Tokyo-2, Outer District 6
January 9, 2042
1709 hours

He thought it was over.

He thought he got away from that crap.

And yet no matter how hard he was trying to tell himself that this wasn't the same, all his mind's eye kept seeing was that cold, cruel smirk on the Man's face as He looked down on him with the surety of someone holding all the cards.

It was the same thing all over again and he was sick of it. Sick of the goddamn governments and corporations with their goddamn secrets and playing with god knows what until it bit everyone in the ass. And he, the colossal idiot who decided to be hands-off with his daughter for her own sake, practically handed her right over to them in the name of letting her get a taste of what she was looking forward to if she wanted to continue down the path she was hellbent on walking. Considering how much the girl ended up taking after him as she grew up, he knew trying to disabuse her of anything she decided on was a losing proposition.

One thing he was certain of, though. If all this got Asuka killed, she and Kyoko won't be by themselves on the other side for long.

His head was still abuzz with what he now knew when the door closed behind him and he heard Asuka's voice, all but dripping with frustration. – "I can't fucking believe this..."

"I told you, I don't want to hurt you by accident." – came Kaworu's voice.

"I'm not made of glass, idiot!"

"Do I look like I'm kidding? I've sent people to hospital by accident before!"

"For the last time, I can take it! What do you think I had my old man teach me infantry CQC for, to get my ass kicked by a scrawny misogynist who thinks he's too good to hit a girl?!"

That made Shephard pause in the middle of taking his shoes off. Asuka was actively trying to goad a guy into hitting her? And not even hitting on her, which was something he could see happening at her age, but hitting her?

"And if I break something and you can't pilot?" – Kaworu continued. – "The boss will fire me for real this time. I know I'm on thin ice already for getting Unit-01 trashed."

"I'm the one asking you to do it, she can't blame you for it if I tell her that!"

"Except you're the only one whose Eva is still combat-capable. Do you think she's going to care why I took you out of commission if I do? And you think she won't punish you too for actively going out of your way to get hurt despite knowing full well how this isn't the time for it?"

"And you think she can't just put Blueberry into Unit-02 in my place if something happens to me? She can. So stop this white-knighting bullshit."

"I'm not white-knighting you!"

"Really?" – Asuka's tone was practically dripping with sarcasm. – "Could've fooled me, what with you suddenly being concerned with my health."

Before heading in, Shephard glanced into the nearby mirror to make sure his face wasn't betraying his foul mood. Not that he needed to bother once he found the arguing teens in the middle of the living room, evidently too distracted to pay attention to anything that might've showed in his expression. – "What's going on, kids?"

Asuka threw herself at the sofa with a disgruntled sigh, pointing a thumb in a shirtless Kaworu's direction. – "I told this idiot to show me what he's got, but he hits like a little kid. Says he doesn't want to hurt me."

"I broke someone's cheekbone half a year ago." – Kaworu added, sounding mildly annoyed himself while walking off towards the kitchen. – "And I keep telling her that, but she won't hear any of it."

"How many times do I have to tell you that girls aren't that fragile before it sticks in your head?!" – Asuka barked off after him.

"And how many times do I have to tell you that's not it?" – came the distant response. – "It'd hurt you even if you weren't a girl."

"Would you even hit a girl?" – Shephard called out, taking the other half of the sofa with a sigh. Soldier or not, he was starting to feel his age recently (not that he was ever going to admit that).

"Not any more than I'd hit a guy." - Kaworu replied without hesitation as he returned to the living room with a glass of water in hand. – "And if I do, I won't be the one who starts it." – he added before taking a sip. – "I mean, if a woman suddenly came at you with a knife and tried to run you through with it, would you let her?"

"That's an extreme example."

"Well, you asked. I'd rather not hit anyone if it's up to me. But if I have to, I'll do it, girl or not."

Fair enough. Still, Shepard made a mock harrumph and joked – "Just don't go and turn into a wife-beater now, you hear?"

"That would need me having a wife to begin with."

"I meant in the future. Not sure if the doc's girl is a prospective candidate in your books, but I have a hunch she would hit back if you tried."

