Andrew J. Talon


The void that constituted Leliel was so alien, so empty, so dark... Shinji was half-convinced he was seeing everything but nothing. It felt far more freakish than fighting building-sized monsters in desperate melee. At least there, things were relatively simple: Giant monster, kill.

Here though... Shinji didn't even know where here was, or if there even was a here.

Great... Maybe Asuka gets the last laugh, he thought glumly. Misato... Rei... Mom... Dad... I'm sorry everyone.

He at least had a sense of movement, but that was pretty much it-Intertia carried over from entering the Angel. Otherwise, all around him was nothing but darkness. It almost seemed to take a life of it's own, as though something was always just out of the corner of his eye. But when he looked, it vanished. He shivered, and rubbed his arms.

I did want to go into space someday, but doing it through an Angel? Not my idea of... Wait... He pulled down his visor and turned it on, tapping into the sensors of his Eva. Just enough power to get a reading.

The Eva's sensors were bouncing off something else in the perfect darkness-Something physical. And the time between the sending out of the sensor beam, and it's return, were getting smaller and smaller with every passing second.

Something's coming... But what? It was hard for the computers to get much off the object approaching him, but it was at least the same size and general shape as an Evangelion. He checked his power reserves.

Not much, but just enough to send a signal... Wonder who jumped in after me. Maybe Asuka had decided to go in after him. Or Rei. Or...

"Evangelion Unit 01, to unknown Unit. Respond, over," he signalled. He shut down everything but the communications system, and waited, acutely aware of his breathing in the entry plug. It took a few moments, but his receiver got some static.

"...Unit... Zero... Who...?"

"Damn..." Shinji risked a little more power. "This is Unit 01 to unknown Unit. I say again, please respond."

It took a little longer, and the signals bouncing back indicated that whatever was out there was almost close enough to be seen visually. Shinji decided on caution-For all he knew, he was just hallucinating.

"... This is Unit 01, who are you?"

Shinji blinked. "Who am I? Who are you?"

"Shinji Ikari..."

Shinji was stunned for a second. He didn't know what this was, but he wouldn't get any more answers just sitting there in low power mode. He brought the Evangelion back online, mindful of the three minute counter running. The entry plug shifted around him, displaying the darkness he'd come to expect, with the green glow of his Evangelion's various luminous components casting useless light into the abyss.

The light, however, wasn't the only one. Shinji's jaw dropped as he got a good look at the approaching unit. It was glowing green, just as his was, just enough to allow him a look at the silhoulette of the Evangelion, and the tall crash horn that emerged from it's helmet.

"No way...!"

Between the two powered-up Evangelions, space seemed to ripple and wobble, like Jell-O struck by a spoon. As though peeking out, something red could be occasionally seen.

"THE CORE!" Both Shinji Ikaris shouted. Both drew their Progressive knives, and both unleashed their AT Fields to full power. The deep red of Leliel's core shown faintly in the abyss, as two gigantic hands grasped it.

"DIE!" Both Shinji Ikaris again shouted in unison, their Progressive knives stabbing forth. As one, the two Evas pierced the very heart of their foe, cutting deep into it. It split apart, and with an unEarthly scream it burst into red light. The other Unit 01 vanished from view, leaving Shinji alone as the world turned red.

The plug went dark as the timer ran to zero, but not before Shinji was able to get a look at blue sky overhead-Just a glance, but more than enough to reassure him he'd gotten home. He took deep breaths of LCL, and felt a giddy smile on his face.

"That... That was... Wow..." He sighed, leaning back in his throne. He laughed. "Oh man..."

He couldn't wait to tell everyone about this. Asuka would mother hen him as usual, and tell him he was an idiot, sure, but it was worth it to know she cared. Rei would just give him that little strange smile of hers, just happy to see him alive. Touji would probably give him a high five.

And Dad, and Mom... Well, that would probably be the best part.

"Thanks Mom," he said, patting the side of the entry plug. "We're home now... We're finally home."


