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 Fifteen: Destiny

It was a busy time at the United Nations.

Of course, ever since Impact Wars had ended, and the UN had gone from being a world forum and become something that at least resembled a world government, the level of activity had picked up significantly. Still, the main chamber of UN headquarters had never been quite this packed before.

Small wonder, really, considering that it was the first time a representative from an extraterrestrial nation was addressing the world from it.

"Normally, the Reach approaches a planet when the inhabitants arrive at a certain level of technological sophistication, which usually comes in the form of discovering how to split an atom," the Reach Negotiator was explaining, having just gotten past the introduction and obligatory pleasantries. "It is at this point in a civilization's development where the people have the power enough to destroy themselves but lack the wisdom to use that power responsibly."

None of the ambassadors present in the room spoke up to interrupt the Negotiator, but the shift in attitude in the group of people was palpable. It seemed only too obvious where this speech was going—the Reach declaring that they'd be taking control of humanity for humanity's own good—and none of them like it a bit.

"We of the Reach believe that a galaxy populated by a great number of different and diverse beings is a better galaxy, and that is why we step in. It is tragically rare for a civilization to make it past this dangerous time without obliterating itself," the Negotiator said gravelly. Then he smiled. "Which is why we were all so glad to find that the people of Earth have done so without our help."

Several of the ambassadors present sighed in relief. The more guarded ones didn't, but they were still very glad that the Negotiator didn't seem to be trying to sell them on subservience to the Reach.

"However, it has come to our attention that your people still face existential threats, not from yourselves, but from the beings you have named the Angels," the Negotiator continued. "Therefore, as a representative of the Reach empowered to make treaties on my government's behalf, I am prepared to share weaponry with your people that will make the elimination of this threat easier. Along with trade agreements to help enrich both our peoples, of course." He added with a small chuckle.

Several of the humans in the room chuckled with him, not at all put off by the brief display of self-interest among all the idealistic talk. If anything, it made the rest of what he was saying more believable to them.

"I look forward to working with all of you in the future in order to make treaties to precisely define the relationship between the Reach and the planet Earth," the Negotiator said. "Before we can get down to—as you humans might say—brass tacks, however, there is one more thing I feel I should address. One thing you all deserve know."

He paused for effect, everyone hanging on his every word now.

"No doubt that many of you have looked at me," the Negotiator gestured to himself, the blue, armor-like exoskeleton that covered his body, "and wondered how the Reach is connected to the individual on this planet known as the Blue Beetle."

There were nods and murmurs of agreement all around.

"When the Reach discovers a world with a primitive culture on it, we seed it. We leave a 'scarab' on it," he pressed a button on his wrist, and a hologram of the object in question appeared next to him. "We left one on your world, back when Egypt was the mightiest nation on your planet. It was meant to choose a host and report back to us when you had reached the dangerous period I spoke of earlier, then serve as our liaison with the new civilization, but obviously it malfunctioned. Not only did it activate far later than it should have, but it appears to have affected its human host in ways it should not have, causing her behavior to become erratic. I understand there are reports that she died recently. I only wish we could've arrived earlier and helped her regain control over herself."

"What a load of bull," Ritsuko grumbled, switching off the broadcast of the Negotiator's speech to the UN. "Regain control over myself! Hmph, I'm perfectly in control of myself!"

(You sure about that? You have been talking to a voice in your head for months now.) The scarab quipped.

"Oh, don't you start," she grumbled.

Following her near death during the destruction of the last of Mass Produced Evangelion and her subsequent return from the Bleed, Ritsuko had gone back to her cave and had frantically augmented her equipment so even the Reach couldn't detect her. At least, not easily. She couldn't assume that she could do a perfect job of hiding from them and all the technology they had on their space ships with what she could cobble together in her pathetic hideout.

Fortunately, the scarab's prediction that everyone would "know" that Blue Beetle was behind the destruction of the Mass Produced Evangelion Series had proven completely true, and everyone seemed to be assuming that she had died in the explosion that had consumed the last EVA. So it was unlikely that the Reach or anyone else was trying too hard to find her.

Which suited her just fine, of course.

(You know, Ritsuko, from the Negotiator's standpoint, everything he said about us probably seems like the truth.) The scarab said. (I was damaged, after all, and I definitely woke up at the wrong time.)

"Assuming, of course, that you were really supposed to wake up when humanity reached that danger period of the Negotiator was going about," Ritsuko pointed out.

