It was almost eight in the morning when her two-year-old Sony-Ericsson clamshell cellphone shattered the calm.

Misato woke up to this trilling with a grunt of displeasure. Once she opened her eyes, the woman found herself lying on her futon, and she could smell the faint stench of vomit – her own. The sun was now over the horizon, and the beam streaming through her bedroom windows. She then faintly remembered about Shinji leading her to the toilet last night, where they puked together after using up what seemed to be two six-packs of Yebisu while talking about almost everything.

Damn fucking headache, she cursed inwardly, rubbing her head's temples. The sour vomit had also left a searing pain in her throat. Feels like we went overboard... unbelievable.

Now she heard what sounded like footfalls outside. Must be Shinji; poor kid was now up, hobbling along the hallway to the bathroom to splash his face, examine himself in the mirror the head-throbbing results of his first alcoholic debauchery, perhaps to congratulate himself for discovering the other side of age twenty early in teenage life, in his miasma of vomit hovering in the air, and hopefully sober enough to make Cup Noodles and the strongest brew of coffee for both of them.

But still Misato must answer the phone right now.

"Where the hell is that thing?" she groaned, while pawing her hand around, looking for the vibrating phone until it was in her hands. Misato looked at the displayed caller ID and she realized it was Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki.

Oh, shit, Misato cursed again.

She promptly pried open the phone and answered, "Uh, good morning, sir."

"Good morning, Major," Fuyutsuki greeted, "Given your own habits, I'm not surprised about you waking up very late. Today, you have a special job to do."

"Sorry about that, sir," Misato apologized. "What is it?"

"You're to escort Miss Langley out of here this afternoon, but after she finishes the discharge procedures."

With one shoulder Misato pinched the phone to her ear as she stood up, clearing the cobwebs from her eyes. "You mean…" she trailed.

"About a couple of hours ago, Doctor Odani pulled the medications out of Miss Langley. Yes, although the Commander approved our request last night, I'm afraid that this girl, once she lands on Frankfurt, she'll be an ordinary civilian. It'll be over for her."

Misato groaned. "I understand that, sir," she said.

"But first, get her belongings ready, the ones she can carry home. Clothes, papers and valuables are only needed. You'll be picked up by an agent in a car, so leave yours instead."

"Okay, sir," Misato agreed as she began preparing her uniform, laying them out on the futon along with a fresh set of underwear. "Can I bring Shinji along?"

There was a long pause as Fuyutsuki considered her suggestion, and then he answered, "You may, but as long as you keep an eye on both of them. You and I know that most of the time they're like a married couple… Quarreling, that is."


An alternate path fanfiction by soulassassin547
Written on 5/20/2010 21:35 a5/p5

On all her fours, Asuka found herself staring at Rei Ayanami, whose reading of a light novel was interrupted, and this prompted the Second Children to ask, "Wondergirl, why are you here?"

Rei was trying to find the right words, until she answered, "I was injured yesterday in a failed experiment."

"What experiment?" Asuka questioned, as she tried to stand up on her feet, propping herself against the door frame. Damn it, I wish there was at least a wheelchair or crutches to stand up, she thought. All I want is to talk, and I need to know.

"I tried to be compatible with Unit One, but I failed," Rei said.

"Where's Shinji?" Asuka demanded, still struggling to be upright.

Rei shook her head. "I do not know. Perhaps he could be at home right now, but yesterday he visited me."

"But what about Misato–" Asuka said, but was cut off when a pair of hands suddenly grabbed her wrists from behind. She turned her head around to see that a burly Caucasian male nurse had his hands on her, and this prompted her to fight.

"Let GO OF ME!" Asuka yelled in English, trying to kick and punch the nurse. "Damn it, LEMME GO!"

However the nurse, an ex-US Army medic who had seen his share of wounded soldiers brought into a field hospital in Afghanistan, thinking they were still in one piece and tried to get off their beds, and he knew all the tactics his patients would try to resort when escaping. Asuka Langley Soryu was no different from the soldiers he dealt with, and given the height difference and her weakened state he thought she was still easy to handle.

But Asuka proved him wrong, as she was aiming for his nethers and solar plexus.

"Calm down!" the nurse answered back. "You're hitting my balls!"

At first, Rei watched helplessly as Asuka tried to break free, the nurse trying to pull the girl away, but after twenty seconds the First Children must do something.

"Stop," Rei intoned, but the struggling and the screaming continued. Another male nurse, Japanese this time, joined in the fray. This was enough to inflame Rei, as she could remember all too well about the Angel attack that nearly drove Asuka mad.

"STOP!" Rei finally uttered out in the strongest voice possible. Astonished by this uncharacteristic outburst, Asuka and the two nurses immediately froze.

"I'm sorry, we got orders," the first nurse said. "We have no intention to harm her."

Breathing heavily, Rei noted the nameplates and ranks on the nurses' white blouses. Wilson Derdrick, Staff Sergeant. Keiichi Ayanoshita, Corporal. Her red pupils bore into the nurses' eyes, expressing her total displeasure.

"We have to prepare Miss Langley for her checkup," Wilson explained to Rei, as the nurses' slackened their hold on Asuka. They were obliged instead to prop the girl on her feet, and they knew all too well that Rei Ayanami had the full backing of the Commander.

Asuka blinked. "What do you mean? What the hell's going on?" she insisted. "What's wrong with me coming out of my room, and you clowns tried to grab me?"

"Men, please try to be careful with her," a woman's voice commanded from behind.

At the same moment they all twisted their necks towards Doctor Natsumi Odani and Chief Nurse Takako Chigusa, who shot at the men with disapproving scowls, and then Natsumi turned her attention to Asuka. Both men gasped.

"Miss Langley," Odani said, "Earlier, we disconnected the IV lines supplying you with sedatives, so you managed to wake up. It's my duty to tell you this, but whether you like it or not, you're going home."

Somewhere near Tokyo-3 and in his service van, the killer made a scrambled call to his handler and reported, but added that since Asuka would be accompanied by armed escort, he called up some extra friends from his list of contacts to help him out, and the killer would later plan and supervise the attack.

"Is it necessary?" the handler demanded, sounding almost agitated. "You could just take her out with a sniper rifle, and if she changes her mind and comes back to pilot again..."

"I don't want to have this left undone," the killer answered, after pausing to put down his coffee cup onto a holder on the dashboard. "I want to make them take notice that NERV's number would be up soon, but I also want to see how they react, as I see this convoy as a mere pretext for a trap. Those men will keep a distance from me and my quarry; there's no way they'll ever know who gave the order to shoot, as they're expendable fanatics who will not talk. Either way, no one should be left alive."

