Disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is the creation of Anno and Gainax. I don't own it, make no claims to it, and am making no profit from this fan fiction. No infringement of copyright is intended. In other words, please don't sue.
Disclaimer: I do not own DC comics or anything associated with it and am making no profit off this fan fiction. No infringement of copyright is intended. In other words, please don't sue.
Chapter Seventeen: Wounding the Invulnerable
"You do know that the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, right?" Supergirl asked.
The would-be thief that the Girl of Steel had caught trying to mug a young woman in the middle of the night ignored her and continued trying to stab and slash her with the short but wickedly sharp knife he held.
This was going about as well as could be expected.
"Seriously?" she asked when he just kept on trying to draw blood, not even having the common sense to attempt to run away. For all the good that would do him.
Quickly tiring of the impotent attacks, Supergirl reached up, grabbing hold of the blade in her gloved hand. She squeezed, then let go. The mugger pulled the weapon back, then looked wide eyed at the now crumpled and useless blade.
Slowly, his gazed turned back to Supergirl.
The superwoman held her hand out, palm open, to show him that the knife hadn't cut her at all. Even her glove was completely undamaged.
Now the man turned and tried to run.
Of course, Supergirl easily stopped him cold, simply by grabbing hold of his collar and keeping him in place with her implacable strength.
"So you can teach a dumb dog new tricks," she observed with a smirk. "Or at least basic survival instincts."
The man continued to struggle mightily to escape, cursing the whole time, but there was no way he was going to outmuscle Supergirl, who casually looked around for the thief's intended victim.
"Must've run off," she sighed softly. It was always more convenient when she could get someone else to just call in the crime for her. "Guess that means I have to make a quick stop on the way home…"
After "dropping off" the man with the police (something the officers who worked at the station were growing increasingly accustomed to), Supergirl flew back to the apartment building, quickly scanning the interior with her X-ray vision.
She grimaced. Even though it was late, Shinji hadn't gone to be yet. The Third Child was instead sitting at the kitchen table in the apartment, with a book and a cup of tea. Pen-Pen appeared to be sleeping at his feet.
"Damn it," she grumbled, hovering in midair as she tried to determine the best course of action.
Of course, Supergirl could just fly in through her bedroom window, but the problem was that wasn't how she'd left. Fearing that Shinji might come knocking at her door and discover that she was gone if she just slipped out, she had brusquely informed him that she was going out and then left, figuring he'd be asleep long before she got back.
I could come back in a few hours, she mused.
Supergirl quickly rejected the idea. Shinji appeared prepared for the long haul, like a concerned father anxiously waiting for his daughter to return from her first date. The Girl of Steel found that thought strangely amusing and irritating at the same time.
In any case, there was absolutely no need for her to be afraid of Shinji, even if she would rather avoid any awkward questions. Heading into the building, Supergirl quickly changed into her regular clothes and entered the apartment she called home.
"I'm back," she announced, trying to seem as unconcerned with his reaction to her late return as possible. She didn't even glance at him, instead heading straight for the fridge, opening it and pretending to consider its contents.
"Welcome back," Shinji said.
"So, where's Misato?" the redhead asked.
"Working late again," the Third Child answered. He hesitated for a moment, then added, "You were out for a long time."
"Well, it's just so boring around here," Asuka replied with a theatric sigh. "Not that the rest of the city's so much better."
"…are you all right, Asuka?" Shinji asked slowly.
And there it is, the Second Child, knowing that the boy had been wanting to ask her something to that effect for days now. It wasn't a conversation that she wanted to have, but she supposed there was no avoiding it if Shinji had actually found the nerve to ask her straight on.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she replied. "Why wouldn't I be?"
Might as well make him spell it out, if he really insisted on doing this.
"Well, you know…" he began awkwardly. "I know you felt sure that Kaji…escaped…but we haven't heard anything from him. Something could've happened. I just thought you might be worried." He said, with all the caution of someone working to defuse a live bomb. Still, she had a sneaking suspicion he'd prepared at least part of that ahead of time.
Of course, she knew that the real reason behind Shinji's concern was that he thought that Kaji was dead, and he believed she and Misato were just in denial about it.
It was a little hard to fault him for that assumption, much as part of her wanted to. Especially since Asuka felt pretty sure that Misato actually was in denial; their guardian had accepted her assertion that Kaji was fine with suspicious ease. Probably the only reason the Ops Director wasn't headed for a soul crushing breakdown was because the spy actually did still draw breath.
Not that any of that made the current conversation the least bit easier to deal with, naturally.
"I'm not worried," she said, finally plucking a water bottle from the fridge. She closed the door to the large appliance. "Kaji's a big boy. I'm sure he can…" she trailed off as she turned around to finally face him, blinking.
Shinji frowned at her in confusion, tilting his head slightly to the side as he waited for her to finish what she'd been saying.
"Uh…" Asuka stammered.
The Third Child had apparently planned to turn in after speaking to her, because he was dressed for bed, wearing track pants and that khaki colored sleeveless shirt of his. The sleep clothes allowed her to notice something she had somehow missed until that moment.
Shinji had muscles.
