"Mr. Shinji Ikari! Will Mr. Shinji Ikari please come to Commander Kozu Fuyutsuki's office?"
That familiar female voice rang through the loudspeaker of the building. He probably had called his office to no response a dozen times earlier to get this desperate to contact Shinji. However, it was rather difficult to answer the phone when one was ejecting explosive levels of diarrhea from one's anus. Shinji recalled last night with a rather irate expression as he felt helpless frustration at being unable to respond to Fuyutsuki's call.
Last night, Misato had dumped both of her kids on both him and his darling wife-to-be, Asuka. To say this was unexpected would be akin to claiming that Stalingrad was only a minor battle. Once again, thankfully, Ryouji had become a boy possessed by the urge to dominate and destroy Asuka in a fighting game of some sort, Shinji figured the newest Mortal Kombat seeing as how that was what his wife had spent the majority of the time playing recently. Unfortunately, however, Yumi wasn't so easily preoccupied with the game.
Rather, she was drawing.
While in and of itself this was an act of no real importance, and certainly one that wouldn't cause Shinji to release toxic brown sludge out of his ass, it was the content of the drawings that lead to both final situations. It was a certain blue haired girl: Rei Ayanami.
Just how the hell did this girl know about Rei Ayanami remained a mystery to Shinji to this very instant. How did Yumi know about a girl who had fallen to pieces years before she had even drawn her first breath? Out of all the individuals who had never returned from Instrumentality, Rei Ayanami was the one no one had ever spoken of in public, or had built a memorial of. Ryouji Kaji and Ritsuko had both memorials and portraits of all sorts positioned all around the NERV facilities, and Gendo Ikari's horrible form had been erected as a statue in front of the entranceway Shinji took every day to work, but Rei Ayanami's sole monument, the sole evidence she had even been alive at all, save for simple pictures and documentation, was her Earthly remains that had been contained several miles below the Earth.
Rei Ayanami was in pieces below the Earth.
How did Yumi know what she looked like?
Why was she drawing he so frequently?
"So, Yumi, drawing again?" Shinji asked, softly so he wouldn't draw his fiance's attention to the subject that disturbed her so terribly.
Yumi nodded at this, her eyes still focused behind her glasses in nigh-obsessive attention. "It's that girl I told you about last time, R—" Shinji clamped a hand on Yumi's soft mouth, strangling the words before they could be given life. Thankfully, Asuka was too busy dampening her character's fists in Ryouji's avatar's blood to even briefly notice the first letter of her hated rival's name.
"I know who you mean, yeah. So, uh, Yumi, did you see this girl again?"
"Yeah," Yumi replied, "Outside my house."
"Outside your—what was that!" Outside Misato Katsuragi—er—Hyuuga's house? How could a dead woman Misato had known for years possibly find herself in front of the house of one of the people this supposedly dead or alive girl knew growing up and dying in front of? Wasn't there security around the Hyuuga residence that would pick up the presence of a living dead girl like Rei Ayanami? Wasn't there some sort of scanner or tracker that would determine if an Angelic creature like Rei emerged nearby?
"Yeah, on the front step," Yumi replied, "Just standing there. Mommy didn't see her, though, 'cause she left before she came outside."
Misato didn't see? Surely security cameras caught something. Shinji knew that someone like Rei Ayanami couldn't just walk up, say hi, and leave without someone noticing her. Actually, that statement wasn't entirely true, now that he thought of it, considering just how spectral Rei was in life. But Yumi couldn't notice that Shinji was this anxious, oh no. "Oh, did she say anything to you?"
"She asked about someone named Pilot Sohryu. Do you know someone like that?"
THAT caught his fiancé's attention.
At that moment, the redhaired German rose to her feet, and turned around, curiously. It was as though, even after over a decade of disuse, that name still summoned feelings of the past from his wife-to-be, bringing the former ace pilot to her feet, just like that. "What're you two talking about, exactly?"
"Oh, uh, nothing at all!" Shinji replied, waving Yumi off before she could speak something that would compromise his cover-up. After all, he was doing this for Asuka's sake. He didn't want Asuka responding like last time by going all nuts searching for info on Rei Ayanami again. Surely his wife could forgive him for so clearly lying to her like this.
"No, really, I heard my name. I'm not stupid, like you, idiot."
