The Picture of the Tragic Hero
A Neon Genesis Evangelion Alternate Universe Fanfiction
By Andrew Carey

Characters and situations of Neon Genesis Evangelion and Ranma
1/2 belong to their respective creators and publishers. I am
merely borrowing them for this work of non-profit fanfiction.

Thanks very kindly to Suika Roberts for reading and advice.

Katsuragi Misato watched from a window as her housemate
walked down the street. At this range he was a tiny figure,
recognisable only by his erect stance, firm stride, and solid black
clothing. There were few people on the sidewalk, but they gave
him room; in a city more heavily populated than Tokyo-3 he would
have been clearly marked out by the bubble of space around him.
This was a man whose every action proclaimed him a warrior.

_A boy,_ she reminded herself. _A fourteen-year-old boy,
whose father abandoned him to be raised by some strange little
clutch of martial arts freaks._ She had seen a solitary tear drip from
his eye yesterday, looking out over the city they defended. _A tear.
Boys cry...

_And so do men. Strong, vital, desperately hurt men, who
need love to make them whole... Stop it, Misato. This isn't an
anime character, this is a real person. A real person who is under
your command and guardianship. A real person who is half your
age. Not your all favourite pilots from Gundam Wing rolled into
one magnificent brooding whole. Not a fiction you can safely have
a crush on, and not a man you can court._

She reached for her binoculars. _Military reasons. I'm
supposed to be observing him. No, I just want to watch his
shoulders and rear and that marvelous braid of hair... Stop it,
Misato._ She was grateful when he turned out of sight.

She took out her journal and began to write.

Sunny. Then again, it's always sunny this time of year.
Subject's just left for his first day of school. Bet some hearts will
be fluttering. Lucky kids.

In my opinion, he is cute. Make that beautiful. I wish he
weren't so dour, though. I bet he has a gorgeous smile. I keep
thinking about ways to make him smile. Telling jokes. Teaching
Pen-pen tricks. Showing up naked in the living room while he's
reading one of those ancient Chinese books and tickling him.

Yeah, right. I'm terrible with jokes, and I can't even get
Pen-pen to sit or heel. I'm sure I could never wear a stitch of
clothing and he'd treat me exactly the same. "More tea, Captain?"
"As your junior, I would be happy to cook tonight, Captain." And
as to tickling, he probably wouldn't even feel my fingers.

She looked down at the page and ripped it out of the


Horaki Hikari scanned the memo another time. _A new
student? That doesn't make sense. People don't move to Tokyo-3
anymore._ She sighed inwardly, laying the note back on her desk.
It was addressed to Sensei, as always, but he hadn't even read it
before handing it to her. _Poor old man._ He hardly ever talked
about anything save Second Impact, as if that one event months
before her birth was the only thing in all the world that still

There was someone in the door. A man, lean and hard,
dressed in black, inhumanly graceful. She rose to meet him.

"Excuse me, sir, do you have business here?" Hikari
couldn't imagine why someone hadn't stopped the stranger earlier.
_Perhaps he's a new teacher? But he looks like a soldier..._

"Yes. My name is Ikari Shinji, and I believe this to be my
new class?"

_This is our classmate? But surely...he can't be our age..._
"Ah, well, yes. Ah, Ikari-s...kun, are you aware..." She met his
eyes, and forgot about asking him why he wasn't wearing a
uniform. They were glossy, expressionless, dark brown. Warrior
eyes, half watching her, half staring through her to the horizon. Yet
there was depth, and a hint of hidden warmth... She shook herself
slightly. "...that new students are expected to introduce themselves
to the class?"


"I... I'm Horaki Hikari."

"Enchante, Horaki-san." He bowed, and walked to the
blackboard, chalked his name in swift calligraphic strokes. Hikari
forgot about returning to her seat, being far too absorbed by the
enticing movement of a long brown queue and the black-clad rear
end it reached. She noticed that nine-tenths of the female and at
least a tenth of the male eyes in the room were watching the same

Misato flipped through Shinji's dossier again. Born 12
September 2001. Mother deceased in research accident, December
2004. Fostered in Kyoto with maternal third cousin once removed
Kunou Kodachi and her domestic partner Li Shan Pu, February

