Uniform shoes run through the hall, making a distinctive metal clapping sound as he exits the elevator at full tilt and makes a beeline for the Office, the Mausoleum, or whatever the f_ he wants it to be called now. Hydraulics in his artificial leg activate and he vaults over the secretary's desk, Kiko tilting to the side and letting him pass unencumbered before going back to studiously filing her nails.



The doors swing back open. Kiko smiles, that rictus grin of hers that says she's either happy, she's flirty, or she's going to eat you.

"Kiko," Touji says, "Where is the Commander?"

"The Commander's out for the next few days," Kiko says with a smile.

"Kiko, I just interviewed the intruders that Chidori picked up from the Sub Commander's apartment. Where did the Commander just go?"

She opens the file on her computer screen. Turning the monitor to him, she keeps smiling as Touji's face drops, a litany of swears escaping his throat that would mean violent death if his wife were in earshot.

"Oh, f_. You know what? F_ this! Kiko, lock down the f_ing airports! No one else goes to f_ing Berlin until I say so!"

He kicks the doors back open, stomping in.

"Aaaaand what'cha doing, Commander?"

A pause. A turn, and Touji peaks his head out.

"That's right! I'm the f_ing Commander! And I'm getting Director Langley on the phone and telling him to find Ikari the moment he gets to Berlin and get him on the f_ing phone so I can rip that bearded f_ a new _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _!"

He slams the doors shut. Smiling, Kiko taps the screen, bringing up her to-do list, and a new day dawns on Tokyo-3.

Chapter 6:

Family Reunion

Dinner did not go at all like he was expecting. Well, he expected that Asuka would turn down the job offer right out, and he wasn't terribly surprised when she did. He was also expecting her to stab him with the steak knife, which was probably why he was a little nervous when she got said steak, but again, he was pleasantly surprised by her restraint. At very least, he managed to patch things up a little.

Stumbling into the hotel, he sighs, waving to the man at the desk who's name escapes him, mainly because he doesn't speak a word of German and would have instructions forwarded to him. Yeah, that's right, less contact the better. His phone pings as he rubs his eyes, pulling it out of his pocket. A message from Misato, telling him she left a message at the hotel bar.

Well, he probably had a few minutes until he collapses completely, so he has time. Padding his feet across the lobby, wincing at the bright lights, he enters the bar. Smell of smoke and alcohol fills his nostrils, and once again he curses the fact that he never really drank, cursing as well that he helped polish off a bottle of wine with a woman who's gone to college twice and has germanic ancestry. He navigates his way to the bar itself, past the tables, narrowly missing a waiter, the hardwood floors felt all the way through the soles of his now sensitive feet. Pulling up a stool, he waits as the bartender walks over, waving slightly to the balding blonde man as he cleans the shotglass with the rag in his hand.

"Ah, right," he says, taking out a notepad and tearing off a piece of paper, "'Least you're not still ordering."

"Sorry?" he asks, trying to raise an eyebrow and stopping before he wets himself, "What's that mean?"

"Yeah, I got two japanese customers," he says, "Other one's the girl who's smashed out of her head. Ya might want to pick her up before she starts table dancing."

He points over to the table on the other side of the bar, Shinji sighing as he takes the note and begins walking over. He can already hear the whooping and hollering, a mix of german and japanese, of which he only understands the latter, which mainly consists of a very familiar voice saying that she 'doesn't understand' and 'my husband could kick your ass.' Bringing the note up to eye level, Shinji stares at it and sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose.

It's probably because she's hammered that she's in the situation to begin with, holding a mostly drained beer bottle in her hand and her purse in her other, one of her suiters on the floor unconscious and the blood from his nose decorating the bottom of her purse. She is speaking in excited japanese, poking the guy in front of her, at least a foot taller than her, in the chest as he tries to grab at her hands and says something in german which probably wouldn't be said in front of her kids.

Sighing, Shinji walks over, reaching into his pocket, taking out the small cylinder he swiped off of Asuka's keychain and waving it in front of the man. He screams, grabbing at his face and collapsing, before Shinji folds his arms and tries his best stern expression, and failing miserably.

He can tell she is completely hammered, swaying from side to side, a bemused smile on her face. Her sweatshirt is pulled slightly to the left, her jeans discolored from spilled drinks as she rests her arms on his shoulders and belches.

