56 Days Until (Part One)
Shinji couldn't remember what he dreamed when he awoke or where he was. All he knew was that he was freezing cold and certainly not home. Shinji clawed at his jacket to pull it tighter around him in a mostly vain attempt to calm his involuntary shivers. Suddenly, the events of the day before sprung back into the forefront of his memory. His losing battle against himself, flight or flight, ding-dong! the person at the door was Misato, who wanted to help him, bang! pop! she was shot, and frantic red tunnel vision as he ran, feet thumping and burning, eyes stinging as if they were melting. Shinji began shivering for a completely different reason.
It must have been early, because the morning mist still cloaked and obscured the area around him. What little Shinji could clearly see was the ground below him covered in cracked, broken asphalt and glittering with shards of glass. Twisted, partially melted metal lay around him in rusting heaps. Shinji felt a stinging in his arms and carefully turned it to see a number of tiny blood beads sitting on his skin, scratched by the glass and detritus-peppered ground. He licked the fingers of his opposite hand and brushed away the tiny pieces of dirt and red fluid, wincing as he accidentally pressed down too hard and crushed the nerves under the bruised skin. There was a similairly hurt area on his left leg and the side of his face; most likely the side he hit when he collapsed. Shinji figured that, after spending the night in an Angel crater, he probably looked sickly, dirty, and terrible. He would have worried about the levels of radiation his body most likely soaked in during the night, but what he did absorb likely wouldn't kill him in less than fifty days, so he dismissed the concern.
Shinji stood, wobbling just a little, and began brushing himself off. "What now?" he murmured to himself, "What now?"
"Well, my recommendation for now is to stick around and listen to me for a bit, kid."
Shinji spun on his heel to look at the voice from behind, but all he saw was a vague figure standing far away in the mists. The skin on the back of his neck began to prickle. "Wh-who are you?" he called, voice wavering slightly. "How long have you been there?"
"...A while." The voice was deep, certainly a man's, and almost eerily casual sounding. The figure began to float down the hill towards Shinji. Every few feet, details would slowly shift into focus, like a camera lens being twisted to adjust to the subject.
I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, Shinji repeated in his mind as the shadow stopped in front of him, having transformed into a man wearing a dark trenchcoat and ponytail. He had broad shoulders and a rugged look about him, and wore a calm smile. His hands remained in the coat's pockets, and Shinji wondered if he held a gun there.
"No weapons," assured the man, as if reading Shinji's mind, and slowly lifted his empty palm above his head. "Don't worry."
He could still overpower me, thought Shinji, surveying the man's height and build. His eyes darted around in search of a weapon, and landed on a small, twisted metal rod. He dove for it and, gripping tightly at the end in both hands, thrust it forward. Milliseconds later, however, his brain caught up with his instincts, and he stopped the sharp tip just a finger's breadth away from the stranger's neck.
Shinji was panting a little from his fear and adrenaline rush, but the strange man seemed completely unfazed. "Whoa now, kid," he said, carefully reached his right hand down and pushing away Shinji's makeshift weapon, "Can you at least let me talk for a sec?"
Shinji shrugged and lowered the pole but still kept a good grip on it.
The stranger chuckled and pushed some stray hairs away from his forehead. What would normally be considered a sound of merriment sounded eerie and out of place in the gray, dead land around the Angel crater. "So I'm just going to go out on a limb and assume that you're Shinji Ikari, 'kay? You're not quite what I expected, though."
"Who are you?" he demanded, raising his 'weapon.' Shinji yelped as the man nonchalantly reached down and jerked the rod from his hands. The expression on his face looked identical to the one on someone yanking something they disapproved of from an unruly small child.
"The name's Kaiji Ryogi. They told me what happened, and said I should go look for you." Kaiji tossed the pole back behind him and held out a hand for Shinji to shake.
Shinji the ignored the gesture. "I-I'm not who you think I am," he lied, "My name's... Takuto Miyano. And really, I should be going- hey!"
