In Death's Shadow
Chapter 6: Swallow Me Whole
Ah, my child you return. Fret not, all must eventually return. Be not afraid, for you will not be alone. Have peace, and rejoice, for it is through your death that I strengthen – and soon shall return. Still, a shame, for you were in such a powerful position to aid me.
This is not your time.
Go now and resume your work. Stay with the boy. Guide him. The power gnaws at his heart and he longs to exercise it, though fear holds him back. Show him anger. For humans, anger is a powerful emotion. Haunt him. Be his shadow.
He will be my Reaper, the herald of the Ending, and through him I shall resume my usurped dominion.
Ryuk, my child.
Although he expected differently, Shinji slept through the night. He dreamed of Asuka, of course, but nothing specific stuck in his head. They were good dreams, he supposed, and thought a strange knot in his stomach greeted him. Is this love? He had always thought love would feel…different. Better. Not this. But then, maybe it wasn't love after all.
He could have lay there for hours contemplating his stomach knot, but it began to rumble, so he picked himself up and made his way into the kitchen. Cooking always seemed to cheer him up, or at least gave him something to take his mind off whatever was troubling him. His hands moved automatically, picking the correct ingredients and measurements without any conscious effort, allowing his mind to drift away…back to the previous night.
The kiss. If he concentrated, he could still taste her lips, could feel her hands against his skin, hear her heartbeat against his chest. Nothing he had ever experienced in his life had produced such an effect in him, nothing. He didn't notice his hands shaking until he spilled some of the ingredients on the counter.
"You're up early."
Not Asuka, as he had hoped. "I could say the same about you, Misato." Even he noticed his tone was softened.
"And a good mood, too. Must be my lucky day." He didn't turn around, but he heard her sit at the table. She started to talk a few times before finally getting her words right. "Look, Shinji, can we talk?"
"About why you hate me so much."
"I don't hate you," he lied, still not looking away from the food. It was mostly finished but he still couldn't bring himself to turn around. She hurt me. She doesn't understand me. She can never understand me.
"Shinji…please. I – " Shinji turned when she cut off, to find Asuka standing just beyond the threshold of the room, uncertainly glancing between the two of them. "Morning, Asuka," Mistao sighed, and left. Asuka sat almost in time with the front door shutting.
"What was that about?"
"Nothing," he lied. Two lies today.
Silence. Enough for him to finish breakfast. "We…should talk."
"You know what about," she replied quickly, a hint of irritation in her voice. He knew that tone, or rather, where it would lead so he backed off.
"Last night." A plate in each hand, he crossed to the table, setting one for her and himself. They sat opposite, each picking awkwardly at their food. Pen-pen peeked his head in, decided he wanted to stay out of it, and ducked into his room.
"Last night," Asuka agreed.
But they both managed to get halfway through their food before even attempting to talk again. No surprise, it was she who spoke. "Don't get any funny ideas about last night."
"You know what I mean, you pervert. We're not, like, dating or anything now that we kissed. Adults do things like that all the time and it doesn't mean anything. So just forget about it, ok?" She stood abruptly, awkwardly, dumped the uneaten half of her food into the trash, and placed her dish in the sink.
He watched her go. "Asuka!" He wanted to call her back, to tell her that it hadn't been nothing – that it really meant something to him. He wanted to tell her how he could still feel and taster her on his lips, that he hadn't stopped thinking about it since they broke apart all those hours ago.
But why couldn't he? He froze halfway through getting up, one leg over the side of his chair. She turned, wearing a look of surprised expectation.
And he said nothing. Words formed and turned to foam in his throat, blocking his airway and rushing up into his brain, forming a layer of hardened sealant between the wrinkled gray matter and the interior of the skull. All rational thought ceased. All nerve impulses died before jumping the synapse.
It must have only been a few seconds, but an eternity passed between his heart and his brain. Slowly, oh so painfully slow, her face changed – eyes relented, the corners of her mouth turned downward, he body sagged. She resumed her walk and disappeared from view.
