Embrace of Infinite Dreaming

I floated in a world of liquid. Then I was slowly falling. I felt pain as I lay sprawled on hard metal, its unyielding surface below pushing up against me. The liquid was gone, and in its place was blinding light and bitter darkness. Cold. The chill of the air cut through my skin. Arms held me, but no warmth. No feeling. The arms of strangers. Fluid left my lungs, air burning through the soft tissue for the first time. Each breath caused agony. These are my first memories.

Bright lights overhead illuminate a small section of the giant storage room. A hard, metal bed. A small screen for changing clothes in privacy, though it seemed unnecessary. A rolling cabinet I used as a bedside table. On it lay pills, medicine bottles, and a measuring cup. This became my room, my space. It was familiar. The same as my first memories, hardness, light, and darkness.

Gendo Ikari, my guardian. Ritsuko Akagi, the doctor who made sure of my health. These two were the closest thing I had to a family. It was not a warm family. Gendo was kind but firm. He taught me discipline, and instilled in my everything I needed to know to fulfill my purpose. Doctor Akagi looked at me with only a measure of warmth. False warmth. She showed it only when Gendo was watching.

My personality was shaped by Gendo. A cold and uncaring demeanor. Clear and concise answers. Complete disregard for others' feelings. I see now how these aspects drove others away from me. To others I was terse and unresponsive. I struck to the heart. Because of this, others avoided me, and I felt a constant, dull ache in the center of my being. I did not know what the feeling meant. I only knew that it was another of life's constants, like physical pain.

I was replaceable. Naoko Akagi taught me that, though I did not retain the memory of her killing me. I only knew that there were changes. Changes in Gendo, and changes in the routine to which I was accustomed. He later informed me that I had died. And he told me that it didn't matter, because there would always be more replacements. He showed me. I looked upon my other selves, and realized how worthless I truly was. I could be replaced at any time.

Within these borders of mental and physical pain, my purpose was clear -- Gendo's Instrumentality. Through it he would be reunited with his lost wife, and I would become whole. Or die. Either way, the pain would end. In the beginning I tried to fill the empty place in my heart with the care Gendo showed for me. He needed me. I always knew that his care and affection was only because of what I would do for him, and yet he was the only one who was consistent in his care for me. And so to him alone I showed loyalty, and what measure of devotion I could.

School. Gendo enrolled me one day, saying he no longer had the time to teach me personally. He said I would learn better through interaction with others. I did not think so. I tried to do as he asked, but I was completely unaware of how to conduct myself around others. Wherever I turned I caused pain and misunderstanding. Eventually I stopped trying altogether, closing myself off, and others eventually stopped trying to reach out to me. I engrossed myself in my studies, making my way to the top of the class. Alone. Others avoided me, and I in turn ignored them. I spent most of my time in class looking out the window at the complex and fascinating patterns of nature. What others thought did not matter. I did not matter.

The one bright spot of my existence was the time I spent in the LCL-filled tube sharing memories with my other selves. Though it reminded my of how worthless I was, it also reminded me of my origin. Of the comfortable world of liquid without any of life's complexity and pain. I was soon introduced to my Eva, Unit-00. It too was a comfortable world of liquid. I came to enjoy the peace I found there, and I wondered what the touch of its mind would feel like, when I eventually made contact. Would this being help fill the ache inside me? I found out all too soon. The horrific pain and anger was overwhelming when the machine finally awoke. I desperately tried to hold it back, but it's will was too strong. It broke the restraints and tried to kill the man who cared for me. Then when it failed, it tried to kill me.

And then events brought us together. The darkness of the Eva cages reflected the gloom within my soul as my gurney was wheeled across the scaffolding towards the massive purple Eva that I was to pilot against the Angel outside. I wondered if this Eva would reject me as well. The violent explosion that threw me to the floor immersed me in physical agony from my previous injuries. As I lay huddled on the hard metal desperately trying to block out the pain, you held me in your arms, and agreed to pilot Unit-01. At the time I did not recognize the compassion in the gesture. I did not recognize your loneliness. I only knew what Gendo had said upon awakening me, that as a pilot you had proven to be useless.

