While Kaworu was away for dinner, Natsumi Odani attended to Rei and, to get a closer look at her brain, was putting the girl through the MRI scan for another time.

Lying down, as Rei slowly went under the scanner's head, at their workstation Natsumi and a technician looked at the display giving them the results of each scanner pass. She had the scanner adjusted for a finer pass and greater enhancement, with full emphasis on the brain's hippocampus portion. While Rei presently occupied most of her thoughts, the other remaining space was devoted to the written memo handed down from the Commander a while ago, requesting that starting tomorrow morning Asuka's IV-delivered sedatives and medications will be cut off in preparation for her discharge from NERV service.

Glancing at one of the monitors showing the girl onscreen, Natsumi took a microphone on the workstation's counter and told Rei, "How are you doing in there?"

Looking back at the camera, Rei quietly nodded.

"Good. The diagnostics would be for a while," Natsumi reminded her. The other tests included a blood sample, the usual cardio-respiratory checks, and once those tests were finished, a little dinner for the girl. This she asked Rei about it. "What do you want for dinner?"

Rei blinked twice to recall what she most often ate, and then she recalled what she thought to be the best-tasting meal in her entire life. The scene at Shin-Miyanoshita came back to her as if it happened yesterday:

At the market section of Shin-Miyanoshita, just off the train station, they were at a noodle stand, festooned with large red Chinese lanterns. Already Misato and the Children were assailed by a rich mixture of aroma and flavors, as they sat down and began ordering their food.

Asuka pointed to Misato, and said, "Hey, I know what you've got in your wallet. Don't worry." She was grinning proudly as she pulled out a wad of extra 1000-yen bills. "This honor student says she wants to come with us for noodles," she added, referring to Rei.

Misato laughed. "Oh, no, looks like you're pretty serious about chipping in!" Already she had a bowl of spiced wonton noodles with a can of Yebisu on the side.

"Sure, we've made through it cleanly," Asuka answered before she turned her attention to the cook. "I'd like you to gimme some shark's fin and a large order of baked pork".

The cook nodded, proud to have some eager new patrons with a paycheck to blow out, turned his notice to Rei.

"Miss, what's your order?" he asked cheerfully.

"I would like to have garlic noodles without Cha-Shu. No grilled pork," Rei answered.

"And I'd want some pork dumplings with mine," Shinji added.

"All right, and for that foreign lady here, here's your shark's fin and pork," the cook said, handing Asuka a tray of her dinner, which was hefty with two filled big bowls.

"Why, thank you," Asuka answered cheerfully.

As they got their orders and were eating, Shinji gestured at Misato.

"Yes?" the older woman paused.

"I'm pretty glad today, because my father praised me for piloting Eva and finishing the mission," Shinji answered cheerfully.

Asuka faced Shinji and frowned. "And that's why you're a pilot?" she asked, not wanting to be put on second place. "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard!"

Shinji made a face. "This isn't your party, either."

Misato shook her head. "Ah, come on, guys, we don't have something like this once in a while."

"Garlic-noodles," Rei answered, "But please do not add pork."

Natsumi smiled. "Got it," she said. "I'll make a call with the cook to do that one for you."

At the Cafeteria, Kaworu's dinner consisted of soybean sausages, rice and a salad with light dressing, and as he ate his meal in his mind he was replaying the events that occurred throughout the day.

He thought about when he locked lips with Rei while resuscitating her. He could vividly remember the texture and the softness of her lips, amidst the overpowering smell of LCL. Once she opened her eyes, there was this strange new vitality in them, which he had never noticed before.

Finally, there was this tenderness in his heart, a new sensation unlike any other, and he wondered if Chairman Lorenz or his tutors has ever taught him about human feelings.

No, Kaworu decided. I don't remember he said much else about the Lilin, but still I have to learn more as I think I may have understood them for only a fraction.

The gray-haired young man now began to make plans to deal with Asuka.

An alternate path fanfiction by soulassassin547
Written on 3/23/2010 2:28 a3/p3

Later, back in bed, Rei contemplated about the only time she did slapped Shinji's face out of anger, when they were riding on the escalator. The resurrected memories made her felt what it was like to slap someone's face.

"Then why you could not trust it? It is the work of your father!"

But out of that Rei recalled how Asuka slapped her face out of the Second Child's contempt. A hard slap made from all the hate and derision the other girl carried, not knowing that later her deceptive façade came down in a matter of days.

Absently Rei let her hand touch her cheek, trying to recall the pain she received from Asuka's open palm. She knew the anger-filled words from the half-German girl, deriding Shinji and all of his worth and of her warning.

"Shut up, you frigid bitch! You do anything you're ordered to. You'll waste yourself if Commander Ikari orders you to do so!"

But Asuka never heeded her advice, whose near-fatal consequences could be sadly seen in a hospital bed, and it made Rei feel disappointed for her.

I am trying to point out your mistakes... But I am sad for you, Pilot Souryu. I wanted to help you... but you did not listen to me.

Rei sighed softly. Now if you could only wake up, open your heart and try to talk to me once more, because we are almost the same, whatever the differences between us.

Now as she touched her lips with the tips of her fingers, Rei still wondered who Kaworu was beneath the kindly veneer he possessed.

For all of what you have said, Rei contemplated, addressing Kaworu, I should have asked you about whom you are and why are you here for. You may be hiding something from me.

The killer was still in his van, at the same parking lot off Hakone's Route 75, busy monitoring every tapped packet and port coming across his notebook computer, trying to pick up any loose and vital piece of intelligence, when he heard the cellphone go off again. He pressed the button on his earset and spoke, "Yeah?"

"I'm out here now," a man answered, voice scrambled but differently toned from the other man he talked to several hours ago. "Just finished with my shift," he continued, "but something's up from the top brass."

The killer knew that this new caller was an expert mole on the same side he was, a deep-cover agent formerly of the American CIA, currently assigned to NERV's Reports and Requirements section for nearly three years. This section, which received reports from the field and then reprocessed into easy-to-read briefs for the higher-ups, was an excellent position for secretly pilfering the secret flow of information and playing merry hob with the agency's operations, intelligence-gathering activities and general policy-making.

"What's going on?"

