Wasted thus by death on death
All our city perisheth.
Corpses spread infection round;
None to tend or mourn is found.
Wailing on the altar stair
Wives and grandams rend the air.
Long-drawn moans and piercing cries
Blent with prayers and litanies.
Golden child of Zeus, O hear
Let thine angel face appear!
- Sophocles, Oedipus the King
Chapter Twelve: Komm, Süsser Tod
You know, mused Shinji, maybe Misato was right. He stood in the kitchen, idly putting dinner together for himself and his roommates, but his attention was not on the task. Instead, as they had been almost constantly since he'd last seen her, his thoughts were on Rei.
I could have been more civil to her when she was here, he sighed; the memory of her face when she'd realized he could not bear to have her touch him, a lost expression like he'd just stepped on her most treasured dreams, still twisted his stomach with regret. I should have told her I just needed time to figure it out. She probably thinks I never want to see her again.
He frowned vaguely at nothing. It's... it's not her fault, where she came from, and she's been the kindest person in the world to me. I need to talk to her. Like Misato had said, it was time to admit what he needed, to acknowledge that, although there was probably no more bizarre relationship in Tokyo-3 than his and Rei's, she made him happy. We'll figure something out, he decided, suddenly optimistic. We'll talk, and... maybe we can date again, or maybe not, but we'll be friends. She'll have some idea, something to say that helps, and... we'll start from there.
"Hey, idiot," greeted a low feminine voice. "You're burning the noodles."
Shinji blinked at Asuka, then down at the meal he was preparing. He'd been making pan-fried noodles, only now they were smoking faintly in the pan. "Oh, shit," he breathed, quickly flipping them, but the damage was done; where the noodles had been sitting on the pan they were clearly charred, a sad mass of tangled blackness. "I'll have to start over," he realized glumly.
"You'd better," agreed Asuka with a frown she turned on him. "What's with you? I don't think I've ever seen you burn anything." Her voice was quiet, her manner subdued, ever since it had been after the last Angel; the attack had stolen something from her, something shrill and girlish.
"It's Rei," he explained delicately, watching the German out of the corners of his eyes as he dumped the doomed noodles into the garbage. "I think I'm... figuring some things out."
He wasn't certain what reaction to expect from Asuka, but she merely crossed arms over her chest and eyed him. "What's going on between you two, anyway? I get the feeling this isn't a normal breakup."
He grimaced, rummaging around for more noodles. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
She remained silent for a moment, unmoving. "Why can't you tell me?" she whispered eventually.
Shinji hesitated, then turned to face her; she was staring back at him, blue eyes wide, almost hurt. He chewed a lip, puzzled. Since trying to talk to him the night after the Fifteenth Angel, she'd been more open with him, almost... clingy. As though, after they'd both suffered through the mind violation, they were part of some unique, special club, one that made him a trusted person in her mind. He was not certain how this had happened, but was vaguely relieved, if confused, that she wasn't snapping at him all the time. "You... you really want to know?" he wondered.
Asuka raised an eyebrow. "Why would I have asked if I didn't?"
He sighed. "Fine. After I shot... him, I found out she was a clone. Of my mother. With some extra DNA from some Angel underneath NERV." Speaking the facts aloud seemed to come easier this time.
Her eyes widened further. "Wow," she murmured, staring through him. "That's just... wow."
"Yeah," he agreed, returning his attention to the meal, bringing water to a boil again for the second set of noodles. "That's why we... haven't been together."
"Wow," she said again, a few moments later, still standing there. Shaking herself, she examined him closely, a strange expression on her face. "So what are you going to do? Go back to her?"
He shrugged. "I'm going to talk to her," he explained. "And maybe... start over, I guess. See what happens this time." Not even a flicker of disgust touched his stomach this time; he felt calm. Resolved. She cares for me, he realized, probably loves me, and I love her. What's wrong with that?
Asuka grunted. "If worst comes to worst... well, how many people can say they fucked an Angel?"
Shinji gaped at her, but she only blinked back at him. After a moment he chuckled, then laughed. When was the last time I laughed? he wondered absently. "Yeah. That's a good point."
"Of course it is," she shrugged, "but I'm hungry. Keep cooking, and try not to burn down the apartment this time, Einstein." Turning, she wandered back into the living room, probably to watch television.
