So, I'm reading the short stories, and I'm remembering that Vialle was married to Random explicitly to make his life miserable since the queen of Rebma hates him (and Amber) because of her daughter's suicide (and Oberon's history of dick moves) and thinking that 'yeah, if this was the Corwin books it would turn out three books later that she was doing something evil here that eventually will screw over Luke,' and I mean, Vialle. That's proper paranoia in the first half of the Amber series for you. Reading the short stories, I could just feel myself getting back into the Corwin books mindset of 'remember, everyone you meet is an asshole.'

Doesn't help that she had Luke contact someone that we know from Book 10 attempted to mind-control Merlin. Three different spikards with mind control spells put upon the same bedpost by three different people/groups (some of them allied with/planning to betray people in the other groups) for three different purposes, and, according to Frakir, the one that got Merlin and hexed him into putting on a strange magical artifact found in a room belonging to someone who tried to destroy most of existence was the one that wasn't even targeted at him? He got the one meant to compel Luke into picking it up, because apparently Brand failed to take into consideration that his son might become close enough friends with another Amberite (of all the untrustworthy people that could never make for True Companions) for the Law of Contagion to come into effect.

That is a gambit-pile-up, Amber style.

A whole bunch of stuff was about to go down. The stories are very worth reading for the looming HSQ. Also Frakir and Flora team-up~

There are two possible positions in the birth order for Delwin and Sand. I went with the more interesting one.

Pity there's no Frigga for Merlin anywhere in the Amber books, although the absence of any Frigga in both generations may explain why everyone sucks so hard at parenting. Merlin and Ghostwheel's relationship is honestly the healthiest parent-child relationship we see, and that's with Ghostwheel having the AI Is A Crapshoot phase and trying to kill him until they get it sorted out. Corwin doesn't get much chance to parent Merlin. After he finds out that 'oh shit, I have a kid, I need to make up for all those absent years by teaching him a lot of life lessons in a hurry,' we get the first five Books of Amber.

Kergma had solved for Rei's location and found her still on Shadow Earth, but Asuka rang the doorbell in search of food and then yelled down to Shinji to get up here and eat, since she was not carrying his even deader than usual weight if he got poisoned by Misato's cooking. I found it wisest to hang a few spells before heading into work a little on the late side, swinging by a couple places on the way, just in case.

Sitting on top of a bike rack near the entrance to Shinji's school, the Broken Logrus tilted his head at me, rather like the raven that was perched on his knee. I was the only one on the street who could see them.

Even though I didn't summon the Logrus into my mind to use Logrus Sight any more, it was clear that the raven whose feathers he was stroking was a chaos being, rather like the denizens of the Courts. Not something more rarified and inhuman like the bodiless ty'iga, such as Gail/Nayda.

Which made it an angel, but it was pushing its head and wings up into the avatar's hand instead of attacking. "Lilith's soul has returned to Terminal Dogma," he explained when I said I was just swinging by on the way to see Rei: if he had any way of knowing what happened to his counterpart, that might say interesting things. Or not. "Either her original body or one of the other clones Fuyutsuki had made. If it is the latter, they will likely pretend nothing happened. Ritsuko would not want to answer Misato's questions about Rei's whereabouts while she is searching for Gendo Ikari."

Ghost must have told Julia about the clones, I realized. I'd told him to pass everything on to Julia, since it was her home Shadow. I'd head over as soon as I'd made it clear to this little Serpent that "You're going to stay away from her, and from Shinji."

"No," he said, looking up to meet my eyes squarely. "Rei and Shinji are like me."

Huh? Well, yes, I'd often thought that the Serpent and the Unicorn had a lot alike, being incredibly petty, selfish bastards for one thing, but "Shinji?"

"He was born just to give someone else power. To be used as a tool for the destruction of this world, even though that isn't what he wants. Even though he's a Lilim, he's the same as I am, and Lilith as well. He likes music, too," he said, smile growing distant, focused on some memory of speaking with Shinji instead of on me. "You're like us as well: you understand, don't you? You want to protect Ghostwheel from ever feeling that way, from ever being something just to be used, the way King Random saw him as something that shouldn't exist, because he would be too dangerous in the wrong hands. When his hands were yours, and now were his own." He looked down at the chaos demon taking the form of a bird, eyes warm and doting. "I want to protect him, and so does Rei. They are worthy of my sympathy. I want them to be happy."