"I'm leaving," she called. "Meeting Hikari before school." He was still in the same position when she cast one final, forlorn look back at him. Only the sound of the door slamming roused him from his stupor.
She was gone.
Furious with himself, he pushed away from the table, reeling his chair back and falling. He lay there, staring at the ceiling. "I'm so stupid. Why couldn't I talk to her? Why can't I ever say what I really feel?"
He couldn't go to school after that. No, Shinji knew he would be unable to face her after that clumsy mess. Misato would give him an earful later, but he didn't care. He barely listened to her anymore.
How long did he lay there in the upturned chair? An hour? Two? His cell phone rang a few times, presumably Toji or Kensuke checking up on him, but he couldn't be sure. He didn't check.
Eventually, his legs started to hurt, so he rolled off and stood and absently began cleaning up. Suddenly, an idea gripped him. If he couldn't speak what he felt, maybe he could…
And then the world seemed a brighter place for a brief moment.
At lunch, Misato brooded. Every time she blinked, the White Giant was there, all seven eyes staring right down at her, watching. Judging. Mocking. Why would Nerv keep something that dangerous here? Why would they house…and Angel? And the First Angel, no less? Images, memories, fragments, surfaced unbidden.
The Giant of Light.
The read ocean.
Her cross necklace.
"Maybe Ritsuko was right. Maybe I am too driven by vengeance." Her salad remained untouched. With a sigh, she trashed it, all appetite lost. She was tired of being kept in the dark. She hated the dark. Misato Katsuragi wanted answers, damn it!
As confusing as it was to think, Kaji was on her side, seeking the same goal if not an ally. But who else? He was already being watched by Section 2, so buddying up to him would arouse suspicion, although she suspected that she had been bumped up a couple places the instant her previous relationship with the inspector had been discovered.
Her phone buzzed, alerting her to a message, as it had every five minutes since she awoke. Still ignoring it, she flipped it open and dialed.
"Hyuga. It's Katsuragi. I need to know something."
"What is it, Major?"
"Can I trust you?"
Hyuga was silent for a long moment. When he spoke again, his voice was lowered significantly. "Have you read my message yet?"
"Do that and call me back. Make sure you're alone when you do." He hung up before she could say anything more. The trek to the underground park seemed to take forever, despite her fast gait. As Hyuga had said, she made absolute sure that no one was around before opening the text message.
DO NOT OPEN UNTIL YOU ARE ALONE
Ten minutes later, she was calling Hyuga.
"I need to see you. Tonight. You know the place."
From her seat, Rei watched the classroom door, counting and naming every student that passed through. She took special note of Toji Suzuhara. When Asuka appeared over the threshold without Shinji, she tensed. It was not like him to be late. She decided to investigate.
"What do you want, Wondergirl?" she growled.
"Where is Ikari this morning? It is not like him to be late."
"How the hell should I know? I'm not his keeper or his mother." She seemed more irate that usual this morning. "Like I even care where that idiot is."
"You might not be his mother," Suzuhara quipped. "But you sure act like his wife." He and Aida both laughed while Asuka turned beet red.
"As if I'd even think about marrying that jerk!"
That was about as much of a dismissal as Rei was likely to get from Asuka, so she returned to her seat, unsettled. Shinji was absent, unusual. Asuka claimed to know nothing, a lie. She would go to his apartment after school, she decided, and see what was wrong with Ikari. He would do the same for her, she knew, and so it must be right for her to so the same for him.
The thought made her smile.
"Whatcha doin'?" Ryuk appeared over Shinji's shoulder.
"Writing." He didn't even look up.
"Aren't you going to ask where I've been?"
"No." He was so used to Ryuk's coming and going that, frankly, he just didn't care anymore.
"You're no fun."
"So I've been told."
Ryuk huffed, retracted his wings, and hovered around the room. "Did you use the Death Note yet?"
"Nope. I told you: I'm never going to."
"That's what they all say." It was true. Quite a number of human Death Note bearers had professed to never using the note, but as time wore on, the allure of the book was too much. Eventually, all were seduced. Still, Shinji had lasted this long. Maybe this kid really was that good.
