Disclaimer: see chapter 1.
The air in the Commander's office was thick and oppressive, more oppressive, even, than normal – which said a lot about the expectation hanging between the slim, blue-haired girl and the man behind the huge, ornate desk. The Commander was pleased. Rei, of all people in the world save Fuyutsuki at his side, could tell the man's mood without having him say it out loud.
His lips threatened to curl up in a smile, and the lines around his eyes seemed shallower and less defined as he stared at her across the seemingly endless space between them. Yes, the Commander was pleased, but even with his victory at hand, he was still unwilling to show any outward sign of emotion.
There was also, Rei knew, another factor tempering his victory – a simple, exceedingly important factor that could be expressed in a short, straightforward question.
"Why didn't you come to me, Rei?"
Rei stared at a spot four inches in front of the Commander's linked hands, unable to force herself to meet his eyes as she whispered, "I was not sure you would approve, Commander."
Gendou exchanged a look with Fuyutsuki. "Why?" he asked bluntly. "You… removed the last roadblock, Rei – why would that upset me?"
The last roadblock, Rei mused. To him, Nagisa was never…
She let the thought go, because the Commander was correct – Kaworu Nagisa wasn't human, and never had been. Only she had seen into his eyes. Only she had seen her own face reflected in their darkening depths.
Only she would ever think of the soft-spoken Fifth Child with anything even close to compassion or pity, as she had been the only one present when-
"You look uncomfortable, Rei," the Commander said, rescuing the girl from her own thoughts. "I will not reprimand you for this. Now answer my question."
Rei gathered her wandering, semi-hollow thoughts. "It was… not my intent to end his life, Commander," she said slowly. "My goal was to intimidate him – and to prove that we were more dissimilar than similar, but I could not… stop." Raising her eyes, she concluded, "I did not wish to disappoint you, Commander, and I felt that if you knew I had no intention of killing a known enemy, you would disapprove."
"You were right to think that," the Commander rumbled, "but I am more concerned that you would try to deceive me."
"That was not my intention," Rei said immediately. "I was… confused. The holes in my memory make it difficult for me to think coherently sometimes."
The Commander's lips compressed to a thin line, but he said nothing.
Clearing his throat, Fuyutsuki leaned over his former pupil's shoulder, murmuring, "We should act quickly, Ikari – the Committee will know of this by morning."
"Indeed," Gendou hummed, "which means they will be knocking on our door by the following evening… and they do not knock lightly, old friend. We should begin the procedures for Complementation as soon as we ca-"
"I'm afraid that will not be possible."
So caught up in their conversation were the two old men that they had momentarily forgotten that the First Child was in the room with them. Both looked up, staring blankly at the young girl as she gazed placidly from one to the other, her eyes showing not so much as a hint of her thoughts.
"What do you mean, Rei?" Fuyutsuki asked coolly, glancing at the Commander for some sign that he knew what was going on.
But Gendou was just as clueless as his old teacher – and being out of the loop was one thing the Commander of NERV did not take kindly to. Rising to his feet, he stared the blue-haired girl down, his eyes flashing behind his tinted glasses as he flatly demanded, "Explain yourself."
Rei gazed up into the Commander's face, and he was surprised to find her eyes devoid of fear or concern, though he did catch a glimpse of regret in them a moment before she spoke. "There is a… complication, Commander," she said quietly. "I'm afraid that there is another secret I have withheld."
The Commander's face immediately smoothed itself into a mask of cool indifference. "Oh?" he said with a clearly forced air of unconcern. "And what is that?"
"After the… incident with Nagisa," Rei whispered, "I visited the Evangelion cages."
As the girl reached up and began idly fingering the simple cross pendant hanging from her neck, Fuyutsuki picked up the phone on Gendou's desk and began contacting the cages to have them check for signs of sabotage.
He need not have bothered.
"I… spoke to Evangelion Unit 01," Rei murmured, letting her hands fall to her sides as she looked up into her Commander's unwavering gaze. "I have sworn," she said carefully, "time and time again, that I will fulfill your scenario, Commander – and I will, if fate deals us that hand."
Fuyutsuki hung up the phone. "Nothing's been touched," he reported. "The tech reported that the restraining bolts had been disengaged, but nothing else had been tampered with."
"The restraining bolts?" Gendou repeated, glancing over his shoulder. "What would that… accomplish…?"
His eyes widened as he whipped back around to face Rei.
Rei averted her eyes. "I spoke to her for a long time, Commander," she said guiltily. "A long… long time, before returning to Mister Kaji's apartment and I believe… she understood all of my concerns, particularly those regarding Ikari and his role in your scenario."
