their tests, to their experiments to gain her power. But now it was like she laughed at him for thinking he could achieve it. Never before had he realized how futile it had been, how inferior he was, even with all of mankind's science behind him, against this god.
There was an itch in his right palm, a desire stirring inside him to go through with it on his own, to initiate the connection without the intermediary, but Gendo knew better than to listen to Adam's lures. He would stand no chance of controlling it.
In that moment he knew that all he had hoped and worked for, all that had kept him going for these many years, all he had sacrificed his humanity for, had been for nothing.
Because the one that always had been the most reliable piece in his game had betrayed his hopes.
He had lost after all. Their defenses would be overrun eventually. Nothing could stop the JSSDF from entering the most sacred realms of the headquarters forever.
But as his hand got hold of the cold steel in his pocket, he realized that there might be one other way left to see Yui again.
And while hundreds of meters above him the guns and weapons of the soldiers blared in the corridors and halls, a single shot echoed in the Terminal Dogma.
With the surprise of the unexpected enemy long worn off, the nine Mass Produced Evangelions showed no hesitation, let alone respect for NERV's warriors. Unlike in Asuka's first battle with these creatures, they didn't wait to attack one after another. They advanced in groups, but not simply three on one – once one of the three enemies was attacked they passed on to the next, unimportant whether they landed a blow or were successfully fended off, maybe even got kicked or scratched themselves by a prog knife.
This way, they forced the pilots to defend themselves against a seemingly endless swarm without any chance to focus on one to do any serious harm. Some even sped things up by extending their wings again and flailing their giant blades at their grounded opponents from above. Unnecessary to mention, particularly the redheaded pilot was far from pleased by this situation.
"GodDAMNIT!" she cursed in frustration as she barely avoided being beheaded while her own weapon hit nothing but air yet again. "Maybe you two should leave me alone, I was better off against them on my own!"
"Asuka!" Shinji managed to protest, despite his own troubles with the white beasts. "Don't say such things!"
"She might have a point though," Misato mused over the comm. "If you'd split up some more, they'd have to break their pattern. Just don't move too far away from each other in case one needs back-up if they plan to concentrate all on one."
"Easier said than done!" Asuka shot back.
"Why aren't they using those lances?" Toji wondered. While he wasn't in an immediate danger like Shinji and Asuka, he was straining just as much to keep his giant avatar undamaged. It wasn't just the immersion, which wasn't nearly as deep as with his short experience with Unit-03. But he was there to help, not just to watch his robot being ripped apart without taking at least one of these bastards down for his friends.
"They probably don't want to risk hitting each- SHIT!" Asuka's conclusion was drowned by the alerts as her timer started. Behind her, unnoticed until then in the overall chaos, stood one of the grinning beasts, its blade still between the two parts of the just-cut umbilical cable. "Fine! That's it!"
Fueled by rage, Asuka didn't try to block the next blow. Instead, she stormed at the EVA with a fierce war cry, head-butting it before it could strike. The impact of the red Evangelion smashing against its chest caused the surprised Unit to lose its weapon that Asuka instantly dived for while her opponent was distracted.
"Asuka, calm down," Shinji pleaded as she started to flail the blade wildly around, scaring the attackers into keeping a farther distance from her. "Think of your energy! You should just..."
"I should just what?" she barked back. "Get to safety and let you handle them? Don't be ridiculous! I have another four and a half minutes to take them down!"
"Asuka..." Shinji tried once more, but gave up. "Just promise me that you'll use the last twenty seconds to get out of here!"
Watching the exchange, Toji almost missed the MP-Unit that ignored the new threat in EVA-02, gliding down towards the JA. Almost.
He ducked to the side to avoid the hit; at the same time shooting his arm out. The Unit was roughly stopped as the metallic hand grabbed one of its wings. Toji used the JA's momentum to hurl the EVA around, intending to send it flying against a nearby mountain wall. However, a loud ripping sound announced the failure of his plan, though not negatively so. One wing less, the Unit crashed to the ground, the white body overturning several times, its mass digging into the earth until it crashed against a small formation of rocks where it fell silent.
