There is silence. Pure, complete, utter silence as the explanation finishes. It is the next day, in the school cafeteria. The festival is that night, he is sitting across from his friends, and he has just finished explaining that yes, he is going, and yes, he has a date. Then he said who his date was.
"You brave, magnificent bastard," Ken says, "That is either the most courageous or stupidest thing I've ever heard of anyone doing."
"I dropped on an Angel from orbit," Shinji responds, "How is this more brave than that?"
"Cause if you died during that, it'd be quick and painless," Touji responds, "But this? You piss her off, she'll make you die slow."
"He's got a point," Ken says, mouthful of food dripping crumbs, "She is military."
"Well, so am I, I guess…"
"Nope," Touji says, "Ken looked it up. Red's a Captain in the German Air Force."
Shinji slowly turns to Touji, eyes wide. Admittedly, he has not been social until recently. Admittedly, he tends to not ask questions, but rather go with the flow. Right now, however, this is more of a concern because he has a date. A date, who if this information is not being exaggerated, can both kill him with her bare hands and then hide the body.
Fly me to the Moon begins playing, and Shinji tentatively reaches for his cell phone. He stares at the number, and resigned to his fate, opens it.
"Hello, Shinji," Commander Sohryu cheerfully says, "I think we need to take this opportunity to go over rules for tonight."
It is with a level of trepidation that Rei walks through the halls of NERV. It was requested that she take this day off from school, mainly to see what her full manifestation against Matariel has done to her sync rate. So far, no one has told her anything, although she suspects she will soon learn something upon her arrival in Dr. Ikari's office.
She has developed minor telepathy. She is using it as she walks through the base, passively scanning thoughts. Hopefully, she thinks, she can detect the thoughts of Naoko Akagi before she enters her proximity and avoid her.
It is not pleasant to realize that you can lose control, especially when almost your entire life hinges on you having absolute control. But the moment she saw her, the memory came back. Absently, she rubs her neck as she stands in front of the door and opens it, a passive scan confirming that she is nowhere near.
Gendo Ikari looks up from behind his crescent moon shaped wooden desk, waving her in despite not taking his eyes off of the monitor screen in front of him.
Obedient as always, she walks in, standing in front of the desk.
She does so, sitting in the chair in front of the desk, hands on her lap.
"Your synchronization scores have gone up five percent," he says, "No anomalies detected. How are you feeling, Rei?"
"I am fine, Doctor Ikari."
"Good," he says, tapping a key, "Scans indicate increased brain activity. You have developed paranormal mental abilities?"
"Limited range telepathy. I am unsure of any others. I have not discovered any new abilities as of yet."
He stares at the screen a little longer, and turns back to Rei.
"I understand you are…interested in the Fourth Child," he says, "Why?"
"He calmed me down during my episode," she says, "I thought it would be an acceptable way of repaying him."
"I understand you have had prior incidents. You believe he is an Angel?"
"I believed he was a Nephilem due to our similarities," she says, "I have talked with Commander Sohryu. He has explained to me that he is not."
He taps a few more keys on his keyboard, and turns back to her.
"Rei, you have not come to me about my relationship with Naoko Akagi," he says, "I am curious as to why."
"My history with Mrs. Akagi does not relate to you," she says.
"You overheard me talking about her. That is what prompted her to attempt to strangle you."
She clenches her teeth, an action so subtle he does not notice it, or if he does he does not indicate it.
"I have received complaints from your sister regarding my association with Naoko Akagi. Dr. Akagi has also been vocal. What is your opinion, Rei?"
She stands up.
"I do not wish to talk about this," she says, with more vehemence than she wished, and quickly walks out. He sits at his desk and watches as she leaves, and slowly, deliberately, leans back with a smile.
In Cage 3, Unit 01 stands. Deep inside its core, on the other hand, the intelligence that drives it watches. Monitors float in front of her as Eva sits, watching scenes throughout the base. Part of her, the part that finds herself relating with the pilot, wishes that she had some way of enjoying herself tonight.
