Chapter 23
Deceit and Retribution

"Lower plug depth by 0.3," orders Ritsuko.

"Lowering plug depth."

Misato, Ritsuko, and several techs hunch over the consoles in the control center. In front of them, beyond the glass window, the three pilots sit in the simulation entry plugs. Data constantly fills the various computers with data from the ongoing sync tests.

Above the consoles, three screen hang from the ceiling, each showing the inside of a different plug. The left screen shows Rei, her eyes closed and body relaxed as she concentrates on the testing. Next to her screen is Shinji's. He sits in the plug, his face scrunched up slightly as he concentrates his thoughts. At the end is the visual of Kaworu Nagisa, the Fifth Children. Unlike the other two, he seems almost peaceful in the LCL filled plug. He continues to hold the same, pleasant smile he had been wearing since the beginning of the tests.

"Maya, what's the status of the Fifth Children?" asks the doctor as she takes a sip of her coffee.

The young lieutenant doesn't respond, drawing Ritsuko's attention to her.

"Maya, the status of the Fifth Children please?" she asks again, but still receives no response.

Realizing that she probably won't receive an answer, she walks over to her assistant's console and reads the results herself.

"Hey, Ritsuko. How's the Fifth Children doing?" asks Misato as she stares up at the monitors.

Receiving no response from the doctor, she looks in her direction. Ritsuko was leaning over Maya's console, apparently reading the data. Not being the patient type, Misato walks over to the console and read the results herself.

"100%?!" shouts the Major.

Her outburst draws the attention of the staff on hand as well as snaps Ritsuko and Maya out of their trances.

"How is that possible, Ritsuko?"

"I don't know. What does the MAGI have to say about this, Maya?"

"According to the MAGI, this data is 99.98% accurate."

Ritsuko stands up and thinks for a moment, her gaze fixed on the monitors above.

"After the tests, I want a full diagnostic run on the MAGI."

Groans echo throughout the room from the techs. They all knew that it would mean long hours pouring over large amounts of data and possibility no sleep for any of them that evening.

Another hour passes with Ritsuko constantly checking on the data of the Fifth Children. Misato opens up a communication channel to the three test plugs.

"Okay you three. The tests are done for the day."

The three pilots nod in reply and prepare to exit the plugs.

In the men's locker room, Shinji and Kaworu finished dressing after washing off the LCL from their bodies.

"Why do you pilot, Shinji-kun?" questions the grey-haired boy.

Shinji looks up from tying his shoes, caught off guard by the question.

"I pilot, well, I pilot to protect the ones that I love."

"Ah, I see. But what of those who you don't love? You protect them even though you don't intend to."

The Third Children ponders the question for a moment, thoughts of the one person he despised materializing.

"I guess.everyone deserves a chance at life."

Kaworu chuckles as he finishes tying his shoes.

"You are a very interesting person, Ikari, Shinji."

Slightly confused at the remark, Shinji looks at the Fifth Children curiously.

"What do you mean?"

"You say you pilot to protect those that you love, yet in doing you protect those you hate. Your reason for this is because everyone deserves a chance at life. It would appear that you, without knowing it, care about everyone. Though others hurt you, you can't bring it upon yourself to hope for their demise."

Shinji reflects on the other pilot's words for a moment, trying to find the meaning behind them.

"I.guess so. I guess I do care about everyone."

"You are a good person, Shinji-kun. Remember that," he says with a smile.

The pair leave the room, each heading in their own destination. Shinji made his way to the hospital to be with Asuka for as long as he could while Kaworu made his way around the corner.

A few minutes passed before Rei emerged from the locker room. As she turns the corner, he sees Kaworu leaning against the wall.

"Nagisa-san," she says.

Kaworu straightens up and walks towards the albino girl.

"Kaworu is fine."

"What do you want, Kaworu?" she quickly asks.

"I was hoping to see you before you left for your home," he replies with his usual smile.

Rei stands in place, feeling the heat rising on her cheeks.

"We are so much alike, aren't we?"

"What do you mean?" she asks, slightly confused.

The boy merely smiles.

"You shall see soon enough. It was a pleasure to meet you."

He takes her right hand in his own and kisses the back of her hand before walking off. The tune of 'Ode to Joy' echoes through the metal halls. Rei remains in her spot, staring at her hand.

"What is this feeling?" she wonders as she heads home.