(Why are you so suspicious of the Reach?) The scarab asked, frustrated. (I know Misato told us that they were these nasty invaders, but that was centuries ago. Your people were brutal conquerors only a few decades ago.)

"Considering that 'my people' are currently using emotionally damaged child soldiers to fight a war for us, in addition to all the other nastiness that goes with Gendo's and SEELE's plans, I'm not sure we've actually come all that far," the blonde sighed.

(Ritsuko.) The scarab didn't sound amused.

She sighed again. Admittedly, equating the desperate measures of a people facing the threat of annihilation with the actions that the Empire of Japan had taken during the war was absurd, and almost nobody knew the full scope of what Gendo and SEELE were truly doing, anyway. Not that she hadn't hoped the argument would sway the scarab anyway.

"It's not that I think the Reach are lying, necessarily," Ritsuko said, changing her approach. "It's just that the stakes are too high for us to trust them, especially given their history. If we manage to make sure Third Impact can never happen, and we're still alive after that, then we can go meet with the Reach."

(All right.) The scarab sighed, sounding pitifully dejected. (But if we can't approach the Reach, can we at least get out of this place a little more?) It asked desperately.

Ever since she'd finished augmenting her cave's cloaking devices, Ritsuko had left it only rarely, spending most of her time working on all the projects she'd been puttering on in her basement, before Gendo had revealed the Blue Beetle's identity to the world and forced her to flee from civilization. The only times she'd ventured out so far had been for supplies or more equipment.

Ritsuko found herself quite enjoying her forced exile, actually. It was nice to be able to work on her personal projects without constantly being interrupted by an assistant who needed something, or Gendo demanding that she work on one of his pet projects, or, of course, an Angel attack.

It wasn't quite science for its own sake—she certainly wasn't trying to build a machine that could teleport things via the Bleed just to see if she could—but it was the closest she'd gotten to it in many years.

Of course, the scarab found all of it agonizingly boring.

"I'm sorry, scarab," Ritsuko said, genuinely regretful at having to do this to it. "But until the next Angel appears, we can't take the risk of doing anything more than a few quick trips out, and only then because we need supplies."

The scarab replied with a wordless grumble of annoyance.

"Tell you what," Ritsuko said, feeling sorry for it. "Assuming we're still alive and not in jail or something once all this blows over, we'll go, find some suitably deserted area, and create some explosions that'll be visible from space."

(You mean it?) The scarab asked, sounding for all the world like an excited child.

The interior of the Reach flagship would have been utterly alien to human eyes. On the one hand, it looked a bit like the inside of a typical insect hive, with tunnels snaking off in every direction and walls that boasted a noticeably organic look.

At the same time, the ship wouldn't have been out of place on an episode of Star Trek. An eerie blue-green glow shone from every console within the ship, as well as the light fixtures overhead, and all the control rooms boasted floating holographic screens that appeared to be completely divorced from any kind of projector, along with a host of other technology that didn't exist on the world the ship was orbiting, save for in the realm of science fiction.

Of course, to the Negotiator, it felt like home, and he was more than happy to return to it. After having been down on the planet for so long, and knowing that he'd have to go back soon for still more meetings, it was a very welcome reprieve.

"Negotiator!" one of the ship's many diminutive "drones" rushed up to him, handing him an electronic tablet. "New reports have been compiled! The findings indicate that this planet is home to many anomalies!"

At least, it was a reprieve from Earth and its people, if not from work.

Without a word of thanks to the drone, the Negotiator accepted the tablet and began to skim through the contents as he headed for the bridge. In only minutes, he'd arrived at the heart of the ship, now updated on the latest intel.

The moment the Negotiator stepped inside, a hulking figure rounded on him. Clad in armor that was undeniably similar to that of the Blue Beetle, he was easily a head taller than the Negotiator himself.

"Have you seen the latest reports?!"

Despite the imposing size of the one accosting him, the Negotiator didn't flinch. "Good day, Dawur," he greeted.

Dawur, the highest ranking Reach officer with the fleet and second-in-command only after the Negotiator himself, wasn't amused. "This is serious," he growled. "Somehow the humans who live on this planet are coexisting with Untouchables!"

"They call them Angels here. And 'coexisting' is a bit of an exaggeration," the Negotiator replied. "The humans are in a struggle for their survival against them."

