Disclaimer: see part 1.
Asuka had always hated hospital rooms. They reminded her of her mother. This one was no exception, and the fact that the woman lying on the bed was somewhat of a surrogate mother did not help much either. God, what time is it? she thought tiredly. I've been up for fucking ever.
"How's the food?"
It was a lame joke, but Asuka was starting to get jittery with all the silence.
"This job sucks," she said, leaning forward in her chair and putting her hands together in front of her face. "Shitty hours, shitty work… Hell, I haven't even had two hours of sleep since that dumbass angel got himself mashed by Suzuhara – and that was a day and a half ago! Christ, how much paperwork can one person do?"
Misato simply continued staring at the ceiling, lost in whatever dream-world her overtaxed mind had created for her.
"Bitch," Asuka muttered, letting her hands fall onto her knees as she slumped back in her seat. "Leave me to pick up all the pieces while you just lie there. You're going to Hell, you know – goddamn whore!"
Insulting the woman wasn't really all that productive, but it made Asuka feel better to have someone to focus her anger on. She certainly couldn't focus it on Shinji, after all.
He was dead.
Yeah, she told herself, I guess… I can finally admit that. He's not coming back.
"I've… started something, Misato," Asuka whispered, staring up at the same spot on the ceiling that Misato was staring at, as if she could see what the catatonic woman could see. "'Events are in motion,' is how the Commander would put it, I think… but I've started something I don't think I can stop anymore, even if I wanted to." Scrubbing a hand over her face, she drew a deep, uneven breath. "I'm sure you would have found a better way," she said, rising to her feet and standing at Misato's bedside, "but you left it to me… and this is the only way out I can see – the only way to set things right."
Turning on her heel, Asuka started for the door.
"Well, see ya," she said quietly. "I hope you don't wake up until this is all over – or, you know what? I hope you don't wake up at all, Misato… because there's nothing worth waking up fo-"
The sudden ring of her cell phone cut her off in mid-sentence.
"See what I mean?" she muttered, pulling the phone out of her pocket, "Work, work, work. Yes? Souryu here."
Leaning against the wall, Asuka listened to the voice on the other end of the line.
"My report on Kirishima? What was incomplete about it? No sir, the agent shot her on sight, he didn't ask any questions, and he burned the body after extracting the bullet to make it look like an accident. Standard procedure."
Asuka rubbed her eyes once more.
"Yes sir," she said tiredly, "I know it's unusual to grant a request for leave when we're on alert, but I was told to reward the agent responsible for her termination and…" she listened for a moment. "Yes, sir… as soon as he gets back, I'll schedule an interview. Yes sir, I understand. Goodbye."
Ending the call, Asuka slowly slipped the phone back into her pocket.
"If you want to have any say it the outcome of this nightmare, you better wake up now."
Asuka waited for a sign that Misato had heard her – a cough, a groan, a sudden outburst, anything to show that she was going to step in and take the mantle of leadership.
"Alright," the redhead whispered, wrapping her hand around the doorknob, "guess it's too late to stop it now, anyway. See you around… hopefully."
Leaving her guardian behind, Asuka stepped out into the hall. She still had a number of things to do before everything went to hell – and by all accounts, Hell is exactly where things were headed.
I should visit Suzuhara, she thought suddenly. He's getting his wrist checked again, or something, and Hikari said she'd be with him. Nah… too much to do. I'll see them later anyway…
Quietly, she let the door swing shut.
Behind her, Misato continued to dream.
( 0 0 0 )
It started at exactly three PM.
"Sir?" Makoto called, turning to the command dais for direction. "I've got something strange on my system."
"Strange?" Fuyutsuki repeated. "Explain, Lieutenant."
"I've got it too," Aoba reported. "Looks like… I don't know, a packet storm or something."
"Yeah," Makoto agreed. "Multiple pings coming from all over the place… wait, it kind of – oh my god…! We're-"
"Being hacked into to?" a voice cut in from the command dais.
Makoto fumbled for words, leaving Aoba to reply, "Yes, Commander… the signals are coming from… the other MAGI? What the hell…?"
Fuyutsuki leaned down to whisper in Gendou's ear.
"Mm," the Commander mused. "So it seems."
"Doctor Akagi could stop this, I'll bet," Yukiko said nervously. "She was always good with computers…"
"Good with computers?" Aoba echoed incredulously. "Well, that's one way to put it."
"No way is that nut-job coming on this bridge."