_Nothing I haven't seen before. Just names and numbers.
Shinji, what makes you you?_ She'd never seen any indication that
his guardians were cruel, or even indifferent. They'd telephoned
twice, and spoken for an hour each time. She'd heard him talking
through the thin walls, and he'd sounded positively happy, as much
as she could tell, given that he was speaking Chinese. _Is that their
home language, or were they trying to keep me from listening in?_

His school records didn't say much either. Highest marks in
literature, especially classics, and physical education. Decent marks
in sciences, and although his maths marks were indifferent at the
beginning they had risen dramatically between his first and second
years of schooling. An operative's note suggested this to be the
result of tutoring by his guardians' sister-in-law Tendou Nabiki, the
noted financiere.

_Wait a second. There's a gap in his schooling. 2010
through '12. It says he was in China with his guardians, and
attending school in Li Shan Pu's ancestral village. But there's no
record. Surely his school in Kyoto would have asked for
something..._ His performance hadn't dropped, despite the gap. In
fact, he'd shown an astronomical improvement in physical
education, from merely the best in the class to an unnaturally high
level of ability. _Shinji-kun, what were you _really_ doing in

No one could talk about anything save the new boy. "I bet
he's a secret agent."

"Oh, come on."

"No, seriously. He's probably here to protect our school
from terrorists. I saw it in a movie."

"I think he's an undercover cop."

"Nonsense. He's just a martial arts freak. My ma and da
went to school with a whole bunch of them, some place called
Furinkan High-- I think it's under the bay now."

"My da said the pilot of that giant robot would be going to
our school. I bet he's the one!"

"So, Hikari-chan, what do you think?"


"About the new guy. Is he cute, or what?"

Hikari sighed. "Cute. There's no denying it."

"You interested?"


"Why not? Probably all you'd have to do is ask." Her
eyelids fluttered. "Just look at those _lips_. He's got to be a good

"Right. I'd have to beat off half a dozen girls just to get
near him."

"But Hikari-chan, he said he was enchanted with you, didn't

Hikari sighed. _May'-chan's really sweet, but dear gods
she's dense sometimes._ "That's just a word some people say. It's
the next step up from 'pleased to meet you.' You saw what his
handwriting's like-- he probably says that to every girl he meets.
Old-fashioned, you know?" Her blank look showed that she didn't.
"Besides," Hikari continued, "he's too much like a character in a
shoujo manga. I like comfortable guys."

"Comfortable? Like anyone we know?" Mayuka giggled.

"None of your business, May'-chan."

"Well, Shin-chan, how was your day?" _I bet he'll loosen
up if I keep calling him that._

"Good enough, thank you, Captain. More rice?"

"No, thanks, I'm fine for the moment. Really, what

"Very little."

"All the girls are chasing you, aren't they, Shin-chan?"

"Not that I noticed, Captain."

"Shin-chan. Don't call me that. I'm _Misato_, remember?"
She cudgeled her brains for the old military phrase she'd learned in
the two month Gehirn OCS. "We're off duty, and 'there's no rank
in the mess,' right?"

"Yes, Misato-san." _Damn it, he makes my _name_ sound
just like 'Captain.' Maybe I should tell him to call me Mi-chan...
No, too much like Kaji. And Daddy._

"Ummm, excuse me?" the blonde girl said haltingly.

Shinji laid down his copy of _Shi Jing_. "Yes?"

"Ah... is it true what they say?"

"I'm afraid I don't follow..."

"About you. That you're the pilot of that robot," her dark-
haired companion filled in.

"It is." Suddenly he was surrounded by at least three
quarters of the class.

"Yes! I knew it."

"Oh my, I'm so impressed..."

"How'd they pick you?"

"Were you frightened?"

"Does it have a special attack?"

He cleared his throat. "I have no idea how I was chosen. I
was no more or less frightened than I've been in any other fight.
And there's no such thing as a special attack, only the attack that
works in the given situation."


"He's been in fights before!"

"I told you he was really from the army."

"He's so handsome!"

"I want to date with him!"

"What was that _monster_?"

"Some country's secret weapon?"

"I have no idea. It would seem to be called an 'Angel,' but
I was not informed as to its origin."

"Ya don't know nothin', do ya? What are ya, stupid?" The
speaker was tall and broad-shouldered for his age, dressed in a
tracksuit, his speech thick with the accent of Osaka.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Suzuhara-kun!" piped the class representative. "You
missed an entire week of school without permission."

