"Before and After," by Muphrid. After the battle with the Twelfth Angel, Rei begins to reexamine who she is and whether she can accept the fate Gendō's dealt her.
"Do you know why you're here?"
The room was bright. It usually is. Light streamed through the windows, hot and white, like the glare of the sun off a skyscraper. It's always hot above ground, even when it rains. I don't know how so much light reaches here. Mirrors, I've heard, but I've never seen them. Once, when I waited here before, I met a janitor. He wiped down the windows with a damp cloth and dabbed the sweat from his brow onto his shirt sleeve. "It's like they captured a thousand fireflies and stuffed them in a bottle," he said. "Caged them up and focused all their light on this room."
"I didn't know there were bottles big enough for that," I said.
The janitor made no reply.
"It displeases me to return so suddenly," said the Commander. "Conferences over budgets and finances can be delayed only so much before the politicians take too much interest. You agree, Fuyutsuki?"
"I had hoped, after the Tenth Angel, that my round-the-clock presence would not be required. Perhaps my trust in Major Katsuragi was misplaced."
"If I may?" said the Vice Commander.
"Given how little we knew of this angel, I think we were fortunate. There is minimal damage to the city, the Geofront was never in jeopardy, and Unit-01 has been recovered."
"Indeed," said the Commander. "We were 'fortunate.' Neither Major Katsuragi nor Doctor Akagi could've anticipated that Unit-01 would burst from the angel's shadow." His eyes flickered behind his shaded glasses. "Don't you agree?"
The Vice Commander was silent.
"Rei," said the Commander. "Don't you agree?"
I nodded once.
"Do you know why you're here?"
I pulled out a small square of paper. " 'Report to Commander Ikari's office as soon as possible.' It doesn't say why."
"When did you receive this order?"
"What time is it now?"
"Did you report to me as soon as possible?"
"Explain what delayed you an hour and fifteen minutes."
"I believed you wished a report on the incident. I felt Ikari-kun's condition would be pertinent to that report."
"As you said, the order doesn't specify the reason. Pilot Ikari's condition is of no interest to me. Why did you delay?"
"Ikari-kun did not awaken until 1620—"
"Why did you delay?"
Why is it relevant?
"That," said the Commander, "is what concerns me now, Rei. Your behavior throughout this incident has been peculiar."
I don't recall being peculiar.
"You countermanded Major Katsuragi's order to return to base."
"I observed that Unit-01 and Ikari-kun were still trapped within the angel. To retreat would've been to abandon them."
"You disobeyed an order from a superior."
"I clarified the situation."
"You felt Major Katsuragi required clarification?"
"It wasn't clear to her that the Twelfth Angel had absorbed Unit-01?"
"That was clear."
"Then what, precisely, required clarification?"
I didn't answer.
"I see," said the Commander. "I understand you also engaged in a confrontation with Pilot Sōryū."
"We exchanged words."
"To the point that Major Katsuragi had to intervene?"
"Her intervention was not required."
"Pilot Sōryū belittled Ikari-kun for falling into the angel's trap. I believe she took pleasure knowing he made a mistake. I only asked her why she piloted Eva if that were so."
"Her criticism of Pilot Ikari—you find it inaccurate?"
"You believe she misjudged in thinking Pilot Ikari's increased confidence made him more susceptible to error?"
"I believe that, had I or Pilot Sōryū been on point, each of us would've fallen into the trap the way Ikari-kun did. Hence I found Pilot Sōryū's assessment … incomplete."
The Commander leaned forward. His hands formed a bridge, and his mouth moved below them. "I've considered that relations between the pilots may retard our efforts to fight the angels. Do you think that concern valid?"
"I believe, were it not for this incident, Ikari-kun's synch scores would've continued to improve. In spite of Pilot Sōryū's influence, he responds well to positive reinforcement. You could help in that regard."
"I'm not interested in positive reinforcement. Remember who and what you are, Rei. You must remain apart from them."
The Commander blinked. "You are certain?"
He motioned to the Vice Commander. "Fuyutsuki."
Click. I noticed an SDAT player on the desk, already set to play.
"Don't touch me like that!" The voice belonged to Lieutenant Ibuki. "I'm ticklish there!"
"Oh, you mean like this?" The second voice was a man's, but over Lieutenant Ibuki's commotion, I couldn't recognize him.
"Stop it! Keep this up, and I won't let you—hey, what's this? A tape recorder?"
"No! What makes you think that?"
A crash. Banging. Glass shattered.