"According to Mister Freeze," the mole reported, the well-suited codename referring to Commander Ikari and his cold personality, "tomorrow afternoon he's gonna fire the little primadonna back to where she belongs."

"She's mine. How did you know?" the killer asked. Then he remembered that previously this mole managed to screw up and delay the Second Section's search for the runaway Asuka Langley Soryu by feeding falsified information to the agents in the field. Serving as the killer's information source, the mole was also responsible for providing him the necessary intelligence on Kaji's final whereabouts before eliminating that agent. However, he wasn't aware of the fact that the triple-agent mole was ultimately the one responsible for sabotaging the Bakelite system hours ago.

"The usual paperwork, of course," the mole answered. "He asked for release papers and signed them, then sent out carbon copies for the department heads to read tomorrow. For the most important stuff, he still doesn't trust email and electronic forms, you know. By the way, right now Section Two's chief is in conference with his troops, planning to use armed escorts to keep an eye on her until she's out of here."

The killer silently clenched his teeth, cursing inwardly. Now he'll have to change the mission parameters immediately and before that he needed to tell his employers first about the sudden shift in the situation. At any cost and as he always wanted to finish the job on a proper note, he can't let his quarry – half-dead or not – get away.

At the balcony outside their apartment, and sated from dinner, Misato was lying on the chaise longues and staring at the night sky above her. On the table beside her, a cordless phone laid there, waiting just in case. In the living room the radio was on, tuned to a rock station and playing a song from Creed, but she could also hear Shinji taking care of the dishes in the sink, water splashing over the clanking plates.

Misato looked at one bright star in the sky, Vega, and wondered how far she made it in her entire life. She sighed, having seen her share of too much personal triumph and tragedy in a single year, but the reason that she didn't quit her job was her avowed promise to fight the Angels purportedly responsible for her father's death.

Oh, she told Shinji before about her reasons to be here. Though she hated her father for being so self-absorbed into his work, of neglecting both Misato and her mother, only after she survived Second Impact did she wondered if there was a reason to love or hate her father.

Joining NERV, she believed, was the only way for her to be free of his spell. However, Kaji always reminded Misato of her father's personality, which made her gravitate towards that man. How she tried to be someone else, to bury her old self, but Kaji broke open her scars and let them bleed.

His death was a final blow to all that she would have wanted in life; afterwards there was little else she could go to. Perhaps it's time for her to move on, find someone else or endure the winter of her singleness.

It didn't matter for Misato if she could die as an old maid, as long as she must live her life to the fullest.

Which brought her to another thing she must at least appreciate before her number is up.

"Shinji," Misato called out. "You're finished in there?"

"Yeah," the young man answered from the kitchen.

"Can you get us some beer from the fridge?"

"What? You're nuts, I can't drink," Shinji objected.

Misato shook her head, realizing there was a standing prohibition against under-twenty drinking, but anyway there were no cops in this war zone of a neighborhood, or for that matter, no neighbors either in this apartment block; everyone else had packed and moved away, never to return. "Doesn't matter," she answered. "Screw the age limit, just grab the six-pack and come here."

Shinji arrived with the six-pack of Yebisu, and as the young man laid it down onto a table and Misato pried out one of the cans, yanking the tab away, she said, "Come on, open another for yourself, but don't be shy. Honestly, I'm not teaching you to be a drunkard like me, but I want you to learn an experience you might use someday when you're going to socialize with people, especially when they offer you a drink."

"O… Okay," Shinji answered as he sat down on a chair and pulled the tab of his own beer. All he knew was that beer was bitter-tasting, but considering their grim circumstances, he couldn't refuse her offer. He put the can close to his lips, smelled it as he was hesitant, before he told himself, Never mind, I have to at least try, he took a sip.

"Unless you explain that you have a liver problem," Misato added, "it's impolite to refuse a gesture of goodwill."

Shinji grimaced at the taste of his first beer, before swallowing it hard. Damn, it's so bitter.

Misato shook her head. "That's what the first-timers do when they have their first drink," she advised. "After a few more, the bitterness doesn't matter as the true essence of the brew becomes apparent."


Misato nodded. "That's true. Just take it easy on every sip, don't go overboard or you might not be able to swallow more of your drink."

Shinji took a deep breath and this time he drank a little more of his beer. In approval, Misato raised her can.

After a silent moment, Shinji was the first to ask, breaking the silence. "What made you share your beer with me?"

"You and I have will have a one-on-one discussion, so tonight I must make an apology to you," the older woman answered morosely, "for trying to get you in bed. I'm really sorry, that was the only thing I thought would be good." Misato then sighed.

Shinji said nothing, still holding his can.

"No, it's been real stupid of me doing that. I just don't know what else I could do to keep you from being sad. I wanted to forget, try at least making my brain go blank, wishing not to think who killed him. I felt fucking helpless as I wasn't able to save Kaji's life. How I wish I could. Lust was then the only other acceptable escape, but you proved me wrong, snapped me back to my senses…"

"Then I accept your apology," Shinji answered. "I now understand."

"Thanks," Misato spoke sadly, gesturing with a finger crossing her chest over the heart, a solemn promise. "I'm not going to do that again, ever."

Misato thought for a moment, and then said, "I should have said this for a long time but we can't live on while we blame ourselves. The more we worry, the more we can't move on. Then we get so paralyzed with self-blame that we can't stop more bad things from happening. So the best thing we have to do is to think and talk about the better days, the only things that can at least prevent us from going nuts, and then move on if we can."

For a while they looked at the stars and the distant glow at the horizon, wondering what else to say.

"One question, have you told us what you were doing at my age?" Shinji asked, wishing to change the subject.

"No… Not until now," Misato answered. "I'm just like you, trying to live an ordinary life, going to school but being at home was far from everyone else's families. I come home after school, and all I see is my mom crying on the table or shouting at Dad on the phone, telling him to drop his damned project and go home. Made me worried about the neighbors at first as they fought every night, but later on I learned that I could shut all that shit out with my earphones on while finishing my homework."

"Sounds like Father," Shinji said. The disc jockey on the radio was now playing Linkin Park's "Leave Out All the Rest".