"It ain't none of yer concern!" He shoved an empty desk
out of his way as he stomped towards Shinji's seat.

A slight boy with glasses caught his arm. "Touji-kun! No!
He's some kind of military operative-- he could probably blow your
head off here and now, and they wouldn't even charge him." The
Osakan shook his friend off, leaving him babbling something about
"execution by special administrative procedure."

"New kid! Step outside. Now!"

The greater part of the class followed them outside,
murmuring excitedly among themselves. "He's going to kill him."

"With one blow, before Suzuhara even touches him."

"Nah, Suzuhara'll get one punch in."


"Want to put money on it?"

"Don't be ridiculous-- the new guy'll let him live. Just
break his arms and legs or something."

The babble was irritating. Shinji raised his hand, and the
crowd-noise cut off sharply. "Now, then. You've something to say
to me?"

"Yeah. My younger sister, she was hurt bad-- pinned under
rubble. An' you know what? It's your fault. 'Cause you had to go
crashing around with that damn' robot!"

"I am very sorry."

"You tryin' to make fun or somethin'? 'Cause sorry don't
cut it."

"There's nothing more I can say. I wish I had been more
experienced in the Evangelion unit, but I was not. Many things
happen in battle which we later regret."

"You know what? My pa 'n gramps both work in _your_
lab. So I'm the only one can stay wit' her. It's not that I mind the
time or anythin', but what if she gets some kinda scar? She'll never
be a babe."

"The most beautiful woman I've ever known has scars over
half her face."

"Who's that? Queen Emereldas?"

"My foster mother."

"Don't think you're so hot, just 'cause they're all over ya."

"I would never dream of thinking such a thing."

Suzuhara stepped closer, brandished his fist. Shinji didn't
move a muscle. "Would it make you feel better to hit me?"

"You makin' fun of me?"

"I'll give you one clear shot."

The Osakan drew his fist back to his ear, then lashed out
with his best cross to the jaw. "Damn," he said, rubbing his
knuckles. Shinji stood as if nothing had happened. "C'mon, new
kid, ain't you gonna fight?"


Suzuhara cocked his fist. Shinji sighed. "One blow, I said."

"Then put up your hands and fight, damn it!"

Shinji reached out blurring swift and tapped his opponent
lightly on the shoulder. The arm fell limp. "What the hell did you

"Just a pressure point. You'll recover full use in three
hours." He turned his back and returned to the classroom, leaving
behind both multiple arguments-- mostly over the definitions of
"fight" and "blow"-- and the formative meeting of the Ikari Shinji
Fan Club.

Misato sighed and turned away from the monitor. _I almost
wish I could have seen him in action. He must be beautiful... but
no, he would have finished that clumsy boy in seconds._

Shin-chan got into a confrontation at school today. Settled
it without any bloodshed-- some kind of trick with pressure points.
He moves so fast when he wants to.

Mmmmm. The swing of that braid. I guess I've always had
a hair fetish, haven't I? I keep hoping I'll walk in on him with it
loose some night or morning. Isn't that pathetic? I had a dream
last night where I ordered him to let me brush and plait it. And the
thing is, I probably _could_. I think if I told him to come in the
shower and scrub my back, he'd do it without a word of argument.

Hmmmm, now there's an idea. I bet he gives great
rubdowns, too. No, damn it, he's fourteen years old. Sure, that's
the age of consent in this prefecture, but he's under my command.
It wouldn't be right.

Shin-chan, what happened to you? Why do you act like
some kind of samurai? I wish you'd be more like a child,
sometimes, just to remind me that I can't...

She stopped writing. _Feck. Another page to shred._

"Well, roomie, how goes it?"

"I'm not fully satisfied with my control of the basic

"Shinji-kun," Ritsuko broke in, "you're already further
along than our best pilot."

"Irrelevant. In battle, the difference between life and death
can be measured in millimeters."

"Don't be so gloomy, Shin-chan."

"I am merely being realistic, Misato-san. While I accept my
own fate, the lives of civilians are at risk whenever the Evangelion
unit is launched."

"You know, I was actually asking about school."



