Chapter Twenty-Three: Finding God

Misato was right…Shinji's job at NERV was to pilot the Evangelions, not run investigations. It was Captain Yamato's job to handle internal investigations…though Misato would've handled it herself had it not been for her close relationship with Asuka. Shinji ran through everything that Captain Yamato confronted Asuka with trying to come up with some reasonable explanation for it all but was having little success. The only thing that didn't make any sense was why would Asuka use her own security card to enter the geofront and then hang around inside the hospital? Brash, stubborn, and prideful she might be but an idiot she was not. There was no way that an infiltration that coordinated could have such an obvious flaw. If Shinji could've guessed that security kept a log on all entries, then Asuka would've thought of it even sooner.

When Shinji arrived home, he found it to be in quite a mess thanks to the thorough search performed by the NERV investigators. Under less stressing circumstances, Shinji would've taken the time to clean up the place but he felt motivationally drained and just walked past the scattered books and overturned mattresses. There seemed to be no sign of Kyo, which meant he was probably off doing what young couples do with Judy.

Retiring to his bedroom, Shinji immediately collapsed onto his bed and crawled beneath the sheets. Misato was right – he should just get some rest. It had been a long day after all and all his frustrations had worn him out. In a matter of seconds he had drifted asleep. Alas, Shinji wouldn't find much peace in his slumber.

The dream was strange…though most of his dreams had a tendency to be either weird or make no sense whatsoever. For his latest venture into his own subconscious, Shinji found himself sitting in his own living room. It was a pleasant change from the usual 'complete emptiness stretching in all directions' that most of his dreams were set in. His first scan of the room revealed that he was the sole occupant but a dream of sitting on his own would be far too boring to happen. Sure enough, only a few seconds passed before he felt a lithe arm wrap around his shoulder. At first, he thought his subconscious would be nice to him for a change and drop Rei into his dream but instead he saw the red-haired Asuka curling up next to him on the living room couch.

"Come on Shinji," she pleaded as though the conversation had been going on for hours. "Why do you always have to be so distant from me? I kept reaching out to you and you would always just turn away from me. Can't you see how much you mean to me?" Shinji didn't say anything, since nothing actually meant anything in his imaginary world. She didn't even appear to be bothered by his silence as she set her hand overtop of his. "I'm always the one that's by your bedside when you wake up in the hospital! I'm the one that's always standing by you. I'm the one that's always pushing you to be the best you can be! What does that Rei girl have that's so much better than me?" If it weren't for the fact that this wasn't real, Shinji would've been confused by this somewhat uncharacteristic outpouring of emotions by the Germanic child.

Her free hand brushed gently against Shinji's cheek, ushering his attention to remain upon her. If only Asuka was actually this open to her then something might've developed between them in the real world. But the real Asuka was just as closed off as Shinji could be. "More importantly…you were always the one person I could turn to. I…I need you…and I think a part of you needs me as well." As Asuka tried to guide his lips towards her, he turned away. The moment he did that, the warmth from her hands disappeared. Now on his opposite side was Rei, curled close to him in essentially the same manner Asuka was just seconds ago.

"What's the matter Shinji?" Rei began softly. "Half of the time we talk your mind seems to be somewhere else. You seem so distracted."

This time around, Shinji was able to utter out a couple of words. "It's nothing…"

"You're thinking about Asuka again, aren't you?" While Rei was right, it was difficult to not think about her considering that Asuka had been sitting to his left until only a few seconds ago. "I've seen the way you two look at one another. She's…wild and unpredictable – something I could never be. She pushes you in directions you never thought possible. It's that excitement and curiosity that still draws you to her."

"That's not true Rei," Shinji tried to explain, though struggled with the words as his mind felt like it was trying to process a million things at once.

"You slept with her for a reason and it wasn't just because of me or that you were drunk. It's because a part of you loves her…just like how a part of you loves me."

"We're…we're just friends. M-maybe a time ago I did feel something for her but that ended a long time ago. Now, we're just two friends and that's all it will stay as. You're the one I care about Rei."

