This story idea has been persistently lingering in my mind for several years, so I finally decided to write the darn thing. Heh. As always, feedback would be greatly appreciated!

Summary: Humans and Angels cannot coexist. One species must eliminate the other in order to inherit the world… or, you know, they could just find another planet. This is a tale of hope and friendship. It is also a story about a bunch of weird stuff happening on Mars.

Legal disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is the property of Hideaki Anno and Gainax/Khara. However, this story is mine. Please don't sue me, because I'm just writing this for fun. Besides, if you consider how much Evangelion merchandise I've bought, Gainax and Khara already have my money!


The Happy Red Planet - Chapter One: Death & Rei-birth

by Literary Eagle


Rei Ayanami was not having a good day.

To be fair, it had started out well enough. First, she had listened to Commander Ikari's orders. Next, she had followed the aforementioned orders. After that – and here was the most exciting part – she had waited for further orders! In other words, it had been yet another perfect day as the third Rei. But then events had quickly gone downhill… ironically, while she had been moving uphill. Up the escalator, that is. That was where she had met the newest Evangelion pilot, Kaworu Nagisa.

The Fifth Child had greeted her with some sort of nonsense about the two of them being the same, and something about Seeds of Life ending up in the same form as the Lilin. In the midst of Nagisa's odd ramblings, Rei had felt a curious nudging sensation deep inside her mind. It hadn't been painful, but it had been dizzying enough that she'd been forced to close her eyes for a moment. When the vertigo had subsided and she'd opened her eyes again, the gray-haired boy had already disappeared.

Since that encounter, she found herself repeatedly frustrated with the locks that had been placed inside her mind, the ones that prevented her from accessing the most precious memories and emotions of her predecessor, the second Rei. This was a Very Bad Thing, because the Commander had ordered her not to question the necessity of those locks. Why was she having such disloyal thoughts all of a sudden? To make matters worse, she also felt as if something strange had awakened within her, and now her senses were expanding. Colors looked brighter, music sounded prettier, and food tasted incredibly delicious. This was an Extremely Bad Thing, because how was she supposed to follow the Commander's orders when everything else was becoming so, well, interesting?

This was all Nagisa's fault, she was certain of it. Exactly who was this mysterious boy, and why did he have the same red eyes as her? Also, why was he being followed by a choir singing "Ode to Joy"? Seriously, that was just weird.

She knew that she should tell the Commander about all of this right away. Surely he would know how to fix everything. Then she could go back to following his orders as usual, and her senses would return to regular levels. Colors would be dull again, music would just be insignificant background noise again, and food would taste like cardboard again… oh. "I suppose it can wait until tomorrow," she said to herself.

She wanted to know what waffles tasted like.


The next day, Rei returned to Nerv headquarters with the intention of telling the Commander what had happened. Yes, that was her primary goal, and absolutely not the idea of going down to the cafeteria to have more of those glorious waffles. Really. But before she could do either, she spotted Nagisa sneaking down a corridor, and decided to spy on him instead. She told herself it was for the purpose of collecting a greater amount of information that she could report to the Commander later. It certainly wasn't because she was reluctant to change back to normal.

Right?

As Rei tailed Nagisa from a safe distance, she noticed that he always kept his hands in his pockets, even while tiptoeing. She also saw that his bizarre choir was still following him. The singers were dressed in hooded gray robes that kept their faces completely hidden, same as yesterday. They were tiptoeing just like Nagisa was, but this attempt at stealth was pretty much useless because they were singing "Ode to Joy" at the top of their lungs again.

Eventually, this peculiar procession arrived at the cage where Evangelion Unit-02 was being kept. "Come on, let's go," said Nagisa, gazing at the red Eva with a smile, "Come with me, Adam's alter ego and servant of the Lilin."

Nagisa then stepped off the umbilical bridge, so that he was standing on nothing but air. In complete defiance of gravity, he began rising rather than falling. Next, the choir also stepped out onto thin air, floating behind him and continuing to sing all the while. That was when Unit-02's eyes lit up, and the Eva began to move even though she did not have an entry plug.

"Nagisa can operate an Evangelion from the outside?" Rei said to herself, watching him depart with the unmanned Unit-02. Throughout the base, alarm sirens began to blare in response to this act of Grand Theft Eva. "He must be the Seventeenth Angel. What should I do? The Commander has not given me any orders yet."

Forget about the Commander's orders. What is it that you wish to do, Ayanami?

That was Nagisa's voice. Rei looked around, but the Angel, his choir, and the stolen Eva had already vanished into the depths of the shaft leading to Terminal Dogma. "Nagisa?" said Rei, "How is it that I can hear your voice inside my head?"

As I said before, you are the same as me. This makes it possible for our minds to connect, as long as we are not too far away from each other.

"What do you mean by that? Did you contaminate me?" Rei demanded. She'd heard that the Sixteenth Angel had tried to fuse with her predecessor. Was Nagisa doing that to her now? "I have felt strange ever since our meeting yesterday."