"Hey there," Hikari slurs, "Well, you ain't my husband, but you'll do."

She laughs, almost collapsing against him, chortling with her hands against his chest as she slips and almost falls, his hands around her waist to keep her upright. Right, that was the note. 'Hikari's in Berlin, she's at your hotel, and she kept going on about screwing up,' in Misato's handwriting.

"Alright," he sighs, "You're at this hotel?"

"Think so," she slurs.

"Okay. Room number?"


He sighs. Turning to the entrance of the bar, he begins dragging her out, only to find her legs aren't working like they should. She giggles, stumbling, before latching onto his back and climbing on, wrapping her arms around his throat and her legs around his waist, loudly laughing as he carries her out and into the elevator.

Tapping the button for his floor with his nose, he releases her, Hikari dropping to the floor with a shout and a laugh. Helping her up, she rests against the elevator's window, the floors passing by as she groans, eyes closed, her ponytail half out of its clasp, and her hands resting on the rail.

"What happened?" he asks.

"I done f_ed up," she moans, "Real badly."

"Okay," he sighs, scratching his head, "Got that. What happened?"

She folds her arms, swaying from side to side, warbling in her throat as she slaps her hand over her face. She stumbles to the side, stripping over the loose laces of her sneakers and shouting as she falls, Shinji moving to catch her. He picks her up, holding her up, arms around her waist as she rests her head against his shoulders and the elevator rings. Dragging her alongside him, he enters his suite, Hikari's back stiffening before she pushes off of him and sprints to the bathroom. Following with a sigh, he waits, watching as she throws up, bent over the toilet, moving in to keep her hair from getting in the way, fixing the clasp as he does so, setting her high ponytail back onto place as she wretches up the beer and whatever else she was drinking while he was out to dinner.

He waits as she finishes, stumbling to the sink, grabbing the mouthwash and gargling. Walking out of the bathroom to the repeated sounds of gargling and spitting, gargling and spitting, he goes into the kitchen, reaching into the fridge and taking out a pair of break rolls. He's still feeling the effects himself, still wincing at any sound, still stumbling over his feet.

The bathroom door closes, sneakers padding across the carpet, stumbling against the wall.

"Feeling better?"

"A bit," she groans.

"Good. What happened?"

"I met Asuka's dad," she says, "Thought he f_ed her. Told him I was her friend, he asked where I was for the past eight years."

He winces. Yeah, his dealings with Director Langley more or less followed those lines as well. If anything, he seemed to be making up for his years as a less than stellar father.

"Ouch. Sorry about that. How're you feeling?"

"Like crap," she says, as he grins, slicing the two rolls, "Can't call Touji. He'll just say bitchiness runs in the family. Sisters aren't answering their phones, so I just ducked into the bar and wanted to get f_ing wasted."

"And in that you succeeded," he sighs, and reaches for the fridge. Only for a hand to slam the fridge door shut. That same hand grabs him by the collar, and Hikari licks her lips before jamming her lips against his own. His eyes go wide, dropping the butter knife, arms wrapping around her before pulling her off and holding her at arms length.

"Okay," he breathes, "What are you doing?"

"I've been veeeeery bad," she slurrs, "I think I'm not done being bad, yet."

She reaches down, pulling off and tossing aside her sweatshirt, left in her white t shirt which he can see the definite outline of her bra under, before she pushes him up against the refrigerator. The years have been kind to her, in all honesty. Where there was a cute, if somewhat gawky girl when they were 14 there is now a beautiful woman in the flush of motherhood, whom he got to know a lot better, especially when Asuka left for Germany.

"Okay," he says, as she presses him against the fridge, pressing her chest against his, "This is a bad idea."

"Wasn't so bad six years ago," she slurrs with a lopsided grin.

"Six years ago you were single," he says, "And it was still a bad idea then."

His advantage is that he's a good three inches taller than her, standing on his tip toes to keep her from reaching, her completely smashed mind keeping her from taking a logical approach and top toeing herself. Unfortunately, her mind then goes into the approach of grabbing his crotch, making him groan as she tries to reach into his pants.