Yumi jumped up at this, her eyes wide like balls. "You were a pilot? Of what, a plane?"
"Well, no, not really. Actually, I was the pilot of—"
"So who wants some German food?" It was the first thing Shinji could think of that would deviate the topic away from piloting, from Yumi's questions, from Rei Ayanami. As he hastily grabbed random ingredients together, along with a fryer, he noticed that Asuka was STILL explaining to Yumi the exact nature of who "Pilot Sohryu" was.
"Oh, yeah, I'll have some of whatever you make, just get me chocolate too. Anyway, back when I was younger, I—"
At that moment, the pots and pans Shinji had retrieved "slipped" from his fingers, slamming loudly onto the oven, sending a clatter through the air that obliterated the sounds that emerged from the redhead's mouth. The girl cringed, the soft flesh on her shoulders bunching up over her bra-straps, but Shinji didn't care. Anything to interrupt Asuka before Rei's story came to the forefront of the conversation.
"What the hell are you! Stupid!" Asuka snapped, turning on Shinji, "Those pots aren't cheap, ya know!"
"But you see no problem in spending dozens of hundreds if not thousands of dollars on a birthday cornucopia?"
"You guys sure fight a lot," Yumi replied, smiling, her dimples almost begging Shinji to pinch her cherubic cheeks.
"Yeah, well, that's what happens when you're dealing with an idiot like him," Asuka replied, slumping back down by Ryouji, forgetting Yumi in order to pummel her brother.
Disaster averted, right?
As Shinji realized, as he sat on the can, an extra ingediant had been dropped in the pot when he slammed it against the oven, one that, upon being cooked, reacted poorly with his bowels. Asuka and the others simply said the food wasn't his best specimen, or, in Asuka's words, "I've tasted freaking dog vomit tastier than this slop! What? Was edible food too classy for tonight, dummkopf?"
After purging himself of the filthy sludge he had cooked the night before, Shinji left the bathroom, and made a mad dash for Fuyutsuki's room as they paged him a second time. Upon arriving in his office, pushing his door open as he stumbled in front of Fuyutsuki's desk in a clutter, the elderly man glanced at him, sighing in relief. "Good. For a second I thought you must've been out contemplating the meaning of life or something. What took you so long, Ikari?"
"I was, er, taking care of some business, sir."
"Was it so important that you couldn't just stop what you were doing and walk your way to my office, Ikari?"
"Trust me when I say that if I stopped midway and did a half-assed job, things could get a little messy in here."
"Ikari, I waddle through messes bigger than whatever you were dealing with on a daily basis, so that's no excuse."
"And in any case, what I have to tell you is extremely important, so listen very careful to what I am about to say."
Fuyutsuki ran a hand up his wrinkled forehead, the lighting in the room making him look older than he truly was. Finally, he turned to Shinji, and withdrew a folder from his desk drawer. As he dropped the file on the surface of his desk, he began to speak. "Intelligence gathered questionable video content from the Hyuuga residence a few days ago, but it's only come to my attention recently due to rather sloppy middle management skills. Once Misato saw this, she felt you had the right to take a look at all this as well."
Even before Fuyutsuki opened the folder up, Shinji knew what he was about to see. He didn't need the page to turn to bare witness to a head of blue hair, scarlet eyes staring out at the camera, a school uniform composed of blue and white fabric that he had not seen in several yeas, and pale, empty skin pulled against nigh emotionless facial muscles.
"I don't know what this means, nor have I any way of knowing how to deal with this issue, but, Ikari, we just felt you should know. That's all."
"I understand, Commander. But, can you tell me what you think this means?"
Fuyutsuki sighed, running his hand through his hair yet again, pewter in color. "I have no idea. I really wish I had an answer to satisfy you, but I've got nothing. We checked the basement, and there's no sign that Rei's remains are any different, the bloodstains she left on the moon are still present, but I have nothing I can possibly tell you to explain why Rei Ayanami is in that picture. Not a damn thing."
"Your fiancé knows nothing. We all felt, considering their history and the great lengths she went to last time to prove to herself that there was nothing wrong, that for her peace of mind it was best not to tell her until we have sure proof evidence that this is indeed Rei. Then we'll tell her, seeing as how she is a high ranking member of NERV. Before that? Not necessary."