The killer sighed in near resignation.

"If you're worried about the added expenses, it's not a problem. I know these men," he added. "They're worth every dollar, and take my word for it."

The handler coughed. "Then do it as soon as possible. I want no stone left unturned. Give them hell."

At Misato's instructions and despite the mild aftereffects of his very first hangover (even after showering, the strongest coffee and aspirin possible, five minutes of brushing, and a good change of clothes), Shinji Ikari was now packing most of Asuka's clothes and belongings into a pair of gym bags. After her towel and a few pair of jeans and shirts went into one of the bags, Shinji now held aloft the yellow sundress on his hands.

He remembered her wearing it on the day they first met on the aircraft carrier. In his mind's eye, amidst fighter planes being catapulted and taking off in the background, Asuka then stood proud on the flight deck, with a determined face telling him she was ready to take on the world with Unit-02.

Oh, Asuka looked down on him, as though he was a commoner coming face-to-face with a medieval potentate with the billowing skirt of her sundress threatening to expose her thighs and underwear (screaming SEX in flashing neon lights).

When the Angel made an assault against the naval fleet, he tried to make his best impression possible as they dived in and fought the Angel underwater, even as he wore her spare plugsuit. How they managed to fish the damned thing out of the water and onto the flight deck, tried to kill that sea monster, but in the end it only took a pair of ancient battleships to destroy the Angel.

Since then Shinji found himself in constant conflict with Asuka, even as the situation they were into stuck them together out of necessity, and they had to come into the fight side-to-side.

Funny, Toji once called them the 'married couple', and even though both of them tried to deny it, the label was firmly stuck on them as they quarreled. He could remember trying to kiss her once, and then tried again at Asuka's urging, but now Shinji wondered how he could talk to her, as she was awake at this moment.

The bad news for her is that she's going home, never to return, and never to pilot again. He tried to imagine how her new life would be like after she spent much of her lifetime to become the chosen pilot of Unit-02, only she couldn't do anymore in the end. Furthermore, after all of her suffering, how she could accept the fact that Kaworu was now the new pilot of her Eva?

The thought made Shinji groan as he placed the sundress into the bag. He hoped she wouldn't deck Kaworu with a straight punch.

In curiosity and as part of his post-breakfast morning walk, Kaworu Nagisa ventured out from NERV HQ to visit a garden hidden behind the pine trees that dotted the Geofront's landscape. He once saw a glimpse of this garden on his way up to the ruins of Tokyo-3, and now as he entered through its gate for the first time, right before his eyes there were beds of colorful flowers, manicured lawns, shaped hedges, water fountains, and in the middle of all of this lush greenery was a gazebo, flanked by a pair of marble columns and surrounded by palms.

"I didn't know this place existed," Kaworu whispered in awe, as he walked around. "Beautiful."

Still, there was a reason for this garden to exist: like city parks it clearly served to provide a warm and vibrant contrast to the stark, cold and sterile science that occurred beneath the ground. Kaworu also guessed that given the stressful nature of scientific work, anyone can take a break and come here to literally smell the flowers.

Out of several flowers present in full bloom, one bed of roses interested him with their blazing pure whiteness, and he walked up and knelt down to pick several, careful not to be pricked by the thorns. He intended this bouquet to be given to Rei as a gift.

Maybe she would like these, he thought, gazing at the roses in his grasp as he stood up.

In Doctor Odani's office, after the reluctant nurses placed Asuka onto the examination table and then left, Natsumi said, "You still have some of the sedatives in your system, which you'll have to wait for a least a few hours more before their effects dissipate."

Asuka nodded quietly. "What then?" she asked as Natsumi went through the motions of checking her pulse and respiration with a stethoscope on several places of the girl's chest.

"By that time, you'll be getting your release papers approved before you're on your way."

"I see," Asuka said resignedly. "Looks like I'm done in here, isn't it?"

Natsumi set her stethoscope aside and scribbled her findings on a clipboard. "I can't be the judge of that," she replied, now taking out a penlight from her chest pocket, flicking it on. "However, I believe that there's more to life than a single ruling passion. Okay, can you leave your eyes open so that I can see them?"

Asuka sat still as Natsumi played the light beam over her blue pupils.

"You're a bit dazed after several days in the bed," Natsumi spoke, putting back the penlight. "Try to do some eye exercises for a couple of minutes, and then just focus on that poster right there. Read the letters one by one with one open eye and the other covered, and then repeat with the opposite eye," she added, pointing out at the eye chart a few meters away.

As instructed, Asuka began reading out the letters on the chart, going far enough to the midway point, before repeating the same process with the other eye. From this, Natsumi wrote down Asuka's overall visual condition, and nodded approvingly.

"Not bad, considering you're just out of the bed," she remarked.

"Thanks," Asuka said.

In the next thirty minutes Asuka compliantly went through her full examination, including a flex test, a blood sample, an ear examination, mouth check, and so on. The girl never said a word throughout the process, as she stoically knew that her days here were over; the prospects of riding Unit-02 again were becoming remote to her as the time passed, to be replaced by growing thoughts of life outside this world.

She would soon wake up to mornings not worrying about the next mission, waiting for a passing Angel to slay, nor constantly doubting her sync ratio. She would be normal.

With much of Asuka's luggage on a flatbed cart, and sober with enough caffeine, calories and aspirin in their systems, Misato and Shinji stood at the parking lot, waiting for the agent to arrive, when they saw the car coming in, made a sharp turn and parked to a full stop. Misato recognized it as a sleek Audi S4 model sedan, possessing full-performance aftermarket options, gloss black paint, and well-armored. As this was a quick VIP machine for NERV top brass, including Commander Ikari, Misato believed that this particular car included some serious just-in-case firepower hidden beneath.

Misato also recognized the driver as he stepped out into the morning sun: Captain Tsutomo Kanzaki, the Section Two guy dressed in a three-piece suit. He walked around the Audi, stood before Misato and saluted smartly.

"Good morning, ma'am," Kanzaki greeted.

"Good morning," Misato answered, returning the agent's salute. With unspoken agreement, Misato, Shinji and Tsutomo began loading their parcels into the trunk, and once done, they boarded the Audi and sped out of the parking lot.

"Why use this one?" Misato asked Tsutomo, referring to the car. In the backseat and with the seatbelt on, Shinji was in his usual quiet self with the SDAT earphones plugged.

"Knowing what happened before, the Sub-Commander and my boss aren't going to take any chances," he replied. "By the way, once we have her with us, as planned we'll be joined by a few others in two Pajeros and two Humvees, and some air support."