Power was soon restored, enough for Shinji to get a look around himself. The entire area was covered in blood, doubtless from killing the Twelfth. He felt a stab of guilt at how long it was going to take to clean it all up, before a holo-window opened in front of his face. Misato was standing on the Command Deck, a smile on her face.

"Good work, Shinji! You took it out! We thought we'd lost you there for a while. What's your status?"

"Ah, fine Misato," Shinji replied, a small smile on his face. "It was a little weird there for a while, but uh... I'm fine."

"Good. Because you're definitely in trouble this time," she continued on. "Especially with Asuka."

Shinji sighed. He could always rely on her to be upset with him. He didn't mean to kill the Angel first! But it was what he had to do to get out. He was so concerned with his guilt and shame he totally missed everything else Misato was saying.

"-like a mother hen, I swear... Shinji? Shinji, read! Over!"

"Huh? Oh, uh, yeah, sorry Misato," Shinji said quickly. Misato gave him a wry look.

"Return to base. You'll be debriefed and tested, standard drill."

"Right, right," Shinji replied. He looked back over his shoulder and saw Unit 02 behind him, the source of the new power. "Huh? Asuka?"

"I wouldn't bother, Shinji. Her communications system is out at the moment," Misato said. She looked faintly amused. Shinji wasn't sure why, but habit compelled him to guide his Eva to the nearest elevator. Unit 02 stared after him. He could only imagine that Asuka was cursing up a storm inside her plug, and decided it was probably for the best he couldn't hear a thing from the volatile Second Child.


Shinji emerged from the entry plug after going through a power-down checklist with the Bridge Bunnies. They had looked a little concerned when he asked how to do a particular item on the list. He wasn't sure why-They'd handled all that before.

He stretched, and leaned against the railing of the catwalk. He really wanted to avoid the debriefing, and avoid seeing Asuka. Heck, he didn't want to see anyone right now...


"Ah?" Shinji Ikari could count on one hand how many times he could remember being hugged. Right now, he could feel what might be the one to require adding a second finger to the count. He turned in the embrace, plugsuit rubbing against plugsuit, and his eyes seemed to want to pop out of his sockets.


The blue haired girl smiled at him and released him from the hug. "I am glad to see you again," she said. "You were lost for several hours... But you are all right. That is what matters."

"I...?" Shinji tried, but he felt like he was going into shock.

"IKARI!" Bellowed a familiar voice. Rei stepped back, still smiling, as Asuka stormed up to the catwalk. Shifting from confused to fearful, Shinji took a step back as the furious redhead got in his face.

"A-Asuka, I-"

"Ikari! What the hell was that?" Asuka demanded.

"Well I-I couldn't-"

"You know, sometimes I wonder if you're deaf as well as stupid," she snarled. "You just jumped in, no listening to me, OH NO, of course not!"

Shinji's jaw dropped, as things began to make increasingly less and less sense. "I-What are you-Asuka I-"

"That's Captain Shikinami to you, you braindead excuse for a piece of shite!" Asuka growled. She turned to Rei, who calmly stood at military attention. "Lieutenant Ayanami! What exactly did I order at the start of the engagement?"

"That all Evas were to wait for your orders to enter the Twelfth Angel's null field," Rei dutifully replied.

"And what did Lieutenant Ikari do?"

Lieutenant Ikari? Shinji thought, holding up his hands.

"H-Hey, hang on a second I-!"

"Entered the Twelfth Angel's null field... And destroyed it," Rei added. Asuka's beautiful blue eyes flashed in anger, and she looked back at Shinji.

"I swear to God if I have to repeat myself another time, I will tattoo the words 'Listen to Asuka, I will obey Asuka's orders, Asuka IS GOD' on the insides of your eyelids. You got that, Ikari?"


"Hit the showers, NOW, then report to the debriefing room," Asuka growled. She shot Rei a deadly look, which moved the First Child to walk off the catwalk. Her glare shifted to Shinji, which pushed the Third Child into a jog.