Still, she has been reassured, that will come in time.
The rest of her, though, watches as Dr. Ikari verbally baits Rei to get a reaction out of her. She knows that, deep down, he cares for her. Just like, deep down, he cares for Shinji.
"Yeah, well," she says, "He's still an a__hole."
"So you are taking the night off."
Kozou Fuyutsuki allows himself a thin, knowing smile as Pieter glares at him. The lights of the office are dimmed, Sohryu has his feet up on his desk, and it has become apparent that the sub-commander has just outwitted his superior officer.
"Considering that we are not expecting an Angel attack," he says, "And considering that if you were on duty tonight, you would reassign the majority of Section 2 to watch over your daughters, it only makes sense for you to relieve yourself for the night to watch over them personally."
"Section 2's responsible for the safety of my pilots."
"And you would have them responsible for the virtue of your daughters," Kozou says, and shrugs, "You're being paranoid. Of course, I'm not a father. I can't say whether or not I'm just being sarcastic or observant. But you will worry, much like you always do. I'll handle things on this end tonight."
"I'm not paranoid."
"You just told Shinji that if you daughter, and I quote, 'comes back upset, hurt, or pregnant, I will hunt you to the ends of the Earth.'"
"And then I told him I was joking and to have a nice time."
"Because we know just how well the Third Child deals with jokes, of course."
Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Sohryu attempts to stare down his subordinate into submission, but soon finds it is an effort beyond him. Deciding on a different tactic, he sits up and punches up his desktop.
"I'm not worried," he says, "If, by some bizarre circumstance completely outside of their psychological profiles either Shinji or Kaworu try anything, they will regret it. For the rest of their lives. Which will be very short. Look, if you want me to take a night off, fine. If the spacing between the last few Angels is any indication, we don't have to worry."
The door swings open, both of them turning to the new visitor.
"Ikari, what is it?"
Gendo stops, stares at Sohryu, and shrugs it off, walking in with a folder under his arm.
"I hope Doctor Akagi gets a warmer reception," he says.
"Doctor Akagi has a better sense of humor and nicer legs," Sohryu responds, "What do you need?"
The folder slaps down on the desk, Sohryu snatching it and opening it.
"Is this a joke?" he asks.
"Hardly. The JSSDF is commissioning their own Evangelion alternative."
"It's a giant robot. An actual giant robot. Are they nuts?"
"It's called Jet Alone," Ikari says, pulling up a chair and sitting, "About one and a quarter the size of a Unit, and completely mechanical. The prototype will be powered by a decommissioned nuclear reactor, and production models by smaller fusion reactors. Armament is…"
"A rocket powered hammer," Sohryu says, raising an eyebrow as he scans the schematics, "Are they insane…wait. What could this do?"
"If the AT field is down, it could shatter an Angel's core at full speed," Ikari says, folding his arms, "In one hit."
Sohryu goes over the schematics, looking over the blueprints. If he noticed, Ikari doesn't seem to care, and continues.
"The computer onboard the Jet Alone is comparable to the MAGI in processing power. It is remote controlled and has a considerable operation period. Considering that we are currently rebooting MAGI-1, we could ask MAGI-2 to hack Jet Alone's operating system. Set the robot to go on a rampage, and you close the project."
Sohryu puts down the blueprints, turning to the two.
"Let's see what they can do," he says, folding his hands into a tent in front of his face, eyes pensive, "MAGI's down right now, so that's besides the point. I won't trust hacking like this to NERV-2 if I can help it. Get me the weapons designers for this thing. I want to see what they can do for us."
It is a testament to the bizarre nature of Shinji's current lifestyle that what terrifies him at that point is not the two hundred foot tall lime green monstrosity standing over them. No, no. His response to that is more or less the thought, Oh, man. Not him again.
No, what truly fills him with awesome terror is what happened after it showed up.
