The vegetables stew as his arms wrap around her waist, lips pressing against her neck. She giggles in response, slapping her good hand against his as a small, knowing smirk crosses her face. The dinner is coming along, and soon enough their guests should be arriving. Of course, that still leaves time for play before the show, but considering her daughter is doing her homework in the living room, they know better.
"Feeling better?" he asks.
"Mm hm," she responds, leaning her head back onto his shoulder, "Both my parents shipped back to Germany today."
"So that's why…"
"Never thought the day would come where your father was the nice parent."
He snorts, grinning, pressing his nose into her hair…
And their eyes go wide as a long siren wails in the distance. They disengage, turning, their cell phones ringing with a text message. Shinji grabs his first, eyes snapping open.
"Angel alarm," she says.
"Worse," he says, "They're saying…they're saying it's…"
She snatches the phone out of his hand, eyes scanning over the message. Slowly, her eyes go wider and wider, before she absently drops it. He grabs it before it hits, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her to snap her to attention.
"Stay here," he says, tilting her head up to face him, "I'll be in contact. Okay?"
She nods, dumbly. Grabbing the back of her head, he pulls her in and kisses her, before turning and running out of the apartment. Slowly, shakily, she turns off the stove, stumbling into the living room. She collapses onto the sofa, clenching and unclenching her hands. As if she knew, Ariel walks over and hops onto the couch, squeezing her mother's hand.
"It'll be okay," she says.
"How do you know?" Asuka asks with a small, warm smile.
"Because Mr. Z's told me."
Chapter 16: The Light of Truth
THROUGH LICENSE OF HE WHO IS CALLED "I AM" I HAVE COME.
THOUGH I SHALL NEVER STAND UPON THE BASE EARTH ON MY BLESSED QUEST, I HAVE COME.
MY LIGHT SHALL BURN AWAY FALSEHOODS.
THE TRUE AND STRONG SHALL NOT FEAR ME.
I AM THE LIGHT OF GOD.
ANGEL OF BIRDS.
I AM ARAEL.
I HAVE COME.
The Section 2 car was waiting for him outside, and after hasty explanations followed by him pulling rank, they got him to NERV-1. Skidding to a stop in Central Dogma, Misato gives him an appraising look as he comes up next to her.
"I'm not bringing her here," he responds.
"It's an Angel…"
"It's the Angel," he snaps back, "She's staying at home, with Ariel."
Turning, he narrows his eyes. The top post is vacant. Snorting, he turns back to his long time friend and surrogate mother.
"Has anyone seen my father?"
"Section 2 can't find him," Misato growls, "So it's just us. Suzuhara!"
Touji's face appears, holograms of the pilots appearing around the central picture of the holographic screen. Activation images appear for Unit 03, Unit 11, and Unit 07. He recognizes Samantha and Hadji, both nervous. Neither of them have ever faced an Angel before. Neither of them ever hoped to.
"You're on point," Misato says, "We're sending up a modified version of the Positron Rifle for you. Kids, you're going to try throwing your AT Fields at the Angel, and that should give us the punch we need to take that thing out. Got it?"
Three affirmatives, as Shinji idly clenches his fist.
The television is on, the reports of the renewed Angel attack filtering into the apartment. Neither of them really care, though. Asuka simply continues holding onto her daughter, nose in her hair. To call this uncomfortable for her would be an understatement. She should be at NERV, she should be doing something, but he is right. In the face of this, of this, she is paralyzed. Her greatest fears manifest, her traumas brought to light.
To move past the traumas of yesteryear is one thing. To remain strong in the face of them returned is something else entirely.
"Mama, who's that?"
Snapping out of her daze, she turns to where her daughter was looking, the single window looking out onto the railing and walkway. She spots him for a moment as he walks past. The stone gray beard and amber glasses.
"Wait," she whispers, "No one's seen the Commander for two days…Ari?"
"That's Mr. Shinji's father, isn't it?" Ariel asks.
"I think he owes us an explanation," Asuka says, "Don't you?"
Unit 03, the black, pug faced giant, rests the landing struts of the massive tube on three high rise apartment buildings. Inside the plug, Touji Suzuhara narrows an eye through the firing scope built into his seat, grimacing as the scope pierces the atmosphere and locks onto the thing of light. It's shaped like a bird, and the onboard computer confirms that it is, inch by inch, a perfect copy of Arael.