I would never contaminate you, Ayanami. I simply revitalized your own power, which has been sleeping deep inside of you. That is why your senses have blossomed since the time we met. It is a sign that your psyche's natural defenses are finally working to undo the many locks that have been forced into your mind.

"My own power?" she said. Was there truly such a thing within her? "But why would you wish to awaken it?" Wouldn't an Angel consider it counterproductive to let a member of Nerv have a greater arsenal?

I am the Angel of Free Will. How could I stand idly by while your mind is being held prisoner?

Was he implying that the Commander was some kind of tyrant? Such impudence! "The Commander is not holding my mind prisoner!" Rei said indignantly, "He merely controls which thoughts and memories I am allowed to… oh."

Precisely. By the way, you might want to stop now. You're about to hit your head on the ceiling.

Rei let out a startled gasp as she realized that while she had been communicating with Nagisa, her feet had somehow left the ground, and she was indeed flying straight towards the ceiling. Go back down, she said internally, hoping that would work. Unfortunately, it worked a little too well, because she began to plummet at breakneck speed, and then broke right through the floor. Tumbling head-over-heels past the storey below, she then crashed through the next floor, and then the next, continuing to descend into the lower levels of headquarters. Thankfully, she was not hurt, for every time she collided with something, her body emitted a force field that looked like a series of concentric orange octagons. An A.T. Field.

Ayanami! Are you all right?

"I believe so," said Rei, noting with relief that she was beginning to decelerate, "Am I an Angel? Is that what you meant when you said that we are the same?"

If you would like to see the full truth, meet me in Terminal Dogma.

The mention of Terminal Dogma reminded her that Nagisa was an invader. "I will not do anything to assist you," she warned. Was all this an elaborate attempt to recruit her? Maybe his choir was actually an Angelic army that he was putting together.

This is not about helping me. This is about Shinji Ikari. You are the only one who can save him.

"The Commander's son? But why would you want me to help him?"

He is my friend. I love him. You care for him, too. Don't you remember?

"No, I do not," Rei replied. Why did that make her heart feel heavy all of a sudden? Her downward flight slowed to a halt and her feet touched the floor, almost as if her powers could not carry her with that added weight upon her spirit. A quick inspection of her landing spot revealed that she was surrounded by kitschy feline statues, many of them sporting huge grins like the Cheshire Cat. It looked as if she had fallen all the way to Wonderland, but it was far more likely that she was in one of Dr. Akagi's storerooms. That woman's cat obsession was large enough to fill up nine lives and then some.

Your memories have not returned? This is worrisome. I do not understand why the unlocking process has not completed yet.

"What should I do now?" said Rei. Besides getting away from the gaudy cat sculptures, of course.

Nothing will ever change unless you act of your own free will. I ask you again, Rei Ayanami, what is it that you wish to do?

Rei knew that she should return to the Commander at once. She was supposed to be faithful to him. She had to follow his orders. It was the entire purpose of her existence.

However, Nagisa had asked her what she wished to do.

It was the first time anyone had asked the third Rei what she wanted.

"Very well, Nagisa," she said, "I will meet you in Terminal Dogma. Please show me the truth."

Thank you, Ayanami. Are you able to fly again?

Rei attempted to concentrate on flying, but nothing happened. Next she tried dropping a small cat statue onto her foot in the hopes that it would make her A.T. Field reappear, but that did not produce a desirable result either. "It is not working. Also, now my foot hurts."

So your powers are still unstable, and your memories are not returning. Those locks must have been stronger than I thought. This is very bad.

"Perhaps it would be simpler if I took the express elevator to Terminal Dogma instead?"

Er… there's an express elevator?

"Well, yes. How do you think non-Angelic persons get down there?"

Ah. Yes, I suppose the elevator would suffice. Please hurry, before-

Nagisa's voice cut off abruptly, and in her mind's eye Rei briefly saw an image of Evangelion Unit-01 attacking with a Progressive Knife. Was that what Nagisa was seeing right now? Pilot Ikari must be fighting with him, interrupting his focus.

Recognizing the urgency of the situation, Rei ignored the ache in her foot and sprinted into the hallway, dashing past the rest of Dr. Akagi's storerooms. There was the room full of cat plushies, the room of catgirl costumes, the room of naughty catgirl magazines… ah, there was the elevator!

From there, it did not take long for Rei to reach Terminal Dogma. She arrived just in time to witness the hijacked Eva Unit-02 seizing Ikari's Unit-01 by the ankle, giving Nagisa the opportunity to open Heaven's Door. She quickly entered the LCL Plant and ran along a high path that would allow her the best view of the premises, before finally skidding to a halt and looking down. Rei saw that Nagisa was now floating across the lake of LCL, with his choir hovering beside him. His A.T. Field felt so strong that her own began to shine again in response, but it faded away an instant later, leaving her to wonder if the instability of her powers was due to hunger. Perhaps she should have grabbed some waffles before embarking on this caper.