There was the commotion, there was the shockwaves from it stepping, and there was the stand they were in front of collapsing and both of them falling.
Then Shinji looked down and realized that, quite accidentally and innocently, as he fell he had copped a feel on Asuka.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The fair was built, quite fast in fact, on a hillside near where Ramiel was destroyed. In fact, one of the bazaars are selling small pieces of the Angel, which were all vetted by NERV beforehand to not contain any residue of Ramiel's intelligence or any angelic material.
"Well, this is certainly festive."
The agreement was to meet the girls at the fair, so Shinji walked with Kaworu. Neither had the time or inclination to change out of their school clothes, instead enjoying the cooling spring air.
"I understand they have found ice forming in Antarctica again," Kaworu says as they walk, "It seems the world is more resilient than they believed."
Kaworu smiles, hands in his pockets, shoulders back and relaxed. Shinji has tried to copy that, tried to walk like that, but finds he can't. Maybe he will in time.
"Have you spoken with Eva, lately?"
"When they have me do synch tests," Shinji responds, "Every time I sync, I hear her. I guess it's…I don't know, should I be looking forward to synch tests?"
"We get attached to our Evas," Kaworu says with a small shrug, "Perhaps it isn't that strange to befriend yours. What sort of person is she?"
"Nice. Blunt, sometimes. She's fun to be around, but a little weird."
"She always changes the…well, when I actually see her, it's this little world inside the Eva. Does that make sense?"
"More than you think," Kaworu says, turning his head to Shinji.
"Well, when I see her, she keeps changing the world I see her in. The first time, it was this field, the second time it was…well, the second time it was a tennis court. One time I fell asleep during the test, and the next thing I know I'm in this sports stadium, and Eva's serving hot dogs."
"The core intelligence of your superweapon seems eccentric."
"Friendly, but eccentric."
"There you are!"
Rei appears between Kaworu and Shinji, sliding her hand around Kaworu's elbow.
"Let's go," she says, and they blink out. Shinji stares at the space his room mate used to be, before shaking his head and turning.
"Rei just discovered she can teleport other people now. You get used to it. First time she did it with me, I threw up."
Festive. That is probably the best way to describe Asuka's outfit. A white, red flowered kimono, and in the brief moment he saw Rei before she teleported, he saw hers was blue. Asuka is standing with her hands on her hips, a wide smile on her face, and without hesitation grabs Shinji by the arm and drags him to the festival.
He gets a brief glance at the area around him, and before the festivities begin, voices one thought:
"I could have sworn I just saw the Commander…"
Kozou always plays White. Gendo always plays Black. That is the way of things and more or less sums up their relationship over the years. An organization runs like a finely oiled machine, which meant that the Subcommander and the head of Project E could take an hour off to play Chess.
"What is your take on Shinji's progress," Kozou asks.
Gendo looks up, then turns to the board and pushes a bishop into position.
"He seems more confident since his trip to the moon."
"True. That may be due to his discovery of Eva," Kozou responds, countering the move, "What do you think she is?"
"I can't say…"
"Neither of us knew Yui when she was that young. Whether she's based on her we can't be sure of."
Kozou grimaces as Gendo moves a pawn forward, hesitating before moving his knight.
"It may be possible that, like the Angels, the Evangelions are more intelligent than we believed," Gendo responds, "I will ask Nagisa to sleep inside of Unit 04's entry plug. We can see if he encounters a similar entity."
"Rei has issues with Unit 00. Asuka will find something she will not want to find that will conflict with her world view."
"Of course. Your theories."
Gendo grunts, castling his king.
"You're using first names now," Kozou responds, moving his pawn, "You've been referring to Shinji as something other than 'pilot' or 'Third Child.' Keep this up and we may label you ask paternal."
"I leave the affectionate fatherhood to Sohryu and Kaji-san. You are the keeper of wisdom, and I am the presence everyone jumps at. If we shift our niches around too much, it may upset the Angels."