The teen closed his eyes with a pained expression before releasing an agitated groan of frustration. – "Not you too! I'm getting enough of that already from her!" – He gestured towards Asuka. – "I'm not even interested in that kind of thing!" – He held up a hand as if to forestall an oncoming question. – "And no, I don't have a preference for my own gender either."

"I wasn't going to ask, kid." – Shephard replied with complete honesty. Compared to the days of his own youth, people were quite more open with that kind of thing after Second Impact. – "That's your own business."

"I know, it's just... people always jump to that conclusion when I say that I'm not interested. I've lost count."

"Well, most guys your age aren't exactly subtle in their interest of the fairer gender."

"Tell me about it." – Asuka grumbled under her breath. – "Can't even go to the damn bathroom in school without a dozen guys eating me with their eyes on the way there."

Shepard glanced at his daughter from the corner of his eye. – "You know if you've got any problems with pushy boys who won't take the hint, you can tell me, right?"

"It's nothing I can't handle." – she replied, waving him off. – "I'm not the kind who freezes up from being grabbed on the arm by someone bigger than me. They try that, they better be prepared to lose teeth."

"It's not just the guys either." – Kaworu continued. – "I think I've had a few girls trying to ask me out since I showed up."

"You think they tried to ask you out?" – Asuka asked in a flat tone.

"They asked if I had a girlfriend, I told them I'm not interested and they looked disappointed." – Kaworu summarized with a shrug. – "So it was probably that."

"At least you're not completely clueless. Can't imagine why they'd want to date a freakshow like you, though."

Shephard frowned at his daughter. As much as she had a habit of swearing like a sailor when agitated, he wasn't blind to her age either – and he couldn't quite recall her ever having been this openly hostile to any other member of the opposite gender before. – "That's not very nice."

"Have you looked at him?" – Asuka insisted, gesturing towards the boy with both hands. – "Hair's one thing, but pale as a corpse and the only possible way for his eyes to be even redder is if someone gouged them out? Who on earth looks like this?"

"Says the one living on the same planet as aliens with a big, red eye taking up half their face." – the adult replied without missing a beat.

That seemed to bring the girl up short for a second. – "...touché." – she said finally and slumped back into the sofa with a slight pout.

"It's okay, I'm used to that by now." – Kaworu remarked before getting up to head back to the kitchen.

Asuka, however, immediately jumped onto her feet and closed in on him with an intensity that rang warning bells in her father's head. – "Hey, idiot!"

Kaworu halted in his step and sighed. – "I have a name, you know." – he grumbled as he started turning around.

Without warning, Asuka's fist lashed out and clocked the boy straight in the face...

...only to flinch back with a yelp of pain while Kaworu barely showed any hint of having been struck, not even taking a step back to regain his balance.

Shephard couldn't help himself but snicker, drawing a glare from Asuka. – "Shut up."

"Serves you right."

"Shut up! Ow..." – She shook her fist. – "What the hell is your face made of, bricks?"

"You aren't the first to try that." – Kaworu replied with bemusement.

"Oh yeah? Then how come I knocked you on your ass yesterday, smartass?"

Okay, he definitely needed to have a talk with her. Berating is one thing, but blaming him to the point of hitting him? That was most definitely something Yui didn't need to find out in the short term and a habit Asuka didn't need to maintain in the long term if she wanted to have any kind of professional career.

"I didn't see that one coming."

Instead of retorting, however, the girl looked thoughtful for a few moments before replying. – "That... makes sense, actually.."

"What?" – the boy asked quizzically, visibly caught off-guard.

"What I said back at the lab, don't tell me you forgot already! That you got your ass kicked because were trying to take whatever the Angel threw at you rather than getting out of the way? This is why you're doing it. You've got a natural advantage you're used to relying on. You're going about fighting Angels as if you were fighting on foot and reflexively try to tough out what comes your way because you're used to being the top dog. But against an Angel, it's the Eva who's the underdog. You've been going about this with the wrong attitude. Maybe not on purpose, but you still were."