"Bad idea," he breathes, eyes crossing as she giggles, "Really really bad idea-"

He pulls free, grabbing her hands, pulling her off of him and holding her hands above her head. Stumbling, they both fall to the floor, her pinned by him, his face hovering over hers.

"Okay," he says, "Okay. Stop."

Of course, part of him doesn't mind. Part of him remembers his junior year in college, right after his breakup with his first girlfriend, and after a big fight she had with her boyfriend. He can't remember what lead to what. Maybe it was him finally breaking down and talking about his father issues, maybe it was her yelling that she was a complete failure as a friend if she didn't notice how hurt the people she cared about were.

Maybe it was both of them that lead to that, that understanding, then the kiss, then...everything else, which they then swore to never talk about with anyone else for as long as they lived. He climbs off of her, sitting with his back against the fridge, as she sits next to him, tears already streaming down her face.

"It's alright," he says, wrapping an arm around her shoulder.

"It's not f_ing alright!" she says, trying to yell but finding her heart just isn't in it, resting her head on his shoulder, "I can't believe I screwed up twice with her."

"Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure we all share some blame," he sighs, squeezing her shoulder, "You should get some sleep. I'll take the couch. We'll go find Asuka in the morning."

She mutters an agreement, closing her eyes as she rests her head on his shoulder. She doesn't move for a while longer. Eventually, she does, and clicks the lights off when she stumbles into the suite's bedroom, leaving him alone in the kitchen.


It is probably the events of last night that got him thinking. It has been a long time, but still, he does wonder about it. During their junior year at college, they drifted apart a little, mainly because of age, distance, and other events. After Asuka's blow up during their senior year at high school, his friends were there for him, but he wondered if they were there for him, or to have a sympathetic audience while they lambasted the absent Devil. He didn't know. Didn't care. He smiled, nodded. Withdrew into himself.

He had a girlfriend during his first two years at college. Things were good for a while. He went to the college built just outside of Tokyo-3, not wanting to travel far. Touji went to Kyoto with Kensuke, who dropped out after a year to go find himself. Hikari ended up going to Kyoto at first, then to Tokyo-3.

Then he broke up with his girlfriend. Misato was busy as sub-commander, his father was...his father...Rei wanted to get into his pants and Touji was still living off the high of being the hero of the Second Angel War. Then, during the first month of his junior year, he heard a knock on his dorm room door and found Hikari, crying her eyes out. She just had an argument with her boyfriend- his friend, who he hadn't talked with in four months- and she needed to talk with someone. Her girlfriends were aghast that she would break up with him, him being a war hero after all. Kensuke was busy doing whatever he was doing, and she literally had no one else to talk to.

So, he let her in. She was probably the only one who actually tried to help him during his more depressed times, at least out of actual selflessness rather than obligation or family. He lets her in, and they sat on his small, one person bed in his spartan dorm room and he listened, nodding as she babbled about her problems, stopping every now and then to cry, while he mechanically kept handing her tissues.

He nodded, listened. Acted like he always did when someone had problems. But at some point it hit him. He had his first great revelation, seeing this young woman miserable and sobbing.

It wasn't all about him. At some point, he figured out the hedgehog's dilemma. It took him half an hour of her crying and sobbing and pouring her heart out to what she probably believed would just be someone nodding and watching when he decided he had to to something. So slowly, very slowly, he reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, before pulling her into a hug. It was, to him, weird. Her crying only became louder, and he didn't really say anything, but when she finished that round of crying she was actually smiling.

So, for the first time, they began to talk. Really talk, not like people trying to push each other away so they could be left alone, but like people who could help each other to solve their problems.

She talked about how she felt betrayed, how Touji kept looking at every girl but her, about how he was letting being a hero go to his head. About how she always felt in the middle of everything, even in her own family, like she was taken for granted. He talked about how he was always pushing everyone away, how no one understood the pain he'd gone through. He talked about Asuka, about how he was the only one who tried to help her. Their loneliness was palpable, physical, like it was weighing them down. He can't remember what it was that caused what happened. Maybe it was him offering his place to her for the night, intending to sleep on the floor. Maybe it was her asking if he thought she was attractive, and him honestly answering yes. Maybe it was the relief they felt from being able to let everything off their chests, but what followed was her kissing him, and him kissing back.