"It is acceptable. The history curriculum seems over-
absorbed with a few events in the recent past, and in literature there
is excessive emphasis on the contemporary..."

"The two of you can chat later. Are you ready for today's

"Exit gates, emergency power sources, armament buildings,
and recovery sites."

"You have them all memorised?"


"We'll pick up from where we let off yesterday. Start
induction mode."

He didn't bother to speak. As the first target cleared its
housing, a single slug hammered precisely through its center of
mass. The same for the second, and the third...

"Doctrine calls for three round bursts, Shin-chan."

"Single shots seem to suffice, Misato-san."

"These are targets, not Angels."

"Very well." The next took a quick burst,

"Kami-sama, his groups are _tight_."


"Look. You can barely distinguish the one he hit with a
burst from the one he hit with a single round."


"He's some kind of incredible shot, Ritsuko."

"Oh. Turning into a gun otaku, are you?"

"No, it's just..."

"Why are you so surprised? We already know Shinji-kun's
a combat genius."

"I didn't think he liked guns."

"What does liking have to do with it?"

"I'm home!"

She was bathing. _I'll pretend I didn't hear him._ "Ohhhhh.
A shower at the end of a long day. Nothing could be better."
_Except a shower that's shared. Wouldn't it be nice if somebody
took advantage of that open door? Stop it, Misato, you're being a

"I bought dinner." She heard his footsteps in the kitchen.

_Now why did I just do that? Silly Misato, you wanted to
play with his head. Why? Because you're a perv. Stop talking to

When she left the bathroom, dressed in her favourite short
shorts and star-printed low-cut top, he was sitting on the floor with
her penguin. _Petting him? And feeding him dried octopus? I
guess he does have a soft side, after all._ "I didn't know you liked

"I am fond of animals. They're much more honest than

"Shin-chan, is something wrong?"


"You've been down all afternoon. What's happening?" He
didn't say anything. "It's all right, I won't tell anyone else." More
silence. She knelt beside him. "Please. Is it something I did?"


"Is it something at school?"


"Is it the Eva?"


"Please, Shinji, I need to know. Military necessity."

"Very well. I... dislike fighting in the unit."

"Don't tell me you could take an Angel without one." _I'm
serious. Don't. If you did, I would have to believe you, and that
would frighten me._

"No. That's the problem. Such a massive, hulking,
indiscriminate creature... how many innocent lives can it take?"

"Shinji, I swear that we will _never_ use the Evangelion
units against human beings. On my parents' ashes, kami be my
witnesses all." She clapped her hands three times.

"Thank you, Misato-san, but I am talking about accidental
casualties. 'Collateral damage' is the term, I believe. How many
old people, how many mothers, how many little girls might be killed
because I or another pilot cannot fully control one of your
damnable constructions?" _That boy this morning said something
about his little sister. Is that what's gotten into Shinji?_

She laid her hand on his shoulder, silently asking him to turn
the gesture into an embrace. _For both our sakes, Shin-chan._
"How people many might die if you didn't go out in the Eva?"

"There's the problem. The curse of the warrior is that we
must kill and die that others may live. But at least with swords the
dying tends to be limited to those who have chosen the same path."

It should have sounded fatuous, coming from a teenage boy
in 2015, separated by generations from the dueling ground and the
battlefield. But she looked into his eyes and saw something in them
which said that this was not a quote from a musty text or an overly-
romantic sensei, but a truth which had been learned first hand.
_Shin-chan, what kind of life have you led?_

"Excuse me." He rose quickly and entered his room,
returning a moment later with a long, thin bag. He left the

"Going to do forms on the roof, aren't you, Shin-chan?" she
mused. He'd dropped a piece of paper on his way out. She
couldn't help but glance at it. A florist's receipt. _Sweet on
someone already?_ She couldn't resist a closer look. A quite
expensive arrangement had been sent anonymously to one Suzuhara
Sayuri, in the trauma ward at Tokyo-3 General.

After a little while, she left the apartment and took to the
stairs. Moving very slowly, she opened the door to the roof.
_Don't be silly,_ she told herself, _he'll know you're up here no
matter how quiet you are._ But somehow the effort of stealth was a
comfort to her own nerves.