"Adam, our mother," said Nagisa, gazing at the crucified white giant that was the source of the LCL, "Must all who were born of Adam return to Adam? Even at the cost of destroying humanity? No! This is… Lilith? I see, so that's what this is about, Lilin." His tone sounded rather odd, as if he were reciting lines that he had memorized. Nagisa looked up at Rei just then, seeming to expect a reaction from her.

Rei stared blankly at him.

"This is Lilith," Nagisa repeated. He spoke slowly and soothingly, like someone trying to coax a turtle out of its shell.

Rei stared blankly at him.

"This. Is. Lilith," he said again.

Rei stared blankly at him.

Nagisa's eyes widened. "Ayanami, you do not feel a bond with her?"

"No," said Rei, "Should I?" What was he talking about? Did it have something to do with that gibberish he'd said yesterday about Seeds of Life?

Frowning with concentration, Nagisa began to appear slightly alarmed. "Ayanami, I am trying to reconnect to your mind, but I cannot get through. Are any of your powers functional at all? Have you regained any of your memories yet?"

Searching deep within herself, Rei tried desperately to find something, anything. But all she could feel was a gaping hollowness inside, completely empty save for a voice telling her to obey the Commander.

Also, Nagisa's choir singing "Ode to Joy" nonstop was making it difficult to concentrate.

"Nothing is working," said Rei, crestfallen. Had her journey all the way down here been completely pointless? Was she only good at being the Commander's doll and not much else?

"I see," said Nagisa, sighing and bowing his head, "I have failed again. I'm so sorry, Ayanami." He buried his face in his hands, which caused his next sentence to become muffled but Rei could still make out the words "I'm so sorry, Shinji…"

However, what really seized Rei's attention was what she had glimpsed as Nagisa had taken his hands out of his pockets to raise them towards his face. There were scars crisscrossing all over one of his wrists, and the fact that they were visible from where she was standing meant that they must be quite large and numerous. "Nagisa?" she said, "What have you-"

The question went unfinished, for at that moment a battered Unit-02 came crashing through a large wall panel, landing in the shallow end of the LCL lake. The Progressive Knife jammed into the red Eva's cranium made it clear that she had lost the battle. The owner of the Prog Knife, Unit-01, was the next to arrive through the improvised doorway, and her right arm darted forward and grabbed Nagisa with her massive hand.

If the gray-haired boy felt any discomfort being in the Evangelion's tight grip, he did not show it. "Thank you, Shinji," he said serenely, "I wanted you to stop Unit-02. Otherwise, I may have gone on living with her." Then in a quieter but considerably less serene voice he muttered, "The time I was consumed by Unit-Beta was bad enough."

As Rei continued to observe Nagisa and Unit-01 from her vantage point above them, her brow furrowed at the Angel's last statement. What in the world was Unit-Beta?

She was not the only one who was puzzled. "Beta who?" said Ikari's voice from the purple Eva's external speakers, "Kaworu, why are you doing this? I thought we were friends!"

"Of course we are," said Nagisa, giving Unit-01 a reassuring smile so that Ikari could see it. But his expression grew solemn as he added, "However, our time together must draw to a close. Angels and the Lilin cannot coexist. If I continue to live, then you and the rest of humanity will be destroyed. That is why I have to die here."

"What?" said Ikari, his voice quivering, "Kaworu, no! How can I kill my best friend? E-especially… especially after you said that you love me?"

"My friend, that love is the very reason why I am not afraid to die. Because I love you more than life itself," Nagisa said. Indeed, his face had relaxed into the perfect picture of calm acceptance. "If I could end my own existence I would gladly do so, rather than burden you with the task. But I am the vessel of a Seed of Life. I cannot self-terminate. You must lower me into the steel."

Nagisa speaks the truth, Rei thought sadly, recognizing the significance of his wrist scars, He tried to die by his own hand, but was unsuccessful. If an Evangelion was the one thing powerful enough to kill him, but Unit-00 had already been destroyed and the pilot of Unit-02 was currently in a coma, then Ikari was the sole person who could do it. The fact that they were friends made this a truly lamentable fate. But what was that about lowering Nagisa into steel? They were in the LCL Plant, not a steel mill.

Ikari must have been wondering the same thing, for Unit-01 glanced down at the LCL lake, then looked back up at Nagisa, head tilted to one side in evident confusion. "Um… Kaworu, that's LCL below us," he said, "There is no steel here."

"Oh. Sorry, I've been spending too much time on TV Tropes," Nagisa said sheepishly.

There was an awkward silence. Even the choir stopped singing for a few seconds.

Nagisa cleared his throat. "Now, erase me from this world," he told Ikari, "If you don't, you will be the ones who are erased."

As Rei watched helplessly, she wrung her hands in frustration. What was it that Nagisa had wanted her to do? He'd said that she was the one who could save Ikari, but how? Please come back, she said inside her mind, trying to call for her memories and powers to return, Please, oh please come back. I do not want to be a doll anymore! But the prayer went unanswered.

Nagisa looked up at her with a comforting smile, as if to say that he did not blame her for what was about to happen. Turning his gaze back to Unit-01, he said, "Thank you, Shinji. My life was meaningful because of you."