What followed was them practically tearing each other's clothes off, and admittedly not managing that very well, following them wrestling on the bed with not a lot of room to be honest. What followed was her nails on his back, his hands on her ankles, the crack of thunder from the rain storm outside as the power on the campus shut down. He remembers their fingers intertwining, his lips against her, her curled toes scratching his calves. He remembers her hands on his chest, his back against the sheets, his arms around her. He remembers the flashes of lightning, illuminating her underneath him, the booms from the thundercracks muted in his ears compared to her cries, his breathing, and the sounds of the bedframe hitting the wall. The entire night was a blur, from the moment they started to the weight of her head on his chest when they drifted off into exhausted sleep. But he remembers all of it.

And the next morning, they both admitted it was a terrible mistake. Sure, it was spectacular. Sure, it was...eye opening...but it was a mistake. She dressed, and left, to reconcile with Touji. He went to his classes, the weight lifted off his shoulders. Three months later, he was the best man at their wedding. Six months later, their first child, Aya, was born. Some part, deep within the pit of his stomach, suspected she could be his, but he also knew what sort of damage that pronunciation would make. Instead, he involved himself as much as possible, becoming the child's godfather.


And six years later, here he is now, sitting across the kitchen counter from her as she practically inhales the eggs and sausage omelet from room service.

"So," he says, "I take it Touji told you about..."

"Yep," she says with a smile, her hair hanging loose, a bathrobe covering her t-shirt and jeans, "He couldn't keep his mouth shut. You've met her?"

He nods.

"Yeah, we should head out in a few minutes," he says with a sigh, "Okay?"

She nods, shoveling the last of the food in, kicking off the stool and walking into the bathroom. He can hear the shower running, taking the plate, rinsing it off in the sink as he whistles. The doorbell rings and he sighs, walking over to it, not bothering with the peephole and opening.

"Hey, Third," Asuka says, adjusting her overcoat, "Got a minute?"

His eyes dart from side to side. He peeks down the hallway.

"Mari's got her," Asuka responds, hand up, pushing him back into the apartment, "Look, we need to talk. Commander Beardman's probably cross with you for not getting me onboard the SS Traumatrain, so you need to get him on the phone so we..."

"Hey, did I leave a shoe or anything in the bar?"

Towel wrapped around and ending at her knees, another towel wrapped around her hair, Hikari walks out of the bathroom. Freezing, she locks eyes with Asuka, who stares back, her face growing dark. And to Shinji's credit, he sees the hand move a second before it hits, his head ringing as he hits the floor. And just over the sound of his skull ringing, he hears the elevator ring as Asuka makes her exit.


The door to the office of the Supreme Commander opens, and Touji looks out from a heavy brow and bloodshot eyes to see Rei Ayanami sashay into the office. A guttural growl more suited to his Evangelion than himself comes from his throat, as he shifts aside the mounting pile of requisition forms to glare at her.

"Where were you?" he asks, and continues before she can respond, "I have been alone here for two days! I have been left in charge of NERV! We have an emergency down in Sheol, the Commander just took off for Berlin, and I have been trying to find the head of Tactical Ops- which is you, by the way- for the past three days! Where the Hell were you?"

"Attempting to breed," Rei responds.

Touji stops, mid rant, and stares at her.

"And that's officially way too much information," Touji says, "So...breeding?"

"Breeding. The part of my biology that was the Second Angel demands progeny."

He nods. His face has gone completely blank, and the mind behind the face is currently trying to lock in to certain signals. While the idea of Rei attempting to breed is pleasant, as Rei is an attractive woman which he will admit in any way that his wife cannot hear, there is also the fact that she is Rei.

And said progeny may have tentacles, or claws, or perhaps knives.

"Right," he says, "If I may ask a personal question, Rei..."

"Go ahead."

"...with what?"

"Kensuke Aida," Rei responds, the corners of her lip twitching upward, "I will spare you the details. You do not wish to hear about any of his physical traits, or stamina which was involved in the marathon-"

"Yeah, Rei," Touji says, rubbing his eyes, "Yeah, I don't."

He sits up, staring at her. She is smiling, faintly. This is worrying.

"Huh. We sort of bet that Kensuke was the guy from college."

"He was not."

"Huh. Guess Hikari loses the bet," he sighs, and stands up, "C'mon, Rei. We got to go down to Sheol. You need to see this."