Her breath caught in her throat. He was silhouetted against
the western sky, and had taken off his shirt, revealing whipcord
muscles under lightly-tanned skin. He was using a straight cross-
hilted Chinese sword, moving with slow elegance. She sat down to

_Marvelous,_ she thought, watching a particularly graceful
maneuver. Then a shiver ran through her. _That was the shadow of
a killing. That lovely smooth foot-sweep took a man's legs out
from under him, and as he fell that beautiful glittering sword-arc
opened his neck._

She glanced at her watch-- two hours since she'd come out
on the roof. The sun had nearly set. _How long does he intend on
being out here?_ She sat on the cusp between disturbing him and
going down on her own.

He fell back into guard, straightened, and bowed. Still
silent and absorbed, he knelt for a moment, wiping the blade with a
cloth and returning it to the bag before donning his shirt.

She sat still as he came toward the door. _Should I pretend
I'm not here?_

"Misato-san?" He was holding the door for her.

"Oh. Thanks." Her eyes met his for a moment, and the
ghost of a smile passed across his features.

_What a strange person._ Ikari spent most of the time
between lessons reading. As near as Hikari could tell, his tastes
leaned towards Tang Dynasty poetry, in the original language,
which he seemed to read-- without a lexicon-- as fluently as anyone
else might scan a manga.

He didn't talk much, but was unfailingly polite, in a cool
fashion. At the moment he was ringed by girls, including her friend
Mayuka. _And what's scary is that May'-chan is probably the
clever one, in that bunch._ "So, um, Ikari-kun, what's that you're
reading?" one asked, a short pale girl whose name Hikari was
having trouble remembering just now. _Gosunkugi. Gosunkugi
Akane. That's it._

"A poem by Tu Fu." Most of them looked completely
blank. "A Chinese poet from a thousand years ago." His eyes lit
up slightly. "It's called 'Ballad of the War Carts.'"

"Oh. What's it..."

Mayuka elbowed Gosunkugi in the ribs. "Could you read it
to us?" she said, fluttering her eyelashes.

"It's rather long..."

"Just a bit, please?"

"Very well." He launched into a fluent burst of Classical
Chinese. "As near as I can put it into Japanese:

The soldier says: "It's the way of the world.
At fifteen men are sent to guard the North,
And at forty they work the army farms in the West.
When we left home, the headman had to tie our turbans,
And now, white-haired, we still patrol the frontier.
The hinterland forts run with blood to fill an ocean,
And the Emperor's dreams of conquest never end.
Hasn't he heard that in Han, east of the mountains,
Two hundred prefectures, with their thousands of villages,
Grow only thorns?

_A strange person,_ Hikari thought, _but not a bad one._

"What'cha doin', Shin-chan?" He had cleared a space on
the kitchen table and laid out ink, brush, and rice paper.
_Calligraphy? A project for school? A love note?_

"Writing home."

"Oh." _Why doesn't he just use email like a normal person?
Or at least a ballpoint?_

"Writing is always better with the brush. It brings back
good memories."

He was positively loquacious today. _Maybe all those girls
are drawing him out a bit._ "Of school in China?"


_Two almost-smiles in as many days. Maybe we are getting

Shinji looked out over the peaceful landscape. He was so
close to satori he could almost taste it, the mind like the moon on
the water, accepting all and judging nothing, the effortless state of
grace he had only known in combat. He saw the trees and did not
loathe their cloned uniformity; he smelled the air and did not hate
the tang of industry. He could feel something off in the distance,
and he thought for a moment that he might reach it, understand it,
know its alien needs and alien desires and how it fit into the Tao--

"Up on da roof all by his lonesome! Da pitcher of da tragic
hero!" The Osakan tended to exaggerate his accent, probably
hoping to annoy the urbane pilot. Most days, Shinji found it mildly
amusing. This time, however, he forced down a tide of genuine
irritation. _So close..._

"All right, what do you want now?"

The shaggy-haired boy with glasses was there as well, his
ever present video camera apparently forgotten in his left hand. He
was muttering something under his breath. "Please don't let him
pull out a suppressed ten millimeter automatic loaded with subsonic
hollowpoint rounds and shoot us both between the eyes..." The
pilot's lip quirked ever so slightly.

"Moron! What makes ya think we want anythin' from ya?"

"Pity you're so bored, then. Checking on me for no reason-
- it's quite pathetic, really."