He wasn't about to win any bodybuilding contests, of course. In fact, his shoulders were still pretty narrow, leaving him with an overall scrawny appearance. There was noticeably more meat on his once almost toothpick-like arms than there had been, but there was still nothing extraordinary about him. Really, the teenaged boy's gradually developing physique could only be impressive to a teenaged girl (which was what Asuka was, of course, but she refused to consider that at the moment).
Still, Shinji had muscles. She couldn't quite seem to wrap her mind around that concept.
Is he developing a six pack? She thought as she scrutinized him,
Then she realized that she'd been using her X-ray vision to look through his shirt without ever consciously deciding to use the ability. She quickly averted her gaze, blushing furiously.
"You're sure he can…?" Shinji prompted her.
"What?" Asuka asked, bewildered.
"You were saying that you're not worried about Kaji," he reminded her.
"Oh, right. Right!" Asuka said. "Kaji can take care of himself. I'm not all that concerned." She asserted with as much force as she could muster, which wasn't very much at the moment.
With that message delivered, she decided to make a hasty retreat and headed toward her room as quickly as she could without actually looking like she was running away.
It was strange, she mused as she walked down the short hallway at a rapid clip. She hadn't truly realized it, but she had long gained a weird sense of security from her belief that Shinji was seeing absolutely no results from all their trips to the gym together. There was something undeniably comforting about knowing that whatever…emotions the Third Child might cause to stir within her, at least he didn't really do all that much for her on the purely physical, primal level.
Really should've just come in through the window, she decided as she finally reached her bedroom door.
"Asuka," Shinji called just before she could make her escape.
He cleared his throat nervously. "I was wondering, if you don't already have plans, would you…" he finished by mumbling something very fast.
Asuka blinked. She had super hearing. She had caught what he'd said, even if no regular human could have. Still, she didn't quite believe it.
"What did you say?" she demanded.
He swallowed. "I wanted to know if you'd like to go see a movie with me this Saturday night," he repeated, much more slowly and clearly.
So, she had heard right. Shinji was actually asking her out, and she was pretty damn sure he meant it to be a date, not two friends hanging out. His heart was pounding even faster than her own, which was going at a mile a minute for some reason, the sound of it thunderous in her superhumanly keen ears.
She almost said no on reflex, then stopped herself, finding that she honestly wasn't sure why she should turn Shinji down. Not too long ago, she would've thought of him as the consolation prize, the silver medal, and she hated to be second best at anything. Now, though, she definitely wasn't holding out for Kaji any more. If Misato wanted him, she was welcome to him; so far as Asuka was concerned, Shinji was worth far more than the selfish jerk.
Not that that was terribly hard, but still.
Seconds dragged out as she thought about it, the redhead completely oblivious to how torturous Shinji found every silent moment.
Maybe it was because she'd shown him a moment of vulnerability while the Parasite had had her powers, and he hadn't seized it as an opportunity to hurt and belittle her. Maybe it was because they had grown fairly close since she'd arrived in Japan. Maybe it was because he was actually looking just the tiniest bit hot that evening.
Heck, maybe at some point she'd taken a hit hard enough to scramble even her invulnerable brains.
"That sounds nice," she said.
For a very brief moment, a look of complete shock appeared on Shinji's face. Then he seemed to get over his surprise, or at least it occurred to him to mask it, and instead he was beaming at her.
"G-Great," he said. "How's seven o'clock sound?"
"Just fine," Asuka replied airily. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go to bed now. It's been a long day."
"Right. I think I'll turn in, too," Shinji said.
The two entered their respective rooms at almost the same moment, the Third Child moving with obviously forced nonchalance. A few seconds after they had both slid the screens shut, Asuka heard it.
"Yes!" Shinji breathed. His voice was vehement but very soft. If Asuka hadn't had super hearing, she never would've caught it.
Grinning smugly, the Second Child flounced her long hair, feeling exceedingly pleased with how obviously thrilled Shinji was to have scored a date with her. Not that such excitement on his part was unwarranted, of course. Still, it was very satisfying.
Almost makes me wish that I was as eager as he is, she thought absently as she changed into her pajamas.
Oh, sure, if she was being completely honest with herself, she would admit that she did feel some mild attraction to Shinji lately. More since Kaji had gone from "Most amazing thing on Earth" to "Not if he was the last man alive" in her books. Still, she certainly wasn't looking forward to Friday evening nearly as much as Shinji obviously was.
She lay down in bed, deciding she had earned herself some rest; it had been a few days since she'd slept, and she was actually starting to feel tired.
Asuka didn't even realize that she began to ponder the issue of what she'd wear on Saturday night as she drifted off.
"This is stupid." Kenichi growled.
"It's not stupidity, it's patience," Madoka replied evenly.
In a derelict building at the very edge of Tokyo-3, the last remnants of the once fearsome cult known as the Light of the Divine had gathered. After the often brutal crackdowns on their number performed by both the police and NERV's Section Two, only a small handful of them remained. They were the lucky few—very few, with less than a half dozen of them present—whose connections to the organization had gone unnoticed, or at least unconfirmed for some reason or another.