Or that craven.
"What are you writing?"
"None of your business." That might have been the curtest Shinji had ever been to anyone…ever. He would have pressed him (after all, what did he care if Shinji got angry with him?) but someone knocked at the door. So he followed him.
It was the blue-haired girl. Ayanami. The Mouth of Lilith.
"Oh, uh, hello, Rei."
"Greetings, Ikari. You were not at school today. Are you feeling well?"
"Rei…did you come to check on me?"
She nodded, presenting a manila folder of papers. "And bring you missed school work. There isn't much to do, but I suggest turning it in as soon as you are able."
"Thanks," he laughed. "Do you want to come in?"
"I would like that."
From their vantage point, Misato Katsuragi and Makoto Hyuga watched Tokyo-3 come to life that night. As the sun set behind the city, lights flickered into being, tracing the jagged outline of the city in the waning twilight, and the retreating red-orange glow gave way to darkness speckled with white stars. She had loved this spot since her first day in the city – only a day before meeting Shinji, she reflected.
"He's on our side, Hygua," she assured him. "He's the one who opened Terminal Dogma for me."
Makoto shook his head. "But he's with the United Nations. What if he's just gathering intel so that they can move in at a later date?"
"He wouldn't do that." She wished she felt as confident as she sounded. "Kaji has a lot of contacts. I don't believe that the UN is the only group he works for; I'm not that naïve. Humanity needs Nerv right now. After the Angels are all gone…"
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there."
"I thought you wanted me to help discover what truths Nerv has buried." He turned away from the cityscape and studied the mountain on the other side of the road.
"I do, Hyuga, believe me. It's just hard to let go of my…my vengeance." She absently clutched at her cross necklace. "The Angels took my father away, in more ways than one, and they completely destroyed the world. So how can I not hate them? But…Nerv is keeping it – the Angel – the one that started of this. Why? Why would they do that? I can't help but feel it's connected to the Evas somehow."
"That's a bit of a leap."
"Is it?" She chuckled. "Well, maybe it is. But after seeing what I saw, I don't know what to believe anymore. I thought Nerv was going to be our salvation…no, that's not true. I wanted it to be my revenge. Ritsuko was right: I'm so selfish."
Defiantly, she stood up straight. "But I won't allow myself to wallow right now. The veil has been lifted. I can't go back to thinking what I did before. Nerv has way too many secrets – too many questions – and no answers." She turned to him. "Are you with me Hyuga?"
He smiled and straightened. "To the end, Major."
"Thank you." She checked her watch. "I have to go. Shinji's making dinner and I haven't been home that much recently. I want you to keep an eye of Lieutenant Ibuki."
"Maya? What for?"
"You said she cast the deciding vote and that she changed her mind about it. She seems too nice, too innocent to be playing any sort of game…but that's what makes her so suspicious. Be discreet. You know."
From the driver's seat, she waved and sped off down the winding road. Hyuga waited a few minutes before leaving in his own car, the other direction.
True to her word, Asuka avoided any and all matters regarding the previous night. She made a point of avoiding him, even going so far as too eat alone in her room, leaving him and Misato to eat together in silence. The next morning, however, Asuka was back to usual, abrasive self, and he was content to let the matter sit for the time. Things went about as usual for three more days of school, synch tests, and furiously writing ever single night.
Ryuk talked with him sometimes. He told stories of life in the Shinigami realm, of the difference between apples there and here. He even recalled a few particularly interesting humans whose names he wrote. One of them, in order to die according to the manner specified, triggered a series of impossibly random accidents involving two chickens, a grandfather clock, and Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand.
"And then," Ryuk snickered. "The book sails across the room, hits the spatula, and – wouldn't you know it – I blink. Suddenly, there he is with his head in the batter, and the spatula stuck out of his neck, still vibrating!" He actually fell out of the air laughing, clutching at his side.
Shinji actually chuckled a few times, too, choosing to ignore how messed up that was.
"And then the fire alarms starts going off!"