"I may not have a reason to be talkin' wit' you, but one
thing's f' sure: I hate yer guts!" Suzuhara balled his hand into a fist
and held it beneath Shinji's nose.

The pilot shook his head. "You're trying to pick a fight
with me. Don't bother."

"I can't stand that hot crap attitude a' yours.."

"I've more important things to do with my time than worry
about what you might happen to think."

Suzuhara drew back his fist. Shinji sighed. "You're wide
open, d'you know that?"

The stairwell door opened. Ayanami stepped out, still
bandaged, her arm in a sling. "Ikari-kun? We've just received an
emergency call. I'll see you there."

Shinji brushed past Suzuhara as if the blocky boy were a
potted plant. "Ayanami-san. May I accompany you?" He opened
the door, waved the blue-haired girl through.

The shelter was brightly lit, filled with people. Hikari sat on
a cushion among her classmates and tried to ignore their babble.
Most of it was the usual idle speculation which had accompanied
such events all her life, dozens of silly drills blown up into alien
invasions and Third Impacts.

"Ikari-kun's out there fighting to protect us," Mayuka said.

"He's soooo brave," sighed a half-dozen others.

Suzuhara and Aida were up on their feet, leaving their place
on the fringe of the cluster of boys that sat nearby, near enough to
see the girls without actually having to risk talking with them.
Hikari fixed them with her best Class Rep stare. "Where are you

"Ahh, to the gents'," Aida said.

"Well, you'd better hurry it up." _What a pair of idiots.
Even if they are _cute_ idiots._

"Are you ready, Shinji?"

"Yes, Misato-san." He was dressed in his plugsuit, the skin-
tight material showing his muscles to a disconcerting degree. _He
looks like a hero from a mecha anime. All he needs is a breeze to
dramatically stir his forelock._ One part of her wanted to laugh.
Another wanted to throw her arms about him and tell him to _come
back_, or she'd hunt him into the spirit world and beat him to an
astral pulp. She pushed them both down.

"No heroics, remember?"

"All is part of the Tao. I surrender myself to the currents of
the battlefield."

"Just keep yourself alive, okay? We need your Eva." _And
I need you._

He dropped into the entry plug without another word. As
the metal cylinder slid home, Misato's hand clenched around the
cross that hung from her neck. _Whoever's listening, keep him
safe, please?_

"Kensuke, wait up, already! You're goin' too fast."

The young otaku slackened his pace, but only a little.
"C'mon, Touji! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity." He
reached the top of the hill in one final burst of speed, dropped to
one knee in the tall grass.

"Once in a lifetime opportunity is right. We'll probably lose
our lifetimes doin' this." The Osakan was breathing hard. _Touji-
kun may be stronger, but I've got more wind._

"Well, if you hadn't punched Ikari we wouldn't owe him..."

"Punchin' Ikari is like punchin' a _wall_. Except I think
maybe da wall wouldn't hurt y' hand so much. Besides, you're da
man wanted to come out an' see da battle."

"There it is!" It was ugly, something like the result of a
squid's mating with a centipede. More disconcerting than its
appearance was the way it floated a few meters off the ground.
_Lighter than air? Or does it have antigrav?_

"Dat's an _Angel_? Son of a _bitch_. Ain't angels
supposed to be pretty, wit' long hair an' wings?"

"They just call them that, Touji," Kensuke muttered, aiming
his camcorder. _This disk is going to be worth a fortune._

"I know _dat_. I just thought..."

"Never mind! There's the robot!" The blast-door slid
down from what looked like a tall building. The towering
humanoid figure, spindly and mis-proportioned, dropped into a
forward roll, snatching a giant-sized automatic rifle and coming up
on one knee to snap off a quick burst before rolling again to
another position. "That's got to be at least a fifty millimeter. No
way that thing can survive..."

The Angel absorbed the mixed HE and depleted uranium
without taking any apparent notice. Ikari surged forward, firing all
the while with metronomic regularity before closing to batter the
alien being with rifle-butt and feet.

"Yes!" Misato screamed. "Kill it!" She wished for a
moment that she were with her housemate, able to fight or die at his
side, not hiding here below the surface. _Of course, we'll probably
be the next target if it does... no, it _will not_ win._

Hikari looked at her watch. Twenty minutes. _There's no
way those two could take this long. They're up to something._

She made her way across the room. A gray-haired woman
sat watching over two small sleeping children, not far from the
restrooms. "Excuse me, ma'am," she whispered, "did you see two
boys come past here? One of them's skinny, with glasses, and the
other's tall and kind of muscular."