"Are you trying to convince me…or yourself? I trust you Shinji but you know I will always feel inadequate so long as I continue to think that you still have feelings for Asuka. I don't say this enough Shinji but you are very important to me Shinji. I…had always felt so alone before meeting you. I wanted to be with you but I could never tell you."

"You can tell me know Rei…you don't have to be afraid."

"Don't I?"

"After all, there's still me to compete with," Asuka's voice emerged once more and now Shinji was flanked by both girls. "And I'm not going to let her have you without a fight. What has she done to deserve you? She's not even real. Remember? She's just a doll; sure she looks pretty and all but in the end you might as well be doing an inflatable fuck-pillow. If she's cared about you for so long why hasn't she said anything until now?"

"Why haven't you?" Rei interrupted.

"I was in Germany if you would recall. You had over three years with him and you did nothing with it. It was only until I came along did you suddenly get possessive of him. You're like some over-protective mother who won't let their grown kid go out and do what all kids his age do."

Rei turned to address Shinji next, "You're going to have to make a choice Shinji."

"Yeah, yeah. I know. I have to put my foot down on this stupid clichéd love triangle," Shinji grumbled in annoyance. Sometimes he wondered if his life had become some stupid sitcom or teen drama. "Of course I'm just arguing with my own subconscious."

"How certain are you of that?" Asuka suddenly commented as the two girls pulled away from him. "You've had conversations in your dreams before with people aside from yourself. But even then when can you be certain of even that? Every message from those three leaves you torn in different directions. You never know what to believe."

"All you do know," Rei continued along, "is that what they say is usually true to some degree. The red one worries you the most of course. He's the one that said suffering would be yours if you came to Tokyo-3. You're left wondering whether what he said was true or just a statement so vague it wouldn't matter."

There definitely was no denying that statement. Confusion seemed to infect every thought train of his when he contemplated what the three apparitions said to him. Shinji tried to avoid confusion by simply ignoring what the second and third apparition said and simply sticking to the guidance given to him by Nanashi. The red one Rei referred to, however, would always cause him worry…especially considering what happened at NERV just a short while ago.

"One of us is going to die Shinji," Asuka said to snap Shinji out of his train of thought. "One of us is going to die and it's going to be your fault."

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Shinji awoke from his rather unusual dream, though considering the nature of most of his dreams this was actually closer to the norm for him. It took a few minutes for him to remember that he was actually lying in his bed and wasn't in some strange room with Rei and Asuka. Glancing to his alarm clock, he saw that several hours already passed and it was closer to the evening now. There was no interest in getting up, though, as he merely rolled to his opposite side and tried to settle his troubled mind. However, instead of finding peace he noticed that something was terribly out of place with what he was looking at.

Upon his desk sat a small red, leather-bound book – the same one that Shinji saw Wolfgang carrying the previous day. Alongside it was a very small folded-up note with his name written on the front in handwriting he immediately recognized as Asuka's. He realized now that Asuka must've found some way to convince Wolfgang or Ada to part with that book and the note likely contained a friendly reminder that he owed Asuka a big one. In a strange way, Shinji wished he could have her rubbing it into his face right about now. Alas, the condominium was dead silent. With a heavy sigh, Shinji opened up the note to see what Asuka had to say.

"I noticed you were unusually interested in that book Wolfgang had with him. I did a little check and you don't have any assignments where you'd need such a religious text. So I thought to myself, why would Shinji need this? Must be something important for you to lie so blatantly. I decided to borrow it from Wolfgang so I can find out what's so darn important about this book. Just be sure to finish what you need soon cause he'll figure out where it went soon. By the way, you owe me for this and I expect more than just an explanation."

"How silly of me to think she'd ask politely for it," Shinji muttered lightly as he crumpled the paper up and tossed it into the garbage. Wolfgang would probably be able to put two and two together in a few hours after noticing the book's disappearance. Well, since the book was here Shinji might as well take a look at it.

Opening the book, Wolfgang's complaint about language problems was obvious. It was in neither English nor Japanese; in fact, he couldn't recognize it at all. It didn't use any alphabet that he was familiar with either. However, considering the age of the book and the religious symbol on the binding, it was a reasonable to guess that the text might be in old Hebrew. Now he just hoped that the Jewish girl that lived not too far away would be able to translate it for him. No sooner had the thought 'I hope Judy is home' passed through his mind did a knock come from his front door. It wasn't a gentle knock either – it was the quick, continuous knocking of an anxious individual who wanted to be let in. No surprise, it was none other that Judy. But why would she be here?