"Wohoo!" Toji congratulated himself. "That's the first one down!"
"Not down enough!" Asuka's yell came only a fraction of a second before she jumped with her EVA past the JA at the apparently silent Unit, ramming the sharp tip of the blade deep into the red core. Sparks flew as she drove it deeper and deeper, more and more cracks appearing on the smooth surface. The not-so-dead EVA suddenly jerked up with a loud screech, its arms reaching out to its attacker – and fell limp for good as the core shattered in a thousand pieces.
A maniacal, yet ever so satisfied grin spread over the panting girl's face as she turned around. "Erster..."
Not a moment after, an outcry was heard in the meeting room of the SEELE council. "They have destroyed EVA-09! How could that happen?"
"The Series was supposed to be unstoppable! Even the cores should not cease functioning until reaching 63 percent damage!"
"Everything is lost! How shall we commence the ceremony now?"
"There is no reason to panic! We still have a replacement on the battlefield."
"A replacement that is not on our side and lacks the necessary power!"
"It doesn't matter. As long as we're victorious, we can secure Lilith and Adam from Ikari. We'll build a new Evangelion to take the place of the fallen one. The ceremony will merely be postponed."
"Build a new one? That is easy for you to say! But what if more fall? My country has used up all its resources to build the ones we have now! And I know for a fact that we're not the only ones!"
"I agree. However, resurrecting the space project would be cheaper. We could retrieve the original Lance!"
"The Lance will only do us good if we're indeed victorious! We have made a mistake to put all our hopes into this attack! We were too reckless and underestimated those children!"
"How could we lose? We merely lost ONE Unit! We're still outnumbering them by far!"
"Let us not fight among ourselves now! We can adapt to this situation once we have won this battle."
"Indeed. Is there any news on that traitorous squadron that was sighted?"
"We have other things to worry about than a few missing VTOLs!"
The discussion heated more and more, chatter overlapping, everyone long having lost track of who said what behind their anonymous holograms.
In the ensuing chaos, however, no one noticed that the monolith with the inscription "SEELE-01" remained silent.
"Sir!" the pilot of the VTOL yelled over the roaring of the engines. "We're nearing Tokyo-3!"
Kaji just signaled that he understood and resumed his view out of the window. The notice hadn't really been necessary, even still several miles away, the fight between the now eleven giants was hard to miss. He felt some pride to see that Katsuragi had found and made good use of his gift. But they were still outnumbered and it was hard to tell if Shinji and Asuka's experience and the element of surprise in the form of the JA would be enough against the skills of the Mass-Produced EVAs.
"Is there any way to stop them?" he asked Sakamoto, the leader of the squad that was accompanying him.
Most of the soldiers weren't very fond of having to go against their own comrades to say the least. But some who knew to some extent what this was all about were glad to stop what might would become the greatest shame of the JSSDF. Sakamoto had actually been supposed to be part of the assault team, but had refused; unwilling to kill everyone in sight, unarmed civilians and even children.
"If that would have meant the end of the world, at least I would have been able to go as a man, not as a monster," he had told Kaji. Given the delicate situation, they hadn't have to fear a tribunal for their insubordination, but they had been confined to their base under a complete embargo. But that had given him three full squads that were now on their way to the battle zone and others were following close behind.
"I'm afraid not." Sakamoto shook his head. "They're not under our control."
"Feared as much," Kaji muttered as he watched EVA-02 blocking a kick to the head. "Good luck then, kids..."
He was just about to get away from the window when something caught his eye, on a parking space not far below them. "LAND ON THAT STREET IMMEDIATELY!" he yelled at the pilot without a second thought as he stormed to the hatch.
Hastily securing himself, he snatched a rifle from a surprised soldier next to him, then braced himself and hit the release button. The decompression gripped him instantly, trying to suck everything out of the cabin, but he held his place and aimed. Strangely there seemed to be only one soldier with a raised gun opposed to the three he had thought to have seen before, but the blue patch of hair was unmistakable. He wasn't sure what she was doing so far out here, but now wasn't the time to think. The first two shots missed due to the distance and the movement of the aircraft, but the third one hit. Not lethally apparently, but all he needed was to gain some time anyway. Only then he noticed that the other two bodies he had previously noticed were already lying on the ground.
