Disclaimer: see chapter 1
One Last Chance
"Have I ever told you that you're insane?" Misato wondered thoughtfully. "You are, you know."
Asuka snorted, shaking her head as she surveyed the dismal scene before her. "If I remember correctly," she muttered, "this was your brilliant idea."
The operations director pursed her lips, looking up at the bakelite-coated forms of Units 01 and 02. "Well," she admitted, shaking her head as she eyed Unit 02's right hand, the only part of either mecha that was uncovered. "I've had better… and you have to admit – it would have been beautiful if it wasn't for all this crap…"
There was a moment of silence.
"Sooooo…" Asuka said gustily, "now what?"
Misato shrugged, fighting her rising hysteria with sarcasm. "I dunno," she said dryly, "you could try whining about your mother – maybe one of the EVAs will break out of the bakelite and take you on board, what do you think?"
Asuka shook her head. "I think that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," she grumbled, "next you'll be kissing me and telling me we'll do the rest when I get back."
Misato rolled her eyes. "NOW who's being stupid?" she snapped, "Me, kissing a kid – that's almost as ridiculous as the Commander starting Third Impact himself! And 'do the rest'? When did you become such a perv?! Like I'd ever-
"ANYway," the redhead cut in testily, "we're still trapped, we still don't know what's going on with Shinji, and I still don't have a cheese sandwich!"
"Come again?" Misato blinked, frowning as the girl shrugged. "I hardly think this is the time for that kind of humor."
"I'm hungry," Asuka grumbled, "sue me. Besides, I don't see anything else for us to do… and I'm hungry."
"Well," Misato snapped, "I don't have my hotplate with me – all I see is…"
Asuka waited expectantly. "Yeeeesss?" she prompted, wondering why the woman was suddenly smiling from ear to ear. "What? What are you so happy about?"
Misato winked at her. "I was just thinking… I might not be able to make you a sandwich… but how about some soup?"
The purple-haired woman put her forefinger to her lips. "Shhh," she whispered, "it's a secret."
As Misato started walking towards the far wall, Asuka turned her attention to Unit 02 and muttered, rather loudly, "She's cracked…"
"Give me a hand, can you?"
Turning her head, Asuka's eyes widened. "And I'M insane?" she breathed, matching Misato's grin as she realized what the older woman had in mind.
Quickly she hurried over to where the woman stood, laughing with slightly-mad delight as the plan was outlined for her.
This might, she thought, just work…
Shinji was in a state of deep shock.
"Maya…?" he whispered, gently caressing the woman's forehead, "Wake up, Maya… we… we need to go, Maya… so… so wake up, ok? Just… just wake up…"
Rei shook her head slowly, turning away… but Shinji's voice suddenly grew in volume, forcing her attention back around.
"You bring her back to me!" the boy demanded, his voice bordering on hysteria, "You can do it – you're an angel! I know you are!!"
"I am only a vessel," Rei said quietly, glancing down at Ritsuko, who was simply staring at her hands. "I cannot-"
She closed her eyes, unable to face his rage. "It is not up to angels to decide who lives and who dies," she told him, "it is true that I carry the soul of an angel within me… but I cannot-"
"There is a way…"
All eyes shifted to Gendou, who had managed to get to his knees and was staring intently at his son, the stump of his right hand clutched tightly in his left.
"To save her… to save all of us from becoming a colony of worthlessness…"
"Tell me," Shinji said eagerly, "please."
The two women averted their eyes as Shinji looked from one to the other. "What do you mean…?"
"The joining of all souls into one, perfect being," Gendou said slowly, smiling at his son, "you would be with her, and all of your friends, and… your mother…"
Rei's shoulders slumped as Shinji glanced to her for confirmation. "He is… correct," she said reluctantly, "Instrumentality would remove all boundaries and unite all mankind in glorious, unbroken unity."
Gendou's expression darkened as Ritsuko spoke.