All eyes turned to the door as Asuka strode into the command room and glanced around at the assembled personnel.
"How long do we have?"
Yukiko wet her lips. "Umm, if my calculations are right, an hour, maybe less," she said carefully. "The MAGIs' defenses are pretty tough, but without a better firewall…"
Asuka nodded as the woman trailed off. "Alright, institute protocol 532."
There was a collective gasp. "Isn't that a bit… extreme?" Makoto asked slowly. "I mean, I understand the situation and all, but-"
"Do you?" Asuka cut in. "Do you really? The way I see it, they're hacking the MAGI because they're looking for a quick takeover. They aren't going to get it." Walking to the middle of the bridge, Asuka turned to face the collected technicians and support staff. "May I have your attention," she called, "kind of important."
When the few whispered conversations that had been taking place finally died out, Asuka began to speak.
"We are under attack from the outside – currently by computer… potentially by physical force. Anyone who wants to leave this installation should do it now, as I cannot guarantee your safety past the next five minutes or so. As for myself, I will not surrender, no matter what happens. This is our job – our home – and I will not see it taken over by anyone, not while I have any means to fight back. Staying here means risking your life, I won't deny that, but I know I'm not going anywhere. If you want to leave, I won't blame you… but you better get going now, or you probably won't get another chance."
She waited patiently as many technicians quietly made their way out, leaving far fewer than Asuka would have cared to see.
"Alright," she said gravely, "we have rations… we have water… we have control of this installation. If we lose any of those things, we die. Hyouga," she turned to the man, "as soon as all the people that left are out, seal the bulkheads. Aoyama… execute protocol 532 now – cut the hardlines."
Yukiko, who suddenly wished she had gone with the others, nodded. "Yes ma'am…"
Asuka glanced up at the Commander. "If you have any problems with my decisions, maybe you should leave too," she said coolly. "As Operations Director, I-"
"Calm yourself," Gendou cut in flatly. "Once the bulkheads are sealed, disperse additional bakelite to ensure that we are indeed secure."
Folding her arms over her breasts, Asuka gave the man a smug smile.
"I was getting to that, sir."
Gendou stared down at her for a moment. "Once this is all over," he rumbled, rising to his feet, "you and I will have words."
Asuka waved one hand dismissively. "Yeah, sure," she said lightly, "like you said – once this is all over."
"Oh, I won't."
"What?" Asuka rounded on Yukiko, who shrank back in her seat.
"Er, umm… I mean ma'am, I-"
"Spit it out!"
"…I've got reports of troop movement, ma'am."
Asuka threw her hands into the air.
"Perfect," she growled, "just perfect. Fuck it, Fuyutsuki, this mess is in your hands."
"Going somewhere, Captain?" Fuyutsuki asked lightly, seeming to already know the answer.
Asuka gave him a fierce smile. "Well, someone's gotta put things in order."
Nodding Fuyutsuki replied, "Indeed. Goodbye, Captain Souryu."
The command deck went silent at these three simple words. Asuka froze, slowly turning to the command dais. Raising her right hand, she gave a smart salute. "Goodbye, sir," she said proudly, looking from the Commander to the Sub-Commander and back again. "It's been… something."
No one dared say another word as Asuka gave the men a formal bow and turned to stride out the door. The silence seemed almost holy… an unspoken dirge for a warrior marching off to her last battle.
( 0 0 0 )
Fifteen minutes later, Asuka slowly ran her hand over the familiar contours of Unit 02's right control yoke, amazed by how strange it felt under her gloved fingers. It seemed like it had been forever since she had been in the pilot's seat, rather than a matter of weeks, and in spite of her cool façade, she could not stop the butterflies storming through her stomach.
It was up to her. It was all up to her.
"Put me in."
A shiver ran down her spine.
Everything comes down to this, she thought, putting a hand over her stomach as the plug was lifted off the ground. Aoyama said there are troops moving in and we only have a handful of security guards, so if I don't stop them, we'll be overrun in hours.
Her voice was firm… but her hands were shaking as the plug spun into the back of Unit 02.
"Aoyama," she called, keying her comm. system to life, "once I'm in and synchronized, launch me down route four-fifty-four. I'll handle the ground tr-"
"It's too late, ma'am," Yukiko's voice cut in. "Security reports are coming in all over the installation – the troops are already inside… they're practically here already!"
"Damn, that fast?" Asuka whispered, gripping the yokes tightly as her unit was moved towards the catapults. "Alright, launch me now, and I'll make sure no more come in… you guys just concentrate on staying alive."