Shaking his head, Shinji did as she asked. In little time, he'd produced a finished meal and dished servings up for himself and Asuka. Though they both ate at the table, she seemed preoccupied, frowning and scowling at her food from time to time.
After several minutes of this he nodded at her. "What is it?"
She blinked, staring at him; perhaps she'd forgotten he was there. "What?"
"Oh." He pushed his food aimlessly around. "You seem preoccupied."
Asuka frowned at him a moment longer, then smiled halfheartedly. "I'm just thinking."
"I don't know. Stuff." She paused. "Fighting."
Shinji murmured a vague acknowledgement, smiling ruefully to himself. I guess I'm supposed to open up to her, but not the other way around. It's better than before, though. "Well, don't worry about it too much. You'll just drag yourself down more."
"You know," she mumbled around a mouthful of noodles, "coming from you, rather than Misato, that actually carries some weight."
"Good." He did not press further or elaborate, and shortly he finished eating. A few moments let him clean his dishes, and then he was tugging on his shoes near the door. "I'm going to try to talk to Rei," he announced. "I'll be back sometime tonight."
"Hmm?" Straightening, he hovered at the door, glancing back at her.
Asuka was leaning back in her chair, frowning absently at the wall across from where she sat. After a moment she gave her head a tiny shake. "Don't... don't be out too late," she urged quietly.
He opened his mouth to make a crack about her sounding like Misato, but quickly thought better of it. "I won't be," he promised. Besides, Misato wouldn't care how late I was out anyway.
Slipping quietly out the door, he began the walk to Rei's place. Warm evening sunlight angled into his eyes, but he ignored it as best he could. I hope she's not mad at me, he realized halfway there, growing suddenly worried. Maybe I should have called first.
As he approached within sight of the apartment, he hesitated, then forced himself onward. Even if she is mad at me, I deserve it. Trying not to think about it, he pushed through the doors and headed for the stairway.
In moments he knocked on her door. "Rei?" he called softly, though why he felt the need to be quiet in an otherwise-empty building, he could not say. "Can I come in?"
She didn't answer. He sighed. "Rei, I'm sorry about yesterday. I was still kind of... getting used to it, and I've had some time to think, and... I don't know. I still think it's all a little weird, but it doesn't really bother me so much, so I thought we'd... you know, talk, maybe start over or something. I... I want to be friends again, at least. For the rest, we'll... we'll have to see."
Still nothing. Shinji rubbed a hand tiredly over his face. "I know you're probably angry at me," he continued sadly, "and I deserve it. Just let me have a chance to make up for being a jerk earlier."
As the silence dragged his hopes further down, a sudden thought occurred to him; it was not like Rei to give him the could shoulder. She has no pride. She never wants to hurt anyone, not even Asuka. "Rei, are you even home?" He made a face, feeling silly at pouring his heart into an empty apartment. She could be at NERV for something.
"Rei?" Great. Carefully he opened the door, pushing it slowly inward and ducking his head inside.
He found her right away, lying on the bed, face turned away from the door. Oh, he sighed in relief. She just fell asl... He trailed off as a few out-of-place details caught his attention.
A small trickle of dark blood on the inside of her arm.
An empty syringe on the floor, next to the bed.
A little sheet of paper on the dresser.
Oh, fuck. Scrambling inside, stumbling numbly in his haste, he bolted to her side, sliding the last meter on his knees. Desperately he gripped her arms, shook her gently, but she was already cold to the touch, her skin more pale than usual. No. With shaking fingers he felt her wrist, her neck, searching for a pulse and finding none; her chest lay still as well, neither rising nor falling with breath. No. Rei. Reaching out a hand to cup her cheek, her turned her head carefully towards him to see a sad smile on her lips, the faintest residue of tears on her cheeks.
No. Releasing her as though burned, he stared wide-eyed at her face, feeling his breath come as rapid panting. No, she can't be... maybe... maybe the note... maybe there's something... Unable to think straight, he climbed dizzily to his feet and shuffled to the dresser, keeping his eyes on Rei until he had to tear them away.
The sheet of paper was indeed a note, written briefly and concisely in Rei's plain, angular hand, which he belatedly realized he'd never seen before. Blinking to clear his vision, he read.
I believe this is the best way forward. They will bring in a replacement
who has little to no knowledge of what has transpired between us. If
you need to, you can keep your distance from her, but if you feel you
are able, you can approach her as you did me. She will not refuse you.
This is our chance to start fresh. I hope you understand.