"Then the fact that the humans appear to be winning, or at least holding on, shows how dangerous they can be," Dawur grumbled.

Roughly half the habitable planets that the Reach had encountered during their millennia of space travel had been populated by such creatures, something that had always infuriated their leadership. The Untouchables didn't really live up to their name—they could certainly be killed—but any assault capable of wiping them out on a planet would invariably render that planet a radioactive death world. So far, all attempts to create a chemical or biological weapon targeted specifically to the Untouchables had failed miserably.

"They're desperate," the Negotiator replied. "They've had years to prepare, and yet the defense they've managed has been far from perfect."

"But still quite formidable," Dawur countered. "And then there's that massive arsenal of N2 weapons they've stockpiled."

The Negotiator waved a dismissive hand. "Which are useless against our ships' ability to phase."

"We've picked up signals of unaccounted for Reach tech, suggesting that the rogue infiltrator isn't really dead," Dawur said.

"I'm hardly worried about one rogue unit," the Negotiator scoffed.

"And, of course, none of that is even the worst news," Dawur pressed a button on a remote he was holding, and a holographic screen showing a very attractive masked woman appeared on the bridge. A halo of emerald light surrounded her entire body. "There is a Green Lantern on this planet! One misstep and we could shatter the truce with Oa!"

"The Guardians of the Universe are preoccupied with Sinestro and his Corps at the moment," the Negotiator retorted. "You overestimate the threat. Still, any chance of restarting the war is a serious concern. We must proceed with caution."

"Or we could not proceed at all," Dawur countered. "We could simply leave. There are other worlds to conquer in this sector. Less dangerous worlds."

"Out of the question," the Negotiator said at once. "The potential earnings to be made from this planet are tremendous, and if there's any chance of finding the rogue and studying the malfunctioning scarab, we must take it."

"But how?" Dawur asked. "We have never encountered a situation such as this. None of the Reach fleets have. Ever."

The Negotiator chuckled, smirking. This was why he was in charge. "There are thousands of business plans in the Holy Writ—"

"Blessed be the Writ," Dawur chimed in automatically.

"—and I have found one that can adapted quite neatly to the present situation," the Negotiator finished. "You have the bridge, Dawur."

"What are you going to do?" Dawur asked as the Negotiator headed for the door.

"Just my job. I'm going to negotiate."

"This emergency meeting of the SEELE council will come to order." The monolith labeled SEELE 01 announced as the holographic avatars appeared in the virtual meeting chamber.

"Can we just skip the formalities and get on with it?" demanded SEELE 03. "We all know what we're here to discuss."

There was a brief pause, mostly due to the other members' surprise. It was extremely rare for any of them to speak to their leader like that.

Lorenz Keel, the man behind the SEELE 01 monolith, briefly considered having his colleague disappeared but quickly discarded the notion. Far too dangerous to do something like that at such a critical stage, and in any case, it was currently about 3 AM in SEELE 03's part of the world, so a bit of leeway was warranted. Especially considering how much stress that all of them had been under lately.

"As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," SEELE 01 growled, "this meeting has been called to address the issue of the Reach."

"They were a most unexpected twist, one that none of us could have ever predicated. Certainly they aren't any mentions of the Reach in the Dead Sea Scrolls," SEELE 05 chuckled mirthlessly. "But does it really matter by this point? Only one Angel remains, and then the time of death and rebirth shall be upon us."

"Indeed, if they were invading us, it would be another story," SEELE 02 agreed. "However, their treaty negotiations with the UN will take weeks, even if we don't work to delay things. The climax of our grand plan should arrive well before then."

"Additionally, it is unlikely that the final Angel will offer the Reach much opportunity to stick their nonexistent noses into our affairs," SEELE 11 noted with a dark chuckle. "After all, he's not exactly a giant monster like so many of others have been."

"And once the Impact begins, the Reach cannot hope to stop it, regardless of how advanced their technology may be," SEELE 10 chimed in.

Behind the safety of his expressionless avatar, Keel nodded with approval. He himself had long ago arrived at the conclusion that the Reach would be a minimal problem but had decided that it would prudent to allow the other members of the council a chance to voice their concerns. He was glad that none of them were succumbing to panic.

The conversation continued for a few minutes, consisting mostly of the other members reassuring themselves that the odds of the Reach interfering with their plans were minimal. Keel allowed it to go on until it petered out; he didn't want any of them to get cold feet and attempt to abort their scenario, and if that required watching them all tell each other that everything would be all right, then so be it.