"That's what the scrolls say," she murmured, "but they also say that we would all be one – without thought or will of our own… with no individuality…" She met Shinji's eyes. "Is that what she would want?"
"But… but if I don't, she could die before I get help…" Shinji's face was twisted into a mask of indecision.
"You'll just have to take that chance…"
He looked up, finding Ritsuko staring at Maya.
"What would she do?" the blonde continued, never looking away from her understudy, "Would she condemn the entire race… just for you?" She looked up at Shinji, shaking her head slowly. "Is that what love really is?"
"I don't know," Shinji moaned miserably. "I just… I don't KNOW!!"
"It's time, Shinji," Ritsuko said tiredly, glancing at Gendou's pale, drawn face, "one way or the other, it's time…"
Shinji looked up at Rei, his eyes pleading for help… but she simply shook her head.
"It is your choice, Ikari…" she whispered, "I leave it to you." She glanced down at Maya's still form, adding, "But you must chose quickly, for Doctor Akagi is correct… her time is almost gone."
"Think about it, Shinji," Gendou urged suddenly, "Everyone you know and love – with you forever!" Seeing that his son was swayed by this, Gendou pressed forward. "This is your one chance to correct all the mistakes you've made – don't throw it away for some silly, selfish concept of individuality."
Shinji's face hardened, but before he could say anything about his 'mistakes,' a resounding crash filled Terminal Dogma. "U-Unit 02??" he gasped.
Indeed, the red mecha was rising to its feet, swinging its quad-optic face from left to right before focusing on him. Slowly, it advanced, its huge strides eating up the distance until it stood at the edge of the platform bearing the small group of people.
There was a long, uncertain moment of silence… then Asuka's voice boomed from the external speakers of Unit 02.
"Is she alive?"
Shinji nodded, his heart racing as another option presented itself. "Yes! But we have to get her help!"
Unit 02 stood motionless for a moment, then slowly lowered its right hand. "Come on then," Asuka's voice said briskly.
Ritsuko paled, turning from the red machine to find Shinji facing her. "M-me…?"
The boy nodded. "Please… I can't carry her…"
Shinji cut her off before she could say another word. "PLEASE Doctor Akagi…"
Taking a breath to steady herself, Ritsuko nodded. –Guess this is what they call atonement,- she thought, blushing brightly as she hurried to Shinji's side and slipped her arms under Maya's shoulders and knees.
"Don't be a fool," Gendou hissed suddenly. "She'll be dead before you can reach the surface – and I'm sure SEELE will be deploying the EVA series… I doubt you can fight nine Units, Miss Souryu, even you are not THAT good…"
Shinji opened his mouth to reply that they would take their chances, but Rei spoke before he could.
"I will take care of that aspect," she promised calmly, "All will be well."
There was silence as Shinji and Ritsuko carefully lifted Maya into Unit 02's outstretched palm, trusting that Rei – somehow – would fulfill her promise. Once Maya was as secure as they could make her, Shinji jumped back down.
"What are you doing?" Misato's voice called, sounding agitated, "Shinji – we have to GO!"
Shinji offered no reply, slowly walking over to wear his father lay and reaching down with one hand. "Come with us?" he asked uncertainly. "Father… please come with us?"
Gendou looked up into his son's face for a moment before averting his eyes. "You're too much like your mother… too soft… too kind… too weak…"
Shinji pulled his hand back and straightened, sighing deeply. "Goodbye, father," he whispered brokenly.
A moment later, he was racing back to Unit 02, scrambling quickly up into its palm and sitting next to Maya, lacing his hand with hers. "Ayanami," he called, "Rei… come on."
Rei glanced up at Lillith's immense form, tilting her head to the side before replying, "I will meet you on the surface, Ikari… please leave now before Miss Ibuki dies."
"Can't argue with that logic," Asuka's voice quipped, "Unit 02 lift off!"
Shinji held Maya tightly as Unit 02 raised its hand. The last he saw of his father, he was staring in open shock at Rei… and Shinji could not blame him, as Rei was slowly rising into the air, her pale body seeming to glow in the soft light of Terminal Dogma's indirect lighting.