So he empathized with them? If they were sad, or worse, dead, he'd be sad for them, so if they were happy… Far too simple, nice, neat to be true, as much as it appealed for that exact reason.

I considered bringing Luke in, but no, for the same reason I hadn't wanted him unattended around Rei. Leaving Luke around young, impressionable and easily led avatars would be like giving him access to Ghost… wheel… dammit.

Well, I thought to myself, unlike Rei (thanks to Yui's genetic material, which meant that Shinji got it from both sides), Kaworu wasn't a relative. My odds were better with him than with Rei, and much better than with Shinji.

"I could walk between worlds," he said thoughtfully, unaware of my thoughts, "but Rei cannot. Her order is the order of this world. So, for her to be happy, Shinji must find happiness in this world."

I've heard plenty of 'I'm on your side,' in my time. Regardless of whether or not they're lying, one of the things I've had to learn as someone with the blood of Amber is that it's never true. Everyone is always on their own side. You may end up fighting back to back with them fairly often, but no one's interests are going to coincide with yours all the time.

I'd much rather have someone who honestly makes me want to punch their front teeth in than a skilled liar.

Jurt and Mandor, for instance. Jurt honestly tried to kill me. Mandor was a big brother to me. One of these things hurts more, and one of them means that now, we can actually be friends. I wish Mandor the best, but if he violated his exile, or came within several shadows of me when it wasn't for an event arranged in advance, like his wedding, I'd have to kill him. Dara believes in the Logrus. I don't know what Mandor wants, unless it's power, like Fiona, and that means that he's still not honest with me.

Kaworu seemed to be under the impression that I wanted to take Shinji away at some point to let him walk the Pattern. If that was what Julia had assumed, then I was honestly touched, after I'd tried to stifle her talent for magic. He was assuming that I cared about what I thought was best for Shinji enough that we'd have a conflict of interest over it. He wasn't quite picking a fight with me, but he was telling me something he thought I wasn't going to want to hear, just like he'd told me no earlier.

Was this what it was like for my Amberite aunts and uncles, dealing with me? Aww, such a cute little kid. He thinks he's all grown up just because he got away from one set of people trying to use him. I almost felt like giving him a pat on the head and fishing around in my pocket to see if there was some candy or something.

Well, I did have some change. "Come on," I said finally. "I'll buy you a juice."

I ended up buying three of them, since apparently he hadn't managed to store Julia's memories except for the relevant ones and didn't know what any of the flavors were like. Three because a patch of darkness crawled up out of his shirt pocket, and then a black and white ball sprang into existence a couple inches ahead of it.

He poured a bit of all three of the juices into the shadow, not the ball, I noticed, then he poured them into a cupped hand for the raven, after taking a sip of each of them. Two angels were awake, not one, and they weren't attacking?

Well, it wasn't like the Chaosite half of my family attacked each other to walk the Logrus, and these were Shadows of the same kind of beings they were, roughly. Making them about as human as the Chaos half of my family, and possibly slightly more human than the Amber half, provided the Unicorn really was in there. Of course, if these really were spawned directly from Adam, the Broken Logrus, then that would make them along the lines of Oberon himself. So something like half-human, insofar as any of us count as human?

"This is Frakir," I said, showing him the braided cord around one of my wrists. "Go on, say hello," I told her, which was more or less leaving the form of the 'hello' and the number of dead bodies involved up to her.

One of her ends poked itself up, in the direction of his outstretched hand. "May I?" he asked me.

"Sure," I said, as he tried petting her with a finger, the way he had the raven. His body was humanoid enough that Frakir should work as a lie detector without having to use more than her passive magic.

He was delighted when she crawled up his arm, circling around his shoulders to come up in front of his face: even when she brushed against his neck, it just never occurred to him that she might attack him. People tend to assume that others are like them: that works for my aunts and uncles because they're right about the rest being schemers. Doesn't work so well for honest people, and people who just don't think in terms of attacking others, and that means it doesn't occur to them that other people might want to attack them… Even though the Logrus gave her life, after the time he gave her sentience and then took it away until I managed to replace it, Frakir hasn't liked the Serpent all that much. So, when she pulled away from vital areas to crawl down into the shadow by the orb, which seemed to be some kind of bottomless pit, and then out again to go out to his knee and examine the raven, I relaxed a little more and finished my coffee.

