Foreword: so…THIS took a lot longer to finish than I was hoping it would. I'd love to say that the entirety of the delay has been legitimate (a decent portion has been, with the occasional case of writer's block and a handful of holidays to eat up my time), but the majority of it has simply been because my wife and I (mostly me) have gotten sucked back into a Korean MMO we used to play. Hopefully, this'll be the longest delay I'll have between updates, but I make no guarantees.

On the upside, though, this chapter's quite a bit longer than the previous two, so hopefully that makes up a bit for the delay.

Disclaimer: see chapter 1.

How Do You Talk to an Angel?

by Elizar Naki

Chapter 3: "Revelation"

The Ikaris' trip to NERV's Tokyo-3 base of operations was spent mostly in silence—Gendo because he had little to say, Shinji because he simply didn't know where to start. His father's actions were so radically different from what he was used to, he wasn't even completely sure any of this was really happening, even after having pinched himself a handful of times during the car ride to the linear rail station. Why was his father suddenly acting this way? And why was he insisting that Shinji come with him to NERV? What part of the base's highly-classified operations could the younger Ikari possibly "need to see"? Even as the pair boarded an underground-bound linear rail car, nothing came to the young teenager's mind. What are you thinking, Father? he wondered as the rail car departed.

"I would assume," Gendo said some time later, after the rail car was a good distance underground, "that I don't need to remind you of the necessity for secrecy in much of our work here."

"Y-yeah, I know," Shinji replied. He'd never been on-base before, but the implications of his father's usually terse attitude regarding NERV business told him everything he needed to know on THAT subject: whatever he was about to be shown, he was to discuss it with absolutely no one outside NERV personnel. "But…what's going on, Father? What is it you want me to see?"

"Something…important to your present state of mind," his father told him cryptically.

Shinji was about to ask what that was supposed to mean when their train suddenly emerged from the tunnel they'd been traveling through…and back into wide, open space. That confused the boy enough to make him temporarily forget about his other source of confusion. Had he somehow missed the rail car going back to the surface? That almost made sense, except for the fact that they seemed to be emerging from the sky. Upon closer examination, Shinji noticed that they actually appeared to be traveling into some kind of enormous hemispherical compound dotted by at least one lake and several kinds of plants, many of which he'd never even seen before. The sunset effect, he guessed, was likely being produced by the mirror-like buildings he'd noticed above-ground reflecting the surface light through the windows that appeared to be embedded in the top of the dome. "Oh wow!" Shinji couldn't help but exclaim. "Is this…is this one of the GeoFronts?"

"The original, in point of fact," Gendo clarified. "This one, like many of the others, also serves as one of Project NERV's research and training facilities."

Shinji couldn't believe he was actually getting to see this. The GeoFronts were artificially-created environments that NERV used as test beds for the environmental domes NERV-1 would possess for various recreational and agricultural purposes. In addition, they also served as enormous wildlife and plant life preserves for many of the flora and fauna brought to the brink of extinction by Second Impact. If Kensuke ever got even the slightest inkling that Shinji had been inside one of them—especially the original one—he'd never let Shinji hear the end of it…and for once, the young Ikari wouldn't blame him.

As amazing as the sight was, though, it obviously wasn't what he'd been brought here to see. For one thing, Shinji didn't see what the GeoFront had to do with his "present state of mind," as his father had said. For another, the GeoFront likely possessed some sort of remote observation outpost on the surface, so the fact that they were actually entering it directly meant that what he was going to be shown was somewhere in the base itself. And from the direction the rail car was going, Shinji guessed that the base was inside either the pyramid-shaped structure they were heading towards or the inverted, pyramidal trench next to it. Won't be much longer 'til I find out, I guess, he thought as the train continued on its way.

As it turned out, both "pyramids" were part of the base proper. The linear rail car stopped at a station inside the building portion of it, allowing the Ikaris to disembark as they headed into the base itself. It didn't take long for Shinji to lose track of where they were; there were simply too many doors, side corridors, elevators, escalators, and moving walkways heading off in too many different directions for him to be able to keep tabs on where they were going, or even where they'd come from. Fortunately, his father didn't seem to have that problem, as he strode through the base with practiced ease and purposeful, confident steps. For once, Shinji was actually happy about the elder Ikari's presence, as the chances of him finding his way back on his own were relatively nonexistent at this point.

After nearly a half hour of seemingly aimless wandering, the pair finally came to a halt in front of a rather nondescript door. The door opened to allow them into the room, but only after Gendo had swiped his ID card and entered a six-digit pass code on the security pad next to it. Shinji followed his father inside and found himself in some kind of control room, with computer terminals lining the other three walls at various points and a giant observation port overlooking an adjoining room making up most of the front wall. Privates Ibuki, Hyuga, and Aoba sat at three of the terminals, while Lieutenant Katsuragi stood in roughly the center of the room presiding over…whatever it was they were doing. As the pair of them entered, though, Misato seemed to catch sight of them…or at least of Gendo. "Commander on deck!" she yelled as she came to attention, offering the elder Ikari a crisp salute. The other three quickly rose from their chairs and did the same.

"As you were," Gendo told them after returning their salute.

"Thank you, sir," the violet-haired lieutenant said as she returned to a more comfortable stance, the three "bridge bunnies" taking their seats again in the meantime. As they did so, though, Misato's expression turned confused as she seemed to finally notice Shinji's presence. "Uh, sir, not to question your judgment or anything, but what's your son doing here?"

"Shinji…needs to see this," Gendo told her, as cryptic to her as he'd been with Shinji all night.

"Oh does he now?" Misato asked, a mischievous smile crossing her face and a knowing tone in her voice. Shinji had seen that amused, almost evil glint in her eyes before, and it very rarely meant good things for him. "Well then," she continued as she approached them, "why don't we let our guest of honor watch things from my station?"

"Uh," Shinji began, "th-that's not really—"

"Oh come on, it'll be fun!" Misato told him, simultaneously latching onto his arm and dragging him toward a terminal set along the windowed wall. "Best seat in the house!"

Shinji tried his best to protest, but Misato being quite a bit stronger than him made his efforts pretty much moot. He quickly just gave in and let himself be led over to the older woman's station, taking a seat in front of the multi-screen terminal she normally used. The view, he decided, wasn't that interesting. The room on the other side of the window appeared to be at least two or three stories tall, its surfaces made up of hundreds of blue-white tiles. The view through the monitors wasn't much better, as all they showed were various sections of the adjoining room at different angles and magnifications. The more Shinji saw of this particular operation, the more confused he became by his own presence here. What could possibly be going on here that Father would want me to see?