Guess I'll just synch on the surface, she thought grimly. The armor plates should be enough to stop anything short of another EVA from hurting me… and I WILL be able to synch, damn it!
This last thought, unfortunately, was not as firm as the others.
Asuka's teeth rattled in her head as Unit 02 was abruptly shot towards the surface.
What if she couldn't synch? The most she could hope for was a few minutes of panic when Unit 02 surfaced… past that, the ground forces would quickly regroup and converge on her, focusing every bit of artillery they had on her. Given enough time, they could probably pry her out – an EVA was not invulnerable, after all, especially without power – though Asuka was fully prepared to eject and take her chances on foot, should it come to that.
Cowardly? Perhaps a bit, but she was not stupid enough to let herself be put up in front of a firing squad or raped by some hairy grunt when she could escape to fight another day.
Could be worse, she thought as she reached the surface, at least I'm not M-
Asuka barely had time to gasp as something heavy slammed into Unit 02, rocking it off its feet. Since she had not synchronized yet, and the monitors were still off, she had no way of knowing what had hit her.
"Start the synch sequence!" she ordered, gripping the control yokes as a second object pounded Unit 02. "Damn it, what IS that?"
"Starting sequence," Yukiko reported. "And umm… they're missiles."
Asuka was cut off as the timed warheads exploded, rattling her around in the entry plug even as the sides began to flash with color, signaling the beginning of the startup cycle.
"Son of a bitch!"
Grinding her teeth with rage, Asuka willed Unit 02 to its feet.
"More missiles!" Yukiko cried. "I count ten, ma'am!"
With a savage scream, Asuka brought both of Unit 02's hands out in front of her, activating her AT field mere seconds before the barrage of incoming projectiles reached her. The air before Unit 02 filled with light and heat as the warheads ineffectually loosed their fiery wrath.
Asuka's eyes widened.
"I… did it…?"
"Third stage connection reached with thirteen percent synch ratio," Yukiko informed her. "Unit 02 is online!"
Over the comm. net, Asuka could hear the cheers of the bridge crew… and though it was very unprofessional, she could not keep herself from letting out a triumphant shout herself.
It died on her lips as she spotted a group of large black shapes cutting through the air, their destination only too obvious.
"The EVA series…?" she whispered, watching in horrified fascination as white figures began detatching themselves from the black wing-shaped carriers and falling towards her position. "Nine of them?"
The elation of restarting Unit 02 vanished as the mass-production Evangelion Units touched down, forming a rough circle around her and furling their wings in preparation for combat.
Taking a deep breath, Asuka rolled her shoulders, focusing on the closest Unit for a moment as she contemplated her odds. Shrugging, she whispered, "Eh, fuck it."
Unit 07, the unit unfortunate enough to be the closest, did not have the battle skills or reaction time to prepare it for Unit 02's sudden, wild charge. As such, it barely had time to lift its eyeless head before Unit 02 leapt, planting its palms in the middle of Unit 07's face and smashing it inward, crushing it to a bloody pulp before vaulting clean over the hapless machine and landing behind it.
Indeed, Unit 07 was all but dead as Unit 02 caught it on its back and hefted it into the sky, tearing the white machine cleanly in half and letting its blood pour all over her EVA's already crimson exterior.
Even if it had been able to hear, Unit 07 was not programmed to understand foreign languages, and wouldn't have known what 'Erste' meant anyway.
( 0 0 0 )
Yukiko huddled under her desk, her eyes never leaving the laptop screen as Unit 02 brought the war to the mass-produced Evangelions.
"This can't be happening," she moaned, glancing up from the monitor, but quickly looking back to avoid having to see the firefight going on all around her. "Please… someone save me… this can't be happening!"
"Aoyama," Aoba called, thrusting his gun over a row of monitors and firing blindly towards the small group of JSSDF soldiers trying to take their position, "you alive?"
Yukiko screamed as a ricochet rocketed off of an overhead beam. "Make it stop!" she shrieked. "God, I want to wake up – I want to wake up!"
"Get a hold of yourself," Aoba said disgustedly, crouch-walking over to the woman. "Here," he said flatly, handing the other tech a service pistol, "take it… use it – we need everyone helping now."
Cowering closer to her desk, Yukiko haltingly replied, "I c-can't! I've never… taken firearms training."
"Take it anyway," came the terse instruction, "it's not that hard – you point the end with the round hole at someone, and you pull the trigger. Here, I'll turn the safety off for you."
