Disclaimer: don't own. Refer the first chapter.
Summary: A tale of the closing movements of the Groundhog Apocalypse, and the eternal boy ensnared at its nexus. Four: The portrait of a dreamer…
A/N: …Well, I did say 'sporadic' updates, didn't I? Ironically, the whole 'original material' thing didn't end up mattering all that much, compared to trying to come up with something that didn't just scream filler. Hopefully I've succeeded, at least to some extent.
That, however, was not the primary reason for the delay. In addition to a couple courses and an FF8 writing challenge, the primary reason is in fact due to my practice of looking over the profiles of those who've reviewed/faved/alerted to find more good fanfic.
So, um, yeah. I got derailed. Shut up.
Grateful thanks to KafeiDetour, dylanredefined, animekingmike, ZeroTheDestroyer, longmasher, Fangking2 and korat5 for their kind comments. Especial mentions to KendrixTermina for the thoughtful and consistent reviewing (though there are good reasons not to play around with the 'love dodecahedron' - making fun of it, yes; perhaps referencing previous disasters along those lines, maybe; actually doing it, sadly not realistic), as well as Nexus the 13th (I did think of those points, but the Yui-issue in particular will need the extra care taken with it later so thanks for the headsup) and The Mustachioed Cat (excellent con-crit, now have a more indepth explanation for the old/new Shinji divide slated for a couple chapters off; for the moment I'll say that new-Shinji was at first mostly subconscious, then mostly just watched without comment, then...well, this chapter goes into what happens next a little) for their constructive and pertinent criticism. Thanks also to those of you who have faved/followed. I hope you all enjoy this latest (rather overdue) offering.
Note: one more thanks to give out; I'll leave that one for the ending a/n. Now, onward!
Chapter 4 – Subroutine (High School Debut)
The disorienting, disordered gyro-sequence of images/sensations/feelings/phantasms abruptly dwindles into the abyss from whence they surged. Left clinging to him like a stubborn grease slick in the flood's absence remains a somewhat clearer if far less psychedelic recollection, one that is, at least for the most part, his own…
High-pitched wailing, broken and scattered with heartwrenching sobs and cries of 'jerk!' and 'why?' for the man whose disappearance precipitated the dissonant oscillation of suffering. His host's senses filled insensate with the habitual train-carriage of his abandonment. Soon fed up with the boy's recalcitrance, he shudders into the emotionally hibernating boy's uncaring limbs and steers his body out of the bedroom and out to the dining table and into Misato's desperately clutching grasp.
With Ryoji Kaji's death and the sundering of his leads, Shinji planned to eat the Major's gun tomorrow anyway. With what she subsequently does to him in her uncontrolled scrabbling for comfort, as his senses are overwhelmed in lavender and saline, he wonders idly if she would appreciate knowing that by this time tomorrow, none of it would ever have happened—
Annoyed slate-blue eyes slammed open. Then they slammed shut again, painfully dazzled as a gust of wind fluttered the curtains and sent the new dawn streaming in from his wide-open bedroom window.
…Figures. He rolled away with a groan.
Once upon a time, Shinji Ikari had dreamt of normal things. School. Girls. Battle. Trains. Strangling. All right, relatively normal things. But those were the province of a Shinji Ikari that no longer existed. Lurking in the back of the boy's head, he had sometimes wondered what he would dream about if he were the dreamer. He shouldn't have been surprised, really. What else would he dream about?
Yup. Sleep was definitely optional. He'd rather hoped for one good night's worth of sleep, though. Or at least something useful, like the missing instalment of Friday night's Sachiel smackdown.
But then, as Aoba had said once when he was feeling particularly sardonic: 'If wishes were horses, we'd all be eating horsemeat instead of all this test-tube artificial crap.' It wasn't like a few months short on sleep would kill him. And besides, considering the subject material, parts of it weren't all that bad. Most of the sequence had been…well, non-sequential, largely consisting of uncontrollable spurts of random with only the most flimsy and capricious of subconscious tangents to steer the vortex – in other words, much like most of his experiences of Instrumentality. That end bit, though…
When was that? he wondered muzzily, pre-Sixth or pre-Seventh? You'd think I'd remember when the one and only time I had it off with Misato was, wouldn't you… it wasn't even as if I was drunk! Shinji sighed with exasperation, wryly regarding the tent being pitched under his sheet.
He glared at it. It collapsed as obediently as any formerly recalcitrant manhood should after having so consistently been threatened with home-performed castration. Fucking hormones… At least he hadn't been treated to more than a mercifully-brief revisit of 'that' week. Gods, it was bad enough when Kaji was dead and it was just Misato's memory of it…
In the meantime, now was probably the best time to start on that list of cleaning chores. It would be appreciably quicker if he didn't have to worry about his guardian wondering at the lack of hesitation when it came to working out where everything was meant to go. Besides, just now he'd rather not have to look her in the face…or any other part of her body, for that matter. There was a time and place for tent-pitching, after all, even should he have actually wished to do so.
Sunday did not exactly set the pattern for the days that followed. It served more as an interval, during which everyone else in NERV largely gathered their breath and pretended to know how to deal with the sudden revelation of the Angels' return, and Shinji largely occupied his time with making pretence at doing the same.
Evangelion Unit-01 faced the standard laundry list of repairs and the much-maligned Induction Mode simulation had not been fully programmed to Shinji/Unit-01's data yet anyway, so most of the morning's training was taken up with drilling the new pilot on the contents of the NERV induction booklet he'd been given on Friday. Eva specs, emergence points, armament buildings, spare power sockets, recovery zones and so on, he was informed, would be covered tomorrow. At such an early stage it wasn't particularly wise to throw anything earthshaking into the ring, so he limited himself to a diffident suggestion that major central shelters and medical facilities be included in the checklist of noteworthy locations.