It didn't take long for him to get an answer of sorts. Less than a minute later, a door opened on the far side of the other room, admitting a young-looking girl inside. The girl was clad in some sort of elaborately designed white bodysuit, with matching clips adorning her…blue hair? "Ayanami?" he blurted out before he could stop himself. That just wasn't possible, though. His mind had to have been playing tricks on him, but…no, a quick glance at one of the monitors confirmed that it was indeed Rei Ayanami striding toward the center of the larger room. But…why? What was she even doing here?

Misato's obvious amusement was even further proof that he wasn't imagining things. "You ain't seen nothin' yet, Shinji," she told him with a smile. Shinji wanted to disagree with her—the bodysuit Ayanami was wearing had a "tougher than it looked" vibe about it, but it was also ridiculously skintight, leaving very little of his classmate's slender form to his imagination—but he'd known the lieutenant long enough to know that that would only get him teased even more than usual. Fortunately, she seemed too focused on her present duties to exploit Shinji's embarrassment at the moment. She tapped a button on the clip-on microphone attached to the collar of her jacket, probably patching her through to the room Ayanami was in. "Last chance to back out, Rei," she reminded the younger girl. "We'll all understand if you wanna take a few more days to enjoy being bandage-free again, especially after last time."

Last time? Shinji thought. What does she mean, "last time"? Was this how Ayanami got hurt?

"No," the blue-haired girl's voice said over the room's speakers. "I am ready, Lieutenant."

"Suit yourself," Misato said, hitting the mic button again to cut the connection. "Aoba, prep for phase one."

"Yes, ma'am," the long-haired private replied as he hit a few controls. As he did, Shinji saw several of the tiles in the adjoining room slide away, revealing dozens of artillery units hidden away inside the walls—all of which quickly oriented themselves toward the room's sole occupant.

"What the—" Shinji exclaimed. "Misato, what's going on? What are you doing?"

"Don't worry, Shinji," Misato reassured him. "Everything's under control. Commence operation on my mark," she added to the other NDF personnel.

Shinji could hardly believe what he was witnessing. Despite the unbelievable things he'd seen over the past hour or so, he refused to believe that Misato—or even his father—would level that much firepower on a fourteen-year-old girl for any reason. There had to be more to this than he was seeing, there just had to.

"Open fire!" Misato ordered, squashing that hope of his before he could even properly latch onto it. A moment later, all that artillery opened up on Ayanami, firing both solid munitions and laser bursts directly at her.

"NOO!" Shinji yelled, turning away from the scene as he got up from Misato's chair. Once again, his anger overrode his better judgment, and he grabbed the older woman by her jacket as he began venting that rage. "What is wrong with you people? What does this have to do with saving the human race?"

"Quite a bit, actually," Misato said with a shrug, acting as if nothing was even wrong.

"You people are SICK!" Shinji continued on his tirade. "She's barely a teenager! How could you possibly expect her to survive having that much firepower leveled at her?"

"Kinda like that," the purple-haired lieutenant said as she pointed back at the adjoining room.

Despite his anger, Shinji found himself looking back at the massacre taking place in the tiled room next to them…and promptly switching from anger back to confusion. Ayanami was still standing in the center of the room, and the wall-mounted weaponry was still firing at her…but none of it was reaching her. A series of hexagonal energy barriers had formed roughly a foot away from the enigmatic bluenette, their citrine tones flashing through a myriad of rainbow colors like soap bubbles in a sunbeam as the various munitions and laser blasts impacted harmlessly against them. Shinji released his grip on Misato, returning to the chair he'd been sitting in as he continued to watch the bizarre scene unfolding before him. What he was seeing wasn't even remotely possible, but he was seeing it nonetheless, and the reactions of the control room's other occupants made it perfectly clear that he wasn't just imagining it all. Just to be sure, though, he pinched himself on the arm again, but like before, the only result was a slight stinging sensation. He wasn't dreaming, either, which meant that all of this was really happening…somehow.

The thought entered Shinji's mind that his crimson-eyed crush might be helping the NDF test some sort of new defense system, but a quick glance at the screens put that idea to rest. Her hands were clasped in front of her chest, her eyes closed in a look of concentration as the energy barrier continued to deflect the incoming attacks. Despite the completely illogical nature of it, Shinji was getting the impression that Ayanami herself was creating that barrier…but how? This kind of thing didn't happen outside of comic books and science fiction shows…or at least that was what Shinji had believed until thirty seconds ago. His confusion mounted when he noticed that she seemed to have something strapped to her hip. He briefly thought that it might be the real source of the barrier protecting her, but after looking more closely he discovered the object to be just a simple glasses case. Does Ayanami even wear glasses? he wondered, finding the thought odd in the middle of everything else that was happening. And even if she does, why would she have that with her now?

"Status report," Misato ordered, cutting into Shinji's dumbfounded thoughts.

"Artillery operating at peak efficiency," Aoba reported. "Estimated ammunition usage: 3.7%"

"Biometric readings are all within acceptable parameters," Hyuga added. "No fluctuations detected."

"MAGI have confirmed A.T. Field deployment," Maya said. "Beginning full-spectrum analysis now."

"A.T. Field?" Shinji repeated, baffled by the new term being thrown his way. Behind him, he could hear the door open and close again, presumably admitting someone else into the control room. "Wh-what's that mean?"

"Absolute Terror Field," the newcomer answered him. Shinji turned around and saw Dr. Akagi walking up behind them, a clipboard and a small stack of papers cradled in one arm. Out of the corner of his eye, Shinji could see Private Ibuki's demeanor brighten ever so slightly; assuming he was ever invited to, he had a feeling he knew which side of that bet he'd put his money on now. "It's the term we use for the barrier that holds each individual being's ego together, essentially separating one living being from another. For most of us, that's all it's capable of. For someone like Rei…well, that's what we're here to find out."

Someone like Rei? Shinji mentally repeated. What's that supposed to mean? He was starting to think the whole of NERV's senior staff was having some kind of contest to see who could confuse him the most.

"I must've missed the memo," Ritsuko continued. "If I'd known today was 'Bring Your Child to Work Day,' I would've let Dr. Makinami bring her daughter in. She's apparently been dying to try the flight simulator out."

"The Commander says Shinji needed to see this," Misato informed the bottle-blonde woman with a smile.

"I see," Dr. Akagi answered, her voice filled with that same knowing tone Misato had used earlier. Shinji began to wonder, now that he knew WHY the two women were using that tone, just how many members of NERV personnel knew about his attraction to the pale-skinned…psychic? Mutant? He still didn't have any real idea what was going on, or how Ayanami was creating that barrier of hers. What she was doing in the next room definitely went well beyond just keeping her ego together. "How's she doing this time?" Ritsuko asked a moment or two later, hunching over Maya's terminal to get a better view of the data being displayed on her screens.

"We've got a successful deployment," her unofficial assistant reported. "Artillery penetration currently at zero."

"No surprise there," Ritsuko said, reaching down and tapping a few keys to change the display. "Based on the data available from the Scrolls, as well as what we're seeing here, nothing we've got on this scale can touch her right now unless she lets it."