"I see. Why we need so many escorts with the fact that we're only accompanying a girl?"

"This time," Tsutomo answered, "my boss must be having some sort of a sixth sense, thinking there could be some trouble coming up, after he got too much flack over his handling of the search operations for that Langley girl, some intel screw-ups, the Bakelite sabotage yesterday, and so on. He doesn't want to mess his retirement plans with yet another SNAFU, which means today he has security beefed up even with this supposed ferry job."

Instinctively, Misato reached into the folds of her uniform, and beneath it felt the reassuring heft of her HK USP service pistol nestled in her Galco Miami Classic harness. Tsutomo noticed her checking the gun and said, "No problem about us packing iron, ma'am, should we get in trouble. I'm carrying a Glock, and on the backseat there's a pair of UMP45s and spare mags, and vests." He meant there were two submachine guns, ammo and bullet-proof vests, which for Misato were better than nothing.

"Hmmm, seems that they've been spared from the budget chopping block," Misato commented. She could see that they were now approaching a gate leading to a tunnel for the linear car train station.

"Those guns are only for special needs like this car," Tsutomo said, "but we're doing everything we could after the problem with the security budget, and so my boss said that we had to improvise, train hard, or make do with anything we have in the inventory. He's also worried that anything less could be more than just having the danger of Al-Qaeda or the International Resistance dropping in with a Christmas gift. Most people look upon NERV as a military organization, and how could you call it a military organization if it doesn't have any guns?"

Stopping by the guardhouse at the gate, Tsutomo lowered the window and showed his ID to the guard, who nodded back and lowered the crash barrier, before the Audi rolled away into the tunnel.

"That has changed, however," Tsutomo continued. "Two weeks ago my boss pleaded to Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki about purchasing some equipment on that tight budget, and promised that he could find a ready and legit supplier on the cheap. However, for good reason we didn't let the Commander in the scheme."

"How did you know?" Misato asked, as the car parked into its place on the linear train. "I thought there's almost no budget for security."

"No, the Sub-Commander did otherwise with the budget surplus by taking advantage of the so-called 'intelligence fund', using some accounting loopholes, and ordering for us the equipment ASAP," Tsutomo said as he pulled up the hand brake. "A week later I was on the purchasing team, finding dealers in America. We were lucky that I had old friends working in the defense industry, and we managed to clinch a deal with the lowest bidders. More guns and gear for us, except that they're all surplus, because the Pentagon's switching its troops over to new equipment. Well, later on we're due to get a shipment of that from America, to be picked up at Atsugi and delivered by rail. It's more secure there than at the airport near here." Atsugi was home to a sizable US naval air station, currently hosting squadrons of UN Emergency Forces aircraft.

They now felt the jolt as the tire locks engaged to hold the Audi in place, and the linear train began moving downward. Tsutomo managed a small sigh.

"So tomorrow we'll be carrying more bang for the buck, and that's all," he said. "'Fifty percent of something's better than a hundred percent of nothing', as I quote that Chinese guy from that drift race movie. I tell you, ma'am, no soldier here worth his salt would be standing around wearing only standard-issue dress khakis and a peashooter once the shit hits the fan."

Asuka, in a wheelchair this time, was about to be returned back to her room when she requested to Takako Chigusa, who was pushing her from behind, that she be brought to Rei. The young nurse nodded and they went into Rei's room.

Once Takako left them alone, the blue-haired girl set aside the book she was reading and asked, "What is it, Pilot Soryu?"

"Just wanted to have a little chat," Asuka said. "Call me Asuka instead. I feel better that way, and besides I'm a civilian today, not an Evangelion pilot."

Inwardly, Rei noted the unusual change in Asuka's behavior, especially the absence of her usual standoffish behavior and disdain, now replaced by apathy and sobriety. "I see," she answered, nodding. "What do you wish to talk about?"

"Well, I have a thought today, like, uh, having a change of heart about you because I had this dream where I met this guy and I talked to him. Said everything about me and you, and told me that I have to live."

Asuka glanced briefly at her bandaged wrists, before she returned her attention to Rei.

"I'm sorry for everything I did against you," she apologized.

"Why?" Rei asked.

"Instead of thanking you for saving me, I was angry. In the elevator I also foolishly thought you were wrong about opening my heart to Eva that I slapped you."

Rei remembered that elevator spat between them, and Asuka calling her Eva a doll.

"Now you're right," Asuka said, shaking her head, "but it's too late. I'd rather do something else than waste too much of my time here. I spent nearly a lifetime after being selected, trained for this, ate, drank, slept and lived to become a pilot… However, today, I'm going home, and maybe there I'll try to become normal and forget that I was once here. Go back to school, be more open and find new friends, land a job..."

Rei said nothing, as Asuka sighed wearily.

"I'm useless here," Asuka despaired, "as I can't move that Eva anymore, and I'm tired."

"Though I am still alive, I am no different from you, as I have also lost my purpose."

The redhead was wide-eyed. "What?"

"Unit Zero is gone, so I tried to do my best to be as useful as possible, but after the compatibility test with Unit One, it has become clear that I am no longer able to pilot."

"But why you're still here, and for what?" Asuka asked, scratching her head.

"The Commander wants me alive, and yet he has never told me why. He has yet to visit me here."

"Funny, you're jobless just like me. That leaves out Invincible Shinji."

"You are mistaken," Rei said. "There is already another who has replaced you. He is now the pilot of Unit Two."

Bowled over, Asuka asked, "Who's piloting it this time?"

Rei didn't answer, but instead stared far at the direction of the door. Noticing this, Asuka turned her wheelchair around to find Kaworu Nagisa standing at the doorway with a fresh bouquet of white roses. The young man smiled weakly.

"Good morning, Rei," he greeted, "and I'm pleased to see you again, Asuka."

This morning and on her way down to the Stockade, Maya Ibuki looked glum after yesterday's testing SNAFU, causing her much distress thereafter and forcing her to take leave early, and several days before that, her boss Ritsuko Akagi was sent to jail for an embezzlement charge she didn't believe in. The only consolation for her so far was having Doctor Natsumi Odani as her new boss, and fortunately Odani was kind enough to explain her reasons and was willing to work with her.

About two days ago, Odani told her about the unusual data coming from Kaworu Nagisa after they put him through a compatibility test with Unit-02, and gave the data to her for analysis. In those two days of combing through the figures, Maya found out that Kaworu can adjust his sync rate to any level with little difficulty and greater stability.