"So, we're all in agreement, then?" SEELE 01 asked eventually. "That the Reach do not pose a significant threat?"

"No, gentlemen," a new voice chimed in, drawing gasps of surprise from several of the members of SEELE. "I'm afraid that I must disagree with that quite strongly."

Before any of them could reply, the image of the Reach Negotiator appeared in the center of the circle formed by the holographic monoliths.

SEELE 09 let out a small yelp. "How did you—?"

"Invite myself to your private meeting?" the Negotiator cut him off, smirking. "Reach technology allows me to listen in on any communication that your technology is capable of transmitting. I'm completely aware of your plans for—what do you call it?—Third Impact."

Total silence dominated the virtual meeting chamber for several seconds.

"What do you want?" SEELE 01 asked finally.

"Hmph, well, not talking to a bunch of giant monoliths would be a nice start," the Negotiator said, pressing a button on his cane. Instantly, the holographic avatars were replaced with the images of the council members themselves, to their alarm. "Much better."

Though he himself was more than a little unnerved by the way the Negotiator had so easily pierced the veil of secrecy SEELE had so carefully shrouded itself in, Keel didn't allow it to show. "Again, what do you want?" he demanded.

He told himself that if the Negotiator was going to expose their plans to the world, he already would've done it. This unexpected visit had to have another purpose. It had to.

The Negotiator chuckled. "As you may have suspected, the Reach's motives are not nearly as altruistic as I've said. We want this world. All its mineral wealth. All its natural resources."

"You realize, of course, how unwise it was to just admit that," Keel replied. "All of Earth could quickly turn against your people, if that got out."

"True, but as I'm the only one who will have a recording of this meeting once we're done, you'd have a difficult time proving the Reach's ill intentions," the Negotiator said. "Certainly, it would be much easier for me to prove my claims about your nefarious plans."

Again, there was silence.

"But there's no reason for us to be enemies at all, so let's stop all this talk of who can ruin whom," the Negotiator said, suddenly as affable as he'd been at the UN. "I want to help you. Our goals aren't mutually exclusive, after all. You'll hardly need this planet's resources if you succeed in transforming all your people into a self-sufficient gestalt super being. With humanity effectively gone, there will be nothing stopping the Reach from claiming this world."

"What exactly are you proposing?" Keel asked, guarded.

"Simply that you allow the Reach to help you attain your goals," the Negotiator said. "You know there are still significant obstacles to your success."

"True enough," Keel conceded. "Very well. We will contact you if we require assistance."

He didn't want to trust the Reach any more than he absolutely had to.

The Negotiator seemed to pick up on the sentiment, but it did appear to bother him. "I'll take my leave, then. Rest assured, I'll continue to pay attention to things down here," he said, by which he no doubt meant that he'd continue to keep an eye on them.

It seemed like the Negotiator was about to depart, but then he hesitated, apparently stopping to consider something.

"As a show of good faith, I feel I should tell you that we have reason to believe that the Blue Beetle isn't dead," the Negotiator said. "We're doing what we can to track her down, but she's not making it easy for us."

"You think we can do a better job?" Keel asked.

The Negotiator shrugged. "This is your world."

With that, he pressed the button on his cane again, and his image vanished from the virtual room.

"Someone contact Ikari," Keel spoke into the following silence.

"Are you sure that's wise?"

"It is a risk, but if anyone can have her stopped once and for all, he can."

"I swear, the world is just going crazy lately," Asuka proclaimed to her two fellow pilots as they walked through the hallways of NERV headquarters together, on their way to yet another synch test.

Neither Shinji nor Rei asked her to elaborate on that statement, apparently prepared to just accept it and move on.

Naturally, the Second Child didn't let that stop her for a moment. "I mean, first Dr. Akagi just goes and turns traitor on us—"

Shinji sighed. Asuka pointedly ignored it.

"—then right after that we wind up dealing with a freaking alien invasion!" she exclaimed. "As if the Angels weren't enough weirdness for a few decades."

Shinji had a feeling that it would probably be better, not to mention easier, to just quietly agree and move on, but he just couldn't make himself do it. "The Reach don't look like they're invading to me," he pointed out.

"Exactly," Asuka said triumphantly, as though he hadn't just disagreed with her. "They don't look like they're invading, but you mark my words, they're planning to take over the world."