"Meaning," Misato joined in, "that until we get the enhancers working, we've got about all the new data we're gonna get on Rei's defensive abilities short of dropping an N2 mine on her."

Shinji just listened to the exchange in stunned—and still confused—silence. He recognized the N2 acronym (from one of Kensuke's rants) as the military's term for non-nuclear weaponry that packed as big a punch as nuclear bombs in addition to generating an electro-magnetic pulse; it actually scared him a bit that Misato was even jokingly suggesting that an N2 weapon might be the only thing capable of actually hurting Ayanami when her defenses were up. Most of the rest of their conversation—especially the references to "enhancers" and some sort of scrolls—still made no sense, but he figured they might elaborate a little if he just waited long enough.

"Which ISN'T an option," Ritsuko chided her old classmate. "Assuming N2 weaponry can get past her A.T. Field in the first place, a blast of that magnitude would—"

"Would atomize her, I know," the violet-haired lieutenant interrupted. "Geez, I was just kidding, Rits. Final status?" she asked the others.

"Beam cannons seven through ten and gatling cannon three are showing moderate signs of overheating," Aoba told her. "Shutdown will likely be necessary in two minutes and seventeen seconds. All other weapons operating at peak capacity."

"Field strength still nominal," Maya reported. "No signs of degradation detected."

"Biometrics unchanged," Hyuga said. "Based on the MAGI's estimates, I'd say she can keep this up longer than we can," he added with a slight grin.

Misato couldn't help but return the grin. If nothing else, she knew they had to find some way to keep things light during all this; after all, they were counting on data gathered by putting a barely-teenaged girl in mortal peril to give them a better chance of survival after leaving Earth. "Okay, shut it down. We'll switch to phase two."

"Yes, ma'am," Aoba said again as he shut the artillery in the next room down. On the monitors, Shinji could see the various weapon emplacements retract into the walls, the panels that originally hid them from view sliding into place again.

"Good job, Rei," the soon-to-be Tactical Operations Director told the younger girl over the comm channel. "We've got all the data we need on your defensive abilities for now. Next, we need you to show us what you can do with that Field of yours offensively."

"Yes, Lieutenant," Ayanami replied a moment later.

"Send in the drones," Misato ordered. A moment later, another door opened up in the adjoining room, admitting nearly two dozen humanoid-looking robots—armed with everything from handguns and rocket launchers to swords and other melee weapons—into the room.

"What the heck are those things?" Shinji blurted out again.

"Combat drones," Misato clarified. "The JSSDF began work on them shortly after Second Impact. They never did get them working well enough for the battlefield, but they still have a use of sorts in training ops like this, so the NDF bought a huge batch of 'em early on."

So robots like this are real, too, Shinji thought as he observed the increasingly bizarre scene. After everything else he'd seen tonight, he was starting to wonder why that still surprised him.

"Stand by for next phase," Misato said.

"Ready, Lieutenant," Ayanami replied.

"Everything's green on our end," Aoba reported.

"Begin!"

As soon as the lieutenant gave the order, Ayanami braced her feet against the ground, crossed her arms across her chest, and quickly threw them back out again, releasing a horizontal burst of her A.T. Field. The Field sliced through each of the drones' necks, severing their heads and dropping all her potential assailants to the ground in several heaps of useless metal. "Amazing," Shinji breathed.

"All targets have gone silent," Aoba told them. "Elapsed combat time: 1.7 seconds."

"Hmm," Misato said, studying the results of this phase. "Retrieve the damaged drones and send in a new batch. I wanna try that again." To the subject of their tests, she added, "Not bad, Rei, but we're gonna run this one again. This time, though, I want you to focus on using directed strikes instead of that area attack you just did."

"The purpose of this phase was to eliminate the targets as quickly as possible," Ayanami replied quizzically as the damaged drones disappeared into sinking floor panels. "Did I not do so adequately?"

"You did, but you have to remember to consider your surroundings too. That burst attack of yours is fine when you're on your own, but most of the time you'll either be working as part of a squad or escorting non-combatants, and you don't want them accidentally getting taken down by friendly fire."

"Understood, Lieutenant." As Ayanami responded, new panels slid into position to replace the sunken ones, and a new group of drones entered the room to take the first group's place.

"Second wave standing by," Aoba said a moment later.

"Begin!" Misato ordered again.

This time, the projectile-armed drones were given time to open fire. In response, Ayanami simply jumped—with prowess that would've made most sentai heroes jealous—out of the line of fire. On her way down, she directed herself into a diving kick at the nearest gun-wielder, coating her leg in A.T. energy as she did. The energized kick cut straight through the target drone's torso, shutting it down immediately. Another drone opened fire from behind her, but theyoung combatant pushed off the defeated drone and leapt toward her next target. Shifting her focus, she re-formed her A.T. Field into a pair of crescent-shaped forearm blades running from the tips of her fingers to her elbows, slicing the second drone to pieces with a horizontal strike from one and a vertical slash from the other. As she landed, a third, sword-wielding drone came at her with a downward stroke of its weapon. Ayanami blocked the attack with one of her A.T. blades while shifting the second one into a handheld form, bisecting her attacker with an upward slash.

Shinji couldn't help noticing the severe difference in skill between his classmate and the things she was fighting. Misato had been right: these drones were nowhere near ready for actual combat. They reminded him of pre-Zoe Cylons, programmed for battle but lacking the processing power to react quickly enough to put their programming to any real use. Apparently, testing Ayanami's combat prowess at this point was secondary to seeing how she could use her powers to supplement what she could do naturally.

"Doctor," Gendo's voice cut in for the first time since the tests began.

Ritsuko nodded in reply, responding to some unknown prompt from the Commander. "Are we recording this, Maya?" she asked her protégé.

"Since just before phase one, sempai," the younger woman said with a nod.

"Good. Have the recording forwarded to my office when you're all done here; I wanna analyze the whole thing myself later. In the meantime…Shinji."

"Uh…y-yeah?" the younger Ikari replied.

"This way, please," Dr. Akagi told him as she turned and headed for the door, Gendo close behind her. "Your father and I have more to show you."

"O-okay," Shinji replied, getting up and following the two adults out of the room. Just before he left, though, he turned back for a last glance in Ayanami's direction. He was just in time to see her wave her arm and let loose a more directed, cone-shaped version of her A.T. burst attack, taking out three of the remaining drones at once. Shinji still couldn't help but marvel at the young girl's power, but he managed to pull himself away and continue after his father and Dr. Akagi before they got too far ahead of him.

After leading them down another series of twists and turns in NERV's corridors, Ritsuko stopped at another door, swiped her ID card, and entered her own pass code, granting them access to the elevator on the other side. Once inside, another swipe of the faux-blonde's card activated a hidden floor light, taking them down to someplace labeled "TD." Shinji had no idea what that meant, but he was beginning to think of confusion as par for the course around here, so he simply waited for the adults to feed him more information in their own time.