He walks out, Rei following on his heels.


The elevator doors ring, sliding open, and what follows is two adults running out, through the lobby, and out the hotel door. A mix of japanese, of the man telling the woman, still fixing her jacket, that they have to find someone. German, of the clerk telling them to have a nice day, befuddled as he is.

And Asuka folds back the newspaper, sitting on the bench outside the hotel's restaurant. Fine, she thinks, let them chase around Berlin for a while. She'll cool down, they'll calm down, and they can talk, then. A snort, and she enters the restaurant, the air thick with the smell of grilling and expensive beer.

"Table for one," she says, "And coffee, black."

She lets herself be lead over to the table, in line of sight to the door. Should Shinji and Hikari- and that was Hikari, she realizes- put their heads on straight and come back to the hotel, they should see her here, doing what she should be doing instead of getting involved in the sturm and drang that is NERV drama.

Opening up her briefcase, she takes out a folder of tests, and tapping the bottom of her pen, begins marking them.

"Oh, hello. Is this seat taken?"

She looks up. She recognizes japanese easily enough, and this woman is definitely speaking japanese. Somehow, somewhere, there is a hint of recognition- she hasn't met this woman before, but she has met someone who looks like her. But, considering how long she spent in Japan- or more importantly, the most traumatic part of Japan, she writes that off to everything else that's been going on during this Old Home week.

"Nope," she says, scribbling a comment on Dieter's paper that he is on the right track with the absolutely wrong conclusion, "Feel free."

There's some gray in the dark hair, a familiar smirk on the woman's face. She has to be...fifties. Maybe sixties. Perhaps just keeps herself well preserved. Smartly dressed, but nothing formal, just a nice sweater and skirt, sitting across from Asuka. The smirk becomes wider, and the woman extends her hand.

"Keiko," she says.

Asuka inwardly sighs, and takes the hand, shaking it.

"Asuka," she says, "So...you're not from Berlin?"

"Japan, actually," Keiko responds, in japanese, "You can understand me. I'm surprised how many people here are monolingual."

"I lived in Japan for a few years," Asuka responds, "I picked up the language. Don't ask me to write. Here on vacation?"

"I am," she says, smiling, "My husband is here on business."

The door to the restaurant opens. A familiar voice which Asuka recognizes, her eyes leaving the paper and staring at the door.

"And here he is now."

And Gendo Ikari walks into a bar.

There is no punchline.


The phone rings. But, it is not her office phone. No, the ringing is coming from one of her desk draws. Which is when she tries to remember the last time someone's called her by her cell phone, and who would it be amongst the precious few she has gifted with her cell phone number?

Sighing, she pulls open the top draw. The phone still rings, but from underneath. Right, she thinks, second draw. Good thing she's never bothered to set up her voice mail, or else she'd never get to her phone in time. Yanking the second draw open, cracking the wood of the draw handle, she withdraws her phone and flips it open.

"Kirishima. What's the dealie-o?"


The voice on the other line. Soft, moe, creepy. Could only be one person.

"Hey, roomie. Who'd you kill, and how much quicklime do you need?"

"I have not killed anyone, Kirishima. Or at least, I have never required your help to dispose of bodies."

"Just fucking with you, Rei," she says, leaning back in her chair, "Where've you been, anyway? I haven't seen you at the apartment for, like, three days. Been off chasing guys?"


Mana Kirishima, Lieutenant Colonel in the JSSDF, blinks. That was not the answer she was expecting from her room mate, one Rei Ayanami. Given, Mana's always presumed that Rei has never pursued guys because she desired to slam her half-brother against the walls and make him feel the G's, but that's another matter entirely.

"Okay," she says, running a hand through her short, red hair, "So, what's up? What'd you need?"

"I need you to listen. I have an idea and I need your input."

Mana grins, showing white teeth.

"I'm all ears."


"Oh boy. In the last four days, I have been punched three times, twice by Asuka, once by her dad, slapped three times, and maced. Remind me again why I do the things my father asks me to, again?"

Sitting in the coffee bar, a good three kilometers from the hotel, the bar itself was the closest place to sit down when they realized that barring Asuka having a car she was not going to have outrun them that fast. So that means they were probably going in the wrong direction. Sitting across from him, her latte still steaming, Hikari shrugs.