Click. Vice Commander Fuyutsuki popped open the SDAT player and placed the tape on the desk. "I'm dreadfully sorry, Ikari."
"That is a separate disciplinary matter," said the Commander. "Mention it to no one, especially Major Katsuragi."
I blinked. "Yes…"
The Vice Commander inserted a new tape, and this time, there was a familiar background hum.
"Pattern Blue!" Lieutenant Hyūga's voice came through the speaker. "Angel detected directly beneath Unit-01!"
"A shadow?" Ikari-kun shot three times, the bullets booming in the distance. "What is this thing?" he said. "Something's wrong here!"
"Shinji-kun, get out of there!" said Major Katsuragi. "Shinji-kun!"
Is that … my voice? I didn't realize I'd said anything.
"Idiot!" said Sōryū. "What do you think you're doing?"
The Commander hit stop. The sounds of battle ceased. "You called out to him," he said.
I'm not certain. Was it reflex? Instinct? What could I tell Ikari-kun that he didn't already know?
"These attachments," said the Commander, "they cannot interfere with your piloting duties. If they do, I will put a stop to them myself."
"Do I make myself clear?"
"Very well then. You may go."
But why am I here?
"The Vice Commander and I have matters to discuss."
I bowed once to both of them and made my way out by the access elevator. The Commander's word is the word of God here. You don't question it. You don't disobey it. The Commander knows things you don't know. The Commander sees what you don't see.
Why did I object to the major's order?
Why did I confront Pilot Sōryū?
Why did I call out to Ikari-kun?
The Commander suspects something. He thinks I've become too attached? I don't know how or why that could be. I've never lied to the Commander. He rescued me, he earned my trust, and yet, I couldn't tell him the truth today. There must be a reason for things—a reason and a purpose—but I don't know them.
Perhaps this is something a person would understand. I'm not a person, you see. People smile and laugh and cry. I smile sometimes. I don't laugh. I don't cry. These expressions often contradict each other. I've been told one should laugh at things that are funny or amusing, that one can laugh when a situation is merely uncomfortable, that laughter can deride or bully people into submission. Many emotions, many intentions, but just one expression. Better, I think, to show no expression at all. When nothing about one's face or eyes betrays what goes on beneath, the expression one shows cannot be wrong.
That's not why I'm not a person, though. My lack of expression is but a symptom, for which there exists a deeper cause. Doctor Akagi showed me once, on her computer, what I truly am.
The footage was short—under a minute in length. One of the scientists put on a protective suit. Everyone else—Commander Ikari, Vice Commander Fuyutsuki, Doctor Akagi—stood behind glass. Even little Ikari-kun watched as the scientist approached Unit-01 with her probe, ready to touch the core of an angel, a god.
I saw her face, frozen on the screen at the end of the clip. She has my face.
No, I have it wrong. I have her face. The hair and the eyes are different, but I have her face.
I live for a purpose. The Commander has a plan for me, for humanity, and I will fulfill that destiny. Then, and only then, will I return to the nothingness from which I came.
I think I am the second.
Until that time, I live, as much as I am forced to, yet now the Commander doubts me.
The level indicator on the elevator clicked with each floor passed. It clicked until it could click no more, until I reached the ground level.
The doors opened. There was light—cold and white, artificial, fluorescent. A young woman spun the spokes of her wheelchair, pushing herself down the hall. A man with a stethoscope took a nurse aside and argued over a clipboard. I've been to this place before.
The Commander asked me questions, questions for which I had no answer. Only a person could answer those questions. Only a person could help me discover the answers.
Only one person, the one at the focus of Commander Ikari's interest.
His son, Ikari-kun. He lay in bed, in a hospital gown. The sun's light flooded the room, so bright that it paled his brown hair. His eyes seemed almost gray.
"I didn't expect to see you again," he said. "At least, not so soon."
"I have no other duties to attend to," I said. "My report did not last as long as I expected."
"Ah, is that where Asuka went, too?"
"No. She spoke with you?"
"Just for a second. She poked her head in the door and said, 'This is what happens when you confuse good test scores with real battle instinct, see? I hope you've learned from this, Shinji. Next time you should let me or Miss Perfect take point! ' " He laughed. "She left before I could argue. It's probably better that way."
"That is amusing?" I said.
"Well, maybe not, but that's Asuka. She likes to win at everything, and I don't mind. It makes her happy."
"That I don't doubt."
"Eh?" Ikari-kun sat up, studying me. "Did something happen between you and Asuka?"