Of course, as they saw it, they were the last, faint hope for the forces of righteousness. The Almighty had clearly condemned humanity to death; the Angels were ample proof of that, and it utterly amazed them that they were the only ones who seemed to realize and accept such an obvious truth. Only by meekly accepting their punishment did mankind have any hope for salvation in the next life. Fighting off the Angels would simply delay the inevitable and ensure their species' eternal damnation in the bargain.
All of them believed completely in this, but that didn't mean they weren't getting impatient and testy with the whole situation.
"It's not patience, or even stupidity," Kou, another member, growled. "It's cowardice."
"What?" Madoka hissed.
"It's true, and you know it!" Kou shook his finger at the ragtag band's apparent leader. "When we first met, you talked about one last, desperate offensive! But that was weeks ago! Ever since then all you've been doing is saying that the time isn't right yet!"
"Because it hasn't been!" Madoka barked. "We'll only get one chance to do anything! If we get stopped by NERV, or the police, or the superwomen, then it's over! We have to be smart about it! We have to wait for the right moment!"
"And when's the right moment going to come?" Kenichi demanded. "The day after the Armageddon?"
"It'll come when it comes!" Madoka snapped.
"No." Kou growled. "Your precious 'correct moment' had better come soon. Or else."
Madoka rolled his eyes at the almost childish threat, but he didn't offer the nearly obligatory "Or else what?" to counter.
He knew how close to desertion they were already. Unless he wanted to go it alone, they would have to make their strike soon.
"Fine," he growled, "but don't blame me if it's all for nothing because you couldn't wait."
Several hours later, and on the other side of the world, a pair of men far less certain about the divine righteousness of their actions found themselves having a conversation nearly as tense as the one share by the last few members of the Light of the Divine.
"It isn't going to work." Oscar sighed.
"It is going to work." Hans insisted. "Just not well." He added under his breath.
The two top scientists at the secret SEELE research center in Germany stared at the holographic display of a long strand of DNA, both of them suppressing feelings of disquiet and guilt.
"This goes beyond not working well, and you know it," Oscar growled. "Whatever poor bastard undergoes this gene splicing procedure is going to get a lot more than the strength and powers that baby would've had."
"Don't you think I realize that?" Hans snapped.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure that I do, considering how cavalier you're being about the whole thing," Oscar glared.
Hans didn't flinch from the other scientist's gaze. "It's not like the side effects of the procedure will hit the subject all at once," he pointed out, his voice even. Rational, even. "With the proper drug therapy—"
"The drugs are a band aid at best. They're nothing like a permanent solution, and you damn well know it," Oscar spat. "Whoever Keel decides to use this procedure on will soon find himself dealing with horrendous physical deformities and drastically reduced intelligence. Probably followed by death. All so the ancient cyclops can have a walking super weapon for a while."
"And what do you suggest we do about it?" Hans demanded, his temper finally beginning to rise. "Because unless you can convince Keel to give us another five years and a few billion more Euros to work with, there's no hope of us coming up with a perfect version of this procedure. It's a miracle we've had any success at all."
"Success like this is worse than complete failure," Oscar argued. "Are you really just going to let Keel use this on another human being? The ethics of it—"
"We're not medical doctors!" Hans threw up his hands in exasperation. "We never took the Hippocratic Oath! Or anything that resembles it!"
"You don't have to have taken a damn oath to have a sense of morality!" Oscar retorted. "Damn it, Hans, can't you see that allowing Keel to use this on a person is just wrong?!"
"Of course I can," Hans said, visibly deflating. He turned back to the holographic DNA strand. "Of course I can." He repeated softly.
Oscar's anger gave way to confusion. "Then how can we possibly let Keel use this on someone?"
Hans gave him a sideways glance. "The more relevant question is, how can we hope to stop him?"
Oscar swallowed as he considered just that issue. Even if the two of them were willing to openly go rogue—something that Keel would no doubt have them disappeared for—they didn't have the necessary level of access to the base's main server to just delete all their notes. Physically destroying it was also out; armed guards maintained a watch over the main server at all times.
"We missed our chance to stop all this a long time ago," he said.
Hans nodded. "We're going to hell, aren't we?"
As the week went on and Saturday drew closer, Shinji thought that he really should've been feeling a lot more anxious about his upcoming trip to the movies with Asuka. Which wasn't to say that he wasn't nervous at all—certainly he was—but mostly he was just excited.
After all, he had gone to see a movie with her before. Actually asking her out was the part that had terrified him, and it had gone so smoothly he wished he'd managed to do it sooner.
"Well, somebody's looking cheerful today," Toji remarked as Shinji entered the schoolyard.
The Third Child shrugged. "Having a good week, I guess."
"Really, and what's been so good about it?" Kensuke asked slyly, waggling his eyebrows. "Did you see Misato in a towel this morning or something? And if you did, did you manage to take pictures?"
"Um, no and no," Shinji replied, caught between amusement and exasperation.
