Prologue

"Sir."

"Yes, Misato?"

"I've found him. What's the Angel's ETA?"

"Twenty minutes. What is the condition of the pilot?"

"He's useless."

"Can it be fixed?"

"Maybe. But I need an order to do it, and I need carte blanche."

"Do whatever you have to do to make the pilot capable.
Do it now. If you fail, humanity has no future."

"Yes, sir. Understood." Misato hung up and looked down. Shinji was curled into a ball, rocking. In the distance smoke was rising from Tokyo 3 and the giant figure of an impossible monster was walking through the city, breaking homes and setting fires. Misato pocketed her phone.

"Come with me," she said, pulling Shinji to his feet. He half-resisted, but Misato muscled him into her car and slammed the door shut. She walked around and got in on the drivers side. "You're not wearing your seatbelt."

"I don't care any more. I just want to die, and you don't care enough to see it."

"Fine then."

She shut her own door and turned on the car. It beeped and flashed a red Fasten Your Safety Belt' sign. Misato ignored it and removed the parking break.

"What do you want?" Shinji whined.

"No, Shinji. What do you want?" Misato slammed down the accelerator.

"I want to-what the-"

Misato yanked the wheel hard to the left and the car shot off the road. The mountain side had been paved, and the car rocketed down, bouncing and jumping off rocks and stones.

"Do you want to die?"

"Yes!" screamed Shinji.

"Good. Then so do I."

The car crashed through a safety rail and back onto the road. She swerved and ran along the cutback, shifting quickly as she raced up through the gears. They hit two hundred kilometers per hour when they approached a hairpin curve.

"What? The turn-"

"I don't want to turn."

The car crashed through another flimsy guard rail and sailed through the air. Bits of the bumper came off and fell with them. The car slammed into the slope further down. Misato downshifted and smashed the gas to the floor. The engine screamed. They kept picking up speed.

"What do you want, Shinji?" Misato's voice was mechanical.

Shinji screamed again and covered his eyes. Misato swerved again and hit the road. Her transmission was making noises never intended, and sparks flew out on either side as the engine ground across the asphalt. Then they were through another restraining barrier, and this time the car flipped. They hit and bounced, another complete revolution. Shinji could see the cement and sky flashing back and forth through the windshield. They hit again on the side. His head crashed into the window, breaking it. Misato turned the wheel, and the car landed back on its wheels. She pressed harder on the gas.

"What are you doing?"

"You don't care. I don't care. What do you want?"

"To die!"

"Good."

The slope ended and the car crashed into the outskirts of the city. With a real road under her, Misato made the most of what the shrieking engine could do. She raced down the residential road, swerving about abandoned cars and occasionally busting through fences.

Shinji desperately clawed at his seat belt and managed to get it on. Misato noticed that the passenger safety alarm went out and dug her hand into a compartment on her door. Sometimes she had to take her other hand off the steering wheel to shift, but she never let up on the gas. They hit the first street light, pointlessly blinking red to an empty city, and the speedometer was off the scale. Misato found what she was looking for, a large, military issue survival knife.

She slashed sideways, and Shinji cried again. He tried to push himself through the door, and then Misato stopped.
She grabbed the seat belt and threw it and the knife over his head, out the hole in the window.

"What do you want?"

"I don't know!" Shinji wailed.

"To die, right? Right?"

"Yes!"

"Of course." She swerved around an abandoned truck and back onto the road. The city was a meaningless blur out the window. Through the windshield it looked like they were tunneling, and lights and signs passed in neon streaks.

"Turn!" Shinji yelled to see if she would do it. She did, without hesitation or looking. The car hit the curb and bounced, high enough to clear the lower part of the convenience store wall. They crashed through the window too small for the car and most of the body came off. Misato fought to get more speed through the rain of cans and packages, and they hit the back wall. It was flimsy. The car burst through.

"Faster!"

Misato already had the pedal to the floor, and flames were licking up from the hood. The fasteners snapped and it flipped up, completely shattering the windshield and blocking their view.

"Right!"