Unit-01 became very still, as Ikari prepared to make the most difficult decision of his life.

Rei's vision grew blurry as her eyes filled with tears. How had her world been turned upside down in such a short time? She had thought that serving the Commander was the sole reason for existence, but then she had received a little taste of freedom, only to have it inexplicably slip away from her. She had thought that Angels were monsters, but Nagisa was sacrificing himself so that Ikari would survive.

Wait. Sacrificing oneself for Ikari? Why did that seem familiar?

Her heart began to beat faster, and an unexpected warmth filled her chest. With a sharp intake of breath, she wrapped her arms around herself in surprise. What was this feeling?

That was when she remembered.

She remembered!

As the second Rei, she had self-destructed her Eva during the battle with the Sixteenth Angel. That was what Ikari had told her, but now she finally recalled exactly why she had done so. It hadn't been about following orders at all. In fact, she had been defying orders. Instead of ejecting from Unit-00, she had chosen to sacrifice herself for Ikari, because she loved him. Just like Nagisa was doing right now.

That revelation about her previous death was the key to her true rebirth, and it singlehandedly undid every lock in her mind. In the blink of an eye, all of her predecessor's memories came flooding back, filling that terrible hollowness that had been inside her. She even understood why those locks had been there. The Commander had been afraid. Yes, he had feared the implications of the second Rei's disobedience, and had wanted to ensure that the third Rei would be completely loyal to the father and not the son.

In those painful moments that Shinji Ikari's heart was breaking, Rei Ayanami suddenly found herself whole again. And she knew that if she did not stop him from killing his best friend this very instant, Ikari would probably die from grief and guilt just a few minutes later.

Or he could become a deranged pervert who would touch himself inappropriately while standing beside Asuka Langley Soryu's hospital bed. It could go either way, really.

"Ikari, wait!" she called out, flying down to land on Unit-01's arm… at least, that had been her intent, but there was still something unsteady about her abilities, and so she wound up missing the Eva completely and landing in the LCL with a loud splash.

"Ayanami?!" Ikari yelped in surprise, "Are you okay? Um… and what are you doing here, anyway?"

Nagisa, still clutched in Unit-01's hand, stared down at her with a baffled look on his face for a moment, before realization seemed to dawn on him. "Ayanami, have you eaten waffles in the past 48 hours?" he asked, "That food temporarily causes an Angel's powers to behave oddly!"

There was a pause from the choir, as several of the singers groaned and shook their heads in chagrin. One of them grumbled, "Why the hell did I sign up for this?"

Rei gaped at Nagisa in disbelief. "My unlocking process was delayed due to the waffles I ate yesterday? Angels can deflect missiles with ease, but they will suffer negative consequences from eating waffles?"

"It is not something that Angels discuss very often," he replied, blushing slightly, "After all, it is rather embarrassing. However, waffles are not fatal to an Angel. It just makes one's powers unpredictable."

"Hey, wait a second," said Ikari, "Ayanami is an Angel, too?" His voice did not tremble with fear or carry the sharpness of accusation. He simply sounded curious.

Ikari does not mind that Nagisa and I are Angels, Rei thought, He still cares about us. That made her feel pleasantly warm inside. Turning towards the giant that Nagisa had called Lilith, she felt even warmer as she finally sensed the connection that the Fifth Child had tried to show her before. All of the boy's words from the previous day now made perfect sense.

"It's all right, Ikari," said Rei, levitating out of the LCL. Her flight path was somewhat wobbly, but this time she successfully managed to land on Unit-01's arm. "My memory has returned."

"Really? That's great!" Ikari exclaimed. In a more subdued manner, he shyly added, "Welcome back, Ayanami. I really missed you."

"I am glad, too" said Nagisa, sighing with relief, "We cut it a little close there, but you made it just in time."

"Yes, and I understand what you were trying to tell me before," Rei told him, "You are a vessel for the soul of Adam, the mother of the Angels. I am the vessel for Lilith, the mother of humanity… or rather, the Lilin. This planet was meant to be Adam's, but then Lilith landed here by accident. We took your planet, even though we were never supposed to be here. I am sorry." She bowed to him in apology, even though it probably looked a little silly since Nagisa was still wrapped in Unit-01's giant purple fingers.

Nagisa shook his head. "Don't be sorry," he said, "If I had not lived among the Lilin, I never would have learned about music. Worse, I never would have met Shinji. How could I ever regret meeting him? As far as I am concerned, the Lilin have earned this planet. Furthermore, you have my deepest thanks, because now you will be able to save Shinji."

"Save him?" said Rei, blinking in confusion, "But I thought I just did."

"Not quite yet, Ayanami," said Nagisa. He bowed his head ruefully. "I need you to kill me, so Shinji won't have to."

"What?" said Rei.

"What?" said Ikari.

"What?" said the choir.

"Ayanami, now that you are aware of your true nature as a Seed of Life, you comprehend better than anyone why this needs to be done," said Nagisa, "The Lilin are your children. With your powers, you will be able to kill me in order to protect them. Also, now that you remember your friendship with Shinji, you'll be able to make him happy. All I want is for him to be happy!"