"Yeah, right," Misato agreed. "I always envied my classmates everyday, wishing at least Dad should be like their fathers who can understand both me and my mom. But when you're a scientist's daughter and all day he thinks about the Nobel Prize while at the lab, it's hard to have a good life. So the only thing better for me then was to go downtown with my 'Yankee' classmates till past midnight. Drinking, partying, dating, smoking, or for some of these girls, try enjou-kosai – streetwalking – and fuck an old businessman with a Benz for chump change to buy expensive stuff; or worse, drugging themselves with ravers' tablets or hitting a marijuana joint. But what they're doing is too far, and I avoid being dragged into such traps, so the only vice I did was getting drunk."

Shinji nodded, and then drank more of his beer. "Just like running away," he said after a gulp, still grimacing from the bitter aftertaste.

"That's how we tried to deal with the pain and broken homes. Escape is all we knew then, as most of my generation only understood after the bubble burst; those born in the eighties grew up in a nice house with parents having a fat paycheck everyday, then suddenly the economy goes south on them, suddenly their parents lost their jobs, and quickly those kids were struggling for their lives by the time they finish high school or college; working part-time, going from one job to another, but never finding the right one. There's no real security, and all we do to alleviate the boredom was to escape for even one night."

Misato looked into Shinji's eyes and said, "Strange, we're sharing a common sentiment; we're trying to run away, not wanting to face the music. That's why I'm trying to confront my issues now, and that's why right here and now I'm sharing my past with you, so I hope you could do the same for me."

Kaworu was back from dinner, and after he was out of the elevator, he approached the nurses' duty station where Nurse Chigusa – Miss Takako Chigusa, RN as her desk plaque proclaimed her name – was sitting behind the counter, busying herself with a nail file while a stack of finished reports were on the counter, and her iPod was playing the latest enka hit from Jero. Chigusa glanced up at the young man with gray hair.

"What can I do for you, Mister…?" she asked, brushing her long pony-tailed black hair away from her elfin-shaped face to the back of the neck.

"I'm Kaworu Nagisa, one of the Eva pilots," he said, introducing himself. "I would like to visit Miss Langley."

"Oh," Chigusa blurted, before looking up at the wall clock. "Isn't it a little past the usual visiting hours?" She pointed at the poster listing several visitation rules.

"But I need to see her now, even if she's asleep."

Takako Chigusa weighed on his suggestion, before she quickly grabbed a keycard and stood up. "Come with me," she said, walking out of her station.

They walked along the hallway, past Rei, who was sleeping in her room at the moment, and then they came upon Asuka's door. Chigusa swiped the keycard in and the door lock clicked to open. Before Kaworu could go inside, the nurse gave him a reminder.

"I'll allow you only up to an hour, and afterwards, you'll have to go. That's all the time you can have."

Kaworu nodded. "I understand," he replied.

Chigusa smiled. "Thanks, Mister Nagisa. Call me through the intercom when you need something or when you're about to leave. I'll be waiting at my station."

"Thank you, too, ma'am. I'll keep that in mind."

The nurse left him and Kaworu shut the door gently. He walked up and sat on a chair besides Asuka's bed and then he looked at the girl lying in repose. He also noticed the thick bandages on her wrists, a sign she tried to take her life. On her face was an expression of mixed anger and sadness, as it was obvious she was dreaming something cruel. The only movement she made was the heaving of her chest while breathing, and sounds merely the rhythm of her breathing and the beeping monitors that showed her vital signs. Above the bed, fixed to the wall and close to the ceiling, was a CCTV camera. He wasn't sure who's watching her, but anyway he looked up to the camera and smiled. He hoped that the guy keeping them under surveillance was okay and didn't mind him being here.

"Here goes nothing," he intoned almost quietly.

Kaworu took a deep breath and gently took hold of her right hand. He now felt the psychic link as they made contact, but this time he could control the flow as he closed his eyes. In this state he saw flashes of light and images, mostly consisting of her memories and thoughts. He could hear her yell, scream, whine, and every one of her lamentations, until he found himself standing in the middle of an arid field of dried grass. But this wasn't a pastoral scene.

It was more like a war zone or a cemetery, skulls and femurs scattered here and there.

The sky was blood-red and the clouds were dark and ominous, foreboding of death. The air was still and lifeless, but reeking with the sharp smell of burned sulfur and blood, while the reddish sun shone like the evil eye of Sauron affixed onto the mournful heavens.

This is her dream, Kaworu thought. No, it's her nightmare. Death and death is everywhere.

He glanced around to take in his surroundings, and espying a house nearby, he walked to that direction.

Around the abandoned, wrecked house were dead trees, with not even one brown-aged leaf on their branches. The tall grass that grew over the front yard was dry and yellowed.

The house itself was half-destroyed, its roof shorn free of its ceramic tiles and the walls were decaying and infested with termites. The rice-paper doors were ripped and punched out, and the tatami mats inside the house were ancient, encrusted with dust.

It would have been a world of nothing but death and sadness, of humanity faded into non-existence, had it not for existence of this melancholic, lonely young girl who was soaking in a bathtub full of dirty water. Besides was a chair with her clothes, neatly folded.

This was one of Asuka's nightmares, and she was by herself, wishing to die.

Her hair was messed up and moist with the same dirty water, Asuka was pale-faced with catatonia, distant blue eyes staring at the bloody sky above that she can see through the huge maw where the roof once used to be. The showerhead protruded into her line of vision, and she could see the encrusted rust on it.

Tears ran down her cheeks... as she thought of the great folly of her boisterous words from years before:

"Mommy! Mommy! They selected ME!"
"I'm an elite pilot, ready to protect mankind! The best in the world! It's a secret to everybody, but I'll tell you mom! Everybody is so nice and so cool to me, and I'm not lonely... I'm OK, even though I don't have Father... Look at me! Look at me!"
"Hey Mom—"

"S... Sync rate zero..." she mumbled sadly, her hands shaking. "I'm not worthy... no reason to exist..."

Sobs followed with tears streaking on her dirtied cheeks.

"No one looks at me... everybody hates me... ignores me... There's no reason... no reason for me to... live."

With great, painful effort, Asuka reached her hand out to a soap dish, except that the object that was in her grasp was not a bar of soap, but a piece of razor-sharp glass. The shining object of death gleamed with the faded reddish light, as Asuka slowly let it come close to her wrist, preparing to cut deep into the flesh.

But just as she was about to make the final, fatal gesture of her self-defeat, a human voice rang out of nowhere.