A few seconds later, the VTOL was low enough for him to safely jump out and Kaji ran to the parking space, followed by Sakamoto and a few others from the group.
Rei appeared to be waiting for them.
"I appreciate your assistance, Mr. Kaji," she thanked him formally, while the soldiers rushed to the wounded and the apparently dead comrades of theirs.
"No problem," the pony-tailed man shrugged the thanks off. "Though it was sure a surprise seeing you out here."
"I attempted to escape before they would strike," Rei admitted calmly. "I was sure that it would not be safe at the headquarters."
Kaji regarded her for a moment, but as usual for her, her body language didn't say a thing more than her words. "I wasn't quite talking about safety reasons..."
"I..." Unexpectedly, she was showing an exception to the rule, her eyes flickering to the ground. "I had my reasons not to... assist the Commander..."
Figuring that it would be the most he would get from her now, he nodded. "Very well then, that should ease things a lot. Sakamoto!" he yelled over to the officer. "Do we have room for a hitcher?"
"I'm afraid it'd get a little cramped with these three already!" the soldier answered regarding the fallen comrades that were carried into the VTOL.
Kaji scratched his chin, thinking for a second as his eyes fell on the radically-stopped patrol's jeep. They certainly wouldn't need it anymore, would they?
"You think you can end this on your own?" he called over once more. It was an unnecessary question really, as he wasn't much more than a passenger anyway without any real influence on the JSSDF troops. But a part of him was probably hoping to hear a "No", just to feel needed.
Naturally though, that didn't come as Sakamoto raised his thumb.
"Okay then," Kaji turned back to Rei. "We'll take that jeep and I'll get you to wherever you want until this is over."
Rei nodded, but didn't move to follow him as he started to walk to the vehicle. "Could you drive the car to the other side of the woods? I do not wish to pass this scene again."
"Um, sure," he wondered as she was heading to the nearby patch of trees between the parking space and the street, "but why can't I just take you with me right now?"
She stopped shortly. "I have to pick someone up."
The loss of one of their brethren had forced the MP-Evangelions to a new strategy. Instead of keeping their prey in one place and attacking it all at once, they now formed groups to drive them apart, while attacking much more fiercely. Gone were the blades in favor of the lances, aside from those of the three Units pursuing the Jet Alone. When a stab at the robot barely scratched the thick armor, they had quickly reverted their weapon to its previous form.
"Hey, Asuka!" Toji yelled at the redhead, who was still fending off her three foes with the captured sword. "Why don't you change that thing too? I thought EVAs would be allergic to those lance-things."
"Sure, no problem," Asuka answered, the sarcasm evident in her words as she threw her now obsolete prog knife bullseye into the head of one of her enemies. As expected though, the white beast merely staggered slightly from the impact, apparently not bothered at all by the steel in its brain. But it was diversion enough for Asuka to drive the sword into its shoulder, effectively cutting the arm off before the EVA could get away. "You'd just have to tell me how!"
"How come they're not throwing them?" Shinji wondered. He was by far the most troubled currently, fending off four EVAs with just his prog knife. Needless to say, he was more busy evading the stabs of their lances than anything else, trying to get as much distance as possible from them. "Then I might be able to snatch one at least!"
"You probably answered your own question there," Misato pointed out through the comm. "They want to – HEY! Toji, watch out!"
Two flying Units dived into the JA from behind, grabbing it by the shoulders and the rods that jutted from the head. Apparently, they had planned to crash it against a mountain or let it fall from a great height as an easy victim once it lost it's precious contact with the earth. But they only managed to drag the heavy giant along on the ground for a short distance before Toji reacted and flailed one of the elastic arms of the robot around.
While unable to hit very hard from this position, the close proximity of the two attackers proved fatal for them. The struck Unit was brought off course and crashed against the other, sending both of them to the ground when their wings intertwined.