Today, Maya received a memo from the top, in which she was now allowed to visit Doctor Akagi on matters regarding the MAGI and the Evas. But the MAGI supercomputers were doing fine as usual, and in its operational history the microbial Angel attack was the sole serious intrusion against the system.

It was only the Evas, especially Unit-01, that were still difficult and unpredictable to work with. Before yesterday's compatibility test, she wanted to voice her misgivings about the possibility of that Eva rejecting Rei, but Commander Ikari was a difficult, fearsome person to placate, like Captain Ahab trying to hunt down that mythical white whale. Only later after debriefing did Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki told her that he even tried to stop him.

All told and after a string of mishaps, Maya was deeply concerned that the Commander may be leading them all to uncertainty.

In the Stockade office, which all visitors had to pass through after their credentials were established, Maya showed her ID card to the seated sentry and explained about the purpose of her visit.

"I'm here to see Doctor Akagi," she said, showing the printout of the memo, complete with Commander Ikari's signature and authentication barcode. "I just wanted to report to her about the current status of the MAGI," she added, laying a sheaf of reports onto the sentry's desk.

The sentry said nothing, as he gave her a clipboard, where she wrote the details of her visit, before handing it back to the man. The sentry then gestured to her to pass through a metal detector, followed him down into the holding cells, clearing two steel doors with a keycard, before he tapped on the door of Ritsuko's cell and said, "Doctor, you have a visitor today."

"Who?" Ritsuko asked.

"It's Lieutenant Ibuki," he answered.

Ritsuko gave out a sigh of relief. "Okay, thanks. Just let her in."

The sentry unlocked the cell door with his passcode on the keypad, then swiped with another keycard, and swung it open. Maya entered, and thanked the sentry, but warned her in return, "You got only half an hour in there. Call me when you're finished."

In the fluorescent light Maya was astonished at the changes in her boss' appearance: Ritsuko looked gaunt, her once dyed-blonde hair faded into its original chestnut brown, and she was wearing baggy prisoner's coveralls. She was sitting on her cot, and facing her was an empty folding chair. Also on the cot were several paperbacks; a dog-eared copy of Contact was laid open, halfway through reading Ellie Arroway's odyssey.

"Hi," Ritsuko said with a small smile as she watched her protégé sit down. "I'm sorry if I look like this crappy."

"It's okay, ma'am," Maya answered. "Are you eating well?"

"Don't worry about me. I have three square meals a day, plus a shower. You have anything new?"

"I have these," Maya said, showing the progress reports before placing them onto the cot. Ritsuko took one of them off the top and read, skimming through the printouts before reaching for another folder. The process continued until she opened a folder concerning the Fifth Children.

"That's the new pilot of Unit Two," Maya helpfully said.

"Strange," Ritsuko remarked, squinting twice to make sure her eyes didn't fool her. "When did he arrive?" she asked, but she gestured to Maya with an index finger across her lips to keep their voices down.

"About three days ago. He's from Germany," Maya said almost quietly.

Ritsuko frowned. "Who sent him here?"

"I don't know, except he's Asuka's replacement. Maybe only the Commander knows."

"Must be the Committee," Ritsuko said. "Seems they're helping us out near the end, but the timing's too right, and too convenient."

"Ma'am, what do you mean?" Maya asked.

Ritsuko shrugged. "Unit Zero is dead, and the First Children is nothing but a replacement. And then you have the Second Children literally out of action after she nearly got her brains fried. This leaves the Third, Shinji, and Unit One to remain. And suddenly we have this newcomer with an ostensibly wonderful skill set. Anyway, what happened yesterday? There seemed to be a ruckus up there."

"The Commander tried to have Rei accomplish a compatibility test with Unit One," Maya said, and explained to Ritsuko about yesterday's failed test.

"That hard-headed sonofabitch," Ritsuko muttered at the end of Maya's narrative. "Mind if I could smoke?" she asked, pulling out a pack of Mild Seven cigarettes and a disposable lighter. Maya nodded; the young woman knew that cigarettes, despite being noxious, were as necessary to Ritsuko as to a baby needing a pacifier.

Ritsuko lit up one stick and puffed. Her lips blew out a stream of spent tobacco before she said, "I suppose he's too eager to restart the Dummy Plug project. And why not rebuild the damned thing, especially when you have a new boy with an exceptional sync rate, and use his data in the rebuild?"

"It's not going to happen," Maya answered. "From what I heard, the Commander has shut down the project. It wasn't worth risking for because it made too much trouble."

"Good riddance," Ritsuko said sourly, her fingers tapping the ashes away from the burning stick. "Anyway, how Odani is treating you?"

Maya smiled. "She's okay, we're doing fine whenever she would check on me but I can manage myself even if you're stuck in here. As far as she's concerned, the Commander gave her a higher security clearance in order to access medical records, and maybe some of your files."

Ritsuko blinked. "What?"

But Maya shook her head. "Doctor Odani told me not to worry; all she needed was the necessary data, and judging from the login records she never touched any of your encrypted files. Her main concern is more on the medical than yours."

The older scientist sighed in relief. "What files she used, anyway?"

Maya explained about Odani's use of Rei's MRI/PET scan files yesterday while checking the girl's previous neurological condition; told her it was for comparison checks on the hippocampus section because of an anomaly caused by Unit-01 while she went haywire during the failed test.

"Neither Doctor Odani nor I know what sort of information that Unit One forced into Rei's mind, but she said that there was nothing wrong with her, top to bottom, barring a concussion."

"I see," Ritsuko said. "She looks real healthy, sure enough to be out by the day's end."

Maya shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not sure about this but today Rei has to attend a debriefing, along with that Nagisa boy, just to know what happened. And oh, if you wanted to know, Asuka will be going back to Germany. It's a general medical discharge with the Commander's signature on the release papers."

Ritsuko shook her head, guessing well that Asuka's time was up. "I wish her the best," she commented. "She did everything she could to become what she wanted to be."

While Fallout Boy on his SDAT blared into his ears, Shinji recalled Asuka's kiss.

No, really, her kiss was forever branded into his brain, with all five senses able to record that moment; he could still remember the chocolate flavor and smell of her mouth, eyes widened in shock and pleasure, the pop music from the radio, and the softness of her lips.

It was a rare prize that can only be obtained by fortunate circumstances.

Boys in his school desired her, the sexiest bomb ever to walk before their gaze, but whether for better or for worse, Shinji was the only one to kiss Asuka.

Amazing to be that lucky, Shinji thought as he watched the bucolic scenery whiz by while the linear train was descending to the Headquarters station below. He still felt sleepy from his hangover, the plush rear seat and the air-conditioning of the car made it all too comfortable to doze in, but the music piped into his ears and thoughts of her kept him awake.