"Asuka Langley Soryu, I presume?"

Startled, the voice alone caused Asuka to drop the glass shard onto the floor.

"W... What?" she whispered.

"What you're doing is futile," the voice warned back. It was a young man's voice, mature-sounding in the way he spoke as if he had learned a great deal about the world.

"Leave me alone!" she suddenly yelled out, making the water around her to splash, shattering the melancholy away instantly from her heart.

"I can't," the voice refused, "Because if I leave you, then you will learn nothing from me. You will lose everything and things can get worse if you try to kill yourself."

"I don't give a fuck about you, so leave me alone and let me die!" Asuka cursed, her teeth angrily clenched, wishing she had the strength to get up and slap this intruder in the face.

Disappointed, the unseen voice sighed. "No way shall I leave you alone, unless you have to listen to me."

"Who are you? What the hell you want? Are you the Angel that screwed me?" Asuka desperately questioned back.

"No," the persistent voice disagreed. "If I was that Angel, then I would've killed you right now by making you brain-dead. But I have no malicious urge to kill anyone, not even you, because I have a good reason to be here. And I am not an Angel."

"Answer me! What do you want from me?"

"I want to be your friend and I want to help you," the voice reasoned, "because you're drowning and I'm not going to be here and watch you die for nothing."

"You're not my friend. Go away!"

"Face the truth, then. Who was the first person who really cared for you?"


"That person may be the only one who does love you, because that same person has understood who and what you are. I know that you hate certain kinds of people whom you think are lesser than you... when in fact they're just as strong and weak as you are, albeit much differently. So think about it before you die in that corner, for it is the fate of everything that's at stake."

By the sheer force of this stranger's intuition and knowledge of her grave situation, Asuka was silenced.

"You're smart, I believe, and I expect that you should be capable of solving your problems so easily. So we go back to the first question: who is the first person you know who cared and worried about you?"

Asuka resignedly hung her head, and gave out the first sane answer. "Hikari," she whispered.

The voice sighed. "Hikari... So she is the one person who knows what's wrong with you, but was there was a time when both of you disagreed?"

Asuka shook her head. "No... I have never done anything bad to her... It's... It's just that we have something in common," she admitted and let off a sigh. "Well... Because I feel that we're above everyone else."

"Still," the voice intoned, "It is good to know that despite your differences in terms of social status, you did become friends... But, what do you think of the other people around you?"

"I don't like them..."


"Because... they're different... they suck."

"Ah..." the voice answered, "There's one more catch, however. Have you understood about what's ticking beneath Shinji? Or even within Rei? Or the sad facade that's beneath Misato's smile?"

"No!" Asuka loudly spat back.

"No? I want something to tell you about these people, Asuka. They nearly have the same problems as you are, that is, growing up hard and bitter, their inner pain drawn from their respective pasts. And you, of course, seen the worst of your life. Your mother died by her hand, am I right?"

That touched a chord in Asuka's heart. "Y... Yes," she mumbled. "She told me to... Die with her."

The voice sighed. "Is it the greatest fear you've seen?"


"So that's one of the cruel visions that you always wanted to run away from... Hmmm, just as I thought of what Shinji did -- running away from fear caused by the past..."

Asuka frowned and shouted, "Because he's a coward!"

"Imprecise, but listen to me," the voice countered. "Committing suicide is a futile gesture, because by killing yourself, common sense is relinquished and the love for life. And Shinji isn't what you think. He is, from what I have heard from him, a person with a traumatic past who just happens to be stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time... Thrown into a very dangerous situation he had never experienced before. So you're no different from him."

"Why did you pull Shinji into this?" Asuka questioned.

"Because I have understood what's wrong with him, so I am doing all of this explaining to you to set everything straight before it's too late. And so it's up to you to decide whether you stay here and suffer... or you can will yourself to wake up from this nightmare and live again. As your new lifeguard, I want you to think about it, and when you have an answer, I'm ready to listen and help you out."

"But..." Asuka trailed away and tried to get up, but she couldn't, realizing that her feet were deadened and unable to move.

So she remained still in the tub full of dirty water, deciding whether to live or to die.

When I was younger
I saw my daddy cry
And curse at the wind
He broke his own heart
And I watched
As he tried to reassemble it

The rock station was on the opening verses of Paramore's "The Only Exception". Misato heard the song five years ago, and it struck her then how much it paralleled her life. Now that the song was being played again, it reminded her once more of Kaji.

"How appropriate," Misato remarked about the song, remembering the lyrics.

"You mean the song?" Shinji asked, trying not to sound drunk. Already they were at their second can of Yebisu, and there on the table was a half-full plate of takoyaki that Shinji cooked in the microwave oven.

Misato chuckled and then added, "Yeah, he's my exception. I can remember everything about him."

Oh, in her thoughts she imagined Kaji's hugs and kisses, his characteristic warmth and charm, his sense of humor and the little jokes she laughed at. Once more she remembered the scent of his cologne, the stubble on his chin, the ripples of his chest and pectorals, and, above all, the pain as he entered into her. Good God, everything came back to her, the things she once used to do with Kaji, every single moment like they happened yesterday.

"The first time I heard it, Kaji and I were at a beer joint in Hamburg, just after we got accepted into Gehirn, and you know, later became NERV. After a few bottles, he asked me if we could dance, and I said, yes. On the floor, he told me if it's okay if he could try to mend our bridges again after we broke up for a year."

Shinji tried to picture Misato and Kaji dancing together, their bodies intertwined as the music played.

"Told him it's all right, as at the time I was then doubtful about my love life: after I broke up with Kaji for the first time, I tried dating other men, but didn't have what I wanted. They expected their women to be soft and compliant, like some mail-order bride, and I wasn't. Hell, they couldn't stand me at all. So I was back to square one with Kaji, even though I was afraid of him because he makes me think too much of my father."

Misato took a swig from her can, as talking about Kaji somehow made her feel better.

"Next thing afterwards, despite being unsure, I was stuck with him again; he taught me to ride a surfboard while on vacation; went onto long road trips across Germany and into Switzerland, where he gave me tips on how to deal with the S-curves while driving; we rode the ICE train to Berlin where we walked under the trees at the parks there, then treated me to dinner, talking about our work, and well, I think you know what happens afterwards, just like in the movies. He tried to make me happy in any way he could, encouraged me to forget about the reason for the scar on my body."