"So, friends of yours?" I asked, indicating the angels.

"The children of my past life." He ran a finger gently over the edge of the black hole on his shirtfront. "They were looking for me. I was alone, and told that all of us were called to destroy or die first, but… they were just looking for me."

So, possibly attempting to prey on my sympathies, as a father with a rather odd assortment of children (Ghostwheel was my Minerva, the product of my brain, but Frakir was something like half drawn from the Serpent, and honestly I did not want to imagine her in as many beds as Oberon was in, when she eventually let me upgrade her with shapeshifting so she could assume humanoid form. Or demonic. The Courts often prefer the latter – to stay in humanoid form all the time smacks of orderly sympathies), in which case I would annihilate him, for exposing his children to danger (me) in order to use them as tools.

Although yes, in my younger days, pot, kettle, and then there was the time I left Frakir tied to a bedpost for trying to warn me, although in my defense I was being mind-controlled by the enchanted ring she was desperately trying to warn me about at the time. He was trying to figure out how to survive in this world and despite possibly being a future enemy he deserved some sympathy, some guidance…

Oh. Yes, this really was how my Amberite relatives used to see me, bright young completely clueless lad from the Courts of Chaos, when they'd just fought a war with Amber.

…And he wasn't paying attention to me at all anymore, Frakir's cord twining around pale fingers as they preened black feathers. "This is Bardiel," he told her, "And the shy child who uses his shadow as a distraction is Leliel. I'm trying to find the rest of them before they wake up, so the Lilim won't detect them and Shinji won't worry."

"Gendo Ikari?" Rei asked me once I'd identified which of them had the soul and fished that one up out of the tank. As far as I could tell, Ritsuko hadn't even noticed that Rei was missing, not when Gendo Ikari was missing.

"Oh, I gave him to Kaji."

She looked confused, so I assumed she was wondering why I'd done that.

"Well, he seemed to have a use for him, and I certainly didn't want him cluttering up the place." Possibly waking up who knows when. "I told Kaji to tie him down securely, and then times that a few times." Although I was sure Gendo would get loose eventually, whenever he woke up.

Also, Kaji had questions, and I certainly didn't feel like being interrogated. Gendo, on the other hand, entirely deserved to be thrown to the wolves.

"Who is Kaji?" she asked next, and that was when I realized there might be a problem.

When I trumped back to my apartment (trumps can be drawn of locations as well as people), my guest (these apartments came with two spare bedrooms, and it would be handy to have someone nearby in case Jurt decided to relapse to 'it's all Merlin's fault,' or at least that was my excuse) had acquired a mass of white hair ribbons with a skull-like shape on the sort of brooch in the middle. I wondered if it was a Dia de los Muertos thing before remembering wrong continent, and when it moved I figured he'd picked up another angel, unless one of the two he already had decided to shapeshift. Chaosites did that.

He was happy to see her, and she was neutral to see him. I'd worried if without memories of being socialized as a human, an avatar of order, however Broken, would have more innate hostility to an avatar of chaos, but if anything she seemed more intrigued and less territorial. Kaworu not lying next to Shinji, if she knew who Shinji was right now (it was rather disgusting that she knew Gendo Ikari's name, and that she was supposed to obey orders, but not much else), might have had something to do with it. This time, she was the one to say "You are like me," in tones of quiet amazement instead of Kaworu's happy greeting.

Briefly, I contemplated informing the Serpent and the Unicorn that there was a Shadow where the versions of them got along well enough that Rei was soon the one sporting a pretty yet Gothic hair ribbon (I'm not really in a position to disapprove of accessorizing with lethal chaos beings when I'm sporting a strangling cord on my wrist), not to mention that the clothing problem had been temporarily solved by Kaworu offering her some of the school uniform shirts and pants he'd probably magicked up. So he'd made sure to remember Julia's knowledge of magic, if not her knowledge of food…

I was frying up some bacon for myself, the raven, and the hair ribbon and bottomless pit if they wanted any (a unicorn not eating meat I can understand, but a vegetarian Serpent? The way both of them wrinkled their noses at the scent of cooking bacon was probably a dead giveaway that they weren't human, although they didn't mind the eggs – come to think of it, given the red eyes and vaguely albino appearance, they might be rabbitlike enough to explain the rabbit food) when Jurt arrived, looking like he'd gone on a bender, and take it from me, that takes work. I had to wonder if he was going for the pitiful effect deliberately.