"Kaworu!" said Ikari, beginning to sob, "I… I…"

Rei did not wait for Ikari to finish. She ran down the length of Unit-01's arm, straight towards Nagisa.

"Yes, that's it!" said Nagisa, eyes shining with gratitude, "You can use your A.T. Field in order to-"

However, it was not Rei's A.T. Field, but her hand that lashed out and delivered a hard slap to his face. "How dare you ask this of me!" she said, "You helped me to regain my freedom, and you clearly have no desire to harm the Lilin. You are not an enemy. I do not wish to kill you any more than Ikari does!"

"Ayanami, you must understand!" Nagisa pleaded, "My Angelic instinct compels me to start Third Impact, in order to reclaim the planet for my species. I cannot fight it forever. Once I lose control, all the Lilin will perish, including Shinji! I would rather die than hurt him!"

"You are already hurting him, right now," Rei said quietly.

A whimper escaped Nagisa's throat as he began to tremble, and he squeezed his eyes shut as tears started to fall. But the teardrops transformed into diamonds and rose petals, because apparently everything Nagisa did had to be strange.

Sitting at the base of Unit-01's thumb, Rei gently patted Nagisa on the head, to express remorse for striking him. "There must be another way," she said, "Please, help me think of something."

Nagisa leaned appreciatively against her touch, but the sadness did not leave his eyes. "I have spent multiple lifetimes trying to 'think of something'," he said, his haunted gaze seeming to observe something far beyond the walls of Terminal Dogma, "This may be difficult for you to believe, but we have all gone through these events, or variations of them, many times over. I have been so determined to make Shinji happy that I've been willing to relive this life again and again, trying to find a way to avert tragedy. But no matter what, the result is always the same: Shinji is forced to kill me, and it breaks him completely."

Rei opened her mouth to reply, but then it occurred to her that she had no idea what to say. They had all gone through multiple lifetimes together, but Nagisa was the only one who remembered? How could such a thing be possible? True, her very existence was proof that a soul and its memories could be transferred to a clone body, but that wasn't the same as restarting an entire life's worth of actions from the very beginning, with complete knowledge of everything that was going to happen. Was Nagisa hinting that reincarnation was real, and that he had the rare gift of being able to retain all memories of his previous lives? Or could it be that he was manipulating time itself, restarting the same life over and over until Ikari found happiness?

Or perhaps they were all characters in a show made by KyoAni, but that was too frightening to contemplate.

If Nagisa was indeed that powerful, then the implications were staggering. She was a being similar to him, so did she also have such capabilities? When she reached her full potential, would she be able to make time flow in whatever direction she wanted, and make sure that the souls of those she cared about would always meet again? For someone who had been the Commander's puppet just a short while ago, it was an astounding thought. However, she never would have had this opportunity if Nagisa had not reawakened her. Lilith should be his rival, but he obviously did not see it that way. In fact, it was because of his compassion for the Lilin that he had chosen to defy his destiny of initiating Third Impact, only to become entangled in another disastrous outcome instead. He was trapped, just as she had once been.

"Please, Ayanami," Nagisa continued, "Just kill me, so Shinji won't have to be the one. It is the only way to end this fate."

"No," she said, rising to her feet and ignoring his bewildered protests, "I do not agree with this conclusion. The Angel of Free Will, a captive of fate? Unacceptable. You liberated me, so now I shall find a way to liberate you."

Ikari sniffled, which was probably not a very comfortable thing to do while immersed in LCL. "A-Ayanami?" he said, "Please, if there's any way you can help Kaworu…" The desperate hope in his voice made her heart ache.

There must be a way to save them both, she thought, pacing back and forth along Unit-01's arm as she considered her options, There must be! If she was the vessel of Lilith, then perhaps she was capable of transforming Nagisa into a regular Lilin? Then again, it might be cruel to do that to someone who was so accustomed to having Angelic powers. It would be like slicing a bird's wings off. Was there anything else she could try?

"Ayanami, I appreciate your generosity, but please do not make this any harder on yourself," said Nagisa, "We were never meant to occupy the same planet."

"Wait, that's it!" said Rei.

"Huh?" said Nagisa, Ikari, and the choir.

"If Angels and the Lilin cannot occupy the same planet, then why are we still trying to occupy the same planet?", said Rei, walking back to Nagisa, "What if we could send you and Adam to another world? Would it be possible for you to create a new home for the Angels there?" Her enthusiasm dimmed somewhat as she realized what she was asking of him, and she added apologetically, "Granted, it is rather unjust to send you away even though Adam rightfully arrived on Earth first, but the logistics of moving all the Lilin to another world instead would be…"

Nagisa shook his head. "As I said before, you Lilin have earned this planet," he said, smiling contentedly, "If I can populate another world with Angelic life, my instincts will be satisfied, and then Shinji and I would be able to safely see each other again."

"You are most kind," Rei said gratefully, "But where to send you, then? The moon, perhaps? No, it seems unfair to make you leave your planet for a place so much smaller." She did not wish to add insult to injury.