In truth, he hadn't seen all that much of Misato at all recently. Aside from when Shinji had found her crying over Kaji's "final" message and he'd tried to comfort her, she had seemed oddly keen to avoid him ever since he'd tried to ask her for advise about Asuka, only for his guardian to tell him to give up on the redhead.
Shows what she knows about it, he thought smugly.
"Well, then what's up, man?" Toji asked. "You're looking like you won the lottery or something."
"Nothing," Shinji said firmly. "Things are just…going well for me."
He didn't want to tell his two friends that he had a date with Asuka. It wasn't that he was ashamed of it, but he knew how they'd react and he didn't want to hear it. Eventually, he'd have to tell them, or they'd find out, at least if things went well, but for now he intended to keep quiet on the subject. He was pretty sure Asuka hadn't told Hikari about it, either.
"Clearly he's keeping something from us," Kensuke remarked to Toji as if Shinji wasn't there any more.
"Clearly," Toji agreed.
"But…" Kensuke drawled, "I guess when you live with a woman like Misato, awesome things that aren't exactly…fit for public consumption happen all the time."
Shinji just rolled his eyes. "Knock it off, guys."
"He's not gonna tell us," Toji decided.
"Nope," Kensuke agreed with a gusty sigh. "Obviously he's gotten so spoiled to living with a total babe that he doesn't realize the rest of us aren't so fortunate. That we survive off the juicy details he deigns to provide us."
Shinji was quite sure he'd never provided them with any juicy details about Misato or anyone else, but he didn't bother to point that out. "Whatever," he said, heading toward the school building.
He had nearly reached the door before the all too familiar alarms started to sound, only seconds before his cell phone began to go off.
He gulped, automatically answering his phone and informing the very professional and unemotional NERV person on the other end of the line that he was on his way.
I guess it could be worse. At least the Angel didn't show up on Saturday night, he thought with some dark humor as he, Asuka, and Rei piled into a black SUV waiting to take them to headquarters.
Still, he didn't like it. He'd been so wrapped up in thoughts of going to see a movie with his crush that he'd all but forgotten about the Angels and Evangelion. Maybe it was just him being pessimistic, but he couldn't help but feel like this intrusion by that aspect of his life was a bad omen.
"Don't worry, Shinji, it'll be all right," Asuka said as if she'd read his mind, just as their ride began to make its way toward the nearest Geofront access point. "I'll protect you if something bad happens. So don't get any ideas about not having to pay for the tickets." She added the last bit in a soft enough voice that Ayanami couldn't have heard her.
He managed to muster a smile in response as they headed for NERV headquarters.
"It's beautiful," Maya commented, gazing up at the image of the Fifteenth Angel on the huge main screen in the command center.
Looking at it herself, the Ops Director reluctantly had to agree that the technician was correct. The latest Angel had taken the form of a massive pair of wings made from luminous pink crystal and was indeed very pretty against the black backdrop of outer space.
None of which, of course, served to remotely blunt Misato's instant loathing for it.
"The Fifth Angel was pretty, too, and it almost killed Shinji," the Ops Director pointed out, before turning to Makoto. "What's it doing?"
"So far, nothing," the bespectacled lieutenant answered. "It's just maintaining geosynchronous orbit right over Toyko-3. There's no sign it's about to take offensive action."
"Yet," Misato said, certain that it would attack, would try to kill them all, sooner or later. "What are our options for killing it?"
"Limited," Aoba answered bluntly. "At this range, the MAGI calculate that the vast bulk of our weapons will be useless."
"Don't tell me what won't work," Misato ordered sternly. "Tell me what will work."
"According to the MAGI, there's a nonzero chance of success for an assault with positron weapons," Aoba said, accustomed to the usually cheerful Ops Director growing harsh when the Angels came knocking. "However, the odds of success would still be poor. It's unlikely they could even get a target lock from such a great distance, and even if they do hit, the strength of the attack will degrade significantly by the time it impacts the Angel."
"We've beaten the odds before," Misato replied, grinning dangerously. "And at the very least it might motivate the thing to come down here."
"Ma'am," Maya spoke up. "The pilots have boarded their Evangelions and are reporting that they're ready to launch."
"Perfect. Have the positron weapons prepared," Misato said. "Evangelions, launch!"
The feel of the pattering rain on Unit One's armor, transmitted straight to his brain by the A-10 connectors, had to be one of the strangest sensations he'd ever experienced while piloting an Evangelion, Shinji decided. It was so oddly…distant compared to how it would feel on his own skin.
However, once NERV sent him a massive, disassembled positron weapon and ordered him to put it together on the double, he didn't have time to ponder such things.
Why in the world did they give this one to me? He wondered, more than a little irritated as he assembled the absurdly large gun, his haste making him clumsier than he normally was with such things. Either of the girls could probably have this thing put together in five seconds flat!
Asuka had been given one of the type nineteen positron rifles, which was significantly smaller. As a result, NERV had been able to send it to her already in one piece. Rei had been deployed a greater distance away, but he assumed they'd given her something similar.
He, on the other hand, had gotten a weapon that looked a lot like the experimental one that Misato had commandeered from the JSSDF for use against the Fifth Angel. He supposed that somebody in the command center figured that, since he was the only one with experience using it, he should get this one, but he really would've preferred one of the simpler firearms.