"I-I-Yes! Yes!" He said quickly as he rushed to catch up to Rei. Rei glanced over at him with a little smile. That just compelled him to run faster.

What was that all about? He thought, beseeching whoever or whatever might be missing. As expected though, he got no reply.

He sighed as he entered the shower, quickly scrubbing off the disgusting scent of LCL. He went to his locker while drying off, and opened it up to retrieve his clothing. He blinked in some confusion as he looked over his garments-Not school clothing, but a NERV military uniform.

A uniform...? And what's this...? He pulled out a jacket and examined it. The jacket itself was gray with a stiff collar and broad darker gray shoulders. Orange trim decorated the trim of the collar and across the shoulders, but it switched to blue trim on the lapels to match the cuffs. Large "01s" were displayed on his shoulders, with "NERV" and a name tag on his right breast. He looked back and forth between the jacket and the locker, as though willing his usual clothes to reappear.

When they did not, Shinji shook his head.

"If this is a joke... It's not funny," he murmured. He pulled on his clothes and headed out. Sure, they were nice clothes, but making all these changes without telling him... And Rei and Asuka's behavior...

Just what was going on?


"And... Throttle down to safe," Shinji finished. "Safeties on, docking locks sealed. Shutdown complete."

Unit 01 shook slightly as the massive support structures that held it up and secure within the hanger closed. He looked around at the holoscreens, double checking everything. He looked over at the one showing Central Dogma and smiled.

"We're good right?"

Maya Ibuki, the pretty Bridge Bunny and Dr. Akagi's assistant, gave him a smile in return, though it seemed a bit nervous.

"Yes Shinji, we're good. We could have handled all that ourselves."

"Hey, I have to work for a living right?" Shinji asked. He stretched, and hit the release. THe entry plug opened up, and Shinji came out, rolling his shoulders. He looked around, saw the crew personnel going to work, and smiled and waved.

"Hey, Chief! Hope it's not too much work for you!"

The chief looked up at Shinji in some confusion, but being polite, waved back with a smile.

"Never too much for us!"

"I didn't even get hit this time, just... Swallowed," Shinji called back. "Not even chewed!"

The chief and other workers were now staring at Shinji. It was as though the air was being filled with awkwardness-two parts per million and rising. Shinji's hand slowly stopped waving, and he put it down. He coughed.

"Right, well... Can't all be winners, right?" He said with a smile. There was some more coughing, which echoed in the vast hanger. "... Okay then!" He turned and headed off, rubbing the back of his neck. Shinji grimaced.

What, did their cats die? Did they lose the ball game against Unit 02's techs?

He saw Rei making her way to the pilot locker rooms, and ran to catch up to her.

"Hey! Hey, Rei, hang on!"

The albino girl turned around and regarded him with just a hint of emotion.

"Hello Ikari..."

Shinji skidded to a halt in front of her.

Ikari? Geez... Formal... Maybe I upset her? How could I have done that...? Aside from jumping into the Ange-Oh. Right.

"Ah, look. I'm sorry for jumping into the Angel. I kind of had to, but I didn't mean to worry you," Shinji said. Rei continued to stare, her expression just softening slightly. Taking this as progress, Shinji grinned.

"But you know me, Wonder Idiot and all that..."

Rei was silent. Shinji cleared his throat.

"... Ah, look... If it helps, I always intended to come back," he said. "I'm not going anywhere. I promised, remember?"

"You did?" Rei asked, concern entering her eyes. It was still detached, but enough for Shinji to see.

"Yeah! Of course I did!" Shinji returned. "And I'm making it again!" He grasped Rei's hand and squeezed it. "So don't worry about a thing, okay?"

Rei looked more confused, and conflicted. Shinji stared back, and slowly lowered his hand.

"Ah... You don't have to worry... At all," he said.


Shinji sighed, and turned around. "Hey Captain..."

Asuka growled as she strode up to them. "Captain?"

"Uh... Yes?" Shinji asked, looking her right in the eyes. Asuka's fists clenched and unclenched, before she snorted.