Kaiji grabbed his wrist as he turned to run. "Look, I've gone over the facts, the path you probably took, and I know who you are, Shinji. Besides, there aren't that many Japanese boys with blue eyes out there."
Shinji didn't respond.
"Look, I'm on you're side, okay?"
Could he be from NERV? He wore no badge or uniform. And Misato hadn't told him they were going to meet anyone. Shinji also knew he was a terrible liar and the stranger would see through him instantly, so couldn't rely on that skill to help him. His shoulders slumped as he gave up. "I... I really don't know what side I'm on."
"Well then, it looks like you and I are gonna have to stick around here for a while."
"W-what do you mean?"
"For now, my immediate actions are based around your decisions, my friend." He yawned. "There are a number of things that could happen now."
A silence settled between the two. Shinji didn't know what to do, or what image he should project. Be brave, look into his eyes, and try to squeeze out information? The glanced up to meet Kaiji's gaze, but froze in fear before he could and returned his attention to the ground. He couldn't show weakness, though, when he didn't know the man's motives. Shinji hated decisions. He didn't know anything he wanted to do, what side he was on, or what he wanted to know. Except for maybe... "Is Misato... okay?" he ventured.
Kaiji blinked in surprise. "Yes. the shots were... non-fatal."
Shinji gave a deep sigh of relief. He would have hated himself if he knew she died because of him. However, he still felt terrible for the trouble he caused, especially if she was hurt. "Could I... see her?" He wanted to apologize.
"Sure." Kaiji shrugged and began walking away. He looked back to see Shinji still rooted to the ground. "You know, following me would be a decent first step, kid."
Shinji vowed that he would never willingly ride a motorcycle again. Kaiji drove a red and black Suzuki he bought a few years before the Second Impact, when money was stillwworth something. It wasn't a fancy bike by any stretch of the imagination, but it was at least very loud and shiny, and it had never broken down on him despite its age. Kaiji winced as they took a sharp left turn and Shinji's hands dug further into his waist with fear. He thought he heard Shinji yell something from behind him, but couldn't make out the words.
"Could you please slow down?" begged Shinji. He felt unbelievably uncomfortable clinging on to a stranger for dear life, but every time he looked down to the speeding asphalt below he instinctually gripped tighter. There wasn't much for scenery in the immediate area; normally Shinji would have seen plain green woods on either side of the road, but a fire had swept through in the weeks before and left nothing but the scorched skeletons of once grand trees. It was rather ominous, and Shinji decided looking down at the terrifying road would be better than staring at the ghost of the forest, constantly wondering where that motion he saw was his imagination or someing tall, slender and sinister passing them at the roadside.
The frequency of the motor's purring increased as Kaiji sped up a little, and Shinji braced himself. He thought he would jump off if they were driving slower, but his feelings completely changed as he swore he saw the remains of a charred corpse lying by the roadside. He wanted to be away from that as fast as possible. With none of the surrounding scenery proving to provide the slightest comfort, Shinji gave up and closed his eyes for the remainder of the journey.
"Hey kid. We're here."
The roar of the engine died down to a soft putter. Kaiji turned off the road onto a small dirt path peppered with gravel that led towards a nondescript gray building in the distance. The sudden change in terrain prompted Shinji to open his eyes. "That building there?" Kaiji nodded in confirmation. "It looks so small..."
"That's just the tip of the iceberg," the man assured, as he brought the bike to a halt and kicked out a leg to hold it steady. "This place has a history to it."
Shinji gladly jumped off the bike and dug his heels around in the ground to shake some feeling back into his feet. "Um... Mister Ryoji?
"What is it?"
"What are we going to do now? After I see Misato and apologize, I mean." Shinji cursed himself for not planning further ahead, and probably getting himself stuck in an even deeper mess.
Kaiji just smiled and began walking to the bunker. "Thought I already made it clear that was for you to decide."
There was a small metal keypad by the doorhandle with a flashing green lightbulb in the corner. Shinji paused when he reached this and looked questioningly to Kaiji for the code, but the older man just grabbed the handle and pushed the unlocked door open without effort. Making note of Shinji's very surprised face, he winked. "It's really just for show. Not like a door's gonna stop men with machine guns, at any rate- why inconvienience ourselves? Watch your step."