"Why, yes, dear. They went that way." She pointed away
from the men's room. Towards the exit.

"Thanks, ma'am." Hikari ran for the door. _Idiots. If you
get yourselves killed, I'm going to hurt you._

"That thing's _good_."

"Shee-it. I thought Ikari could kill anything on two legs
'thout breakin' a sweat."

"It doesn't have legs, Touji."

"Maybe dat's what's wrong." The combatants were
throwing up a massive cloud of dust. They could see only quick
flashes of action; the Eva's heels scything towards their target, the
Angel's tentacles lashing out blurring-swift, the Eva dodging and
striking again.

"Suzuhara! Aida! Come inside at once!"

"Class Rep?"

Shinji was completely immersed in the eternal present, in the
perfect warrior's mind, a concentration so complete as to give
awareness of all things. Afterward, as always, he would wonder
what secrets he had learned in that state, how close he had come to
Enlightenment. But now there were only fists and feet and rifle,
dancing in the void with the alien's appendages.

There was a blow he could not dodge or absorb. There was
only one choice, and he took it without hesitation, springing back
and letting the force of the enemy's energy-lash throw him off,
towards the hill with the temple atop it...

There were civilians there, he noted dispassionately. Out of
their shelters. _May Kuan Yin keep them safe,_ a tiny corner of his
mind prayed, while rest modified his landing roll to avoid crushing

"Shinji! No!" Misato screamed as the Evangelion hurtled
through the air. "Umbilical cable severed! Eva switching to
internal battery power! Shinji, you've four minutes and fifty-three
seconds. Defeat it, now!" He'd lost the rifle in the confusion. No
matter, as her readouts showed it out of ammunition. There wasn't
a spare within reach.

The Angel was closing. They would fight here, and anyone
on the ground would be killed inevitably in the battle, crushed to
death like crickets in a tavern brawl. "No!" he screamed, only half-
realising that he was no longer speaking Japanese, but the
countryish Mandarin of the Qinghai Amazon Free State. "Not

"Get in the plug! Now!" A giant metal cylinder had been
extended from the robot's back, and Ikari was hanging out of the
hatch, fluid dripping from his bangs.

"What da hell!" Suzuhara exclaimed.

"In here, with me. All of you. Now!"

Aida's face was frozen between two expressions: utter
terror and childlike joy. Suzuhara was simply stunned. Hikari took
control of the situation. "All right, you morons, do what he says!"

"But.." She grabbed each by the shirt.

"Shinji! You can't let unauthorized civilians into the entry
plug!" He wasn't listening. "Don't do this to me! Please?!" No
luck. The girl was dragging the two boys towards the waiting
hatch. Her computer display told her these were Shinji's fellow
students; she ignored it. All that mattered was her housemate, who
was not going to die. The universe owed her a debt for its past
unkindness; it was not going to deny her a chance to kick Ikari
Shinji's rear end. The clock was ticking away on the internal power

"But... we'll drown in there."

"Ikari-kun hasn't, has he?" She shoved the two boys inside,
dropped behind them. Immediately, the hatch closed.

"Don't try to hold your air. The liquid is breathable." the
pilot commented, already back in his seat.

"What da..."

"Be quiet."

Ritsuko was screaming behind her. "We're detecting
irregularities in the nervous system! It's because he's taken on
three foreign bodies! There's noise mixed in with the nerve
pulses!" On one level Misato wanted to slap her old friend; on
another she wanted to grab hold of her and hug her tight, as the
closest convenient substitute for her old teddy bear.

The clock was ticking down. _Shin-chan, I hope that in our
next incarnation _you're_ the one behind the lines and _I'm_ the
warrior. I want you to put you through every bit of this crap..._
"Retreat, you idiot! Use retrieval route 39-- fall back to the
western side of the mountain!"

Ritsuko was screaming something new. "Irregularities are
fading! And the internal battery..."