The car swerved and skidded, but didn't flip. They went up a ramp into a parking garage, mostly sideways. Their car bounced off another and the wheels finally caught, shooting sparks from empty rims. The hood snapped off, and the glowing engine was completely on fire, the flames blocking their view.

They hit a curbstone and the car bounced into the air again. The trunk hit the roof, they shot outside, and they began to flip end over end, one bright ball of fire.

Time stopped in the car, and Misato asked, "What do you want?"

"To stop!"

Tears and snot and blood were pouring off Shinji's face, and the car was gyrating too quickly for them to fall down. He was surrounded by a halo of grief and pain, and somewhere inside he was weeping.

The car crashed and exploded, and they shot out the roof on the reinforced safety seats. They came together in midair, and Misato grabbed him, pulling his head down against her chest, and they hit the water, their bodies skating across the surface on vast graceful wings. They came to rest against the other side. Misato was bleeding and panting, and Shinji didn't have the energy left to cry.

"Now listen and listen really well, because we're going to be dead before I have time to repeat myself. You don't want to die, you've never wanted to die, and you never will. You just want you father to love you, and he doesn't. He doesn't care about you. He never did. He never will. You've loved him hoping he would love you back and it didn't work. You hated him so he'd at least hate you back, and he doesn't. You're nothing to him. You never were. I'm sorry.

"I love you. I love you more than you can understand because no one's ever loved you before. I love you so badly I don't understand it and I've loved, been loved, and been in love before. I bleed when you get hurt, my limbs ache when you fall, and every time you get in that damn machine my heart breaks a little more.

"And it doesn't matter that you shouldn't have to do it, that no one else does it, and that you're just a kid. I'd kill myself to stop it and do it gladly. I'll take the gun out of your hands, shoot every bullet into my face, and fall down so you can walk over my body and all you'll be able to see on my corpse would be a smile. But it doesn't matter. This is you mission, your life, and now your purpose. You have a goal that's clearer, brighter, harder, and more mixed with good and evil than most people see in their lifetimes, and believe me, people spend all their lives trying.

"And it won't matter. Nothing will matter because in a few minutes you, me, and every living being will be dead including that emotional void you have for a father and even then he won't hate you for failing. I won't either, but I won't love you any more because I'll be dead. You've wanted love your whole life and I'm giving it to you now but you have to fight for it and fight with every bit of good, evil, hate, and despair within you, and you have to do more than that because you've got to fight with love, happiness, and anger and everything else you've never had or never let yourself want and you've got to do it now.

"So I'm sorry, and I'm dying a little right now and you have to get in there anyway, do the thing you hate more than anything else in the world, but at least I understand and I'll be with you, crying, bleeding, and fighting to breathe harder than I ever thought I could.

"You're fighting for everything. You're fighting for me and fighting so I can show you what love really is.

"If you win and you think I've done wrong, I'll spend the rest of my life making it up to you and do it gladly.
Take me to court and I'll be your witness. Sue me and I'll give you everything I have and spend the rest of my life slaving to make money so I can give you more. But it won't matter unless you win, and I can't make you understand how much I love you when I'm dead.

"So win, Shinji. Get in that machine and kill. For yourself."

Shinji burst into tears and ran, towards NERV.


Sometime later, in a small and mostly deserted hospital, Misato was thumbing through a fashion magazine. She found a picture of a model in a dress she liked sitting on the hood of a car that looked like hers. She sighed and tossed the magazine down by her feet.

The door chimed, and Ritsuko walked in. "Morning, sleepy head. How do you feel?"

"Am I dead?"

"No, and I can't figure out why you aren't. You gave the EMTs conniptions, you know."

"What? Why?"

Ritsuko laughed and sat down on the bed. She reached out and patted Misato's heavily bandaged leg through the blankets. "You want the long list?"

"No, just the short one." Misato smiled, but no one could see it through the gauze.

"Well, aside from the fact that you lived, which some people are chalking up to a miracle," Ritsuko snorted in disgust. "the phone conversation in the ambulance, refusing the sedative, pulling rank on your operating doctor, and forcing him to postpone operating, all while on the cell phone, and the fact that the commander himself trumped everyone to give you whatever you want, and oh, have I mentioned that you didn't die?"