I added a couple more slices of bacon, but only a couple, because this was still my annoying younger brother and also I was here to save this Shadow, not watch it collapse into goo all around me.

He was a little taken aback to see Rei, but she just stared at him, clearly having no earthly or unearthly clue who this weirdo was and why he was staring at her.

Kaworu looked a little more likely to start something, but red eyes flickered to the hair ribbon (who was named Zeruel, apparently), and I guess he figured that if Jurt tried to make off with Rei again, Zeruel could make like Frakir long enough for Rei to call for help and him to do… whatever he did other than large explosions, hopefully, because we were indoors and I'd told him that we were right over Shinji's apartment.

The bait in the Misato trap had vanished before I woke up (looked like she'd cut the knot) and Kaworu invited Rei out onto the balcony to re-bait it with sheet music, partially in order to get her away from the guy who had cut her open. The raven stayed with me, or rather with the bacon.

"I didn't think she was actually going to die," Jurt said sulkily, and I wondered who he was talking about, Rei or Julia. "That's just a secondary host body, her true bodies are down in NERV and that Eva."

I nodded, because destroying a manifestation wasn't destroying the principle. "I think Julia already figured that out. By the time she went home, it was more along the lines of that she'd told you that she was going to be fine, with your help, but going to get me of all people? She didn't want to need my help any more than you must have liked the idea of me helping her." Since an insult to someone's pride was a little more likely to get through to Jurt and his issues than Julia not wanting a kid murdered right in front of her, especially if, it was implied, this was happening because Jurt thought she couldn't hack it. He knew how he'd react if someone thought he was so weak they needed to go get me to help him.

Jurt winced, and scowled, a habitual expression for him. I was reminded of when we were children.

"How do you want your eggs?" I asked.

"You aren't going to give me any more," condescending, "advice?"

"I dated her for a few years, and by that time she was mad enough to damn near kill me," I reminded him. "You've dated her for decades. I'm the last person you want to ask for advice." The doorbell rang and I took the bacon off the heat to answer it.

"Mister Corey, you dropped something off the balcony?" Shinji said. "I tried to throw it back up, but it wouldn't stay."

"Oh, Kaworu left that there to get your attention," I told him. "I think he used something that would work as bait for him." Idly, I wondered what would make good Merlin bait. Friends, obviously: a lot of beings have used them to lure me into various traps or make me go haring off into nowhere.

I'd gotten the apartment pre-furnished with a bed and a couple pieces of furniture in the spare rooms in case any of the guests wanted to spend the night, and the Broken Logrus had already figured out summoning stuff out of Shadow.

The sheer quantity of pillows swarming the floor, forming valleys and hills like the one Rei was sitting on when I opened the door was going to do horrible things to the room's acoustics, but really, that was all to the good. I had no idea why a chaos being would summon a grand piano, unless it had gotten the idea from some cartoon show, and even if I don't have my father's ear for music, I'd rather not have to listen to a teenager with more enthusiasm than sense plonking on that thing. If I didn't have access to silence spells, I might have told him to get rid of it. Then I remembered the sheet music, thought better of it and asked, "Can you play that thing?" while Shinji was greeting Rei. He seemed to have gotten the impression that she'd just run off while his back was turned the day before and was still making an effort not to hold her strange behavior against her, or to view it as just Rei being Rei instead of Rei being a broken manifestation of primal order.

Kaworu nodded.

"Freeform jazz?" I asked, thinking of Uncle Random and his preferred drum style, not to mention Cousin Martin.

"I'm fondest of classical, especially the Romantic period."