"Rotten f___ing luck," he mutters.
"Captain Suzuhara, we're in position."
GPS navigator in the corner of his eye shows the other two Evas positioned accordingly, forming a neat triangle around Tokyo-3.
Snorting, he braces the firing controls. Parts of Tokyo-3 black out as the rain begins to fall. Pulling back the controls, the Eva aims the rifle up, forming a triangular firing solution around the glowing, passive form of the Angel.
"Blue pattern detected!"
"I know, Misato!"
"No! A SECOND Blue pattern!"
He looks up from the scope. Rising from the distance and over the mountain, a great red shape appears, slashing magenta energy whips.
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me!"
The elevator door to the roof opens, and Gendo Ikari turns as two people exit.
"Your son is worried sick about you," Asuka yells, Ariel holding her hand as they walk out and towards him, "Where have you been? Why did you go off the grid for two whole days?"
She waves off any response, pulling out her phone.
"Shinji? Yeah, I'm on the top of the apartment building, and I found the Commander. Yes, tell Misato. No, no, we're…"
He grabs her wrist. She narrows her eyes, glaring at him, as Ariel looks past them and skyward.
"Excuse me?" Asuka demands.
"Run," Gendo growls, "Now."
She pulls her hand free. His face has something she has never seen on it before. No scowl, no narrowing eyes. The corners of his mouth are turned down and his eyes are wide. It is a new emotion, a new expression.
"What do you mean?" she asks.
"It is here for me," he says, "Go."
Then a new star appears in the sky. The rain begins to fall. And Asuka looks up, her eyes going wide, and she can only whisper a small, faint, "Oh God," before she draws her daughter close.
And then the Light overtakes them.
There is silence on the other end of the cell phone. Technicians call out terms such as 'photonic build up' and 'energy spike,' but all Shinji needs to hear is one thing that makes his eyes go wide and his breath catch. He hears it, building up and starting deep down in the soul, coming through scratchy with the soft music.
He hears her scream, the same scream from twelve years ago. His heart skips a beat, and he turns to Misato, the look of wide eyed horror on her face.
"Touji!" she screams, "The Angel's attacking Asuka and the Commander!"
The main screen shifts, The great and mighty form of Shamsiel, the Fourth Angel, casually impales Unit 07 on its two tentacles before slamming it into Unit 11.
"I can't get a clear shot with the rifle," he yells, "And that f___ing squid's chewing up my pilots!"
Misato swears, clenching her fists.
"Hadji! Deploy your AT Field! Samantha, get your prog knife out and go for the core! I want Units 10 and 09 ready for deployment ninety seconds ago!"
Dogma shakes. The entire base shakes.
Eyes open in the blinding light. The voice, calling out to her. Her cell phone is still in her hand and oh God he's listening to this and she can hear her daughter screaming.
"ASUKA, CAN YOU HEAR ME?!"
The shock of memory knocked them all to the roof, to hard concrete. Her palms feel raw and she sees everything, twenty six years of bad memories and misery. She sees everything, everything that haunted her nightmares and dreams.
She walks in on the dangling feet of her mother.
Feels every spear impaling her.
Wakes up that night seven years ago from drunken stupor.
Feels every spiteful remark, every roving eye, every abuse leveled on her and leveled against others, friend and foe. Whispers of 'freak', 'bitch', 'whore.' Accusations when she first showed up with her daughter-
"N-no," she growls, gritting her teeth.
His shouts are in her ears. Her lifeline, this time.
Every step is on hands and knees. Every motion followed through by a shock of memory, blood trickling from her ears and nose.
But she takes every step. She drags herself forward. She grits her teeth and takes the pain. Grabbing the arm, she pulls her close, shielding her from the light as she grinds her teeth and brings her head up to face it.
"You," she growls, "Will. Not. Touch. MY. DAUGHTER!"
Deep within the red crystal core, something stirs. She opens her eyes, looking up. Even in the darkness, she can see the light and hear the scream.
"Unit 02 is ACTIVATING!"
Dogma rocks as the image shifts to Unit 02, its arms healed, its armor restored as the technicians report the S2 organ operating at full power. It roars and thrusts out its hand, the AT field blasting a hole into the side of NERV-1 which it launches itself out of.