He still wondered what to say to Asuka. That alone was an agonizing problem, as he was looking for a good reason to speak his mind out, and questions he wanted to ask.

The young man breathed in and out, making up his mind, practicing the lines he would say to her. He imagined himself facing her, not sure of what mood she would be in:

Hi, Asuka. I'm glad you're back.
Asuka… Are you okay? I wish you're not angry with me this time. Please forgive me.
Hello, Asuka. I came here today because you woke up.
Asuka, I have come here in peace.

Shinji was running out of ideas, so he pulled out the earphones and asked Misato, who was on the front seat, in mid-conversation with Kanzaki. "I'm not sure what to say to her," he said, "so I was wondering what Asuka's feelings at the moment would be."

Misato answered, "I have the same thoughts, too. Just greet her a good morning as if we're back home and she wakes up and asks you to make her some breakfast."

"Ah, okay," Shinji agreed, before he posed to himself this one question: does he truly love Asuka? The young man sighed. I'm not sure.

Asuka finally came to gaze at the new pilot of her Eva Unit-02: gray hair springing from his head in all directions, slim, pale complexion, his seemingly hypnotic red pupils, and an amiable, confident personality. She was speechless.

As he placed the fresh white roses carefully in a vase on a bedside table, Kaworu was an epitome of perfection, even if he really smelled of soap instead of fragrant wood in Asuka's first encounter with him. In another dimension, she thought, Kaworu would have been a suave pop star straight out of Johnny's talent stable, adored by millions of screaming fangirls as he sang onstage, camera strobes flashing all around him.

But he was one of the Children, trained to ride the Evas and fight, pummeling their gargantuan opponents into pulp, and yet they were never intended to be pop stars – just the opposite as NERV strictly prohibited any press coverage on the Children, and instead the PR office saying the lie to the media that Evas are "robots" built to stop the post-apocalyptic invaders in their tracks.

"So… You are Kaworu Nagisa," Asuka mumbled, her eyes wide in disbelief.

Kaworu bowed. "Yes, I'm sorry if we met again in this way, but I'm glad you're almost back onto your feet."

Asuka gave him a little smile. "Thank you," she said. "When did you come here?"

"Just a few days ago," Kaworu replied. "To cut the story short, I was trained for this duty, and then assigned to your Eva as the Fifth Children."

Asuka wasn't really sure whether she could say openly that she met Kaworu in her dreams, but first things first, she was real hungry to know what went on while in coma.

"How's Unit Two?" she queried as if Kaworu borrowed her Ferrari for two weeks of hard driving.

"I have no problem handling her since day one," Kaworu replied. "To be honest, she's really fine while you were asleep. There's barely a scratch on that Eva, even after I got into a tangle with Unit One and pulled Rei out of the wreckage."

The redhead scratched her head. "And what happened to Shinji's Eva?"

Kaworu shook his head. "She rejected Rei and went out of control," he answered, before the Fifth Children explained briefly to Asuka about the failed compatibility test which landed Rei onto the hospital bed.

"I'm sorry hearing about you going home," Kaworu said as he watched Rei quietly pick up her book and resume reading.

"It's okay, I regret nothing," Asuka answered. "I guess my job's done here, anyway. Gotta settle back to a normal life instead of worrying so much, and… "

All of them now heard Asuka's stomach churning. Kaworu grinned and said, "I suppose we'll order some breakfast for you."

"Yeah, thanks," Asuka replied. "Frankly, I'm so damned hungry, but I'll eat in my room."

Kozo Fuyutsuki was in his office, behind the desk with a mug of coffee in hand, listening to music as he waited. His little stereo component was playing much of the Beatles, a taste he acquired while back in his bad old days as an unlicensed doctor on Toyohashi's boat and squatter city; when not working on a patient's case of bronchitis or a wound caused by a stray fish hook, he played cheap bootlegs of classic rock he bought from the floating market near the quay. Fuyutsuki enjoyed his music as a way to ease his intellectual difficulties.

Now as he took a sip, one song had a particularly appropriate title—Come Together—for the situation of the moment, because the Children seemed to be rebounding back to normal, one by one, from almost close to defeat: Shinji snapped out of his depression, Rei remembering again, and today, Asuka waking up from an artificial coma.

On his desk, this morning's copy of the popular broadsheet Yomiuri Daily News carried the headline: "Diet Approves SSDF Redeployment and Defense Budget Increase". The paper also quoted one of the parliamentary leaders and the defense minister as saying that the worsening Angel situation in Japan and potential threats from belligerent neighbors has spurred the immediate approval of new military policies to ensure national security, despite howls of protest from left-leaning groups and politicians. According to the paper, military forces have also been repositioned around the Hakone rim, with at least four heavy divisions outside the valley.

Coming together, and what a sense of timing, he contemplated.

Fuyutsuki wondered if it was a coincidence that Kaworu's arrival and intervention sparked a change in here, especially to the other Children's plight, and now they were coming together.

He glanced at the picture on his desk, which was one of the few surviving mementoes when he thought man has come to a new age: it showed him with Gendo and Yui, all in lab coats, the three of them with a mission to change the world.

Everything seems to be coming together, and who knows what comes next? Honestly Fuyutsuki wasn't sure how things would eventually end down here, and that uncertainty left him doubting more often than being confident of expecting peace.

Fuyutsuki picked up the phone and dialed Misato's cellphone. He waited until the woman officer was on the line.

"It's me, sir," she answered. "I'm on my way."

"I see. Tell Agent Kanzaki to go meet Director Hamamoto for last minute instructions. Anyway, what happened to the two of you last night? You and Shinji, I mean."

There was a long pause before Misato replied. "We had a little bonding."

"Okay, Major, it's perfectly understandable."

"Thanks, sir. I'll see you later."

As Fuyutsuki put the phone back onto its cradle, he wondered what Gendo was doing today and where he was, after he last saw him back at the man's office yesterday. Perhaps he was spending his time in private, probably pondering his actions in the last few days, not wanting to be disturbed.

Rei was left to Doctor Odani as she called her to come for the final physical examination. Meanwhile, back in Asuka's room, as the redhead waited for her breakfast, Kaworu thought of the Second Children's new behavior, a transformation of personality; she was unlike her past persona, that of the loud, angry, haughty Asuka, out to fight to victory. Today she sounded restrained, accepting her inevitable fate to leave this place altogether with a clean conscience. He was also surprised that she wasn't hostile to the idea of him being Unit-02's new handler.