"I do not mind that. However, I fear that Angels living so close to Earth would cause panic among the Lilin," said Nagisa, "I do not wish for anyone to go through further suffering because of the Angels."

Closing her eyes in contemplation, Rei thought about the time when Tokyo-3 had suffered a blackout during the Ninth Angel's attack, and how much Ikari had enjoyed looking up at the stars before power had returned to the city. "Ikari, you seem to enjoy astronomy," she said, opening her eyes to glance up at Unit-01's face, "Do you have a suggestion?"

"Um… well, how about Mars?" said Ikari, "Earth has sent a bunch of unmanned orbiters and rovers there in order to explore it. Maybe Kaworu would be able to use those to stay in touch with us?"

Nagisa nodded in approval, and so did Rei. A long-distance friendship (okay, more like a long, long, long-distance friendship) was better than anybody being killed. Especially if it was only a temporary arrangement so Nagisa could set off an Impact in a Lilin-free zone.

"Mars it is, then," said Nagisa, "Thank you, Ayanami and Shinji. This is a wonderful idea."

Rei smiled. "Shall we take a break now?"

Suddenly, Nagisa was no longer being clutched in Unit-01's hand. Instead, he and Rei were seated comfortably on the Eva's outstretched arm, sipping from cans of UCC Coffee. Ikari had left his entry plug and was sitting in between the two of them, also drinking coffee.

"Wait," said Nagisa, "What just happened? Where did these refreshments come from?"

"Every so often, we must do advertisements for UCC Coffee," said Rei, striking a pose with her beverage can as a camera flash lit up the room, "Maintaining the Evangelions is very expensive, so Nerv requires us to do this as a way of generating extra income."

"Yeah, you get used to it after a while," said Ikari, raising his drink and tilting his head to the side with a cute grin. There was another camera flash.

"Ah, I see," said Nagisa, smiling and holding his coffee out towards the flashing camera, as if offering it to the viewer, "Well, this is more fun than Seele's fundraising efforts. They set up a webcam that just showed me floating naked in a tank filled with LCL. They called it 'Tabris-XXX'. I could not understand it. What kind of people would pay money to see me naked?"

Ikari groaned. "Kaworu, give me your cell phone. I'm going to add Child Services to your speed dial."

"Oh, what about your choir, Nagisa?" said Rei, looking at the singing group hovering in the air in front of them, "They have been performing that song all this time. Surely they would like something to drink as well?"

"Thank you for the offer, Ayanami," said Nagisa, "But that is not something they need anymore." He nodded at the choir, and the vocalists fell silent as their hooded gray robes began to ripple like a series of mirages. A few seconds later, these outer garments dissipated completely, revealing the people who had been hidden underneath.

Every single one of them looked like Nagisa.

Are they clones?, Rei wondered. But no, a more careful assessment of the sight before her made it clear that they were not exact copies of Nagisa. While their pale skin, red eyes, and wide smiles were all unmistakably his, the texture and color of their hair varied. Whoever they were, most of them were dressed in either plugsuits or the boys' uniform of Tokyo-3 First Municipal Middle School, although there were also a few unique outfits among the crowd.

"Wow…" said Ikari, nearly breathless with amazement, "Kaworu, your fan club has great cosplayers!"

Nagisa chuckled. "They are not cosplayers, Shinji. These are my past lives."

One of the singers drifted a little closer to Unit-01. He wore an unfamiliar school uniform that included a black necktie with a white cross on it. "Referring to us as his past lives is a partial explanation, but he is oversimplifying things quite a bit," he said to Ikari.

A choir member with honey-colored hair and a dark blue sailor outfit was the next to speak. "For now, it will suffice to say that Shinji Ikari and Kaworu Nagisa have befriended each other again and again, over the course of many separate lifetimes. Sometimes they meet in a world quite similar to this one…"

"But other times, it is very different!" said a singer whose plugsuit had been modified to resemble a Power Ranger costume.

"The largest problems emerge whenever Kaworu Nagisa is born as the vessel of Adam," the sailor-suited one continued, "As your Kaworu explained to you, those lifetimes have always ended in heartbreak. Like what happened to me, for instance." From the neck down, his body began to shine with a blinding radiance, and then metamorphosed into an alien-looking Angel's body, with the signature red core becoming visible on his torso. Strange markings also materialized on his face, giving him an even more fearsome appearance.

"Geez!" said the Power Ranger, moving away from his transformed colleague, "How many times do I have to tell you to warn the rest of us before you do that, man! It's creepy!"

The altered singer ignored the comment and went on, "Ayanami and Shinji, your Mars idea is brilliant. I believe you may have found the key to finally end this cycle of tragedy."

"That's really good to hear," Ikari said happily, not showing even the slightest trace of apprehension as he gazed at the Angelic being, "And I don't think you're creepy at all. You're still Kaworu, so I don't care what you look like!" Turning to smile at the Nagisa of his current timeline, he added, "Wow, so it's really true: You and I have known each other for multiple lifetimes. I-I think I understand now, why we became best friends so quickly…" In a shy whisper, he finished, "It must have been because somewhere deep in my heart, I already knew you."

