# Mind # Games #

Part Tenth

At first, there was only darkness and sound.

click-Clack... click-Clack... click-Clack...

Red circles of light appear only to rush past in a blur.

click-Clack... click-Clack... click-Clack...

Soon the light became brighter, illuminating her surroundings in shades of red and orange. She was sitting in a disturbingly familiar rail car, seated directly across from one Shinji Ikari, who was looking at her as if he could see right through her, his patented serene smile both on his lips and in his eyes.

Asuka could not bear to meet his gaze for some reason. She turned away, only to find herself looking into the eyes of a little girl who was sitting beside her.

The girl looked at Asuka with an unwavering gaze for a long moment, then cocked her head to one side questioningly. "Why did you look away from him?" she asked, then smiled. "He's awfully nice. I like him."

"Wha...?" Asuka stammered, pulling back a little but somehow unable to look anywhere else.

"Besides," the little girl went on, "Haven't you been really wanting to see him?"

Asuka blushed at hearing this, finally breaking her eyes away to study her hands in her lap. "Well... I...uh..." she continued to stammer.

Meanwhile, Shinji couldn't help but study Asuka. He couldn't make out the conversation she was having with the girl next to her, but the girl barely even registered upon Shinji's consciousness. His simple happiness at seeing Asuka again was near deafening, drowning all other details beneath her strangely comforting presence.

"Well done Shinji," said a voice from beside him, releasing him from his reverie. He found a young boy sitting beside him, smiling warmly. "You've come quite a long way in such a short time." the boy continued. "Your mother would be proud."

"My...mother?" Shinji asked, confused.

"Don't sweat it." the boy replied nonchalantly, then smiled at him. "Besides, there are more important things that require your attention." he said with an indicative head jerk in the direction directly across from where the two of them were sitting. Shinji reflexively looked in the direction the boy had motioned towards only to lock gazes with Asuka. For a moment, neither pilot dared to so much as breath, then, simultaneously they opened their mouths to speak.

Any words that might have followed, however, were drowned out by the sounding horn that signaled the train's entrance into another tunnel.

The world once more faded into darkness and sound.

# M # I # N # D #

The sound of typing stopped as the young man leaned back in his chair with a troubled look on his face. "I know where I want to go with it, I just can't seem to figure out how to get there."

He sat there, peering at his monitor over his steepled fingertips, lost in thought. Suddenly a crooked smile swept his features, and his hands once more shot across the keyboard, plunging ahead on the stroke of inspiration that had just struck him.

- G - A - M - E - S -

"What went wrong Ritsu?" Misato asked looking at hospital room windows. She sounded... broken somehow. Like something inside her had snapped.

The blond scientist shook her head. "The Magi have been unable to pinpoint it. There was only a 30 chance of success in the first..." Ritsuko stopped short at the look on Misato's face. "Look, it might have worked. Its still too early to tell."

Though it might have been somewhat of a stretch, Ritsuko hadn't been lying in that the procedure might have been successful after all. Both Pilots remained comatose, and their brain wave patterns hadn't been able to tell her anything. It had only been eighteen hours since the attempt to free Shinji from Asuka's brain, and it was still too early yet to assess the damage.

Taking a closer look at her old friend, Ritsuko noticed just how haggard and pale Misato's face looked. "You look like hell you know." she said.

Misato rubbed at her eyes as if it somehow alleviated her need for rest. "I'll be alright."

Ritsuko shook her head. "You need to catch some sleep. You're in no shape for an emergency. If an Angel were to attack now, You wouldn't be able to preform your duties, and with two EVAs without pilots, we need everyone else in top form."

Misato took a moment for that to sink in then slumped her shoulders in defeat. "You're right." she sighed. "You'll call my cell if anything new occurs?"

Ritsuko smiled. "You know I will. Now go get some rest."

Misato nodded absently as she shuffled off in the direction of the nearest waiting room. Ritusko returned to her contemplation of the unresponsive form of the pilot of Unit 01 for a moment then turned to leave.

The staff would instantly notify her of any changes in the pilots conditions, allowing her to keep her word to Misato. Commander Ikari, apparently had more important projects for her than seeing to the well being of his son.

- M - I - N - D -

And now, making his first real appearance in Mind Games...

- G - A - M - E - S -

Ryouji Kaji shook his head and sighed wearily as he looked at the zealot sitting across the interrogation table from him. "You know, things would go easier on you if you simply cooperated."

The man's reply was to spit in Kaji's face. Without changing the expression on his face, Kaji wiped it away, pausing a moment to look at his hand. The spittle was tinged red with blood. While he had been unconscious, the intruder went through having his molars pulled. Kaji had been sure an operative skilled enough to get onto this base would have had at least a suicide pill stored there, if not a two way transmitting device. His hunch had been right, but the device had been so ingeniously disguised, it had taken two real teeth before finding the right ones.

Needless to say, NERV didn't keep many dentists on the payroll, and the base lacked the proper painkillers and equipment to properly remove the teeth. They made do with the fact the man was already unconsciousness and a handy pair of needlenose pliers.