"Hey Judy," Shinji greeted upon opening the door. "I'm afraid Kyo isn't here though."

"That's actually why I'm here," Judy promptly answered, a slight hint of concern in her voice. "Kyo called a while ago and said that he had to postpone our date because something important came up. I didn't ask any questions of course cause he said he'd meet me in a few hours instead. Well, when Kyo never showed up I started to worry. Oh…um, may I come in?"

"Oh, right. Come on in," Shinji embarrassingly remembered and stepped aside for the young lady to enter. She was visibly anxious as clearly noted by how repeatedly she tapped her fingertips against her leg.

"As I was saying, Kyo's never been late before and I don't know what could've come up that made him postpone our date," Judy continued, her tone shifting from concern and nervousness to anxious rambling. "At first I thought it was just something he had to do with you but we're here and he's not. I had already checked with the university and they said he wasn't there either. I have no idea where he is and I can't reach him on his cell phone and…you don't think he's found another girl do you?"

"What? Another girl? Please," Shinji dismissed the possibility quickly in hopes it would calm the girl down. "Kyo was never that great with girls so he wouldn't risk screwing up one of the first solid relationships he's had by going out with another girl. Besides, he thinks the world of you."

"Are you certain? I think I might be smothering him. You know how I'm always over and stuff."

"Half the time you bring him food. Kyo is not hard to keep happy and you're doing more than enough," Shinji reassured her once more, giving her a gentle pat on the shoulder. "I'm not sure what it is but whatever the reason, I'm sure Kyo isn't gone without good reason. He's usually pretty punctual but when he gets distracted he has been known to forget about pretty much everything around him."

Judy didn't like the sound of that last part and grew a little more restless as a result. "M-maybe something bad has happened to him."

Shinji really didn't really know what he could do to settle the poor girl's restless worries. Between Asuka and Rei, anxiousness and worry were not emotions he had dealt with very often. Judy paced around the living room a few times before finally settling on the couch. Even then, her fingers continually rapped against the cushions and her breathing was somewhat shallow and erratic.

"Um…can I get you anything?" Shinji offered since he couldn't think of anything else.

"I don't suppose you have some tea and scones on hand?" Judy replied in jest. "I will be fine. I just needed somebody to talk to and Misato has been gone all day. If I could, I would like your company for a little while…you look as though you could use it as much as I."

Shinji couldn't argue with that last part. With Rei absent, Asuka locked away, and Kyo missing, there wasn't much of anyone to keep him company. In his own idleness, he tapped his fingers and realized that he was still holding that red book in his hand. Figuring it might give Judy something else to focus her attention on, Shinji took next to Judy and set the book down on the coffee table.

"What's that?" Judy asked once she noticed it.

"You wouldn't happen to be able to be able to read Hebrew would you?"

"I hope you don't think that just cause I'm Jewish automatically I can read Hebrew," Judy laughed lightly with a smirk. "But it just so happens that I can, so count yourself lucky." Grabbing the book off the table, Judy opened it up and took a quick skim over the first few pages. Now Shinji hadn't been certain if he was correct in his assumption but since Judy wasn't shutting the book right away, he was might right.

"So um…can you translate it for me? It's sort of important."

"Mostly reads like Torah," Judy commented with a casual shrug. "Genesis, Exodus, and all the rest. I don't exactly know what's so important about all this stuff." She continued flipping through the pages, quickly reading over every page in a very methodical fashion. As she neared the end of the book though something in it caused her to cock an eyebrow and pause for short while. "Okay this is odd. This isn't like any passage I've read before."