Now Nurse Chigusa came in walking, pushing a food cart up front. She then helped Asuka get off her wheelchair and back to bed, then set up the girl's breakfast of ramen (the real deal, not the instant variety), two rolls and orange juice onto the meal table. After thanking the nurse, Asuka promptly went eating her first solid meal, slurping the noodles with gusto.

"So tell me, why did you want to help me?" Asuka asked, referring to her all-too-real dream last night.

"I kind of pitied you when I saw you lying on the bed. Maybe sleeping but inside you felt as if you were drowning. I didn't want to stand around and watch the rest of you wallow in hopelessness."

"Thanks," the redhead sighed. "I was selfish. I sank too low that I thought it best to lie down and die after all the misery I had," she said, "until you came along and told me I have to let go. Now that you're here, I just wanted to have someone to talk to, and you're the first one since Hikari."

Kaworu nodded.

"And since you obviously know everything about me, I don't think I'll have anything else to hide."

"So this time it's just between you and me," he said.

The girl stopped eating, took a breath and looked at Kaworu.

"I believed myself I was right about everything," Asuka said. "I thought I could fill that emptiness in me and deny the past by being superior to everyone else. I wanted to escape, go past Mom's death, yet as I tried I felt unsatisfied, so I made myself larger than anyone else, say that I have the biggest brain in the neighborhood. By building a façade of my personality, I thought I was much important, the big shot."

"And now…?"

"What's the point of busting my ass for all of this," Asuka lamented, gesturing with her arms sweeping around, "What's the use of being so self-important, when I realize that I nearly killed myself over something so trivial, shallow and worrisome? Well, it makes sense now to leave. Leave? Yes… and live? Yes!"

"But what about your Eva? I'll let you make another chance."

"You told me to try again, but I can't… It's not worth it!"

Feeling the weight of the world upon her, the redhead cradled her face upon open palms, and then stroked them up to the back of her head to straighten her hair, before ending it with a sigh. Kaworu approached her close enough to look into her eyes.

"Kaworu?" Asuka spoke in almost a whisper.


"Can I cry? I can't hold them back... I've been having a bad time for too long…" This time her eyes were already welling up with tears, and she also felt a lump in her throat.

The young man nodded. "Sure, it's okay."

The next thing was Asuka sobbing onto Kaworu's chest, as he let his hand comfort the girl's back to reassure her.

After the final physical examination, Doctor Odani told Rei that she must get ready for her upcoming debrief, and so right now the First Children was taking a shower. Her usual school uniform was outside the shower room, waiting for the girl to wear them.

As she soaped her body, Rei found it uncharacteristic for Asuka to come into her room sounding more normal than hostile, but otherwise she thought it to be a direct result of the inevitable discharge, that she was trying to mend her bridges after burning them down.

Whatever the reasons, and despite Rei's mixed feelings within, Asuka was now talking, trying to become more open rather than being confrontational and divisive.

On the other hand, she wondered what the Commander was doing right now. Maybe he was still thinking what to do, now that he terminated the Dummy Plug project permanently. Or maybe he was planning on what more to do with her.

The last thought sent shivers coming down on Rei's spine. That man was, despite his setbacks, still in firm control of her fate. Ever since she was rescued, however, it seemed that the Commander has shut himself out, not trying to contact her or whatsoever, not even coming here out of genuine concern.

With Rei able to access the unlocked past of her previous incarnation, she could recall that the Commander was almost always with her, and every time they were together he would study her as she floated in the LCL tank. As she did that she was trying to guess what was in his mind, and even then she didn't know much about him, let alone that he was acting as the father figure.

After she cried and then settled down, Asuka felt better, and now she resumed eating. The idea of letting go gave her a measure of a different kind of confidence.

"I noticed something about two of you," Asuka remarked as she attacked her buttered rolls between noodle slurps, pointing out Kaworu and Rei's overall physical appearances. "I find it strange but you two look almost alike."

"I take that as a compliment," Kaworu answered.

"Sure, and I'm guessing you're so close to Rei."

Kaworu shrugged. "Can't help it, but from the time we first met I was trying to help her pull away from her predicament, such as not being able to remember after her last mission."

Asuka was busy chewing, before saying, "What else?"

"Apart from that, I also tried to give Rei a bit of self-worth."

The redhead wondered if there was something romantic going on between Kaworu and Rei. This perked her up. "So, are you trying to open her… mind?"

"In a sense, yes, because at the time I met her she looked helpless. Well, yesterday we had a very long talk, especially about her problems."

Asuka grinned. "Now that's progress," she praised. "Tell me, when you two would be coming out for a date?"

"A date?" Kaworu questioned. "I admit I have no idea about it."

"Right," Asuka said, before she snickered. "Dear God, don't know what a date is? You go out with the other, enjoy yourselves at, for example, a theme park or while watching a movie or having dinner, just like in the movies."

Kaworu nodded. "I get the concept," he said. "When you go on a date, I believe, you're trying to get to know your opposite, a friend. That I think might be the case, as it doesn't look simple because I feel there's a lot more."

"To be candid, I went on a date," Asuka said, shrugging her shoulders before consuming another strand of noodles, "although my date wasn't right, as he was too stuffy and doesn't seem to be interested in girls, even if he was really footing the bill. Didn't matter – that med student was a genuine dweeb."

"I see. Perhaps if I could just find the time, maybe I'll learn how to do it and then try inviting Rei to a date."

Asuka was laughing, thinking Kaworu was making jokes about himself. "Good grief, are you from another planet?"

Kaworu shook his head, smiling. "No, but I haven't done dating in a very long time," he lied. Apparently for him she missed the irony.

"You may look a bit freaky, but at least you're the nicest and the most amusing guy I ever met. No kidding, as not all the boys back at school are just as nice as you."

"For a change, have you tried Shinji?" Kaworu suggested.

The redhead almost dropped her chopsticks. "What? Him?" she questioned.

"Yes. I gather that he's the only one real close to you, even if you don't seem to like him."

"Oh, funny, I wish he had a spine. That's a problem especially if—"

"You kissed him before," Kaworu said.

Like having a bomb dropped over her head, Asuka looked cross this time. "Good grief, he was so damned stiff! He couldn't do it right!" she complained. "Oh, no, I tried to get him interested in me, I let him kiss to test him out, but I don't know what's up with Shinji!"

Kaworu shook his head. "Then perhaps try to change your approach because Shinji feels intimidated. Loosen up, tone down, and then understand him. He'll appreciate that."

Now Asuka remembered something she warned to Shinji before. "The walls of Jericho," she spoke.

"Pardon me?"