Kaji frowned sympathetically. "That must hurt, Mr. Kestrel. You sure you don't want anything for it?" he asked, pleased with how the saboteur reacted slightly to hearing his name used. They were able to gather a great deal of information about him in a short amount of time. He was working for SEELE, that much was quite obvious. He also held several degrees in theology and physics, and a distinguished background in the military. Why had SEELE sent him? He seemed a bit flashy for the old men's style. What could have possibly been the reason behind his activation?

"You can't stop it, you know." Kestrel said, surprising Kaji and derailing his train of thought.

"Stop what?" Kaji asked, though he could easily guess what the man was about to say next.

"The divine plan." Kestral continued. "It will come to fruition. Blasphemies like your precious S2 engine only hamper its progress, but they cannot halt it. Instrumentality will occur."

'Instrumentality... Does this man really know what it entails?' Kaji maintained his poker face, however. "Is that so?" he asked, his voice betraying an unsubtle hint of patronization.

The saboteur smirked, his teeth gleaming red from the blood in his mouth. "Your arrogance will be your undoing." he said. "There are much greater forces at work here! Worthless mortals such as you and I are mere pawns. It doesn't matter what you do, You cannot change the fact that the Rapture is coming, and with it, the End of All Things!"

Kaji looked into this man's eyes, and saw the mindless fervor of religious zealotry he knew so well. 'Is he simply acting?' he wondered. 'Its convincing... very convincing. But my gut tells me that's not the whole story here.'

"By Providence's will, NERV will fall, as will your heretic masters in SEELE!" The man continued to rant. "You may have stopped me, but Providence will choose another to see to the destruction of the Super Solenoid Engine!"

Kaji was quite surprised to hear this, though Misato was probably the only person on the planet who knew his body language well enough to detect where it might betray him. 'He doesn't work for SEELE?' his mind reeled as he analyzed the ranting man's words very carefully. 'Providence... What exactly could he mean by that? Could he be referring to...?'

"The servants of providence are guided by the will of the divine!" the man cackled madly, flecks of spittle now following his words with alarming regularity. "We cannot possibly fail in our task!"

Shaking his head, Kaji began to get up from his place at the interrogation table. The saboteur's eyes were now clouded by some fanatical delusion, and it was impossible for him to get more information from him with his interrogation tactics. The man would soon face the professional interrogators of the U.S. NERV branch, who would be better able to extract any other useful information he might have.

'Providence...' Kaji pondered what the man had said as he made his way to the small room's only exit. 'Their have been rumors about...' he shook his head as he opened the door. 'I'll simply have to look into it when I get back... home.'

- M - I - N - D -

"Billions for defense, not a penny for proper dentistry."

# G # A # M # E # S #

Somewhere amidst the vast abyss of the cosmos, a presence of thought waited, masking its existence so as not to be easily discovered. Suddenly, there was another glimmer of thought, which rapidly formed into a presence much like the first.

"Armisael, You wished council with me?" the newly arrived awareness queried.

The first presence was inert for a brief moment before responding. "Bardiel's anointed time draws ever nearer, my brother, and troubling things have been afoot amongst the Lilim."

"You have discovered something new in your watch of the Lilim's endeavors to acquire the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge?"

"I have." Armisael paused a moment before continuing. "Apparently, another Lilim attempted to sabotage their efforts, though he was stopped."

"I assume there is more to this, otherwise you would not have needed to report this to me."

"This lilim, he troubles me. His mind has been... touched by an outside source. Tainted."

"Such is not uncommon." Tabris answered dismissively. "Lilims have simple minds, and most are easily manipulated, even by their own kind."

"I do not believe it the work of another Lilim, Tabris. It seems a great deal of power was exerted to manipulate its mind, more than a Lilim is capable of exerting without our notice."

Tabris pondered this a moment before replying. "Troubling indeed."

"The news grows even more dire." Armisael continued. "This is not the first time I have noticed such a manipulators touch."

"Are you suggesting..." Tabris began.

"I remain unable to confirm." Armisael finished, leaving volumes unsaid.

"There is not much for us to do about it then. Remain watchful, Armisael."

"I will, Tabris."

With that, the two presences glimmered into nonexistence, unaware that their discourse was being carefully observed by another...

# M # I # N # D #

"The game is afoot!" the young man exclaimed, his boyish giggles startling his lazy companion. "I've always wanted to say that."

Apache gave him a rather cold look then settled back down for yet another nap.

# G # A # M # E # S #

In a place of darkness, around five colored squares of light, sat yet another gathering of the most powerful men in the world.

"Gentlemen," Chairman Keel began the meeting, "I assume you've been briefed on the interrogation of the would-be saboteur of Unit-04. Along with our own agents' investigations, this brings troubling news."

All members of the secret inner circle that was the council of SEELE nodded their affirmation. The thin man whose face was bathed in the red light spoke. "We have proof of Providence's existence, and now, they move against our goals."