The hapless tech who had been given the job of tutoring the boy froze, and frowned, and then told him that was included in Monday's lesson. Shinji nodded politely and with just the right amount of relief, not betraying in the least his surmise that said tech would probably be scrambling for several hours that night to compile and incorporate the desired list. Not that it stopped him from subtly guilting the poor guy out of a fair amount of additional information when it came to NERV's inner workings. It served to break up the monotony a little.
Lunch was slightly more interesting. Misato was busy, but the 'bridge bunnies' (as they were nicknamed for unknown reasons by the Eva cage-crew) were on their own breaks and feeling moderately helpful and/or curious. More basics for the most part, but at least Lt. Ibuki knew a fair bit about NERV's other branches through her work with Dr. Akagi – thus giving Shinji an excuse to extract more detail along the 'so who are the first two Children anyway?' line of inquiry from his amiable interrogation of the trio.
Probably that portion of the day at NERV was the closest to normal, or at least what would become normal for a while after things had settled a little.
Oh, and the plugsuit-fitting. That was mildly unpleasant, as per usual.
In a further departure from standard operating procedure, Shinji was allowed to leave early while most of the stores were still open. Misato, who had somehow miraculously managed to bounce back from a triple-shift complete with complimentary mini-bender (although her breath and the way her hands trembled seemed to indicate an equally miraculous amount of coffee was the cause of this), obligingly escorted the boy around a few stores as he blew through his modest pre-NERV savings. The indigonette watched curiously and with a certain amount of amusement as she observed his shopping habits – it was strange, seeing the boy move between locales without the slightest uncertainty or procrastination, wasting no time over making his choices and locking onto the next target as if running through a mental checklist. At one point she commented on this.
"Well, this," Shinji pointed to a slightly dusty box adorned with a picture of a dated PDA model roughly the same size and shape as a spectacles-case, picked out apparently at random, "is so I can play these." The finger tapped another box, this one covered with red, gold and black bands and labelled 'Beginner's Guide to Learning German' in kanji.
"German…? Ohh! So you must have heard about Asuka, huh?" Misato stretched her arms over her head as they walked out of the second-to-last store, 'inadvertently' causing a group of teenage boys loitering outside to clutch in panic at their nostrils. "Yeah, the finishing touches on her machine are almost done. They'll probably be shipped out here in a couple of months. Still, though…" she smirked, "she's coming here. So why bother with learning German when she'll have to speak Japanese anyway?"
"It seemed like the polite thing to do, really," he shrugged. Presumably, she thought, he hadn't actually heard all that much about the girl's personality. Or seen a picture of her.
"You don't say? Well, I'm sure Asuka will appreciate that, Shinji." Misato and Shinji each did their level best not to laugh, neither wishing to spoil the surprise for the other. Shinji made a mental note to add a minor detail to his plans while he was at it.
"So you got some music too?" she asked, pointing at a new memory stick, which had been unwrapped and taped to the side of the PDA's box. Misato had seen him at the music store's library console, leaving him to presumably order up some songs for download while she stepped over to a nearby store to drop off some photo negatives she'd taken this morning at Shinji's request.
Shinji shrugged again. "I might as well get some recreational use out of the thing. Besides, my old player is getting kinda beaten up."
"You like music, huh?" That's good, I guess… Misato had taken some time to go more closely over his background file while he was being drilled. The lack of hobbies was something which had immediately bothered her. "What do you like, anyway?"
"Mostly classical stuff. I did download some 'heavy metal' music Lieutenant Aoba recommended at lunch, though; it sounded interesting, I suppose." True, Aoba hadn't mentioned most of the stuff Shinji had picked out. Hell, the bridge tech had forgotten he even had most of these. But Misato didn't need to know that, and there was no reason she would ever find out.
(Hey – even Shinji-who-was was capable of tiring of hearing something after the first ten thousand times. And if nothing else, Western heavy metal was even rarer than Western classical. To Shinji Ikari, this had become rather important.
If one were to add up all the popular radio stations around the Tokyo area and collate their playlists over the applicable timeframe, they would only find something in the region of six hundred songs. Add the alternative stations, and it would rise to nine hundred. (It wasn't something he had wanted to find out, but what could he do?) There was one classical station, which played about as wide a variety of the stuff as one might find in a reasonably sized stack of old Hollywood movies. If not for Aoba, Shinji would never have even heard about heavy metal. So for the sake of not being compelled to hum whatever endlessly rehashed J-pop earworm he happened to catch in passing, Shinji eventually made it his business to get his hands on the rarest music that he could actually find (hence his lack of familiarity with, for instance, central African folk-music) whenever he had the time.
That, and some of that heavy metal was surprisingly fun to render to cello.)
Misato shrugged, leading the way over to the supermarket, their last stop before heading back. It wasn't as if she'd have to hear any of it. And hey, it looked like the kid did have a couple hobbies. Good for him, right?
"The books, I think they'll be useful," Shinji continued. And there was another mystery. Nothing in the way of fictional reads, apart from one volume he'd picked out from the same area of the bookstore as the school textbooks. Instead the boy had made a beeline for three different sections.
"Uh-huh…?" True, she didn't know how useful Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War' was going to be to him – after all, he wasn't exactly a general. But who knew? and what the hell, it was his money. As for the cookbooks, she'd taken one look at the delectably spicy dish on the cover of one of them and approved wholeheartedly. "And the fitness stuff? We do have a gym on base, you know."
So they had told her, anyway. She reminded herself to go and find it ASAP. A figure like hers didn't just magically stay that way, right?
