AN: Hey guys! Thank you all so much for the kind words. Just wanted to address a few quick things here: 'Ng' is pronounced to that it rhymes with 'ping'. Since the Angels stopped mid-cycle, the Third Impact hasn't happened, so this is actually a pre-3I fic, just a very unorthodox one. We'll get to more with that soon. Special shout-out to SolidJJ: So happy you're enjoying it! Thank you so much for all the work you do and please stay safe.
And special apologies to Ethan, the commenter who didn't want to wait a month for a new chapter, and then had to do just that.
Am I brave?
It seems like such a stupid question, but now I'm here. I can see the blinking light and my hands are shaking like leaves.
A million feelings rush over me in the dark of my quarters, the first being that I need to extinguish this light before Ng suspects anything, but that's ridiculous. In the crushing, whirring mass of this building it must barely be a blip on his radar: it's a cell phone. It's my vibrator. There's an entire world of different things that could be making this little, hidden panel next to my bed pulse like a heartbeat in the dark. But really it's one very specific thing, and that's an incredibly talented, brave young woman calling for help.
And I'm scared, because I know the dream is about to come crashing down.
What do I do? I still technically have the authority to recall Shinji from the field, and if I act below the radar he'll get back to Tokyo-3 safe. Do I call Shinji and tell him?
He'll want to go save her, and if he manages to escape without Ng catching him he can certainly never come back. It means the end of our careers and possibly our lives. Best-case scenario: a lifetime of running from the most powerful political entity on the planet.
What if I tell Ng? Charles.
Let's assume for a second that Ng isn't behind her disappearance. He's been slowly driving them apart since his arrival, and even if Asuka going dark was just some ridiculously serendipitous accident, he won't jump at the opportunity to get her back. So I tell him and all the truths come out. I get court martialed for Lying to a Superior Officer, Insubordination, and any other half dozen things they pin on me that are actually completely true. Firing squad's on the table. Regardless of my fate, my job is certainly vacant and Shinji is open game. Ng swipes in and sinks in his talons.
If he is behind her kidnapping, I'm shot then and there and Shinji's done anyway. It's decided: don't tell Ng.
So what if I tell no one? I sit and I think to myself very quietly, hair still dripping from the shower. Could she have panicked?
Unlikely. The tracker was buried in her flesh. Still, maybe Asuka will be alright if we don't do anything at all?
My fingers absently trace the edge of the scar across my chest, and I remember my father. I feel the wind bite against my face as I fall into the capsule and I see the love in his eyes as the Impact takes him.
He died to save his daughter. That's bravery.
Am I brave?
There was never really a choice at all. I shut the box next to my bed and I silence the blinking light. The next day I recall Shinji from the field.
There's no way I could possibly tell him over the phone.
"Asuka might be alive."
He doesn't quite react at first. I see something flicker across his face, but it's quickly suppressed.
He asks how I know, and I explain. I boarded the plane that flew to California to pick him up. Our return trip is one of the few times I know we won't be actively bugged, and the only time I know we'll be able to have uninterrupted dialogue.
There's a lot to talk about, but I do all the talking. Shinji sits and absorbs.
"Now, there are any number of ways we can go about this Shinji, but know beforehand that just because we have a signal does not mean we have any sort of confirmation she's... safe," I wet my lips and study his face. "We might rush there to find nothing at all. The tracker's in the ocean, so my thought was to go to where the signal originally started broadcasting. But who knows? It might have been miles off course even then."
"Are you honestly suggesting that we don't look?" There's a dark tone in his voice and he's not meeting my eyes. I can't tell what he's thinking and that scares me. When Shinji Ikari is cornered, he's nothing if not impetuous. I sit down next to him.
"Don't be ridiculous," I sigh. It's hard not to be a little hurt he still doesn't trust me. Why don't you trust me? Is that the ghost of your father in you? "I'm just saying that for every action there are consequences. We should consider them before we do anything rash."
"And these are the kinds of consequences where people might die?"
"Exactly," I place a hand on his shoulder and he finally looks into my face. I try on a smile. "I'm on your side, Shinji. We're in this together."
After a second, he softens a little, too. His shoulders slouch and I can see him accept the fact that all might not be lost.
"She might be alive..." Hope seeps into him and he smiles quietly in the belly of the plane. I tip him over so he falls into my shoulder and for a second he lays there as the machine flies onwards through the black of the night.
"Misato, what if she's alive?" He's warm. I can feel the waver in his voice and I know he's afraid.
"Then we're all in for a world of trouble."
There are only a few places in the Nerv Tower I know to not have ears. My favorite is the sauna. They tried and they tried but the bugs just don't work with the steam. Thank heaven for small miracles.