The elevator, as it turned out, was mostly glass, with the door and framework being the only exceptions. The view outside the elevator was dark for the first part of their journey, until the level indicator hit "LE-EE." At that point, the view took on a deep red tint, switching to a lighter, nearly pink shade a few seconds later as the view outside the elevator suddenly turned bizarre. Shinji had no idea what he was looking at, but it appeared to be some sort of collection of enormous biological spheres, filaments, and other unrecognizable structures—almost like the extreme close-up diagram of the human brain his biology teacher had shown his class last semester. It was easily one of the strangest things he'd seen so far—which was saying quite a bit, all things considered.

The elevator's final destination, Shinji guessed, was easily three or four kilometers below ground. The doors opened into a long hallway that was basically a narrow catwalk connected by a series of small pipes and metal framework to some sort of rock-like wall, the only illumination coming from a series of orange lights hidden beneath the catwalk. The three of them walked down the hall for several minutes before coming to a stop in front of a large metal door, another of the now-familiar security keypads embedded in the wall next to it. Shinji could also see some kind of "Keep Out" warning sign (in English, strangely) near the keypad—something about an "LCL Production Plant" and trespassers potentially being fined $100,000 and/or facing up to ten years of jail time…AFTER being shot on sight.

"This is Terminal Dogma," Ritsuko told him. "What you're about to see goes beyond every level of classified information in existence. Aside from the security staff inside and the handful of scientists and technicians whose jobs take them through here, NERV-1's primary bridge crew are the only on-site personnel who know what lies on the other side of this door. If you haven't been sworn to secrecy about everything else you've seen tonight, I'm swearing you to it now…assuming you value your life, of course."

Shinji gulped slightly at the doctor's words but nodded his assent. Whatever his father wanted him to get out of tonight, he dearly hoped it was worth the strain this was putting on his nerves. Ritsuko, meanwhile, seemed satisfied with the boy's wordless agreement and swiped her ID card through the security pad, quickly typing in a multi-digit pass code so long that Shinji couldn't even tell how many digits it contained. Once she was done, the armored door in front of them split into four triangular sections that receded diagonally into the walls; beyond that, another armored door split in half and opened vertically while several glowing red lock bolts retreated shortly behind it, allowing Shinji his first glimpse of the inside of this "Terminal Dogma."

Shinji's first thought, as his jaw dropped nearly to the floor at the sight in front of him, was that the fines posted outside were far too lenient for trespassing on something like this. The room itself was incredibly expansive, with walls that were either jet black or simply too far away for the lighting to make them visible. A massive orange lake dominated the lower part of the chamber, dotted occasionally by various classes of gunboats and warships.

Embedded in the lake was an enormous red cross, with a blubbery white, vaguely human-looking being crucified to it by a pair of huge nails and impaled by an enormous, blood-red bident. The crucified being was wearing an ovular purple mask decorated by seven eyes, an inverted triangle doing its best to connect them all. The being possessed no legs to speak of, though dozens of twitching appendages that could have been human-sized legs seemed to be growing out of its hips. More of the same amber liquid that made up the lake below was flowing down the cross, giving Shinji the impression that the entire lake was actually this creature's blood. "Wh-what the…what the hell IS that?" Shinji exclaimed when he finally found his voice again.

"That," Ritsuko explained, "is Lilith. She's an Angel."

"An…angel?" Shinji repeated. He'd been under the impression that angels were supposed to be winged beings of humanoid size and shape, not something like…THAT. Then again, he also knew that the Bible itself rarely described angels the way people normally thought of them, so he supposed it was still possible for that thing to be one…but if so, what was it doing here? Why would NERV have one locked away in its basement?

"Though technically, she's not really an Angel," the faux-blonde continued. "She's actually one of two types of seed beings. Angels are Adam's spawn, but since the seed beings have powers similar to Angels—"

"Doctor," Gendo cut in.

"…Sorry," Ritsuko told them both. "I sometimes get ahead of myself in matters like these. I'll start from the beginning.

"Billions of years ago, a highly advanced race of intelligent alien beings calling themselves the First Ancestral Race decided that, as the only sentient species they knew to exist in the Milky Way, it was their duty to sow the seeds of life all across the galaxy. To that end, they began creating two different types of seed beings, which were then sent out to create life on the planets they were sent to. The first type was called the Fruit of Life type, or Adam type; these seed beings created the Angels, creatures with immense strength and physical powers, often similar to various tokusatsu monsters. On the other hand, the Fruit of Knowledge seed beings, like Lilith here, created offspring that were far smaller and less powerful but more numerous and clever, forming a balance of sorts with their counterparts—the Angels had incredible power, but the various races of the Lilin would be the first to develop science and civilization."

Shinji had all sorts of questions he wanted to ask already, and even though some of them (in particular "How the hell do you know all this?" or "What does any of this have to do with me?") were probably more important, he picked the one that was at the forefront of his mind. "So…what happened if an Adam type and a Lilith type ended up on the same planet?"

"They didn't," Dr. Akagi told him. "The First Ancestral Race—or Progenitors, as we usually call them—knew that, if any one race possessed the power of both the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Knowledge, it would put them on par with the Progenitors themselves, and they were afraid of what would happen if that sort of power was abused. To keep that from happening, they calculated the trajectory of each seed being's transport ship, or Moon, with painstaking attention to detail, making absolutely certain that no two seed beings ever ended up at the same place. In addition, they paired each seed being with a sentient control spear—like that big red bident up there—designed to place its life-bearing partner in a state of suspended animation in the unlikely event that some random anomaly caused an Adam and Lilith type to ever end up on the same planet. And, in the event that all else failed, the two classes of seed beings were programmed with a genetic-level hatred for one another, which they would then pass on to their progeny in order to ensure that Adam- and Lilith-based life would never be capable of working together and sharing their respective Fruits with each other."

"Oh," Shinji said. "So, umm, how do you know all this? I mean, if this all happened billions of years ago…"

"In a sense, the Progenitors themselves told us," Ritsuko continued. "Shortly after Project NERV was accepted by the UN and entered the initial planning stage, an archeological expedition here in Tokyo-3—or Hakone, as it was still known at the time—stumbled across Lilith's Black Moon-class transport, which had apparently crash landed on Earth when it arrived. They found Lilith still alive, but only barely, her control spear missing. They also found documents, called Dead Sea Scrolls by the higher-ups, that detailed much of the Progenitors' work—once we figured out how to translate them, anyway, which turned out to be surprisingly easy. In any case, an item matching the control spear's description was found a short time later, thus allowing us to put Lilith in stasis and preserve her life. In the meantime, this GeoFront base was constructed inside the Black Moon, and teams were dispatched to study the Scrolls as well as Lilith herself, leading to the creation of new scientific fields like metaphysical biology as well as breakthroughs in numerous other fields, including wave-particle duality."