"Thank you, Rei," he whispered, feeling somehow that the girl was about to embark on a dangerous enterprise, "and if it means anything to you now… I do love you… I loved you from the moment I saw you smile." He tightened his grip on Maya's hand, thankful that Rei could not hear him. "I just… love her more…"
At his side, Ritsuko spoke. "Whoever said you were weak didn't know you, Shinji," she whispered, her voice full of quiet admiration, "I'm sorry about Ma-"
"Don't," Shinji cut in sharply, shaking his head slowly, "believe it or not… I know exactly how you felt." He stroked Maya's hand tenderly. "I know what it's like to be pushed away by the only person you want to be close to."
Ritsuko nodded, looking up at Unit 02's face and wondering what her punishment would be. –Whatever it is,- she thought, trying to be brave, -I will accept it without question. I've done… too much harm not to face judgment…-
As Unit 02 wheeled around and started towards the exit, Rei smiled softly, closing her eyes and stretching her senses, seeking the nine presences she could feel circling above. "Thank you, Shinji," she whispered, her lips curling down as her mind contacted the rudimentary, feral intellects of the EVA series, "I love you too…"
With a deep sigh, she focused her attention inward, calling on the power of one who would destroy all man.
You dare? an amused voice echoed in her mind.
I am the Mother of All Things, she thought, and though you may not accept it now, we are now one, Adam.
The first angel – his voice sounding much like Kaworu Nagisa's – replied, Very well, Mother… it is going to be an interesting existence…
Rei opened her eyes as the voice faded from her mind. "Yes," she whispered sadly, "it is."
Utilizing the strength of Adam, she reached out, easily ensnaring the wills of the Evangelions and commanding them to self-destruct, confident that the ensuing chaos would allow the one she cared most for to escape. Slowly returning to the ground, she looked to the Commander.
"I am sorry," she whispered, "I know that you wished to be back with HER, but some things were more impor… tant…" She trailed off.
Gendou was laying still, his free hand no longer clutching his injured wrist. A soft smile was on his face, and for the first time that she could recall, he looked at peace.
"Perhaps you are with her now…" she whispered softly. "Goodbye, Gendou Ikari…"
Silently, she turned and strode from Terminal Dogma, losing herself in the confusion and bustle within NERV in the blink of an eye.
Maya groaned as she came slowly to consciousness. She tried to put her hand on her chest, to see if she was still bleeding, but it was retrained.
She slowly opened her eyes, blinking as she found Shinji sitting next to the bed she was in, the tension in his frame hinting that he was barely containing the urge to throw his arms around her. "Hey," she rasped tiredly, "guess we made it… huh…"
Shinji nodded, biting his lip. "It was close," he whispered, "I wasn't sure you were going to stay with me…"
"I've come this far," Maya managed, her throat feeling as if it had not been used in ages. "You can't get rid of me that easily, you know…"
Shinji laughed weakly, squeezing her hand and averting his eyes from her.
Maya frowned. "You look… different…" she mused, her brow clearing as she smiled, "you're cuter than last time I saw you."
"You don't need to flatter me," Shinji blushed, "I'm not worth it…"
"Yes you are," Maya smiled warmly. "How did we get out, anyway?"
"I'll let Asuka tell you," Shinji said with a ghost of a grin, "But I'll warn you – it involves misuse of NERV equipment, crushed tanks, screaming JSSDF troops, heavy weapons fire, and a lot of melting Bakelite – oh, and some serious, crane and cutting-torch-related collateral damage in the EVA cages."
"Sounds like a party to me," Maya laughed. They were quiet for a few moments, she sighed. "So how long am I stuck here?"
Shinji looked very awkward. "Couple days," he muttered, his eyes flitting to her face, then back away, as if he longed to drink in the sight of her, but was afraid that if he did, she might leave him again.
