A note from the Hime no Argh herself-
Giving in to the pressure, I have decided to make this chapter twice the size of the last one. Hope you're all happy! This may also mean that I'm going to have to hold off updating for a while, but we'll see what happens. Do enjoy.
* * *
"Hey! Hey! I wasn't finished with you!" Asuka ran after Shinji through the halls of NERV central, followed at a saner pace by Rei Ayanami.
"It's extremely rude to ignore someone!" Asuka caught up to him and darted in front of him, panting.
Shinji rolled his eyes at her. "What do you want, Asuka?"
Asuka assumed an offensive stance. "Don't give me that high-and-mighty attitude! Rei and I are going to kick your ass in the tests today, aren't we, Rei?" She cast around furtively for Rei, who was just catching up to them.
Shinji sighed. "You know, maybe your scores would be better if you stopped treating this like a competition."
"What?!" Asuka shrieked, outraged.
"You heard me. This is our job, Asuka Langley, not a game." Shinji stepped around Asuka and headed down the hall again.
"Was that a reprove I heard?!" Asuka yelled after him. "Did he just reprove me?" she demanded of Rei.
"Let's go, Soryu. They'll be waiting for us."
"I'm coming, I'm coming. Geez, people around here are so damn impatient."
Shinji went on ahead to the cages, but Rei stopped Asuka before they parted. "Shinji is correct when he says this is not a game," she said. "Don't treat it as one."
Asuka glared at her. "Are you reproving me now, Rei Ayanami?"
"I am trying to help you," Rei said calmly. "You do want to raise your harmonics, am I correct?"
A few weeks ago an offer of help from Rei might have resulted in Asuka punching her. I guess we've all changed more than we thought, Asuka thought wryly. "Yes, of course I do."
"Then concentrate only on your bond with your Eva. It is not an inanimate object. It is as alive as you are, and if you respect it, it will respond to you."
Asuka only gaped. "Alive? It's not alive!"
"Believe as you wish. What you choose to believe will decide your results." Rei turned her back to Asuka and walked away to her cage.
"Alive," Asuka muttered to herself as she walked off in the other direction. She paused for a moment, wondering at her own doubts. Was she really starting to believe Wonder Girl?
Wait a sec. Maybethat's the secret to Shinji's harmonics, Asuka realized. He's a terrible pilot, so maybe the Eva's doing all the work. And imagine me -the best pilot- teamed up with my Eva? We'd be unstoppable.
All right, Evangelion Unit 02,Asuka thought as she resumed walking, a reckless grin spreading across her face. I'll respect you as a living...whatever you are, and in return, you help me kick Shinji's ass. How does that sound for a plan?
* * *
"Look at this, Misato," Ritsuko said happily, pointing to Maya's computer screen. "Asuka's synch ratio is up five points!"
"All right!" Misato cheered jubilantly. "You hear that, Asuka? Your synch ratio's up!"
"Of course it is," Asuka said arrogantly, sounding pleased nonetheless.
"What's your secret?" Maya asked, smiling.
"No secret to it- I'm just the best pilot, that's all."
"Actually, Asuka, Rei's in the lead today," Ritsuko said, repressing a grin.
"Oh," said Asuka, disappointed. Then she perked up. "Well, at least we're beating the third child!"
"Got that right," Maya murmured, sounding worried. "Dr. Akagi, Major, look at this." She pointed Shinji's synch graph on her screen as Ritsuko and Misato leaned in for a better look.
Misato gasped sharply. "How can his synch ratio be down twenty points?!" she demanded in a whisper.
Ritsuko sighed. "I guess it's to be expected. Unit 01 is rejecting him again."
"Yes, but twenty points?"
"I think we're just going to have to find a new pilot for Unit 01." Ritsuko raised her voice so the three children could hear. "All right, you're done. You can come out now. Maya, record today's test results: Rei in the lead, Asuka second, Shinji third. Misato?"
Ritsuko smiled and stuck out a hand. "Pay up."
"Yeah, right on it. One hundred yen," Misato muttered, fishing around in her purse for the money. "You cheated, didn't you?"