Really? That seemed a little structured. The Ways of Sawall had an extensive art collection, but most of it was what someone from Shadow Earth would have termed Modern Art, if not What Were They Smoking Art, or both. I remembered the installation of blades, a particular tree… Still, far be it from me to say that someone born at the Chaos end of things can't have an appreciation for order, a nicely written program for example.

"Ghost," I said later, sitting among the cables of the Magi in the tunnels of NERV, "should you be flirting with the little gateway to an alternate spacetime? What about the Akagis?"

"Dad!" he said, affronted, brightening and expanding into a larger circle of light. "It's not like that!"

"First question: for which is it not like that, and second, are you certain that they know that?"

He hung there in the air for a minute without responding.

"Name one person in our families who has managed a successful romantic relationship without doing anything stupid," I told him.


"He is married to Aunt Fiona."


"He married his half-aunt, who he didn't know was his half-aunt, who was carrying my child at the time, because they were affianced as kids and he didn't care enough to get out of it, while his girlfriend of several years was stuck in the body of her half-sister and it really would have been no trouble at all to change the alliance marriage to her instead." All I can say is that Luke was damn lucky that Coral didn't give enough of a damn about the marriage either to feel jealous, and Nayda was too in love to react the way a demon of the pit really should have to that kind of treatment.

Coral was absolutely delighted that her sister was possessed and 'Nayda' couldn't leave since the original soul was departing the body as she entered it. Apparently the real Nayda was a bitch while the new one was a demon. Have I mentioned that demons are wonderfully sensible people?

"Come on, Ghost, you were there for this. King Random doesn't count either." Only person we knew besides Luke with a stable, loving marriage, and he was basically sentenced to it because he drove someone to suicide and it really only worked because Vialle was a very perceptive and forbearing person and Random knew exactly how much of an ass he'd been when he was younger and was determined to change.

The way I destroyed my relationship with Julia was unfortunately rather typical.

Even Uncle Benedict decided to sleep with the enemy because Lintra was a Hendrake and presumably good enough in battle to attract even his eye, which I wouldn't object to (far be it from me to say anything about one-night stands) except from that union eventually sprang my mother, Dara, a champion of the Logrus' vendetta against Amber. "When I was trying to think of who I could ask for romantic advice for you, the best person I could think to ask was Aunt Flora." Who was just as fond of her boytoys as her half-brothers were of their womanizing, except Flora could usually keep them around for a few months, and without bringing her status into it. It helped that she was gorgeous, but I'd long ago realized that Flora was not the airhead she painted herself as to the rest of the family. If they didn't take her seriously, then they mostly didn't try to kill her or forcibly recruit her into their bullshit drama, and she'd had enough of that ages ago.

I'd annoyed the hell out of her by throwing myself on her mercies for help several times during my embarrassing phase, and it probably said something that even knowing about all my magical powers, she'd still fished around in her purse for a grenade to give me before I headed off into danger, possibly in lieu of candy or asking again if I was sure I wouldn't get lost and didn't need Auntie Flora to hold my hand.

"Point taken," Ghost said. "Do you have…" any advice, Dad, he must have started to ask hopefully, before remembering what I'd just been saying.

How do you tactfully make it clear to someone that you find their ideas interesting and like them as a friend, but you're not going to like them in that way and you're really hoping to whatever (hopefully not the Unicorn or Serpent, I'm starting to sympathize with Dalt burning churches) that they haven't taken an interest in you since that would be a pain in the ass that could screw up the working relationship without sounding arrogant (just assuming that someone might fall for you?) or like you'd never want to sleep with them because you secretly despise them, as opposed to just not wanting to sleep with them?

I had to go through that with Gilva, after I somehow managed to give some of the bigger gossips in the Courts of Chaos the impression that we were engaged and she would soon be my queen. Fortunately, she was in such a good mood from getting to kill all the assassins sent after her because of this that she felt she owed me a big favor anyway, and by that point she'd learned enough about my general screwed-up family situation that she could appreciate what a godsend for me it was to have a relative who didn't have any creepy designs on me. We're not that closely related, but after my one experience with incest (have I mentioned I don't like the Pattern?) and given how insane my family is, I'm not having any more kids with anyone anywhere on my family tree.