The lack of logic was so blatant that Shinji couldn't help but argue further. "You think they're going to invade…because they don't look like they're going to?"

"Don't be stupid," she retorted. "You don't actually believe their whole 'interstellar do-gooder' story, do you? Nobody's that altruistic."

"But they want to open up trading with us," Shinji pointed out. "They admitted it. They're doing it for the money."

"You don't need to go around saving civilizations to make money," Asuka said. "We'll be sent out against them before too long, I'll bet you anything."

Shinji was ready to say something else, but Rei raised a hand before he could, silencing him and causing the other two pilots to come to a halt with one movement.

Of course, the way Rei had so easily gotten them to react like that immediately left Asuka annoyed at both herself and the First Child. "What are you—?"

"Hello there."

Shinji and Asuka looked up, finally spotting the other boy in the hallway with them. His hair was a charcoal gray color and his eyes were red, just like Ayanami's eyes.

"Who are you?" the Second Child asked with all the subtly and tact of an oncoming train.

"My name is Kaworu Nagisa," he introduced himself with a small bow. "I've recently been named the Fifth Child."

"Really?" Asuka asked, taken aback. "Do they have an Evangelion for you?"

The "because you're not getting mine!" was left unspoken, but both Shinji and Rei knew it was implied.

"I believe I am to serve as a backup pilot," Kaworu answered, favoring the annoyed redhead with a sunny smile.

"That's nice," Asuka said, obviously disliking the new addition to the team. "Well, sorry we can't stay and chat, but we're late for a synch test as it is."

Grabbing hold of Shinji and Rei, she started to practically drag them away.

If Kaworu was nonplussed by the German girl's rudeness, he didn't show it. "It was nice to meet all of you," he said, then turned his gaze to Shinji. "Especially you, Ikari. I very much look forward to working with you."

Caught by surprise, Shinji began to stammer out a reply to that, but Asuka successfully managed to whisk him and Rei into an elevator before he could get a complete sentence out.

"Freakazoid," Asuka grumbled once the elevator doors had swung shut.

"Asuka, that was mean," Shinji scolded her. "We could've stayed and talked with him for two minutes."

To his surprise, the redhead snickered. "Why, Shinji, I didn't know you swung that way."

"What are you talking about?" he asked, bewildered.

"Oh come on, it was obvious that Nagisa there likes you. And I mean, he likes you likes you," Asuka grinned.

"That's ridiculous!" Shinji exclaimed, his face reddening. "I'm sure he was just being friendly."

Rei put a hand on his shoulder, surprising the Third Child and instantly bringing the developing spat to a screeching halt. "Do not trust him," she warned Shinji. "He is more than he appears."

Her tone was so grave that Shinji nodded and agreed without ever thinking to ask how the First Child could possibly know that.

"So that was Shinji Ikari," Kaworu mused, gazing at the closed door of the elevator.

The Third Child hadn't been as Kaworu had expected, but then again, there was very little in this city that was. Tokyo-3 was supposed to be little more than a pile of rubble by this point; virtually nothing besides the NERV base in the Geofront should be intact. Yet a bustling, if not very densely populated, city still existed several stories above his head.

Of course, compared to the fact beings from another planet had recently arrived on Earth, those anomalies looked like very minor things indeed.

Things aren't happening as destiny says they should, he mused as he walked down the hallway. His placid smile widened. How interesting.

Not having anything to do at the moment, the newly minted Fifth Child began to wander through the base with no particular destination in mind. Most people would've found exploring such a place boring; most of NERV headquarters was starkly utilitarian, and much of it looked essentially all the same.

Still, Kaworu wasn't most people. For as long as he could remember, he had barely ever been allowed to leave Chairman Keel's estate. The red eyed boy had seen everything that there was to see in that place years ago, despite its considerable size. Everything outside that narrow world was still fresh and exciting to him, all the more so because he knew that he had little time in which to see all of it.

Destiny might be in flux, but he was quite certain that his ultimate fate wasn't about to change in any significant way. That part could no more be altered than the dance of the planets around the sun could be brought to a halt.

Eventually, Kaworu found himself outside. Walking toward the lake, he inhaled deeply. The air was fresh, but he still found himself a bit disappointed at the Geofront. The greenery outside the NERV pyramid was too neat, too tame. It reminded him of the well manicured grounds of Keel's estate, and he wanted to spend what little time he had seeing things that were different and strange to him.