"Troubling news indeed." replied the man with the long nose who sat illuminated by the color yellow. "Even more so since we still have made little in the way of progress in ferreting out this phantasmal organization."

The broad shouldered man of the green desk his ever present cigar in his hand as he nodded thoughtfully. "We only have rumors as to who exactly is behind this organization, and even less as to their real motivations." he said, then put his cigar back in his mouth.

"The only thing of which we are certain is that they are out to destroy that which we have worked so hard to create." added the man with the absurdly long nose sitting in the glow of the yellow light. "This is the first time we've actually caught one of their operatives, but all their actions, suspected or otherwise, have seemingly done in efforts to counteract our own."

"They are also irrefutably aware our existence." Said the thin man sitting by the red square of light. "Right down to their subordinates. I think it suggests that we might have a possible leak on our hands"

"While that is indeed a troubling, the matter we should be discussing is what we should do about this." the visored Keel said, once again taking charge of the meeting. "They have us at a disadvantage. We must discover more about them if we are to tilt the field in our favor. I move that we devote all available resources to this endeavor; what say you, gentlemen?"

The result was unanimous, as one by one the lights turned off.

# M # I # N # D #

"That didn't come off as sinister and foreboding as I had hoped it would." the young man said disappointed with his efforts. "Not too mention its much shorter..."

Sighing the young man looked over it yet again. Halfway through, he shrugged and shook his head. "I guess there's nothing I can do. The minutes of a business meeting can only hold so much evil foreshadowing before it becomes simply ridiculous. Leaving the important stuff unsaid is more menacing than more paragraphs of menacing dialog."

Exhaling heavily, the young man went back to work.

- G - A - M - E - S -

It had seemed an eternity since the darkness had closed in around her. It had been alright in the beginning, as she could still feel him somewhere near by. As time progressed, though, she grew more and more aware of his closeness fading from her being.

The abyss she had found herself in rapidly became crushingly oppressive, suffocating her very existence with its endless emptiness. She wanted to scream, but could make no sound over the roar of the void's deafening silence. Desperation and fear began to feed upon her resolve as she found herself feeling more utterly alone then she ever had before.

'Shinji!'her spirit cried out, hoping that somehow he would come to her rescue, take her away from the fear and loneliness.

"I thought you didn't need that spineless little boy?" a voice asked derisively shattering the silence so suddenly it was if it never existed. "What happened to the great Asuka Langley Sohryu?"

"She..." Asuka stumbled over her response as she thought it over. What had happened to her? "She... changed." she finally answered.

"Changed, huh?" the voice said with a sneer. "For the worse, it seems. You've grown weak."

Asuka bristled at that remark. If there was one thing she could not bear, it was to be called the "w" word. "What do you mean, weak?" she growled dangerously.

"You never needed anyone before. Now you need that pathetic wimp to come and help you?"

"Stop talking about him like that!" Asuka flared, even more angry at the repeated insults to Shinji than she was at being called weak. "He isn't like that at all!"

"Oh?" the voice sounded surprised. "What is he like then?"

"He's brave." Asuka said without even stopping to think about it. "He's strong and he's selfless."

"Is that all?" the voice asked, sounding a little disappointed.

"No." Asuka continued her voice growing more thoughtful. "He's gentle... and caring... and he... he makes me feel... safe... like I can trust him."

"Do you trust him?" the voice asked. "Can you honestly say that you trust him not to betray you if he ever finds out what you really are? That you truly believe he will never leave you or hurt you?"

"I... I'm not sure." Asuka replied. "I want to believe it..."

"Of course you want to believe it." the voice said, sounding a little exasperated at her response. "But that was not the question. Do you believe in him?"

"I..." Asuka stopped before answering to better think about the question. She felt closer to Shinji than she would have ever thought she was capable of... prior to their ordeal anyway. But their sudden bond had grown from being forced together, what would happen when it was over? Was the bond they had developed over the past few days a matter of circumstance or was it something more. She just didn't know for sure. Could she trust while being unsure?

"Do you believe in him or not?" the voice snapped at her, sounding impatient with Asuka's internal deliberation.

Was trusting him really the issue? Did she have to be sure of the nature of their bond in order to trust in it? It existed, she was more than certain of that. It didn't matter how it happened; she had found a person she could let herself get close to. She didn't need any more of a reason than that to make her decision.

"I believe in him."

- M - I - N - D -

"Huh" the young man sighed again. "For some reason I keep coming back to Asuka's problems. I'm beginning to wonder if my design will work correctly after all..."

He looked at the screen thoughtfully for a while, then smiled as he shrugged his shoulders.

"Only one way of finding out." he said, his hands returning to toil once more on the keys that shaped the world beyond his monitor.

- G - A - M - E - S -

In the darkness that had swallowed him, Shinji became aware of a beeping sound following a steady rhythm. Finding his other senses irresistibly drawn to the origin of the sound, he became aware of the fainter hum of electronic equipment and an unmistakable medicinal smell.