All my love,
It took him three times reading through it for the words to sink in. Start fresh? he wondered wildly. How can this... she... it doesn't make any sense.
Lifting the note gently, he held it to his heart, only now noticing she'd used his own rainbow pen to write it. Rei. Please. No.
Turning back, he gazed down on her face, and the reality began to sink in. She was dead. Gone forever.
His legs gave out, depositing him ungracefully on his knees. Tears blurred his vision, flowed freely down his face, as he buried his face against her chest. "No," he groaned weakly, rocking back and forth. "No, don't be gone. I'll... I'll be better. Please don't go. Please... I can..." His whispers faded into sobbing, great choking gasps that seemed torn out of his body by some external force, hysterical, broken. The fingers of his free hand curled into her school uniform, clutching at warmth that was now forever denied him.
Eventually part of his mind snapped to other thoughts and he dug out his cell phone, fumbling, dropping it twice. Somehow he managed to push one of the buttons and hold it until a number began to dial.
Soon a woman's voice answered. "Shinji?"
"M-Misato?" he gasped. Even to his ears, his voice, between sobs, sounded far too high, the hopeless voice of a lost child.
"Shinji, what is it? What's wrong?"
Ritsuko stood some distance away from Misato and Shinji, watching uncertainly as they wept in one another's arms in the command center. She'd dispatched an ambulance for Rei -- not that there was anything to be done -- while Makoto had likely broken dozens of traffic laws to bring Shinji to NERV in under five minutes.
"It... it doesn't make sense," whimpered Shinji for at least the fourth time. Sniffling, he withdrew an arm from around Misato to wipe at his face, then examined the suicide note Rei had left. "What was she talking about? I don't... I don't get how she could be so certain that there'd be another pilot so soon. That it would be a girl. And even so, why...?"
"I don't know," murmured Misato. "Shinji, I'm so sorry."
Ritsuko stared at the pair. I think I made a mistake, she decided.
"Look," sniffled Misato, pushing him out to arm's length. "Let's go home, Shinji. There's no point in being here right now. It's time for me to leave anyway."
He sighed, then nodded. Some of the light seemed to vanish from his eyes. "Yeah."
"Shinji." Ritsuko surprised herself by speaking. He's a good kid. I didn't mean to mess him up in this. "I'd like a word with you."
He turned a blank gaze on her and nodded again. "What is it?" he whispered.
"Out here," she explained, striding towards the door. As it opened, she waited for him to shuffle along and past her, then stepped out into the hallway with him.
"Shinji," she began, "Rei wasn't talking about another pilot who would replace her. She was talking about another Rei." He blinked, but said nothing, so she continued. "She... was a clone. One of many. The rest, we kept as... spares, to be used in situations like this. Only the spares are gone now, as of... maybe an hour and a half ago. I destroyed them," she finished plainly.
He blinked back at her, eyes glazed, likely barely hearing her, let alone understanding. His fingers tightened on the tear-stained note.
Ritsuko frowned. "I probably would have been able to transfer her personality to a new body, had I had one. I killed Rei as much as she herself did, Shinji."
He dropped his gaze to the floor. "It doesn't matter," he answered, a flat whisper. "She's still dead."
True, mused Ritsuko after a moment. "I'll let Major Katsuragi take you home," she murmured, turning back to open the door. Quickly she gave a nod to Misato, then wandered back into the command center as the other woman strode past her in the other direction.
Once the door had closed behind the grieving pair, Makoto shifted in his seat. "This is going to be rough," he sighed. "Isn't it, Doctor?"
She stopped in front of the window, staring down at the silent Unit-00 in the cages, now never to be used again. "It always is."
As the red sun set outside, Asuka lay sprawled in the living room, idly re-reading a manga she'd picked up as a kid. It was a ninja tale, somewhat formulaic, but it served well enough to pass the time. Sipping absently from a can of Misato's soda, she flipped the page and continued reading.
Abruptly the apartment door opened. She blinked, glancing up. It's a little early for Shinji to be... Her thoughts dead-ended there as she saw Misato with him, both of them looking haggard and grim. Shinji's eyes were somehow... dead.
"Is something wrong?" wondered Asuka nervously, rising to her feet. "What's going on?"
Shinji met her gaze hollowly, wide blue eyes empty, and opened his mouth. After a moment, however, he closed it, sunk his face into his open hands and wandered aimlessly towards his room.