"Get that thing restrained and back here!" Misato shouts, "Touji! Unit 02's gone berserk and it's heading your way!"
Drawing her close, Asuka grits her teeth and lets off a pained smile. The memories are still there, but she can counter them. She can stop them and fight off the bad. His voice brought her back, and she will thank him for it with gusto and without restraint.
"I'm here, Ari," she whispers, hugging her daughter close, now up to her knees, her daughter's face buried in her chest, "I'm here, baby."
Her mother's suicide becomes her daughter's first steps.
"Just listen to my voice," she whispers, "I won't let it hurt you."
Her first kiss becomes that night in the Berlin hotel.
"Asuka," the phone says, voice scratchy, desperate, "Asuka, I'm on my way. Please…please, just hold on."
Her humiliation from Angel after Angel becomes her daughter's first words.
"Mama," Ariel whispers, holding onto her tighter, "It's…it's singing?"
Her spearing by the MP Evas becomes her reconciliation with her sister.
She raises her head, closes her eyes. She smiles, letting it flow over and through her.
"I will not be afraid of you anymore."
The red fist slams into Shamsiel's face, the whips wrapping around Unit 02's arm before it yanks them back, tearing them off. Roaring, it tackles the beast, ripping its head from its body, pounding upon its spine before a swift stab with the progressive knife to the core makes it fall silent and dead.
Steam escaping its grill, it stands up tall. Eyes glowing, roaring, it charges the apartment building.
The light cuts out. Asuka can't see the Commander anymore, can't even search for him even if she was inclined to. He was screaming to, and if what Arael does to her is any indication, he was in for a nasty surprise.
Now the light is green. Looking up, the form of Unit 02 has overshadowed them, taking the light upon itself. Massive hands grip its chest and it tears open armor, exposing the Core. And then, darkness.
They stand in the darkness, only a faint white spotlight over them. They hear the ticking clock, and swinging pendulum. A second spotlight, and it illuminates a rocking chair, in which there is a single occupant.
Like Asuka, but unblemished, unscarred. Her hands in her lap as the chair rocks back and forth, a miserable sound coming from her throat and lips. Tears run down her face, her hair bedraggled and wild. She has been here for some time.
"I should have never had you," she says, puffy eyes staring at Asuka.
Asuka says nothing, taking her daughter's hand.
"I should have never had you," Kyoko repeats, "Because I had no business being a mother."
She rubs her eyes with the back of her hand, sitting back in the chair. A small, twisted, ironic smile is on her face and she smoothes out her hair. A vain act, but an act nonetheless.
"I wronged you," she says, "I had you just to spite him. Neither of us was innocent, but we had no business hurting you in the process. I raised you to hate a girl who never did a thing to hurt either of us, and I pushed you away because of my projects."
Her gaze goes from Asuka to Ariel. The smile creeps wider, her hands folding in her lap.
"I have never been there for you," Kyoko says, "And a handful of good deeds will never make up for what I have done for you. I will never ask for your forgiveness, Liebchen. I never can, because I am not worthy of it."
The car skids to a stop at one of the parking spaces. He kicks the door closed as he runs up the stairs. Unit 02 is overshadowing the roof, but the light is still bearing down on it, on them.
The phone cut out.
He will not consider the possibility they are gone.
He doesn't care if Misato gives him Hell for abandoning the base during an Angel attack.
He has a f___ing job to do.
"I have abused you in every way but physically," Kyoko continues, tears and snot staining her sleeve as she wipes it across her face, "I have rejected you. I have belittled you. I have traumatized you. I have never accepted you as anything more than an instrument for me to play with. And I…"
She looks up. Her daughter's face is inches from hers. They study each other. The similarities and differences. They have the same nose, their blue eyes the exact same shade.
"I planned to layer C4 around the core of Unit 02," Asuka says, "If you ever tried anything like you did with that girl again, I would detonate it and kill you. Why did you do that?"
"So you would not ignore me," Kyoko responds.
Asuka looks down, into her daughter's eyes. She gives her hand a squeeze, and looks back up. Reaching up, she runs her finger over her left eye, dropping the contact to the ground. A small, shaky, tight smile comes across her face. She raises her hand, and Kyoko winces…only to find it caressing her face.