His ever present grin turned into a smirk. Perhaps if he wanted something different, he should take the initiative, as the lilin were fond of saying.

Departing from the Geofront, Kaworu boarded a bus that took him outside the city limits, ending up at the edge of a rice patty. It was hardly the wilderness, but it felt more real than the Geofront had. Looking around, he could see small animals scurrying about here and there.

"There are even bugs here."

"There sure are, kid. Some bigger than others."

The voice caught him completely surprise; Kaworu had thought he was alone. However, he didn't jump or flinch. That was a lilin reaction to the unexpected. Instead, he simply turned, not shocked to find that the Blue Beetle was behind him.

"Good afternoon, Ritsuko Akagi," he smiled. "I was wondering if I'd get the chance to meet you."

"You know who I am under this armor, then?" the sapphire superwoman asked, gesturing toward herself with one hand. Her other hand was obscured by the firearm that had grown from her black and blue carapace, and she kept it pointed straight at him.

Kaworu smirked, then allowed a chuckle to escape. "Forgive me," he apologized at once for the derisive sound. "But you seem quite ignorant of your own notoriety. The whole world knows who you are. It is common knowledge by this point."

"I'm aware of that, but I had no way of knowing how much common knowledge Chariman Keel is allowing you access to," Blue Beetle replied.

"Ah, I see," Kaworu said. "That makes sense."

"So, since you know who I am, you know that I used to be in a position that got me access to a lot of top secret information," Blue Beetle continued. "The kind of information necessary to make an educated guess about what you are."

"If you have some accusation to make, I suggest you go ahead and say it, Dr. Akagi," Kaworu said, his indefatigable smile developing a dangerous edge.

"You're just like Rei, only with Adam instead of Lilith," Blue Beetle said. "You were made from the First Angel's DNA, and you're the container of its soul."

"Very astute, Doctor," Kaworu said.

The lilin could be very clever when they wanted to be, but he supposed that was just to be expected of those borne from the Seed of Knowledge.

"Of course, being the offspring of the First Angel…that pretty much makes you an Angel yourself, doesn't it?" Blue Beetle asked.

Kaworu nodded, and his eyes looked a little bit sad. "Yes," he said. "Soon, I will be compelled to join with the All-Father…or die trying to reach him."

"And Keel knows that, of course," Blue Beetle said, frowning as she tried to work everything out. "But SEELE can't use Adam and Lilith to initiate Third Impact while any of the other Angels are alive. An AT field that powerful would interfere with the process. So why the hell did he make you? You're another obstacle to godhood to him."

"His motives aren't exactly relevant to you, Doctor," Kaworu pointed out. "Are you truly that curious?"

"Always," she replied.

"Very well," Kaworu said. "There were several reasons behind my creation, not the least of which was to ensure that the soul of the First Angel was kept out of Gendo Ikari's control for as long as possible. Also, I assume that SEELE will use my death as justification to attack NERV Central, once I'm gone. But the most important reason is because the Dead Sea Scrolls said they'd make me."

Blue Beetle gaped, even as she kept her weapon trained on him. "Keel made you because some moldy old prophecy said he would?"

"You don't have much faith in such things, do you?" Kaworu asked.

"Frankly, no," the sapphire superwoman admitted.

"I suppose I can hardly blame you," Kaworu said, looking thoughtful. "So many things that weren't foretold have already happened."

"Why don't you make one more unforeseen thing happen, then?" Blue Beetle challenged him.

Kaworu quirked an eyebrow at her. "Hmm?"

"Don't storm NERV headquarters looking for Adam," Blue Beetle clarified. "You're part human, too. You should have at least some degree of free will."

He shook his head. "For someone said to be so intelligent, you are quite naïve," he proclaimed. "My human side could never win out against my Angelic nature."

"You never know until you try," Blue Beetle said. "Come on. If you break free of your alleged destiny, then you get to live, and you're not a problem for me or anyone else. We'd both win. What have you got to lose?"

"Time, for one," Kaworu replied. "I don't have much of it, Doctor, so I'd rather not waste any of it on an impossible task. And what you're suggesting is completely impossible."

"You know that I'm planning to kill you if you don't at least try to prove otherwise, right?" she asked him bluntly. The gun on her arm began to release a menacing hum.