Strange. Ikari-kun has a habit of trying to make things easier for people. He is compliant. He pilots Eva because he is needed for it. It is not what he wants in and of itself. Sometimes I wonder what Ikari-kun does want.
And now, I came to him with questions. Even without knowing this, Ikari-kun made it easier for me to broach the subject.
I sat in the chair at his bedside, the chair that I left not half an hour before. "After you disappeared into the angel's body, Sōryū and I had a confrontation."
Ikari-kun gaped. "You got in a fight? With Asuka? Are you hurt?"
"We only exchanged words."
"Oh." He frowned. "Did she say something about my father?"
"The Commander? No, why do you ask?"
He rubbed his cheek. "Well, I can't think of anything else that would anger you."
I was … angry?
Why should I resent her remarks when they weren't directed at me? She did not insult me. She only insulted him, yet I challenged her for it, all the same. I got close to her, within arm's reach, close enough to feel her pride, her haughtiness, close enough to see the smirk on her lips.
Close enough to slap her. If the major hadn't stepped in, I think I would've slapped Pilot Sōryū. She showed Ikari-kun no respect.
Just as he showed his father no respect. I slapped him for that, and I think he feels the same way, even now. He disrespects his father, yet I know to Ikari-kun the Commander is important. In piloting, he hopes for praise—he's said as much. He earns that praise time and again, but he seldom receives it, certainly not from Sōryū. Even when he saves her, she berates him.
Even when he saved me, I didn't praise him, but I did smile. Is that enough?
Perhaps then it was, but not now.
"Ikari-kun, you made a mistake," I said.
"Engaging the angel before Pilot Sōryū and I were in position to back you up. You were hasty."
"Ah…" He looked down, at the blankets. "I guess you're right."
"But you did well to survive in the angel's trap as long as you did. You escaped. You persevered."
"It's nothing I did," he said. "I hardly remember breaking out of there. I'm not sure how I did it."
"I don't think the how matters."
"Maybe you're right." He glanced at the ceiling. "I wish they'd let me go now. I feel fine."
"You should rest."
"I'm not tired. I was going a little crazy before you came back; there's not a lot to do around here." He motioned to the far corner. "No television, not that it would do much good."
I looked to the end-table. "There's a radio."
"Sort of." He turned the dial, passing through static to a station.
"… the current state of emergency, all frequencies are unavailable until further notice. We apologize for the inconvenience. Repeat: due to the current state of emergency—"
He spun the volume dial, clicking the radio off.
"There's still much of the Twelfth Angel to clean up," I said. "That information is sensitive."
"Yeah, I guess. Maybe Misato-san will stop by. Even if I just had my SDAT, it'd be better than nothing." He looked out the window. "Than silence."
"You dislike silence?"
Perhaps. I'm not certain I know what silence is. When I go home, men in hard hats pull windows from their frames. Bombs rattle in the distance; pistons pound in rhythm. Even at night, there are sirens. Floorboards creak.
I opened my bag. "I have books."
"Well, yes. What books?"
I held out the first.
" 'Evolutionary genetics'? Ah, not exactly my thing."
I nodded. "A textbook is inappropriate. I do have something else, though." I showed him another book—smaller, a paperback.
"Really? English stuff?"
"It is part of our literature assignment. We received it today."
"Oh. I guess it'd be good to get a head start, then, but…"
"Ayanami's still here. It'd be rude if I started reading in front of you."
"I do not mind."
I would be content to sit here as you read. Perhaps then I may learn what the Commander fears, why he thinks I've changed around you. I have changed, have I not? We all change. What we eat becomes a part of us. Dead skin sloughs off and turns to dust, but it's not my body that's different, is it. Before, there was only the Commander. Now…
"I could read to you."
He eyed me curiously. "Are you sure?"
"Oh, well, if you like."
I opened the book, flipping to the first page. In truth, I'd read none of this either. I don't care for stories, for things that are lies, but I know people do. People want a life, a world, that isn't their own. I don't see why. No one has the power to change their fate, to make those stories true, but the appeal must remain.
Ikari-kun lay back, awaiting the start, and I obliged him.
" 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…' "
These are not my words, so I can't accept the contradiction inherent to them. How could it be both the best and worst of times? How can one be wise yet foolish? Perhaps it was common thinking then, in the nineteenth century. I cannot say.
As I read to Ikari-kun, he seldom stirred. He buried himself in the blankets, lying face-up. His eyes closed; his face was blank. I've watched Ikari-kun sleep before, and not just today, either. Then and before, when he slept, I thought the expression bore some trace of pain. I cannot be certain. I don't read faces and emotions well, but then, if a person's face can be made to show what they truly feel, will it not when they sleep, when they can't twist their muscles or cover their feelings with deception?