Kozou stares at Ikari for a long moment, before looking down and noticing he is in check.
"Dear God, you've just made a joke."
He's never been one for physical activity, so much of his interaction with the fair is him being dragged by Asuka. He doesn't mind. He can't really call Asuka 'feminine' as much as 'aggressive', and in some way, being at her beck and call doesn't bother him. He watches as Asuka and Hikari less talk and more chatter, while he and Touji take turns with a bottles game.
"I tell ya," Touji says, knocking several bottles off a shelf with a times throw, "I don't get women. You an' the Devil I don't see that much. I more saw you an' Ayanami, really."
"I haven't spent that much time around Rei, honestly."
"Yeah, well ya look cute. Must be because you look alike."
Shinji raises an eyebrow, shaking his head and pushing down the thoughts. An idea comes to mind, and he walks away for a moment, walking to the stands selling the small blue gems on chains. He knows what they are. He's more or less responsible for them in the first place.
Paying for one, he pockets it and walks back. Touji is still busy trying to win a large, stuffed, plush version of the Fourth Angel.
"Has anyone seen Kaworu?"
Overlooking the fair, there is a series of suspended catwalks. Why they were put in place is uncertain, other than to give a good view of the sea and the festivities.
Two people are using them, currently, both leaning on the rope railing of the wooden bridges.
"The Commander has told me about your father," Rei says, standing next to him, "We are the same."
"In a sense," Kaworu says with a sad smile, "He's not my father. Not in any sense other than donating cells."
He laces his fingers together, staring out into the sea.
"We're not the same," he says, "For one, I never learned what Angel was used in my creation. It could have been Lilith. It could have been Hadsiel. Who knows? As it is, it didn't take. All I have from it is that I'm a little bit more sensitive to the sun than anyone else I know, and I can synch with my Eva better than anyone."
"And," she asks.
"And second, we are not the same. I am Kaworu, you are Rei. We have our oddities, we have our quirks. Most importantly, we are unique. Are you replaceable?"
She ponders that statement for a long moment. Her origins, her state of existence, are no secret to her. Smiling, very softly, she fingers her fingers lacing with his.
"Then my point exactly," he says, "I still don't understand how we go from you making me bleed to dating."
"This is not a date," she states, "This is repayment."
"Ah, I see…"
"It is only logical that I repay your help," she responds, "You are a very odd person. Most people are…hesitant…to approach me."
"I am not most people."
Things happen. That is probably how he sums up his life. Things happen.
Shinji is not sure how to respond to Hikari's question. He is, but he's not sure why. Sure, he realizes that he's inadvertently made himself into Asuka's arm candy, and this isn't going to change their relationship outside of her using him as proof that, no, she is not terrifying to boys.
"I…guess," he responds.
Once more, Touji is attempting to win the prize. Asuka is holding a bag of food, as Hikari walks over to cheer on her date, and the silence between the two is broken soon enough.
"If you're miserable, it's alright," Asuka says, her cheery demeanor evaporating.
"No, it's fine," he sighs.
"What's wrong?" she asks.
"I don't know," he responds, "I've…I've never been to one of these. I just keep getting the feeling something's supposed to happen."
She purses her lips, then reaches into the bag and shoves a cookie into his hands.
"What are you doing?"
"Lightening the mood," she says, "Look, I don't get to go to these either. So have fun. It's a nice night, it's calm, and the world's not ending. So relax."
He nods, smiling faintly.
"Thank you," she says.
"Smiling," she says, and shivers a bit, "I…look, I'm never good at this."
She rolls her eyes at his question, shifting uncomfortably.
"I just wanted to-"
Her next words are interrupted by a flash of light and crack of thunder, as into the bay descends a massive form. The shockwave from the impact shakes the ground beneath them, the stand behind Shinji collapsing as both he and Asuka drops to the ground.
He looks up. Towering over the fair is the massive form of Sachiel, the Third Angel, and for a moment Shinji swears it is looking at him.