The GeoFront is INSIDE an alien ship? Shinji thought. Just how big IS this place?

"Of course, as with most scientific breakthroughs, the inevitable question of military applications came up pretty quickly. In this case, though, figuring out ways to use our new knowledge to defend ourselves is likely to be more necessary than usual. From what we were able to learn from the Scrolls, it seems pretty likely that the Angels will have evolved into their own space faring society by now, making it entirely possible that our travels will throw us into the middle of an Angel-Lilin war—and even if that isn't the case, our odds of running into an Angel-inhabited planet somewhere along the lines are still basically 50-50."

"S-so…have you figured anything out?" Shinji asked.

"A few things," the faux-blonde doctor told him. "For starters, there's Lilith's blood—the lake you're standing in front of. We call it LCL, or Life Component Liquid, since it's what Lilith used to create all life on Earth. We've also discovered that LCL has some remarkable properties. For one thing, submersion in it won't cause a person to drown—rather, the LCL will supply the submerged person's lungs with oxygen itself. In addition, if charged with an electrical current, LCL will undergo a phase shift; it remains in a liquid state, but its density, opacity, and viscosity seemingly approach that of normal air. Lastly, LCL allows for an unusual bond between pilot and mecha, which has led to the invention of the entry plug system. Essentially, entry plugs are transplantable cockpits that can be inserted into any compatible mecha, with each plug calibrated to a specific pilot. Once inserted, an entry plug is filled with LCL, allowing the mecha's systems to register the pilot's brain waves and convert them into movements more precise and complex than standard controls alone could ever realistically manage. This makes piloting compatible craft far easier, and it allows us to create humanoid mecha to use as well."

"Amazing," the young boy breathed.

"It is indeed, but it may not be enough, given what we've discovered the Angels to be capable of. Fortunately, the Scrolls seem to indicate that both types of seed beings possess abilities similar to the Angels'—but with Lilith too weakened to even regenerate herself properly, she's hardly in a position to help us out. To that end, our scientists came up with the idea to mix human DNA with Lilith's in order to create a humanoid being with powers comparable to the Angels. The being would also serve as a new vessel for Lilith's soul, though damage it sustained over the centuries forced us to use what little we knew of metaphysical biology to artificially supplement it. The whole thing was dubbed Project Nephilim, though most of us here just call it the Ayanami Raising Project."

"The—" Shinji was far too shocked by that little tidbit of information to even repeat it properly. His ears had to have been playing tricks on him; Dr. Akagi couldn't be telling him what he thought she was. Sure, his classmate apparently had some kind of super-powers, but that didn't necessarily mean that…

"The original plan was to create a whole army of super-soldiers this way," Ritsuko continued, "and once we figured out how to create a viable clone, mass-producing them was relatively easy. Unfortunately, since Lilith only had one soul and our knowledge of how to create or divide souls is practically nonexistent at present, all our attempts to activate other clones using soul fragments, purely artificial souls, or even no souls at all were…disastrous, to say the least. As a precaution, the remaining clones were destroyed, and Project Nephilim's focus was shifted to simply training the one successful clone we had."

"Y-you're saying that…that Ayanami is…is…"

"The person you know as Rei Ayanami," Ritsuko filled in for him, "is actually an artificially-created hybrid, housing Lilith's own soul inside a body created by combining a sample of Lilith's DNA with DNA samples from nearly two dozen human donors—including one from Yui Ikari."

"MY MOTHER!" Shinji exclaimed. That certainly added a new dimension to things, but it wasn't one he particularly liked; it was one thing to find out that his crush was half alien and had an array of inhuman abilities to match, but this…he wasn't sure he could deal with just how Oedipal he felt at the moment.

Ritsuko, on the other hand, seemed to find his reaction amusing. "Don't worry, I already had this talk with your father a month or so ago, so I'll tell you the same thing I told him.

"Quite simply, Shinji, bioengineering is far from an exact science. Cloning of any sort, especially human cloning, is even less exact, and human-alien hybridization…well, let's just say we were lucky to get any results at all there. Rei's genetic code is barely cohesive at this point, in all honesty. When she was first created, she nearly fell apart at the seams; we had to devise a special medication for her to take on an hourly basis just to keep her in one piece. That need has fallen to once daily at the moment, and at the rate her cellular structure is solidifying, we figure she'll be done with the medication within a year or two.

"As for her creation itself, we discovered early in the process that Lilith's DNA is highly morphogenic, ridiculously unstable, and strangely...picky, I suppose you'd say. When we fed it one human sample at a time, it outright rejected most of them—and with the ones it didn't reject, it only took in a fraction of the sample before throwing out the rest. We not only had to find a way to merge Lilith's DNA with multiple human samples, we had to figure out what combination of samples would give us a viable final product. With how illogical Lilith's samples seemed to be at times, your mother's inclusion in the final product was hardly surprising; given how much time Yui invested in this project before her death, Lilith probably felt some sort of bond with her that transferred over to the attempted cloning process, though I can't even begin to guess how that would work. Regardless, Lilith's sample absorbed Yui's basic appearance and vocal timbre, along with a few mannerisms here and there, when we fed it a sample of her DNA. In the meantime, we found a combination of additional samples that worked—and when we put them all together, the whole mess morphed itself into a completely original genetic pattern, with few traces of the original donors.

"In short," Dr. Akagi finished, noting the boy's bewildered expression, "Rei's genetic structure doesn't contain enough of your mother's DNA to make your infatuation with her incestuous. Freudian maybe, but not incestuous."

Shinji was quiet for a long time after that, partly because he was still trying to figure out if the older woman's explanation made things better or not; if nothing else, though, it confirmed his suspicions that at least a few members of NERV knew about his feelings for his nephilim classmate, including his father. For the most part, though, he was still trying to take in everything he'd seen and heard in the last hour or two; he briefly wondered just when the channel of his life had gotten changed, dropping him out of his usual teenage soap opera and into this bizarre sci-fi program. "So…these tests you've been running on her…you're trying to figure out what she can do with her powers?"

"For the most part," Ritsuko confirmed. "We've been testing her in one way or other since she was created, and we've managed to learn quite a bit. We're still not sure if her well-above-average mental capabilities are due to her Lilith side or the fact that at least half of her human donors had genius-level IQs, but we HAVE determined that all of her physical abilities—strength, speed, agility, resilience, you name it—are well beyond what someone her age and size should be capable of. She's also immune to most, if not all, diseases, and she seems to have a knack for understanding and replying in any language we throw at her, orally or in written form, without trying. We've also determined that her S2 organ allows her to go for far longer than normal without food or hydration—weeks, according to our data, if not months—as well as granting her superhuman regenerative powers."