Now Shinji's curiosity was piqued. Since he couldn't do anything to hasten the process, he did his best to wait patiently for Judy to read over the passage aloud for Shinji. "It says…'when God created Man, He gave him a paradise to rule over. But when Man rejected God and ate the fruit of the Forbidden Tree, he was punished and thrown out of his paradise. In doing so, Man gained not only knowledge and wisdom but also freedom and control over their own destiny. From then on, Man would no be forced to dictate their own future without direction and guidance. Lost like a child in the mountains, Man would stumble as he tried to walk and crawl. Much suffering would fall unto Man but he walked with the promise if he ever managed to stand and walk, paradise would be returned to him. Man would first found God through His son and in their fear, they rejected him. In doing so, they were able to find salvation in the afterlife. When Man found God the second time, they thought that paradise would be theirs once more. With this hope, they tried to possess God and God punished them for it. In doing so, they discovered the seeds of God within each soul and planted the seeds of a new Man. The third time Man found God through his messengers but in their rage, Man destroyed God's will. In doing so, Man destroyed their chance for finding paradise.' What a very strange passage…"

"Rather cryptic," Shinji lied. It made plenty sense to him so far. "Is there anything else?"

"Just a bit more. 'When Man found God the fourth time, it was through the evils in their souls. The seed of God had been planted once more and Man would seek to possess it. In doing so, Man punished himself to conquer their sins and through this act of sacrifice, his paradise would be found at last…and Man would no longer need to find God.' Now why do you suppose such an unusual passage would be in the Torah? It's certainly not like any one I've ever read…which would be a grand total of one aside from this."

"I honestly don't know," Shinji sighed lightly. The first three incidences were events that had already happened but the last one didn't fit anything he had recalled. Was this that 'fourth encounter' mentioned in that bizarre passage? How would this help him find the Thirteenth? "Is there any more?"

"Let me check. There's probably a bit more," Judy answered Shinji's inquiry as she flipped a few pages ahead. "There's some but it doesn't seem to fit in any context around it. It says, 'One the fisherman; two the Baptist follower; three and four the brothers; five the Greek tongue; six the knife-wielder; seven the twin; eight the just; nine the Evangelist; ten the Zealot; eleven the betrayer; twelve the lost cause; and thirteen the son of Man.' Okay now that just makes even less sense than before." With all the confusion created by translating this text, Judy simply tossed the book back onto the table and collapsed back into her seat.

"Well thanks for your help anyways. I guess some things just aren't meant to make any sense," Shinji said as he leaned back on the couch as well. Judy might've been a bit confused but Shinji was pushing his brain to the limit trying to make sense of it all. After it felt like his brain would collapse in on itself if he continued, he gave up trying to make sense of it and decided that he would be better off turning to somebody who had more knowledge of these things. Maybe somebody at NERV would be able to be of some assistance to his little mission.

The son of Man…how does that help him?

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"Ughhhh…where am I?" Asuka groaned painfully as her senses finally began to return to her. Her body felt like a lead weight, including her eyelids, and even breathing seemed to send dull pulses of pain radiating through her gut. If her memory served her correctly…she had been shot down there so the pain made sense. On the bright side, if there was any, at least it meant that she was still alive. She tried to pry her eyes open but to little avail; she simply felt too tired to make a move. Plus, though it took her a moment to realize it, she had been blindfolded so opening her eyes wouldn't have been of much help anyways. Taking a moment to get a feel for her predicament, the few things she could deduce was that she was strapped down to a bed of sorts and she was probably not in any hospital. It did not have that chemical, anti-septic smell that every hospital Asuka had been in possessed.

"Your guess is as good as mine," a familiar voice muttered in response. At first Asuka thought she was hallucinating or something as there was no chance it could've been Kyo's voice answering her.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Asuka asked weakly. Breathing was hard enough for her so talking was even worse. As such, she needed to keep her sentences brief.

"Beats me. I was doing exactly as you asked and then somebody jumped me. Next thing I know, I wake up here…wherever here is. I don't suppose you could see anything. I'm sort of blindfolded here."

"Likewise. Did you find anything?"

"Only that your friend's sister really should consider changing medication…and that he might be involved with whatever is going on. Speaking of which, what the fuck is going on?" Needless to say, Kyo sounded a little irritable but anybody being held against his will would be. Judging by the clunking noises that accompanied Kyo's grunts he was probably tied down to a chair rather than bed like Asuka. If they were being held captive then there were probably in some remote building or outpost and kept under lock and guard in a very small room. She wondered if NERV knew she was missing yet.