You showed this to be false when you defeated the third and fourth Angels, and you caused me to reevaluate how I saw you. I found myself thinking of you more and more. This was startling, since I had never really considered or thought about another person for any length of time. Only Gendo held such a place in my heart. I wondered what you were becoming to me. I decided that it was simply because we were both pilots, and put the matter from my mind. As coworkers, we were pushed together. Forced to understand each other.

It was not until the fifth Angel that I truly recognized how you cared for me. As I floated in the super-heated LCL of my entry plug, my Eva melting around me, I waited for the pain of death, and rebirth. It did not come. When the hatch opened, at first I thought that it was Gendo who had come to rescue me. When I saw your tear-filled face, I was surprised. Your relief made me think, but your tears were completely outside of my experience. No one else had ever shown such emotion for me. Not knowing what to do, I asked. "Why don't you just try smiling?" you said, and so I did. It seemed to make you happy, and that made me happy.

As I reflected on those events in the days following, I was confused by your emotion. It seemed to be without reason. I knew why Gendo needed me, but what would motivate you to care for me? And what would make you distrust Gendo? I did not realize it at the time, but you were asking similar questions. You wondered why I would trust him, the man you only knew as the one who abandoned you.

Asuka's arrival made things more clear. You reached out to her in the same way you reached out to me, but no matter what you did, she treated you badly. Or atleast she appeared to treat you badly. It did not occur to me at the time that she was merely acting out of her own fears and anxieties. I began to realize that you always thought of others, considering what they would think before you acted or spoke. It stirred something within me, seeing another person act in such a selfless way, even though the acts were so often ignored. I resolved to make an extra effort to understand you. It was still difficult, but it was not without reward.

Little things. The way you payed attention to me. When we were on duty to clean the school room, I could feel your eyes on me as I knelt and wrung the dust cloth into the pail of water. Later in the elevator, you called my actions 'motherly.' I blushed, but didn't know why. When my work at NERV caused me to be absent from class and you delivered the missed schoolwork to my apartment, you picked up the trash. Seeing you do that touched something deep inside of me. I thanked you that day, and later realized that it was the first time I had ever expressed gratitude to another person. You didn't know it at the time, but when you were trapped inside the twelfth Angel, I confronted Asuka when she criticized you in front of the Major. And I sat by your side in the hospital room until you awoke. I saw your surprise and happiness at my words to you.

"I'm glad you're okay."

The same words you spoke to me after the fifth Angel. I was not just repeating what you said. For you, I put aside my mask, and let the relief that I felt show on my face. That was the point, I think, when you saw that I cared for you as well.

I wish I could have overcome my hesitance and warned you about Touji being the fourth Child. Despite my growing sense of unease, I still trusted the Commander enough to leave the decision to him. But he used me, our work with the dummy plug system, to betray you. To force you to hurt your own friend. In my mind I can still hear your anguished cries as the impulses taken from the study of my own brain-waves caused your Eva to move. You were forced to watch, helpless as your Eva tore apart the other machine. Helpless as Eva took Touji's entry plug in its fist and crushed it.

At that point I began to question my trust in the Commander. When I heard that the Commander had been forced to remotely disable your Eva because you threatened to destroy the base, I knew that things were about to change, probably permanently. I was wholly unprepared for what actually happened.

I remember talking with you during one of the many train rides we had started to share. I asked you why you did it. The conversation was far different from the one months earlier when I had slapped you for even mentioning that you did not trust the Commander. This time I was searching for answers, seeking to understand. I knew you would likely never pilot again. That you were probably going to leave in the near future. It brought a coldness to the center of my being, an ache that I still could not identify.

The fourteenth Angel. It defeated Asuka, and even though my own Eva still bore battle damage and had only one arm, I took it into a suicidal charge that failed, in the end. Looking back, I think that I really did want to die. You were leaving. The Angelic invasion was nearing its end, and I could feel the day approaching when I would be called to implement Instrumentality. With nothing left for which to live, I looked forward to that day. I waited inside the entry plug of my half-dead Eva, but the end did not come. You piloted again, and destroyed the Angel. When they rescued me, I found that the end result had been the same. You were gone, dissipated into the LCL inside your entry plug.

The month during which Dr. Akagi devised the rescue plan was like a reprieve, yet it only served to sharpen the ache inside me. Weeks in which I was once again alone. Our interactions had always been brief, but atleast they had been something. I missed them, and I missed you. When you decided to return, because of Misato's plea, it was like a phase line had been crossed. The month following your return, I was for once in my life, happy. Listening to you talk. Seeing you smile. Spending time with you. You taught me so many things, but it was not meant to last. Even as I was with you, the ache did not completely disappear. The sixteenth Angel showed me that.