* * *
"Well, commander, as you can see by the reports, the compilation tests were mostly unsuccessful. Shinji barely synchronized with Unit 02 and Unit 00 rejected him completely."
"What about the other pilots?"
"Rei had limited success with Unit 01, and Asuka could not synchronize at all. However, the girls both had moderate success piloting the other's respective Eva."
"I see. But that does not solve our problem with Shinji and Unit 01, Dr. Akagi."
"No, sir, it does not. I think perhaps..."
"I think the best thing to do might be to restore Shinji's old memory. It seems Unit 01 only wants to recognize Shinji Ikari."
"And how would you suggest we go about with this restoration?"
"I am trying to create a procedure. No current success."
"I see. Then the pilots will continue to be assigned to their respective Evas. No changes."
"And if, in the next battle, Unit 01 doesn't work?"
"Then our other two pilots will take care of the problem. That's what they're there for, correct?"
* * *
"What the hell is this?" Asuka demanded, swiping her security card again.
"It's not letting me in!" Asuka whined. "The card doesn't work!"
"Let me try." Rei stepped up to a terminal next to Asuka's and swiped her card. Both girls stared expectantly at the box. A buzz sounded and a red X appeared.
"Dammit!" Asuka snapped, looking in exasperation at the doors to NERV HQ. "Why aren't they working?"
"What's going on?" The new voice belonged to Shinji.
Neither Asuka nor Rei batted an eye. "Try your card, third child," Asuka commanded without turning. "Ours don't seem to be working today."
"How the hell would I know?!"
Shinji sighed, stepped through a terminal on Asuka's other side, and swiped his card. The terminal buzzed.
"All right, what the fuck is going on?!" Asuka yelled, her voice echoing in the empty hall.
"Why aren't they working?" Shinji asked, twirling his card in his fingers.
"Don't ask me!"
Rei said, "Perhaps there is a defect in the security system."
"You think the power could've gone out again?" Asuka asked.
Shinji rolled his eyes and pointed to the ceiling. "See those lights, Asuka? Know what they mean?"
"Oh, shut up! Now what are we supposed to do?"
"Perhaps we should attempt to get in touch with Major Katsuragi," Rei suggested.
Shinji shook his head. "She's already at HQ. She was called in early this morning. Something about questioning."
"Misato's getting questioned?" Asuka said curiously. "What'd she do?"
Shinji shrugged. "I don't know, but she didn't seem too worried. She just said something about the big cats trying to rein in the commander again."
Asuka and Shinji both turned expectantly to Rei, but she only shrugged.
Asuka sighed. "So now what are we supposed to do?"
"Well, I guess we can consider this our day off," Shinji suggested.
"Hm..." Asuka smiled, her eyes suddenly gleaming. "Amazing, the third child had a good idea for once! And I sure could use a little vacation!"
"What if an Angel attacks?" Rei asked quietly.
Shinji shrugged. "I've got my cell phone," he pointed out. "Mom will know to call if there's an emergency."
"Perfect," Asuka declared, and held out a hand. "Give it here, third child."
Shinji rolled his eyes at her. "What for?"
"For emergencies, dumbass! Rei and I need to know when something's going on!"
"So do I," he shot back.
"Oh, no you don't! I'm not hanging around with you all day!"
"Fine." Shinji shrugged and walked off. "I'll take care of any problems by myself."
"IDIOT!" Asuka hollered at his retreating back. "Haven't you ever heard of teamwork?!"
* * *
In the end, they didn't stick around together, but agreed to meet at the same rice stand for lunch to check up on news.
"So no word from HQ?" Asuka asked as they brought their lunches to a bench near the rice stand. Asuka and Shinji had both gotten teriyaki chicken over white rice with a side of vegetables and three sushi rolls, while Rei had a single cup of miso soup.
"Not a buzz. I would've thought Mom would check in by now," Shinji said, frowning at his lunch.
Asuka, her mouth stuffed with chicken and rice, asked, "D'you think we should try and call them?"
"We shouldn't disturb them unless it's an emergency," Rei said, and daintily sipped from a spoonful of soup.