"I doubt it," the woman said seriously, putting her free hand on her chest. "They don't just give you a Band-Aid for a gunshot wound." She frowned as Shinji looked more awkward than ever. "Shouldn't I have… bandages…?"
Slowly, Shinji reached out and took her hand, leading it under her hospital gown and pressing it against her skin. "I think that's what you're looking for," he whispered, his voice thick and emotional.
Maya's mind could not quite grasp what she was feeling. It almost seemed like her fingers were running over old scar tissue – but that was impossible. "What… happened…?" she breathed. She looked up at Shinji, studying his face closely. "Shinji, what happened to me?"
Shinji looked miserable. "I thought you had left me," he said brokenly, "When… when Doctor Akagi shot you, I thought you were gone…"
"What happened to me?" Maya demanded, her tone taking on a desperate edge. "Shinji… how long… how long have I…?"
The young man forced himself to meet her eyes. "You…" he swallowed, looking away once more.
Her stomach filling with ice, Maya whispered, "Please tell me…?" She closed her eyes, a sense of unreality washing over her as Shinji replied.
"No…" she gasped, trying to sit up.
"Easy…" Shinji said quickly, putting his hands on her shoulders and keeping her in place. "Easy…"
Her eyes began to tear, and she blinked, trying to keep his face in sight. "Did you…" she could not even ask the question – she knew the answer.
'Did you wait for me, Shinji? Did you wait over a year while I slept, never knowing if I would wake? Did you stay by my side, swearing off all other women until you knew for sure I wouldn't come back to you? Did you, Shinji?'
The answer, of course, would be no.
"Don't cry," Shinji said softly, putting his hand on hers. "I need to call Misato… she'll want to know that you're awake."
"Do you still… live with her?" Maya asked awkwardly.
"Nah," Shinji shrugged, picking up the hospital room's phone, "I got a place with Asuka."
She stared up at the ceiling as Shinji dialed the phone, feeling as if she was having an incredibly vivid, very bad dream. –With Asuka,- she thought dizzily, wondering if it would have been better to sleep for another year and a half, -of course it would be Asuka…- She listened as Shinji gave his guardian the news, repeating several times that he was not kidding before assuring her that he would be there when she came to visit.
"Well she's pretty happy," Shinji chuckled as he set the phone down, his hand shaking slightly and making the plastic click together. "I am too, Maya… thank you for coming back to us…"
-US!?- Maya felt like screaming. –It wasn't my fault! Why do I have to lose him like this? At least with Rei she went straight for it… but this…-
"The doctors said you might be hungry," Shinji said, fidgeting in his seat a bit, "are you?"
"No," Maya whispered through numb lips, "I'm just… tired – I think I should sleep for a while."
"You just woke up," Shinji pointed out weakly, "I thought maybe… maybe we could talk about-"
"I don't feel like talking," Maya cut in quietly, "could you tell the nurse I don't want any visitors when you leave?"
Shinji looked ill. "I umm…" he shifted topics suddenly, "I've been going to your house every Saturday and making sure it's clean and stuff, and Misato's been making sure all the utilities are kept current…"
"How thoughtful of you," Maya whispered, knowing she had no right to be mad at the young man.
-If it was him, would I have waited?- she thought sadly.
There was a long, painful silence, broken when Shinji's chair scraped backwards. "Well I guess I'll just… let you sleep," he said uncertainly, "I'll come back when you're feeling-"
"You don't need to."
Shinji looked as if he had been punched, but Maya pressed on, too hurt to think about her words.
"You don't need to waste your time coming here, Shinji, I wouldn't want to inconvenience you."
"Maya I'm sorry," Shinji blurted, "I'm so sorry…"
"You should be," Maya whispered coldly.
"I tried…" Shinji took a deep breath, his shoulders slumping as he muttered, "I tried to get between you and Rei… I tried so hard, Maya – you have to believe me…"
Maya frowned, the sharp pain of loss fueling her next comment.
"Well I'm sure not going to get between you and Asuka – so I hope you two are very, very happy, Shinji. Goodbye."