"Awwwww…" said the choir. Then one of singers shouted "Group hug!" and the whole crowd rushed forward to surround Ikari and Nagisa.

"You too, Ayanami!" another vocalist exclaimed, guiding her into the massive hug as well.

The next few minutes were a tangle of warm embraces and welcoming laughter, until a singer cheered, "Hooray for Shinji, our hero!" and the choir hoisted Ikari above their heads.

"Hooray for Ayanami, our other hero!" said a different singer, and Rei found herself lifted over the assembly as well.

Nagisa and his choir then launched into another rendition of "Ode to Joy", as Rei and Ikari were passed from person to person (er… Angel to Angel?) above the singers' heads.

Ikari was blushing as he turned to look at her. "We're crowd surfing," he said, laughing in disbelief, "We're crowd surfing on a sea of Kaworus."

"I guess we are," she said with a smile. She held her hand out to him, and their fingers entwined. It is difficult to know what to say when body surfing atop an Angelic choir, so sometimes holding hands is all you can do.

When the celebration had finished and Rei, Ikari, and Nagisa were safely seated on Unit-01's arm again, one of the choir members floated closer to Ikari. His outfit was similar to Nagisa's, but his hair was bright silver as opposed to Nagisa's lavender-gray. However, what was most noticeable about him was that he had a dead kitten cradled in his arms. Where had that come from?

"Will you hold him?" said the silver-haired vocalist, offering the cat's limp body to Ikari.

"Huh?" said Ikari. He looked around at everyone else for an explanation, but all the other singers remained silent and watched him intently. "Um… okay," he decided, taking the tiny feline out of the other boy's hands.

"Meow?"

"What the-?!" Ikari cried out, nearly losing his balance as the kitten inexplicably opened its eyes and began to breathe again. Rei grabbed Ikari's shoulder on one side while Nagisa grabbed his other shoulder, to prevent him from falling off Unit-01's arm. Not the least bit bothered by this commotion, the kitten simply purred.

"Will you take care of him?" the silver-haired vocalist asked, "Please?"

Rei noticed the way he had held his breath right after asking that. He seems afraid that Ikari will refuse, she thought.

Ikari stroked the kitten's white fur, his fingers cautiously tracing the half-starved creature's protruding ribs. "Poor little guy," said Ikari, "I'll do my best."

"Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!" said the silver-haired boy, flinging his arms around Ikari and hugging him tightly. "Thank you, thank you…" he kept repeating, until he could no longer form words as he began to sob loudly, with tears streaming down his face. Some of the other singers started to cry too, but the teardrops transformed into butterflies and jellybeans, because apparently every version of Nagisa had to be strange.

"Uh… you're welcome," said Ikari, setting the kitten down on his lap so that he could give the singer a quick hug back, "I guess this kitten must have held some significance for us in a previous life?"

"You have no idea," the singer responded with a self-deprecating smile. Glowing softly, he began to turn transparent, slowly fading away.

Ikari's eyes grew wide. "Where are you going? Come back!"

"Don't be sad, Shinji," the vanishing boy said, "I died a long time ago. But I'm happy now. I'm really, really, happy…"

Then he was gone.

"Oh, don't worry about him," said the singer with the visible Angel core, "That fellow has a thing for dramatic exits, but he'll be all right. He's just returning to our headquarters. You did a very good thing for him, Shinji."

"Speaking of headquarters, we should go back as well," the vocalist with the cross necktie said to the rest of the choir, "This is not our timeline, so we should not overstay our welcome."

"So soon?" said Ikari, his shoulders sagging with disappointment.

"Sorry, we just came here to give your Kaworu a little musical encouragement during his final days," said the choir member with the Power Ranger outfit, "But thanks to you and Ayanami, he's going to live. So cheer up, Shinji!"

"Good luck with the Mars mission," said a singer with three pairs of glowing wings sprouting from his back, "I pray for everyone's happiness."

One by one, the remaining vocalists disappeared, calling out "Goodbye!" or "Good luck!" as they left, with the exception of one who said "Do svidaniya!" instead.

"Why was that guy speaking Russian?" asked Ikari.

"It's… a long story," said Nagisa.

When the last of the choir had vanished, the three Eva pilots sat in contemplative silence for several minutes, until Ikari finally broke the spell by saying, "Hey, Kaworu?"

"Yes, Shinji?"

Ikari suddenly grabbed Nagisa by the shirt collar. "Stop dying all the time, damn it!" he shouted right in Nagisa's face, "If you ever try to get yourself killed again, I'm gonna freaking kill you!" After a brief pause, he added in a more subdued voice, "Okay, I just realized that threat didn't make any sense at all."

"It was rather confusing, yes."