Shephard saw the combat footage himself. That wasn't what his own assessment said (which was firmly of the opinion that their chances against that third Angel from yesterday were roughly equivalent to that of a paper dog in Hell), but he decided to hold his tongue and see where she was going with this.

"...and it's not just you being tough, isn't it?" – she continued, visibly connecting the dots in her mind. – "What you were doing earlier... did you ever actually hit anyone without holding back at all?"

Kaworu looked aside for a second. – "I don't know."

"You said you hospitalized people before."

"I did and got expelled from my previous school because of it."

Okay, that Shephard didn't know. Which answered the question of why the boy was so passive in combat.

"How bad was it?"

"I wasn't told. Multiple fractures on all of them, I think."

...say what?

"With your bare hands."

Kaworu sighed. – "I lost my temper, alright? I'm not proud of it, but it happened and unlike you, they had it coming. You see now why I didn't want to hit you?"

Okay, that completed the puzzle in Shepard's head and upped his respect of the kid a notch. He wasn't trying to avoid hurting Asuka's pride like she seemed to be assuming, he was trying to not snap her in two like a twig. It was a bit of a pity, though. Not that he desired having his daughter get hurt but still, having her harmlessly get knocked down a peg would be good for her every now and then.

Problem was, Asuka wasn't the type of girl to back down just because the wall in front of her didn't yield from the first headbutt.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." – she waved the boy off. – "Now, hear this: being that strong? That tough? It means precisely jack shit in an Eva. You aren't punching Angels with your own hands, you're punching them with the Eva's hands. You don't need to hold back against them and unless you stop holding back, you'll never be the last one standing."

"Easy for you to say..." – Kaworu grumbled.

"Saying is easy. What are you going to do about it?" – she pressed.

"I'd normally ask Rei to help me out, but she already said she's busy." – he noted. – "So... I suppose I'm going to have to ask you."

Asuka folded her arms in front of her chest. – "So...? Ask me."

"Way to dance around being asked out, kiddo." – Shephard quipped, sipping from his drink.

"I'm not asking her out. / HE'S NOT ASKING ME OUT!" – came the immediate dual response from the teens, quite a bit one-sided in volume.

"Really?" – her father continued with a smirk. – "'Cause that sure sounds like you maneuvering the two of you into getting all sweaty and worked-out in private."

'Hook...'

"I AM NOT!"

The smirk widened, eyes narrowing to half-lidded. – "If I had a camera, I'd totally record it. This, that is, not what you do in private."

'Line...'

"STOP IT!"

"Actually, are you sure you two didn't already do the deed behind my back? After all, you are complaining about his performance not meeting your expectations..." – he pointed out, the corner of his mouth flashing teeth to complete an expression that would, in another time and place, be informally known as a 'trollface'.

'And sinker.'

"SHUT! YOUR! FACE!" – Whirling around, Asuka pointed a finger at Kaworu, who spent the whole exchange looking back and forth between the two. – "And don't you say anything either!"

"I wasn't going to."

"Well, you just did! Now shut up!"

And with that, the girl stormed off towards her room in a huff, leaving behind a mildly confused teen and a grinning adult who was in much higher spirits than a few minutes ago.

Screw those secrets and their keepers. Getting a rise out of his daughter like that was always worth it.


Tokyo-2, Inner District 5
January 10, 2042

0741 hours

The next morning, Kaworu was headed for the classroom behind an evidently still grumpy (judging from the way she glanced his way and muttered something under her breath) Asuka when Kensuke stood in the doorway.

"You and Nagisa, a word."

"Piss off." – Asuka snapped immediately and made a shooing gesture.

Kensuke however didn't budge. – "Class rep says. She said she'll meet you outside the dining hall."

"...fine." – the girl said finally with a sigh.

Two minutes later, Kaworu finally spotted Kensuke again while he and Asuka was leaning against the wall just outside the dining hall in silence, with Hikari in tow.

"Thanks." – the twintailed girl began. – "I didn't want to ask this in front of the class."