"After about eleven months, Kaji was reassigned to take care of Asuka, and I was being sent to another NERV posting. We had a little farewell dinner at Frankfurt, before my flight, just said our goodbyes without regret, but deep inside I knew that we would be seeing each other soon, though I was then doubtful if the flame ever to be reignited again. He may be a bit like my father, but it's hard to forget."

Finally she remembered the drunken night about confessing to Kaji about her real sentiments, her dreams and fears, but otherwise he smothered her with his kiss, a moment when her mind went blank, all of her personal misgivings washed away in the torrent of that single kiss.

I've got a tight grip on reality
But I can't
Let go of what's in front of me here
I know you're leaving
In the morning, when you wake up
Leave me with some kind of proof it's not a dream

Misato closed her eyes, as she lip-synched to the remaining lyrics, her mind's eye looking back when they were kissing under that clear night sky, a moment when they were alone and they had the right to lose themselves.

And I'm on my way to believing
Oh, and I'm on my way to believing

Kaworu, remaining in Asuka's dream and still telepathically linked to her, never showed himself to the girl as he watched her from the corner, this time the girl was no longer in the tub but instead she was pacing around, fully clothed in her school uniform, on the platform of a train station. There were no passing trains, there was nobody else waiting but Asuka.

"To live… then what I can do?" Asuka asked. Now she remembered Rei's warning about closing her heart and mind from her Eva.

"It's my fault," she mumbled. "But how can I open myself?"

"The only way you can do is to open your heart to others," Kaworu said, now appearing before Asuka. She blinked twice.

"W… Who are you? Are you the one who talked to me?" she asked, flabbergasted.

Kaworu nodded. "Yes, I am. My name's Kaworu Nagisa, but don't get angry at me."

Wishing to grab the collar of his shirt, and to blast him out with her fury, Asuka tried to move but she was frozen in place, her feet unable to move an inch. She frowned, her teeth clenched.

"That Eva of yours isn't going to move unless you're willing to open your heart," Kaworu reminded her.

"Isn't it what Wondergirl said to me, am I right?" Asuka questioned. "She thinks I'm real stupid not to do that… but now… I think she's right."

Kaworu sighed. "Trying to shut out the past isn't going to help," he said. "You have to let go, accept the past as the truth as it's not going to go away."

"Forgetting it is the only way I can be strong!" Asuka yelled back.

"You're doing it wrong," Kaworu answered. "Listen to me, the more you deny the past, the more it'll haunt you until it'll consume you completely. I don't know whether you'll like it or not, but I have seen more of your past than you could ever imagine."

Asuka was again surprised, her rage stopped cold. "You have seen everything about me? All of it?"

Kaworu nodded. "That's right. You're really an orphan, having lost your mother when she attempted what is called a contact experiment with your Eva, and from there you became a different person. Your father went on to marry his mistress, and you were so angry about her, thinking she messed up your life and all. Piloting Eva was then your only option to be different, to be on top, but also to deny the past. You believed that by being a pilot, you derive strength and integrity, yet now you fell down so hard you couldn't get up."

The redhead was silenced again, inwardly astonished that this Kaworu Nagisa knew it all, even the ones that she thought she had forgotten.

"That's not all. I wonder why you're trying to get along with a man named Ryoji Kaji," he added. "Does trying to be with him make you feel like a… how you say it, a grown-up?"

"I was wrong," Asuka said, almost mumbling, "Completely wrong. He couldn't accept what I am... even as I tried…"

"Then I'm afraid he's correct," Kaworu answered. He knew what she was about to say next about popping open her blouse before Kaji in the middle of the night, on the deck of an aircraft carrier. He also knew what Asuka said before that man, lying on the deck and trying to ignore her advances.

On the platform's floor, Asuka went down onto her knees, as if she was tired of it all.

"I've lost, you see," Asuka whispered, covering her face with both palms. "Everything's gone, I'm so wrong, and so all I had to try is to kill myself."

"You can't," Kaworu said. "Shinji was real worried about you, just as he was worried about Rei. Well, almost everyone's worried about you."

Asuka looked up, palms taken away. "Why?"

Kaworu sat down on the floor and faced Asuka. "To be fair to you, he's really anxious about everyone around him, except maybe for his father. Well, in your case he couldn't just live being alone, or at least someone he wanted to talk to, so you're one of the few persons left to be the ones he can communicate with. He's also the only one who, correct me if I'm wrong, keep your feelings in check as well as taking care of the things you have. Another thing I found out is that there's really no difference between the both of you: no mothers, with weaknesses, and many reasons to run away. I understand that your mother tried to kill you, am I right?"

Asuka hung down her head. "Y… Yes, she did," she whispered.

"Perhaps that's not her that you've seen on that day," Kaworu said. "Perhaps she lost a part of herself so that she was no longer the mother you recognize."

From Asuka's back he saw a younger version of herself being strangled down by her mother, wearing a hospital gown, with both hands gripping the girl's neck. Displeased, Kaworu blotted out the image away.

"Now, let me tell you something: once you let your hatred and that self-delusion consume you there's nothing else you can recover. Then you're really gone, you lose your sense of humanity. I tell you again, you have to accept the past and let it go, and only then you find your own measure of peace as well as peace with your fellows. Be yourself, never be pretentious, and then you will live, and you'll discover true happiness. Of course, by that time your Eva will move again, as you should know that Evas have their own minds."

Asuka sighed. "So, does it mean that I have to change myself?"

Kaworu smiled. "That's right, as long as you just have to do it right. There's so much in you to live for. I'm not joking; you could also do a lot of good."

The gray-haired young man now offered his hand to her. Asuka for a moment, hesitated, before she took his hand into hers and both of them stood up. The redhead took a deep breath and tried to give her best impression before Kaworu.

"I'll try," Asuka said, but with a weak smile. "You could be right."

"One more thing, though," Kaworu spoke, inwardly happy to see Asuka recover a measure of self-confidence. "I believe that ever since you were put into sedation Shinji really wants to see you wake up."


Kaworu nodded. "Yes, I guess he's thinking of you most of the time, so I think you should talk to him. Negotiate and understand both of your own situations, and don't hesitate about bringing out your past. However, I don't know but have you… touched lips with him, is it correct?"