All at once, Shinji stopped writing. A hundred crumbled up letters filled his wastebasket; he had been expecting this one to join them, but no. Over and over he read it, searching for the flaw, the one mistake, or incorrect phrasing that would result in another wasted two hours. He was finally finished. Exhaustion swept over him like a warm breeze. His clock read 5:37 a.m.
He'd been up all night.
"I'll give it to her tomorrow," he mumbled before allowing his head to drop; he was asleep before he hit the cold, hard desk.
He didn't get the chance.
Air-raid sirens were his alarm, coupled with Misato pounding on his door. Through his grogginess, he heard the most important words: city. Angel. Attack. He fell out of his chair, taking his letter with him. Folded in threes, he wrote "Asuka" on the front and slipped it under her door before being ushered out the door and into Misato's car with Asuka.
While speeding through the city, he caught a glimpse of something big, round, and striped, triggering flashbacks to the big blue diamond Angel. At least this time, he would not be fighting alone.
Asuka took the point position, armed with a supersized Desert Eagle Mark IXI, flanked by Shinji, wielding the Smash Hawk sonic axe, and Rei, hanging back significantly and hefting a sniper rifle. The entire area was ringed by Nerv, JSSDF, and UN artillery, ready to lay the area flat should the situation get out of hand.
It's not going to get out of hand. I'll make sure of that.
"Status?" That was Misato over the comms.
"Target has remained stationary," Asuka replied. "Still floating, still, striped."
"Roger that. Advance position forty meters. Shinji, maintain distance. Rei, how's your visual?"
"Pilots Soryu and Ikari are within my sights, as is the target."
Asuka dashed forward to the nearest building and braced the Eva's back against it, signaling to Shinji to move forward and get into cover. They repeated this process two more times before reaching the desired proximity.
"No change in target," she reported. "What's with this thing? Doesn't it care that we're advancing on it? One shot and the whole thing might pop like a balloon."
"I don't know," Shinji said warily. "The Fifth Angel didn't respond until we got within a certain distance of it. Maybe this one is the same."
"We're awfully close," she observed, doubtfully. "Maybe it's going to wait until we're right underneath it and squash us."
"Cut the chatter you two. Advance ten more meters. That will put you 340 meters from the center. If nothing occurs, we're going to move you into the shadow." They advanced. "Still no response. Alright, I'm going to…what?"
"Misato?" Asuka released the safety on her handgun and kept her eyes on the Angel.
"The pattern is shifting!"
And then it just disappeared. The Angel vanished. "What? Where'd it go?"
"Asuka!" That was Shinji, not Misato. "The shadow!"
She didn't have time to get away. What they had assumed to be the Angel's shadow had remained was expanding. Eva 02 made several clumsy backward steps and unloaded a full clip into the darkness. It spread under her, and it seemed as though she was suddenly moving through quicksand.
"Help! I can't move! I need – agh!" A pain formed in her head. "No!" Her hands flew from the controls to her skull. The world around her blurred and darkened while the fire in her head spread throughout her body. "It's inside me!"
Where am I?
Where is this?
"Who are you?"
The train-car rocked slightly on the track. Outside the window, featureless countryside passed by, punctuated by the occasional hilltop or cactus. Telephone cables lined the tracks. Eventually a pattern emerged. Everything was repeated in a set pattern. Pole, hill, cactus, hill, pole, hill, cactus, pole. It seemed as though the world was in a state of perpetual twilight. Seated opposite her was…her, as a child, clad in a striped tank top and shorts.
"Why do you push others away?"
"Because I don't need them."
"But you want to be near them. You long for their praise."
"I don't need praise from anyone but me."
"Lies. Your entire being is built around the attention you derive from others."
"No." Asuka buried her face in her hands. "That's not true."
"It is true. You want everyone to see you. You want to hear them shout your name. You may try to hide it, but I know who you really are inside."
"No," she sobbed.
"Die with me, Asuka."
And then she was flying backwards, yanked by her collar, pulled through the train-car wall, leaving her interrogator behind. Darkness swallowed her, but she continued to be pulled through it. Light enveloped her. Sight returned and she was once again in Unit 02. It was the Eva that was flying back. No, being pulled. Green and purple flashed by. "Shinji."