The look on Shinji's face was satisfying in its shock. He looked to Maya as if he had just been told that she was his mother. –I would have waited,- she told herself bitterly, -I would have!-
"S-so you don't want to be with me anymore…"
She blinked. "What are you talking about?" she asked uneasily, "You-"
"I understand," Shinji cut in brokenly, "I guess… I just hoped that you would know that I tried my best." He looked up at the ceiling, his eyes growing hazy. "It's been like hell for the past year and a half… the trials… the inquiries… the media… the arrests – but I kept telling myself, 'keep it together… just hold on, she'll come back – she will!'" He sighed deeply. "I guess I can finally get out of Asuka's hair, then… move back to NeoOkinawa… stop driving her crazy." He laughed suddenly, but it was too high and jagged – too bitter. "She'll be glad to have her place to herself… she said all my moping is too distracting – guess she can finish her doctorate in peace and quiet now."
He shrugged awkwardly, taking a few faltering backward steps and fumbling for the doorknob.
"I hope you can forgive me someday," he told her, finally getting the door open, "I'm glad you're back… goodbye…"
Shinji shook his head, stepping out of the room. "Sorry…" he managed, his vision blurring with tears, "I'm sorry…"
He had only taken two steps when he felt something hard and unyielding blocking his path.
"A-Ayanami?" Shinji hiccupped, "What-"
"Stop," the blue-haired girl repeated softly.
"Sh-she hates me," Shinji blurted, staring down at the pale hand pressed against his chest, "Ayanami, I… she hates me!!"
Rei frowned faintly. "You know that I care for you," she said flatly, "so you know that what I am going to say is going to cause me pain." She averted her eyes. "You are… an idiot."
"What?!?" Shinji's jaw dropped open.
"Eighteen months," the girl whispered, "you have waited for eighteen months, only to surrender after one misunderstanding and a few harsh words." She shook her head, lowering her hand to her side and turning away. "You… disappoint me, Shinji…"
It was like being slapped in the face. Rei Ayanami was disappointed in HIM.
"What can I do?" Shinji cried desperately, grabbing her by the arm as she started to walk away, "Rei… what am I supposed to do? I let her get SHOT! I wasn't able to save her, Rei! And she thinks… she thinks Asuka and me…"
"I am just as much responsible for her injuries as you," Rei said softly, pulling her arm free and glancing back over her shoulder, "and I am not responsible. Do what you feel you must, Shinji… goodbye."
Shinji was on the verge of calling out again when he heard a clattering sound behind him. He turned, his eyes nearly popping out of his head. "MAYA!!"
The woman was leaning on her doorframe, her legs shaking under her as she panted for breath. A tray of miscellaneous medical equipment was lying on the floor behind her, apparently knocked over when she got to her feet. "Wait…" she managed, "Shinji…"
"You should be in bed," Shinji said worriedly, hurrying to her side and putting an arm around her waist, "come on…"
"N-no…" Maya shook her head, "don't… want to…" She took a deep breath. "Don't leave me," she said quickly, putting her arms awkwardly around his neck, "forget what I said – just forget it all! I don't want to let you go… I WON'T let you go, Shinji, I love you, I need you, I won't give up on-"
Her rambling was cut short as Shinji turned to face her, pressing his lips carefully against hers. He held her tight, his arms easily circling her thin body as he kissed her. –Eighteen months,- she thought wonderingly, -He really waited for me… and I almost threw it all away. Thank you, Rei…-
As the kiss broke, she looked around, wanting to thank the First Child out loud… but she was nowhere to be seen.
"Let's get you back in bed," Shinji said quietly, quickly wiping his eyes, "you have to get better quick so you can come home to me…"
Maya nodded, scanning the crowded hospital corridor for some sign of the blue-haired girl. "Yeah," she nodded, frowning slightly. –Where did she go??-
Finding nothing, she allowed herself to be led into the room, quickly forgetting everything but the man she loved.