Asuka glowered, as if Kaworu never heard of kissing. "You mean kissing? Well, yes we did."

"Ah, kissing," Kaworu answered, repeating the word in his mind, recalling about giving Rei the breath of life, before he chuckled. "Thanks for correcting me," he added, scratching his head as though clearly embarassed.

"My pleasure. I kissed Shinji just to try him out. Why did you ask?"

Kaworu shrugged, with shoulders aloft. "I was just wondering about it."

There was a silent moment between them, before the Fifth Children decided that it was his time to go.

"Are you ready to take my advice when you wake up?" Kaworu asked.

"I'm not sure, but I'll give my best shot," Asuka answered.

"It's no different from piloting Eva, but life's more challenging because I know there's much more besides being an Eva pilot."

"I'll learn about that, too. Thanks… What's your name again?"

"Kaworu Nagisa."

Asuka nodded. "Thanks, Kaworu, I think I could sleep well."

"No problem. I might see you later," Kaworu answered. "Don't refuse any help if you're real stuck, so remember that."

The gray-haired stranger vanished from the platform, leaving Asuka alone on the station platform. The redhead yawned as she went for the benches and lay down as if she was about to take a nap.

"He's right," she whispered to herself, slowly falling to sleep. "There's a lot to… live for."

The dreamworld around Asuka quickly winked out of existence.

Kaworu opened his eyes and shook his head. Now, standing up from his seat, he looked at Asuka, who was still unmoving. This time her facial expression was relaxed, a telling sign that Kaworu hoped she took his advice to heart.

Satisfied with his attempt at communicating with Asuka within, Kaworu went to a waiting intercom and pressed a button for Takako Chigusa, who was at her duty station.

"I'm done," Kaworu said into the speaker.

The towering twelve slate-black monoliths appeared at once before Gendo Ikari, who looked unfazed at their sudden arrival. As if it the digits were glowing, hostile-red eyeballs, SEELE 01 stared down at the bearded Commander, and the remaining monoliths would serve as mute witnesses of the verbal battle that was to begin.

"I know what you will be asking from me," Gendo said. "I do not hide anything."

"Yes," Keel answered from behind his electronic monolith. "Care to explain what happened, and what are you doing with the Evangelions?"

"It was a routine experiment, a test run. I planned to reinstate the First Children for duty, with a compatibility test with Unit One, should there would be any foreseeable operational problems with the other Children."

Keel grumbled. "And it failed, am I correct?"

With two fingers, Gendo merely adjusted his glasses as if he acknowledged his mistake. "Yes, but it was unavoidable," he said calmly. "When we deal with the Evas, however, there is always little room for error, and we all know that and their tendency to be unpredictable. Therefore, in the final analysis of this attempted test, I have decided not to have it repeated again."

"Then why did you have the Fifth Children involved?"

"It is necessary that we must have someone to keep an eye on the First and to assist her should a problem arises, just as what happened yesterday."

Inwardly, Gendo was irritated to know that someone on the inside probably snitched on his activities, and he would have to deal with it after this meeting. He could not believe that there were still some leaks coming out of here even after several tight rings of security.

"Besides his guardian duty on that day, do you have anything else to say about his other activities?" Keel questioned.

Gendo shook his head. "Nothing, except what he was required to do according to your directives, especially as he is the replacement for the Second Children."

"Speaking of the Second Children, do you have further plans for that young woman?"

"No, except I have determined that it is necessary that due to her psychological condition and therefore she is no longer able to pilot, she would be discharged from active duty effectively today this afternoon."

"I see," Keel said. "So after many months of her trying to prove her worth, in the end this Second Children is now a liability, and surprisingly expendable. What a waste of money, all because of childhood trauma that the Angel was able to exploit her only weakness."

Gendo said nothing, but not making any expression nor a gesture. He knew they were all watching him, but inside he had no regrets sending Asuka back to where she came from.

"What about Doctor Akagi?" Keel inquired.

"Despite her incarceration, I intend that she will remain here for our purposes. Her absence does not affect our day-to-day operations, in any way, as I have already selected Doctor Natsumi Odani, a knowledgable replacement with similar skills. In addition, her subordinate Lieutenant Ibuki knows the workings of the MAGI and, based on previous experience, is able to work on her own without further guidance. Unlike Akagi, and as they are loyal, they will not countermand any order I issue."

Behind their monoliths, Keel and the rest of the Committee opened the electronic dossier on Odani and quickly scanned her brief biography. Some of them felt pleased with Gendo's choice of replacement, but Keel had something else in mind.

"Now, however, have you found the Fifth Children suitable for your purposes?"

"Yes," Gendo answered, "there was no doubt about him and his abilities. He has surpassed all our expectations."

Behind the monolith, Keel shook his head in disbelief and pleasure. He couldn't believe that Gendo had taken his bait, hook and sinker, not realizing Kaworu's true potential.

"For a moment, let us first deliberate regarding your recent actions," he said, before the entire Committee put Gendo on hold.

As the Commander was waiting, standing in attention, the rest of the Committee debated on Gendo's character and actions, with Keel listening to their opinions. Behind their digital monoliths, at least three members decided on a wait-and-see attitude, arguing that Ikari can be monitored; another three considered about paring down the current NERV budget to only half as a penalty; then one demanded that Ikari should be replaced by a more competent and compliant leader; but the remaining membership merely listened.

Until Keel, as the final decision-maker, gave word that he has made a judgment after the rest conceded on a single resolution.

"Unanimously, we are satisfied by your explanation regarding the matter about your experiment turned into a costly blunder, and thus we forgive you for this deviant transgression by admitting responsibility and then promising us that you will no longer repeat failed initiatives any further."

Keel paused to clear his throat.

"We, however, give you one final warning: this is the last time we will tolerate any of your maverick actions as a Commander, as you are deviating further from our plans. From now on, because of severe time constraints, there will be no second chances, no reprieves, no appeals, and strictly no more room for errors. If you or your subordinates break any of our directives, then our decisions will be final and binding, our collective judgment is yours to take, and our penalties will be exacting and harsh. Is that clear, Commander Ikari?" Keel asked loudly, tapping out the last five words with an index finger on his desk as if to emphasize them.