Misato gazed after him in frustrated sympathy, then sighed. "Rei," she explained softly. "She killed herself."
Asuka felt her jaw drop. Oh my God. She stared briefly at Misato, then hurried down the hallway after Shinji.
She found him in his room with the door still open, flopped onto his back on the bed, arms spread. Hesitating only briefly, she stepped inside, closing the door quietly. "Shinji, I'm so sorry."
He exhaled heavily, closing his eyes. "Yeah."
As she stepped slowly towards him, a sudden memory struck her, sending black waves of guilt and horror through her middle. "I... I wasn't very nice to her the last time we spoke," she admitted.
"Yeah," he repeated in a whisper. "Neither was I."
She watched him for a moment, waiting for more, sighing when he didn't continue. "I can't even imagine how this must suck for you," she began, seating herself on the floor next to him, leaning sideways against the bed. "But, if you want, you can tell me about it."
Shinji lifted a hand slightly from the bed, straining as though it were made of lead, then let it fall again. "You know," he murmured, "I think I just want to... sleep, now."
Something in his voice raised alarms in her head. "And wake up, too," she prompted. "Right?"
Frowning, Asuka studied him, clearing her throat. "Shinji... please don't... do anything rash," she pleaded quietly. "Okay?"
A bitter smile played across his lips. "Don't worry, Asuka," he chided faintly, his voice empty. "I'm not going to try to follow her. I'm too cowardly for that," he added, whispering.
Damn it, Shinji, she sighed. "You know..." She trailed off, wondering how to phrase things best. "Shinji, I'm... I've been a..." Grimacing, she started over. "Look, you're not a bad person. You're not weak, or a wimp. And I may lead you to think otherwise sometimes, but I'm glad you're here."
"I killed her," sighed Shinji brokenly, as though he had not heard her speak."I made her die."
Asuka stared absently along the length of the bed, towards the wall. "Don't say that," she urged softly. "There was no way you could have known what she was going to do. It's not like you told her you hated her, right?"
"I killed her," he repeated, tears audible in his voice.
Closing her eyes, she leaned into the bed, uncertain how to help him, if she could at all. Eventually she climbed to her knees. "Get some sleep," she advised in a low voice, sliding a hand into his and gripping tightly. "When you wake up, if you need to find me, you know where I'll be."
Shinji's fingers tightened over her own, though she was uncertain if that was due to choice or reflex on his part. After a moment he shifted without opening his eyes. "Glasses," he whispered.
She hesitated, frowning. "What?"
Slowly extracting his fingers from her own, he reached into the chest pocket of his uniform shirt and withdrew a pair of familiar-looking glasses. "I took these from her dresser," he explained faintly, every word an obvious triumph of will. "There was just the note, my pen... and these. I'd seen them there before, but they're from him."
"From the Commander?" she wondered, brows furrowing.
His face tightened, confirming her guess. After a moment he pulled himself upright, muscles clenched as though the weight of his own slight body was too much to bear. His eyes slid open to regard the cracked glasses in his hands, his features an icy mask. "They're from him," he repeated; fingers tightened on the frames, trembling slightly.
"Shinji..." Asuka chewed a lip. "They're broken; I don't think he was wearing them. You got them from her apartment, so... they're hers, not his."
"They're his," he growled, emotion returning to his voice in the form of savage anger. "They have his name on the inside. They're just like the ones he always wore. They're his, and she kept them on her dresser the entire time I knew her." His lips curled back in a silent snarl and he lifted the glasses in a shaking fist.
"Shinji, wait," she pleaded, resting a hand on his arm. "Don't do anything you might... regret, later."
Seemingly possessed of some new and sudden energy, he brushed her hand aside and flowed to his feet. "I hate him," he growled. "I hate him so much." Striding towards his own dresser, he raised the hand that held the glasses.
"Wait!" Leaping to her feat, she darted to catch his descending arm, then gritted her teeth as she struggled to hold it in place. Damn. He's stronger than he looks.
Shinji's strained face occupied the better part of her vision. "Asuka," he rasped, "don't... just let me..." Abruptly he twisted, grunting, attempting to shoulder her out of the way.
She refused to let him win, instead clenching his arm in as tight a grip as she could manage. A moment of awkward grappling followed as he tried to twist away; she shuffled in a tight circle, following him around. Somehow she succeeded in sliding her hands up to his own, then began to pry at his clenching fingers. He countered by trying to switch the glasses to his other hand, but she let go with one of her own to slap it away. The jerky movement, however, sent the frames tumbling from his grasp.