"Well, I guess you just pulled out another win through luck, like you always do, Baka-Shinji," Asuka huffed.

Asuka seemed genuinely angry. He was used to her being upset with him for a lot of reasons-Charging into battle, not listening, that one time Rei dropped purple hair dye into her shampoo and he "didn't see anything"... But she was usually screaming at him then. This though...

Was she... Bitter? Jealous? What?

"Ah, well, ya know, I promised to come back," Shinji said. "Rei kind of forgot that. Guess you did too?"

"Right, because I care whether you live or die, right Third?" She huffed. She turned and stomped off. "If you're in a good enough mood to mouth off, you're in a good enough mood to cook! So let's get home already!"

Well, at least that was the same. Shinji saluted her.

"Yes ma'am," he replied. Asuka shot a look at him over her shoulder, and stormed back to grab his collar. "Urk!"

"Are you mocking me?"

"No! Nonono! No!" Shinji said quickly. "Seriously! Not in the least!"

"Good!" She huffed, letting him go and heading back off like a flame following a fuse. Shinji tugged at his collar and looked over at Rei.

"What's with her?"

Rei stared for a few moments before responding. "Pilot Soryu is... Volatile," she said at last.

"You mean Shikinami, right?" Shinji asked. Rei stared. Shinji stared back. The two continued this until Shinji had to blink.

"Uhhh... Whatever you say?" He said. He gave her a quick hug and peck on the cheek, before heading off. "Later."

If he were to turn around, he would have been privileged to see the first time in this universe Rei Ayanami actually blushed.


Shinji arrived at the debriefing room. He let out a little sigh of relief when he saw that Misato, Dr. Akagi, and Maya were sitting there, looking expectant. Asuka was also sitting there, and shot a scowl at Shinji, while Rei sat next to her with a warm but reserved expression on her face.

In addition to these familiar faces, an unfamiliar woman with short, straight violet hair and smile wrinkles around her brown eyes sat to the right of the head of the table, giving him a warm, relieved smile. Shinji felt his throat constrict a little-The look she was giving him wasn't something he was used to, at all.

None of this was what he was used to, to be honest.

"Well? Sit down Ikari," Asuka growled. Shinji quickly sat down. Part of him wished he could have sat somewhere less exposed-At the bottom of the table, everyone would be looking down right at him. He shrank in his chair, and looked around.

What's everyone waiting for? Why are we just-?

"Sorry I'm late," a familiar voice said behind him. Not behind him as in from the door, but right behind him. Shinji jumped, and looked over the back of his chair. His eyes widened.


Gendo nodded to his son, circled the table and took his seat at the head. He sat down, looking at Shinji not with his usual cold expression but something... Different. Unreadable.

"Well, let's begin," Gendo stated, looking around at his staff. His gaze settled last on Shinji, and the Third Child fidgeted.

Misato cleared her throat, and checked her notes. "At 0900 hours Tokyo-3 time yesterday, a Blue Pattern was detected approaching NERV. Upon visual confirmation by JSSDF recon that target did not fit matching profiles, Target was designated Twelfth Angel. Standard Encounter Protocols engaged. Units 00. 01, and 02 were scrambled while evacuation and combat preparations were undertaken." She looked over at Asuka, who scowled and looked at the Commander.

"At 1343 hours, the Twelfth Angel entered Tokyo-3 airspace. Challenge went unaccepted. Conventional attacks by automated defenses produced no reaction. When it appeared, it looked like a big black and white striped sphere. I ordered all pilots to stand by and wait for signs of hostile action. When none came, I suggested we launch an attack."

What? That's not right, Shinji thought. She wanted to attack it right away...

"At 1345 hours," Misato said, "I ordered the Evangelions to engage at range, after neutralizing the target's AT Field. All Evas opened fire with gatling cannons."

Pallet rifles... Shinji thought, his frown deepening. Ritsuko took over from that point.