Toji smirked triumphantly from his seat. "Heh. You're not getting me that eas..." His taunt faded as he saw the robot's only reaction to his latest command was to slump forward and come to a complete stop. He pulled the controls again and again, but still nothing. "What's wrong with it?!"
Akagi's grimace as she watched the status-screens already told more than he needed to know. "Looks like they damaged the control rods with that last attack. Signal-strength is less than five percent!"
Toji fell back in his seat, not in relaxation but in sheer anger. To be beaten because of such a minor damage, rendered helpless and forced to watch while his friends were fighting there for their lives. Growling, he let his frustration out by driving his fist against the now useless controls.
"Sorry guys," he muttered. "I guess you have to take care of the rest alone."
"Misato? Ritsuko here," the blonde said into her cell phone as she walked deeper into the complex, her pace a notch quicker than usual. "Yes, I know you're 'kinda busy'! But you know, I told you I also had something else to do and now that our little toy is broken, I really got to go... What? Yes, I was just coming to that; I just wanted to know if the Commander has shown up at all by now?" She clenched her eyes at the negative answer, suppressing a curse. "Yeah, feared as much. But thanks anyway."
She terminated the connection with an angry huff.
"Damn," it escaped her after all, touching the remote in the pocket of her lab coat as she entered the elevator that would take her down to Terminal Dogma. "I wanted him to see his hopes crushed, not to go with them."
Asuka stood horrified as the memories overwhelmed her. The third Unit had met up with the two that had brought the JA down and one after another appeared from the other groups. They had no intention to devour their metallic prey, but they took sadistic pleasure in slamming their claws into the helpless robot, ripping it into pieces. And she felt it, felt it as if it was her EVA, her own flesh and bones that were torn apart again.
The shock only lasted a matter of seconds, but those were already much too long. She moved, but not fast enough.
Her shoulder exploded in pain.
The impact of the piercing lance forced her forward, sending her EVA crashing to the ground. The surprise didn't last long, but the pain remained. Her breathing was reduced to gasps as she silently berated herself for not having noticed the threat in time. Now that her combat-senses returned, she quickly wanted to bring her EVA's good arm to the damned spear that impaled its left shoulder, pinning her to the earth, dangerously immobilizing her in the heat of the battle.
But her attempt to free herself was already cut short. Looking up, she saw a giant white hand clutching the red wrist of Unit-02 – as well as the sickening, twisted grin of its owner. Six loud thuds shook the ground around her, leaving no doubt that its backups had arrived.
She smiled sadly as her eyes wandered to her ring finger, where a small bulge stretched her plugsuit. 'Baka... I told you it brings bad luck to do that beforehand.'
She refrained from whimpering as she felt the claws clutching her EVA's armor, but barely managed. The worst thing about death was the knowledge that you were about to die. The loss of one's existence; any form of happiness taken away, along with any chance to regain it.
She didn't want to die. Not now, not like this.
But she knew how slim Shinji's chances were of beating all of them in time if he were to come to her aid. She could only hope that he'd end up victorious at all, that at least he could live on with everyone. And maybe she could finally see...
Her fear was gone. There was a feeling, a feeling of pride and love. But there was something else as well, something that felt like... sadness?
As the realization hit her, it was already too late.
Just as Shinji made sure he had created enough distance from the pursuing Unit, he hurled EVA-01 around again to look where the other three had suddenly gone to. But what he saw made him freeze instantly.
Shinji didn't want to see it. But he couldn't turn away either. For that moment, he wasn't able to do anything. He couldn't even blink.
Shinji didn't want to see it. But he saw everything.
He saw the Mass-Produced EVAs trying to escape the flames. He saw each of them getting caught in the explosion that sent them to the hell they deserved. But that didn't matter anymore.
He saw Unit-02 self-destructing.
"A.. Asu... Ah..." It was not even a whisper, just a rattle. He didn't even realize that it was him who made that sound.
They had known it could become worse with their changes. They had always known. But he had never wanted to see...
It wasn't until something pulled on his EVA's arm, slamming him to the ground, that a part of him vaguely remembered the enemy that had hassled him and was now slouching over his Unit.
Another one of those white monsters. Because of them... It was because of them that Asuka... Asuka...