Shinji lunged, trying to catch them, but his arms were still too tangled with hers to move as he wished. Stumbling on her foot, he tripped, dragging Asuka down onto his back. Something plastic crackled as he landed face-first, unable to catch himself.
He screamed then, the sound quickly turning into a sick moan as he convulsed in pain. "My eyes," he whimpered. "My eyes. Asuka..."
No one turned around as Misato strode into the command room; the mood of everyone present, the hunched shoulders and worried expressions, told her everything she needed to know about how the sync test was going. Which was hardly surprising, she reflected. "Status," she asked of no one in particular.
"Well," murmured Ritsuko, sipping from a mug of coffee, "Asuka's hovering at thirty-nine percent. Shinji is struggling to stay above twenty-six."
"Ah," acknowledged Misato after a brief pause. Frowning, she strolled up to stand next to the doctor. "If they had to fight now," she asked quietly, controlling the sick grief stirring inside, "how would they do?"
Ritsuko shrugged. "Barring another berserker incident, we're screwed."
"Lovely." Misato rubbed her forehead, grimacing.
When the other woman did not reply, Misato raised her head, gazing at the screen displaying video feed of the pilots. Just the two of them, now; someone, probably Maya, had removed the feed from Rei's test plug, rather than let it stay there on the screen, empty. Shinji wore a bandage over his eyes now, though an angry red cut angled for a centimeter out from under it, down his left cheek. With his head hanging, lips parted, he looked as though someone had just punched him out. Asuka, at least, looked better, frowning in concentration, her face free of the anger that had dominated it throughout recent memory, though now a tight worry had replaced it.
We're counting on you now, Asuka, realized Misato. Unless you can think of a way to bring Rei back to life. Or Shinji, for that matter. Oh, Shinji, I'm so sorry.
Abruptly a loud warning buzzer sounded, shattering her thoughts; the main view split, one half showing the pilots, the other a wire model of the topology of the Tokai region, overlaid with a half-dozen blinking telltales. "Blue pattern detected!" shouted Shigeru as the other techs hammered away at their consoles. Shortly a dot glowed into place in the middle of Tokyo-3. "An Angel!"
Misato raised an eyebrow at the screen. "Wonderful."
Shinji moved mechanically through the Unit-01's startup procedure, speaking the commands in a bored, uninflected tone. The darkness that now defined his world shifted and twisted, replaced by a glowing rainbow band, then a black space full of stars, before settling back to the inky oblivion of his new condition. The images, the colors, were false, just static in his neural link, but treasured all the same. It was the only way he could see now.
"Hey, Shinji," called Asuka's voice over the network. "How you doing in there?"
"I'm fine, Asuka," he answered absently, going over the status of his Eva. Though he could not see the synchronization rate, he could tell just by the latency of his commands that it was low.
"You don't fool me," she scolded. "But cheer up. Just remind yourself that we're the best two pilots they have, right?" He could hear the grin in her voice until a click announced her departure from the channel.
He shook his head, too tired to sigh. She seemed to think she was responsible for the accident with the glasses, and had taken to helping him around, even babying him at times, cooking for him and everything. Though he appreciated the help, he knew the fault was entirely his own. His eyes were just one more thing he'd ruined without trying. I break everything I touch.
Soon Misato's clear voice rang out over the network. "Okay, listen, you two. We're sending both of you up at the same time. Asuka, you'll move to the intercept point, while Shinji will hang out as backup for now. Don't engage the Angel until we know more about it."
Shinji mumbled his acknowledgement while Asuka chirped hers. A blip announced a map appearing on one of his screens, probably showing the Oowakudani Valley, where the Angel was supposed to be hovering, but it remained useless information to him. Though Ritsuko had rigged something up to convert some of the Eva's visual feed into tactile stimuli, she could do nothing about the images over the network.
"Okay, ready?" wondered Misato. "Launch!"
Peering around the side of a building, Asuka watched the Angel just floating in place, a bizarre flexing loop of glowing energy. These things just get weirder and weirder.
Pallet rifle in hand, she stepped carefully out in the street, moving as though the monstrous Eva could stealth through the city. The Angel pulsed and shifted some more, hovering perhaps four hundred meters away. This is close enough, she decided, glancing sideways to where Shinji waited, though blocks' worth of buildings obscured him. Any closer and it'll probably...