"At that point, the Angel manifested itself-The sphere was in fact it's shadow, while what we perceived as the shadow below it was the actual angel. An inverted dimensional life form."

"I ordered a retreat until the full capabilities of the Angel could be determined," Asuka stated, crossing her arms underneath her chest. Shinji found himself thinking how good the uniform looked on her, but quickly directed his thoughts elsewhere.

"However," Rei interjected softly, "Unit 00 was caught by the shadow, and was being consumed." She looked up and glanced at Shinji with a slightly exasperated expression. "Unit 01 then leaped right into the shadow, grabbed hold of Unit 00, and threw me out of the path of the expanding shadow."

"Despite the fact I ordered you not to, to help me reel her out via her umbilical cable," Asuka added. "Which ended in Unit 01 being consumed."

"Uh... I um..." Shinji began.

"Due to this," Asuka continued as though Shinji had not spoken, "when Dr. Akagi figured out the true nature of the Angel, that is, a vast null universe contained within it's event horizon, we were unable to coordinate all three Evangelions in attack on the Angel." She glared deeply at Shinji. The unknown woman finally spoke.

"Shinji, what happened inside the null space?"

Shinji coughed, and looked to the side.

"Um... Well... A lot of stuff is hard to remember. It was totally dark inside, I kept seeing things. Lots of... Very weird things," he said. "Like, I think they were hallucinations."

"Do you know how long you were in there?" Ritsuko asked.

"No. I couldn't keep track of time. I shut down everything when m-my umbilical cable was cut to conserve power, like I was told to," Shinji said.

"You were gone for over a day, Shinji," the unknown woman said softly.

"That long?" Shinji asked in shock. The unknown woman nodded. Ritsuko smiled.

"Well, on the bright side we've got plenty of data to go through from the incident," Ritsuko said. At Misato's look Ritsuko shrugged and looked studiously at her notes.

"What happened just before you emerged from the Angel, Shinji?" Misato asked.

"Uh... Well, um, I saw... I saw another Unit 01," Shinji said. "It... It was like looking at a mirror. Then, between us, I saw something red... The Angel Core. I powered up, opened up my AT Field, and used the Prog Knife to stab it."

"Outside, we tried to make contact with Unit 01, but we couldn't get any radio signals past the event horizon of the Angel," Ritsuko said. "The Angel began to expand, consuming more matter as it did. Units 00 and 02 were able to keep it at bay with AT Field repulsion."

"This just bought us some time," Misato interjected.

"The JSSDF suggested dropping all N2 mines into the Angel in order to hopefully hit the core, but this was regulated to a last resort by NERV command," Ritsuko stated. "At 1604 hours, the Angel's Blue Pattern went dead, the Angel dissolved into LCL and Unit 01 emerged."

There was silence in the conference room, and Shinji felt fear rising in his chest despite the fact only Asuka was glaring at him. He looked down at his hands, taking deep breaths.

"Given the Twelfth was destroyed without excessive property damage, or loss of life, the fact that Lieutenant Ikari violated orders is a minor offense in my view," Gendo spoke at last. He looked over at Shinji, who looked up in some shock. "A unique tactical situation. Nevertheless, unit cohesion is important. Therefore, I leave his disciplining in your hands, Major." He nodded to Misato, before nodding to Asuka. "Captain."

Misato nodded. "Until you've been cleared by the base psychiatrist, you're on standby. Take it easy for a while."

Asuka huffed, before shooting Shinji a smirk.

"Don't get too comfy, Ikari. Starting at 0500 tomorrow, your ass is mine," she grinned.

"Will you be needing the paddle, Captain, or would you prefer to go in barehanded?" Misato asked softly. Asuka and Shinji's faces both turned bright red, as Maya, Ritsuko, Rei and the unknown woman laughed quietly. Gendo looked... Indulgent.

"That-I-I RESENT THE IMPLICATION!" Asuka snarled. She shot a look at Shinji. "And I won't accept any lip from you, understand?"

"N-No! None!" He said quickly.