"Well, I'm planning to go look up the Security division for some combat training—"
Misato's musings screeched to a halt. "Huh? You're going to be in an Eva!" She winced and looked around, hoping no-one had heard her accidental breach of operational security. It didn't look like it, but the NERV captain lowered her voice just in case. "Why would you need to know about that stuff? That's what Section Two is for!" And me, she carefully neglected to add. Though she entertained the sneaking suspicion that he saw right through that, the boy's dossier had stressed his issues with trust and confidence. Why ruin it for him if he hadn't twigged already?
The look he gave her indicated that, while he was not mocking her for being slow on the uptake, it might well be taking some effort for him to refrain from doing so. "I am the Eva, the Eva is me – right? Well, I've never been in a fight before, not a real one." Shinji picked up a capsicum from a crate of them and turned it over in his hand, staring at the glossy vegetable and determinedly avoiding her eyes. "I don't want to do it wrong…you know? There's too much riding on this…"
Misato Katsuragi thought about that for a bit. And as if magically summoned, a litany of ways it could all go badly awry began to present themselves for Katsuragi's increasingly worried introspection…along with one way it already had. No-one had mentioned that the 3rd Angel possessed capability for a long-range attack. Would Shinji have been so eager to climb up that slope if he knew the monster he was fighting against could just reach out and engulf him in a crucifix of heavenly fire the moment he silhouetted himself?
And also, the way he'd held the progressive knife had been atrocious. Like something out of a bad crime show. The image of Shinji's Unit-01 blazing off a whole clipfull of car-sized ammo like some action-movie Yakuza thug flared across Misato's horrified inner vision.
…Huh. Maybe he has a point. "Well, okay. I'd train you myself, but I just don't have the time so…I guess the Security division could help you there. But still, the exercise manuals? I woulda figured you'd want something on martial arts…"
"Well, um…" Shinji sheepishly scratched the back of his head. "To be honest, I'm just not that fit."
The teasing began forthwith, as per usual.
He had decided not to let her know about the gymnastics part. True, she was going to tease the holy hell out of him when she found out (or more likely, when his watchers told her). But it was such a small pleasure, so easy to grant her indulgence – especially when he happened to derive a certain amount of entertainment in doing the same thing back to her. So who was he to stand in the way of that?
They finished their shopping, went home and enjoyed a medium-to-hot strength curry on boiled rice à la Shinji. It was delicious. Also as per usual.
"Hmm… You son seems to be taking well to the preliminary training; he appears to have studied the NERV manual sufficiently for the present. No problems reported." Sub-commander Fuyutsuki glanced back down at one report buried within a sheaf of dozens. "Doctor Akagi did mention that he suggested the locations of Tokyo-3's designated shelters and medical facilities be included in the pilot induction process. Apparently the tech who's handling his induction is taking care of this himself."
"Such concern for loss of life is…" Commendable in a soldier, Commander Ikari supposed. But… "…a potential liability under the circumstances. Ensure the situation is monitored, Fuyutsuki."
Again, the vortex sucks away its own detritus, only to spit up another relatively intact snippet of not-past on its way out for the increasingly attentive dreamer's consideration…
A desert of the land and of the heart, standing uncaring witness to yet another mercilessly hot day and the emplacement of yet another grave marker. A childless family from out of town, a childless priest, two childless colleagues, and another childless woman with her flame-haired Child/never-ever-call-her-'child' stand with the boy-child as they listen to the tale of one Lieutenant Shigeru Aoba's somewhat humorous death, as recounted by a faceless-to-most NERV gopher who had been his band's drummer.
Who knows, the drummer might have a child, though Shinji thinks he doesn't. In any case, under the right circumstances the death of his guardian would be funny. If he couldn't be standing at his post and sneering sardonically at his oncoming death, he'd probably have taken being deliciously molested by a hot groupie while being handcuffed to his bed with alacrity as an alternative last-seconds-of-life activity when one of Zeruel's stray attacks levelled his apartment complex. Certainly he thinks it's amusing, even if his host doesn't.
Asuka bitches and moans afterwards while Misato offers the boy shelter, attempting to cheer him with the news that while his SDAT and cello might have been smashed beyond recovery in the devastation, at least the guitar that Shigeru had bought him survived. Losing patience with the little shit's current self-loathing cycle, Shinji smacks the boy upside the brain with a mental image of the usual result of displaying his musical talents around the Second Child without their guardian in the vicinity and takes over matters while he's reeling and trying not to drool.
Watching Asuka try to hide her anticipation as she dashes ahead of him to Misato's car, Shinji decides to let the cycle run a little longer. It's the first time that he's had to move back into the Major's residence at such a late stage of the game, well worth hanging around for a little more data-collection. And if nothing else the man certainly holds one thing in common with Asuka – torturing the little baka just never gets old—
Annoyed eyes slammed open, dazzled eyes slammed shut. Shinji groaned and rolled over. He really had to remember to close that damn window.
Seriously. The smallest fuckups could so easily lead the way for bigger and bigger ones and doom everything if he didn't pay attention!
Alternatively of course, he could just arrange to get a different blind fitted.
His clock read 6:13am, which was at least twenty minutes later than he'd woken up yesterday. Shinji heaved his way out of his bedding and headed for the kitchen, grumbling as he shook off the effects of one trip down Memory Lane and the backwash of three billion soulgasms. Some rice in the cooker, some sardines laid out for PenPen, and off to hit the shower before Misato got up. He spared no glance for the school uniform laid out on the desk; what use mooning over a costume he'd worn most days for most of his life?
Monday didn't precisely fit the pattern either. But it was closer in several aspects.
Hikari Horaki examined the note scribbled in the margins of the boy's schedule fifteen minutes ago by the Deputy-Principal, performing the task with typically meticulous attention to detail. Shinji Ikari stood patiently at the classroom door, far enough to the side to allow other early-arriving students their entrance.