At the movement of her head the Angel struck, instantly uncoiling into a tube, darting forward faster than a snake. Asuka had time only to raise an arm in defense before it reached her; the thing smashed into her forearm, shattering crimson armor plating and sending waves of jagged pain up through her shoulder.
Shit! "It attacked me!" she shouted, drawing the pallet rifle around to fire a volley. The slugs clanked off the eel-like body of the Angel, doing no harm that she could tell. Figures. "Pallet rifle can't hurt it!"
Ignoring Misato's answering shout, she dropped the rifle and drew her progressive knife. At the same time she willed her AT field into place, pushing out from the core of her being to drive the Angel away, but to no apparent effect. "Trying the AT field!" she reported curtly. "It's not helping much, but I'm continuing to develop." It's too strong.
Briefly she wrestled with the thing, but it had a vise-like grip on her arm. No, she realized, frowning, it's... connected to me. To the Eva. Drawing her lips back, she slashed forward with the knife, scraping along the Angel's body with a harsh sound like steel on ceramic.
"Asuka!" shouted Misato. "It's merging with Unit-02! Probably trying to control it. Get out of there!"
"Are you kidding me?" yelled Asuka back, hacking again at the writhing energy creature. "There's no way! It's too fast."
Damn knife isn't helping either. Again ignoring her commanding officer, she dropped the blade to the street and grabbed the Angel with her other hand, hoping simply to squeeze it apart. Warm liquid rasped into her throat with every breath, and the LCL carried her own grunts clearly back to her ears as she struggled.
Soon something caught her attention and she froze, ignoring the Angel long enough to stare at something inside the entry plug. To stare at her own arms, which were beginning to develop dark vein-like discolorations spreading weblike from where the Angel was touching her Eva.
"Asuka! What are you doing? Get out!" Misato's impatient voice snapped over the network.
She can't, realized Shinji, listening intently to the character of his roommate's voice. He recognized the strain there, the genuine worry; she was not convinced she'd be able to win. It's part of her, now. Or will be in a few moments.
"Just tried the manual eject," grated Asuka's panting voice. "It's not working. Disabled."
It's going to kill her. Horror tickled Shinji's heart, the feeling a distant one. No. Not her too. "I'm engaging!" he reported, jogging towards where the buzzing in his nerves pointed, to where the Angel was supposed to be. He could feel it now, due to Ritsuko's changes, feel where the Angel was, how close it was.
"Don't be stupid, Shinji!" snapped Misato. "Stay away until we figure out how to get Asuka out of there!"
"You won't," he answered flatly. His sync rate was abysmal, he noticed as he ran; every movement the Eva made, it did as though half-asleep and drunk besides. Buildings thundered into him on occasion, sending him staggering sideways until he could recover. I can't do much like this, but I can distract it. Maybe Asuka can finish it off if it's fighting me.
"Shinji, get back!" urged Misato, her voice now fearful. "Please!"
He opened his mouth to reply in the negative, but the Angel struck first, the tactile interface giving him only a blink of warning. Something hard punched into his face and neck in quick succession, sending sparks of light swirling aimlessly in his useless vision. Metal cracked and groaned under the force of the blows, but he grimaced against the pain, raising his own pallet rifle. Maybe this'll get its attention, even if it won't hurt much.
Before he could pull the trigger, the Angel somehow slapped the weapon contemptuously from his hands. He stumbled, briefly considering his progressive knife before remembering all the luck Asuka had with it, but again the Angel took the choice from him. Something snapped into him, coiling around his neck and starting to squeeze.
Asuka sat in a dark hospital room, cross-legged on the floor, only vaguely aware of the desperate struggle her Eva was waging against an unnamed enemy. "What the hell is this?" she wondered.
In front of her, hanging from a rope from the ceiling, a doll in a red dress lifted its head to gaze sightlessly at her. Asuka. Let us merge.
"What are you?" she demanded, scowling at it. "You're the Angel, aren't you? Fuck off."
It is too late anyway, shrugged the doll, the motion almost comical with its wide, jointless arms. I will give you part of me, an emotion you know. It is pain, you see?
She swallowed, squeezing her eyes shut against a black mortification that threatened to paralyze her, to smother her will. Her clothes had disappeared somewhere, leaving only her sweaty skin against the cold tiles of the hospital floor. "Pain?" she whispered. "No. That's humiliation, you halfwit."