Gendo leaned forward, looking around at his officers, doctors and pilots. "If there is no other business...?" There was silence. He nodded. "Very well. Captain Shikinami, Lieutenant Ayanami: You will get checked out per protocol. Doctor Akagi, Lieutenant Ibuki, see to it. Major Katsuragi? See to the After Action reports, Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki will handle command of the clean-up."

Misato nodded gratefully. Now that he looked at her, Shinji could tell she hadn't gotten much sleep. He felt incredibly guilty for worrying her, and happy she had been that concerned for him.

"Dismissed," Gendo ordered. Shinji automatically rose, but a look from Gendo stilled him.

"Not you, Lieutenant," Gendo stated. Asuka walked past, and Shinji felt her hand rest on his shoulder briefly. She squeezed it, and turned her head just enough to give him a warm smile. Shinji's jaw dropped in shock, and his mind demanded he say something to her, but by the time he had drawn breath she had already left the room. He took a deep breath, and slowly turned back around to look at the head of the table, where his father and the unknown woman had been sitting at.

Now, they were both walking around the table to stand on either side of him. Shinji blinked and looked between them. The unknown woman smiled, bent down, and hugged him tightly.

"That was very brave, and very stupid," she murmured, as Shinji found himself lost in her affectionate warmth. "Don't do it again, okay?"

"Stupid and brave are the things he's best at," Gendo commented. Shinji looked between them.

"I..." He could do nothing but nod. The woman kissed his cheek and pulled back, leaving a stunned Shinji sitting there.

She... She hugged me... Who is she?

He felt a firm hand resting on his shoulder, and looked up to his father. He was smiling. His entire body trembled, and his eyes darted around, as though daring the true nature of this illusion to be laid bare.

"That said… Good work, Shinji," Gendo said. "I'm very proud of you."

"... Th-Thank you," Shinji whispered, his gaze locked firmly on the table ahead. It can't be real... It can't... I must still be in the Angel...

"Well, now that that's done," Gendo said. The woman sighed as Gendo hit a few buttons on his cellphone. Shinji started when a panel in the ceiling overhead opened up, and robotic arms lowered a series of statues. Shinji blinked at the labels of various carved figurines of assorted men.

SEELE 01? SEELE 04? What...?

A crochet mallet entered Shinji's vision. He looked up at his father, who held another crochet mallet. Still confused, Shinji took hold of it. He looked over at the unknown woman questioningly, who merely sighed in exasperation.

"Why can't you just stick to video games?" She asked.

"Come now my dear. Allow us our fun without your judging eyes of... Judgement," Gendo said after a moment. He glanced at Shinji with a smile. "Now, son, shall we?"

Shinji shrugged, and nodded. If this was a hallucination generated by the Angel, he didn't care anymore.

"Uh... O-Okay...?"

Gendo lifted up his mallet, over his head, and brought it down with a satisfying smash on the figurine marked SEELE 04.

"Oh no... That poor man. He had the finest nose of his generation!" Gendo spoke melodramatically. Shinji felt his jaw lower, and it just refused to go up as Gendo smashed another figurine. He looked over at Shinji and smiled.

"Don't let me have them all, Shinji."

Shinji looked over at the figurines, shrugged, and smashed a squat figure. The brittle material came apart underneath his blow... And a small smile emerged on Shinji's face.

Father and son smashed the figurines, twelve in all. Gendo made funny comments on each one, ellicitng actual laughter from his son. He stopped Shinji from smashing the largest one until the very end-The image of an ancient man in a wheelchair, eyes hidden by a visor.

"Your dick hasn't worked since the Industrial Revolution!" Gendo shouted, slamming his mallet into the side of the figurine and damaging it. Shinji hefted up his mallet and slammed it down hard onto the figure.

"And-And you look like a geriatric cyclops!" Shinji added. Gendo chuckled, another sound Shinji had never heard before but found himself craving deeply.