The boy's temporary-issue school ID was still paperclipped to the schedule. The photo from his previous school's card had been poorly scanned onto the designated space, the picture crooked and a little grainy from being copied twice. The face staring up at her was, near as she could tell, a match to that of the boy before her. There was something about the eyes that bugged her, something somehow… duller than the real thing, but it didn't seem to be anything physically different.
Well, it was close enough. It wasn't like it was strictly her business anyway. This Ikari guy had just stood at the door until she got curious at the new face and wandered over to enquire. He'd been the one to hand over the paper. She hadn't even asked.
"Thank you, Ikari. Welcome to the school." Hikari handed the note back to him. "Though, you didn't really have to show me that note to come in."
And he hadn't needed to, either. He could've just walked in and sat down and probably not even the teacher might have noticed. It was a disgrace, it really was, no matter how she tried to deny the fact in public. She swore, sometimes she was the only one in the whole school who took things seriously – including the teachers! (Correction: she didn't swear. If she did, she would. As it was, she limited herself to privately fuming and otherwise making certain students squirm with embarrassment and/or shame as often as she could possible arrange it.)
The brunet transfer student's brow furrowed slightly, cutting off her incipient inner-rant. "Aren't you the Class Representative?"
"How did you—?" Hikari stopped, resisting the urge to smack her forehead. The daybook was sitting right there on her desk.
"It's an important position," Ikari said. "It seemed the polite thing to do, with Mister… Sasaki, I think they told me?" She nodded yes. "With Mister Sasaki not in yet, I figured I should tell somebody before just walking in."
Hikari blinked. Blinked again. Surely this Shinji Ikari was some sort of oxymoron? Since when were fourteen-year-old boys so polite for no reason?
Maybe he was a pervert, just pretending to be nice? She stared hard at him, looking for the tiniest telltale of hidden perversion. No, nothing… His eyes stayed calmly, patiently glued to the general upper region of her face, effortlessly businesslike and impeccably courteous in their demeanour.
Her eye twitched. Weird…
"Um, Class Rep…?" Now he was looking a bit worried, like he was afraid she might have taken insult for whatever reason. She shook herself.
"Fine! I'm fine. That was very nice of you." She hoped that sounded right. Hikari really wasn't used to polite boys her age, and still didn't feel quite convinced that this Ikari wasn't a pervert in some fiendishly clever disguise. Best not to encourage him, just in case.
She wasn't leaning in, was she? Leaning away? Blushing? Fidgeting?
No? Well, good.
Ikari smiled and relaxed a little. "Thanks. Could you point me to a free seat, if it's not too much trouble? I don't want to put anyone out of their normal spot."
That was a relief. Hikari Horaki leapt at the opportunity to stop feeling uncomfortable and became the Class Rep once more, directing Ikari to a seat at the back and checking to see if he had his laptop and textbooks and everything else the school was meant to issue him.
Class 2-A's newest student watched Hikari bustle away back to her seat to update the daybook, conscientiously stamping out any visible nostalgia at the familiar sight and making sure not to look in any way amused while he was at it. He well knew Hikari's habit of hiding her personal feelings behind a well-crafted mask of allegiance to totalitarian authority. It seemed he'd made an impression on her, even if she hadn't realised this.
Not that she would ever have to realise it, fortunately. Despite the heavily decreased damage to the city this time around, many families would still flee the metropolis that had just been attacked by the Godzilla ripoff – but most of them hadn't found the time yet to arrange it. So in the current dearth of free seats, she had actually moved him to the back, one seat to the right of one Toji Suzuhara. That was going to make befriending the athletic boy far quicker; from then on, Hikari would classify him as an acquaintance and eventual friend – or more accurately, a potential source of intel on the object of her longstanding crush. And in a few months, Toji should be nicely primed for the Class Rep to launch her campaign on his heart. Most likely via his stomach.
This he knew. He knew it because he knew them. Like he had known them for most of his life. (Because he had.) In fact, that held true to some measure for just about every girl and boy in Class 2-A. Along with nearly half of the year group. Not to mention upwards of a dozen from other year groups.
(How would events have changed if he had lived with other people…? That was just one of the torrent of questions Shinji Ikari had tried to answer over the endlessly revolving grindwheels of his time in Tokyo-3. How his choice of friends might affect the flow of events was but another logical avenue of experimentation.
Several years went drifting by in consecutive five-month segments as the 8th Year middle-school student systematically winnowed his way through the entire class, befriending the great majority of them at some point and memorising their every facet and quirk. Several more years subsequently went drifting by as he then systematically set about seducing every last girl in the class, with results ranging from a few dates to a great deal of high-pitched moaning…quite often on his own part, given Asuka's territorial bent and predilections towards domestic violence.
Yup. Such were the vagaries of sharing tenancy inside the head of a 14-year-old boy – especially one who had a penchant for pinching your perfectly utilitarian ideas and turning them to his own sneaky, selfish advantage when you were busy paying attention elsewhere. Fucking hormones… Though if nothing else, the boy's occasional attempts at harem-creation had provided a couple of his more amusing suicides-by-proxy.)
Befriending those around him was only for the most part unnecessary. There were exceptions – especially when it came to fulfilling one of his two primary directives.
Toji, Kensuke and Hikari had played an important role over the long years in keeping him…well, not sane exactly. At least something close enough to pass casual scrutiny. Usually. And such constant (and often fruitless) effort deserved whatever reward he could devise for them as it all came to a close.
In the meantime, however, he had an image to set. Shinji Ikari was not such a fool nowadays as to imagine his every action within these educational cage-bars wasn't under some sort of scrutiny.