"Call the cages," Gendou breathed. "Fuyutsuki – call them back now. Make sure they reengage the restraining bolts."
"I believe it is too late," Rei lamented quietly. "I do not… know that she will understand, in her current state, but I… feel that she-"
"Be quiet," Gendou ordered flatly.
Rei, however, seemed to be beyond hearing, her eyes wide and unblinking as she whispered, "She has decided."
"Commander," Fuyutsuki said sharply. "I think you better hear this."
Gendou nodded, knowing, instinctually, what he would hear when the older man activated the speaker-phone and set the receiver down. The sounds of rending metal and terrified screams filled the room as one of the technicians in the EVA cages screamed, 'We can't stop it!' and other, more frantic cries, his voice rising into hysterics as the phone went dead.
"What have you done, Rei…?"
The Commander's voice was low and cold, but he was not truly asking a question. What was happening down in the cages was obvious – Evangelion Unit 01 had activated itself and was moving under its own power. The only thing Gendou did not know was where it was going.
And it did not take much thinking to come up with the answer.
"Scramble Unit 02," he barked, keeping his eyes on Rei as Futyutsuki picked the phone back up and dialed the extension for the EVA cage. "Use a dummy plug if you have to, but intercept Unit 01 at all costs. She's heading for Terminal Dogma."
"I do not believe that you will be able to stop her, Commander."
"Be quiet," Gendou snapped a second time. "Fuyutsuki – intercept that Unit!"
"The dummy plug isn't working," Fuyutsuki reported, covering the mouthpiece on the handset. "It's been inserted for the past two days in case of an emergency, but Miss Ibuki says that Unit 02 is rejecting it. She's retrying, but it doesn't look good."
Gendou turned on Rei. "You will pilot," he commanded. "Get to the cages – Unit 02 will respond to you."
When the girl simply stared at him, Gendou grabbed her by the upper arm, hustling her out of the room. Together, the trio made their way towards the EVA cages, listening to the ongoing reports of Unit 01's progress as the rest of the installation tried, unsuccessfully, to stop it.
Practically throwing Rei through the door, the Commander jabbed a finger towards Unit 02's entry plug. "Go," he said softly, his cracking composure barely holding as the threat of losing Yui forever grew more real with every passing second. "Go!"
"It will not help," Rei said, slowly making her way towards the plug's open hatch. "I can feel her rage, even at this distance. She will not be denied."
Though Rei was at last obeying his orders – and would fight Unit 01 to the death if necessary – it was painfully clear to Gendou that her lack of resolve would lead to her inevitable failure.
And so, at eleven fifteen, with his dreams crumbling before his eyes, the Commander's temper had finally reached its limit. The bullet from his pistol punched into Rei's back with all the force of a sledgehammer, throwing her to the floor amidst the startled cries of the technicians, where she lay gasping for breath as her body registered the sudden incapacitation of her right lung.
Forty seconds later, the Commander joined her on the floor, his heart stopped forever as his oldest and truest friend, Kozou Fuyutsuki – long enamored of Yui Ikari, and her physical replica, Rei Ayanami – put an end to his former pupil's madness.
So unconscious was his response that Fuyutsuki would later have no recollection of drawing or firing his gun.
With the Commander gone, and the sub-commander in a state of shock, no one was able to scramble Evangelion Unit 02… and at eleven twenty five, Unit 01 reached Terminal Dogma, where it self-destructed, annihilating the defenseless Lilith and ending forever the possibility of Human Complementation.
It would be some time before anyone understood the true reasons why.
( 0 0 0 )
In the hospital hallway, Shinji leaned against the wall, letting the door to Rei's room slide closed behind him. Stable, he thought, shaking his head in amazement. Stable but unconscious… you were lucky, Ayanami. Damn lucky.
He blushed, unconsciously running his fingertips along his bottom lip and staring fixedly at the floor. Her lips had been just as soft as he'd remembered, and he would have sworn that after kissing her, some of the tension had left her face – though that was probably just his imagination.
I shouldn't have done that, he thought guiltily. It's like stealing if she can't tell me no, but I… she just looked so-
"It doesn't get better, you know."
Shinji nearly screamed as a voice addressed him from the couch next to the door he had just exited.