"Could have fooled me. I think I did."

"Then you would have been just too stupid to notice it."

They both laughed.

"So what's the prognosis?"

"Well, whoever looks out after fools is ready to ask you marry him. Nowadays, with NERV technology and all, anything that doesn't kill you can be fixed and for some strange reason nothing killed you. We're going to put you in a LCL bath for a few days, maybe a week, but when you get out of that you should be good as new. Not even a scar."

Misato laughed and then coughed up some blood. "How is he?"

"He's all right. I've put him on some mandatory therapy, but he's going to come see you in an hour or two."

"That's good."

"Jesus, Misato, what the hell were you thinking? Are you psychotic?"

"He's in therapy now?"

"And he should be deader than you! Why?"

"Therapy, Ritsuko. He built too much of a wall around him for anyone to get through. The only thing intense enough for him to admit he felt anything was piloting, and I couldn't very well go through that with him. So I needed something just as horrible, and I had to do it too."

Ritsuko stared at her and shook her head. "You could have killed him. You should have killed him. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

"It means more to me than it does to you. But he's a soldier now. He's been through so much; he's older than me in a way.

"Most importantly, I care about him, and I respected him. He was killing himself, and we were all going to die with him. I had to make Sophie's choice. He wanted to die,
and I was willing to let him die to prove that he didn't. I didn't have time to do anything smart, so I rolled the dice and hoped."

"That may be the stupidest thing I've ever heard. If I was in charge you'd be shot."

"But you aren't. And the commander gave me free reign."

"What if he'd died? Could you live with that?"

"I wouldn't have had too." Misato almost shrugged but stopped herself. "Rei was out, Asuka was out, and there was no way Shinji could have won as he was. We were all going to die."

"But to do that? How could you hate him enough?"

"I don't hate him. In fact, I think I love that kid more than anyone else ever has."

Ritsuko had to think to shut her mouth, and she could not think of anything to say for a long time. Finally she got up and walked to the door, "I'll send him in when the head shrinker's done."

"Thanks."

Ritsuko walked out the door, then stopped and stuck her head back in. "Oh. Here." She reached into a pocket and tossed Misato a small white cross on a chain.

"I was wondering about that."

Ritsuko just shook her head and quietly shut the door behind her. Misato suddenly realized she forgot to ask for another magazine.


Undertow

Therapy sucked.

The doctors said something about Misato being in surgery and sent him away. They did say she'd left a message, but it was just a card with See you soon!' written in red pen. He wandered off and was well into the deserted city before the hallucinations started.

At first it was just people crossing the street before and behind. There would be half-seen children walking behind buildings and phone poles. Every time he lost track of them before they reappeared. A group of little girls walked out in front of him and ran in circles, then darted off down some alley. Ramen vendors were setting up their carts. Tiny demons climbed out of the wheels and carried the power lines into a building. The sky turned black, then red, and then psuedopods of green and orange began fighting in the clouds. Another sun rose.

"I am fine. People like me," Shinji's voice came by rote. He was paying attention to the tiny spiders that were pouring out of the sewers. They began to colonize the sidewalks, and build a fair, through which tiny people were walking and talking and buying little ice cream cones. They all seemed to want chocolate. "Misato is my friend. Ritsuko is my friend. I will trust my friends. I am fine. People like me."

The wind was whistling through the buildings, and Shinji felt cold. It made his shirt collar snap against his neck just hard enough to be annoying, but comforting too. His shirt kept him warm and dry. His hair was still wet from the shower after the LCL bath, and the wind pulled it against his face and cheeks. Leaves were falling around him, ridden by tiny samurai.

Ahead of him was a building he'd destroyed in the fight. He had fallen into it face first. Now there was little left but a pile of rubble that the repair crews would get too in a week or two. The concrete was liquefying and flowing back up into place, only it rippled and the outlines never made sense.

"Misato is my friend."

Sculptures were talking to each other.

"Ritsuko is my friend. I will trust my friends."