The redhead sighed, setting aside the remains of her meal. "I should've torn those walls down instead. I sent him the wrong signals, I got it all wrong. I guess he didn't know about reverse psychology."

"I wished you made it simple enough for him to understand."


There was a pause as Asuka silently sank into her thoughts, reflecting how her behavior somehow caused people to stay clear of her. First it was Kaji, and she tried to get close enough, her hormones buzzing like crazy, adoring him, and trying to make him seduce her, even as Kaji knew then that she was too young to understand, avoiding her amorous yet silly advances.

Sure, Kaji eventually bit the big one, but he was also right on the mark.

Then Shinji came into the picture, somehow despite his shortcomings, despite that their relationship was made out of necessity and duty, he tried to like her but Rei was the only other girl he truly conveyed his feelings and affections.

Because Rei was seemingly harmless and receptive, almost a mother figure in Shinji's eyes, and Rei was everything that Asuka could not be, so the redhead became jealous of them, deluding herself in the belief that they were trying to steal her thunder. Her arrogance and ambition triggered the downfall, a lowered sync rate, the collapse of her world and everything she believed in.

Now her reawakening came with a new meaning, and Kaworu told her to go for a second chance in life, but first she must let go of the burdens that caused her trouble in the first place. Furthermore, there are hard questions that were gnawing her to answer.

"Kaworu?" Asuka said.


"Gimme some time to think and get ready for anything I would like to say before Shinji comes here. I guess it would be a very long talk between me and him."

Kaworu nodded, yet he smiled. "Sure, I understand," he answered. "Can I leave you for a while just to check on Rei?"

Asuka returned the smile with a wave of her hand. "Okay, Kaworu… Thanks again for your company."

"My pleasure," he said before walking out of the door.

Once she was alone, lying down, Asuka was planning everything she wanted to do today. Apart from a very serious conversation with Shinji, she would also make a phone call to Hikari, then lunch, maybe a talk with Misato, before giving Unit-02 one final look before departing. Her last day today, a swan song maybe, but what the hell, she must make the most of the opportunity to deal with loose ends until she boards the plane back to Germany.

Now some enigmas bugged Asuka: for all of his kindness, who is Kaworu Nagisa? What he's really doing here, and for what purpose? Where the hell he came from?

Suddenly she forgot to ask Kaworu how he managed to come into her dreams.

"I haven't seen Misato," Ritsuko said to Maya, this time the older woman nursing a Styrofoam cup of coffee and a freshly-lit cigarette. "How's she?"

Maya shook her head. "Oh, she had much more than she could handle, especially with the botched experiment. But she's trying to be all right, even after she lost Kaji."

Ritsuko looked up to the ceiling, wondering about the spy and who and what killed him. She could remember the old days, especially about Kaji's laid-back slacker attitude that ran counter to all formality, and his on-off relationship with Misato. Sometimes together maybe, but she couldn't be sure if Misato still really loved Kaji. She imagined thumbing the cat-themed gift he brought from Matsushiro months ago.

"I wonder what happened with the investigation on Fuyutsuki's kidnapping," she said.

"I heard it's still ongoing," Maya answered. "Why?"

"You better keep this in mind, but there's more to Kaji than what you think. I went to college with him and Misato, and I know him well. It's because of his job that he got killed… no, murdered is the right word."

"And what he actually does for a living?"

Ritsuko paused for a moment. "He's a spy, period," she said. "Someone murdered him because he held too many secrets, and that makes him very dangerous. I think he was sent in to rescue the Sub-Commander but that was a ruse, to draw him into a trap."

Suddenly the older woman slapped her hands down to hips. "Holy shit," she muttered.

"What's wrong?" Maya asked, looking perplexed

"Oh my… I fear that somehow and somewhere there's a mole here."

"A mole?"

"Here's how: I once used to read one of those spy books about some villain working on the inside, had dug far enough to copy secrets or fake them all, and maybe even fuck up operations, the flow of intelligence, and decision-making. That's not even fiction, because there's this guy named Kim Philby who supposedly worked for British intelligence but he was really working for the KGB, doing all this mole business until he was caught. Now we have the same problem here. No wonder why we're running into blunders, and no wonder why Kaji ate a bullet."

Maya now looked alarmed. "What can we do about it?"

Ritsuko's eyes narrowed. "Try asking Director Hamamoto as soon as possible to see if they can sniff out and catch the mole."

Maya knew that Director Shuya Hamamoto was the head of Section Two. "Okay," she said.

"If this mole has his way, then soon enough we'll be at the losing end of a mahjongg game," Ritsuko concluded. And no matter how, I think Kaji needs a measure of justice. I don't like to know that he died in vain, she added.

After parking the Audi right on front, then leaving Misato and Shinji at NERV HQ's main atrium, on their way to the Infirmary, Tsutomo Kanzaki walked through a long covered passageway to visit his boss at the office, which was the Second Section Annex Building located behind the main HQ pyramid. This edifice had three aboveground levels and three more basement levels, and it even has its own huge garage for its pool of service vehicles. In this building all of NERV's security and intelligence needs are being serviced on a daily basis.

At the end of the passageway, he reached the guarded reception area in front of the building, the threshold of the Section Two's sanctum sanctorum, where his fellow colleagues were at work, in their cubicles with reams of paperwork, in the armory where they checked their weapons, watching everything in the surveillance room, or practicing at the shooting range, at the gym, or the so-called "house of horrors" used for close quarter combat training.

Tsutomo presented his ID card to the guard at the reception desk, who then took his fingerprint and pupil scans for identification, before signing the details of his visit on a logbook. The young agent then walked over to the lock where he swiped his passcard over the sensor and the doors opened for him leading to its main hall. From there he had to ride an elevator to the third floor, then once out he walked on the wide aisle dividing the huge room, passing the cubicles occupied by other agents. The aisle led directly to Hamamoto's glass-paneled office, where at the moment he could see the old man furiously laboring over his latest set of problems – laid in heaps of paper – on the teak-wood desk. Mounted on the bookshelf, just behind the old man was an old sheathed daikatana on its cradle.

A father of two, a driven man with generations of warriors in the bloodline, Shuya Hamamoto worked once as an intelligence officer within the Maritime Self-Defense Force until he retired early as lieutenant-commander, then NERV hired him to this lofty position, dutifully holding it for several years. This month, however, he was due to retire for good, to devote more time to his family in Kobe and for the sake of his declining health. Much to his chagrin, however, the latest series of NERV bungles worsened his mood and well-being.