There was sudden silence after Keel's final question, with the rest of the Committee waiting for Gendo's reply.

"Yes, I will take your word. There will be no mistakes this time," he lied, hoping that these old fools would believe him again.

At least they never knew all along that he has full possession of Adam in his palm, and in addition he was also determined to survive long enough to see the fruition of his life's work and finally come face to face with his wife.

Misato and Shinji were on their last cans of Yebisu when it was his turn to talk. Already the alcohol has exacted a hard toll on his body, making him dizzy, and yet also wondering if he could keep on being awake should Misato demand for a second six-pack from the refrigerator. This time, the rock station on the radio was playing Smashing Pumpkins' "Landslide".

"I don't know what I could talk about, but…" Shinji trailed away, "I wonder if it's okay if I could talk about the girls."

Misato nodded. "Sure, I'm all ears."

"I told you about me talking to Ayanami, and she told me about the times when we were together. I liked her then, but not something like love… I can't say what kind of relationship was that."

"I think it's called a platonic relationship," Misato corrected him. "You're very close friends with the opposite sex, but not really lovers."

Shinji nodded. "I get it. You see, I'm not falling for her completely, not romantically, but anyway I helped her whenever she had a problem, like when she tried to make some tea and got her fingers burned. Or when she had an issue with her school papers, and I… I mean, me and Toji had to bring to her those papers."

The young man sighed. "I like her, in a certain way, but I wanted her to be at least happy, and I was sure she was growing up inside until Unit Zero was destroyed. But now, I'm really glad to see her back, though she seems to be spending more time with Kaworu."

Misato shrugged. "Okay, there's something else apart from telling him what happened down there, as the Sub-Commander told me about Rei, just before Unit One went nuts... He said he's responsible for her, but that's all. Later he never brought it up again as we were too busy doing damage control."

"How? Why?"

"I don't know. Maybe he was involved in creating dozens of her, or he might be even the one who actually created Rei."

Shinji blinked, wondering how Misato came to that conclusion. "You mean… in a sense he's her father?"

"It's possible, because I believe that, on the basis of Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki's background, Rei was probably created as a test subject for stem cell, rapid cell regeneration and cloning research, which would have been very useful for Eva R&D. You can't build an Eva without first learning advanced bioengineering and cloning on a smaller scale. Of course, there's also the possibility that there's more to Rei than we ever know, like she was used in constructing the Dummy Plug."

"It… It makes sense," Shinji said, "Just like connecting the dots."

Misato shook her head. "Whatever role the Sub-Commander has played in making Rei, I feel that he'd been forced under pressure to accomplish the tasks given to him. Now he's real worried about what else your father could do with Rei and the rest of you guys, so lately he's soft on us, trying to help in any way he could, trying to keep your father's tendencies in check."

Shinji remembered something else coming from the aftermath of Ritsuko's actions down at the Dummy Plug Plant: he wondered what connection Rei had with his mother? And what his father was trying to do with them?

Sure, he could connect the dots, but what connects them? What was the truth? Of course the only ones who could answer more of his gnawing questions were Fuyutsuki and Doctor Akagi.

Now since his father and Ayanami could not provide the truth, it made sense that he should talk to Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki, except that the old man must first be persuaded to bring the secrets out into the light. Further persuasion may not be necessary in this case, however, as seen from the deteriorating relationship between those two NERV leaders over his father's actions.

As the coming end looms near, does it mean that the lines are being drawn? Drawn between those who agree with his father, and those who don't? Or, depending on the truth, can this nightmare train continue to hurtle onto an uncertain destination, or be ground to a halt in the middle?

Whatever the case, Shinji realized that this morass he was in is bigger than he ever expected, and there's this jigsaw puzzle of the entire picture that was missing the pieces, he must find each and every one of them.

So far he only had half the picture, and maybe even less.

"Anyway, you still have any issues with Asuka?" Misato asked, changing the subject.

"No," Shinji disagreed, his reverie snapped out, "not anything bad, but she's still in my mind, too. I kinda missed the way she does whenever I'm stuck with her. I don't care now if she were to be back, even if she shouts at me again. But in my heart I'm sure she'll be different."

"Funny, but the other day in the car, I heard you saying that you kissed her," Misato remarked.

"It's true I did," Shinji answered, quickly blushing. "I tried, but I couldn't follow her up and found myself needing a breath. Can't tell why she asked me to do it, except maybe she was testing me."

Misato shook her head, snickering. "You're supposed to do at least move your lips a bit to have a small opening just to catch a breath, like this singer who sometimes moves his lips to between his lines to get some air."

Shinji sulked. "And I don't know as I'm really dumb at it. How can I do it right as she pinched my nose because she thinks my breathing ruins the kiss?" he complained.

"Good grief, she's doing it wrong," Misato said, before laughing out loud. "When kissing, try to be natural and go with the flow. Don't be afraid to have a bit of head and body movement, because just being frozen right there gives no meaning to the kiss. It's entirely an expression of your mind, heart and body. As if it's not enough, cup her chin gently with your hand to keep your lips planted properly. Don't push too hard, but be slow and gentle."

Shinji nodded, reimagined the scene with Asuka but differently. "Now I got what you mean." The young man wistfully smiled.

"By the way… I wondered if Fuyutsuki got my request through," Misato said. "I bet that given that he's close enough to your father than anyone else, Asuka could be out of here sooner than we expect."

"But she may not be able to pilot anymore," Shinji spoke, abruptly concerned.

"It would be the least of her problems. At best, she could at try a bit to be normal again, but at worse she could remain as she is right now. Actually, it's really up to her whether she could change or not, as long as she doesn't do anything drastic to endanger herself like following her mother's footsteps."

Shinji took a drink from his can, swallowed, and then said, "I think there's little difference between us, though, just as you said about her life back at Hikari's. Maybe we'll understand each other, then. Maybe then I could make up all the mistakes I made with her."

Misato sighed as an idea entered her thoughts.

"Know what?" she said, "I was wondering what would happen should our job's done here in this place, like what if we defeated all the Angels? Me, I don't know but if we win, I think I could just go back to normal, like becoming a teacher… What about you?"


"Yeah, I don't really know how you'll end up once all of this is over."