Shinji stopped, and just looked as the whole city began to grow around him. Buildings were rising, and everywhere he looked, more of the ground was opening up so other buildings could emerge. The streets were covered in leaves, and there was ivy on the road signs. Shinji found his phone and dialed Ritsuko.

"Yes?"

"Um, is there anything going on right now?"

"Well, Shinji, we're doing some computer work. EVA unit 01 is being refueled, and we're all trying to get over that last attack."

"Is the EVA all right?"

"We can repair it. I'm sorry, but I'm about to go to a meeting and I really don't have much time. Is this important?"

The wind was making his clothing ripple, and the ripples got bigger until his shirt and pants were waving. The waves broke on his skin, and sent little foam streamers across his arms that died out before reaching his hands. His hands felt very dry.

"I think so. I'm very tired and everything seems a little weird."

"Are you sure you don't want to come back to NERV? You could get something to eat and sleep."

"No! I can't stand that place. I just wanted to know, um, when the city would be fully up again." Ritsuko's voice was quiet and he thought they had had been disconnected.

"Not long now. Why don't you come back to headquarters Shinji. Take your time, but head this way."

"That's fine. Good bye, Dr. Akagi." The waves had gained on his arms and were now well past his sleeves.

"Good bye, Shinji."

Ritsuko hung up and stared at her phone thoughtfully. She glanced over at her computer and typed rapidly. A window appeared and displayed Shinji. The camera angle was from above, and she could see his full face. He was spinning slowly in circles, patting his wrists and seemed to be staring at the sky.

"Maya, how long would it take a recovery team to get to the pilot?" she asked, stabbing a button on her desk phone.

"They could be on full readiness in two hundred ninety seconds. After that current retrieval would be between two and five hundred seconds." Maya sounded chipper.

"Have them go to blue and hold. I want you to personally monitor the pilot, and if necessary have him retrieved and heavily sedated."

"Yes, ma'am!"

"That will be all." Ritsuko hit the button again. She watched the screen for several more seconds, tapping her pursed lips. Shinji was still spinning. The clock said fifteen thirteen. She rose and left.

The council room was mostly empty. Two subordinate doctors sat at the middle of the table, Commander Ikari sat at the head. Fuyutsuki was somewhere else, doing something unknown. Ritsuko sat one seat away from the commander.

"Begin," he ordered.

"Asuka seems to be recovering quickly." The doctor had an open folder before him, filled with well organized papers and computer printouts. "At the current rate of progress, her heart will be capable of beating independently within a week. The brain damage was minimal, and she might suffer some temporary memory loss and confusion, but that will pass. The rest of her injuries seem to be quite responsive to the AmIe treatment. We estimate her to be capable of piloting in ten days." He pushed the folder to Ritsuko, who shut it without looking.

Behind his hands, Commander Ikari's head twitched minutely towards the other doctor. His eyes were hidden by glare on his glasses.

"The subject Rei seems to be having more difficulties. The loss of her arms and legs seems to be total. Damage to her vital organs is repairable. The soft tissue damage on her face will heal quickly." She shut the folder and slid it towards Ritsuko.

"Dismissed," ordered the commander. He and Dr. Akagi were silent until the others had left. "How much of that was correct?"

"Almost all. AmIe is performing three hundred percent better than the best case prediction on Langley. Rei is effectively a total loss without complete replacement of her arms and legs."

Ikari nodded. "Bring her in for AmIe as well. Take her under your personal care. Make sure she emerges fully healthy."

"Understood."

Ikari Gendo turned his full attention to her. The lights seemed to be fading around them, leaving him with only an outline. "The third child?"

"The aftereffects of Katsuragi's stunt will take time to assess. His victory over the Angel was far more savage than most of his previous lapses into the berserker state. Still, non-self inflicted damage to the EVA was relatively minimal. I would like to put him on mood stabilizers, but the interactions between them and the LCL could be disastrous. Dr. Higei will be reporting to me weekly about the progress of the therapy sessions."

The commander rose. "Dismissed. Report to me later in full."

"Yes, sir."

Ritsuko remained seated until the commander left. When she did leave she stopped in her office to drop the two folders into a box. Then she went looking for Maya.

She found her in the command room.