The light came so abruptly that Shinji found himself bolting upright, but the sudden movement was more than his circulatory system could compensate for, and dizziness drove him down on his back once more. His eyes adjusted quickly, revealing a ceiling he had come to know and despise since coming to Tokyo-3.

"Pilot Ikari." came a soft familiar voice to his left. Turning his head, he saw Rei sitting at his bedside, a book in her lap and an unreadable look in her eyes.

"Ay-Ayanami?" Shinji asked, his voice rasping from days of disuse and dryness. He was quite confused as to why the enigmatic blue haired pilot of Unit-00 would be here.

"Do not try to move so rapidly," Rei advised, "Shall I go get a nurse?"

Shinji was desperately struggling to get his bearings, and for some reason he found that Rei's presence was a comfort to him. "No, I'm fine.." he lied as he tried to remember how he had gotten here...


The memories came in a jumbled rush. He remembered holding her, then fading away... a train... then nothing. "W-What happened to me?" he groaned as his right hand clutched at his forehead, as if attempting to stave off the pain of the returning memories.

"Doctor Akagi authorized the operation in an attempt to retrieve you from Pilot Sohryu's mind." Rei explained to him. Her voice grew even quieter than normal as she added "You returned."

"So the operation was successful?" Shinji asked, managing to sit up successfully this time. "Everyone got back to normal?"

Rei was silent a moment, before looking off to the side. "I am... unsure." she responded at last. "I am unaware as to the current status of Pilot Sohryu. Thus far, she has remained in a state of unconsciousness much like yourself."

A thought suddenly occurred to Shinji. "Um... Ayanami? Why are you... here... anyway? Did... Misato or someone ask you to or something?" he asked hesitantly.

Rei's gaze dropped to the book in her lap. "No one ordered me to be here, Pilot Ikari." She replied softly.

"Oh." was all Shinji could say.

After a tense period of silence, Rei stood up without warning. "I will go inform the hospital staff you have regained consciousness." she announced and turned to leave.

"Er, Ayanami?" Shinji called after her.

Rei stopped in front of the sliding door to Shinji's hospital room, and turned to face him. "Yes, Pilot Ikari?"

"Thank you... for being here, I mean." he said, sounding surprisingly confident.

Rei did not say anything, but the corners of her mouth curved upward into a shocking display of emotion. She promptly turned and left the room.

+ M + I + N + D +

"Egad! Rei has emotions prematurely! What have I done?"

"Its too late to fix it. Besides, its what they want."

"Is it really what they want? I mean, this started out as a Asuka and Shinji thing..."

"Trust me... Have I ever steered you wrong before?"

"Not that I can recall..."

"Just leave it. Everything will proceed according to the planned scenario."

"Stop that. Gendo imitations are my domain."


# G # A # M # E # S #

Going over the readings one last time, Ritsuko concluded that the abnormalities in Shinji's brain wave patterns required further study. With the data she had, she could only speculate at their cause.

"He should still be able to pilot." she muttered wryly, "NERV ought to be satisfied."

Asuka's patterns were a more troubling matter. Having been placed under orders to keep the second child's status absolutely confidential, she had been forced to tell yet another lie to Misato. At times it frightened her how easy it had become to deceive those who were once close to her. While Shinji had shown signs of recovering soon after the operation, Asuka's patterns became unstable and grew considerably weaker as time progressed. Upon hearing this, Gendo had ordered the information sealed, and had left it at that.

'And I thought he had been cold and uncaring about Shinji's condition...' Ritsuko shuddered as she remembered the look in the commander's eyes. Completely absent of any emotion, even annoyance that he was down a pilot. The eye of a shark betrayed more feeling than that man's ever did. Even when the two of them were alone, Gendo's eyes remained unchanged. He'd look at her with that same intense gaze, spellbinding her, making it impossible for her to look away...

Lately though, he'd been too busy for recreation. The time they spent together had always been at his convenience, and she'd been fine with that. They didn't live normal lives, it stood to reason any relationships they had would follow suit. She wondered idly what it was he was so busy with, but knew better than to speculate. She already knew more than she cared to.

'Maybe Asuka will recover on her own.' Ritsuko thought forcing her mind back to the topic of the pilot of Unit 02. At this point, it was too early to rule anything out. The scientist in her admonished her for such sentimental speculation, but for Shinji's sake she hoped that things would turn out like that. She was fond of the boy, though she couldn't reason as to why. Something about him stirred her maternal side, a side of her she thought long since dead. He had that effect on women, if Misato was any evidence. The great protector of humanity had an uncanny knack for making older women want to protect him.

Asuka, on the other hand, rubbed Ritsuko wrong somehow. The girl reminded her of herself in some ways, and she didn't like it. The girl was loud, arrogant, and brash. Until recently she had gone out of her way to distance herself from others, she can only imagine what Shinji had gone through when the two minds were merging.

Apparently something had happened between the two of them, as Shinji had quite adamantly insisted on seeing her after waking up, and it took quite some time talking him out of it. It was so unlike him to be so assertive... perhaps the experience had changed him somehow?