He could feel the disharmony in the Evangelion's nervous
system. It grated. He reached out with his chi and took control,
damping the three chaotic untrained flows. The power was running
down; he reached to heaven and earth for more, opening himself as
a conduit. "Time to end this," he muttered, reaching for his one
remaining weapon. Blades were always the best choice.

"Hey, uh, Ikari-kun. She's tellin' ya ta fall back..."

Hikari put her hand over his mouth. "Shut up, Suzuhara-
kun. Let the man fight."

"Shinji!" she screamed helplessly.

"The progressive knife is drawn!" cried one of the techs.

"Dear gods," Ritsuko muttered, "The power levels are
going _up_. He's got four minutes now!"

The fight was over within ten seconds. Within forty, the
Eva's battery levels had dropped to nearly nothing.

The dispassionate fury of battle left him, and he could no
longer sustain the great war machine. "Ikari-kun?" Horaki-san's
hand was on his shoulder.

"Give me a moment."

"Excuse me?"

He'd spoken in Chinese again. "I'll eject the plug. I'm
afraid you'll have to walk home." They climbed out and dropped
to the surface; he had barely enough strength left to help Horaki-
san down.

The boy with glasses was interspersing coughing up LCL
with babbling something about grateful, and tremendous, and
thank-you-for-this-once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity. Shinji didn't feel
up to following it.

A tilt-rotor with NERV markings screamed in, landing
perilously close to the stationary Eva. Misato jumped out before
the pilot could extend the boarding ladder, knees bent to take the
fall. "You three, get in the 'rotor. Now!" When they were out of
sight, she grasped a fistful of plug suit, shoved her face in his.
"What in nine hells was the meaning of that, Ikari Shinji?"

"It is the duty of a warrior to preserve the lives of non-

"Why the hell didn't you retreat when I ordered you to,

"It was necessary to end the fight before further damage
could ensue. A prolonged retreat, followed by a counter-attack,
might have endangered the area's shelters."

*Smack* She realised a moment after the sound that she
had struck him across the face. It felt good. She drew back her
hand to slap him again.

Her eyes met his. They were deep, patient. He was making
no attempt to evade her blows. He seemed to be saying: go ahead,
hit me; as my superior officer, it is your right. She felt sick at heart.

"Oh gods, Shin-chan." Before she quite knew what she was
doing she had embraced him. There were tears in her eyes. "I was
so worried about you..." she trailed off, crying.

His arms slid around her back. "You shouldn't."

"Yes, I should." She looked down into his eyes, startled to
realise that he was two centimeters shorter than herself. "I'm too
young to die of a heart attack, okay?"

"I shall endeavour to prevent such an occurrence." _He's
smiling. He's really smiling!_ She was sorely tempted to kiss him.

"Oh man! That's Ikari's CO? I wish a girl like that would
order _me_ around."

"Ikari's workin' wit' dat superior babe? No wonder he
don't notice da girls in class."

"Shut up, you goons," Hikari snapped.

Kensuke moved to the window, peeking around the edge.
"Oh my God, look at this."

"Don't be a jerk, Aida-kun."

Suzuhara peered over his friend's head. "Dey... dey got no

Despite her better instincts, Hikari took a glance. Her
classmate and the uniformed woman were in each others' arms.
She couldn't see their faces clearly, but they were close together,
and the woman's fingers were twined about Ikari's braid. "We're
not going to talk about this at school, are we?" She laid a hand on
the back of each neck.

Suzuhara gulped. "No, Class Rep."

"But, Class Rep--" she gently squeezed Aida's nape.
"Okay, we won't."

"Good boys."

She took her lips from his cheek. "Let's go _home_,

"Y... Okay." The word sounded foreign on his tongue. She
laughed, and gave him one final hard squeeze before letting go.
_Ikari Shinji, I think I lo... like you._

Author's Notes:
This is an attempt on my part to re-write the second volume of the
manga as it would be in a world where Suzuhara's mocking
comment (Viz translation, graphic novel, page 43) was simply the

The lines quoted from Tu Fu's "Ballad of the Army Carts" are my own
rendering, based on several different translations. As I have about
five words of present-day Mandarin and absolutely no Classical
Chinese, this is not to be taken as any sort of authoritative version.
My favourite translation of this poem on the web is David Lunde's
at: There are several
other very nice translations of Chinese poetry on the same site.

Any martial arts errors are my fault and not my shifu's.