"What's the condition of the pilot?"

"Shinji seems a little out of it. He's currently in a park, ma'am." Maya's finger's flicked across the keyboard. A window maximized, and they could watch the boy. He was on a swing, rocking back and forth, staring distractedly about him. "He hasn't said anything that the microphone's have been able to detect."

Ritsuko nodded.

"Is there a problem, ma'am?"

"What's the condition of the extraction team?"

"They are currently an estimated thirty seconds from him. There is an open transport line from his current location direct to the medical department. I've given it standing deference. Total time to an ER is under ninety seconds."

"And to a holding cell?"

"Ma'am?" Maya startled and looked over. Ritsuko was looking over her shoulder, and close enough that Maya almost kissed her cheek when she turned. Maya swallowed. "To a holding cell?"

"Yes." Ritsuko's eyes had not left the screen.

Maya turned and faced it again. "There are no direct transport lines to any cells, ma'am. The closest opening roughly two hundred meters away, with three intermediary security doors."

"Have that hallway emptied."

"Yes, ma'am!"

Ritsuko stood up.

"To a holding cell, ma'am?"

"It shouldn't be necessary. What is the condition of the HS security uplinks in the sectors infected by the angel attack?"

Maya flicked keys and information appeared on the screens. She summarized it, and Ritsuko ordered some tests run. They entered the sectors' primary directory and evaluated the damage for several hours.

"Well, have that done as soon as possible."

"I'll have the scan's completion report in your box by morning, ma'am!"

"Good. Good night, then."

"Oh, ma'am?"

"Yes?"

"Captain Katsuragi, ma'am? How is Misato?"

"She should still be in surgery. By morning she should be out and in a LCL tank."

"Will she be okay?"

"Probably. I don't think anything could kill that woman." Ritsuko smiled and walked out the door. Before leaving she glanced back, and on the main screen was a twenty foot image of Shinji, staring at a whirlwind of burned leaves. "Keep an eye on him."

"Yes,-" The door snapped shut."-ma'am." Maya turned and initiated the scans, and looked up at the picture of Ikari's son. "Don't worry, Shinji. Dr. Akagi told me to keep you safe so nothing bad is going to happen." she promised him.

On the screen he looked down, and seemed to hear her. Then he rose and walked down the street. The city was empty, and the buildings had stopped moving. The sky was an odd shade but in the dying sunlight was fading to black. A few little ripples moved along the outlines of roads. His stomach started growling.

"I wonder how long till the ramen vendors come back."

Around the next corner, he saw a protected door and the NERV logo. There were two heavily armed men by it, and he walked up to them.

"Could you tell me how to get to the cafeteria, please?"

"Through this door. Second door on the right will be an elevator. Take that to the living area."

"Thank you."

The two guards stepped aside and one keyed the door open for the boy.

"Would you like us to escort you?"

"Don't you have to stay here?"

"We were positioned here to assure your safety."

"Oh, that's nice. By who?" Talking was getting to be more and more difficult with each word.

"The sergeant."

"Oh. Okay, then."

One man keyed the door open and led the way through. Shinji followed, laboring to keep his feet moving.

The hallway was short, clean, and smelled of antiseptic. The smell made him oddly nauseous, and he was glad when they entered the elevator. There was some vague music playing, and he enjoyed the brief feeling of weightlessness as they went down. When the floor rushed up and started pushing hard against his legs it forced his head up, and he watched the ceiling run away until his head smashed into the tile at the guard's feet. He barely heard the man's voice on his radio beyond the rushing water, and ceiling was rippling so violently he couldn't focus on it. Shinji blacked out.


When he woke up he was warm and safe. There were sheets wrapped about him and soft blankets. A TV was on with the volume way down, and he heard the actors laughing and talking. Everything seemed normal.

It took him a long time to decide to sit up. First he stared at the ceiling until it became familiar, and then he remembered when he had seen it before. This was the ceiling he saw when he was injured in an attack. That was the little spot that looked like a car. The piping came out through well trimmed holes, and plugged into the machines. The machines were all quiet. Shinji checked his arms and legs, but there were no wires or tubes. He must not have been injured, then.