"Well... Until the next time," Gendo said. He pushed another button on his phone, and robotic arms came down to clean up the mess. The unknown woman sighed again, shaking her head with a fond expression on her face.

"You will never change," she said.

"If I did, your life would be dull," Gendo said with a smile. He patted Shinji on the shoulder again, and moved around him to embrace the woman. She kissed him, and Shinji found his jaw once again dropping to the floor.

He thought he couldn't be any more shocked, but this? And why did some small, unknown part of him seem to define what he was seeing in just one word, "ew?"

"Mmm... Get to work, Commander," the woman said with a smile. "I'll handle Shinji."

"Just don't let Ritsuko molest him," Gendo said. "She's probably marinating at the prospect of all that data to go through..." He glanced at Shinji, who turned bright red at the implication. The woman elbowed him playfully, and with a last smile, Shinji's father left the room.

Shinji found himself looking everywhere-From the woman to the door to the crochet mallet in his hand. The woman's expression became one of concern.

"Shinji? What is it?"

"... I..."

"You've been so quiet…" The woman continued, eyes studying him with the intent to heal, not harm. It just made this so much more difficult.

He couldn't just lie to her though. Not this woman who looked at him like… Like a mother might.

"This... I didn't expect… Any of this."

The woman frowned. "Expect what?"

Shinji took another deep breath, and summoned as much courage as he possibly could.

"Well...I don't know how to say this but... I don't know who you are."


His father had informed Shinji, quite bluntly, that modesty would have to be sacrificed for the sake of piloting Eva. Shinji had learned that he hadn't been exaggerating. Ritsuko called him in for thorough physical exams at least eight times a month, and there were frequent nude synchronization tests involving all the pilots. Asuka always bore it stoically, as the good officer she was. At least she tried-The command staff and Rei and Shinji enjoyed doing little things to make her blow her cool.

Point was, he was no stranger to nude examinations, especially when they involved Ritsuko. However, the air of awkwardness was new. Ritsuko was doing her job without as much as a saucy little smirk. Maya assisted her, professional as usual but she at least usually blushed or giggled for his benefit… Well, that's what he told himself anyway. And Misato was watching behind glass, looking anxious. That wasn't unusual, but still. He was fine! He was in one piece! She shouldn't have been so upset: Overtly, anyway. She saved her anxiety release for when they got home.

Clearly, someone had to lighten the mood around here. If nobody else was willing to do it...

"So," he said with a theatrical sigh, "Couldn't wait to get me naked again, huh?"

"Excuse me?" Ritsuko asked, eyes widening in shock. Maya wore a similar expression, while Misato goggled in disbelief, like a fish in an aquarium. Shinji rolled his eyes.

"You know Ritsuko, this relationship is very one-sided," he continued. "I mean, why do I have to always be naked? It doesn't seem very fair to me. I just don't think this relationship is going to work out."

Ritsuko was now staring at him as though Shinji were possessed. Maya's face was turning bright red. Misato looked caught between laughter and shock, and Shinji couldn't tell which way she'd go. With a frown, Shinji decided to press on. If he tried just hard enough, he was sure he could get them to lighten up.

"Unless you're willing to compromise. But if not, hey, plenty of fish in the sea right?" He glanced over to Maya, on the other side of the examination table. He treated her to a charming smile. "Hey Maya-chan, you're willing to treat me right? I promise, I'll be the best boyfriend ever!"

"Uh..." Maya looked over at Ritsuko, her face turning even redder. The bottle blonde's jaw went up and down a few times, before she looked down at her patient-Studiously focusing on his face.

"We'll be right back, Shinji," she said. Shinji winked.

"I'll be waiting," he said in a deep, teasing tone. Ritsuko coughed, then immediately walked out. Maya followed with a look directed over her shoulder at him. He treated her to a wink as well, which she looked away at. The door closed behind them, and Shinji sighed, his roguish smile vanishing.

"Geez... What the hell is with everyone?" He muttered. It was as though they'd never heard a joke in their lives. Did everyone turn into uptight nuns while he was gone?