"Ask what?" – Asuka took the lead before Kaworu could, which the boy didn't actually mind. After all, those two were friends while he wasn't exactly in Hikari's good graces himself.

"I'll get right to the point. Are you two and Ikari in trouble?"

"Why?"

"Aida says he saw you three going into the AEL labs two days ago." – Hikari continued. – "That isn't the kind of place students can just stroll into and while I know Ikari's mom works there, that's still no excuse for you two. Especially with all three of you having missed school yesterday and Ikari still missing today."

Oh. That. Now Kaworu remembered Rei offhandedly telling them about it when they were headed in for what turned out to be quite a disaster. And as much as he knew Kensuke had a thing for military technology of all kind, he wasn't sure whether he should envy the other boy for not being involved in this whole business.

Though to be fair, it wasn't as if Kaworu ever actually tried getting out of piloting or even said one single word about not wanting to do it to Yui or anyone who would relay it her, regardless of the actual chances of her letting him go.

"My dad works there too." – Asuka pointed out.

Kensuke looked confused at that. – "Isn't he a soldier?"

"He is. He's doing consultation work for them."

"At a biotech company? On what?"

"How would I know?"

"Well, you were in there."

Asuka's eyes narrowed dangerously. – "And you didn't think to keep your fucking mouth shut rather than immediately running to Hikari?!" – she all but growled.

"Hey, Nagisa is my friend too!" – Kensuke complained.

"And it didn't occur to any of you that maybe, just maybe, we have permission to go in?"

"Why would they let students in?"

"Side job after school."

"What kind of job?" – Hikari asked immediately.

"Internship."

The twintailed girl didn't look convinced. – "Why is this the first time I'm hearing about this?"

Asuka shrugged in a far better display of feigned indifference than what Kaworu believed he would manage in the situation. – "Because it's not that much of a big deal. Besides, the school admin people know about it too, why do you think they haven't asked any questions whenever we disappear for a day or two?"

"It's nothing you need to worry about." – Kaworu added, deciding to play along. – "We're just making some money on the side." – Especially since Hikari knew his background, so such an excuse would be even more believable coming from him than from Asuka (not that he knew how much Shephard was making as an officer either).

"Legally?"

"100%."

That seemed to have finally convinced Hikari enough for her to relent, Kaworu toning out the rest of the exchange between the girls.

Still, he couldn't help but ask as soon as both she and Kensuke were out of earshot on their way back to the classroom. – "How is piloting an Evangelion an internship?"

Asuka sighed before explaining. – "We're rookie pilots doing functional testing and passing what we've learned down to the boss, so that her people can figure out what works and what doesn't when it comes to operation and maintenance. That's exactly what our contracts say, nothing more. So from a certain point of view? Internship."

"And the Angels?"

"Job hazard. Look, I had to say something to make them stop asking!"

Whatever Kaworu was going to say in response was cut short when Asuka suddenly stopped halfway through the classroom's doorway, nearly making him bump into her. Looking over the girl's shoulder was the point where he noticed the entire class lined up at the windows, all but crawling over each other to see outside.

Along with the clearly visible silhouettes of Shamshel and Sarafiel looming over the city.

"Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me...!" – Asuka swore without restraint a second before the civil defense sirens started blaring outside.


Chapter completed on 21/05/21.

Apologies for yet another extremely late update. I've had the better part of this chapter's dialogue done for nearly a year now, but couldn't come up with any framing narration due to having been in no mental state to write after certain events in real life having had the bad fortune of happening coincidentally with the ongoing pandemic.

In the meantime, as many of you are likely aware, the final Evangelion movie (for now) has been officially released and although I haven't seen it yet due to not living anywhere near Japan, my personal spoiler policy means I'm already aware of most of what's in it. Some of it has even given me ideas for this story, primarily in a possible major change of what I was going to do with SEELE. Originally the intent in this story was that of SEELE being something of a paper tiger, believing themselves to be on top of things before getting very thoroughly disabused of the notion that the universe revolves around them. Now, I'm thinking of them being a substantially greater obstacle than originally intended while the situation still being more complicated than they (or indeed, most named characters including Angels) realize.