He sat up. His clothing was in a pile on the nightstand. After putting it on he opened the door and stood outside, leaning against the frame.

"Hello, Shinji." It was one of the nurses, a big guy with a constant smile. He looked more like an orderly, but Shinji liked him. "Been out saving the world again?"

"No. I don't know why I'm here."

"Well, word by the water cooler is you fainted." The nurse walked over and pulled a folder from the rack by the door. He paged through it. "Seems to be you fell over in an elevator, and Dr. Akagi had you brought here. Hungry?"

"A little."

"Well, I'm supposed to do a follow up on you. That means I get to write a bit about how you're feeling, and such, but I can do that just as easily in the cafeteria. Why don't we head down there?"

"Okay."

Shinji stepped away from the wall, and wavered. The nurse smiled and held out his hand. "Hey, now. You know you're not allowed to walk. I'll bend the rules for you after you eat, but even a hero can't be seen walking around an ICU." He unfolded a wheel chair with calm, practiced speed, and gently pushed Shinji into it. "If any of the doctors saw that, I'd be fired before you could blink, and then my girlfriend would yell for hours. Do you want me to have to put up with that?"

Shinji slowly phased out, letting the constant stream of noise carry him off. The hospital food was as usual, bad. By the time he was taken to the exit from the hospital center he could walk again.

"Now make sure you check in with Dr. Akagi. And come back and see me, but not too soon!"

"I will. Bye."

The hallways of NERV were long and identical. It took him a while to find a computer terminal that his access code would unlock. Misato's house was listed as evaluated and safe. He dialed up Ritsuko.

"Shinji, you look better. How do you feel?"

"Tired. Is it okay if I go straight home?"

"Well, you were supposed to come down to my office for a checkup." Shinji could tell Dr. Akagi was willing to be persuaded, so after he wheedled for a few minutes she let him off the hook. "Very well."

"Thank you."

"Remember, you're supposed to come in tomorrow morning for some sync tests. School won't resume till Monday, so you won't have anything else to do."

"I'll be here."

"Good. Good bye, Shinji."

The screen flicked and went blank.

"Sync test tomorrow?" Shinji asked himself aloud. He opened the computer's calendar. "I've been asleep for four days?"

He checked his arms and found needle holes. He did not have to use the bathroom, which meant they had probably stuck another tube up there. Doctors.


"Wake up, Shinji."

Shinji's brain snapped on, and he recoiled in his blankets, wrapping the sheets tighter about himself. It was a primal reaction to get away from the fear and stay warm.

"Shinji, wake up."

The voice sounded like Misato. She was still in the hospital. Shinji looked up and saw the window was dark. The neon clock read three in the morning. A small box with a dark bundle of wires was speaking to him from his desk.

"Misato?"

"Yes, Shinji. It's me. Please, wake up and get out of bed."

He did. "Where are you?"

"I'm in a hospital at NERV. I can't leave the room, so I can't get down to the control room. That's why the emergency speakerphone was installed. Do you remember?"

"No."

"You need to go to NERV, Shinji."

"Why?"

"There's another angel. We found it before it attacked,
but you need to hurry. NERV has a car waiting for you."

"But you won't be there."

"No. I can talk to you on the phone. They've put a computer in here with a direct access path to MAIA, and I'll be with you through that. You need to hurry, Shinji. This line isn't armored, and unless you hurry down to NERV, I may not be able to talk to you anymore."

"There's a car downstairs?"

"Yes. Now hurry. You don't need to get dressed or brush your teeth. Just run."

"I'm coming, Misato."

Shinji pulled himself into the hall. A few small nightlights lit the walk-way. In the dark he found the door, and pulled it open. Outside were big men with guns and armor; masks kept their faces shielded and made them unreal in the half light.

"Third child, come with us."

"Okay."

The car was an armored personnel carrier, lit by dials and instrument readouts. Shinji was pulled in by more soldiers. There were two hard benches and the men were talking in harsh tones, speaking in complex phrases and military jargon. All on them had guns, and the guns were all pointed at Shinji.

"We're here."