Ritsuko nearly laughed out loud at herself. It'd be nearly impossible for a person to go through what Shinji had and not be changed somehow.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a ringing phone, prompting her to retrieve it from its place on the desk. She listened to the voice on the other end for a brief moment before replying "I'll be right there." and hanging up the phone.

# M # I # N # D #

Well, that was certainly exhausting...

# G # A # M # E # S #

When her surroundings settled, Asuka found herself standing in front of an impossibly high stone wall that seemed to forever in every direction. "Now what?" she asked, feeling more than a little lost.

"That's entirely up to you." said the little girl's voice.

Asuka was no longer even surprised by the child's sudden materialization. At this point, it would be impossible to get more disoriented than she already was. "Up to me?" she echoed, "I don't understand... Where am I?"

The girl looked into her eyes with an unwavering gaze. "Follow me." she said after a moment.

Asuka watched the girl walk away, debating the merits of following the strange child. 'It's not as if I had anything better to do...' she quickly concluded, and jogged to catch up with the girl.

"What is this wall, anyway?" Asuka asked after the two had strolled together in silence for a while.

"You don't recognize it?" the girl asked, sounding mildly surprised.

"Errrr... No..." Asuka replied, suddenly unsure of the wisdom of following the strange girl. "Should I?"

The girl sighed softly. "Well... you were the one that made it after all."

The girl's answer was more than a little puzzling, but before Asuka could inquire about further, the girl suddenly stopped walking and faced the wall. "We're here." she announced.

The question as to where, exactly, here was died on Asuka's lips the moment she glanced at the portion of the wall the girl had stopped in front of. Cracks spider webbed across the section, splitting through stone and mortar indiscriminately, as if battered by some tremendous force of nature.

Without knowing why, Asuka approached the wall and gingerly placed her hand on one of the stones. No sooner did she brush the surface of the stone did a stinging pain shoot up her arm and into her chest, stabbing like a hundred burning needles into her heart. "What the hell... ?" she asked snatching her hand back as quickly as she could manage.

"This is the wall that surrounds your heart." the little girl announced. "Erected using from the foundation of your childhood memories of pain and betrayal in order to prevent your soul from being wounded in such a way ever again. By keeping others from entering your heart you have found a foolproof method of avoiding the pain."

The girl paused for a moment to examine the cracks of the wall more closely. "This wall has also kept you from reaching beyond your own heart. It prevents you from feeling the light of other souls, allowing the darkness of loneliness to flourish within you. You had nearly forgotten what it meant to feel the light of others when... he ... arrived."

"Shinji... you mean he did this?" Asuka said pointing at the damaged portion of the wall.

"Shinji Ikari is responsible, yes." the girl replied. "His heart is not unlike your own, suffering from wounds inflicted long ago."

"So he has a wall too." Asuka surmised.

"No." the girl answered, shaking her head. "Not in the same sense. Shinji seeks to heal his heart by reaching out to others, despite the pain it causes him."

There was a long moment of silence before either of them spoke again. "How does he do it?" Asuka asked finally.

A small smile crossed the girl's face. "You would have to ask him... but to do that you must breach the wall yourself."


"Place your hand on the wall and think of getting through to Shinji." the girl said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "But I should warn you, it's not going to be easy, and its going to hurt... a lot."

Asuka took a deep breath and stepped up to the wall. Pushing stray thoughts from her mind, she reached her arm forward and pressed her palm against the stones.

The pain raced through her arm and reached into her chest. A strangled gasp hissed from her throat as the pain began to impair her ability to breath. The pain was soon followed by a sensation of some invisible force pressing at her from all sides, its squeeze slowly intensifying.

"Too... much..." Asuka rasped as the pressure threatened to make speech impossible. Her legs buckled, driving her to one knee. Somehow she managed to keep her hand pressed firmly against the wall.

"Don't give up!" the girl pleaded. "He's waiting for you!"

"Shin... ji..." the word renewed Asuka's sense of strength. Suddenly, the pain and pressure wasn't so overwhelming. Struggling to her feet, Asuka began to push back against the wall. The pain in her chest swelled anew.

"Shinji's on the other side!" the girl continued. "Don't you have something important to tell him?"

Asuka grit her teeth stubbornly as she brought her other hand up and pushed even harder. The pain and pressure no longer mattered. All that existed was seeing Shinji again, of feeling him close to her.

A sharp cracking noise filled the air and the wall began to shudder. Asuka's eyes were squeezed shut as tears of effort trickled down her cheeks. She was barely aware of anything but the feeling of her insides being ripped apart. It began to overwhelm even her thoughts of Shinji. She could feel her resolve rapidly slipping away.

"If you can't do this," the girl's voice was filled with a soul weary sadness, "you'll never be able to tell him. You'll lose him forever."

A terrible scream wrenched itself from Asuka's very soul. She threw everything she had against the wall, every fiber of her being devoted itself to obliterating the obstruction that lay before her.