Shinji agreed. Was there any need to add stress on her shoulders what with the baby growing inside of her and everything? What could that sort of stress do to their son—er, child—and his—er, its—development? This was the right decision, certainly. But still, what was he going to tell his wife—er, fiancé? Nothing. That was what. Nothing at all. He'd say nothing.
After all, why say anything when nothing was wrong?
From the door of the store emerged the red-haired German, holding a bar of chocolate between her delicate fingers. She inhaled the chocolate as her craving desire consumed her. She really didn't like chocolate anyway on a regular basis. It wasn't that good, just okay. She preferred real food, and yet she longed for the soft surface of these brown milky bars. Was this what those cravings were? The food cravings she had heard so much of in her books that caused women to gain weight for their baby? What a filthy, rotten joke nature had dealt the usually svelte woman.
"Pregnancy sucks," Asuka mumbled as she finished the bar, tossing it aside before turning aside, running a hand through her scarlet locks.
Pigeons flew into the air, beating their wings against the crisp air as they surged toward the sky in mass. The young adult stared up at them in mild awe. Some small children birds were soaring next to their mothers, or at least that's what it looked like. It could well be that the children were really just runts that Darwinism had forgotten to dispose of, but she'd rather not think that way right then and there.
She glanced down as she started toward home. She glanced off to the side to see a young girl clinging to the hand of an older woman, whining about how the threads in her skirt had gone undone and how the older woman, not a tailor or a professional like that, was the sole person in the world who could salvage her article of clothing. As Asuka pressed on, she also noticed a young girl sobbing to herself as she looked around for her mother, tears running down her cherubic cheeks. After the mother-to-be passed the sobbing girl by, she heard the girl's real mother arrive, taking the young one into her arms.
Was that what a real mother was supposed to do?
She didn't know how to do any of that.
As she walked down the remainder of the distance to her house, the German redhead noticed a schoolgirl standing nearby her apartment complex. She sighed, recognizing that blue and white uniform. Come to think of it, maybe Asuka could give her old uniform to her daughter—er, child. Surely she'd—er, it—would inherit Asuka's beautiful figure.
That girl looked familiar.
Maybe if Asuka would dig through her old stuff she'd find that old thing. She doubted it could fit her now with her future daughter—er, child—growing inside of her.
Her head was blocked out by that branch, but she could swear she looked familiar.
Maybe if she asked that stupid dork to look in her stuff for her. Digging around like she wanted to with a baby in her belly was one step short of insanity. Didn't want to hurt her future daughter—er, child—did she?
The girl was turning around now, and walking away.
All of a sudden, the German's thoughts froze in her brain as she stared out before her at the figure slowly walking away, clearly dissatisfied with whatever she was looking at. Step after step the woman took, her delicate smooth legs moving to the beat of the angels' wings, her locks of short cut hair at the edge of her harsh jaw line bouncing up and down with the beat of her movements.
That wasn't possible.
That doll was dead.
Rei was dead.
There she stood, no, walked, away from Asuka, and she could do nothing. All she could do was stare, her eyes wide in awe and terror, as the source of her fears and anxieties moved farther away from her, unaware that the red-haired demon who had abused her for so long was standing only ten meters away, no, twenty. She could do nothing to either run away from her or alert the doll to her presence. All she could do was stare, pick out each individual strand of hair on that girl's head as she walked, pick out every thread in her uniform as she swung her arms so briefly, see the outline of her rear-end on the skirt she wore, her rather slender and small rear. All she could see was Rei Ayanami's profile as she turned a corner, and disappeared entirely from view.
Rei Ayanami wasn't alive. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead. She was dead.
"SHE'S DEAD!" Asuka screamed to herself, grabbing her hair tightly as she fell to her knees, staring down at the ground. She was alone in the street. No one saw her collapse, nor did anyone see her reaction. No, they couldn't have seen int. Surely not. They'd think she was crazy if they had. What if she was crazy? What if she was hysterical? What if—?
"Asuka?" Asuka turned at the sound of her name to see Hikari, standing there not five meters, no, ten, from her, pushing the baby carriage here young Shinji laid, napping silently. At the sight of her friend, the redhead rose to her feet, her eyes still wide, sweat billowing from her pours. Were her knees shaking? Were her feet numb? She didn't know, though she was aware of the fact she couldn't stand still, nor could she breath properly. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"I think I have," Asuka replied, gasping for air at last, becoming aware she had been holding her breath before.