It was, indeed, the Second… though she looked quite different from the last time he had seen her. Her eyes were back to sapphire blue, and her hair was straight blonde with no streaks, though it looked so pale that it could pass for straw, and from where Shinji was standing, it seemed rather thin. Even as he watched, the girl reached up and ran her fingers through it, coming away with several strands between her fingers. Grimacing, she brushed these away, glancing down at her pitch black turtleneck to see if there were any more clinging to the thick-looking fabric.
"I used like, four things of peroxide," Asuka said, practically glaring at a strand of overly bleached hair as she flicked it off of her shoulder. "Might have overdone it just a bit."
Shinji averted his eyes. "Better," he said diplomatically. "I didn't like all the streaks."
Rising to her feet, Asuka folded her arms over her chest. "It doesn't get better, you know."
"I… I don't know what you mean," Shinji admitted.
"I think you do," Asuka murmured, stepping closer and looking him boldly in the eyes. "All of it," she gestured around, "this… her… me… everything – none of it gets better. This is as good as it'll ever be."
Shinji nodded. "I know that," he said tiredly. "I figured that out when you left." He hesitated for a moment, and then whispered, "Where did you go?"
"Everywhere," Asuka said evasively, "nowhere. Doesn't matter. It's not like I was alone… Section Two was everywhere I went, but they never bothered trying to make me go home. I'm useless to them now, Shinji – last week's trash. But I did a lot of thinking while I was gone. It was… interesting, to have that much time to myself."
Shinji had no idea what to say. Something in the girl's eyes was haunted, but they seemed clearer than he could ever remember them being.
They look… calm, he mused. Maybe that's the wrong word – but her eyes look like she's figured out what she wants to do with her life.
"Did you miss me?"
Shinji's reply was immediate.
A ghost of a smile appeared on Asuka's lips. "Then why aren't you holding me?"
Shinji returned her hesitant smile. "I didn't know if you wanted me to…"
"Finally," Asuka whispered, putting a hand on his chest. "You're starting to learn."
"Are you coming home now?"
Asuka's voice was surprisingly soft as she replied, "If I knew where 'home' was."
Trying not to sob with frustration, Shinji said, "It's with me."
The smile on Asuka's lips was ironic, though not truly cruel. "I told you not to read Misato's romance novels anymore," she said. Stepping closer, she put her hands on Shinji's shoulders, looking into his eyes as if trying to find the answer to a question that had been bothering her for some time.
Shinji let her look, wishing – not for the first time in his life – that he could read minds… or at least expressions, because as it was, he had absolutely no idea what was on the Second's mind.
After a moment, she leaned forward and took a small, gentle kiss.
"Take care of yourself."
Not knowing what else to do, Shinji caught Asuka by the hand… and slapped her across the face.
"What the hell-"
"Last time you said I should have hit you," Shinji blurted, catching her other hand before she could retaliate. "You said you might have respected me if I hit you when I was angry… but I don't want you to respect me – I'll get on my knees and beg, if you want me to. I don't have any self-respect left… but don't leave me… please don't leave me…"
Asuka stared at him with her mouth hanging open for a long, long minute before shaking herself and whispering, "I don't know how to live with other people anymore. I was never good at it, but now I can't even remember what it was like."
"Then we'll learn," Shinji said quickly. "We'll learn it all over again, you and me… we don't even have to live with Misato, if you don't want to, but stay… with… me."
"And what about Rei?"
Shinji clenched his eyes closed.
"…I don't know if I can help her anymore."
For what felt like an eternity, he waited for Asuka's reply. Finally, she sighed, slowly wrapping her arms around him as she whispered, "Yes you do."
Shinji clung to her, shuddering uncontrollably as he began to cry. "What should I do?" he sobbed. "Just tell me what's right and I'll do it – I can't do it alone anymore… I can't-"
"Shh…" Asuka murmured. "Stop blubbering… you're embarrassing yourself." Lightly, she stroked his hair as he wept into her shoulder. "Listen. Are you listening?" She waited for Shinji to nod. "I might be a bitch, Shinji, but I'm not heartless. I know Rei's pretty screwed up right now, so, for now, I don't mind if you try to help her… as long as I know you're not going to be running to her every time she has a hangnail." Gently, she lifted his face, ignoring the tears rolling down his cheeks as she looked into his eyes. "You're the only person that will ever understand me, Shinji. With everything that's happened, I can't live with anyone but you anymore – and you can take that however you want, I just don't care."
Sniffling, Shinji whispered, "Alright… but you have to understand me too… and if you really do understand me, you'll know that I could never leave Rei to fend for herself – not with everything she's been through."
Asuka's nostrils flared. "And if I say it's her or me?"