"The weapon you've been pointing at me this whole time suggested it, yes," he replied with a smirk. "I wonder, though, if you can really do it? Can you strike down something that hasn't raised a finger against you so far? Something that looks like a human child? I know how much you lilin allow appearances to affect you. Can you do something so horrible?"

"I don't want to, but I can. I've done other horrible things before, and I usually didn't have a very good reason for doing them," Blue Beetle replied evenly. "If I'm the one who kills you, then the pilots won't have to. Sparing them one more nightmare's a pretty good reason, if you ask me."

"I see," Kaworu said. "Your intentions seem noble, but there is a problem with your plan."

"What's that?"

"You can't kill me."

The air concussed, followed by a flash of orange light. Blue Beetle let out a gasp as the final Angel's AT field expanded with explosive force, knocking her backwards. Recovering quickly, she raised her weapon again and fired, sending a burst of electric blue energy arcing toward Kaworu, only to have it impact harmlessly against his AT field.

"It is not my fate to die by your hand," Kaworu continued, holding up a hand. A sphere of white light formed within his palm.

Blue Beetle barely managed to generate a shield from her armor in time to block the cross-shaped blast, and even then she was thrown back several more meters. Her barrier was left glowing orange from the heat.

"So, you're perfectly fine with dying, but only if you do it by forcing a bunch of already traumatized teenagers to kill you?" Blue Beetle demanded.

"You understand nothing of the great plan," Kaworu said scornfully.

"There's nothing great about what you plan on doing," the sapphire superwoman snapped.

The final Angel unleashed another attack at her, and Blue Beetle let out a cry as she was thrown backwards once again, her now mostly molten shield escaping her grip and flying into the distance as she went. With a grunt, she landed on her back.

"Destiny didn't demand this, but you made it necessary," Kaworu said as he approached her, clearly intending to strike the final blow. "For what it's worth, I am sorry about this."

"Yeah, I'm sorry, too," Blue Beetle replied.

Kaworu's brow creased. "What for?"

The sapphire superwoman held out a hand, palm up, and her armor projected a small hologram into the air, displaying what looked like a large blue insect.

"This drone is capable of phasing out of sync with the rest of reality, and there's a powerful explosive inside of it," Blue Beetle said. "It's been inside you since before we started talking."

Kaworu released a gasp, pressing a hand over his stomach. All of a sudden, it felt like there was something inside him that should not be there.

The weapon at the end of Blue Beetle's hand shifted and changed, her armor flowing almost like water. When the transformation was complete, her gauntleted hand was once more visible, but that hand was clutching a thin, cylindrical object with a button on the top. A detonator.

"No!" Kaworu exclaimed.

Blue Beetle pressed the button.

"Well, that was incredibly unpleasant," Blue Beetle remarked some time later as she flew back to her miserable hideout.

(It wouldn't have been if you'd just killed him right at the beginning, like I told you.) The scarab chided. (You wouldn't have been right next to him and gotten sprayed by—)

"Can we please not talk about that part?" Blue Beetle interrupted, shuddering.

(Fine. I'm just saying that it would've gone a lot better if you hadn't tried to save him.) The scarab said. (And you'd have gotten the same result, too.)

"But I couldn't have known that beforehand," she argued. "I had to try, scarab. He was a pawn in this as much as Shinji or any of the other pilots."

The scarab fell silent for several seconds, not having much of anything to say in response to that. When it spoke up again, its mental voice was much more subdued.



(He was the last Angel, right?)

"Yes, he was," she answered with a small frown, knowing that the scarab was already aware of that.

(So, what happens next, then?)

"Once the Commander and SEELE confirm that he's dead, they'll know their chance has finally come," Blue Beetle said grimly. "Keel will know he'll have to move fast if he wants to prevent Gendo from initiating his own version of Third Impact. Even though he can't blame Nagisa's death on NERV, he'll come up with some excuse to attack NERV. They don't have the EVA Series anymore, but they can still bring a conventional attack to bear, and NERV isn't set up to resist those."

(It's going to be bad, isn't it?) the scarab asked. (We could die.)

"Yeah, we could die," Blue Beetle said. "Are you scared to die, scarab?"

(No.) It said at once, then hesitated. (Yes. A little. I don't want to not fight when the time comes or anything, of course. Fighting's what I'm for, but…)

"It's scary," she finished, understanding.

(Yeah.) The scarab agreed. (Um, there's something I'd like to do before the battle, if it's okay. Something I want.)