And looking down, he sees his hand on Asuka's chest.
Yelping, he rolls off of her, grabbing her arm and pulling her up.
"Party's over," Shinji yells, "Let's get…"
An artillery blast hammers the Angel in the face as Shinji turns to find Sohryu standing in front of him, one hand holding his cell phone.
"Yeah, I see him," Sohryu yells, "Kozou, what Units are prepped? Got it."
He turns to Shinji and Asuka, who has currently developed a twitch on her forehead. Rei appears next to her, Shinji, to his credit and disappointment, not freaking out.
"Shinji, you're going to help me get everyone out of here," Sohryu says, "Rei, Unit 02's prepped for sortie. Get Asuka to base, now."
"Understood, Commander," Rei says, placing her hand on Asuka's shoulder, and the two vanish.
More artillery blasts hammer the Angel's face, the Angel stumbling back before turning its attention to the cannons.
"Take the night off, they said," Sohryu mutters.
Distracted as it was by artillery shells in the face and chest, it was in retrospect an easy enough matter to get everyone out of the fair grounds and onto a hill a good mile and a half away from the Angel. Currently, they watch as Sachiel stomps on the grounds, looking more annoyed, at least if Angels could emote, than anything.
"That stupid bastard."
Ken's date, Sakura, folds her arms and glares at the Angel, as Kaworu stares at her out of curiosity.
Standing next to them are Shinji, Hikari, Touji, and the Commander, watching as the Angel simply stares, waiting. What it is waiting for they are uncertain of, but as the lift opens two miles in the distance and Unit 02 rises, it turns to the red Eva.
"It's looking for a fight," Touji says, "What it is, bored?"
"Right," Shinji says, "Well…I think it's going to regret that."
Confused, Touji turns to Shinji, as Unit 02 charges-
"Gott verdammte Sohn - von - a – Weibchen!"
And kicks the Angel between the legs. Sachiel's face twists fully upside down, and with an unearthly groan the Angel collapses. On the hill, everyone stares, mouths agape. Hikari has her hands over her mouth, Ken's eyes are wide as saucers.
"That is messed up!" Touji screams.
They watch as Unit 02 begins stomping on the fallen Angels' face.
"ES MÖCHTE DIE KANDARE SCHMECKEN! ES MÖCHTE DIE KANDARE SCHMECKEN!"
"What is she screaming," Shinji asks.
"You don't want to know," Sohryu responds.
More Germanic swear words follow, Unit 02 wailing on the Angel, smacking it across the country side before finally punting it into the sea, where it vanishes.
"I would've preferred she killed it, but I'll take my victories," Sohryu says with a sigh, bringing up his cell phone, "Alright, reel her in."
It took another hour for the cleanup crews to arrive. The festival was completely and utterly trashed, and the best guess for why the Third Angel showed up just to stomp on their fun was 'just because.' No other information was forecoming, and the Commander left shortly after to do the paperwork this incident required.
Soon enough, Shinji found Asuka sitting on a bench overlooking the battleground. She was still in her kimono, but her hair was sticky and the fabric was wrinkled and streaked.
"Well, that went well," she mutters.
She stands, flecking flakes of dried LCL off her sleeve, and turns to him.
"What?" she asks.
He reaches into his pocket, taking out the necklace.
"I got this for you," he says, "I was going to give it to you, but…well, then the Angel showed up and you kicked its ass."
She stares at him as he continues.
"I…that was incredible," he says, "It really was. I'd be surprised if that thing wasn't afraid of you from now on."
She smiles, genuinely smiles at him. And then, she hugs him, laughing, Shinji hugging her back. They stand like that for a while, as the moon shines in the sky and the smoking remains of the festival smolder in the distance.
And on a hill out of sight, watching through binoculars, Sakura Hoshi grins.
"About damn time," she says.
She looks at the small, bone white ball in her hand and glares at it.
"Don't you complain to me," she says, walking back towards her apartment building, "You started it."