So we became flame-siblings (the Blood of Chaos bursts into flame when exposed to the air over on that side of Shadow, which can make it a little tricky for me to feed pattern-ghosts – ended up accidently incinerating one of them), which made her Frakir's honorary aunt with spoiling rights, so that was all good.

And I think I'm going to stop there when it comes to any more discussion of who I may or may not have bedded, because I'm writing this for the same reason Corwin sat me down and told me a good chunk of the recent past (well, recent for him: a lot of it predated my birth, thanks to the time flows at the time) the first time we met. I've been told by Hyuga that Shadow Earth has a phrase for it now: learn from my fails.

However, as of the current date, my longest romantic relationship is Julia. Creepy stalkers don't count. Just the fact I had a creepy stalker, though?

Enough said.

If I haven't warded your mirrors, remind me. If I haven't gotten around to it because I'm too dead, ask Luke or my father or someone else with a spikard.

"I hope Aunt Flora won't mind me bothering her," said Ghost.

"Flowers and coffee," I advised. "Are there any formulas for explosives that work wherever she's staying now?" Shadow Earth's gunpowder recipe doesn't work in the Shadows near Amber: for whatever reason, it doesn't burn fast enough to act as a propellant. My father Corwin discovered that a powder used in another shadow for polishing gemstones did the trick, though. Since Flora isn't a sorcerer, if she wants to get something from another Shadow she has to Walk there instead of just summoning it, so she appreciates nephews who are willing to stop off on the way or take a few minutes to spare their aunt the trouble of running an errand, especially when coffee or military-grade ordinance are involved.

Also, I appear to have inherited my father's tendency to cockblock her by requesting trump contact or assistance getting out of a bad situation at inconvenient times, giving her a choice between telling an often-annoying relative to go to hell and getting cockblocked. After centuries of my father, the temptation to just let me get maimed was probably pretty strong on several occasions, especially since she picks up a lot of her paramours in Shadow and they tend to get freaked out about people appearing out of nowhere and then she has to find a new one.

I have one and only one blood relation who deserves to be nominated for sainthood, but of course, never trust a relative, so I fear the day I get on her last nerve. She's already given Frakir a hand: hopefully she'd be willing to do the same for Ghost.

Flora is the inverse of Benedict: Benedict is Oberon's oldest surviving son (legitimate son… that we know about…), and we all know he was certainly smart enough to see the writing on the wall. He became that fearsome not just out of personal inclination, but because it was the only way to survive his father and ambitious younger siblings. The more intimidated Eric, Brand and all the others were, the less likely they were to start something with him, and even Benedict might have trouble if all the others teamed up to take him down.

…Well, he might.

Flora was born when a good number of her older siblings were already legends, already eyeing the succession, and she's the only daughter of her mother. She had exactly zero natural allies in Castle Amber, once her mother was out of the way, and trying to become too dangerous to trifle with would have made her dangerous enough to be eliminated.

Her younger brother Random survived exactly the same way Flora did: seeming too flighty to bother with, interested more in pursuit of personal amusement than anything that mattered. Random is now the King in Amber. His sister Mirelle, well, she's dead.

Delwin and Sand, children of the next Queen, survived by getting the hell out of Amber, burying themselves so deeply in Shadow that most of the others eventually decided they were either dead or were never going to stick their necks out of whatever deep hole they'd taken refuge in. That turned out to be a rather big mistake, but I've written about that already.

"I'll see. Thanks, Dad," Ghost said, his user interface shrinking to a point of light and vanishing while I contemplated the fact that he hadn't denied that he was flirting with the living shadow whose abilities, come to think of it, were something like what I built Ghostwheel for in the first place.

I very much hope I'm not a grandfather before I'm three hundred. I still have some hope that I'll know what I'm doing by then and won't have screwed up my kids so badly that they'll screw up theirs in turn.

Probably futile, given the family history, but I went back to work in the tunnels of NERV in order to hold on to my job and my delusions.

When I came home a couple days later (I'd taken Maya's advice and moved a sleeping bag into the tunnels), there was a second raven on my computer desk. This one was white. "Well," I said, "at least someone will appreciate my cooking." I can cook college student food, courtesy of having been a college student, and standard skillet breakfasts, courtesy of hunting trips. Kaworu was either polite enough to pretend to appreciate plain eggs sunny-side-up or just had really low standards from years of lab food. Rei regarded them as fuel, while Shinji at least said thank you. Jurt just ate what I put in front of him and was too caught up in worrying to notice when a shadow crawled onto his plate and engulfed one of his strips of bacon.