Tsutomo knocked on the glass door, and his boss gestured him to come inside. Once he was standing in attention before his boss, both men saluted to each other and Hamamoto invited him to sit down.

"Still having trouble, sir?" Tsutomo asked.

"Hell, yes," Hamamoto answered, who looked pretty upset as both of them sat down. "Someone's having a field day fucking things up right here. I don't know who or what we're up against, but you and I know that lately there's a string of incidents that are making our jobs very difficult: the kidnapping of the Sub-Commander, the Kaji murder, then some intel fuck-up on the ground while we tried looking for the Second Children around this punch-bowl valley, and now this Bakelite sabotage which nearly caused Unit One to stomp its way out. We can't deny the fact that there's a mole, or a bunch of moles hiding here somewhere right now."

"I'm sure the counter-intel guys are working on it pronto," Tsutomo said.

Hamamoto sighed. "You bet I ordered them to do that, as I'm getting really sick of having these SNAFUs, because the pressure's on me to stop them. I even got a call from that prick of an iceman right from the top, demanding me to explain why there was a goddamn leak about yesterday's compatibility test, which was supposed to be top secret!"

Unfazed by his boss' pent-up anger and understanding his situation, Tsutomo nodded. Since NERV's founding, the Section Two guys gave Commander Ikari the secret nickname of Iceman because of his cold, harsh personality; they may be following orders but most of them wished the anal-retentive Commander should at least cut them some slack.

"All right, I guess you've brought Major Katsuragi down here," Hamamoto said, now his temper lowered to near zero.

"She's present to debrief the two Children, Ayanami and that newcomer Nagisa. Needed to know what happened yesterday. Afterwards, she'll be accompanying Miss Langley to the airport."

"I see. I wonder whether if she got over with Kaji's death, because sometimes before I seen them together here, and I'm sure they were once lovers. Now that Kaji had bought the farm, I bet she's expecting us to get that case solved or else, given her attitude, she could do something very drastic, like hunting down the moles herself because it's all personal."

"You mean vengeance."

"That's right," Hamamoto agreed. "Now, regarding the planned convoy, we've put up the other escorts ready in full gear and fuel. So far the recon team who checked the route said all clear and nothing out of the ordinary, but even then we need to keep our eyes peeled, because I sense that someone will go take a bite out of us right in the open."

"So, sir, that's why you decided not to use air transport for Miss Langley?"

Hamamoto nodded. "Our Cheyennes will be used only for air support while the convoy's in transit," he said, referring to the heavily-armed VTOL transport gunships in the NERV inventory. "They'll keep an eye above the convoy, and if it comes to worse, good for medevac should we draw some casualties, and I hope we'll see none. That girl's our bait to draw those damned moles and sleepers out of the woods, and once we see them with the guns, we bag those sons of bitches and if possible I want them caught alive before dinner. Then we find out who's their big daddy. Problem solved."

"What about the consignment?"

"The ruse is enough to draw their attention away from it, which is the second reason for this mission."

"I haven't told Katsuragi about the actual gameplan."

"Good. Always keep it that way, don't tell them unless the situation goes out of hand."

"Got that, sir," Tsutomo agreed. "By the way, can you allow Shinji Ikari to be with the convoy?"

The old man thought for it for a moment, before he nodded. "Sure, son, he's in because he's been with the girl long enough that, considering how long she was in the Infirmary, I think she'll need some added support."

"Thank you, sir. I'll make sure nothing will go wrong."

The old man stood up, causing Tsutomo to do the same, before they saluted each other. "Just remember that only fire back when fired upon," he advised, "and always have eyes on your six, son. Good luck on your way."

Shinji and Misato were standing at the hallway of the Infirmary when she told him, "Go to Asuka while I take care of the debriefing."

"Okay," he answered, but he looked anxious.

Misato smiled a bit. "You're a big boy now, so don't be afraid. Just be yourself, and put your best foot forward."

"What about you?"

"Don't worry, I'll come later. We still have lots of time here before we leave."

Shinji walked away, leaving Misato behind, and as he approached Asuka's room he was thinking whether she could still stand him, or how she could accept his appearance. He also wondered if the girl still has even a bit of concern or affection for him. He couldn't know all the answers, until he finally came to the doorway, pausing to take a deep breath and straighten out his clothes to add a boost of confidence, trying to fight the butterflies in his stomach. He could hear what sounded like a radio tuned to a rock station.

Here goes nothing, he thought as he opened the door.

There was Asuka, sitting upright on her bed, quietly expecting him, while the radio on the bedside table playing a Cranberries track. She looked haggard, but otherwise there was remorse in her eyes that told him she wasn't in the mood for a shouting match, as it was before the Angel attacked her. Instead of an outburst, she merely greeted, "Hello, Shinji."

"Uh… Good morning, Asuka," he responded, picking the best polite answer possible. "How are you doing?"

The girl sighed. "Just okay, even if I'm a bit tired because of the damned sedatives."

Shinji went to sit down on a vacant chair beside her bed and said, "I thought you might want to talk to me."

Asuka nodded. "Yeah, I'm going home. I'm done here because I think there's a life much better than being a pilot. I want to walk away clean. I don't want to worry too much anymore. I want to be normal. Instead, I'm sorry for everything I did."

Shinji did a double-take. "Why?"

Asuka took a breath. "Because it's my damned fault for being so much of a bitch at everyone, especially you," she admitted.

Tsutomo Kanzaki was on his way back to his waiting Audi staff car, almost running, when at a corner he unexpectedly bumped into a man carrying a laptop bag, with a Section Two ID card clipped onto his suit. For a moment he caught the man's name and department on the card: Keith Sanderson, Reports and Requirements Department; he was the former CIA man who now refined and polished the paperwork from raw field info to readable reports.

"Sorry," Tsutomo apologized before he quickly got up onto his feet and went back on track.

Sanderson, on the other hand, merely looked away without a word as he frowned, picking up his bag and stood up. You losers aren't going to make it out alive, he thought.

Author's Notes: It's been weeks since the previous chapter, because I had to deal with problems on my side, and perhaps hopefully I'm out of it.

By now, this morning the national elections will be held, and I hope that whoever wins the highest post in the land shouldn't screw up in the next six years.

As usual the dialogue and the flow needed a big deal of thinking, especially when I was trying to get Asuka's personality done in a proper way; and at the same time try to see how a person adjusts to life after a long time in the bed. There's at least one or two loose ends (from some previous chapters) dealt with. I also wanted to see how things are going on inside Section Two, perhaps one of the most misunderstood parts of NERV.

If there's anything wrong, try to drop me a line. Thanks for coming with me this far, I'll try to keep up.