"Shinji, do you have that thing assembled yet?" Misato asked him impatiently.
Already feeling frustrated and tense, the Third Child was only barely able to bite back the caustic response he wanted to deliver. "Just finishing now," he said instead, finally getting the last two pieces to go together, then using one of Tokyo-3's smaller skyscrapers as an impromptu stand for the gun's absurdly long barrel.
"Ready," he reported, priming the weapon.
"All of you, see if you can get a target lock," Misato ordered. "If you do, then don't hesitate to take the shot."
"Roger," the pilots chorused.
With the press of a button, Shinji called down the targeting visor, suddenly experiencing a flash of déjà vu; he hadn't used it since the Fifth Angel had attacked.
"Where are you?" he muttered as he turned his gaze toward the gray blanket of clouds that was draped over the heavens, allowing the computer to do the work of trying to track down the Angel.
Truthfully, he didn't have much hope of success, considering how far the Angel was supposed to be from them. He expected that it would either sense their Evangelions' AT fields and come down to attack them, or they'd fruitlessly stare up at the sky until Misato finally decided that they needed to try a different approach.
Just as he was getting ready to settle in for a long and boring wait, Shinji heard some alarmed yelling from over his radio. It sounded distant, though, and he knew that the people on the command center weren't speaking into any of the microphones. That meant they were talking to each other, not to any of the pilots. Still, people freaking out in the command center tended to mean that something bad was about to happen in the field.
He tried to ask what was going on, but unfortunately, he never got the chance.
The clouds parted above Tokyo-3, as though moved by a gentle puff of breath from an invisible god, and light streamed down onto Unit One. Not just the light of the sun, but an eerie pink glow as well.
The Angel was attacking barriers Shinji had never known he had, trying to get into his mind, and it was excruciating.
Yet even worse than the pain was the knowledge that it was getting through. Shinji could feel it as it inched its way into his head, as though it was a worm poking the very tip of its body through a crack in his skull, stretching its body out toward that delicious looking hunk of meat nearby. The sensation of even this minute feeler invading his mind was incredibly slimy, alien, and wrong. Shinji didn't even want to imagine what it would be like when the mental walls went beyond cracking and collapsed entirely, but he found that he could do it much too easily.
(Mother died to get away from you.)
With a cry of pain, Shinji pulled the trigger on the positron rifle, and the weapon sent a shaft of blue light spearing upwards.
Shinji didn't need the aid of the MAGI to know he'd missed entirely. The positron beam diverged from the shaft of light the Angel was shining down on him well before it left his field of vision.
"No," he groaned, clutching at his skull. "Stay out of my head!"
(You're just a pawn to Father.)
(Nobody cares about you. They just want you to pilot the Evangelion.)
He was aware of people shouting at him over the radio, of Rei asking what was wrong, Asuka yelling his name, and Misato giving him orders. It all seemed so distant and confusing, though, unlike the encroaching Angel, which felt like it was drawing closer every second, its presence looming ever larger.
He knew he should try to move, try to get away, but he was so disoriented. His vision was swimming, and he wasn't even sure which way was up anymore.
(Asuka could never love you. No one could.)
He cried out in agony.
Then something slammed into Unit One hard, the impact knocking the wind out of the Third Child. Yet relief flooded him even as the purple Evangelion crashed down to the ground with pavement shattering, bone jarring force. He was no longer in the path of the Angel's attack, and looking up, it wasn't hard for him to figure out why.
Unit Two was standing where he'd been a second ago. Asuka had come to his rescue, knocking him away. Now she was the one enduring the attack, though, and judging by the way the crimson Evangelion was writhing under the glare of that terrible fuchsia light, she wasn't faring any better than he had.
I have to help her! He thought, not wanting Asuka to endure what he'd just suffered through, or even worse, have the Angel really go to work on her mind.
He tried to get Unit One back on its feet, but a wave of dizziness swept over him, and the violet giant collapsed back into a sitting position. Shinji shook his head, desperately trying to dispel the groggy, dazed feeling that was threatening to overwhelm him, but his efforts only seemed to make it worse.
He attempted to get Unit One on its feet again, only to fall for a second time. Gritting his teeth, he forced the huge war machine to roll over onto its stomach and starting crawling toward Unit Two.
Damn, she really sent me flying, he thought as he slowly made progress, even though he couldn't even manage to crawl in a straight line.
He wasn't really that far away from Unit Two. No more than a couple of blocks, which was barely anything to an Evangelion, but it seemed like an incredible trek right then. He felt exhausted, dazed, and drunk all at once.
Unit One's arms abruptly gave out, causing the EVA to face plant into the pavement. Shinji groaned but didn't immediately get up. He felt so sleepy, he just wanted to lay there and pass out.
No! I have to save Asuka! He commanded himself.
He'd been pressured into piloting so many times. First to help Ayanami, a girl he'd only met at the time, though he'd come to care for her. Mostly, it was on behalf of the abstract, faceless mass of people out there. Shinji was sure they were very important, but he still found it a little hard to get himself too worked up to defend them.