That beast didn't even see it coming.
EVA-01's hands had grabbed its neck before it could even think of evading. Tighter and tighter they squeezed. Maybe that beast was trying to fight back, but Shinji didn't feel any blows. He didn't feel anything but hate.
The shining white was stained with blood as the neck ripped open under the unforgiving pressure. He screamed as he tossed the lifeless body off him; screamed his loss and hatred out to the world as he stood up; screamed for the instrument to make them pay!
It was their fault! Everyone! Everyone's...!
It didn't matter anymore. The man he had become for her. The achievements they had made together. Their family... first Aki... and now her too...
It didn't matter anymore. Not even if he became the cause. At least – maybe – he could see them again then. And maybe they would forgive him.
"You will help me, won't you... mother?"
The shock wouldn't leave Maya's face as she watched the display showing the crater where Unit-02 had been just moments before. She had never been all that close to the children, but she had always felt with them. After all, they were the ones fighting for them; mere teenagers risking their lives with the fate of humanity resting on their shoulders. And now it had cost one.
However, a low alarm caught her attention before she could completely be swallowed by guilt and sorrow. "Shinji's... Shinji's synch-ratio is rising..."
A throbbing pain elicited a groan from her as she forced her eyes open, her mind still spinning. As if the wound by the lance hadn't been bad enough, the LCL had not been able to fully absorb the impact when the plug had crashed against a nearby rock face only to roll down it until the cylindrical form finally came to a rest.
With her good arm, she reached over to the handle of the emergency-hatch, heaving herself out of the pilot seat. Unlike the outside, which would be heated from the friction to a hardly bearable degree, the interior was barely affected because the LCL inside quickly dissipated most of the heat. The plugsuit dampened the rest without any problem, but that didn't make it easier to open the hatch by hand, especially if you could use only one properly.
Finally, she managed to open the lock, eager to see what had happened outside during the minute that she had missed.
She almost wished she hadn't.
Misato had heard Maya's announcement, but she could hardly maintain her professionalism that was still needed in the severe situation. The explosion of EVA-02 had ripped a hole in her heart that the emptiness used to gain entry. She couldn't even begin to imagine how Shinji felt right now. And she couldn't really hold it against him that he apparently gave up fighting.
Even if it meant the end of the world.
Unit-01 was filling most of her vision, howling deafeningly at the crater where her EVA had been. The giant stood too close to see its face far above her, but she could easily picture the glowing eyes of the demonic creature.
Hastily, she reached back into the plug for a second to activate the communication system before he would be lost inside again, probably once and for all.
"Shinji, calm down! I got ejected just in time!"
But if he could hear her, he showed no reaction.
Everyone in the Command Center was surprised by the voice, though Misato's was definitely the biggest sigh of relief. However, it only lasted until Maya updated her report.
"Synch-ratio still rising, nearing 100 percent!"
"Why isn't he stopping?!" Misato spun around. "Didn't he hear her?"
"She must have accidentally only opened the channel to us!" Shigeru informed her agitatedly.
"Then tell her!"
But he shook just his head. "I-I don't think she would be able to hear us over all that noise out there," he answered with resignation.
She already wanted to change the order, but Makoto interrupted her. "AT-Field is spreading!"
Her hair began to wave in a strange wind that seemed to be growing stronger from the EVA's inhuman screaming. Daring to look around, she noticed that indeed dust and debris were spinning through the air, bending trees to form a circle, making it appear as though the purple Unit was not only the epicenter, but the very source of the cold storm.
"I'm all right, Shinji, calm down!" she yelled in the comm with increasing nervousness.
A strange tremor went through her body, causing her to look up again. The EVA had again broken free of its restraining armor, exposing its red core to the world. Her mouth stood open in a shocked gasp as an AT-Field like she had never seen it before sprouted from the EVA's back like deformed wings, while it outstretched its hands to the sides, leaning back as if to welcome something from above with open arms.
And that something already pierced the clouds.
"Something's approaching from the atmosphere with tremendous speed!"
That was the last thing Misato could use now.
"Patch her through already!"