Asuka and Shinji, seated on either side of her, stared at her measly lunch. "Is that all you're going to have?" Shinji demanded.
Asuka rolled her eyes. "She hardly eats anything. No wonder she stays so thin."
"And how do you maintain your weight?" Shinji asked, eyeing Asuka with disdain as she gobbled vegetables and rice from her tray.
Asuka glared at him and mumbled something around her mouthful of food.
"Want to repeat that when you've swallowed?"
Asuka forced the food down her throat. "I said, I'm gifted with fast metabolism."
"It'll slow down when you're older and you'll get fat," Shinji pointed out.
"Oh? And what about Misato? She eats like a pig and never gains a pound."
"Misato's a special case, eh, Shinji?" said a cheery new voice as a hand clapped Shinji's shoulder.
Shinji yelped and bolted to his feet. The girls craned their necks upward. "Kaji!" Asuka cried joyfully.
He smiled down at her. "Hello there, Asuka. Hello, everyone. Did I scare you, Shinji?"
"Of course not," Shinji muttered, dropping back in to his seat.
"You were too scared," Asuka cackled. "You nearly jumped right out of your-"
"Do you know why our security cards weren't working today, Mister Kaji?" Rei interrupted.
"'Spect I do, Miss Ayanami." Kaji plopped down on the bench next to Asuka. "You see, there was a bit of an emergency today at HQ and they didn't want the pilots getting involved."
"Emergency?" Asuka demanded. "What emergency?"
Kaji smiled. "Nothing that should worry you. Just an interrogation."
"My mother's interrogation, you mean?" Shinji demanded. "Mom said she was going to be questioned today."
"She was," Kaji said evenly. "But that wasn't the emergency."
"So what was the emergency?" Asuka asked.
"Nothing that concerns you, as I said." Kaji ruffled Asuka's hair affectionately. "Don't you worry your pretty little head about it. It's been taken care of." He looked at his watch. "My goodness, is it two o'clock already? Well, I'd better be off. I have an appointment to keep." He stood with a groan, his hand going to his lower back. "Hm. Looks like the years are catching up to me. But no matter; I suspect that will be taken care of soon enough as well.
"Listen, children," Kaji went on, suddenly serious. "I might be going away soon and I don't think we'll see each other again for a while."
"You're going away?" Asuka cried, distraught. "But why? Where?"
"Wherever my assignments take me, Asuka, dear. I just wanted to say goodbye now in case I don't get a chance to later." Asuka opened her mouth to argue, but Kaji held up a hand. "None of that, Asuka. Just say goodbye."
There was a silence for a few moments. Then Shinji ventured, "Well, goodbye, I guess."
"Goodbye," Rei said quietly.
"Bye," Asuka said miserably. Kaji patted her on the shoulder, then turned and strolled off in the direction of NERV HQ.
Asuka barely managed a few seconds before jumping to her feet. "Be right back," she said to the others, and dashed off.
He stopped walking and turned back to her. "Yes?"
Asuka stood straight and looked him in the eye, separated by just a foot or two. "I want to ask you something, and I want you to tell me the truth."
"The truth." Kaji smiled as though that amused him. "All right, Asuka. I'll reply truthfully to one question."
"Then my question is this." Asuka swallowed hard. "Are you going to die?"
"Yes," Kaji said calmly. "Probably."
Asuka's heart wrenched. "But why?"
"For that word, you know. The truth." Kaji sighed. "The truth is such a complicated thing. I promised myself that if I could find just one piece of it, I would gladly die. And now I have."
"But the truth doesn't get you anywhere," Asuka pointed out miserably.
"Better than leading a life of blindness, my dear. For me, anyway." Kaji smiled indulgently at her. "You're too young for this now, but someday you'll know what I mean. Perhaps you'll even begin your own search. In the meantime, Asuka, try and enjoy your life."
"Goodbye, Mister Kaji," Asuka whispered.
"Goodbye, Asuka. It was a pleasure knowing you." Kaji turned again and walked off, and Asuka stood still for a long time, watching him.
* * *
To be continued.