It happened all at once. The wall shook and crumbled, dissolving away into non-existence. No longer faced with the wall's steadfast resistance, Asuka was pitched headlong into the endless oblivion of the void beyond.

# M # I # N # D #

Prepare for second stage of phase two.


- G - A - M - E - S -

"You sure you're not hungry?" Misato asked for the tenth time. "I could order from that one noodle place you like..."

Shinji smiled with unending patience, but shook his head. "I'm just really tired, Misato." he said, taking off his shoes as they entered the apartment. She had been fussing over him nonstop since leaving the hospital, but getting annoyed at her behavior hadn't even occurred to him. He was simply glad to be home. "Would it be okay if go lie down for awhile?"

"Of course..." Misato replied, sounding mildly disappointed for some reason. "Just tell me if you get hungry or need something, okay?"

"Sure Misato." Shinji promised, then plodded to his room and sank onto his futon.

Though plagued by a bone-deep exhaustion, Shinji soon found he simply could not fall asleep. They had refused to let him see how Asuka was doing. What's more, they couldn't even give him a reasonable explanation as to why he couldn't. They assured him she was in no imminent danger, and when this did nothing to console him, Misato promised that they'd both go see her tomorrow, after school.

Rolling over onto his stomach, Shinji buried his face in his pillow. His worries about Asuka's state of health aside, he also worried about what had happened between them during their predicament. Would their relationship change as a result? Was he merely imagining that her feelings toward him had changed?

He needed to see her, to clear some of the confusion that was tearing away at his heart. Groaning in frustration, he squeezed his pillow in a headlock until the feeling of uneasiness dissipated somewhat. Sighing, he rolled onto his side. She had believed in him. Did he have any other choice but to return the favor?

"Asuka..." he whispered as he closed his eyes, "I miss you."

Sleep came, and dreams were quick to follow.

- M - I - N - D -

Warning! OOC ahead!

...But not in a way you are probably thinking...

- G - A - M - E - S -

The office seemed darker than normal, if that were possible. Whatever had attracted her to him, it certainly wasn't his taste with regards to interior decor. Gendo sat behind his desk, as was his custom, an file folder open in front of him.

"I want to congratulate you on the success with the recent operation." Gendo said, his tone official and devoid of sentiment.

Ritsuko nodded modestly. "Thank you."

"NERV's North American facilities have been compromised." Gendo announced without skipping a beat, "Units 03 and 04 are being transferred here and are to be placed under the jurisdiction of Project E. The council is calling for the preparation of the fourth child. I'd like you to see to it personally."

"I understand." Ritsuko replied, wondering why he was discussing such things in person with her rather than informing her by some proxy.

"Unit 03 is to be activated using that prototype," Gendo continued. "With Unit 04 and the fourth child as standby."

Ritsuko at last understood the reason for her presence. "The simulations suggest its behavior will turn unpredictable at a synch rate of 40."

"Its an acceptable risk." Gendo replied, from behind gloved hands. "The time is coming that such a measure will be necessary. The old men have been shaken by something they had not planned for. I do not intend to let that disrupt the agenda."

"You're rewriting the Scenario..." Ritsuko said, shocked at the revelation.

Gendo smirked slightly. "Am I now?"

Not for the first time, Ritsuko got the impression Gendo Ikari knew something that the rest of world was being kept in the dark about. The look in his eyes sent a cold chill down her spine.

"Don't worry, Doctor Akagi. Events have not yet exceeded the parameters of the Scenario."

Ritsuko knew he wasn't referring to the SEELE's Scenario... had he somehow knew things would turn out like this? Impossible... and yet...

"On a personal note," Gendo continued, getting up from his spot behind the desk, "I was wondering if you'd be interested in dining with me tonight?"

Ritsuko was caught completely off guard. "What about Rei?" she asked without thinking.

The corner's of Gendo's lips twitched upwards into what might have been an attempt at an amused smile. "Is that a no, then?"

"No, er...I mean..." Ritsuko stammered, feeling uncharacteristically flustered as she struggled desperately to regain her composure.

"I'll understand if your too busy." Gendo said. "The request is rather all of a sudden, after all."

"No, it's fine." Ritsuko answered quickly, "I'd be happy to eat with you."

Gendo nodded. "I appreciate it." he said, his voice betraying no sign of insincerity.

As she followed him out of the office, she reflected on her choice of words. 'I'd be happy to eat with you.' Why did a simple thing such as eating together evoke such warm and confusing emotions in her? Just the prospect of it left her giddy and nervous all at once. With all her scientific detachment and jaded disillusionment, she should have better control over her emotions. Yet, here she was, once again finding her heart's yearnings beyond the dominion of her logical mind. Caught in the currents of a maelstrom of desire she abandoned further attempts at analysis for the time being, surrendering herself to the here and now.

'If I play my cards right, we'll be eating breakfast together as well!'

- M - I - N - D -

Shocking isn't it?

# G # A # M # E # S #

It was him.