Humiliation? The doll's voice seemed somehow hesitant. I don't understand.
Forcing her eyes back open, she glared at the hateful little thing. "Humiliation is when you and everyone else realize how much you suck, how much of a child you really are. Humiliation is being defeated every time you try at anything."
That is what is in you, accused the doll. Humiliation. Sadness.
"I'm sad because I'm going to die," she admitted, watching distantly as her Eva's struggles grew slower, weaker. Watched as Shinji fought the thing too, her poor blind friend, fighting and losing. "But I'm sadder that Shinji is going to die."
Death, mused the doll, tilting its head to study her with beady black eyes. You know fear now.
"No, that's not fear," she corrected, willing her body to drift up from the seat in the plug, directing it to reach for an emergency switch in the wall, one with warnings etched all over it. "At least, not for me. I'm afraid for Shinji, because when I kill you, he's going to be hurt badly."
Kill? wondered the doll slowly, as though testing an unfamiliar word. You cannot.
"Yeah," she snorted. "Watch. See that thing? It's the self-destruct mechanism. I'm taking you down with me, you motherfucker."
Grinning, she activated the switch, waiting for the Angel's smug reply, but one never came. Mildly disappointed, she pushed away the image of the hospital, instead using her Eva's eyes to scan her surroundings.
There was nothing connected to her arms anymore, only a faintly-glowing residue and a slick of dark Eva blood. The Angel streaked away like a rubber band cut under tension, ducking behind Shinji's struggling Eva, anchoring itself into his body somehow.
Her entry plug began to vibrate and bubble. Asuka frowned at the fled Angel, then at her the self-destruct mechanism, which could not be disactivated. Shit.
Searing heat flared through Shinji, worse than any he'd felt before, and the entire world rumbled as he floated through a soft, velvety fog. Then the ground struck him again like a cannonball to the back, driving the sense from his mind. Gasping, twitching, unable to breathe, he flailed weakly.
Eventually his spasming muscled quieted and he moaned, half-sobbing, pressing hands against his bandaged face. Asuka. She really did that. Why did she...? Why? Was it because I was fighting too?
With great effort, he managed to push his Eva into a sitting position. Even without the gift of sight, he could tell that most of his armored plates, those that had not totally ablated, had fused and melted, and the chunks of Unit-01's body exposed to the air were now charred and cracked. Only static crackled through the communication network.
Did we do it? he wondered numbly, glancing around, seeing nothing. Did we kill the Angel? He coughed, half-sobbing, as he waited for something to happen.
The radio static suddenly shifted, whining, before settling into a more normal character. "...ternate channel confirmed," announced a male voice. Shigeru's voice.
"Good," gasped Misato in relief. "Shinji!"
"Misato," he answered, still dazed. "What's--"
"Shinji, the Angel is right on you! It's merging with your Eva!"
"What?" he gaped, glancing around again, but he could see nothing, feel nothing. Twisting, he reached behind his back, thinking perhaps to find...
Something hammered into the back of his skull like a sledgehammer, again and again, driving his Eva into the melted ground. Sickening pain made him retch in the LCL, clutching his head to calm an unnatural ring that annihilated thought. An uneasy crackling sound spoke to cracks forming in the shell of his world.
Screaming wordlessly, he lunged against the Eva's controls. It wasn't going to work, he knew; Unit-01 could barely stand, he couldn't see, and with the damage he would be crippled even with his normal sync rate, but he directed all of his fury against the unseen Angel nevertheless. Die! he snarled, gripping a writhing part of the thing's body and squeezing. Die! I want you to die!
"Shinji!" called Misato's panicked voice. "It's trying to get to your--" The voice fell silent as though cut by a knife; the Angel had reached his communications center.
Die! Die! Tears burned his useless eyes as he fought his slippery enemy, but there was no way to beat it; he could tell without checking that it had already disabled his self-destruct switch, and the only weapons at his disposal were Unit-01's bare hands, which just let the Angel merge with him all the faster.
It wasn't supposed to be like this, he wept as an eerie tingling arose in his spine, slowly spreading outward. Rei, dead. Asuka, dead. We... we were supposed to fight the Angels and win. We'd be heroes. Rei and I would marry, and Asuka would be in the wedding, and Touji would be there with both of his legs... He trailed off, feeling the Eva's struggles grow slower still; the Angel slipped easily from his numb fingers. Please, he begged the giant machine. Help me fight this thing! Please help me kill it! I know you can; you've helped me before! I don't want to die here, not like this! You have to fight! Please, please, please...