"GODDAMNIT, BAKA! STOP IT!"
Giant, bloodstained hands stopped the flight of the Lance of Longinus in an instant.
It strained against the hold, so close to its goal, just a few meters between its pointed tip and the red core that had called the Lance towards it with its infinite energy. But the spear's new master no longer wished for destruction.
Instead, it was rammed into the partially beheaded Mass-Production Unit that had just risen back to its feet, going through the white body with ease, straightly piercing its S2 engine. EVA-01 didn't even turn around to watch it sliding limply from the red weapon.
Its glowing eyes scanned the ground around the crater that the explosion had left behind. There was nothing left that could be identified as belonging particularly to Unit-02, but there were a few white parts scattered around, a hand here, half of a head there.
One had apparently survived the blast after all, trying to crawl away by using its right arm, the only limb that was still left. It was actually not much more than that burned arm and a torso, most of the armor gone. It fell silent as EVA-01 sank the Lance into its flickering core.
Finally, at some distance, there was the cylindrical shape of an entry plug, a tiny red figure looking out from it. The figure leaped out completely, waving up to the giant.
It was impossible to see her shocked face though, when the Evangelion spread its energetic wings and leaped up in the air, rising higher and higher.
"Is it okay now?"
"Yeah. She's fine. That's all that matters to me. But..." Shinji averted his view, "...is this really necessary?"
"There mustn't be a single EVA left behind. Only with them – and the Lance of Longinus – gone, the world has a chance. Shinji, you know that this has to be done, right?"
He nodded. "As long as the sun, the moon and the earth exist, everything will be all right," he recounted. Yet his smile, even this sad one, faded, as he looked back up. Parting from someone important always came too suddenly. "But do you really want that? Do you really want to be out there for all eternity? Won't you feel... lonely?"
"No..." was the honest reply. "For I will always have you with me in my heart." Proudly smiling, she caressed his cheek. "Goodbye, my son. Take care of those you love; your little family, your friends. Always be there for those who need you. Goodbye..."
As Shinji opened his eyes, his first reaction was to quickly close them again from the invading, blinding light. He waited a second before blinking twice again until he found himself staring at the white space above him. "Unfamiliar ceiling..."
"You should know it by now..."
Surprised at the unexpected voice, he turned his head. Asuka sat on the bed next to his, smiling back at him. Apart from the bandages around her shoulder that forced her to wear a sling, only a few Band-Aids covered some small bruises on her body. Otherwise she seemed perfectly fine.
"I don't know, I think they gave it a new paint-job..." he joked flatly as he sat up.
Asuka stood up from her mattress and went over to him, kissing his forehead.
"Good afternoon, Sleepyhead," she mocked excessively. "Seriously, you just got some bruises from being shot out with the plug at a high of a mere hundred meters or so, while I got hit more often and much harder, had my shoulder pierced – but look who decides to be out cold for hours."
"You forgot to mention that you were ejected as well."
"Hm, oh yeah, I didn't want you to feel too bad," she shrugged playfully. Climbing onto his bed, straddling his legs, she put her arms loosely around his shoulders; grinning as she looked in his eyes. "You know, we've both been 'thrown out' by our mothers. Wonder how people would interpret that."
"Well, in a way, they just did it for our own good." He smirked, returning the light hug by placing his hands on her waist. "I just wonder how we should... you know... take care of the rest now."
"I guess we don't really have to worry about that anymore." He gave her a questioning look, urging her to explain, which she did with a smirk. "Ritsuko got rid of Lilith for us."
Shinji blinked in surprise. "What?"
"Yeah," Asuka sounded still a bit surprised herself. "She programmed the MAGI to set the explosives that were meant for the HQ's self-destruction only to detonate in Terminal Dogma and the few, at that time empty, floors above. Whatever of Lilith survived that blast lies now crushed under a few hundred tons of concrete."
Baffled, Shinji was speechless.
Asuka's face, however, suddenly grew more serious, anxious; her voice dropping to a hopeful whisper. "So... we did it, didn't we?"
Weak, but contentedly smiling, he nodded. "Yeah."