As it merged with me, I was forced to give a name to the dull ache I had been feeling all of my life. Loneliness. When the Commander reactivated Unit-01 and sent you out to rescue me, the Angel attempted to join the two of us, and I was finally forced to confront the feelings I had for you. The link the Angel formed between us erased the ache of loneliness.

I could feel you, your innermost desires, what you felt for me, and I knew you could feel me in the same way. As I realized this, for the first time in my life tears fell from my eyes. As I looked at the wetness on the white gloves of my plug suit, I felt confusion mix with the strong emotions our connection brought me. I had never been so happy, and at the same time so sad. But even though joining with you was what I most wanted, what I most needed, I knew that forcibly merging with you like this was wrong. It went against everything I had learned from you.

Though the only alternative was to sacrifice myself, that was what I had been created for after all. As I reversing Unit-00's AT-field and pulled the Angel into my core, the connection it had created between us disappeared, and I was once again alone. But you would live. As I activated my Eva's self-destruct, my only hope was that in our short time together I had helped you in some way in return for what you had taught me. And so for the second time, I died.

I awoke in the hospital, and it was you beside my bed instead of the Commander. But by then everything was gone. My memories. Our memories. The memories we had created together. Gone from me, anyway. Just out of reach. You stayed with me until I was released, and you thanked me for saving you. My thoughts were a jumble of confusion, but I knew deep inside that you were someone I should remember. Someone important. I clung to that thought with everything I had. When you found out I had lost my memory, I could see the pain and loneliness in your face. It hurt, seeing that, and knowing there was nothing I could do.

When I returned to my apartment, desperately searching for something familiar, I found the Commander's glasses, and as I held them, just for a moment my mind cleared. And then everything was gone again. But I knew deep within me that I could no longer follow the Commander's Scenario. That he had broken a fundamental trust. As I twisted the Commander's glasses, gripping them so tightly that the lenses cracked, tears fell from my eyes and splashed on the lenses. It confused me, because I couldn't quite remember ever having shed tears before. And yet it felt familiar.

I can't help but feel sorrow at what you went through during that time. I was struggling to come to grips with my fragmented memories, but for you everything was clear. You did not have the comfort of not knowing. Asuka was in a coma. I no longer remembered you. And then you found out my darkest secret. Caught between the rivalry of Major Katsuragi and Doctor Akagi, you found out that I was a created being. You too looked upon my other selves. You watched them be destroyed, and you feared me. You wondered what I was. From that point on you avoided me. Every time you looked at me, you flinched slightly, subtly drawing away. The ache within me grew with every fearful glance, with every small shudder. But the day of Complementation was approaching, and again I found myself welcoming it. Longing for it. I could feel myself slowly degenerating, my AT-field barely able to hold my physical shape together.

That day finally arrived. Soon I would be at peace. Whole. I could feel my body shutting down even as I stood before Gendo. As his hand entered my body's weakening AT-field, moving closer to the seat of my soul, I felt Adam's embryonic form. Its willingness. And then I felt you. My eyes widened, and I gasped in surprise. Your heart was calling out to me. I could almost hear your anguished cry, and I remembered. Myself, you, and what we shared. What I was. Human, and Angel. I merged with Adam, repairing my ailing body and forcing the Commander to release me. I looked up at his face, his eyes so full of pain. But I knew your pain was greater. And I knew you. Selfless. Caring. And so I gave myself to you. The Commander's agonized cries tore at me, but I knew your need. I wanted nothing more than to be able to fulfill it, after all you had done for me.

And so now as I float towards Lilith, my heart is rising, for I know I am approaching fulfillment. As she reaches out to me, softly enfolding me in her comforting embrace, I echo the words you spoke so long ago. What I know, deep within me.

"I'm home."