"S2 organ?" Shinji asked.

"Super-solenoid," Ritsuko explained. "It's a special organ that Angels and seed beings have. It's what gives them their powers, along with the energy to use them. In Rei's case, her S2 organ is where a normal human's appendix would be. We figured a vestigial organ that's prone to causing problems when it's left in would be a decent thing to sacrifice."

"Oh," Shinji said, his mind shifting to something else Ritsuko had said and combining it with a comment Misato had made in passing earlier. "Ayanami's regenerative abilities…that's how she healed so fast after the last test of her A.T. Field powers, isn't it?"

"You don't know the half of it," the doctor told him with a smirk. "Rei had that eye patch on because her eye was completely destroyed. Her cast was there to help her broken bone heal, but it was also there to hide just how much of her arm had actually been blown away."

"O-oh," Shinji said. Ritsuko was right; if Ayanami could heal herself from THAT kind of damage, he hadn't had any real idea of just how much she was capable of. "So, I get that you need to see just what she can do and all, but…was that get-up you had her in before really necessary?" Despite himself, he still couldn't help but blush at the recollection of just how skintight that bodysuit of hers was.

"That 'get-up,' as you call it, is what our pilots wear," Ritsuko explained. "The plugsuit helps cut down on interference during pilot-mecha synchronization, as well as including functions like a defibrillator, basic medical monitors, and a power display linked to the mecha currently in use; the interface headset increases the strength of the neural connection while also allowing us to monitor the pilot's biometrics and such more closely. For the purposes of this test, the plugsuit's skintight nature allows us to more readily study Rei's movements during playback, while the interface headset lets us keep an eye on her mental stability during testing. It may seem a little odd on the surface, but we'll need every bit of data we can get if we plan to replicate her powers."

"Replicate?"

"Yes, replicate. That's the other reason we're currently subjecting Rei to these tests: so we can use the data we obtain to hopefully create artificial A.T. Field enhancers that will allow the rest of the NDF access to powers like hers. As you saw before, very little of the weaponry we possess is capable of getting past an A.T. Field of that caliber, but our research leads us to believe that the use of another A.T. Field of similar strength would be able to neutralize an opponent's Field—and since the Angels all possess A.T. Field abilities at least marginally similar to Rei's, it would greatly increase our odds of survival if more of us than just her could fight back against them."

Shinji wasn't entirely sure how much that would really help. Unless the Angels' evolution had brought them down to human size from the Godzilla-esque proportions Ritsuko was implying them to have, he doubted anything short of a full army of A.T. Field-armed soldiers, or an A.T. Field-equipped mecha of some sort, would be capable of subduing even one of them. For the time being, though, he chose to believe that the adults knew—at least mostly—what they were doing. "So, Ayanami's Angel side…is that why she seems so…in the dark about so many things?"

"No," his father answered. "Though that is a contributing factor, most of her social ignorance stems from SEELE's interference in the project." He turned to leave as he spoke, preceding the other two in exiting Lilith's chamber.

"SEELE?" Shinji asked, hastily following his father back down the hallway outside, Dr. Akagi strolling along leisurely behind them after closing the chamber door again. "You mean those old rich guys that are backing Project NERV? How do they have anything to do with Ayanami?"

"SEELE is far more than just a bunch of old men with a lot of money," Ritsuko explained. "They're a secret society that dates back far longer than any of us have been alive. They've supposedly had background-level control over just about every major government and military organization in recorded history, and while we have no real way of confirming that, we do know that they're essentially the true power in charge of the United Nations."

"The members of SEELE believe that their…influence allows them to do as they please," Gendo continued, "and in many ways they are correct. Their influence allowed Yui and me to gain approval for Project NERV far faster than we normally could have, though their support likely only came because of her involvement in their society."

"Involvement?" Shinji asked. "You mean Mother was part of SEELE?"

"Correct. I'm…ashamed to admit that this was my original reason for associating with her, though my affection for her quickly became genuine after I got to know her. In any case, SEELE has been interfering in one way or another with our work here for some time. That interference is generally tolerated, but I fear it may have irrevocably harmed Rei's development this time."

"What do you mean?" Shinji asked, ignoring his father's implication that his late mother was involved in this secret society they were talking about.

"When Rei was created," Gendo began, "she had the appearance of a five-year-old girl; nevertheless, SEELE saw her as little more than a weapon, a tool to be exploited to further their own goals. They cared only for what her Angel side could accomplish; her human side, it seemed, was irrelevant to them. She was confined here in this base for much of her life, allowed interaction with others only during her various types of training—and even that was monitored and restricted to avoid her becoming 'contaminated' by human emotion. I've spent much of the nine years since her creation protesting this decision, as have several others involved in Rei's upbringing, only to be ignored each and every time."

The trio had reached the elevator by this time, giving the Commander a moment's pause as the doors opened to allow them back inside. Shinji just waited mutely as the doors closed and the elevator commenced its journey back to the "official" portion of the base, angered and confused by what his father was telling him. How could SEELE be that cold-hearted? How could they treat Ayanami like just a…a THING?

"Recently, though," Gendo continued once they were on their way, "SEELE made a concession on this point, but that concession is far from good enough. They have moved Rei from her living quarters here to an apartment in the city, and have allowed her admission in Tokyo-3 First Municipal Middle School in order to allow her to learn about human interaction from her peers. NERV personnel, however, are still forbidden to help her in any way regarding the development of her human side. The old men fail to see that, as underdeveloped as her social abilities are at this point, she stands little chance of learning how to interact with others in such a socially complex environment."

So THAT'S why Father really brought me here, Shinji realized sadly. He felt more than a little angry at his father for this, bringing him here and manipulating him into this position…but he was more angry at SEELE for making his father's actions necessary. Even so, part of him had hoped that he'd been brought here for his own benefit and not someone else's. "Then…then let me help," he finally said.

"What?" Ritsuko breathed, surprised by the boy's reaction. She could see the Commander's barely-concealed look of satisfaction off to one side, enlightening her about the true nature of Shinji's reason for being here. She had to admit that it was a shrewd move on the elder Ikari's part, even if it was a bit underhanded.

"I said I want to help her," Shinji clarified. "After all, I'm not part of NERV personnel, so I can help her learn to understand her human side without SEELE interfering, right?"

"Presumably," Dr. Akagi said, still sounding a little dubious about the idea. "But...this is a huge responsibility you're asking us to give you. Are you sure you're up to it?"

"Not really," the younger Ikari admitted, "but…there's really no choice, is there? Nobody here is allowed to help her, and nobody else at school even knows she needs this much help—heck, most of them probably wouldn't help her even if they did know what was really going on with her. That just leaves me, so…if it'll help Ayanami, I'll do whatever I can."