"If you say that, then I'll know you don't understand me at all… because I could never abandon someone I care for."
Silence fell as the two Children stared deeply into each other's eyes, each trying to gauge the other's seriousness. Finally, Asuka opened her mouth to say something, but Shinji spoke before she could.
"If you really feel anything for me, you'll accept me as I am… and that means accepting her too. That's your answer, Asuka. I will never, ever let Rei be alone, or get hurt." He met her gaze steadily as he whispered, "And that goes for you, too. If you need me, for anything, say the word, and I will do anything in the world for you… but I will never stand by and-"
Asuka raised one hand, cutting him off. "I get it, Shinji," she said quietly. "You've made it pretty damn clear."
"Then… I guess this is goodbye."
As Shinji stepped past her, Asuka caught his arm.
"You love her then?"
"Yeah… yeah I guess I do…"
Asuka lowered her voice to a soft whisper. "Do you love me too?"
"…do you want me to?"
Abruptly, Asuka put her hands on his shoulders, pushing him up against the wall with an intensity in her eyes that was truly frightening.
"How do you love her?" she whispered urgently.
"Do you love her like you'd love a sister, or do you love her like you love a girlfriend? Do you love us both the same way? Tell me that much so I'll know… so I'll know if I can love you back."
Shinji averted his eyes. "I don't know," he said honestly. "I don't… even know how to love someone, really – I'm just making it up as I go along."
Asuka bit her lip, staring down at the floor between them as her hands unconsciously clenched and unclenched on his shoulders. Shinji could see that she was deep in thought, so he said nothing, letting her reach whatever conclusion she was going to come to all on her own.
I've said everything I have to say, he thought tiredly. It's up to her what she wants to do next. God, I really do want to be with her, but-
His thought was cut off as Asuka suddenly crushed her lips up against his, kissing him deeply as her arms slid around his chest and her tongue thrust into his mouth. Shinji stood paralyzed for a moment before his lethargy broke and he pushed back against her, refusing to let her have the upper hand.
Shinji's ears were so full of rushing blood that he barely heard Asuka whisper, "I want all of you… Shinji, I want you all for myself…"
Putting a restraining hand on her shoulder, he forced her a little ways back. "Asuka, I told you I can't-"
Asuka pushed his hand off of her shoulder, and before her lips met his once more, she whispered her final words on the subject.
"…but I'll take what I can get for now."
( 0 0 0 )
Hikari knocked gently on the door to her bedroom, feeling a little foolish for having to do so, but not wanting to startle her guest out of her quiet reverie. She smiled as she found Rei standing in exactly the same position as when she had left several minutes prior – namely, staring out the window into the dark evening and barely blinking as she looked out into the night.
So much had happened in the two weeks since Hikari's return that she did not know where to start thinking about it. First her father had announced that he had received a message from NERV central saying that the last of the angels were gone, encouraging them to move back to Toyko-3. Then, Hikari had heard that Touji – who had been moved away after the last angel – would be returning soon, and was anxious to pick up where they had left off.
And then, she thought, there's Rei…
Hikari had sobbed like a baby when Rei had told her, during lunch together on her first Monday back, that her memories had been nearly wiped out due to some type of accident involving her EVA Unit. She had tearfully asked if Rei had remembered anything about their relationship, and had broken into fresh sobs when the blue-haired girl had told her, very gently, that she remembered their closeness and mutual affection… but little else.
Embracing Rei from behind – and being careful to avoid the bandages on her back – Hikari joined in looking out the window, trying to understand Rei's enigmatic conclusion to that first conversation.
"For the time, it seems… I am free…"
Free from what, Hikari was not sure, and Rei did not seem willing – or able – to elaborate. Of course, Hikari would not have been able to fathom the implications of Lilith's destruction, or grasp that this singular event had rendered Rei seemingly useless to NERV, for without the body of the second angel, or the clone thereof, Complementation was theoretically impossible.
"Looks like it's gonna rain," Hikari observed, giving Rei a gentle hug as she nodded to the gloomy sky above. "Wanna stay over?"
"Yes," Rei replied, "I would like that… thank you."
Hikari closed her eyes. "Are you happy, Rei?" she asked softly. "I've been meaning to ask you since I came back, but it never seemed like a good time."
Considering this question for a moment, Rei finally whispered, "Of the three people I have loved in my life, two have loved me back… and the third may have as well, though now that he is gone, I can only suspect." Leaning back against Hikari, she asked, "To want more at this time would be greedy, wouldn't it?"