For some reason it reminds me of when I used to know Ritsuko. I miss her sometimes – the woman I thought was my friend, anyway. It's hard to keep a part of her memory warm. It sneaks up on me when I least expect it.
The sauna brings out the good parts of my memories of Akagi Ritsuko. I let the vindictive bitch she was fall to the side and bask in the sweetness of her remembered company. Drinks at the bar, coffee with Kaji, stuff like that. Kaji always liked Ritsuko.
"What about Rei?"
I open my eyes at the ceiling. Shinji's on the other side of the divider. I was hoping he would never ask.
I sigh mightily, "Shinji..."
"We're not just leaving her here, Misato. We can't."
"She's lost, Shinji. She's gone to us," Collateral damage, I think bitterly. A poor girl swallowed by the massive military-industrial machine. The military part of my brain counts her as personnel already dead. "We should focus on saving people who can actually be saved."
"She's suffering, and it'll be worse for her once we leave." There's finality in his voice that won't be argued with; it's another inherited trait from Gendo. "Please. We can't just abandon her."
Water drips. I think of Rei and those dead, deer eyes of hers that just bore into you. I've never felt the kinship that Shinji shares with her, but she does have my pity. Can I condemn a girl to spend the rest of her life in torment so I can run?
Run and hide, brave little soldier girl. Something my dad used to say. A game we played when I was young. Run and hide out until the bombs stop falling.
I take a massive breath of steam into my lungs.
I don't feel very brave right now. He would always find me, anyway. It was a game that was impossible to win – just wait until you were caught. Kind of a sick game really, in retrospect. Would Kaji have rescued her?
"You're right. I suppose it can't be helped." I breathe out and let the gears in my brain start turning.
Rescuing Rei is psychopathic. Nerv is too massive and smart to trick twice – it means a two-prong plan that has to happen simultaneous to the rescue of Asuka.
Assuming of course that Asuka is still where her tracker originated and if she's alive to be rescued, then while Shinji's there taking care of whatever is imperiling her I have to be here taking care of Rei. It means a maximum-security breakout from the heart of the most monitored building in the world.
It's impossible. Complete lunacy. Suicide mission. Too many variables, too much danger, eyes and ears and guns guns guns. You're stuck in metal corridors and even if you get out the front door you're marooned in enemy territory. I've been a spy for four years, can I finally become a soldier again?
Some time passes before I open my mouth. I'm sure he can hear the smile in my voice.
"You know, this might be total madness, but I actually might have a plan..."
"Yes, sir. Routine reconnaissance."
Ng looks at the paperwork in his hand and is giving me the illusion that he's not paying attention. It's a strategy designed to work twofold: it puts me off guard so I might slip and reveal more than I should, and it reminds me who's in charge. I don't fall for his simpleton ploy. The truth is Ng is always paying attention.
"Ikari isn't necessary for reconnaissance. He's a pilot. You go on the plane and Ikari will remain here."
"Sir, respectfully, I think Shinji should start considering expanding his skill set. He's getting a bit old to be in the field."
Ng sighs and sets down the papers on the desk. "These children are brute instruments, Katsuragi. Regardless of your affections for the boy, you don't use a hammer to write a symphony," He points his finger at me and I fantasize about breaking it in half. "Reconnaissance takes a degree of subtlety that will always be beyond the Ikari ilk. Be reasonable. You go on the plane and he can stay here on patrol."
My mouth twitches. The plan is failing and it hasn't even started yet. Time for a desperation bid.
"Sir, I think he's close to cracking up." This catches Ng's attention. "He keeps talking about Asuka. He won't stop talking about her. I think what he needs is time away from his old assignments. They were pilots together from the beginning. I'm sure it makes him think of her and it's depressing him."
"Still? After all this time?" Ng sighs, leaning back in his chair. He reaches for a half empty mug nearby. "My lord, they're really holding on to this stupid puppy love, aren't they?" He laughs and I wonder if he's ever felt a trace of human warmth in his entire goddamn life. Puppy love. You stupid fuck. I force myself to smile at his joke.
His tea is cold, and he makes a face before walking over to his microwave to reheat it. "Katsuragi! I knew there was a reason I promoted you. The CEO should best hope you don't go into politics, or I'd tell him we have one persuasive monster on our hands!" The molecules in his drink light themselves on fire and Ng laughs heartily. He removes the tea from the machine and waves his hand. "Alright, you've convinced me. Send the boy away on his plane and fly him over somewhere pretty. Preferably without much red on the ground, eh?"
I bow curtly and thank him for his time, before I walk out of his office forever. I hope the next time I see him I get to put a bullet in his face.