The doors opened and the men fell in around him, three in front, three in back, and two fanning out to the sides.
They walked fast without running. When they came to the door of the changing room, they took sentinel positions without speaking, and one held the door open. Shinji walked through, wondering if this was another waking dream.

"The target appeared nineteen minutes ago in Low Earth Orbit. By flame trails and atmospheric disturbances, we believe it will have to make drastic corrections to its trajectory to arrive at Tokyo-3 without at least two more revolutions." Ritsuko Akagi spoke almost without emotion. All that was left in her voice was a dead and digested sense of urgency that lacked immediacy. "At its current speed, that gives you over two hundred minutes, about three hours. You're going to take that time to do some control drills and get briefed on how we think it's going to attack. Do you understand?"

"Who?"

"What?

"You said how we think it's going to attack.'" Shinji stressed the we.' "Who's we?"

"Myself, the bridge crew, the commander and Fuyutsuki. It doesn't matter. The angel itself, codename Lupus, appears to be a cigar shaped object some kilometer and a half long. It does not appear to have limbs or a mouth. It is currently withstanding entry temperatures, so we will not be using the plasma weapons or lasers." Ritsuko found herself smoking without conscious recollection of how. "The SDF will be in support on the Ogami ridge with long range missiles and artillery. We don't want you to count on them, though. Without Asuka, you'll be by yourself."

"Rei?"

"She might join you later. We're holding her under medical care until her appearance becomes absolutely necessary."

"Who?" Shinji appeared confused on the large screen. With his face enlarged to fill four hundred square meters of screen, surrounded by orbital recognizance and histograms, every minor twitch and expression was clear for the bridge crew to see. There were none. Except for mild bewilderment, Shinji's face could have been computer generated, young, smooth, and emotionless.

"Who's holding her under medical care? I am."

"Then why did you say we?"

Ritsuko did not immediately answer.

"How do you feel?"

"Funny. Like I'm dreaming. Only without the fuzziness. Things keep moving around me, but when I think about them I realize it's only EVA."

Ritsuko turned and looked carefully at a report. It showed normal brain activity. "You need to focus."

"I am."

"Hello, Shinji." Misato's voice was soft and tired. "Ritsuko's worried about you. Are you okay?"

"Misato? Where?"

"I'm in the hospital. I think they call it an intensive care unit, but I'm not sure."

"I want to talk to you. I haven't seen you in a long time."

"I know, Shinji. I'm sorry. It takes me a bit longer to heal than you. But we can talk now. You have to get ready, though."

EVA 01 activated suddenly, sucking power through the conduits. Maya panicked, but then every light went green. EVA hummed at the ready, confined by its restraints.

"Unit 01 is fully ready, ma'am."

Ritsuko turned and looked at the commander. The glare on his glasses hid his reaction, and he made no outward motions. By his side, Fuyutsuki smiled.

"Unit 01, launch," Misato ordered. All three bridge technicians shot Ritsuko a look, and she turned to them long enough to nod seriously.

"You're ready now, Shinji," Misato said. "Go get a weapon and make sure it is loaded."

"Yes, captain." The title sounded odd, tacked accidentally onto his response. The titanic EVA darted through the city, found a fake building, and opened it. "When will you come back?"

"I don't know. You can talk to me now."

"But-" Shinji did not finish.

"Don't worry about them. Just talk if you need to. Ritsuko may give orders if I can't, but I'll be here."

"What about my father?"

"Forget him. He's irrelevant."

The technicians gasped, and Ritsuko almost swallowed her cigarette.

"As long as you win, he doesn't mean anything. He doesn't matter, Shinji."

"Target has changed entry pattern!" Takeru interrupted them. "Lupus has begun air braking."

"ETA?" Ritsuko demanded.

"Changing fast. Target could arrive within ninety seconds if it is capable of sustaining its current deceleration."

"Shinji, it's time. You're fighting again. Do you remember why?" Misato sounded too tired to be anything but serious and gentle.

"To kill the Angel?"

"To live, Shinji. You have to kill the angel to do it, but the two aren't the same."

"I'll try."