"I just saw—no, I think I just saw—no, maybe it was—no, couldn't be—"
"Slow down and just speak, alright?" Hikari replied, perhaps anxious that Asuka's rambling would awaken the napping babe.
"I think I just saw Rei."
"Rei? You mean Ayanami?"
"Yeah, that one!"
"Isn't she dead?"
"She is, right?"
"Well, you'd know better than me."
"Well, I don't know anything anymore right now. She's supposed to be dead. She should be dead. Has to be. That doll can't be alive. Was she ever alive? I don't know. Can something that wasn't really alive like a doll really be dead?"
"You're not making any sense, Asuka! Just sit down and let's just—"
"I can't just sit down! We need to tell Shinji, or Misato, or Fuyutsuki, or someone!" Asuka stammered, about to pull away, only for Hikari to grab her by the wrist. "Let me go!"
"Listen to yourself for a second! Do you realize what you're saying?" Hikari stammered, frantically.
"What do you mean?"
"What do I mean? You're hysterical! Think about it for a second! You're saying a girl who's been dead for the past decade, more than that, is alive and well and you just saw her. Do you know what they're gonna think?"
"They're gonna think you're losing it."
For a moment, the image of a woman sitting on her bed emerged in the German's mind eye. She imagined a woman seeing things too, such as seeing a girl in her hands when all that she held was a fabric doll, a doll she called her daughter. She could see the woman's real daughter standing outside of her room, kept from contacting her mother. She saw herself as a child, staring at the mother who told people what she saw.
Was she going crazy? She had to be. She was saying she saw a dead girl walking around as though she were alive. What if she was becoming like her mother? Her mama? Surely, this couldn't be true. The circumstances were different, very different, but even so, what if other people didn't see it that way? What if they locked her up in a madhouse? What if everyone abandoned her? What if they took away her own future daughter—er, child?
No, that was just crazy paranoid rambling, wasn't it?
Was it worth it to find out what it was?
"I understand. I must be stressed out and saw something," Asuka sighed, doubting her own mouth.
"Do you want me to help you out or anything?"
"Can you get me some chocolate and some water?"
Shinji Ikari opened the door to his apartment, sighing as he ran a hand up his hair, anxiously. He glanced around, hoping he could avoid looking at his fiancé for too long. If he saw her, he was afraid he'd spill the beans, crack under her forceful eyes and tell her the truth, that Rei Ayanami was alive and well, with video and photograph evidence to prove it.
When his eyes landed on Asuka playing her game, he was relieved. No eye contact for him. "Hey, Asuka."
"Uh, do you want me to get you anything to eat?"
"Oh, uh, okay then. Chocolate?"
"Okay, uh, work was really rough today. How was your day?"
"Did I do something to bother you or something?"
"What's that?" Shinji stared at the redhead, concerned. Her voice was so flat, so unmotivated. She hadn't spoken like that since after Third Impact, when she was bleeding on the inside on a deserted beach, bleeding slowly through her torn intestine. He stared at her, bewildered as she stared blankly, lowering her head in shame as she turned away from Shinji, her hair falling over her face.
"It's not you, don't worry. It's just—I don't know."
Shinji neared his fiancé, extending his hand to comfort her, only to draw back. She was in one of her moods. Was it wise to even touch the time bomb at a time like this? Yes, she needed someone to help. He neared her again, putting a hand on her shoulder, gently. "Hey, listen, what's bothering you?"
"I think I'm going insane is all, no big deal!"
"What? What do you mean?"
Asuka began to laugh at this, but it wasn't a normal laugh. It was a hoarse, dry laugh, a cruel laugh, a laugh that bore no humor in it at all. "If I told you, you'd probably think I'm nuts. Don't worry. I know it couldn't be real. Maybe it was all just a dream I had with my eyes open."
"Oh, okay," Shinji mumbled, backing away. How did he deal with this? It wasn't like Asuka hadn't broken down like this before, but he couldn't just check her into a clinic like this with a baby on the way. Would they be able to treat her properly with a baby boy—er, child—in her body? What if they hurt their unborn infant, or if they somehow screwed up giving her enough food to feed their child? What if they gave her medication that could hurt their child? No, surely Asuka would need to stay out of a home as she struggled with her issues.
But how could that work out if Asuka didn't tell him what was wrong?