"B-but I can't… I can't kill people! I'm just a technic-"
"Idiot!" Aoba shouted, thrusting the gun into the young tech's hands as his patience snapped. "You kill or you die!"
Yukiko stared at the gun in mute shock. "This isn't real," she whispered, looking up at the battle raging all around her as the long-haired man sprinted back to his location, "This isn't real, right?" She swallowed hard, her tears – threatening for so long – finally broke free as she realized that no one was coming to save her. With a shaking hand, she tapped a simple line of text on her laptop and clenched her eyes tightly closed.
Hyouga gasped, whipping around as a gunshot sounded behind him – confident that their perimeter had been breached and cursing himself for thinking the bakelite would cover their backs. He was just in time to see Yukiko's lifeless body slump to the ground, the gaping hole in her temple oozing blood and brain matter as the handgun clattered noisily to the floor. Shaking from head to toe, he turned back to his position, pushing the vision of the tech's terror-stricken face from his mind as he reminded himself that – for the time anyway – he was still alive.
Moments later, a stray bullet found its way to Yukiko's station, shattering her laptop screen and leaving her final message, "I'm sorry," forever unread.
( 0 0 0 )
"Are you sure this is the right way?"
Touji ground his teeth together. "Yes," he growled, "I'm sure. The nurse said we make two lefts, a right, then go straight until we reach the emergency elevator once we're on floor nineteen, remember?"
Biting her lip, Hikari tightened her hold on his uninjured hand. "I… thought she said three lefts," she whispered.
"Three lefts would turn us around," Touji snorted. "Geez, Hikari, you're supposed to be smarter than me!"
Hikari pressed herself closer to Touji's side, keeping her eyes downcast as they hurried on down the corridor.
"Will you fight?"
Touji scratched his nose as best he could with his hand, glowering at the clunky cast they had given him. "Yeah, I'll fight," he muttered. "I said I'd protect you, right? I'll kill every one of them if I have to."
A weak smile touched the corners of Hikari's lips. "I don't know if that's romantic or psychotic," she said. "I love you, Touji."
Giving her hand a squeeze, Touji said, "I know, Hikari, you've said it like, a hundred times since we left the hospital wing."
"You're not mad are you?"
"No, Hikari," the Fourth said gently, "I'm not mad. Now come on, I think I see the door."
Hikari smiled, following along as Touji led her towards the door leading to the elevator. I think we can be ok, if we make it out of here, she thought hopefully. We're closer now… that… woman is gone – if we can just hold on, we can make everything alri-
She cut her own thought short as she spotted a small group of black-clad men watching them from the shadows of the next lower level.
Touji grunted as Hikari yanked her hand free of his and planted both palms in the middle of his back, shoving him forward as the angry roar of machinegun fire ripped through the air.
Together, they sprinted through the door, making it in less than three seconds before an anti-personnel rocket slammed into it.
"T-too close," Touji gasped, leaning his shoulder against the wall as Hikari, in turn, leaned against his back. "That was too close. You ok?"
In response, Hikari let out a soft groan… and pitched over sideways, collapsing to the floor and giving a weak cough as a puddle of blood began to form around her.
"No…! No way!"
Hikari's eyes were wide. "It's… not that bad," she gasped, struggling to get to her feet even as Touji gently held her down. "Really, see? I thought getting shot would hurt, but it's… not that bad…"
Nodding, Touji said, "I'll get you help – just hang on, Hikari hang… on…"
He trailed off as he realized that Hikari's eyes were no longer focused on him. They seemed quite clear, he thought, staring into her face as he continued to apply pressure to the wound in her side – clear and bright an innocent… and empty.
"Hikari?" he whispered. "H-hey, Hikari…?"
Slowly, he leaned forward, tilting his head until his ear was next to the girl's mouth, biting his lip in anticipating of feeling her breath brush his cheek – a sure sign that the class rep was still fighting for her life.
There was nothing.
"No…" he sobbed, "no, not her – not her!" Throwing his head back, he screamed, "Why her? Haven't you taken enough, you fucking prick? Why not me, huh? I was standing right next to her – you should have taken me!"
If God was listening the boy's anguished cries, He offered no reply.