First, the PDA/music player. It would be expected by NERV Security, initially at least, that he spend as much of his time as possible shielding himself behind a wall of music when confronted by a roomful of new faces his own age. One life-changing experience could only account for so much, at least immediately.
Next, the laptop. If he were looking to stick strictly to Section 2's profile, he'd be just sitting there in a miserable 'please-don't-see-me' slump instead of working. But that wouldn't fit the new persona Shinji was so carefully attempting to craft – and in any case, this Shinji Ikari was in no form an angsty teenager in anything but body; better to generate the appearance of a sea-change to something more believable than attempting to adhere overmuch to the outward habits of a boy whose deathknell was confirmed on a city street east of Tokyo-3.
Setting the computer up and connecting to the school's student network, he began flicking through the lesson plans and assumed knowledge. Secondhand textbooks were pulled out of his backpack, speed-read to the stated catch-up points and dog-eared for later reference. This did not take very long, for perfectly justifiable reasons: the syllabus was identical in most aspects to the one his old school up north had followed, and the only school that Shinji had missed was the Friday he'd spent making his way to Tokyo-3 and the Saturday morning he'd spent in a hospital. He took a few more minutes scrutinising the main lesson plan in more detail, mentally flitting back to what he'd gone over nearly six months ago, and forward through the rest of Year 2015's educational itinerary. Keeping his test scores up despite so many anticipated days of absence didn't just happen, after all – and it especially didn't just happen when the student in question sat around and didn't appear to do anything to make it so.
Appearances occasionally to the contrary, his invisible watchers weren't particularly stupid.
A migration of grousing students to their individual desks in his peripheral vision alerted Shinji to Mr. Sasaki's arrival. He tucked away the earbuds and followed the rest of his new-old compatriots through the Class Rep's greeting.
Before the class could begin, however, Hikari cleared her throat. "Sensei, we have a new student today."
Sasaki peered shortsightedly at her, blinking with puzzlement. An influx of students was not the logical outcome of a giant monster attacking the city, surely?
Shinji stood and passed the teacher his documentation and stepped over to the front blackboard, writing his name and marshalling the introduction most suited to his purposes. He had, after all, had decades of practice and hundreds of goes at it. (He'd also had dozens of goes at skipping it, Mr. Sasaki being the absentminded old coot he was.)
"My name is Shinji Ikari," he began with a judicious amount of nervousness for the benefit of both his audiences. "You're probably curious about why I'm moving to the city that just got attacked, but my father needed an extra hand in the family business and," he shrugged self-consciously, "well. Here I am, I guess."
A few nods, a few more cleared brows, one or two more furrowed suddenly. Not much interest shown. About on par so far.
"He's always busy, so I'm living with one of my father's subordinates; she's nice, but…a bit of a slob to be honest. She also has a hot springs penguin for a… actually, I don't know if 'pet' is the right word. I'm not sure, but I think he might be sentient."
He paused for long enough to produce a portrait-sized photo borrowed from his new guardian and hold it up for the class's inspection. Its major feature was PenPen, standing straight and proud on the kitchen tabletop, clawed right flipper bent in caricature of a salute and sucking on a straw dipped into a tin of Yebisu tucked under his left flipper. There were a few feminine refrains of 'awww…', before the beer was noticed and quizzical looks sprung to life everywhere.
"…And also an alcoholic," he continued innocently.
It was a good thing he hadn't brought the other picture. Misato was in that one, leaning over PenPen in a reprisal of the pose she'd taken for the first picture she'd sent him. Now that would not help the image he wished to present, no matter what popularity it might garner him in the short term. Suddenly-Polite-and-Studious Shinji would pass muster with a hell of a lot less fuss from official quarters than Suddenly-a-Massive-Player Shinji, after all…at least, once his father had been dealt with.
"Anyway… I like music, I'm a pretty good cook, and…" Shinji stopped. "…Um, that's probably enough. It's a pleasure to meet you all." And off he walked back to his seat, dipping Toji the Thankfully-Present-Today Stomach an amiable nod as he sat down. One earbud replaced, Class 2-A's newest student went back to his textbooks. Time to start studying ahead.
He was interrupted twice, that first lesson. The first PM came ten minutes in:
HorakiH: [Pay attention!]
Shinji mercilessly repressed the urge to send her Mr. Sasaki's entire lecture, verbatim, instead firing off the teacher's last two sentences and the one he added while Shinji was typing the message. There was no reply. The second interruption came a few minutes later – and the source almost had him grinning with satisfaction.
SuzuharaT: [Hey, new kid. What you listening to?]
IkariS: [European metal. Why?]
A brief delay. Then two messages, arriving within seconds of the other.
SuzuharaT: [No reason. That sounds cool, I guess.]
And, from one online observer suddenly bubbling with curiosity – and given licence to indulge that curiosity by their classmate's successful conversational foray:
[Wait a minute! THAT Ikari? The Bastard King, Ikari?]
This time he did smile, just a little. Any real animosity towards the NERV Commander had been left by the wayside due to his simple, self-wrought inability to hate the man anymore. That didn't mean Shinji did not derive some amusement from the affectionate nickname given his father by many of his subordinates…at least, when he was far, FAR out of earshot – given Gendo Ikari's tendency to show his appreciation in so many vicious little ways to those who were stupid enough to let him hear it.
IkariS: [I don't know. Would that not be classified information, anonymous person?]
AidaK: [Oh, come on!]
Things had not yet settled in at NERV, to Shinji's lack of surprise. But the pattern of school followed by NERV nonetheless spoke comfortingly to the behavioural patterns that remained engraved bone-deep in his psyche.