Shinji and I are standing on the runway of the plane. It's night, and the propellers are blowing his hair around like a hurricane. It's too loud to speak, and I'm sure we're being monitored anyway.
I stare at his face and place my hand on his shoulder. I want to tell him how mature he looks – how much he's grown and how proud I am of him. He looks like a man, not at all the scrawny boy that got into my car back in 2014.
I want to tell him that he reminds me of my father, and of Kaji, and of all the brave men I've ever known in my life. I want to tell him that I love him, and that if I never see him again I feel as though my heart will break. He's like a brother, he's like a son, he's a dear friend to me and I've seen him grow so much and I'm proud.
But I can't say that. He wouldn't hear me anyway. I place my forehead against his and feel his courage. Give me strength to do what I can.
After a moment, I pull back and smile. "Good luck!" I shout.
Shinji smiles at me, and for what might perhaps be the first time I see him salute me.
"You too, Colonel Misato!"
The plane doors shut and the both of us are on our own.
21:30 and I'm in the armory counting cameras. The idiot over the counter is staring down my shirt and I'm letting him. I'm not an unattractive woman, and he's forgetting to ask my why I need all these guns so late at night.
I outrank him anyway.
"This is... um... all for the firing range, ma'm?" He feebly asks as he hands over the four grenades I asked for.
I clip them into my belt and tighten the vest.
"Can never be too prepared," I smile and wink at him. This corporal will be a private in the morning.
But by then he'll outrank me, I'm sure. The minute I step out the door I'm running and I know I'll be panicking for what may very well be the rest of my life.
21:50 and my heart is pounding in my ears. Rei clings to my arm like a limp rag doll and stumbles along halfheartedly. I'm practically dragging her.
Another corner and there are two more soldiers waiting right in front of us. I raise the gun and fire before they even manage to turn around. Fourteen dead.
Rei absently wipes the blood off of her face. "Children..." she muses, looking down at them. They were young. They all are.
Looking back and forth, this is as good a spot as any. I drag the older soldier into the room next to us and toss a satchel bag full of clothing into her chest.
"Get changed quickly. We have maybe two minutes before we have to run again." I clutch at my hand to stop it from shaking.
"I didn't ask to be rescued," Rei says quietly behind me. She's not changing. "I'm not worth the–"
"Blame Shinji," I growl at her. I'm crouching over the body and trying to use his radio. Do they know where we are? They must by now. "I'm not joking, Ayanami! Change right now! That's an–"
Bullets clip against the doorframe to the right of my head and shower me with sparks. I spin and return fire blindly down the hallway. Why was this a good plan, again? I eject the clip. My hands falter as they try to jam another into the bottom of the gun. On the third try I get it. Pull yourself together, Misato. Bravery.
When I look back over, Rei's pulling on the top. She clicks the button on her wrist and the plugsuit pulls taut over her emaciated body. She blinks down at her garb.
"Are we stealing an Evangelion?" Rei asks me, coolly. I know Rei well enough to detect her tone is dubious at best.
I spin to look into her eyes. "First of all: yes, you are worth this. You are all worth this. You deserve to live a life outside of this disgusting metal cage, because there are blue skies and beautiful worlds out there, so you are going to see them if it fucking kills me."
Turning, I toss a grenade down the hallway in the direction that the heaviest fire is coming from. There's a scream as it explodes, and the hallway is clear.
"Secondly, yes we are, because we are insane. Do you remember how to pilot?"
Rei stares at me for a beat before she kicks her imprisonment scrubs into the corner of the room.
"Yes," she says quietly. "Where do we go once we're in the Evangelion?"
"I don't really know," I say, laughing. "They can fly now. Is there anywhere you've always wanted to visit?"
For a second, I swear that the ghost of a smile passes over her face. "The moon."
I smile at her as I reload my gun. There are fourteen floors between us and the docking bay. Now that the whole place is on alert that means forty some odd soldiers in full battle rattle. Locked doors, mines maybe. If we make it past all of them, that means we have to jack a Ready To Launch Eva. If there's an RTL in the docking bay that will sync with Rei, and if they haven't already rescinded my launch codes, we might just have a chance of getting out of this alive. And then onwards to the moon.
I cock my gun. "You ready?" I ask her, handing her a handgun and a knife. I don't think Rei's ever even fired a real gun, but if I go down I want to give her a fighting chance. It's probably not that different from doing it in the Eva.
Without warning, I see Rei pull her long blue hair taut. Neglect and prison have let it grow to her mid back. Taking a knife and with a single, swift motion, she hacks the length of it off. It falls down to the cold tile around her.
"Let's run," she suggests.
And then we're running again.