Unit 02 collapsed in a heap. After a few seconds, Asuka managed to bring the red robot to its feet in time to see Unit 01 swallowed by the shadow. "No!" She lurched forward, but something restrained her. Unit 02 was unable to turn all the way around, but the flashes of blue and white told her it was Unit 00.
"Let me go!"
Misato's voice crackled over the comm. "Rei, restrain her. Don't let her get near the shadow."
Unit 01's hand reached up, grasping for anything…and found only empty air. "Let me go," Asuka screamed as it disappeared. "I can still reach him in time!" It was a lie, a futile plea, but she refused to believe anything else.
"Return to base, both of you."
"Yes, ma'am." She started to drag Unit 02 back, but Asuka thrashed and wriggled and slammed Unit 00 into every building she could find. After a few minutes, Rei's grip slipped, allowing Asuka to slip out. She darted forward, but fell on her face.
Rei had seized the umbilical cable and yanked it. A second yank pulled it free, though not without some groaning and creaking. Something in Unit 02's armor broke, she knew, but fury overtook her, and she pounced on her squadmate, screaming. They went down together, the pavement shattering on impact.
Red hand reached for a blue throat, but blue hands caught them by the wrists. Unit 00's foot planted itself right in Unit 02's stomach, the force knocking the wind from Asuka's lungs. Rei rolled forward, then back, vaulting Asuka and her Eva overhead and across the city, creating a scar, five feet deep and nearly a hundred long. Progressive knifes deployed; Asuka charged. Rei retrieved the Smash Hawk, granting her the range advantage. She swung, aiming for the center of mass, but Asuka extended her A. T. Field in time to catch the progressive axe in midair. She abandoned the weapon and disappeared to locate her sniper rifle. Asuka grabbed the axe before it fell.
Unit 02's foot kicked something metallic. At first, she thought it was her handgun – but it was the umbilical cable. One swift chop from the axe severed the cord from the underground power source; she took it by the cut end. Red filled her vision and she chased after Wondergirl.
Rei reappeared around a corner and loosed a shot that shattered Asuka's left shoulder pylon. She reacted purely on instinct, rotating at the hip and snapping the umbilical cable like a whip. It found its mark on the first try, securing itself around Unit 00's neck – she pulled it taught. The rifle fell once more to the street as Rei clawed desperately to free her Eva. From the sounds she was making over the communications array, she was chocking, the neural impulses flowing through the Plugsuit and A10 nerve clips to produce the sensation of a constricting larynx.
Misato was shouting something, but Asuka couldn't hear her. All she cared about was choking the life out of Wondergirl. She knew it had to be soon. Unit 00's flailing became more erratic, more desperate, then slowed. Any second now –
Her cockpit went red. Power capacity hit zero and the Eva shut down.
"Come on!" Asuka screamed at her beast. "Move! I've seen the recordings! I know you things can move on your own! Shinji's did twice already. You're better than his! MOVE!" Nothing happened and she began to cry. "Move. Move. Move. Move. Move. Move." Fist pounded on the controls and the ceiling; she kick at the walls around her like a child throwing a tantrum. But wasn't that exactly what she was doing?
She barely resisted when the LCL was drained and Section 2 agents handcuffed her and led her away.
Asuka didn't even have to look when the confinement cell door slid open to know who it was. There was only one person who would care enough to visit her, even if it was to scold her.
"Go away, Misato."
"You mind telling me what the hell that was all about."
Her silence only seemed to anger Misato. "I'll tell you the same thing I told Shinji: this isn't a game. People's lives are at stake here. You've been given the opportunity to be a savior of humanity – "
"I don't want this."
""and you're choosing the throw it away by attacking a comrade."
"I don't want this."
"I don't care what problems you have going on right now – "
"I don't want this!"
" - but you have to leave them off the battlefield. This is a war, and in war you can't afford any extra baggage."
"I don't want this!"