The Eva-cramming sessions continued apace. This time it was the city's layout, with the same technician – the rather tired-looking technician, the Third Child noted. As promised, the shelter locations were included. More on the Eva's specs as well, particularly the types of armour on hand and in development. Again, the rookie pilot forewent offering any radical advice. He did, however, have one suggestion.
The baggy-eyed tech barely restrained himself from rolling his eyes. At least this one wouldn't require him to pull an all-nighter, being most likely above his pay grade. No, this time it would be Dr. Akagi who was left with any potential headaches. So Shinji was told that it should be ready tomorrow, barring unforeseen setbacks with disclosure – and if he could pass the tech's test.
Misato eventually got off her shift, and drove him home. Dinner was another stirfry, given the lateness of their return.
"Hmm, this is interesting." Fuyutsuki drummed his fingers on the edges of the report. "It seems your son is adapting to the training regimen exceptionally well. He appears to have successfully memorised 87 percent of the layout specs, along with 93 percent of the Unit One specs." He nodded his approval. "Shinji seems to be devoting himself to the task admirably and with some promise."
Commander Ikari absorbed this. "The school?"
Fuyutsuki consulted another report, scanning for relevant details. He frowned, puzzled. "Section Two has some concern over his behaviour. His focus on schoolwork has increased substantially from what previous reports have stated. He reportedly claimed to two students that, quote, his 'part-time job' could take up a lot of his time, so he wanted to get as much schoolwork as possible done within school hours."
Ikari quirked an eyebrow. "'Part-time job'?"
Fuyutsuki nodded. "Shinji has disclosed to the aforementioned students that he works for NERV, but nothing more detailed as yet. Electronic surveillance records indicate that one of the students, a Kensuke Aida, connected his surname to yours, sir."
"The Third Child seems to have some appreciation for security."
"Yes sir. However, Section Two's behavioural analyst seems…concerned. She contests that while several key patterns do not appear to have changed, the few changes that have occurred add up to reflect a radical shift in outlook."
Ikari leaned forward, steepling his hands. "Elaborate."
"He remains polite and somewhat aloof, and is reported to have spent much of his time listening to music as per Section Two's profile. However, Shinji appears to have engaged in some careful preparations before attending. His introduction was likely rehearsed, and he produced a picture of Captain Katsuragi's pet during its course. He spent much of his lessons not only listening to music, but working through to advanced sections of his school texts. And he spent the lunch period with Student Aida and…one Student Suzuhara, following an electronic conversation that he engaged in during the first lesson – while studying ahead and listening to his teacher's presentation at the same time."
Ikari was frowning. "Hm… so he's beginning to pay attention to what's going on around him. We will have to tighten information security around the Third Child, lest he become too tempting a target for interested parties." This last statement he made without the slightest flicker of humour to betray his amusement at the blatant euphemism.
That the shock of being thrown into the war against humanity's enemies appeared to have pushed the boy to finally begin learning to stand on his own was of no concern, the Commander decided, except insofar as it would likely improve his odds against the Angels. Provided the boy remained ignorant of larger matters until otherwise required, Ikari could easily adjust the scenario for whatever miniscule fluctuations his behaviour might generate. As for mundane psychological or security concerns, his subordinates were perfectly capable of running the necessary precautionary measures.
"On that subject," Fuyutsuki went on, switching back to the first report, "Dr. Akagi notes that Shinji has requested that he review the footage of his combat with the Third Angel in order to maximise Unit One's effectiveness in the field. Akagi recommends that it be allowed, on the basis of the amnesia he suffered during the fight."
The Commander remained silent for a long moment. "Authorise Akagi to allot one hour tomorrow. She will supervise the Third Child's access."
Once more, the night's detritus of Instrumentality is vacuumed away, leaving what might pass for the dreamer's own nightmare to smash into his drifting not-quite-consciousness…
A paradoxically empty schoolyard, ringing with the vengeful bellows of one boy as he pounds another boy into the dirt with fists and feet. His host doesn't resist, and he feels no need to intervene either for the moment. It's not as if the other boy has no reason for his murderous episode; Mari Suzuhara was/is a nice girl and Toji can't be blamed for lashing out at the boy who inadvertently killed her through his incompetence.
The host has already fled to the big ol' train station in the panic room of his mind when Toji's frenzied stomping on his head is brought to an abrupt halt by a bullet doing a blown-egg impression on his ear from stage left. Even Section 2's non-interference orders have their limits, Shinji decides as he lurches to his feet and zeroes in on the uniform with his one working eye. Said uniform tells him to report to Medical, probably unwilling to spill the fact that another Angel is on its way with a witness at the scene.
He slurs something approximating to a 'yessir' through his ruined jaw and staggers away, ignoring Kensuke and his stained pants. It'll be interesting to see how long he survives this time around – and besides, the little coward's going to be positively squirming over this one when he gets off the train—
Annoyed eyes began to slam open, only to scrunch hurriedly back shut. Shinji rolled away from the window, opened his eyes and smirked as the curtain flared behind him.
This, he felt, was a promising development. At this rate, he might actually need the alarm clock for its intended function.
It occurred to Shinji, as he wrestled his way out of the bedding, that these nightmares (Hikari and the Stooges, a couple other students, jaggedly stitched into the usual) might be… Well. Not a blessing in disguise. Perhaps they qualified as a silver lining, though. If nothing else, it seemed to help with keeping his priorities fresh. Probably a good habit to keep up…provided, at least, that people stayed out of his way for a few minutes whenever he awoke – and provided also that he took the time at some point to work out why it kept happening.
That, and there was the old adage about having to get up earlier in the morning than those one wished to outmanoeuvre. (Or refrain from strangling, in the case of Asuka.) Which reminded him – it was probably about time he did something about said outmanoeuvring.