Touji slowly eased the pressure on Hikari's wound, staring at his hands in dull shock as her blood tinged them an angry red. It doesn't matter, he thought tiredly. It doesn't matter who you are, or how important you might be, or how good a life you've led… in the end, Death comes everyone, just the same. Doesn't matter what you're doing, doesn't matter how hard you struggle, when you're number's up, it's up, and it could be any minute of any day of any week of any year…
What a joke. Hadn't he seized the day with Maya? Hadn't he fought with every molecule in his body screaming for him to stop, in every single angel attack he'd participated in? Hadn't he bled, and cried, and raged against the dying of the light for every second of his life after learning that he had become a designated pilot?
You're so full of shit, he thought bitterly. You never raged against anything except how unfair you were being treated or how Kimiko was being treated or how Hikari wasn't putting out… and speaking of Hikari, did you ever, even ONCE… tell her that you loved her…?
He was such a fool.
Cradling her gently to his chest, Touji carefully lifted her head, touching his lips to hers for a moment in a tender, agonizing goodbye. Lowering her to the floor, he hurried over to the elevator, promising himself he would fight with everything he had to make sure her death was not in vain…though sadly, as the elevator door opened, the demolition charges the JSSDF had planted throughout the floor went off, vaporizing the entire room and sending him to join her far sooner than he had planned.
( 0 0 0 )
"Damn it," Asuka coughed, wrapping Unit 02's hand around one of the white Evangelion's throats, "they're so damn persistent! And that damn stooge is nowhere to be seen! He was in the base… he should be smart enough to get to the cages when there's an attack."
She grunted with effort, hurling the white Unit through the air and grinning with satisfaction as it collided with the last remaining enemy.
Only one to go, she thought with grim determination. Are you watching, Third Child? Am I making you proud?
Ramming the control yokes forward, she charged the final Unit, screaming with rage as she drove Unit 02's fist through the EVA she had just thrown and dug her fingers deep into the last Unit's core, squeezing with all of her might as the creature squawked with pain.
"That's right, you fucker," she growled, digging in deeper and getting an intense feeling of satisfaction as blood began to spray from the EVA's core, "squirm around… fight it – go ahead! It won't save… hm?"
From the corner of her eye, the redhead caught movement.
No you don't!
Tearing her hand free, she whirled around, throwing her AT field up just in time to block one of the white EVA's broad, sword-like weapons. "Nice try," she muttered triumphantly as the weapon came to an abrupt stop, "but it takes more than… what the…?"
Before her eyes, the weapon began to twist and re-form, melting and warping until it had reconfigured itself into a very familiar shape.
Asuka's eyes widened as her AT field began to buckle, unable to fight whatever power it was that the lance held. With a sharp cry, Asuka dove to the right, desperate to avoid the wicked instrument.
"AHH – DAMN IT!"
Though her reactions were very fast, the Second Child had badly misunderstood the Lance's power, thinking that it would take longer to punch through her AT field. In her defense, she did avoid the worst possible scenario… but this consolation did not keep the blood from erupting from her shoulder, or stop the relayed pain of the Lance punching into Unit 02 and pinning it cruelly to the ground.
"S-son of a… bitch…" the redhead gasped, clutching her shoulder in agony as Unit 02 abruptly went silent around her. "You've… gotta be kidding me…!"
Why am I bleeding? she thought desperately. What the hell is going… oh God… OH GOD!
"Oh God," Asuka repeated aloud, watching in horror as the indistinct shapes of the mass produced Evangelions began to stir, laboriously clambering to their feet and casually reclaiming their weapons. With growing horror, she watched the white Units calmly encircle her location, leaving no clear path to retreat.
Not that she could have, of course, with no power and her Unit flat on its back, keeping her entry plug trapped within.
With a deep sigh, Asuka leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. I did my best, right? she thought, rubbing absently at her throbbing shoulder as the mass production models spread their enormous wings. Still kinda wish… that Misato had changed that nasty carpet. When all of this is over, I don't want it known that I lived in that dump!
She chuckled softly, shaking her head as she reopened her eyes and focused on her one remaining task. "You want it?" she whispered, clenching her teeth together so hard that blood began to seep from the corner of her mouth. "You want it? Then come get it!"
As one, the white EVAs took to the sky, their hideous jaws cracking wide as they descended on Asuka's position.
The redhead wasted only a second – just enough time to whisper, "I'm coming…" before springing into action.