The next day, life goes on as usual for the employees of NERV. In the hospital, the nurses were all heading to check out, their shifts finished for the day. All the halls were empty, like a ghost town. A figure heads down one of these halls. As it makes it way to its destination, not a single sound is heard because its feet were floating half a foot off the ground. It stops in front of a room and the door slides open, as if it was expecting the visitor. The figure floats in and the door shuts close. It would be another ten minutes until the next shift of nurses arrived. So, there was no one around to notice the bright light emanating from room 303 in the Cranial Ward.

Later in Central Dogma, the bridge crew sits relaxing in their chairs. Maya continues to analyze the data from the sync tests from the day before. Makoto chuckles lightly as he reads through the manga he had purchased on the way to work that day. Next to him, Shigeru hums a tune as he plays it on his air guitar.

In Cage 6, Kaworu stands on the catwalk in front of Unit 02. He sticks his hands in his pocket and gazes at the red giant.

"It is time."

The four eyes of the Eva shine brightly as it activates.

"Angel detected!" shouts Makoto as he shows his manga into the drawer next to him.

Misato dashes onto the bridge, straightening up her red jacket as she goes.

"Where is it?"

Shigeru franticly enters commands into his console.

"It's descending towards Terminal Dogma with Unit 02!"

"What?! The Eva's active?" quickly asks the Major.

"The entry plug is not inserted. It's moving on its own," replies Maya.

"It must be the Angel," muses Misato.

Just then, the main screen flickers to live, showing a live feed from the tunnel leading to Terminal Dogma. The form of Unit 02 is easily scene floating down. In front of the Eva, a smaller figure floats at the same speed.

"My God. The Angel is.," shakily says Misato.

".is the Fifth Children," finishes Makoto.

"It is no longer the Fifth Children. It is now the target," comes the commanding voice of Gendo from his station above the bridge.

The entire bridge freezes at the sound of his voice, but quickly resume their work.

"Prepare to send Unit 01 after the 'target'," orders Misato, putting emphasis on the word 'target.'

In the corridor leading to Cage 7, Shinji runs towards his Eva already dressed in his white plugsuit.

"Why, Kaworu? Why did you have to become the enemy?" he ponders.

He rushes through the electronic door and into the holding cage. As he runs, he looks up from the floor and nearly stumbles as stops suddenly. He remains frozen in place, his mouth hanging open in shock.

Back at Terminal Dogma, the crew works franticly to stop the Angel.

"Shut all hatches! Physically seal off Terminal Dogma!" commands Misato.

With a series of commands, reinforced hatches close all routes that lead to the depths of NERV. An explosion ripples through the tunnel as the reinforced hatch below the descending Angel and Unit 02 is completely destroyed by a large explosion.

"Target is still descending!" reports Shigeru.

"Unit 01 is ready for launch!" quickly announces Maya.

"Alright, open a route to the target and launch Unit 01."

The crew focuses their attention on Unit 01 as it makes its descent towards the Angel.

"I'm reading abnormalities in Unit 01," reports Makoto.

"What? Get me a visual of the entry plug," curiously orders Misato.

A secondary screen flickers to life, showing a live feed from the entry plug of Unit 01. Everyone who saw the feed went speechless.

As Unit 01 closed in on the target, Shinji fidgets in the seat of the entry plug.

"You didn't have to come, you know." he says.

Sitting sideways on his lap, Asuka crosses her arms and glares at the Third Children.

"What are you talking about? Of course I had to come! That Angel just stole my precious Unit 02. I'm not going to let it get away with that!" she sternly replies.

Shinji sighs and checks his location on the screen next to him.

"At least I didn't have to wear that plugsuit again," he thinks as he looks at the red plugsuit Asuka was currently dressed in, recalling the time he had to wear it during the battle with the 6th Angel.

A communicatios window materializes in the plug, sowing the face of a very angry Misato.

"Asuka! What are doing?!" she practically shouts.

"Geez. I just get out of a coma and this is what I get?" she mockingly replies.

"That's besides the point!"

"You really don't expect me to just sit on the sidelines as some Angel takes my Unit 02, do you?"

"It shouldn't matt.argh! Never mind! You're approaching the target."

The window disappears from the entry plug. Directly below the purple Eva, the two pilots can see the red form of Unit 02 below them as well as the Angel. As if sensing them, the red Eva turns and grabs onto the intruder. The two giants wrestle for dominance as they continue their descent.