"I just want to forget all of this and live like everyone else. I want some peace, I want to learn, I don't want to think about the nightmares I had, I like to be feeling okay while being with my buddies, and I don't want to spend my days looking behind my back, or wondering how much praise I could get. I want to be ordinary."

Misato got up from her chaise and sat on the edge, and holding her can, prepared to toast with Shinji. The young man raised his can as well.

"Well, to those who left before us, and to world peace… Fuck war," she avowed.

Surprised, Shinji shook his head at her cursing, but he smiled weakly, figuring that she was getting tired of the morass they were stuck in. "Fuck war," he agreed.

And their cans clanked together, before in unison they emptied the remaining Yebisu down and straight into their guts.

In his room and lying on his futon, finally able to retire for the evening after what amounted to a very long day, Kaworu was contemplating at what would happen in the next few days, guessing whether his presence has altered everything at NERV. Sure, he knew that SEELE would be expecting results, sure they wanted their plans to be on track, but today's events have changed him as well. He wondered what everyone else was doing at the moment.

"I don't know how my actions would affect you all, but all I wanted is to make yourselves get ready for the worst," he whispered to himself.

"Because… I will be the prelude to the end of all things."

For a moment he imagined Rei facing him, and added, "I hope in the end you'll also understand me and my reasons."

One final thing bothered him, though.

What if Asuka wakes up the next morning and finds out that he's the current pilot of her Eva? Given her temper, Kaworu hoped in some way, by explaining properly, then she must calmly accept the fact that he's her replacement, and that she needed a break.

Kaworu yawned before he closed his eyes. I'll never know what would happen next.

About seven hours later…

Asuka woke up with a start, her eyes blinking and trying to adjust themselves to the glare of the morning sun reflected from the Geofront's solar condenser blocks, but because of her prolonged sleep it took a while to focus her eyes. She could also smell the heavy pine-scent of Lysol that was mopped onto the floors, and heard the life-support systems beeping.

"Where am I?" she demanded, and she remembered that last night she had an exceptionally vivid dream, talking about her feelings and a painful past to someone she never met before. I should've asked where he came from, she thought.

This Kaworu Nagisa guy… He's dressed like Shinji, but… I never met such a really nice guy, telling me, yes, to live. Strangely, I even managed to smell him… like he smells like, uh, incense wood just like the priests use in Shinto temples around here.

Raising her arms, Asuka glanced at her wrists, covered in gauze and bandages. Stupid me, what a dumb mistake I did… He's right. I should make today the Day One of my life, and I want to get out of here, she vowed. I want to try again, and I must come to terms with myself.

I want to kick some ass again!

Now Asuka was quickly aware of the IV needle on her right arm and electrodes all over her chest. She grimaced in disgust, as they wired her completely.

Ah, screw all of this junk!

Without hesitation she tore them off, wincing in pain as she pulled out the IV needle. Noting that her gown was wide open, white panties and her bare chest exposed, she struggled to fasten each button as well. She hoped to steal a pair of janitor's coveralls or surgical green pants and try wearing them while on the way out; no way someone's gonna take a peek at her ass even in her seemingly decrepit state.

Asuka willed herself to get her feet going, first trying to move her toes and feet, testing to see if they were still okay. She then flexed every one of her legs, and her knees were adequate, hopefully not completely numbed by the long confinement. Funny, I'm like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, she mused, getting out of coma.

She tried to get up into a sitting position, but it was more like trying to lift a sack of rice until her feet were now hanging from the edge of the bed. She lowered one foot to the floor, and then the other, thinking she could stand on her own. Here goes nothing.

But as soon as she stood up, letting free of the bed, Asuka unexpectedly crumpled to the floor, the pain of the impact making her teeth grit harder. She cursed almost silently in three languages, comprehending that her legs were almost numb from the long hours of being stuck in bed.

Shit, I'll fight anyway, she told herself.

She'll have to be content with crawling her way out. Slowly she was inching forward to the door, every centimeter more like a meter, until she took hold of the door frame. Asuka will have to reach the door knob and open it.

Like a cat clawing its way up a wall, Asuka exerted every amount of her strength to reach the knob, and now her right hand took hold of it and twisted it open. She was rewarded with a click of the lock and the door slowly swung out.

Asuka poked her head out into the corridor, trying to see if there was any other human traffic. So far there was nobody except for her, silent except for the distant call of the PA system. The nurse's probably busy at her station, and no guards, too, she thought with relief, and began crawling her agonizing way to the elevators.

Escape this white hell. Make a break for it, Asuka.

As she passed by Room 300, Asuka noticed that the door was ajar, and curious about its occupant, she peeked in and was surprised to see who was inside. The occupant was sitting upright on her bed, staring back at her with red eyes, startled by her unexpected appearance.

"Wondergirl," Asuka mumbled in bewilderment. "Why are you here?"

Author's Notes: Finally, she's back.

To those Asuka fans out there, this is what you were waiting for so long, and I have finally delivered. This is the first installment of what I think could be a three- to five-chapter Asuka story arc.

As this is probably one of the most difficult chapters to deal with so far in Light and Water Season Two, it took several nights trying to write and edit this, but six years before, the original version and the entire plot was much wildly different. However, back then I felt it was all too rushed, too forced. So I decided that on the rewrite the flow should be gradual, and with each chapter I have to triumph over every character obstacle I encounter, one roadblock at a time. As usual I make sure the dialogue has as much sense as the description.

I suppose that with this chapter, and at the same time I'm grappling with my personal issues, through my reinterpretation of Kaworu as he was talking to Asuka, I have to follow my own advice about life and how I could overcome my difficulties. I can't allow any problems try to discourage me from writing, as I came to realize that everytime I write a chapter, I make a commitment to myself to live on and fight.

As I will not give up writing Light and Water until the last chapter, I will also never surrender in life. Hope springs eternal, as a famous man once said.

So I'm dedicating this chapter to two of my online friends whose mother had recently passed away last weekend.

Finally, FYI, Takako Chigusa is one of the more memorable characters in Koushun Takami's novel Battle Royale, which in the later film adaptation was played by actress/model Chiaki Kuriyama (who, apart from being a total video-game junkie, is also said to be an avid Eva fan, as evidenced from the inside of her crib).

To my readers, thank you and good evening… and as Megumi Hayashibara had once written, "The things you see aren't everything."