He had succeeded all those times. He wouldn't, couldn't fail now that Asuka needed him.
With a grunt, he somehow got Unit One back onto its hands and knees and started moving forward again.
Only to collapse again shortly afterwards.
"No," he groaned, struggling to get up once more even as his eyes drifted closed. "No. Asuka…"
Shinji's world went dark, and he knew no more.
"No," Asuka moaned as she clutched at her head. "No, Gott damn you! Keep out of my brain!"
She had reacted almost automatically to the scene of Shinji in obvious agony from the Angel's attack, abandoning the futile task of trying to get a target lock on the damn thing and instead knocking Unit One out of the path of that light.
It had never once occurred to the Second Child that she might prove just as vulnerable to the assault as Shinji had.
(Ignore that little girl staring at us, Asuka.)
"Shut up!" she barked, pounding her head with her fists, as though to beat the presence of the Angel out of her mind.
"Asuka!" this voice came from her radio, but if it said anything else, she didn't catch it. She seemed to have lost the ability to tune out any sounds, and all the noises bombarding her superhumanly keen ears were only making an already hellish experience even worse.
She had to do something, make it stop. Command Unit Two to run. Shoot at the Angel. Bust her way out of the Evangelion and fly toward the damn horizon. Anything to make it stop. But her thoughts were so scrambled she couldn't even pick a course of action.
"You can't do this to me!" she yelled. "You can't!"
I'm Supergirl! Supergirl! I'm invincible! You shouldn't be able to hurt me! No one should!
"Direct hit on the target!"
"The beam degraded too much!"
(Die with me, Asuka.)
The Second Child threw her head back and screamed as the walls of her mind buckled, and the—alien, slimy, cold, oh so malevolent—presence of the Angel invaded the part of her that she'd always believed would be private and safe no matter what.
"No," she moaned, pressing her palms over her eyes. "No, please. No more."
If the Angel heard her plea, it ignored it. Emotions and memories surged through her, almost too quick to identify. One moment she was burning with jealously, then she was gritting her teeth with annoyance because everyone at the Third Branch was still gushing about the Third Child's surprise victory in the First Battle of Tokyo-3. She was lonely, she was disgusted, she was furious, she was seven years old and screaming at another nanny in a long line of them for treating her like a child. It was like every bad thing that had happened to her was repeating itself, years' of experiences condensed into only moments.
(Die with me, Asuka!)
She cried out, and the world fell away, replaced with a crazed, violent riot of colors and sounds. She had no idea how long she remained in this chaos, but when at last she emerged, it was with the speed of an eye blink, and she wasn't in the entry plug anymore.
Instead, she was in a long hallway that she'd tried, tried so hard, to forget. She looked down at her hands and saw that they were too small, too soft, with none of the calluses that had come from working an Evangelion's control yokes for hour after hour. Her plug suit was gone, replaced by a maroon dress. Everything around her looked too big.
Then, completely without her willing them to, her feet started to move, taking her toward the door at the end of the hallway. It wasn't long before she was running as quickly as her little legs would take her.
No! Asuka thought, horrified but unable to stop herself. No! I don't want to see this again!
Yet at the same time, she felt a familiar flare of excitement, an unwelcome echo from the past. Mama would have to put down that stupid doll and look at her again! She wasn't just any little girl anymore; now she was an elite pilot, the best in world! Any mama would be proud to have a daughter like her! She was much better than that doll!
Please, don't, the part of her that knew what was coming silently begged.
Asuka threw open the door, her pupils shrinking to the size of pinpricks as she saw what lay behind, the grisly scene hitting her just as hard as it had the first time.
Kyoko Zeppelin Soryu hung from the ceiling of her hospital room, suspended by a noose made from the bed sheets. Next to her, that redheaded doll she'd become so attached to was similarly hung with a length of extension cord.
Asuka swallowed. Mama had committed suicide but not before she'd "murdered" the doll she'd believed was Asuka herself.
The little girl's breathing started to come in ragged pants as she tried to comprehend the entirely of the scene before her, her young mind struggling to wrap itself around what her eyes were seeing.
Then, just like in the past, Asuka felt her stunned mind settle upon its first conscious reaction to what she had found. She had always hated she had been overcome by such a sentiment first, out of everything she might have felt; her disgust with herself over it was a large part of the reason she had later made a vow to live by herself and for herself, to never need anyone else.
She hadn't expressed that feeling then. This time she did.
"Why did you hang that horrible thing instead of me?!" she demanded, shouting at her mother's corpse as her eyes grew moist. "Why wasn't I good enough?!"
Kyoko's eyes snapped open. They already had a milky look to them, but they focused on Asuka instantly.
The young redhead screamed, stumbling backwards but somehow not making any real progress. As she watched in horror, Mama managed to untie the makeshift noose, dropping to the floor. Her head rolled about grotesquely on her broken neck.
"N-No!" Asuka yelled. "Stay away!"
With lightning speed, Kyoko reached down, grabbing her daughter around her neck with both hands and raising the young girl into the air. Then she began to squeeze.