Unit 02 draws its Progressive Knife and prepares to stab the purple Eva. Shinji quickly draws his own Progressive Knife and blocks the attack. Taking advantage of the situation, Shinji wills his Eva to attack, but the attack is deflected. The red Eva pushes the other knife towards the Angel, only to encounter an AT Field. Inside the Eva, Shinji stares in disbelief at the orange field.

"Ah, the AT Field," remarks Kaworu, "as you Lillum call it. The 'Barrier of Souls' is most interesting, isn't it?"

"Would you just shut up!" shouts Asuka through the external speakers.

"So, you came along, Souryu-san. It is nice to see you again."

Asuka blinks in surprise and glares at the Angel.

"What are you talking about? I've never seen you before in my life!"

"True, you haven't seen me when you were awake. Perhaps.a dream?"

The place is shrouded in darkness. Where the darkness begins and where it ends cannot be seen. Sitting hugging her legs against her chest, Asuka sits alone in the darkness. If it wasn't for the fact that she could feel the ground beneath her, she wouldn't know it was there. She remains in place, unmoving. The only sound in the place of darkness is her own breathing.

"Asuka.," comes a voice from somewhere in the void.

Asuka buries her head further into her knees, trying to block out the unknown voice.

"Leave me alone!" she shouts.

"Asuka.," repeats the voice.

Just as she is about to shout again, something strikes her.

"The voice.it's different somehow.," she thinks.

The young red-head looks up and around the void.

"Who are you?"

A few meters in front of her, a figure materializes from the darkness. Straining her eyes, she can see that it is a boy, about her age, wearing the all-to-familiar school uniform.

"I am a friend, Souryu-san," he replies.

She is about to say something, but stops as a single thought enters her mind.

"Do not worry, I am not here to hurt you or do any harm," he quickly says, as if reading her mind.

"Are you.an Angel?" asks Asuka with a combination of fear and nervousness.

"Do I look like one to you?" he asks as he steps forward.

Asuka can now clearly make out the stranger. He looks built like Shinji, but with silvery-grey hair that looks unkempt. The one thing that caught her attention was his eyes. They were blood red, almost exactly like Rei's.

"No, you don't. But who are you and why are you here?"

The boy merely smiles.

"You can call me 'Tabris' for now. As for my presence here, well, let's just say I'm here to help out a friend."

Asuka stares at Tabris for a moment before turning around.

"I don't need anyone's help," she sharply remarks.

"I'm not doing this for you, but for a friend of mine," he says as he walks up to Asuka and stands next to her.

"Just leave me alone."

"Even if I did leave, you would not be alone."

"What are you talking about?" she asks slightly agitated.

"Look up."

Asuka looks up and gasps as the darkness in front of her twists and distorts. Colors start to appear and overtake the darkness. The colors start to form images almost like a screen. After a few second, it settles down and Asuka instantly makes out the image.

"This is what is happening right now."

She stares at image displayed in front of her and recognizes it as one the NERV hospital rooms. Lying on the bed, she can see herself with several pieces of equipment hooked up to her body. The thing that catches her eye is a hunched figure sitting next to bed, gently holding her hand.

"Shinji."

"He has been by your side ever since he found you in that abandoned house."

Her head whips around and turns towards Tabris.

"He.he found me?"

"Yes, he searched for several days without stopping. After he found you and the NERV paramedics took you away, he passed out from exhaustion."

Tears start to well up in her eyes as she listens to Tabris describe the events.

"But I can't go back, not after what I did. I'm worthless.," she whispers as she tries to fight back the tears.

"Shinji is a very special person. His love for you is very strong. It is you who gives him something to fight for."

"But I'm weak now! He can't love me," she struggles to say as the tears flow freely.

"He will love you no matter what happens. I know this because I have seen his heart. He cares for everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do to him. Right now, he needs you to come back to him, and he will wait for as long as he has to for you. The choice is up to you."

The pair stands in silence, neither of them saying a word. Asuka stands up, placing her hands on her hips.

"So how do I get out of here?"

Tabris smiles and takes a step back. The image disappears, shrouding the area in darkness once again.

"That is something you must do on your own. You must have the will to live to leave this place," he says and pauses for a moment, "My time here is up. Until we meet again."

Tabris floats up and disappears into the darkness. Asuka watches as he vanishes and then turns her attention to trying to get out of wherever she was.

"I must have the will live," she says to herself, trying to figure out what he meant by it.