"Group called ZELLE…opposing NERV. Operative infiltrated NERV…and killed a number of people," Asuka began, having to take pauses intermittently to ease the pain. "I've been framed for it…and now we're both stuck here. I think…Wolfgang might be behind it."

"Gee…you could've warned me you were sending me to find somebody you suspected of espionage!"

"I thought he was somebody who could prove my innocence," Asuka sneered bitterly in response. "Now I realize he probably framed me from the start. Probably…grabbed my ID when I wasn't looking and…kept me out of public places…even shot me when he needed to make me look guilty."

"Well now that we've proven your hindsight is good, let's think about what we can do now."

"We're bound…I'm hurt…and you're inept. Not a lot of options available."

"With optimism like that, I can't believe humanity's fate is entrusted to the likes of you." With a sigh of annoyance, Kyo had little choice but to simply sit back and wait for the inevitable. What their captors had in store for them was unknown but Asuka knew they wouldn't have gone through all the effort of keeping her alive if she wasn't important. If anything, this little act probably made Asuka look even guiltier than before. Captain Yamato would probably want her shot on sight at this point.

"I'll be more confident if I had a Evas at my back."

It was a lot easier for Asuka to be confident when she was piloting her Eva, or at the very least not strapped to a bed with a gunshot wound. What they needed now was a soldier rather than a pilot. Asuka knew basic hand-to-hand and how to operate a firearm but she was not the spy and gunfighter that Yamato accused her of being. She was still just a kid after all. Likewise after numerous attempts, Kyo realized there was little he could do either. In the end, waiting was their only option.

"Are you scared Asuka?"

"Maybe. You?"

"Perhaps just a little."

Neither was going to admit that they were actually almost terrified right now. Unknown to them, the pair were being watched by none other than Wolfgang von Bismarck through a pane of one-way glass. Video cameras and microphones recorded every moment within the chamber but he had watched and listened in on their conversations from the start. He doubted that either would be stupid enough to reveal classified information openly but nonetheless he continued to listen in order to learn more about the two teens. A cold, isolated vigilance had overtaken him and though he held a cup of coffee in one hand, it had long since gone cold. Behind Wolfgang, the door leading to the observation room slowly opened and another man stepped into the room.

"NERV forces and recovery crews have arrived at the ambush site sir," the young man informed Wolfgang. It was the first thing in more than an hour that had managed to pull Wolfgang's attention away from the glass.

"How long do we have?" Wolfgang asked quietly.

"Our most conservative guess puts the estimate of about two hours before their forces are able to track their location to here," the accomplice explained grimly. "With NERV watching the coastlines, we will not be able to retreat to the main base. Our only choice will be to retreat into the city but it is unlikely we can succeed in that with the prisoners." Every road in and out of the city would likely be under watch by now. It would be impossible for anyone to sneak two prisoners past the checkpoints.

"Then we'll simply leave the prisoners here for NERV to find and we'll make sure to get what we need before then," Wolfgang calmly explained.

"Sir…there's no way we'll finish in that time."

"We'll skip the small stuff. Go and charge the generator and bring it in," Wolfgang instructed. With a quick nod, the other man departed to carry out the orders. Wolfgang had proceeded with the operation with the full knowledge that NERV would be hot on their heels the moment Asuka changed hands. He did not need Asuka in his possession for very long; he simply needed some more time. Time, though, was something he could easily get more of.

A red glow slowly appeared behind and to the side of Wolfgang in the exact same sport that his accomplice had stood just a few moments ago. Standing behind Wolfgang was the Crimson apparition that had visited Shinji so many times before. It simply gazed to the two imprisoned teens before turning back to Wolfgang. "You have the looks of a man who needs a favor."

Wolfgang merely peered over his shoulder to the source of the light and said, "I would be grateful if NERV ran into some more pressing issues."

"I just so happened to be heading out on business. Consider the time yours – just find me what I need."

Just as quickly as the apparition appeared, it faded away, leaving Wolfgang alone in the observation room once more…except now accompanied by a promising smirk.