"That's certainly gallant of you," Ritsuko told him, the smirk returning to her face, "but I'm afraid the decision isn't ours to make. We could order Rei to let you teach her, but aside from SEELE likely viewing that as us interfering, it would be better for her in the long run if she made the decision herself—which means we can't get involved. You'll have to find a way to get her to accept your assistance on your own."

Great, Shinji thought, not really liking his chances at that. He barely knew how to make inconsequential small talk with her; how was he supposed to talk to her about something this serious?

"If nothing else, though," the bottle-blonde continued, "we can at least set the stage for your discussion." Strictly speaking, of course, that fell under the heading of interference too, but she figured it wouldn't be hard to come up with some excuse or other to get the two children talking. Tapping the microphone control clipped to her labcoat's lapel, she continued, "Lieutenant Katsuragi, this is Dr. Akagi. Would you mind holding Rei for a little while longer? We need to discuss something with her."

"Uh, this is Private Hyuga, Doctor," Makoto's voice answered her. "The lieutenant's already checked out for the evening—said something about leaving the data analysis to those of us who knew what we'd be looking at."

"That sounds like her," Ritsuko said with a slight sigh. "Is Rei still there, at least?"

"Sorry, but the security logs indicate that she left the base about ten minutes ago, same time as the lieutenant."

"I see. Thanks anyway, Private." Ritsuko cut the channel, turning her attention back to the Ikaris. "Looks like she's already left the premises. You'll have to wait until you see her again at school to talk to her about this now; calling her back would look too suspicious."

"Th-that's alright," Shinji told her as the doors opened on the base's ground floor (so to speak). "I could use a little extra time to figure out how I'm gonna go about this, anyway."

"In any case, Doctor," Gendo said, "Shinji and I should be going, seeing as he still has schoolwork to attend to in addition to this new responsibility. I should be back to assist in the analysis of the data from tonight's tests within an hour or two."

"Don't be too long," Ritsuko told him with a smile. "Otherwise, I might start without you."

"If you wish," the Commander replied. "I'm sure I'll be able to catch up when I return." With that, he turned and led his son back through the base's maze of corridors.

As cold as ever, Ritsuko thought as she watched him leave. Except where his son and that little doll of his are concerned, anyway. She turned and stalked down the halls to her office, doing her best to fight down the anger that particular thought brought on.


The Ikaris' trip back from NERV was about as quiet as the ride there; this time, though, Shinji's mind was filled with thoughts of how to deal with what he'd seen over the past hour or two. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting to happen tonight, but some small part of him was disappointed to learn that everything he'd been shown was for someone else's benefit. To some degree or other, he'd been hoping that his father had actually been acting with the intention of helping his own child rather than advancing another aspect of his project; he'd definitely be sure not to make that mistake again.

In the meantime, he needed to figure out how to go about earning Ayanami's trust. Given the dismissal he'd endured earlier that day, he likely had his work cut out for him even more than he normally would have; even under the best of circumstances, he doubted that just walking up to her and asking how the half-alien thing was going would end up working in his favor. Passing her a note was out of the question, since the odds of interception were just too great to risk. Sending her an IM would normally have been his method of choice, but even that was too risky now that the school faculty was monitoring everyone's computer usage more closely than ever; he blamed Kensuke for that, since it was the bespectacled otaku's actions that had caused the security increase. He supposed he could always try sending her a vaguely-worded IM so nobody else would know what he was really saying to her, but there was too much chance of her misinterpreting his message for him to consider that a viable option. That brought him back to the standard face-to-face method of conversation—which, of course, was his least effective method of communication. At least I've still got the rest of the night to figure this out, he thought.

"If there's any way I can help you with this, just let me know," his father said after a few minutes of driving.

"Thanks," Shinji replied absent-mindedly, staring out the car window while basically ignoring the elder Ikari's offer, "but from what you guys were saying earlier, it sounds like I have to do this alone."

"If you wish. The offer stands if you change your mind, though."

"Hmmph, sure," Shinji muttered, not really buying his father's sudden interest in helping him with Ayanami. Ayanami...wait a minute... "Ayanami...that was the name of one of our old warships, wasn't it?"

"You know your history," Gendo replied, obviously impressed. "The Ayanami was the namesake for a class of heavily-armed destroyers used during World War 2. Given Project Nephilim's overall purpose, the name was chosen early on as an appropriate surname for her."

"So...where did...the rest of her name come from?"

Gendo seemed to turn pensive for a moment, taking longer than Shinji would've expected to answer. "Rei was...the name your mother and I would have used...if you had been born a girl."

"I see," Shinji said, bitterness welling up in him again. "So Ayanami's been your surrogate daughter all this time." While you ignored your real child, he added mentally.

"In a sense," Gendo admitted. "I have come to care for her well-being over the years, and I wish to see her happy. That's part of the reason why I brought you along with me tonight: because I knew you would be both willing and able to assist us in this endeavor."

"Hmmph," Shinji grunted again, getting more and more upset by this conversation by the moment. "And the rest of it?" he asked mechanically, not really caring about his father's motives anymore.

"...It was the only way I could think of to keep you from crying more," his father finally said, surprising Shinji with just how...concerned he sounded. "I doubt you would have believed me if I'd simply told you that she didn't mean to hurt you, that there was more to the situation than you knew."

"Wait, how did you..." Shinji began, trying to figure out how his dad knew why he'd been crying.

"Call it...parental intuition," Gendo said simply.

Shinji wasn't entirely sure what to make of that. If nothing else, it seemed like his father's "parental intuition" was somewhat hit-and-miss. After all, how could Ayanami NOT have known that telling him to get lost like that would hurt him? Unless..."Why do you continue to attempt conversation with me?" That had been her exact wording, and at the time Shinji had believed it to be another of the girl's unusual phrasing choices. Now, though, he was beginning to think that Ayanami had simply meant the question literally, that she'd been asking him why he was still making efforts to talk to her when nobody else did. Given what he'd learned about her tonight, the possibility seemed pretty likely, but he still figured it'd be a good idea to plan out how he was going to talk to her about helping her under the assumption that she still didn't want him around—if anything, planning for the hard route meant he'd have an easier time of it if Ayanami didn't actually want him out of her life.

"Well I'm glad YOU at least have faith in me," he told his father after a bit. "Personally, I'm terrified by all of this. I don't think I'm cut out to be responsible for another person's well-being like this. I mean, if I mess this up, Ayanami might never figure out how to really be one of us."

"But you still plan to try anyway," Gendo replied, halfway between a statement and a question.

"Well...yeah. I mean, like I said before, there's really no one else who can—and WILL—do this, so...for her sake, I have to try."

With his gaze still out the window, Shinji couldn't really see the smile that suddenly came to his father's face. "I'm proud of you, Shinji," he said after a moment. "You're becoming a very brave young man."

"Yeah, right," Shinji said, ignoring his father's attempted compliment. "I just told you I'm scared out of my mind by all of this. Some brave young man I am."