"Because you want your father to acknowledge you?"

He glares at her.

"I think," she says, emphasizing the word, fanning the latte as she daintily sips it, "That you need to ask yourself what you want to accomplish. What are you doing in Berlin? You barely speak any german, you aren't sightseeing, and you definitely aren't enjoying yourself. So what is your goal?"

"To get Asuka to work for NERV."

"Except that isn't what your father asked you to do," she says, index finger up, carrying herself less as friend and more daycare teacher, "Your mission, which you accepted, was to approach her to give her the job offer. It said nothing about getting her to accept the job."

He glares at her harder, if possible. But, he realizes, she has a point. She actually does. When he took the job from his father, he did give him a task. And he has completed the task. He offered the job to Asuka and, as predicted, she rejected it. Why wouldn't she? No one had fond memories of NERV during the First Angel War. In fact, most of the people in Tokyo-3 who work at NERV only do so due to how they acted during the Second, where Touji made a name for himself and where his father finally got our of Mom's shadow.

"Your right," he says, "I guess...I guess I'm trying to fix things with Asuka."

Hikari nods.

"I figured as much," she says, "Now, the important question you need to ask is what you want to accomplish with her?"

He sighs, shoulders slumping, visibly deflating into his seat.

"Hell if I know."


It is a commonly accepted belief that Gendo Ikari does not smile, as if he smiled, you would see the pronounced fangs that would identify him as a vampire. Shortly after that, he would bite you, turning you into a Rei.

Or so the theory goes.

"So," Keiko says, legs crossed, hands folded on one knee, "I understand you two have a history. This is, of course, why I insisted on coming along, because my husband knows better than to be the same sort of...what's the word, dear?"

"Manipulative manchild?" Gendo offers.

"Yes, exactly. I won't allow my husband to be the same sort of manipulative manchild he was years ago. He knows me better than that. He knows what I'll do to him if he does."

He has yet to assume the Pose. His hands are folded on the table in front of him. He is sitting ramrod straight. Still, Asuka can't help but feel the cold knot forming in her stomach, the pit feeling that no, he's here, it's all going to happen again.

"Doctor Sohryu-" he begins.

"Professor," she responds, "Professor Sohryu. Doctor Sohryu was my mother."

Gendo blinks. The crook of his mouth twitches.

"Very well," he says, "Professor Sohryu. Inspector Ikari has made the job offer, and as he reported to us, it was rejected. I felt it was...necessary...to elaborate on the circumstances behind it."

Beneath the table, Asuka's hands clench into fists. She tries not to grind her teeth, toes curling in her shoes. This is exactly what she was trying to avoid. This is the exact worse case scenario she was imagining when Shinji came to Berlin. This is the last thing she wants to-


Gendo looks down in his lap, and the warm water penguin now sitting in it. Pen Pen stares at the Commander for a moment, and folds his flippers in front of his beak.

"Hi, Commander," Misato says, "I need to talk to Professor Sohryu for a moment. Mom, could you look after Pen Pen for a few?"

And Misato grabs Asuka by the arm and drags her out of the restaurant.


Hikari admits that, for a girl who could be such a tightly wound ball of tsundere rage, Asuka has managed to have what is possibly the most adorable daughter ever. And as the proud mother of two adorable children, it takes true cuteness for Hikari to bestow that honor upon Ariel Zeppelin Sohryu.

"So," Mari says, sipping her mocha, Ari in the seat next to her with a mug of hot cocoa, "I do have to apologize for how Dad yelled at you. He can be really knee-jerk about us, with emphasis on the jerk."

Ari giggles. Hikari bites back a squeal. Shinji just grins. Just as they were getting ready to leave and go back to the hotel, Mari and Ariel showed up, midway through shopping for clothes. Hence, as the coffee was all on Shinji's expense account, they were invited to join.

"But yeah," Mari continues, "You have to remember that Dad wasn't...well, Dad wasn't exactly there for Asuka during much of our lives. When Ska's Mom died, he did take her in, but Asuka more or less had herself adopted by NERV and Mr. Kaji, and didn't spend any time around us, at all. Not even holidays."

"Then came what happened when we were eighteen," Shinji says.