She couldn't see him , of course. At the moment she couldn't see very much of anything. It didn't really matter though, she knew he was close by.

The fact that she was adrift amidst a vast ocean of nothingness was barely an afterthought in her list of priorities. She had to find him. If she could just pinpoint the direction the sensation of his presence was coming from... but it seemed to be coming from every direction at once. 'Nothing is ever easy' she grumbled, but it was only a halfhearted complaint. She was in a good mood despite all this.

'I am in some sort of a dream?' she wondered, as she searched for him every sense available to her.

"Asuka, I miss you..."

His voice! The sound was unclear and distorted, as if it were being broadcast through some form of interference, but there was no doubt as to who it belonged to.

Without any further warning, the nothingness began to bulge and shift, then started swirling all around her, creating a wholly nauseating effect. Thankfully, things settled down quickly, revealing what appeared to be the catwalks of the EVA cages. Trusting her instincts, she took off in the direction of cage seven.

She hadn't been wrong. He was standing on the catwalk in front of Unit 01's face, shouting at someone standing on the observation platform. She opened her mouth to call out to him, but stopped as she took in the details of his posture. His back was ramrod straight, his hands clenched into shaking fists at his sides, his arms and shoulders trembling with barely restrained violence.

A second look confirmed it was none other than Commander Ikari standing on the observation deck. She knew there was some sort of hostility between the father and son, but was in the dark as to the details.

"You haven't answered my question." Shinji's voice sounded strained, as if he were holding back his emotions as much as he could.

"I am not required to." the commander replied, his voice cold and hard. "You are merely a tool I have a use for at the moment."

"I'm your son!" Shinji growled. "Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

The commander did not even stop to think about a reply. "No, that is inconsequential, third child."

"Damn you." Shinji's voice was little more than a whisper, as his shoulders shook uncontrollably. "Goddamn you!" he screamed as he leapt at his father on the platform above, his body flying through the air as if unbound from gravity.

Just before his hands reached his father's throat, the giant purple hand of Unit-01 snatched him from the air, grabbing Shinji's leg between it's massive thumb and forefinger.

"You will serve your purpose." the commander announced. "Whether or not you are willing to."

She watched in shock as the purple monstrosity opened its hideous mouth, positioning Shinji over it as if he were a tasty morsel of some kind. She screamed, leaping at the Evangelion just as it released Shinji from its two fingered grasp. She managed to grab onto his shoulder somewhere in mid-air, for all the good it could have possibly done. She followed Shinji's descent into the ponderous maw of the humanoid weapon.

The darkness eventually receded, revealing the unmistakable surroundings of an entry plug. It felt somehow different then when she was in Unit-02. 'Could this be Unit-01's entry plug ?' Sure enough, Shinji sat at the controls, and was now wearing his plugsuit. Before she could take in the surroundings any further, Misato's face appeared in a comm window.

"Shinji!" Misato's voice rang with the authority of a superior officer, "Get ready to launch! They're coming!"

They entire entry plug lurched as the Evangelion was rocketed to the surface. After one final jolt, they had reached the city level, just in time to see the giant monster advancing on their position. It was humanoid... after a fashion, anyway. Its long slender arms and legs reminded Asuka of a scarecrow's, and though it lacked a portion of it that could be labeled a head, there was a bird-like mask between its shoulders that moved and focused as if it were some sort of sensory apparatus. The dark giant suddenly stopped it's approach for a moment, pausing as the dark pits of its mask studied them intently.

'It's the third angel...' Asuka finally realized. 'The one Shinji fought when he first got to Tokyo-3.' She had seen pictures from NERV archives, but seeing the beast like this was an entirely different experience. The angel's gaze seemed to look beyond the hulking humanoid weapon, piercing directly to the pilot within.

"This time..." Shinji's voice was barely audible as it hissed its way through his tightly clenched teeth. "This time, I won't lose!"

'Lose?' Asuka wondered 'He beat this angel... all on his own, too. What could he possibly mean by that?'

The standoff between Angel and Evangelion ended as Shinji rushed forward and snatched a pallette rifle from the nearby armament building, the angel lunging out of the way of the rain of bullets that followed less than a second later.

Shinji swept the rifle in pursuit, but the Angel evaded by launching itself into the air with an AT feild assisted jump. Shinji cursed, throwing the rifle aside and drew the prog knife as the angel pounced from above. The two giants smashed to the ground, the Angel on top. Pinning the arm that held Unit-01's knife, the angel drew back its other arm as a violet light accumulated in its palm. Unit 01 twisted sharply, barely evading the blade of purple death the Angel had unleashed. Unit 01 kicked the creature in the red orb of its abdomen, sending it sprawling into the building behind it. Getting to its feet quickly, Unit 01 lunged towards the still recovering monster, only to abruptly jerk to halt as if it were caught on some invisible force.

'Can't be an AT feild,' Asuka analyzed, 'the instruments indicate that Unit 01's own field is neutralizing it.'