Shinji stumbled into the bunker and looked around. He was somewhat surprised to see that, on the large whiteboard on the grey concrete wall nearest to him, someone else had been keeping count of the days up until impact in red marker. It almost felt like a homely touch, to Shinji, who mentally scribbled the new number on his wall at home. After this adventure was over, he'd have to make up for lost days for the first time in his life. A variety of mismatched carpets and secondhand furniture served as the only real decoration in this apparently largely unpopulated part of the building. A man in a denim jacket sat in the corner drinking coffee and reading. He looked up curiously at the newcomers' presence, then hurried off through a door to some unseen place.
"Am... am I welcome here?" Shinji wondered aloud.
Kaiji thought about his options in answering, and decided to keep his mouth shut. He flopped down on an ugly pea-green sofa and pulled out a cigarette, looking for all the world like he hadn't just sucessfully completed a mission the Imperfectionist army had planned for months.
Shinji didn't really feel comfortable sitting without being given permission (and besides, he was still numb in the rear from there motorcycle journey) so he wandered aimlessly, trying his best to find points of interest in the desolate place. There was a suggestive poster from the old Cutey Honey cartoon sloppily taped to one wall that stood rather out of place, but everything else about the bunker seemed very utilitarian and humorless.
"Thanks for bringing him, Kaiji."
The sudden new voice surprised Shinji, as did its source after he turned. A slightly short woman with what would be called by most a boys' haircut had addressed Kaiji. She wore tan cargo pants and a tight-fitting white turtleneck shirt which really didn't do anything to accentuate her not-very-sizable chest. Shinji supposed she could be described as "average," but average in the attractive sense of common, well-shaped facial features placed in the most normal positions. There was particularly nothing about her that stuck out when attempting to recollect her later, but as a whole she was beautiful in the most natural, basic of ways. When she turned to smile sheepishly at Shinji, he couldn't help but notice that in more than a few ways she actually resembled himself. It made him feel rather odd, and he felt a small blush begin to color his cheeks as she walked towards him.
"Hmm..." She bit her thumbnail as her eyes scanned the boy up and down. "No offense, Shinji, but you're cuter than I expected." Shinji was certain that, if he were a cartoon character, his entire face would have swelled to cherry red at her comment, and a disconnected sweatdrop would have materialized by his face. Human as he was, he just felt himself flush slightly harder.
"Just teasing," the woman assured, amused by his reaction. "I'm Lieutenant Ibuki, but I'd be happier if you called me Maya."
Maya Ibuki paused and bit down on her nail again, thinking. "No... No, actually, I don't think I like that very much. Too casual for our situation. Call me 'Miss Maya.'"
"Um... okay, Miss Maya."
She smiled. "Okay. I like that. I'm extremely glad you can see our side of things here, Shinji. After we explain our plans you can help us-"
"Um. Actually..." Shinji shuffled his feet and clasped his hands behind his back. Maya suddenly looked a bit concerned. "I just came to make sure Miss Misato wasn't hurt because of me. Then I want to go home."
The two of them were quiet for a bit. Maya's cordial friendliness seemed to disappear from her features. "I'm sorry, Shinji. I'm afraid I can't do that."
Shinji froze, and cursed himself for his stupidity. Why had he been forced to stay locked in that tiny little house all those years? So people couldn't take him as a way to get to his father, of course. But even the tallest of fences and strongest of guards could not protect him from his own naivety. "...Oh," was the only sound he managed as the realization sank in. He knew from the start that Misato was an Imperfectionist, but the idea didn't even occcur to him that she would be connected to a terrorist organization, even though mention of a 'safe house' should probably have tipped him off.
"I'm really sorry, Shinji, but this is war. You understand, right?"
He nodded. It made since, and he didn't hate their organization. He disagreed with their ideas, but they had done less to hurt him than NERV ever had. besides, it was too late for him to do anything now.