"True bravery isn't an absence of fear," the elder Ikari told him, "but the resolve to do what is necessary in spite of that fear."

"What fortune cookie did you get that bit of advice from?" Shinji muttered.

"Yui attempted to teach me that," his father corrected him, "just before she died. I'm sorry to say that I failed to truly learn that lesson...though I doubt I really need to tell you that."

Shinji couldn't help but be surprised by that little admission. Given the line of work his father was in, the boy could only think of one thing the elder Ikari could have meant by that. "You mean...you're afraid of me?"

"Of my responsibility to you, yes," Gendo corrected him again. "My own parents were hardly what you would consider good role models, so I had no real idea how to be a good father to you. Yui always managed to pick up after my mistakes, but after she died...I didn't know how to handle the thought of raising you alone. I was certain that anything I did would just hurt you."

"So you all but abandoned me?" Shinji asked. "You left a four-year-old boy to fend for himself in the wake of his mother's death?"

"I won't call what I did logical, or even right," Gendo admitted, "but I was hardly thinking clearly at the time, and it seemed like the best option. It wasn't until some time later that I realized just how much damage that decision did to you. But while I wanted to find some way to undo the pain I'd caused you, I believed you to have become too resentful toward me to accept any sort of apology I might have made...so I continued on as normal, and allowed you to keep hating me."

"Dad..."

"I know I've been a terrible parent to you, Shinji," Gendo continued, "and I know I've likely missed my chance to make things right...but if you're willing, I'd like to ask for your forgiveness for all the pain I've caused you, as well as the chance to make it all up to you."

"Dad..." Shinji could hardly believe what he was hearing. His father, the man who'd earned the title of "bastard king" from his own son, was actually admitting to being a bad parent? AND he wanted to try and fix things? The younger Ikari wasn't entirely sure whether that particular development was more or less bizarre than learning that his crush was a half-alien clone. "You know, this isn't something you can make go away with a simple apology. I mean, you hurt me...a LOT. You can't expect me to just forgive and forget that easily."

"I'm aware of that, Shinji," Gendo replied sadly.

"But...if you really mean what you're saying...if you really wanna try and fix things...then I guess I'd be willing to give it a shot, too."

Gendo merely nodded in reply to that. His son's response wasn't as enthusiastic as he'd been hoping for, but it was still more than he'd realistically expected.

The remainder of their trip back to the apartment complex was once again spent in silence, though this time it wasn't quite as uncomfortable as it had been earlier. When they finally arrived home, Shinji got out of the car, though he wasn't entirely surprised by the fact that his father didn't seem to be joining him. "You're still going back, aren't you?" he asked through the still open door.

"Unfortunately, I have little choice," the elder Ikari told him. "Too many things still require my attention. I could delegate at least a few of them to Fuyutsuki, but—"

"It's fine," his son interrupted. "Your work's important, I get that." For once, Shinji wasn't hurt by his father's departure, and he actually understood that statement on more than just an intellectual level. He'd hoped for a chance to begin their attempted reconciliation, but he knew there'd be time for that later. For now, both of them had other things they needed to focus on first.

"You have my cell number if you need me?"

"Mm-hmm," Shinji replied with a nod, which his father answered with one of his own. A moment later, the younger Ikari shut the car door again, making his way back to their apartment as his father headed back toward the linear rail station.


Several hours later, Shinji lay awake on the futon in his unlit room, staring up at the picture he'd gotten from Ayanami earlier in the day in the hopes that it would help him figure something out. He'd spent the evening making and eating a light dinner, cleaning up a bit, finishing what little homework he'd been assigned, and watching a few of his pre-recorded shows, all while attempting—and failing—to come up with a way to talk to the crimson-eyed girl about her situation. On top of that, he still didn't really know how to go about teaching her about her human side even if he did find a way to convince her to let him try. He'd eventually gone back to his room and laid down, starting up his mp3 player (a rare SDAT-brand model his father had gotten him for Christmas a few years back) to try and calm his mind a bit. Now, said player lay a little ways away, the music it produced only faintly audible now that its headphones were no longer in his ears; Shinji could barely make out the tune of some pre-Impact power ballad he couldn't quite identify, though he wasn't exactly putting a lot of effort into it since most of his focus was elsewhere.

"Rei Ayanami," he said aloud, hoping that saying her name would somehow give him some burst of inspiration. Not surprisingly, it didn't help. "How do I get her to trust me with something this important?" At the same time, though, he noticed the somber expression on her face, and he couldn't help but realize that he'd never once seen her smile for anyone. "How do I get her to smile for me?"

"How do you talk to an angel?" the song on his mp3 player asked, seemingly in response to his own query. "How do you hold her close to where you are?"

"How indeed?" Shinji asked with a trace of amusement, noting how the song seemed to mirror his own situation. The difference, of course, was that the "angel" in the song was only the figurative type; Shinji, meanwhile, was faced with the real thing, along with the prospect of trying to talk to her about something more important than his own romantic feelings for her. For the time being, though, he set Ayanami's picture down and decided to simply let the matter go for the evening, feeling too tired—physically, mentally, and emotionally—after the day's events to put any more thought into the matter until after he'd gotten a decent night's rest.

His last thought as he drifted off to sleep was that, at the rate he was (or, more accurately, wasn't) coming up with ideas, trying to catch a falling star might actually be easier.


A/N: I feel the need to make a few shout-outs regarding some of the content of this particular chapter. I'll start with Lucythebeast, whose fic "Only in Your Eyes Am I Worthy" (seemingly abandoned one chapter from completion) gave me the idea for a different location for Rei's S2 organ. From there I'll move on to funvince and Ryan Xavier, whose fics "Life Goes On" and "An Unwilling Angel" (respectively) helped me create an origin for Rei that retained the spirit of her canon origin while removing the implications of incest Anno tried to give that particular pairing (I personally don't believe he totally succeeded, if you analyze the evidence closely enough, but that's a different discussion). And, as always, one to my wife for being kind enough to beta-read my work and point out any potential problems with it.

As for my decision to give Shinji an mp3 player: I came up with that idea before Rebuild 2.0 was released, so at the time I didn't know the real reason Shinji seemed to cling to such an outdated piece of technology; after all, as someone who's usually a little below the technology curve myself, even I had a CD player in the mid-90s, and it baffled me that Shinji, in 2015, would still be using a cassette player. So I decided to meld the two ideas, giving him something technologically current while retaining a reference to the old player; once I found out why Shinji kept the SDAT in canon (semi-canon, anyway), I figured that having it still be a gift from his dad would be enough of a parallel there.

And yes, the song Shinji's hearing in the last scene is the fic namer, "How Do You Talk to an Angel?" by The Heights. It's worth a listen, even if you're not a fan of '80s music.

'Til next time!