No one in the besieged control room saw the warning screens start to flash on the terminal monitoring Unit 02's vital statistics, so everyone was caught off guard by the tremendous explosion overhead. The N2 mine SEELE had dropped was nothing compared to the hellish firestorm unleashed by Unit 02's collapsing core, and in a millisecond, the remaining JSSDF forces on the surface were vaporized, dying without ever knowing what had happened as the blast incinerated them in the blink of an eye. What precious little was left of Tokyo-3 was reduced to a blasted and scorched wasteland as the mighty Second Child made her exit, stage center, incapacitating all of the already-damaged white EVAs on her way out.
Kyoko would have been proud.
( 0 0 0 )
Gendou shifted his footing as the entire base was rocked in its foundations, mortar and small bits of rock sifting free from the joints overhead and raining down on the Commander as he strode calmly through Terminal Dogma, his face set in a determined mask as he sought after the First Child.
He was starting to lose his patience.
"Rei," he called coldly, "what are you doing? Come here!"
The First, it seemed, could not hear him, as she simply continued walking, disappearing through Heaven's Door and into the resting place of Lillith.
At least she's going to the right place, Gendou thought, fighting the urge to roll his eyes as he hurried after the blue-haired girl, maybe one of the explosions deafened her, not that it matters all that much – it's what's inside that counts with her… literally.
He glowered as he followed the First into the great chamber. He had been trailing after her for over twenty minutes, always just out of earshot… never quite able to close the distance between them. Every time he reached a corner, confident that he was about to catch up, he would find the First Child already nearing the end of the next corridor.
It was starting to get on his nerves.
"Personnel Katsuragi, Fuyutsuki, and Akagi have been neutralized," the walkie-talkie in his hand squawked. "Target Purple secured… target Red… destroyed. Moving on to-"
Doesn't matter, Gendou thought firmly, turning the walkie-talkie off as he closed the door behind him. Now… finally…
He frowned, glancing around the wide, empty space and trying to catch sight of the First Child. "Where is she?" he muttered.
His frown deepened as he spotted something blue near the edge of the great pool of LCL. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his handgun, approaching the area cautiously.
Damn it, he thought bitterly, kicking the blue wig into the rippling fluid, Damn it, damn it, damn it! Who the hell-
Instincts honed from years of hard living kicked in as a shape reared up out of the LCL. Gendou brought his gun up, firing off seven rounds before the sheer mass of the object rising up asserted itself, registering in his mind as 'too big to be human,' a moment before an immense, dripping hand shot out, seizing him in an instant as the rest of the body came into view.
He recognized it immediately.
After all… he had seen to the destruction of its counterpart personally.
"You," Gendou spat twisting for a moment in the mecha's grip before realizing he was wasting his energy. "I had reports that you were dead."
The cockpit of Trident Unit 01 opened to reveal its pilot.
Mana smiled. "Reports filed by your new operations director?" she asked slyly, taking great satisfaction in seeing the man's expression darken. "That's right, Commander… I sought her out after she lost her pilot status to see if I could convince her to return to active duty to help me gain access to the base, and fabricate a death certificate to allow me more freedom to move around. Quite a risk, I admit, but she agreed readily enough – and do you know why?"
Gendou snorted, still every inch the intimidator as he muttered, "I'm sure you're going to regale me with your insipid reasoning one way or the other… just get on with it."
Abruptly, Trident 01's hand convulsed, snapping Gendou's lower spine like a twig.
"You're right," Mana said softly, ignoring the man's howl of pain as she rose to her feet. "My reasoning doesn't matter… not to a dead man, anyway."
Slowly, she keyed a string of commands into Trident 01's terminal.
Her work done, she sat back down and sighed tiredly. "Man, what a long day," she said, shaking her head as Gendou regained enough composure to glare at her – even if he was gritting his teeth in agony. "Don't suppose you happen to know what happened to Hikari, do you? Suzuhara's girlfriend?"
"Fuck… you…" Gendou gritted out.
"Didn't really think so," Mana said, toying with the ID badge Asuka had given her a moment. "I hope she made it out ok, though," she said softly, tapping the smiling, red-eyed face on the ID card, "she deserved to be happy… hell, even Touji did. Guess it doesn't matter now… I've done all I can," she gestured to the giant on the huge cross. "What do you call that thing?"
Gendou said nothing.
"You know what I call it?" the girl pressed. "Toast – in about forty more seconds."
Though his will to live demanded that he struggle, Gendou managed to keep his body still. "If you're thinking that your pathetic machine's self-destruct could destroy her," he sneered, "you're going to die disappointed."