"That's good." Maya glanced around the room. "You know, I don't really come up here much. Rather dreary, isn't it? Let's go on downstairs."
She turned, and Shinji followed, leading him through the door the man with the newspaper passed through a few minutes before and into a small elevator. Small, in fact, was a slight understatement. Its maximum holding capacity was approximately two somewhat small people or half of one rather large person. Shinji crammed himself as far into the back of the tiny space as possibly, thankful that he wasn't claustrophobic. He did his best to ignore Maya's hip being forced to lean against his own. The ride was blessfully short, at least.
The doors rumbled open, and Shinji gasped at what he saw lying beneath the rundown little bunker. Around two dozendozen people sat in front of computer monitors, their eyes frantically raking the screens for data, and some were having one-way conversations over headsets, most in languages Shinji didn't understand,
"What?" asked Maya, in response to Shinjii's awed expression, "You didn't expect we were some little gang of school rulebreakers, did you? Sure, we may not hold a candle to NERV... but this is an international organization we're running here."
"I... didn't expect that." The setup appeared to be two to three monitors per worker, each apparently doing something completely different. Shinji continued following Maya down the busy hall until she stopped as they passed a room with a large glass window that left the interior visible from the hallway. Two men worked in it, one on a computer, the other meticulously constructing what appeared to be a model of some weaponized aircraft.
"I work here. In advanced weapons design and upkeep."
"What exactly do you do?" Shinji asked. He squinted for a better look at the actually pretty awesome-looking drone model.
"I design the specs and then run computer systems when we do tests. I know it's a war, but there's no way you'd find me out fighting in the field." Maya grimaced at the thought. "It's not in my nature. At all."
"Nor mine..." he murmured, still in awe of their complex hidden facility. Once, when he was younger, his father took him on a tour of the NERV headquarters. Or rather, he had his lead scientist Ritsuko Akagi pick Shinji up and take him on a tour. As the memories of that trip began to flood back to the forefront of his mind, he took a second look at his current surroundings. He marvelled how such a short recollection could change his feelings from wonder to pity; the place really stood no change against NERV, at least not without a few ten thousand or so more staff, and at least one Evangelion unit.
"Of course," continued Maya, as if reading his mind, "We'll all die here unless we get our own Evangelion unit- fast. If we pray, we may be able to finish it a few days before the scheduled Impact."
Shinji suddenly felt a deep pit of dread tear open his gut. As if he had experienced it before, he knew what was coming. He didn't even want to ask, but some part of him felt obligated to ask the question, just to make sure. "Who... who will pilot it?" he stammered.
Maya just turned to him, smiling. "Who do you think? It only makes sense for a certain person to, right?"
One of Maya's associates tapped on the inside of the glass window impatiently. "Sorry, Shinji, but I have to get back to work. It was nice meeting you, though. Misato's room is one floor down if you take the lift at the end of this hall. It's the second door on the left, but the sound of her complaining will probably be enough to guide you to it." The young woman rolled her eyes, and muttered under her breath, "At least now she'll know what the rest of us girls have to deal with..."
Shinji had a feeling he wasn't supposed to have heard that last bit. The next thing he knew, Maya was back to work inside her office and began chatting excitedly to her colleagues. The man with glasses looked at him curiously through the glass. Shinji hated the feeling of being talked about and tried not to let it bother him as he rushed down the hall, intent on finally completing his self-assigned task.
He knocked on the door he was fairly certain Maya had specified. He immediately assumed he was correct because a somewhat familiar, although drunken-sounding, voice called to him from within. "Kaiji, you bastard! here to mock me again? Don't pretend that you don't care you- you- you-" Shinji stepped in nervously, shoulders slightly hunched has he tried subconciously to make himself smaller. "Oh," slurred Misato, "'S'you, Shinji." She burbed, and threw an empty beer can on top of the neat little pile that had formed in and around the wastebasket by her bed. She sat up, pulling the covers high up to shoulder level.
"Spit it out!"
"I came to say I was sorry!" Shinji bowed at the foot of the bed and stayed frozen submissively until he heard the older woman's raucous laughter.