"You're a soldier, Asuka. Soldiers follow orders. The Eva isn't a toy for a child to – "
"I don't want this!" Asuka pitched forward, nearly rolling off her seat and buried her head in her cuffed hands, crying. Between sobs, she spoke. "I don't want this; I don't want any of this anymore! We're not soldiers, Misato, we're children! And you're thrown us into the middle of a conflict we don't understand! It hurts! Every time I get into Eva, it hurts! You say you understand, but you don't, you just don't!" Whatever words she tried to speak then so muddled that she gave up trying.
"Asuka, I didn't –" She tried to place a hand on her shoulder, but the girl shoved it off.
"Oh, don't even, Misato, just don't!. You work for Nerv; you're part of it. Directly or indirectly, you're responsible for everything. That's why Shinji hates you: because you keep trying to be mother and then forcing him to keep piloting that…thing!"
Her words stung. "That's not true! I don't force him."
"Yes you do!"
"He's always had a choice, and he knows it."
"What choice?" She accused, her sobs slowly dying down and replaced by bitterness. "Save the world or run away? What kind of choice is that? Even if he wanted to quit he can't. You guilted him in staying. He stays because if he doesn't fight, people will die. He suffers in Eva so that all the rest of them don't have to." This time, it was Misato who was speechless.
"He's fourteen, Misato," Asuka remarked snidely. "A teen, but a child. How can you do that to him, to us?"
"This is a war," she snapped. "We're at war with things we don't understand! They show up at our doorstep and we don't even know where they hell they come from."
"So you make us fight for you."
"If I could take your place in that cockpit, you know I would in a heartbeat."
"No you wouldn't," Asuka declared, standing and turning in the same move—the chair clattered to the floor. "If you knew what it was like in there you'd quit and run away like Shinji tried to do before. The first time an Angel punched you in the gut or shot an energy lance through your eye—you'd turn tail and run."
"Those bastards took my father away from me -!"
"So you admit it?"
"This is your revenge?"
"That not what I—"
"You're weak. Everyone in this damn place is weak. At least he fights for something other than himself." Abruptly, she turned away, righted her chair, and resumed sitting. "Don't talk to me anymore, Major Katsuragi; I have nothing more to say to you."
Kaji found his unrequited love in the cafeteria about an hour later, intent on winning a staring contest with her untouched meal. By her cross-armed postured, he knew better than to deliberately provoke her.
"So did you talk to her?" But he tended to ignore his instincts around her.
"Of course I talked to her," she snapped. The transfer of her gaze from food to him caused an involuntary flinch. He waited until she looked away to speak again.
"What did she say?"
"She's done. She wants to quit being a pilot and run away."
That didn't sound like the Asuka that Kaji knew. "Somehow I doubt that, Katsuragi. She's just a little upset is all—well, a lot upset. Never did take losing very well."
"I stopped playing games with her after a while—quite the board-kicker, that one. But she'll get over it, as she always does."
"You didn't hear her, Kaji. She meant it. Now I've got two kids mad at me and I don't know what to do. She's impossible! There's no reasoning with her."
"You never were the best at communication," he teased.
"Not now," she warned.
"Yes now." His smile vanished. "Let me ask you something: what is your assessment of the situation? What do you think is going on right now with the Angels?"
She studied him, searching his face for any indication of what he was getting at—but that was the thing about Ryoji Kaji: he had one hell of a poker face. After all the time she had dated him, how intimate they were, she still got stopped dead at his sloppily shaven façade. Was that the intention? Was his entire exterior meant to trick the unwary conversation partner into spilling his guts to the secret agent?
"I see a war, Kaji. A war against beings that we don't understand. I see the potential destruction of the human race, of the world—and only Nerv stands there at the bridge with a sword in its hand to fend off the darkness that threatens to engulf everything."
He waited for a long few minutes. He waited for her to finish the thought, to say the words that needed to be said, but he knew she wouldn't. "What about them?"
Another long pause. "They knew what they signed up for."
"Shinji didn't, or have you forgotten? His first day was your second. I've read the reports, Katsuragi. I know what happened."