Mana shrugged. "Not really," she said simply. "You were my only target, Commander… blowing anything you had to do with up was just an added… hmm… time's up it seems – ten seconds left." Meeting the man's eyes, she whispered, "Any last words? Better make them quick."
"Just five," Gendou said coldly, "I'll see you in Hell."
"I'm sure you will, Commander," Mana replied, inclining her head in a diffident bow, "I'm sure you w-"
The rest was lost as Trident 01 detonated, blasting huge holes in the floor and ceiling of Terminal Dogma. Lillith's arms and legs blistered and blackened, enormous white bone showing through the skin as the intense heat of the explosion burned the flesh away… but less than five minutes later, they were hidden once more, and after a half hour, only a small crack in the creature's immense, makeshift mask gave any hint that it had ever come to harm.
In the ensuing calm, only the faint splash of lapping LCL could be heard… but even this stilled, after a time, leaving NERV's inner sanctum silent and undisturbed. Behind her mask, Lillith's expression never changed. She could sense the presence of her other half less than fifteen feet from her location, protected by his AT field, though still bound to the flesh of the Lillim that had captured him. He was so close, in fact, that Lillith could practically feel him touching her.
But she did not despair – despair was for lesser beings. She would wait until this chamber was reopened, as it eventually must be, and the rest of the Lillim came to find out what had happened. She would wait, and watch, and calmly while away the hours until the red-eyed one was forced to give back what she held. It would not be long – to her anyway. Eventually, the red-eyed one would pass on, what was Lillith's would return to her, and she would be free to teach her errant children a little lesson in respect before ascending to reclaim her position in the heavens.
A human lifespan was nothing but a breath, to a god.
Behind her mask, Lillith allowed herself a faint, almost infinitesimal smile.
It would not be long now.
Rei held her hood tightly at the neck as she contemplated the selection of fresh apples on the cart in front of her. It had been several weeks since the siege at NERV, and her funds were starting to run short. Getting a job, of course, was out of the question due to her unique appearance and lack of worldly knowledge.
After all, it was hard enough for her to budget the money she had, let alone figure out how to make more. Souryu had given her a small stack of bills and a simple directive. 'Lay low until I find you, don't let anyone see you, don't trust anyone.'
Why Rei should not trust anyone at all she did not know… but she was smart enough to see that Asuka, in spite of their former differences, was trying her best to salvage an almost untenable situation.
Besides, the redhead had told her that Misato had given these instructions to her personally before her breakdown.
Misato, Rei mused, deciding that she could go a little longer without eating, are you alright? I have not heard from you, the Commander, Souryu, or even Kirishima since the attack on headquarters.
She dared not try to return to NERV central. Passing by on a kind of a recon of the area, she had spotted heavily-armed JSSDF troopers posted at every entrance. If the JSSDF was in control, then SEELE was in control… and if SEELE was in control, Rei knew that she would not be able to get anywhere near the people she needed to see.
SEELE wanted her for themselves – the Commander had told her that in as many words.
All she could do was wait and trust in Souryu and the others to come for her.
It cannot be helped, she thought, walking away from the apple cart. I will do the best that I…
The thought trailed off as something tugged at her shoulder. Her dead arm, it seemed, had gotten caught on something – a frustrating event that Rei had grown rather adept at avoiding during her time on the lamb, though it still happened from time to time.
With a soft sigh, she turned to see what it had caught on this time.
Panic was not a feeling the former First Child was terribly familiar with, but as she lifted her eyes to follow the hand holding her wrist up, she felt it tickling her stomach. When she realized who had found her, she blinked in confusion.
The brown-haired woman looked a bit older than the last time Rei had seen her – there was a particularly telling set of crow's-feet forming at the corners of her eyes – but her smile was the same as Rei remembered.
"You shouldn't be out on the street," Maya said evenly. "It isn't safe for NERV people these days, you know?"
Rei glanced around.
If she pulled away, there was an alley nearby.
I don't recall Miss Ibuki being very fast, she thought, gauging the distance between herself and the alleyway, though I never had much reason to see her run full speed…
She was tensing herself to break free when Maya whispered, "We should go… that apple cart guy is talking to a police officer."
More panic welled up inside Rei, and before she could say a word, Maya was leading her quickly down the street. They hurried through the shopping district, barely giving Rei an opportunity to see where they were going, until finally, Maya brought them up short in front of a small apartment building.
"This… is… my place," she panted, smiling at Rei as she started towards the front door. "Come on."
Rei planted her feet. I cannot move my arm, she thought, so breaking free will be a matter of catching her off guard.