Mmm... Naughty Nuns... No! He couldn't afford to think about that kind of stuff now. Not when it seemed as though everyone around him had gone stark raving mad.

He sat up to watch Misato, Ritsuko and Maya as they argued furiously behind the observation glass.

Wonder what they're talking about...?

"Ritsuko," Misato began, in as calm a tone as she could manage, "what the hell was that?"

"I honestly don't know what's going on!" Ritsuko protested.

"Then what do you know?" Misato demanded.

"... He's not acting as he normally does, and I don't know why, that's all!" Ritsuko sighed, utterly exasperated. Misato growled.

"That's it? That's all you've got for me?"

"Well, we do know that whatever reason he's acting like this, it's not a result of Angel contamination," Maya interjected. "He's clean."

"So why is he suddenly all smiles? Why is he flirting with you?" Misato snarled, and Ritsuko concluded rightly that her plan involving the N2 mines was also fueling Misato's current mood.

She's gotten so attached to him...

"Well, um, it's possible that due to the intense sensory deprivation he underwent in the Dirac Sea, that... That something happened to him, psychologically," Maya quickly tried to save her mentor. Misato shot her a look.

"Sensory deprivation?"

"Some test subjects have experienced intense psychological shifts following sufficient sensory deprivation," Ritsuko quickly explained. "It's rare, but Shinji might be among those who would benefit from such an experience."

"You're telling me being in that Angel... Cured his issues?" Misato asked. Ritsuko shrugged.

"Until we know more... That's the best theory we've got."

Misato turned and looked at Shinji through the glass. The boy cheerfully waved at her, and smiled. She awkwardly returned both. Ever since she'd met Shinji, she'd wanted to see him smile, be happy, be free of Eva without worrying...

But to see it like this, without explanation... The whole thing just felt wrong.

Shinji... What happened to you?

Maya stepped between the two women, and gave her usual encouraging smile.

"Still... At least we got him back. That counts for something, right? Sempai, we can go over the data from Unit 01, maybe we can…"

"... Sempai, Major, you know the rules! You must settle this in the Jell-O Ring! One hour! Bring your bikinis!" Shinji murmured in time with Maya's lip movements.

Times like these he really wished he'd learned how to read lips. Still, he could have fun right?

Okay… Everyone's really concerned, acting strange, and surprised I can handle myself. So… Angel hallucination?

Didn't seem likely. On the other hand, that might be what the Angel wanted him to think. How could he tell reality from illusion?

Then again, if the Angel was trying to make him think he'd already killed it with an elaborate illusion, you'd think it'd have done a better job. Reading his mind, figuring out how everyone was… It couldn't even do that properly.

Either the Angel was getting a lot of stuff wrong, or something else was going on. He wasn't sure how he could figure out if it was an illusion or not, but if it wasn't, then what was going on?

Argh, this is driving me nuts! He thought with a grimace. Shinji was used to doing things. Sitting around like this was antithetical to who he was.

He watched the women as they continued to debate and talk, and tried to think of a way to slip out of the examination room unnoticed, when…


All three women looked up at him. Shinji coughed, adjusted the small towel covering his modesty, and offered an apologetic smile.

"Ah, sorry… I haven't eaten in… A while," he called out. "Can I at least get some lunch?"

The three women exchanged glances, before Misato nodded. She smiled at him as she pressed the intercom.

"Of course Shinji. It's been a long day for all of us, too."

"Great! Messhall then! I'm starving," Shinji said.

And then maybe I can figure out what the hell is going on…

A little experiment I'm trying out. If you want more, review away.

Author's Note: Chapter edited on 2/2/11 in order to make it easier to follow between the two Shinjis. King!Shinji is from the non-canon universe. Rook!Shinji is from the more-or-less canon universe. I really hate to have to spell it out for you the reader because I generally assume you guys can figure it out for yourselves, but in this case I guess I was wrong about some of them. So, because I'm a nice guy, to those who were confused: here are your signs.