Asuka gasped as her air flow was instantly she cut off. She struggled to get free, and for a moment she was surprised when she couldn't easily break her mother's hold. But of course, she wasn't an incredibly strong superwoman, she just a young child, with all the weakness and vulnerability that brought.
"Mama," she rasped out as spots began to dance in front of her eyes. "Please, no."
Kyoko only strengthened her grip. There was a meaty crack, and as the last bit of life abandoned the child's young body, she realized that it had been the sound of her neck breaking.
She awoke with a gasp, finding herself sitting on the black asphalt of a city street. Looking down, she quickly saw that she was no longer a very young child, and that she was now clad in her blue and red Supergirl outfit.
She blinked, confused.
Did I burst out of the entry plug, change, and fight the Angel as Supergirl? She wondered.
After what the damned thing had made her endure, she almost didn't care if she'd blown her secret identity. It would be a fair price to pay in order to escape that hell made from memories best left forgotten and bitter old feelings. She would've felt relieved if only she could remember what had happened…and be certain that the Angel was dead.
After spending several seconds feeling bewildered and perhaps fearing what she might find if she went looking for the Angel or its remains, Supergirl finally looked up.
Only to gasp in horror at what she saw.
Tokyo-3 was burning. Smoke rose from dozens upon dozens of fires all around the city, blackening the sky above. The buildings themselves were broken, rubble still falling from their destroyed husks. The entire city was a portrait of complete and utter devastation. Everywhere she looked, there was broken glass and shattered telephone poles. There wasn't a single intact sign of civilization anywhere to be seen.
And the smell. Oh Gott, the smell. Her super senses were back in force, and the odor of burning flesh was overwhelming. Yet she couldn't hear a single human heartbeat.
She inhaled sharply at what she saw next, eyes widening in horror. Unit One lay sprawled out on a stretch of shattered street, its armor badly damaged and outright missing in places, exposing the flesh beneath. The huge war machine lay in a small sea of its own blood, mingled with a smaller amount of LCL. The entry plug had been breached.
Shinji, Supergirl thought, not daring to use her X-ray vision to peer inside the EVA. She didn't want to see the mangled remains of Shinji Ikari inside what was left of the plug.
Unable to bear the sight any longer, she averted her gaze, only to spot yet another horror. Wonder Girl lay on the ground not too far from Unit One, her limbs bent in unnatural ways. Supergirl could detect no heartbeat from the Amazon. She had never considered the other superwoman her best friend, but she had come to respect Wonder Girl. She certainly never would've wished her dead, not even in her pettiest and most spiteful moment.
Averting her gaze yet again, her eyes fell upon a huge, dull pink…thing laying in a massive crater. It was curled in on itself, like an insect that had died, but it was huge, easily bigger than a truck.
"Oh, Gott," she breathed, raising her gloved hands over her mouth as comprehension dawned. It was the Angel. "Gott, how did this happen?"
"You know how it happened, Asuka."
Supergirl jumped at the unexpected reply. She didn't recognize the voice, which was deep, powerful, and obviously masculine, but somehow it was still strangely familiar. The young superwoman turned her head this way and that, searching for the speaker. Even to her ears, the words seemed to have come from all around her.
"You did this, Asuka. You went berserk and killed the Angel, but in the process you destroyed everything you wanted to protect."
This time it was obvious that the voice was coming from behind her, and Supergirl quickly did an about face to confront her accuser.
Any defense she might've made for herself died unspoken the instant she saw him. The man standing before her was tall and broad shouldered, with dark hair and a familiar blue gaze. He wore a blue and red outfit that looked very much like a masculine version of her own, complete with the S-shield emblem on his wide chest.
The resemblance to Jor-El was unmistakable. Supergirl knew instantly that this was Kal-El, what Kal-El would've been if fate and circumstances had allowed him to live and grow to manhood.
"Don't call me that," he said harshly. He didn't yell, didn't raise his voice at all, but Supergirl instantly fell silent, cringing. "I would never want you for a daughter. No one would, especially after this."
"B-But, I didn't do this," she protested weakly. "I would never do this."
"Who else could do this, Asuka?" Kal-El demanded. "Who?"
She didn't answer him. She couldn't answer him. She knew she was the only one with the power to destroy the Angel, the Evangelions, and Wonder Girl. Impossible as it seemed, as much as she didn't want to believe it, she was responsible for all the devastation around her.
"You're a disappointment," Kal-El said, contempt dripping from every syllable.
In spite of everything, Supergirl's first instinct was to reject that. To get angry. To proclaim that she was no disappointment, that he should be proud to be associated with her.
Then the moment passed, and she remembered all the death and destruction she had caused while lost in a moment of panic and frenzy.
"Even before, you were no hero. Just a stupid, spoiled child playing a game," Kal-El added, and his tone was one of immense sorrow rather than anger or disgust. If possible, that just made Supergirl feel worse.
She opened her mouth to argue, needing to defend herself as much as possible. She had grown beyond playing hero for the sake of her own gratification, and she had genuinely tried to do good.