My soul is finally at peace. Memories continue to flow over me, through me, as I merge with Lilith and begin Instrumentality. Not Gendo's, but yours. I can feel your anguish. Asuka is dying, and you can do nothing. The Eva series captures you, transforming your Eva into the Tree of Life. I rise towards you, cradling your Eva gently in my hands. Even though I am now whole, it still hurts to see you flinch away, as you realize who it is before you. I still frighten you. I look into your heart, seeking a face with which you are familiar. A face you can accept. I put the face on like a mask. As you finally relent, leaning back in exhaustion, surrendering to Instrumentality, only then do I remove the mask. You don't flinch this time, but only because you are finally free. Unaware. As you drift away, losing your form inside of the entry plug, I softly ask you the question I have always wanted to say, yet have never been able to express.

"What is it you want?"

What ever it is, I will move Heaven and earth to achieve it.

Instrumentality. People, alone, yet not alone. The sea of humanity. Everything is in your hands. Free of responsibility, I look around in wonder. Worlds. Realities. Everything so completely soaked and immersed in emotion that the word no longer has meaning. Individuals, creating their dreams. Groups of people, sharing in each others' dreams. Together or separate, each complementing the other. It is more than I ever imagined, and yet there is a certain emptiness to it.

Dreams. Dreams and illusions. I observe a reality. Two people share it, yet there are other not-people there. People created from the dreamer's mind. People as the dreamer sees them. False people. I observe another reality. A single being is occupying it. He believes that one other person is there, sharing it with him, but that other being is a fabrication of his mind. The other person is in another dream. Is this a willful self-deception, or does he truly not know that he is actually alone?

I am confused. Is this what it means to dream? I, who have never dreamed, find it difficult to understand. And yet I feel the lie to that statement. I have a dream after all, and I feel it coalescing around me. A single, small room. A bed. Soft illumination from a lamp on a bedside table. Smooth sheets. I am lying underneath them, on top of you, looking into your eyes. It is what I have always wanted, but are you real? Do you share this reality with me, or have I created you? You don't flinch from my touch, and so doubt enters my mind. A sharp ache passes through me as tears come to my eyes. I want it to be you. I gently touch your lips with mine, my tears falling onto your face. Are you real? Please, be real. Please...

You don't push me away. You don't rush me. You simply lift your arm, putting it around my waist. I pull away slightly, and I see tears in your eyes as well. I wish, once again, that I could know if this is really you. I lay my head down on your chest, smelling your familiar scent, and resigning myself to reality. I just don't know. I can't know. I can only exist within the dream, while I am allowed to do so. I know it cannot last, because I know you. Whether you are here, beneath me, or elsewhere in another dream, I know that you will come to the same realization as I. This isn't real. Contentment can be found here, but not happiness. Comfort, but not joy.

The dream dissolves, and I look around one final time. I can feel the end drawing near. The end of Instrumentality, and my end. I am Instrumentality, now, and I will not survive its dissolution. Atleast, not as I am. The future is unknown. With some surprise, I find that I can feel a small hope within me. The unknown used to depress me, hopelessness and pain being the only constants. But being with you has changed me. The unknown now brings the possibility of things becoming better.

Once again I observe a dream. One of your dreams. One of my selves from within your mind is on top of you. The two of you are melded together, your bodies almost become one. I see that you have brought this other self of mine to tell you what you already know. The truth of this reality, and the end of this dream. Seeing this other self causes me to hesitate, as I briefly remember my other selves back in the now-destroyed NERV facilities, and how worthless they made me feel. Would it be an intrusion for me to enter this dream with you? I see you begin to separate yourself from the other me, and I know that because of my hesitation, it is too late.

"Thank you."

I hear your words to the other me as the dream dissolves. I can feel myself beginning to lose cohesion, the souls of humanity starting to free themselves from the illusion. I try to tell myself that it was you I kissed, that we shared that dream. After all, when you needed advice, the being in your mind to which you looked was me. And yet the uncertainty does not bring emptiness, or pain. It brings something else. I briefly wonder at the emotion. It is new to me. Searching through the dreams, and my new memories, I see atlast.

Using my last vestiges of consciousness I once again take the form with which you are familiar, a fourteen year old girl in a school uniform. As I stand on the surface of the red-tinged sea next to the ruined Tokyo-3, I look down on your resting form lying in the soft sand. The new emotion flows through me as I see your eyes open, and your head fall to one side. You look directly into my eyes, and I feel the caress of your mind one last time. I feel myself fading away, and as I prepare to enter the embrace of infinite dreaming, I send you one last simple message from my heart:

Shinji Ikari, thank you for teaching me to love.