Slowly, Hikari shook her head. "No, it wouldn't," she said calmly. "I love you… and Shinji loves you – and yes, I'm sure that Mister Kaji loved you, too… but you deserve to have someone love you the way you wanted to love us, Rei, can you understand the difference? Shinji's… I don't know how serious he is with Asuka, but they're together a lot, and when Touji gets back I'll pick things back up with him… but there's no one for you."
A faint smile lifted the corners of Rei's mouth. "You make it seem like I have given up," she mused. She reached up and idly toyed with the cross pendant resting against her breastbone as if to remind herself that there was a fourth person she needed to add to the list. "But that is not the case. Perhaps Shinji is serious about his relationship with Souryu… but I am just as serious in my desires, and I have yet to hear him say that he would not like to be with me."
Hikari's eyes were wide, and she shook her head, clearly unsure of how to reply to Rei's unwillingness to simply roll over and play dead.
"I love hearing you talk."
Rei blushed faintly at the blatant praise.
"You are… embarrassing me…"
Hikari laughed. "Then I know I'm saying the right thing."
The two fell into companionable silence for several minutes, gazing out the window as drops of rain began to patter against the glass.
"…have you remembered anything else?"
Rei closed her eyes.
"No," she whispered, "and I don't believe I ever will. Whatever was done to me seems to be permanent, though I am left with… feelings and motivations of that time, and I do have some recollection, it is simply incomplete and vague."
"Rei… Rei, I'm so sorry."
"Why?" Rei wondered. "It was not your doing."
Instead of replying, Hikari tightened her hold on Rei's shoulders and held her so close that Rei began to feel claustrophobic.
"We'll make new ones," she whispered fiercely, "new memories that no one will ever take away. Me, Shinji, Asuka, Touji – everyone… we'll all help you make memories so perfect you'll forget all about the ones you can't remember."
Rei felt her eyes pricking a bit, and her throat was too constricted with emotion for her to speak, so she simply nodded, turning around and burying her face against Hikari's neck to inhale the smell she would forever associate with friendship, trust, and caring. More than Shinji, even more than Kaji… Hikari was the one Rei loved the most. Even if it would never be a romantic love, it was still love.
And Rei knew that she was lucky to have it.
Hikari kissed Rei on the top of her head, smiling warmly as the blue-haired girl pulled back and wiped discretely at her eyes.
"Looks like it's gonna be pretty dark tonight," she observed, nodding towards the window.
Smiling softly, Rei shook her head. "Perhaps," she whispered, thinking suddenly of all the wonderful truths she would get to relearn, surrounded by people who loved her so much they were willing to sacrifice so much to make sure she was happy. "But even if it is, it will be light eventually."
Hikari nodded, giving Rei one last hug before excusing herself to make dinner. She paused, though, glancing back over her shoulder as she reached the door and thinking that Rei looked quite content as she stood gazing out of the window with that small, innocent smile on her lips.
She looks so peaceful, she thought, admiring the soft curves of the blue-haired girl's face. So… God, is it ok to say 'angelic' now, since they're all gone?
Even if this term had fallen out of favor, Hikari still felt okay about using it – even if it was only in her mind… because to her, at that moment, Rei looked like an angel.
An angel on the verge of spreading her wings…
Author's notes: this story ended up being far longer than I had planned. Originally, it was going to be about ten chapters, but it just kept growing and growing until it reached the monstrous size of 74,000 words at 230 pages, not counting the alternate ending. Now that it's done, I don't really know what to say about it, other than to mention that the relationship between Asuka and Shinji simply developed over the course of writing the story, and that I never intended to pair them up – or, for that matter, pair anyone up. This was never a romance story, it was a story about Rei's evolution as a character. Everything that happened along the way was a byproduct of her attempts to grow as a person.
I don't know if I've failed or succeeded in my original goal, but I'd like to think that if nothing else, even though I put her through the wringer… I managed to give her something she did not get in the original series.
A happy ending.
To you, the reader, I would like to extend my thanks for reading this behemoth tale. I hope it was enjoyable enough that you did not snap your computer off with a disgusted grunt and swear to never read another Evangelion story again, if this was any indication of what they were like. In short, I suppose – I hope it was worth your time.
I chose to have this last chapter pre-read by MacBeth2001 for two reasons. First, because he's really good at it and I knew I could trust the end to him, and Second, because so much happens in this story that if I posted the end without the benefit of a second opinion, I would miss something crucial or fail to touch on a critical plot point.
If that happened anyway, it was entirely my fault and not his, and you have my sincerest apologies.
Thank you again for reading my story.