The moment she looked into Kal-El's eyes, though, and saw the mixture of contempt, disgust, and disappointment, she knew he was right. Even on her best day, she had been a pathetic shadow of the hero he would've been. She had inherited all the stupendous powers he would've possessed, and she had done nothing of any great significance with them.
For so long, she had comforted herself with the successes she gained as Supergirl, even as she seemed to just fail again and again as an Evangelion pilot. Only now did she realize that she was a failure at everything.
"Trajectory calculated. Five…four…three…two…one!"
Everyone in the command center watched as Unit Zero hurled the crimson Lance of Longinus into the heavens, the massive melee weapon quickly disappearing into the distance. For a second, everyone present held their breath as they waited.
After Asuka had rushed to help Unit One, only to find herself caught by the Angel's attack, Rei had finally managed to get a target lock on the Angel. However, the positron weapon had proved completely ineffective at such a great distance.
Misato had been frantically wracking her brain, trying to come up with some clever way to destroy an enemy that could attack from beyond the effective range of every weapon they possessed.
Then, to her great surprise, the Commander had intervened, ordering Rei to go to Terminal Dogma and retrieve "the Lance".
The Operations Director had no damned idea why a titanic spear should be able to do what their most advanced weapons technology couldn't, but she knew that the Commanders wouldn't store the thing down in the most secure part of NERV headquarters unless there was something special about it.
"The Lance has made contact with the target!" Aoba reported.
"The Angel's AT field and blue pattern have vanished," Makoto added. "The target has been destroyed."
"Stand down from red alert. Begin recovery operations immediately! I want Shinji and Asuka in the Medical Ward, now!" Misato barked.
The staff scrambled to relay her orders, and the Ops Director released a long, slow breath, her shoulders sagging as some of the tension left her body, replaced by a deeper, slow burning anxiety. The battle was won, but Shinji and Asuka had clearly just gone through an absolute nightmare. She didn't know exactly what they'd endured, but it was obvious that it had been torture. She could only hope that they were all right.
She heard movement behind her and turned to see that Commander Ikari had risen from his chair, clearly planning to leave.
"Excuse me, sir," she called to him.
"What is it, Major?" he asked, impatient.
"What was that weapon?" she asked. "Where did it come from? Shouldn't the Operations Department have been informed about it?"
NERV had apparently had some kind of magical Angel killing spear down in the basement for some time now. It was all she could do to keep herself from screaming at the Commander, demanding to know why he'd kept it a secret.
"It's classified," Gendo replied, before again turning to leave.
Misato did not yell. She was a soldier, and despite what much of her behavior might suggest, she did have discipline. She would not start shouting at her superior officer, no matter how infuriating she might find his behavior.
Even so, the moment he was out the door, her hands clenched into fists.
Several hours later, Fuyutski opened the door to Gendo's cavernous office and strode inside, seeing that his former student was seated behind the large desk at the far end of the room, working feverishly at his computer. The window behind him showed the dark Geofront.
Gendo didn't bother to acknowledge his subordinate as he approached.
"I thought it might interest you to know that your son woke up a few hours ago," the older man said gruffly, more than a hint of reproach in his voice. "He was badly shaken and very worried about the Second Child but otherwise fine. The doctors gave him a checkup and discharged him. Major Katsuragi took him home."
Gendo responded with a fractional nod, his eyes never leaving his computer's monitor. Aside from that tiny movement, there was no sign that he'd heard his former teacher at all.
"The Second Child woke up more recently," Fuyutski continued. "According to the Medical Ward, she's the very picture of health, at least physically, but the Angel's attack appears to have had a much greater impact on her than it did on Shinji. They decided to keep her overnight for observation, and she didn't protest. Which, given her personality, seems like a very strong indication that there is something wrong with her. The doctors say she's showing signs of post traumatic stress."
"Yes," Gendo murmured.
"Damn it, Ikari!" Fuyutski snapped, finally getting the younger man's full attention. "These are children we're talking about! One of them is your son! What's so important that you can't take your eyes off of it for long enough to at least feign interest?"
To Fuyutski's surprise, rather than show irritation at his outburst, Gendo grinned.
"Only the key to guaranteed victory, Sensei," the Commander answered. "It's here, in the raw data collected by the MAGI. It just needs to be teased out. Interpreted. It appears that the Angel's attack used the unrefined version for a telepathic assault, which would explain why it had such a dramatic effect on the Children."
"What are you talking about, Ikari?" Fuyutski asked, even though he had an idea. He dearly hoped that he was wrong.
"That which the Dead Sea Scrolls spoke of, but both myself and Keel held little hope of ever actually finding," Gendo said, the manic gleam in his eyes clearly apparent even through the tinted lenses of his glasses. "Proof of the futility of existence in the world of the AT field. The secret to complete control over others."
Fuyutski's heart started pounding in his chest. He would've been afraid of having a heart attack, if he hadn't been so focused on the other man's discovery. "You don't mean…?"
"The Anti-Life Equation," Gendo said.
Author's Notes: Probably all of you knew that things would take a turn for the worse when the Fifteenth Angel came along. Hopefully I haven't disappointed you.
Anyway, thanks as always to my readers and reviewers, and thanks to my beta reader as well.