"I am a scientist," Asuka says, "I study the works you pioneered. Nothing I do today I could do without what you laid before me. I have hated you for so many years, but now…now I can't. I can't because you have been the example I based my entire life on."
"You were a horrible mother," Asuka says, "But you are my mother. Everything I am is because of you. Are you proud of me?"
Closing her eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks, Kyoko Zeppelin Sohryu nods.
"More than you can imagine," she whispers.
He vaults the last stairs. He stares into the glowing eyes of Unit 02, the core a milky red as it overshadows everything on the roof. Not hesitating for a moment, he presses his hands against the light and walks in.
"I have watched you," Kyoko says, "I have seen what you have become. You have picked yourself up. You have made something of yourself, more than I ever could. And more importantly, you are a better mother than I have ever been."
Biting her lip, she averts Asuka's gaze.
"I have always loved you," Kyoko says, "But I could never figure out how to show it. It was another sin of my generation that so crippled yours. I should have never made these demands of you. I should have never put my burdens upon you. But despite this, you have become so much more than me. You are my brilliant, beautiful girl. I thought that what I felt for you was anger for how you cast me aside when I became away again."
"And now?" Asuka asks.
"It was envy," Kyoko responds, "Because you have done everything I tried to do and failed."
Asuka nods, closing her eyes. Reaching out, she takes her mother's hand in her own and squeezes. Reaching down, she gathers Ariel in her arms and picks her up.
"This," Asuka says, "Is your grand daughter. I named her Ariel Zeppelin Sohryu, after the two greatest trials I ever experienced. I gave her that name because I needed to be reminded of it. And in time, she's become my strength, as well."
Leaning in, lips near her daughter's ear, she smiles as Ariel's blue eyes lock with Kyoko's.
"Ari," she says, "This is your grandmother. For many years, she's been inside the big robot I piloted. Even after she left, she's protected me. She has fought beside me, and fought with me. And she fought to protect you, as well."
Kyoko smiles, her first real smile. Maybe her first smile of her entire life.
"You look just like your mother at that age," Kyoko says, "But happier. It is good to finally meet you."
Her hand extends, and Asuka pulls her mother closer. Their arms wrap around each other, and a small sob escapes Kyoko, becoming louder, and louder, until the sentient soul of Unit 02 finally begins to cry. Not a cry of pain, or of misery. Of joy.
"I have nothing to forgive," Asuka says, holding her mother's head on her shoulder, "You never did any of this to hurt me. You never intended me to find you, or for the experiments to go so wrong. You did the best that you could."
"And maybe you simply need to forgive yourself."
She lets Kyoko hold her granddaughter as they turn to the voice. Floating in the air, hands folded on her lap, the radiant form of Yui Ikari floats before them.
"I'm sorry," Yui says, "I piggy backed with Shinji. We don't have much time."
"I'd imagine," Asuka says with a frown, "My mother was just careless. You're the psychotic."
"Guilty," Yui says, raising an eyebrow, "Kyoko? Is this enough?"
"Never enough," Kyoko says, turning Ariel to her, gazing upon her smile, "It will never be enough. But it will have to be."
Going down to her knee, she places Ariel on her feet. Smoothing out the girl's hair, she smiles. A genuine, warm smile which Ariel returns.
"You're a lot like my Mama," she says, "Mama got sad sometimes, to. But I knew she never meant it."
"That's because she never did," Kyoko responds, "Your mother is many things. She is temperamental. She can be angry, and rude. She can dwell on the past and she can worry about the future, sometimes to the degree that she cannot do anything. But she will never hurt you, and woe to the person who tries harming you."
"Just like you did for her?"
"You went into the robot to protect my Mama," Ariel responds, "Didn't you?"
"Yes," she says, "Yes I did. To protect her, and to protect everyone."
Ariel leans in, wrapping her arms around her. She kisses her on the cheek and backs away back to Asuka. Hand on her cheek, smiling, laughing, Kyoko stands and looks to Yui.
Yui nods. In a flash of light, she is gone. Clearing his vision, Shinji looks around, before rushing over to Asuka and Ariel.
"What happened?" he asks.