Then an idea hits her. She closes her eyes and concentrates her thoughts on a single person, the person that loves her and that she loves. After what seemed like an eternity, she opens her eyes and sees a white light in the distance. She wastes no time and runs towards the light.

"Wait for me, Shinji," she thinks as she enters the light.

In the hospital room, the machines beep and buzz with activity as they read changes in the patient. Slowly, the pair of eyes open, allowing the emerald-blue orbs beneath to gaze up at the ceiling. Asuka slowly sits up, ignoring the pain in her limbs. She closes her eyes and smiles.

"Thank you, Tabris," she says out loud.

Alarms begin to sound all over the base. Asuka instantly recognizes them as the Angel alarms. She looks around the room for her clothes and spies her plugsuit lying on her bed. Dressing quickly, she darts out of her room and heads towards Cage 7as if drawn by some unknown force.

Asuka blinks and stares down at the Angel again.

"Tabris?"

Kaworu smiles at the giant.

"Ah, so you do remember."

Shinji turns his attention to Asuka and is about to say something when he is brought back to his senses as Unit 02 rams into his Eva. The two giants continue their struggle for superiority as they fall towards Terminall Dogma.

At the command bridge, the crew watches the fight on the main screen when the screen suddenly shows static.

"What's going on?" questions Misato.

"We lost all feed from the shaft and Evas," promptly replies Makoto.

Misato stares at the static-filled screen for a moment before walking over to Makoto.

"If anything should go wrong, you know what to do," she whispers in his ear.

He nods, fully understanding what she means. The rest of the crew tenses up, praying for the best scenario.

The battle between the two Evas stops abruptly as they reach the end the shaft and crash into a shallow lake. Kaworu floats down shortly after and makes his way further into Terminal Dogma. Shinji wills Unit 01 to its feet and takes quick look around. The chamber is shaped like a dome, with the hole of the shaft directly above them. Pillars rise up in random areas from the shallow 'lake' in the room. At one end of the chamber is a large passage way, through which Kaworu is currently floating through.

"Kaworu!" shouts Shinji through the Eva's external speakers as he charges after the Angel.

He comes to an abrupt halt as something holds him back. As he turns around, he sees Unit 02 gripping his Eva's right leg. Gripping the Progressive Knife, he jabs it into the Eva's neck, deactivating it.

"I'm sorry about that, Asuka."

She shakes her head.

"It's ok, I understand. Now let's get that damn Angel."

Further down the corridor, Kaworu floats in front of the massive doors known as 'Heaven's Gate.' With a flick of his hand, the massive steel doors part, allowing him access to within.

"So, I have finally made it."

He looks up at the giant white crucified form. The creature makes no movement as the Angel approaches. Kaworu looks over the being for a moment before frowning.

"This is not Adam," he mumbles.

He remains in place as he ponders over the new development. Then, a smile forms on his face.

"Now I understand."

A loud crash catches his attention. He turns around only to face the giant form of Evangelion Unit 01. He smiles as it makes its way towards him. The Eva lunges out with its massive right hand and gasps the Angel. Kaworu looks up at the Eva's face.

"Kaworu, why?" pleadingly asks Shinji.

"Because I am destined to live forever, though all others will die. I can choose to live, or to die."

"What are you talking about?" shouts Asuka.

"Only one can survive. I want you to be the ones who continue to live. If my death will allow you to live, then may it be so. Death is the only true release for me, so please, erase me now."

Inside the entry plug, Shinji and Asuka both look at each other, unsure of what to do.

"But Kaworu.," begs Shinji.

"If I do not die, then you will die. It is my last wish."

"Wait. If you're an Angel, then why did you help me?" asks Asuka.

Kaworu smiles as he closes his eyes for a moment.

"I did it because I knew of what I would be doing. It is my gift to the two of you as a kind of retribution, you could say."

Shinji's hands tremble as he grips onto the controls in the entry plug. He looks up as Asuka places her hands over his.

"Asuka-chan."

She smiles down at him.

"We'll do this together, to fulfill his wish."

He nods and turns his attention back to the Angel in his Eva's hands.

"Hopefully we shall meet again, Shinji, Asuka," he says with a smile.

The giant Eva nods its head in response.

"Goodbye, Kaworu," both pilots say at the exact same time.

Kaworu closes his eyes and waits for his end. The Eva closes its grip around the Angel, producing a wet crunching noise. A round object falls from the top of its hand and splashes into the pool of LCL below, sending ripples out in its wake.