Maya glanced over her shoulder. "What's wrong?"
She will be surprised, Rei mused, tensing her legs, that will give me an additional second or two, but I must-
"Hey," Maya said suddenly, turning around and stepping closer to the girl, "it's ok, I won't hurt you… it's me, Rei – Maya Ibuki… I've known you for years – you can trust me."
As a show of her harmlessness, Maya released Rei's wrist and took a step back.
"I'd… really like to help you," she said carefully, keeping her hands hanging at her sides. "Since the… thing with Touji, I've been spending a lot of time with my mother. She's, well, a little dingy, I guess, and she gets sick a lot, but she's really nice – and we talked a lot about the things that go on at NERV."
"Mm," Rei grunted noncommittally, glancing around once more for an avenue of escape.
"She probably doesn't have a lot of time left," Maya said quietly. "Her medicine costs a lot, and I have to work a lot just to keep up with the payments… so I don't know how much longer I can keep things going – but she always taught me to try the best I can, and if I see someone that needs help… I should help them."
Rei froze as Maya reached out, cradling the girl's face in her palm and gently wiping a smudge of dirt off of her cheek with her thumb.
"And you," she whispered, "look like you need help, Rei."
Slowly, she reached out with her other hand, pulling Rei into a gentle embrace.
"Please come in…"
Closing her eyes and breathing in the woman's light, understated perfume, Rei slowly nodded. Keeping her hand, Maya led the Child up the stairs to her apartment.
"You must be starving," she said kindly, "and you're covered in dirt… God, this must have been so hard for you. Here… you go have a bath, I'll make you something to eat, alright?"
Rei hesitated, then nodded. "Yes, Miss Ibuki… th-thank you…"
Maya waved a hand. "It's the least I can do," she said warmly. "Here… let me take your clothes."
Slowly, Rei peeled her filthy clothes off of her body, working laboriously with her good hand until Maya stepped forward. "I can-"
"Shh," Maya cut in, "Let me help…"
With just this simple gesture of kindness, Rei's composure broke.
"Aww, don't cry," Maya murmured, putting an arm around the girl's hunching shoulders. "Everything's going to be ok now… really. All of this," she held up Rei's dirty shirt, "is over… you're safe with me."
After a moment of nearly silent crying, Rei wiped her eyes. "I will… bathe now," she said softly.
"You don't mind if I toss these, do you?" Maya said lightly, holding up the tattered clothes. "They're a little… ripe."
Rei shook her head. "I do not mind," she said quietly, "but… Ikari's tape player is in the pocket of my uniform skirt. Please take it out before you discard the skirt."
Maya smiled reassuringly as Rei headed into the bathroom and turned on the tap.
Quietly, the technician slipped out of the apartment and headed down to the dumpster in the back of the building… where her smile slowly faded.
"Ikari's, huh?" she whispered, pulling the tired-looking SDAT out of Rei's pocket. "Hm."
She tossed the clothes into the bin, and reached into her own pocket, pulling her cell phone out and calling the number listed as number one on the memory dial.
"Hello, yes?" she said softly, turning the SDAT over and over in her hand. "Yes, my ID number is 3223, Ibuki, Maya… yes, I… I have the First in custody. No… no she doesn't know a thing… hm? Yes, alright, I understand but… she's really hungry, so can you make it twenty minutes instead of- No, no, I don't want that! Yes, I understand… ten minutes."
Maya blinked as tears began to roll down her cheeks.
"No, I understand… she won't know anyone's coming," she whispered, finding it increasingly hard to speak. "And… my mother…?" Her knees nearly buckled with relief. "Ok… thank you."
Closing the cell phone, Maya glanced up at the apartment building.
"I'm sorry," she croaked. "Rei… God, I am so sorry…"
Maya bowed her head, wiping at her streaming eyes as she slowly reached out and dropped the SDAT into the garbage.
Author's notes: there! Almost four years later, there's the end! Originally, it was going to end with Unit 00's detonation and Asuka walking away, but then I thought, 'Hey, there's PLENTY more angst left to be wrung from this story!' And wring, I did. I think, maybe, I may have wrung a bit too much, but I hope, with all of its flaws, the ending was worth the wait. If not, I can only apologize – because this story is done.
MacBeth2001 pre-read this tripe and declared it to be lacking. Several drafts later, he said it didn't suck as bad as it did when he first got it, so that's good enough for me! Thanks to him for making it not suck… as bad.