Suddenly the sensory feeds to his nerves went blank and the controls slumped in his hands. His brief spark of hope turned to puzzlement when seconds slid past without anything happening. The tingling in his back had spread throughout his whole body, buzzing, itchy. Hello?
Something chunked somewhere in the Eva and a sinister hum arose, making the entry plug vibrate. The tingling disappeared in a blink; Unit-01 rose to its feet against his will, stood there for a moment, then began walking towards NERV...
...and then he was on a train platform, the day his father had left him years ago, only this time he wasn't a child. He could see again; the sun was shining, and his father was there, staring at him from a pace away, scowling. Shinji snarled back.
"Adam," said his father flatly. Turning, he strode off towards the stairs, never once looking back.
Shinji glared at the retreating figure, but there was nothing to be done now; he was gone. Sighing, he turned and shuffled back to the wall of the platform shelter, sliding down it to sit on the ground. This sucks.
Soft footsteps approached, stopping a short distance in front of him. He glanced up, squinting against the sunlight, but could not make out the newcomer's face. He knew her, though, knew her as well as he knew himself, a feminine presence who warmed him, who loved him.
Shinji, she greeted. He could hear the smile in her voice.
"Hey," he offered, shuffling aside to give her room to sit next to him. "I was... hoping I'd see you again."
She seated herself delicately beside him, wrapping a friendly arm around his shoulders. I know.
He shook his head, swallowing. "I... I guess I really fucked some things up," he admitted quietly. "Didn't I?"
No one knows how hard it was for you better than me, she assured, squeezing him briefly against her. You did as well as you could. No one can blame you for not doing better. We had a good run, didn't we?
"Yeah," he chuckled, though tears burned his eyes. "Yeah, I'll miss that."
So will I.
He fell silent for a moment, resting his head on her shoulder. "I wish I'd had a chance to apologize," he murmured. "I was... unkind, and..."
Hush, she chided, squeezing his shoulder again, resting a cheek on his head. There is no longer a need.
"I guess you're right," he whispered. "I still feel terrible, though."
I know. Gentle fingers caressed his arm soothingly. I know. People make mistakes.
He nodded faintly, not speaking, simply letting her touch him again. A breeze rustled along the platform, tugging his hair as he sat with her. "Why did you have to go away? I missed you."
I thought it was the best way, she sighed regretfully. I thought it was going to be best for everyone. If I had known how everything would turn out, though, I would have stayed with you.
"Will you stay with me now?" he asked, hating how small his voice sounded, knowing it didn't matter to her. "Until the end?" Distantly he was aware of Unit-01 leaping down the shaft towards Terminal Dogma, fully controlled by the Angel who sought Adam with the unrelenting focus of a bullet thirsting for its target.
That's why I came here. she assured, wrapping both arms around him now. I wouldn't miss it for the world.
"Good," he sighed. "Thank you." Settling himself comfortably into her, he placed a hand on her arm and stared off at the nearby trees, watched leaves rustle aimlessly. Her grip tightened affectionately around him.
Some time later, the sunlight flared silently, growing too bright to bear. Shinji closed his eyes, but even through his eyelids a cold white light filtered into his mind, reaching into him, drawing out everything he carried with him, everything that made him who he was.
Author's notes: Okay, that's done. Some parts were damn hard to write, but probably not the ones you'd expect. I still don't think the last chapter is quite right but I'm tired of rewriting it. Maybe I'll update it later.
I feel compelled to explain a bit about why I wrote this. I was actually torn at which pairing to do, but I started wondering why the Shinji/Rei fics so often either ignore the problem of their relation, or explain it away. It seemed strange to me. Why run from the creepiness? Why not embrace it? Rei becomes a much less meaningful character if you take the Yui out of her. I thought about that, and it dawned on me that the idea would be rather like Oedipus, which I'd actually recently seen, and everything started clicking into place. So I cranked up the incest dial, and this is what came out. I hope I haven't managed to paint myself as a cruel bastard in the process.
Anyway, I can't thank people enough for reading and reviewing, positive and critical posts alike. Some of your comments made me giggle like a schoolgirl. I owe you all an adult beverage some time or other.