"Damn it!" Shinji swore, struggling with the control yokes. A glance at the rear view camera brought the problem into the light. A strange creature with two tentacles and a body similar to a flatworm had grabbed hold of Unit01's arms and was firmly immobilizing it despite the Evangelion's attempts to struggle free.

The other angel rose to its feet and approached the trapped Eva at a deliberate and meaningful pace. Grabbing the Evangelion by the head, the Angel began to hammer away with its energy blade. Asuka could feel echoes of the pain in her own head, and could only begin to imagine what Shinji was experiencing.

Shinji let out a growl, a sound of pure bestial ferocity, which caused the hairs on the back of Asuka's neck stand up as a cold feeling passed through her. 'This can't be Shinji. . . can it?'

Unit 01 delivered a well aim kick to the third angel's red orb abdomen, while pulling its left arm forward with tremendous force. Though it failed to break the grip of the tentacle, it did drive the restraining angel to work harder to keep its prey subdued. Both arms of the Eva were jerked back as a result, causing the angel to shudder and scream.

'The angel's screaming?' Asuka then noticed that Shinji had somehow flipped the prog knife so it was point down in the Eva's grip, and that the blade was now cutting its way through the core of the angel. The screaming sound did not come from the angel itself, but from the blade cutting through the angel's core material.

When the tentacles binding Unit 01 went slack, Shinji wasted no time freeing Unit 01 and going after the remaining opponent. Just as the scarecrowish figure got its footing, Unit 01's purple fist slammed into its mask, sending it into the air once more. The prog knife was slamming into its black body even before it had hit the ground, with Shinji punctuating each blow with a feral scream. Stabbing again and again, without reason or aim, Shinji brutally cut into the angel. The angel made a few feeble attempts to stop the onslaught, but not before the knife found its core, as if by accident. Even as the angel went limp, Shinji continued to dig the knife deeper into the core.

The Evangelion stood, leaving the knife embedded in the fallen angel. Shinji panted from the exertion, his eyes seeking out another target.

'What's happened to him?' Asuka asked herself, 'He's never acted like this before...'

"It's over Shinji." Misato's voice announced, "Good work."

The Eva went into a power-down, returning the entry plug to the red shades of the LCL. Shinji sat there, his breathing becoming erratic. Asuka moved up closer to him, and noticed his arms were trembling. It looked as if he wanted to let go of the control yokes, but his hands wouldn't let him.

His hands seemed to be somehow melding with the controls.

Looking up, she saw his eyes were wide with horror at what was happening to himself. The chair was absorbing him!

"I'm not just another part of this monster!" he screamed, sounding resolutely defiant. "I'm more than just an Eva pilot! I'm not a killing machine! I won't let you do this to me, father!"

"Shinji!" Asuka called out, wrapping her arms around his shoulders.

"Asuka?" Shinji sounded confused, as if he hadn't noticed her until just now.

"I won't let you go!" the words came from her mouth without thought. "You promised me!"


"Please, remember that promise!" Asuka pleaded. "No matter what!"

"I... remember..." Shinji said quietly. There was a sound of something tearing, and then she felt his hands on her back, pulling her closer. "I could never forget."

The embrace sent distracting sensations of warmth throughout her body, and a feeling of general safety pervaded her awareness. She pulled back, with more than a little reluctance. "You'd better not." She announced, trying to sound upset, but unable to manage to be convincing.

Shinji smiled in response as he met her attempt at a withering stare, but said nothing. 'Those eyes of his... its almost as if they they're looking right through me...' Asuka felt her heart begin to thump in her chest as a lump formed somewhere in her throat.

"Is there something wrong, Asuka?" Shinji asked, looking mildly concerned.

"Err... no..." Asuka felt incredibly flustered all of a sudden. 'Pleeeease don't let me be blushing...' she silently begged.

"You sure? You're looking kinda red all of a sudden..."

'He's... teasing me?' She searched his face for any trace of humor, and come up with nothing. Her heartbeat kept accelerating. 'What... What's going on? Why can't he just let it drop?'

Shinji took a deep breath and exhaled heavily, as if he were preparing some great undertaking. "Asuka?"

Asuka's heart skipped. "Y-Yes?"

"I..." he began shakily and paused to steady himself. "I want to tell you that..."

He was interrupted a the roaring klaxon of an alarm, which caused him to abruptly vanish, leaving her alone and as bewildered as the suddenly shifting void that surrounded her.

Author's notes:

Turnabout's fair play, especially in this game...

Yeah, its been a year between chapters, but wasn't this one worth it? Okay, probably not, but with the things that have been happening lately, I haven't had all that much time to just relax and write. Too many projects and too little time. The last chapter was the mid point of the story I had originally envisioned. Parts of this chapter have been rewritten three times or more, and in actuality I had outlined it to be longer, but things have conspired yet again to break it up into smaller portions. I have set a goal

to release the next chapter before winter, but that's reaaaaally optimistic. -sigh- Sorry I cant be more attentive.

Oh yeah, before I forget, thanks to EvilSexyDuo for his help proofreading. And making sure I didn't slack off too much.