Blue Beetle smiled a little at that, feeling her heart soften at the scarab's rather human display of emotion. "So long as it's not a trip to Disney World or something crazy like that, I'll do my best to indulge you."

(I want a name.) The scarab said.

"A name?"

(That's right. It just feels like a name would be a good thing to have.) The scarab said with the mental equivalent of a shrug.

"And you want me to name you?" Blue Beetle asked, blinking. "Why not just pick a name for yourself?"

(I thought that wasn't done on Earth.) The scarab replied, sounding confused. (Humans don't name themselves.)

"That's because human newborns can't speak, let alone name themselves," Blue Beetle replied. "Go ahead and pick a name, scarab."

It thought for several seconds, which was a very long time for an alien AI with enough processing power to make the MAGI look primitive in comparison. Then, it finally told her what it wanted its name to be.

Blue Beetle laughed. "You sure?" she asked. When the scarab confirmed it, she shook her head. "I don't know how Misato will react, but I'm sure it'll be hilarious."

She came down for a landing on the sand outside the cave she called home, allowing herself to synch with the rest of reality again before she stepped inside.

That quickly proved to be a very big mistake.

"Argh!" Blue Beetle cried in pain as a burst of orange light struck her in the side, sending her reeling.

"Remember me, Blue Bitch?!" Bombshell shouted, emerging from behind the rock she'd been hiding behind and firing more energy blasts.

Blue Beetle was too shocked to react, but the scarab was quicker. Seizing control of her body, it got her to dodge the attacks the silver woman was launching at them. The sapphire superwoman had grown so used to it grabbing the steering wheel by this point that it barely even fazed her.

How the hell did she find me here? Blue Beetle wondered, her head spinning. Did the Reach help her?

(Hey, Ritsuko, a little help here?) The scarab asked, sounding strained.

Quickly pulling herself back to the present, Ritsuko willed one of the many energy weapons she had at disposal to form on her arm and took aim at Bombshell, deciding that she'd dealt with the atomic woman enough for one lifetime.

The sand suddenly surged upwards, wrapping itself around the Blue Beetle and grabbing her like the hand of a giant, keeping her from getting a single shot off.

"Of course, she wouldn't be alone this time, either," the superwoman growled as she struggled to free herself.

"Got that right," Terra said as the ground opened up nearby and disgorged the blond woman. "Have to say that I like your choice of digs, Blue. Very earthy."

Blue Beetle growled, and the sand that surrounded her suddenly went spraying in all directions, as though propelled by the force of an explosion. She raised her arm, preparing to give Terra another taste of the sonic weaponry that had stopped the geomancer in the past.

A loud crack like thunder sounded in the distance, and Blue Beetle released a cry of pain as something impacted her shoulder. Looking down, she saw that part of her armor had been badly cracked, though she didn't seem to be injured.

And there's that sniper again, she thought dully.

(Ritsuko!) The scarab warned her, too late.

Deathstoke grabbed Blue Beetle, putting her into a sleeper hold. She hadn't detected his approach at all.

"Let go of me!" she yelled.

She flailed about, trying to get free. Normally, the strength granted to her by the armor would've allowed her to escape even Deathstroke's powerful grip, but the sand kept rising up and grabbing her lips, restraining her further. It wasn't long before she felt herself starting to weaken, and her vision began to tunnel.

"No," she gasped out. "No. Please. No…"

Her eyes finally drifted closed, and she passed out.

"Well, that was anti-climactic," Terra remarked with a sniff as she released the now unconscious Blue Beetle from her sandy bonds. "Especially compared to last time."

"Indeed," Deathstoke agreed. "I must admit that I had hoped for a better fight from her."

"That's because you don't like anything to be easy ever," Bombshell remarked flippantly. "I, on the other hand, am just fine with being paid a huge pile of money for ten minutes' worth of work. So let's go get Ravager and bring this bitch to NERV so we can get paid already."

"Very well," Deathstroke agreed, picking up Blue Beetle so that they could deliver her to the fate she feared more than anything in the world.

Author's Note: Actually updated on time, amazing enough. Hopefully I'll be able to keep it up.

So, with Kaworu gone, we're coming up on the closing stretch for another one, but Ritsuko's not in the best position for the endgame. Will she make it through everything? Will the pilots? Only one way to find out.

As always, thanks to my readers and reviewers, and thanks to my beta reader as well.