"He made his choice."
"No he didn't."
"Yes he did. I was there at the train station. He could have gotten on it and left this all behind—but he didn't. Shinji chose to stay and fight."
"Not that he knew what he was getting into. Hard to prepare him for being swallowed into a black hole, hm? But I'm not here about him; I'm here about Asuka."
"You think you can talk to her?"
"Not in this state, no. I think maybe I can talk to you, though, provided you aren't as stubborn as I think you are. Do you remember being fourteen?"
All the color drained from her face. "Of course I remember, Kaji. How could you ask me that?"
"Before the accident, then. Were you prepared to handle the loss of your father?"
"Of course I wasn't! Who is prepared for that kind of thing?"
"Exactly my point. Asuka lost her mother when she was four, Katsuragi. Four. Not only that, but she immediately was pulled into Project E. You at least got to have a normal life after Second Impact. After her mother killed herself, Asuka became a soldier. Did you know she found her hanging there?"
Misato stood up abruptly, banging the table and scattering her food. "You think I had a normal life after that, Kaji? My life was hell after he died! I didn't have anyone to go back to after that—I was all alone for years!"
Kaji jumped to his feet to meet her eyes. "Then why can't you understand what Asuka's going through?"
"Because she isn't the only person in the world to suffer through a tragedy!"
"And neither are you Misato! I think you're forgetting the most important fact here: that you've turned her into a child solider!"
"I didn't turn her into anything! She was handed to me like she is."
"You certainly aren't doing anything to stop it. What happened to you in those eight years? The Misato Katsuragi I knew would have never let something like this happen! I never thought you'd be the type of person to become so consumed by revenge that she'd sacrifice children. I guess I was wrong."
Everyone was staring. She felt their piercing eyes settle all over her body, silently watching, waiting for something, anything to happen. In that instant, her words and her mind failed her. Her argument came to a screeching halt in her head. She had nothing left to say to him, but she wouldn't allow him the last word.
"G-Go to hell!"
And she stormed off.
Day became night with no change in the Angel's status. Nobody at Nerv was able to devise a way to retrieve Shinji or the Eva safely, and so the time had come to initiate the backup plan: carpet bombing.
"We'll have Rei expand her A.T. Field and contain the explosion," Ritsuko explained to Misato. "With any luck, the resulting explosion of all 992 remaining N2 Mines will—"
"We can't do this." Mistao didn't even look at her friend; her gaze was fixed firmly on the illuminated sphere hovering over the city. In truth, that was the shadow of the real Angel, a flat disc micrometers in thickness. The physics involved flew right over her head, but she understood enough if it. That Angel opened to something like another universe, which is where Shinji was trapped.
"That explosion will kill him."
"Maybe," Ritsuko conceded. "But the priority is on retrieving the Eva. The pilot's life, while desirable, is not."
"We're not going through with the plan, Ritsuko. Scrap it. Find some other way."
"There is no other way, Major! Just because you've suddenly found a conscience doesn't change the facts!"
"So you're going to let him die?"
"If he dies it's on your head, Misato. You were in charge of the operation that resulted in one pilot lost and another acting insubordinate. All I'm trying to do is clean up your mess!"
Whap! Misato's palm stung before she even realized it had connected with Ritsuko's face. The stumbled and caught herself, glaring angrily at Misato.
"I'm so sick of this 'vilify Misato' attitude everyone seems to have today. Soldiers fight and die, that's what happens. And it hurts – but if I can prevent losing any of them, you better be damn sure I'm going to try everything to get him back! I won't apologize for my decisions-to do so would be unbecoming of an officer, and if you were in my shoes you'd make the same decisions."
"I could say the same," Ritsuko growled.
"I sent him in there…so I have to bring him back."
"Recovering the Eva takes top priority. If you knew what I knew – "
"What do you know, Ritsuko? What's so damn important about that thing? Why is it more valuable than Shinji?"
"I've given you all the information you need to know."
Misato snorted and turned away. "I thought we were friends."