Ikari-kun looks pained when he sleeps, and I don't think that means he dislikes sleeping. I think he dislikes living, as I do.
But this day was different. I read the book to him, and Ikari-kun relaxed, peaceful, tranquil. It's odd to see him this way. I don't think I've seen him like this before.
I looked down, at the pages. "The Night Shadows," read the header at the top, yet the words were unfamiliar to me. I must've paused when I finished the last chapter.
"I'm sorry. I'll continue if you wish, but I'm not certain I'm doing well."
"There are many characters. I don't think I have the right range of expression to make them suitably different."
He chuckled. "You're doing fine. You may not realize it, but you're putting a lot of energy into this. I like it."
"You think so?"
"Yeah, I do."
My cheeks felt hot. I turned away from him. Perhaps he wouldn't notice.
"I think, if you have children someday, they'll like how you read. It's soothing."
"It sort of reminds me of Mother, before she…"
Before she died?
Before I became her?
"Ayanami? Is something the matter?"
No, Ikari-kun, you are correct. I remind you of your mother because I have her voice, her face, but I am not your mother. I cannot be your mother. I am not a person; I am a thing, a shell. Your mother's body is my shell.
I stood up.
"Hey, Ayanami!" He was beside me. When did he get out of bed? "Are you all right?" He held me by the elbow and tugged lightly. "Did I say something wrong?"
My eyes focused on him. "No, it's not your fault," I said. "I must go." I removed his hand and left the book on his bed. "You may keep it as long as you stay. After that, I must ask you to buy your own." I made for the door.
I paused, facing the hall. "Yes?"
"Thank you, for today," he said. "For saying it was okay, even though I made a mistake."
"I spoke the truth as I see it."
"And for the book," he said. "Thank you, again."
I nodded. "Goodbye, Ikari-kun."
He winced. "Ayanami…"
"Forgive me." I turned to face him, meeting his gaze. "See you … tomorrow."
"Yeah," he said. "Tomorrow then."
I shut the door. It's unfair to Ikari-kun, I know, but I couldn't stay. I didn't want to stay. Is this why the Commander warned me? Did he think, somehow, I'd begun imitating Ikari Yui? That my attention for her son was too similar to her own?
I wish to sleep now. Sleep is the closest I can be to nothingness, and yet … I find I still don't understand what's happened today. I have ideas and theories, but I cannot be certain. I'm certain of less and less every time we fight an angel. I may not enjoy living, but the Commander thought this important. He thought it important enough to question me, to try to understand me.
And if the Commander thinks it important, then I should devote some time to the problem as well.
When I returned home, I retrieved a notebook from my school bag. It was unused, pristine: I don't take notes at school. I flipped to the first page and uncapped a pen. I don't have a desk, so I sat on my bed, placing the notebook in my lap.
" 'Do you know why you're here?' "
I only have ink on my hands.
As I started watching Neon Genesis Evangelion, I began to realize how truly subtle the series is at times. Though at its most philosophical the series can be blunt as an anvil, there's a lot left to be figured out, and often, these questions have no right answers, only the answers you choose to believe.
That's basically what this story is. Over the course of the series, we see Rei increasingly distant from Gendō, and more and more she allows Shinji to replace Gendō in her heart, but I always wondered—why is that? A lot of the acts that drive that are small, and Rei, being Rei, does not make her thought processes well-known. She's very opaque.
This story is, perhaps, just one possible path for Rei to evolve and grow "behind the scenes." For the most part, I will avoid scenes that depict only what happened in the series; I've seen that done before in fics with little to no alteration or added context, and the last thing we need is to see things we already know (though I also know there will likely be a point when I break this rule).
I will be up-front now, though: I don't intend to outright contradict canon, although I may be liberal in bending it or filling in gaps, adding interpretations of events as I see fit. What it does mean is that, in some respects, the ending of this story is a foregone conclusion. As I said, I don't intend to outright change events, only paint them with a different (and I hope, intriguing) context.
That's a bit on what to expect. With each chapter, I usually put my thoughts on the piece in a post on my blog, westofarcturus [dot] blogspot [dot] com. I'll reserve my thoughts on this chapter for there, as well, as I feel I've been long-winded enough with this note. Thank you for reading thus far; I hope, whether you enjoyed the first chapter or disliked it intensely, you'll leave a review.
Thanks again. See you soon.