Fortunately, NERV Security probably hadn't yet found the time (or, hopefully, the reason) to plant surveillance in his room. It would be a matter of time, of course. But for the moment, it should be fine. Shinji spent a few minutes scribbling out a short note. Then he wedged it into one of his thicker textbooks and made breakfast. Next weekend would probably be soon enough to do something not-quite-illegal with the PDA, matters standing as they were.
Tuesday, as far as school at least, ran more-or-less to schedule. Shinji turned up early, refreshed himself on the subject before the lessons started, then spent most of said lessons splitting his time between reading ahead, listening to music and doing his best to fend away Kensuke's rabid fanboyisms and repeated begging for employment while Toji snickered at the pair of them and Hikari intermittently turned in her seat to glare at Toji.
The pattern continued over lunch, with some minor differences. Homework instead of reading ahead. Toji grousing aloud now that class was out about his little sister, and how she'd got chewed out by their dad for sneaking out of the shelter to watch what all the fuss was about on Friday night. Kensuke moaning over how jealous he was of the aforementioned sister, and why oh why couldn't he have thought of that?
Shinji discreetly rolled his eyes and tried to remember why he'd ever thought these idiots were worth saving. Then he discreetly backed up and stomped that thought to dust, directing a silent apology and thanks to his quickly mollified inner child. Cynicism was all very well and good, but there were some places he could not afford to let his mind wander when the stakes were so high.
He noticed Hikari sneaking the odd glance at the trio from across the cafeteria. But it was better for the moment not to say anything about that. There would be more suitable opportunities for teasing and matchmakery later, and likely a serving or several of pain and embarrassment to dish out to the other Stooges in the meantime – if he was going to go to the effort of giving these fools a decent life, it would be best to leave them feeling like they'd earned it…
"So…I guess that red globe was important somehow."
Ritsuko Akagi's emerald gaze slid sideways to consider the Commander's estranged son. It was not particularly friendly. His own eyes, almost black in the dim light of the conference room, studied the viewing screen without appearing to notice. "That would be the Angel's core. Data is scarce given the circumstances, but the MAGI's consensus is that this 'core' is the seat of the Angels' consciousness."
The Third Child nodded, "So given the opportunity, strike at the core. Although," he frowned, "do you suppose they're all going to self-destruct that way? If that's the case, then keeping the damage to surrounding areas down is going to be…tricky."
It was actually kind of ironic, she thought. Under different circumstances, Ritsuko imagined she might have taken a shine to the kid. He was studious, attentive, willing to devote himself to the cause to a degree which stirred some begrudging approval in the doctor…
She repressed a sigh. He really was too much like his father. The boy wore a mask. It was a well-crafted mask, exceptionally so for a 14-year-old, but it was still a mask. She was certain of it. And if what lay under it was anything like the glimpses of what she had seen beneath Commander Ikari's, then his son was going to be dangerous.
How Misato could be so unconcerned was a source of rising irritation to Ritsuko. Could she so easily have been bought with a few meals and the promise of a live-in maid? Or was something else going on here? Although, she mused, her old friend might have a point when she said Shinji sometimes acted a lot more mature than he looked…
Ritsuko shook herself. Perhaps she was reading too much into matters. No doubt the way the Commander's orders had summarily dragged her away from her workload to personally brief his brat in something that anyone who had been on the bridge during the attack could have babysat him through was in part responsible for her currently acerbic disposition.
"That is possible. However, your job is first and foremost to kill the Angels. If you can take them out without additional damage to surrounding areas, then do so. But if that proves impossible, then remember that the Angel must die nevertheless. That must be your first priority. The world depends on it."
The Third Child turned to regard her. She noted with interest the way that his mien, just for the briefest moment, shivered into an expression of profound contempt before slipping back into its amiable cast as he nodded in affirmation.
As if the mask had never slipped, the boy turned back to the tableau. "Are the First and Second Children reviewing this footage too, Doctor Akagi?"
She tried not to wince. Yes – just like the Commander. Give him an inch, and he takes a mile… "The First Child is not currently in a position to review the combat footage." That was truth; NERV Medical was not exactly the most secure of places to allow that sort of thing in any case. "And we'd rather have a more complete picture of events before briefing the Second Child on what to expect." And that was also truth. Technically, at least. According to her old college acquaintance Ryoji Kaji, the unspoken consensus over in Berlin was that the Soryu girl was perilously overconfident and could stand to be taken down a peg or three; the best and most complete 'picture of events' would be delivered by dropping her right into the middle of things and letting her try to keep her illusions about being able to do everything by herself.
Shinji 'hmm'ed thoughtfully, absently registering the quality of the scientist's prevarication. Ritsuko really was very intelligent, accustomed to dealing with UN committees and politicians, and likely just as skilled in the sort of generalised not-quite-outright falsehoods that she'd just shovelled him.
In other words, she made an excellent catspaw for greater powers. All one had to do was feed her the right lines, with the right messages encoded in the right logic and buried just deeply enough under them, and Dr. Ritsuko Akagi would do exactly what was required. She was the henchman, the known quantity. There were those who appreciated that for what it was worth.
Unlike the good doctor, Shinji Ikari had no doubts about the danger that Dr. Akagi posed. There were so many ways, so very many ways that everything could go wrong – that everything had gone wrong in countless previous iterations. And quite often, Project E's chief scientist was at the centre of it.
(It wasn't until after the second Third Impact that Shinji had begun to truly comprehend the magnitude and scope of the organisations arrayed against his efforts. He soon cast aside the shame of taking so long to find out about SEELE (though admittedly the resulting paranoia proved harder to deal with to say the least). Naïve in some aspects those cynical old bastards might be. But Shinji Ikari had gradually come to appreciate that in their areas of specialty, they were virtually without equal. Notably, in information and its control – not to mention their skill at manipulating that control to steer everyone around them to their desired outcome. And Chairman Lorenz Kiel, their ringleader in both the hierarchical and the spiritual sense, was even more dangerous.