"Sorry? Seriously, you think it's all your fault? Really now!" she assured, still laughing.
Shinji shook his head. "No. I was the one who-"
"Now who was standing in the way of the bullet? Me. Was it my fault?"
Shinji didn't understand quite what she was getting at. "N-No...?"
"You bet it wasn't. Who just happened to be standing next to me at the time?"
She smiled, the corners of her lips twisting into a shape that help Shinji relax considerably. "And who was the jerkass fucktard who fired a gun and hit my boobs? Neither of us. So stop hating yourself."
Misato sighed. She was good, but not good enough to cure a guilt complex in a day. "I was a bit worried about you, y'know. Weak young kid like you on the streets alone." Not to mention it would have ruined a considerable part of our plan, she added mentally. "Curse that bastard Kaiji, but he does sure his job well."
"What is his actual job, anyway?" Shinji knew it couldn't just be finding various lost teenagers and riding terrifying vehicles. He seemed interesting, however, and Shinji wanted to know more about the man.
Misato stayed quiet for a little while, and a confused expressesion appeared on her face. "Y'know what?" she said, sounding somewhat awed, "I have no clue what the hell he does. Huh."
"But you're okay?
She nodded. "Yeah. Glad I wasn't half a step forward though, or it would gave gone into my lung." she winked, and then yawned. "Well, I'm gonna take a nap. Go on and do whatever you like."
In less than a minute, she was out like a light. Shiji sighed; he'd hoped he'd be able to ask her more questions. It must be the alcohol, he thought. Shinji descided to stay in her room; after all, he certainly didn't feel comfortable walking aimlessly around an unfamiliar place.
The room was absolutely tiny; the size of half a hotel room or a very large walk-in closet. And yet, somehow, the room was apparently supposed to support three people. Misato slept in a queen bed with red covers, offered privace from the twin bunk bed it was bractically pressed against to by a dark curtain that could be pushed back or pulled out on a rod. Both full bed and bunk sides had one small desk each, but there would obviously have to be some cooperation in the allocation of resources since the bed half had the television, but the bunk had the mini-fridge. The multiple pictures tacked onto the dark beige walls assured Shinji that this was actually Misato's living space and not simply temporary accomodations during her recovery. He was too polite to peek in the spacially effecient freestanding closet, but opened the door directly across from it to find one small space that was at once toilet, shower, and sink. Shinji thought about how Misato was lucky to live alone, or the morning bathroom wait would be terrible. he closed the tiny door and sat to relieve himself, and froze as he heard another door click just a second after his own.
he listened carefully for another noise to prove he wasn't imagining things, but there were no footsteps or calls of "Honey, I'm home!" to prove to him someone else entered the tiny dorm. Shinji went about his business and was about to return to the bedside of the napping Misato when he tripped over the small step up from bathroom to normal floor and fell forward, hitting his head hard against the opposing wall. Shinji stumbled up and tried to wrap his hands around his head, as if trying to hold in his pulsing brain. In a second, the static from the impact clear from his vision, and Shinji discovered that the space he had been facing contained something other than emptiness and cheap heavy curtain.
"Rei Ayanami..." he murmured.
The albino girl stood in front of him in nothing but her underwear, but showed signs of neither embarrassment nor surprise. She blinked as she analyzed the situation, and her eyes flashed like rubies. "Miss Katsuragi said I would be happy to meet you," she whispered. If the rest of the room was not dead quiet, with the occasion heavy slumber breathing from Misato, Shinji would never have been able to hear her soft voice.
Shinji looked up and down her body, studying every detail carefully. His motivations, however, were very different from what a casual observer of the scene would have guessed. Shinji sighed, his analysis complete. "I've been wanting to see you in person for a long time," he began. The more he spoke, the softer he found his voice growing. "Now I see... that you look nothing like my mother."
End Notes: Wow, that took forever to write. I still require a betareader/brainstormer, if anyone's interested. I'm still not completely certain if this will get continued, especially with school starting back, so any type of review or helpful criticism will tell me that there's enough interest to keep writing. Thank you for reading!