"The bombs are dropping, Misato. Nothing short of a miracle will stop them."
Rei waited in Unit 00, tense, hands in a death grip on the controls. A knot had formed in her stomach sometime in the past hour and she hadn't eaten anything in hours. A lot of her attention was being focused on breathing normally: a combination of the pluguit and the LCL was making her feel strangely claustrophobic that night.
Ritsuko's voice came in over the com system. "Are you holding up ok, Rei? Your vitals are unusual tonight."
"The operation is due to begin in twenty minutes. Are you sure you can maintain the A.T. Field?"
"Yes, Dr. Akagi, I am certain that I can hold the field against the blast force."
"Alright. Stand by."
In truth, Rei was unsure whether or not she could indeed maintain a field that large, but there was no other option. Asuka was too unstable on top of flat out refusing to participate; they were holding her for "medical" concerns, but that just really meant she was under arrest. Rei was all there was and she wasn't happy about it. If everything went according to the plan, Shinji wasn't going to survive.
"If he was going to live," Ritsuko had said, "he'd still be alive. If we make it in time, the Eva should protect him."
Her breathing slowed and leveled as the timer counted down. Overhead the bombers roared in their slow vulture circle over the target area. Spotlights illuminated the three-dimensional shadow of the Angel.
"Shinji," Rei whispered. "Don't die."
It wasn't time for the bombing yet; Rei hadn't even spread her field. No, it wasn't the bombers. The shadow quivered and became solid black, the white stripes being swallowed by the darkness. The ground shuddered and cracked within the area of the Angel.
A bone chilling roar split the air. She knew that roar. That was an Evangelion. The Angel sphere shook again—and something came out. Fingers pierced the pseudo-fabric that separated this universe and the Dirac Sea, gripped and tore. Blood, thick and maroon poured forth from the wound, drenching the buildings around ground zero. She could see it now, the glowing eyes of Unit 01. It roared again, clearer and more filled with rage and it shook her down to her core.
Shinji was most certainly not alright.
Asuka had been moved from her confinement cell to a hospital room on the ground of mental examination. She was still under arrest and evidenced by the handcuffs that bound her to her bed. Even still, she was alone. She wished she was back in that dark cell that echoed and smelled of mildew. At least there she was truly alone. Here all she could think of was her mother, hanging from the lighting fixture.
Hurried footsteps interrupted the hallucinations. Someone was pushed down the hall on a gurney, surrounded by nurses. A new kind of fear took hold of her. Shinji?
And then there was Windergirl in the doorway staring at her.
"What do you want?" she snapped.
"Ikari was recovered," she said flatly. "He escaped from the Angel but was unconscious when the entry plug was ejected. Somehow, the Eva moved without power and killed the Angel from within."
Asuka stared back at her. "That's stupid. How could that even happen; how stupid do you think I am?"
"I don't think you're stupid, Pilot Soryu. I am simply relaying facts to you." She turned to walk away. "Based on your incarceration status, it is unlikely that you would receive any news for several days. Or at least until Commander Ikari has decided what to do with you."
"Oh well thanks," she sneered. "Just what I need: pity from Wondergirl." Rei was almost out of view before she asked, "What did it look like?
Rei paused, thinking. "It was…horrible."
Ryuk hovered over the unconscious form of Shinji. "Boy kid, you sure no how to make an entrance. I just about gave up on you, y'know? Had my book out and everything. Couple more minutes and you'd have been dead. Hear that? You weren't supposed to survive the bombing."
"Hehehe, but then you always manage to surprise me. Death certainly loves to mess with you, huh? Maybe you were the right person to find my Note. Never mind who actually picked it up, you were definitely the right person."
He turned and there was Rei in the doorway, staring. At him.
"Leave him," she commanded.
Author's Note: My apologies to the readers for the long delay in the update. School got in the way for a long time, leaving the chapter unfinished part of the way in. You'll find I didn't dwell on Shinji's experience inside the Angel mostly because it didn't differ too much from the source material, but also because I probably couldn't do it correctly. Anyway, thanks for reading and reviewing!