The last thing Shinji needed was two sets of opponents who could think on their feet. And time and again, it showed as one or the other effortlessly mired the increasingly knowledgeable yet perennially powerless Third Child in their internecine battles, quite often stymieing his efforts without even seeming to be aware of them. His material leads had been plumbed to their depths to little effect by the time his fifth sojourn within Instrumentality had passed. The solution by then seemed obvious: utilise their methods by gathering more information about everyone and everything around him than SEELE could access.
As absorbing as it was at times, it counted for very, very little. It wasn't until the thirteenth Third Impact and the revelation of his increasing mastery over his participation within the lunar oversoul that he could begin gathering information on the dozen dark apostles in earnest…)
To attempt to influence Dr. Akagi from his position, on the other hand, was a tension-fraught highwire act. The compartmentalisation-prone scientist at times wielded her identification of him as a child and therefore less worthy of credibility almost as a weapon. The deep, destructive array of secrets she carried – especially regarding the enigma that was Rei Ayanami – did not help matters. And neither did her oft-demonstrated susceptibility to 'Not-From-Here' syndrome when confronted with ideas that weren't her own.
Nor did her willingness to use her looks – and later on, her body itself – to serve her purposes. Even Shinji wasn't completely immune to that, at least he hadn't been the last time he checked. (Fucking hormones…!)
Perhaps now it might be different. The old Shinji had no Purpose, no Plan. And no allies worth mentioning, either. With those things, it might well prove possible to truly subvert her for once. He hoped it possible, though he would only go so far to see it happen before his other plans left him no option but to allow the requisite length of rope to leave her dancing the hemp fandango. But the timing for that, like many such plans, was contingent on the current gambit's success.
In the meantime, however, he had some more groundwork to lay. "Um, Doctor Akagi? Why didn't the Angel use that beam attack when the UN were fighting it?"
"Ah, good question Shinji," Ritsuko praised him. "We believe the Angels are capable of quickly evolving between combats. The Angels appear to learn quickly, and change their abilities to take advantage of their enemies' weaknesses. If at all possible, you should attempt to take them down as quickly as possible, in order to cut down their chance to adapt."
"Hard and fast," Shinji agreed. When the time comes… "Got it, Doctor Akagi."
Fuyutsuki strode into Ikari's office and approached the desk, quickly flicking over the relevant reports' summaries. This time, he decided, the Commander's son would be the first topic.
It might not take more than a few moments, buried amidst the papered labyrinth of chaos in triplicate which came with their positions, but Shinji's arrival and his new position had already necessitated the change to updating Ikari on his status nightly instead of monthly. Anything which encouraged his old pupil to think of the Third Child as his son, or even as anything beyond a resource, was surely to the good.
Doomed they might well all be, between Gendo and SEELE and perhaps even Yui, no matter how little he wished to believe the intentions of that last worthy. But what was the harm in at least giving the boy a few decent memories of his father to take with him?
"Your son appeared to appreciate having access to the combat footage, it seems," Fuyutsuki noted. "Akagi reports his comprehension of the issues involved in engaging the Angels has been significantly advanced."
Commander Ikari did not respond immediately, his gaze welded to a report lying on his desk before him. As Fuyutsuki drew breath to proceed with the next item, Ikari looked up. The Sub-Commander barely restrained himself from flinching.
Gendo Ikari held out the report, the NERV Administration header prominently emblazoned across the top of the first page. "This arrived with Admin's evening document drop. Read it."
Muzzy eyes drifted slowly open. Then they darted in all directions with deepening bemusement. Even with the windows closed, even in the windowless room he'd spent so much time in once Asuka arrived, it was surely never this dark…?
Other perceptory sections of his brain reported in with their preliminary briefs. The many small aches and dulled nerves that came with sleeping on a bare, metal-cold floor. The noise of humming machinery in the background. The…lingering smell of chloroform clinging to his breathing passages…
Slate-blue orbs, adjusting hurriedly to the darkness, were drawn to the only source of light in the room. A large glowing blob of dim bloodred smeared on the wall, which Shinji's eyes rapidly filled in with the requisite details as they blinked away the chemical-induced fog. The half-leaf. The band of text curling away from its base. The four letters at its centre.
This…was somewhat unexpected.
It had been so long since something unexpected. Shinji had to tamp down the twin reflexive bursts of excitement and panic at the new development. Because now was most definitely not the time for the unexpected.
Either way: Stage Two had well and truly commenced.
Ending A/N: Another long one down. I really must try not to make a habit of this… The next chapter, however, should be much shorter and be out correspondingly sooner.
Small note: a fair few of you may have noticed some aspects which might've seemed familiar? Well, if they reminded you of Matt020388's 'Evangelion: Revisited', you'd be quite right - a fair few of his repeating-Shinji's initial actions not only make a lot of sense (eg. bringing a picture of Pen-Pen to class for his introduction) but are virtually unavoidable (eg. a contract), even if the work itself is more-or-less a parody. (Needless to say, I see no point in doing anything with the unrealistic aspects, which are many.) I should state that: (1) his story is quite amusing if you're into that sort of thing; and (2) I give much thanks for the inspiration I gained from his fic (which, btw, he's given open permission to source from). Don't worry, though - I'm mostly done with using his ideas.
In the meantime I thank you for reading, particularly if you're one of those who've been waiting for months for this latest instalment. Your opinions and suggestions for improvement would, as always, be highly appreciated.