"Did you find what you were looking for in there?"
Rei continued looking over the hospital roof's railing, her hair dancing in the light breeze. "Partially," she replied.
"What more could you have hoped to gain?" the other person asked curiously.
Rei shrugged. "Perhaps I was hoping he would still choose me."
"But you made sure they would stay together!"
The blue-haired girl shrugged, squinting at a couple exiting the hospital's main entrance. "It would have been wrong… he would not have been happy…"
"He said he loved you…" the other person whispered.
"There are different kinds of love," Rei said softly, watching the two people wave to the driver of a waiting blue car. "And love can be stronger on one side than the other – you, of all people… should know that."
Rei turned away from the edge, glancing at her companion. "And what of you?" she asked quietly, "Now that Lieutenant Ibuki is awake and you have no ties to bind you here… where will you go?"
The other shrugged. "I have ties here," came the slightly uneven reply, "Misato and Shinji have both asked me to stay…"
Rei looked back over the railing. "The human capacity for forgiveness and love never fails to amaze me."
The other woman stepped closer to the First Child, her green eyes glittering in the sun. "Would it mean anything to you if I told you I had forgiven you?"
The blue-haired girl considered this for a moment as the two small forms below slipped into the car, the shorter of the two helping the taller into the back seat. "There was nothing to forgive," she said finally, "I have never done you harm… however – it does please me for some reason."
"The human spirit at work again," Ritsuko muttered, smiling ironically.
Rei shook her head slowly. "I am not human."
The blonde rested her arms on the railing and looked down at the blue car. "You're close enough that no one notices," she said lightly, "but since you seem hell-bent on playing the outsider, where will YOU go?"
Watching the car pull away from the curb, Rei replied, "I believe I will travel for a while, to see what the world has to offer, then… I am not sure. I do not have a place among you, Doctor Akagi – I am more like a god than a person."
"Don't be so melodramatic," Ritsuko chided, "you may have the powers of Adam and Lillith at your command… but you're still just a child…"
"I never thought I would have a conversation like this with you…" Rei whispered, looking up at the woman as the car lost itself in the mid-afternoon traffic.
"People change I guess," Ritsuko replied calmly, "so, I was thinking…"
Ritsuko took a deep breath. "Misato has asked me to move a little closer and spend more time with her and the Children, but I don't think I'm quite ready to face them on a daily basis, so I was wondering… if you wouldn't mind some company on your travels?"
Rei blinked. "Why?" she asked flatly.
"Must be the scientist in me," Ritsuko winked, "not everyone gets to travel with the Mother of All Things and the first angel, right?"
"You are a strange woman," Rei noted calmly, "but if that is what you wish, I would not mind the company, I suppose."
"How noble of you," Ritsuko said dryly.
"Did you expect enthusiasm?" the First asked with a trace of amusement in her voice. "It has been less than two years since you tried to kill me last, Doctor."
The two fell into silence for a moment, then Ritsuko whispered, "I've apologized for behavior so many times that I'm sure you're tired of hearing it, so I won't waste your time with it again… but I AM serious about coming with you."
"Then… let us go," Rei said softly.
Not another word was spoken between them, though before they left the roof, the two women took one last look over the railing, trying to spot Misato's blue Alpine in the slow-moving traffic… but like its passengers, the car had found a way to move on, and was well out of sight.
Glancing at one another, they shrugged, neither willing to break the silence as they headed for the exit, their minds offering one last, unspoken prayer for the young couple that had taken every chance possible… and still, somehow, managed to make it through the fire together.
Author's Notes: after two years… I'm done. ^_^ I don't know what else to note here, really, other than saying the original ending was going to have instrumentality and marriage and kids and blah blah blah… but that all seemed so clichlame. :P Anyway, I hope you liked it as it came out, and thanks for sticking with me! ^_^
Pre-read was by Ryoma and LeperMessiah, so thanks to both – especially Leper, who saved 7 pages of text from the dead space of drive failure. You rox. :P
Feedback is always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org