"...and Dad got himself a bright and hard wakeup slap," Mari says, "Dad was absolutely livid. The shouting contest between him and Katsuragi went on for hours. So Dad wanted to help Asuka get back on her feet, and, well, then Ari-"

She ruffles her nieces hair. Ari laughs. Hikari feels her heart turn to a liquid state.

"And then Dad became a Grandpa, too!"

Shinji nods, sipping his coffee. There was a day where he didn't want to discuss his father. Now, he never wants to shut up.

"Yeah, my father was the same," he says, "I mean, it's not like he's going to win any Father of the Year awards, but still. He's mellowed out in the last couple of years. I think him getting married helped a lot."


Gendo Ikari, Commander of NERV, looks down. Pen Pen, Penguin, looks back up.


"Indeed. It is going according to the scenario."

"You're doing it again, Gendo."

"Sorry, dear."


"So. One of the things you need to know is that while Commander Ikari is still, well, a dick, he's no longer as outright evil as he was when you were a kid. He's mellowed out a bit. Still manipulative, but he's not trying to end the world. Anymore."

The bar is down the street from the hotel. The corner booth is in line of sight from the door, but the drink in Misato's hand is tea. She's not sure if she quit drinking or not. If so, good for her. But for right now, that's the last thing on Asuka's mind, as she tries very much not to break the tea mug in her hand from the shaking.

"Asuka," Misato says, "I need you to listen to me."

She looks up from her tea. Her teeth are still clattering. This is the day she's feared ever since she first held her daughter.

"Asuka, it's alright," Misato says, "I know what you're afraid of."

"You don't," Asuka responds, teeth grinding, her eyes staring directly into Misato's own, "I don't know what happened over the past eight years, Misato, but understand this. I am not letting them get their claws into me again."

Misato nods. She bites back a reply. In all honesty, that is the problem. They still think of each other as they were those years ago. Still think of themselves as the screamers, the drunkards, the broken.

"I've always known about your history," Misato says, "And I know about...her."

She doesn't say the word 'mother.' She doesn't have to. The shudder, the chill up her spine says it for her.

"You're not her-"

"Ari's the same age I was when she killed herself," Asuka snaps, biting back the anger, "That's my role model, you know? That's who I am afraid of becoming every single day. Some day, I'm going to snap just like her, and Ari will find me with a rope around my neck. And she's going to be as fucked up as I am."

Misato reaches out, surrounding Asuka's hands with her own. For Asuka's part, she does not pull away. For Misato's part, she reaches out.

"Stop," she says, softly, "Just...stop. I know you're angry. I know you're scared. And I have fucked up for twelve years trying to deal with it, okay? Just...listen to me, alright?"

She gathers her thoughts, the violet haired woman closing her eyes for a moment. She can feel Misato's hands flexing around her own. Her back is still tense, her shoulders still shaking. But this isn't the Commander she's talking with. It's Misato.

"Asuka, I swear, on my father's grave I will not hurt your daughter," Misato says, "I'm going to start off with that. I have Ikari by the balls now, understand? Because do not tell anyone about this, but Gendo Rokobungi is the single most whipped man in Tokyo-3, and if he even one time pisses me off, my mother is going to geld him with her bare hands. So if he even thinks of fucking up your girl's life like he and SEELE and Gehirn did yours, he's going to have to get through me, got it?"

Asuka nods. She can feel the tension leaving her shoulders. A swallow, a rare sign of vulnerability, and she sits back in her chair.

"Okay," Misato says, "Well, Shinji is still shit at talking to people, so let me explain exactly what NERV is asking you to do..."


Hikari has found her room, Mari took Ari back to her grandparents, and so Shinji walks across the lobby of the hotel he is staying at, into the restaurant near the front desk, and uses the only bit of German he has practiced- coffee, black, strong- and sits at a table near the bar. Leaning back, his head rests against the wall, eyes closed and hands folded in his lap as he waits for his coffee.

He hasn't seen Asuka. There was a text message on his cell phone from Misato, telling him to meet her tomorrow morning. And right now he is tired beyond belief, despite it being the early afternoon. All he wants to do is sleep.

And then at the table next to him, the newspaper folds down, and reveals Gendo Ikari.


And Shinji falls out of his seat screaming.