"It's time for me to go," Kyoko says, "I'm proud of you, Liebchen. Prouder than you could know. You have surpassed me in all ways. As a scientist, as a person, and as a mother. I am just happy this could end on this note."
The spotlight shines down, illuminating Kyoko.
"What are you doing?" Asuka whispers.
"This is a Trial," Kyoko responds, "And trials can be passed by one of two ways. By brute force and guile, or by accepting the terms. To let our sins be bared to the world and to accept them. And to be willing to take a final step. The Angels test if we are worthy, if we have progressed."
The light plays around her, the creases of her dress and the wrinkles of her eyes.
"It is the greatest test of sentience," she says, "If we are ready to move past mere sapience into true transcendence. And do you know what the greatest sign of sentience is, Asuka?"
"The willingness to sacrifice," Asuka answers, a tear sliding down her cheek.
"We have passed the test," she says, "Passed the trial. You were willing to die for your daughter, and I am willing to die for you. Thank you, Liebchen. But it is time for me to move on."
With a burst of light, great white wings manifest from her shoulders. The song around them comes to a crescendo of voices and horn.
"Goodbye, Mama," Asuka says.
The smile on Kyoko's face goes from ear to ear. And her gaze turns to Shinji, locking eyes with him.
"And before I go," she says, "Ikari, if you ever hurt my daughter, I will come back specifically for you."
The light around her shines, flashing, consuming everything around them-
And they collapse. Shinji is on his feet first, pulling up Asuka and wrapping his arms around her, pulling Ariel into their embrace. Looking around, he sees his father nowhere to be found, and write it off before Asuka grabs him by the back of his head and kisses him. Hard.
"W-what was that for," he laughs.
"Being my lifeline," she says with a smile, "And me being smart enough to grab it, this time."
"Angel is gone," a technician calls out, "Both of them are silent!"
Running a hand through her hair, Misato lets off a long overdue breath. Leaning against a chair, she looks at her cell phone as it beeps and brings it up to her ear.
"Shinji, if I was not so relieved to hear you, I would kick your ass. They're fine? Thank GOD…wait, what about Unit 02? What do you mean, it's dead?"
He stumbles into the office. Eyes wide, a sheen of sweat covering his face. He has seen things he was never supposed to see, experienced the existence of things never meant to know. By luck, he managed to crawl away, Section 2 escorting him to his office before anyone was the wiser. Only the very epitome of self control kept him in check.
But he is alone now.
Face twisted in horror, Gendo Ikari braces his hands on his desk and screams. In terror, in pain, in regret. Every sin he committed plays before his eyes. Three billion dead souls from his part in Second Impact. The crimes of the Instrumentality of Man, the mental breaking of the Pilots, the attempted murder of the human race and his complacency in what his wife attempted for what she believed was the good of all.
Eyes hollow, breath ragged, he stumbles to his chair and collapses into it.
He blinks, once, twice. Reaching for a drawer, he pulls out a gun. Leveling the pistol at his temple, he cocks it and pulls the trigger.
The gun shatters. He blinks, a trickle of blood flowing down his ear, before two pale hands hover on either side of his head. One exposed upon its palm an unblinking eye, the other a seven eyed mask. A blue tendril and a gold tendril flow into his ears, and his eyes glow in turn.
Blinking, he sits up straight, reaching into his desk and pulling out a spare pair of his amber glasses, taking the offered handkerchief and wiping down his face.
"Thank you, Rei," he says.
"Timing is everything," Rei Ayanami-Aida says with a small smile, "Your experience?"
"Jarring," Ikari responds, standing up, "But for reasons such as this, I tend to keep my gun unloaded."
"The last chamber of the gun was full."
He takes the remains of the gun, picks up the chamber, and looks at it.
"So it was," he says, and places it back in his drawer, "I apologize for having to call you back from your honeymoon, but we are reaching the final stage. We must now consult with our guest once more."
She nods. He stands, straightens his uniform jacket. And the two co-conspirators walk into the elevator, speeding down to their meeting with the waiting Zeruel.
In orbit, in another plane, the sentience of Leilel allows itself a moment of pride. The Lilim have passed one test. It chuckles, to itself. They are more than they assume themselves to be.
Now, it thinks, What else can they prove themselves again.
Reaching its awareness into other times and other universes, it wonders.
Ah, yes, it thinks.
That will do nicely.