"You have to do better than that. I'm sorry. You have to win. Please, Shinji."

"I will."

"Thank you, Shinji. You'll win."

The EVA strode to an open, relatively flat space where in peacetime the market would be. It was holding a scaled up model of a rifle, fully loaded. The ammunition had a closer similarity to jet engines than bullets. EVA 01 waited, and inside Shinji sat in a tank of LCL.

"ETA thirty seconds. SDF has begun initial salvo."

"ETA twenty seconds. SDF salvo was not effective."

"ETA ten seconds. SDF artillery division has been destroyed."

The angel was surrounded by a bubble of air that did not have time to get out of the way. Most of this was aflame. On the screen, the angel's plotted course showed an intersect with EVA 01 at impossible speeds.

"ETA three, two, one-"

There was an explosion, a shock wave, and Shinji started to scream. Alone in the LCL, he sent out one continuous shriek of unimaginable pain that never stopped and got louder and louder till the filters couldn't distinguish between it and the engine noise. The pilot mic was turned off automatically, and in perfect silence the bridge watched Shinji die for hours. Misato broke down and the commander ordered her off the air as well. The pilot's camera slowly faded out as the LCL got thicker with blood and fluids, until the crew couldn't see him, hear him, and only knew he was alive by the beeping of instruments and the burning in the city.


He awoke to a familiar ceiling. Machines spoke all around him, grumbling and arguing over whether or not he was dead. He was held down by steel arms and leather straps. Powerless, at long last, utterly powerless, and incapable of action, Shinji was beyond blame and doubt, and the totality of his failure was reassuring. Now he could give up all those diseased and delusional hopes, and return his attention to nothing. His arms relaxed, and then his legs, and then his whole body slipped into a deep lethargy.

Mildly amused, Shinji wondered how exactly he had come here. He was crossing a street; a street that had just reopened from the last angel attack. There was a truck. Neither of them had seen the other. The truck had hit him. He could see the grill too late, the sudden and crunching impact of his face on the bumper and the detached realization that his brain was shaking in his skull. With pinpoint precision he could track each shattering bone and muscle ripping free while he got concussed, shattering his skull. Shinji smiled in his doze. The agony would have been horrific, elevated to a kind of grace. Now he was utterly useless; utterly worthless to anyone. Shinji wiggled a bit and started to drift off.

His hand wiggled back.

Someone squeezed his hand again, and his eyes snapped open. The EKG machine went insane, ranting furiously and spastically babbling, while the pulse monitor surged up. Sweat popped out of his forehead. Shinji's head was tied down, but he could squirm to look left.

Someone was holding his hand so gently he had not noticed. He stared at it. The grip was firm. He wiggled his hand as best he could with the iron manacles, and the other held firm.

"Oh, no," he accidentally breathed aloud.

"Hey."

As Shinji's heart monitor went wilder, all sound slowly dropped out of his hearing.

"Shinji, look at me."

"I can't."

"Yes, you can. Turn your head."

He did. Misato was there.

Things happened around him, with people and stuff, but she made all the problems go away.

"Breathe," she told him, and he tried. "Again."

Shinji clenched his hand, squeezing as tightly as he could. His entire body became rigid, and he clenched his fist as tight as he could, trying to drive his fingers into her hand and cause pain. She let him. He could only stare at her.

Misato was in another hospital bed, with blankets pulled up around her neck. She had a battery of contraptions and devices and senselessly complicated things that someone had dreamed up all around her, wires and needles in her, and cables connecting them all. She was not formally restrained, but there was so much crap clinging to her body that she was as paralyzed as he. The beds had been pulled side by side and set to just mildly recline so he could stare into her eyes. That was all he did.

"You are awake now," she said. "This is not a dream. You're alive and fighting. And you're winning. Breathe."

"Misato-"

"Shinji."

He could not talk.

"Shinji." He did not answer. "Shinji."

"You can't do this. You can't."

"I know. I can't."

Safe. "Then I've failed again? Please?"

"No. I can't give you any power. But I can ask you to take it yourself."

He whimpered.

"Shinji?"

He wished he could look away; the fear was too great.

"I meant everything."