Sighing, Ikari put an arm around Nagisa's shoulders. "I'm sorry, Kaworu. It's just… really overwhelming to find out that my best friend has died for me so many times. You have to start looking after yourself too, you know. Otherwise it's… not fair… and stuff." Turning towards Rei, he added, "That goes for you too, Ayanami. Ritsuko destroyed the rest of your clone bodies. There'll be no coming back if you get blown up again. Seriously, you and Kaworu have to quit doing this. I-I'm not worth all this trouble."

"Yes, you are!" Nagisa and Rei said simultaneously.

All three children blushed and stared at the wall.

Rei cleared her throat. "Nagisa will not die," she said resolutely, "I will do whatever I can to ensure that he remains safe until he can go to Mars."

"Thank you, Ayanami," said Nagisa, "You really saved me today."

"You saved the both of us," Ikari added.

There was that warm feeling in her heart again. Rei wondered what she should do about it. Thinking back, she recalled how Toji Suzuhara and Ikari had punched each other before becoming friends. Also, just a moment ago Ikari had threatened to kill Nagisa, and then reaffirmed their friendship. Did this mean that people liked violence as a gesture of camaraderie? It would explain why Vice Commander Fuyutsuki looked like he wanted to punch the Commander half the time. But she did not feel like hitting Ikari or Nagisa.

She decided to try a different tactic. "Ikari? Nagisa?"

"Yes, Ayanami?" said Nagisa.

"Would it be all right if you both… called me Rei?" she asked.

The boys glanced at each other, smiled, and turned back to Rei. "Sure, Rei," said Ikari, "If you'll call us Shinji and Kaworu."

"Thank you, Shinji. Thank you, Kaworu," she said, smiling back at them. Strange, that warm sensation was now filling her from head to toe. But it felt very nice.

"Meow?"

Ikari – no, Shinji – looked down at the kitten in his lap. "That's right. We need to give you a name, don't we?" he said, petting the little feline.

"How about 'Lazarus'?" Kaworu suggested, "It sounds like a fitting name for someone who was restored to life."

"Meow!"

Shinji rubbed the kitten's belly. "He seems to like that idea. Hmm, Lazarus sure is thin, though. I'd better get him something to eat soon." With a sad sigh, he added, "I wish there was also something I could do for Asuka. She's normally so strong, and… and everything that I'm not. Seeing her in that coma is killing me."

"Let's head back up, then," said Kaworu, "I may be able to help her."

"Really? Thanks, Kaworu!" said Shinji, picking up Lazarus and hastily rising to his feet, "Let's go. Misato and the others are probably freaking out wondering what happened to us, anyway."

That was an understatement, Rei knew. Even though Major Katsuragi was a friend, she hated the Angels, so it was going to be a challenge to make her see that Kaworu was not an enemy. However, Major Katsuragi was the least of their worries. From what Rei knew of the Commander's scenario, both he and Seele had plans that would not only require the elimination of all the Angels, but could also lead to catastrophe for the Lilin.

Without a doubt, the Eva pilots still had more difficulties ahead of them. But as Rei looked at Shinji and Kaworu again, she also knew that no matter what, she would help her friends to find happiness. Moreover, Shinji was right; she had to start thinking about her own happiness as well. She could never allow herself to be a puppet again.

Rei Ayanami hoped that today was going to be a good day.

No, that wasn't right.

Rei Ayanami was determined to make it a good day.

TO BE CONTINUED

Next chapter: Asuka makes her triumphant return. Yay! Also, Misato finds out that Kaworu is the vessel of Adam. Uh-oh! Don't miss Chapter 2 of The Happy Red Planet, "Campus Asuka-calypse"! There will be fan service, too!

Author's notes: In the first and second drafts of the script for episode 24 of the Neon Genesis Evangelion TV series, Shinji noticed that there were scars on Kaworu's wrist, but no information was given on where the scars came from. This plot point was not used in the final version of the episode, so it's not canon, but I thought it might be worth exploring in fan fiction. If the scars meant that Kaworu had attempted suicide but then discovered that he could not die from self-inflicted wounds, this would explain why someone else has to kill him in order to prevent Third Impact. Of course we all know how badly Shinji always reacts to doing the deed, which is why Kaworu in this fan fic had the "brilliant" idea of asking Rei to be the executioner instead. Silly Angel, don't you see that Shinji would be devastated about losing you no matter who does the killing? Kaworu is powerful, intelligent, and has a good heart, but there is a lot about the Lilin that he still doesn't know. Then again, one of the themes of Evangelion is that all people hurt each other due to misunderstandings.

As you probably noticed, this fan fiction is set in the original anime continuity, albeit with some time/space shenanigans going on (plus the story will proceed in a very different direction from here, because Kaworu didn't die). However, this chapter also had a number of shout-outs to some other Evangelion continuities, concept art, and merchandise. These references were mainly just for fun, so don't worry if you're not very familiar with the various Eva spinoffs out there. But if you happened to spot them all, then congratulations, you're just as crazy about Evangelion as I am! That's probably not a good thing, but at least I'm not alone in my insanity. Hee hee!

Thank you very much for reading, and feedback would be greatly appreciated. See you next time!

-Literary Eagle, 2013