She suddenly pulled herself closer, holding him tight. "Then can we... can we finally mourn her?" she asked, hardly restraining her sobs.
His heart sank instantly, the big victory forgotten as he felt his eyes moisten at her words. "Yeah," he repeated, but now more solemn as he tightened their embrace himself. "In any way we want."
"I... I think I'd like to have a funeral for her. Even if the grave would be empty. Just... just a reminder for everyone that she was there; that she wasn't just a ..." Her voice was suddenly cut off by the hiss of the opening door.
Rei took a step back as she saw them, her pale cheeks coloring with a light pink. "I apologize. I did not intend to disturb you."
The couple shared a look, slowly entangling themselves from each other.
"No Rei, it's okay," Shinji said. Seeing her here was a relief, but though there were many questions on his mind, he for now settled for: "Is there anything we can do for you?"
The blue-haired girl nodded. "You have to accompany me back to my apartment. There is... something I need to show both of you."
Asuka fell a chill running down her spine as she entered Rei's home. Since their enigmatic pilot seemed in an unnatural hurry and Shinji still had some forms to fill out (as well as change clothes) before he could leave the infirmary, they had agreed that the two girls would go ahead.
Asuka had heard from Shinji about Rei's awful living conditions, but it was the first time she actually saw the rundown building with her own eyes. She hadn't expected it to be this bad.
At least Rei seemed to have decorated the walls with a few pictures, but Asuka's attention was more on the bullet holes that were all over the place. She couldn't remember any in Misato's apartment back then and hoped there wouldn't be any this time either. Apparently, they either knew where to expect the pilots or SEELE had instructed the JSSDF that Rei was the biggest threat of them all and had to be eliminated at all cost. That would also explain why they didn't bother with the risk of precision and wildly shot everything in sight. It seemed surprising that they didn't use a grenade or just bombed the whole building.
Only one glass still stood on the refrigerator in the corner, but the shards around it showed that there had been a few more. The bed stood in the middle of the room in an odd angle, the also perforated mattress was not quite fittingly placed on the frame, making Asuka guess that it had been provisionally set up again after been knocked over during the attack.
She shook her head, turning to her host. "So what do you want to show us?" Asuka asked, with curiosity but also a bit of annoyance in her voice, while Rei looked around, apparently searching for "it" herself.
But before the blue-haired girl could answer, the redhead's attention was suddenly drawn to the ruffling behind the curtain near her left. She couldn't tell if her breathing and heart stopped or rather multiplied in speed when her wide blue eyes met a similar pair as the fabric was hesitantly pulled aside.
A/N: Aww, wouldn't that be a nice point to end it? Obvious enough, and still so open; how Eva-ish...
But as much as I love Eva the way it is, I'm not Anno and it's just not like me not to share my "knowledge" of how it came to this. So expect "end" very soon, covering the happenings of Rei's previous day, before pulling the final curtain for T2t. Even though those of you with weak teeth might indeed prefer to end it here, if you know what I mean...
- The first few lines were added as an afterthought. I (obviously) wanted to establish the EoE status quo there as fast as possible, but it came too much out of nowhere. Her original coma had some introduction too, after all.
- No idea if that place from where Misato was hacking into the MAGI was really "in the vast depths of its cooling systems". But it was apparently pretty cold there, so...
- I know the whole thing with the JA (especially how it was acquired) was done rather naively, but it always gets so much flock from the fandom ("Could never ever possibly beat an Angel -LULz-") that I wanted to give the poor thing at least one (albeit short) moment to shine. And it gave me a reason to get Toji back in the game.
Speaking of game, I've recently heard the Prime model does the same in the Eva2 PS2/PSP game (I knew of the JA Prime, but I thought it was an enemy... ) , so the idea of the JA helping out in the MP fight isn't all that fresh as I thought... -pout-
- Guess I better say this. Guys: A ring won't instantly get you laid. That goes only for characters in a clichéd piece of fiction. ;P
- Thanks to LD, William T. Martin and Tarage for pre-reading.
- Gendo... Ah, I think I'll keep the remaining notes for the last chapter. See you soon. Very soon... (and I mean it)