I wondered if the hair ornament had left Rei's head long enough to eat anything, but since all of them were drawing on the power of raw chaos, I wasn't worried about any of them getting hungry enough to start going after Misato's pet bird or a few city blocks.

I could smell something cooking but nothing burning, and that meant that Shinji was already in the kitchen.

When he saw me he turned around and smiled sheepishly. "Do you mind? Kaworu thought you wouldn't mind, but…"

"Why would I mind?" I wondered. "Is some of that for me?" I asked, indicating the two pots and single pan. "How did you guys know I was coming home today?" I may have hoped to take Kaworu by surprise, even if he can tell when people are looking at him. Which includes Ghostwheel. Pity.

"We didn't. I, um, the stove… I wanted to try something, and I didn't look it up, and changing the ingredients changed the cook time, and it kind of splattered…"

"The idiot set fire to our kitchen," Asuka told me, appearing from the door to the room that was still spare. "Yours has been conscripted for the good of the world."

Well, since I cared about the fate of Shadow Earth, it was probably a good thing to keep the pilots well-fed and not dead of food poisoning from sushi that had been sitting out on convenience store shelves all day. "Asuka, as a fellow college graduate, I'm sure you can guess the most important question here," I said, holding up a finger, pointed at Shinji. "Do I get free food out of this?"

"Of course, Mister Corey!" he said, almost taken aback by the idea of not feeding anyone within range who might possibly be willing to try his concoctions. Maybe he expected me to be daunted by the revelation of possible latent pyromaniac tendencies?

"I'll bring a fire extinguisher and protective gear from work," I decided. "Goggles first. Can't have you losing an eye to a grease splatter." I looked around. "Are Rei and Kaworu here?"

"Ayana-Rei," Shinji corrected himself. "She really likes miso soup." Since he was the person making miso soup around here, that probably explained the happy blush. "So we're out of green onions again, and Kaworu thought we should pick up more miso, and a few more things, and he wanted to go for a walk."

Take the children for a walk, I translated. Since Rei seemed to have adopted the hair ribbon, or at least agreed to let the hair ribbon be her bodyguard in case anyone else tried to sacrifice her in order to rescue their loved ones from death, she probably knew that they existed and were alive.

"And we're out of bacon again, because Asuka and Touji are training the birds to sit on their shoulders," Shinji remembered. "I don't know what Rei and Kaworu are doing with their slices…"

The vegetarians? Probably feeding them to the Bottomless Pit and the Hair Ribbon of Doom.

"It must be that stray dog," Asuka reminded him. "Those two need to stop caving for anything that looks pitiful… it's going to get fat!"

Even if Jurt didn't have my talent for sorcery and had barely survived walking the Logrus, summoning your own food from Shadow was a parlor trick. Normally I wouldn't have cared: it might even have been a relief that my half-brother wasn't as concerned about his pride and dignity anymore, enough to play a role and have some laughs, but seriously, was he caging bacon from Rei, after killing her last body and destroying her memories from ages about seven to fourteen? That struck me as pretty low: he didn't have any right to ask her for favors after doing something like that.

Couldn't see Kaworu feeding him either… unless he was just a soft touch. I might resemble that remark somewhat.

And, judging from the way Shinji was avoiding Asuka's eyes, maybe she was wrong about who exactly was feeding Jurt people food.

Shinji was a good kid.

Which meant I really shouldn't take him to walk the Pattern. Vialle and Uncle Random would do what they could, but he'd get eaten alive. Just like what NERV would have done to him if Gendo hadn't been vanished into some deep, dark hole by whatever clandestine agency Kaji drew one of his paychecks from.

Still, if the white raven was found, that left one more angel to go. One more angel and a few weeks more of spellwork to identify and annihilate anyone attempting to trigger an impact before it got far enough along to pull anyone else in.

It wasn't that Julia wasn't an inventive mage: growing up on Shadow Earth meant that all magic was new and exciting to her, and she had a lot of outside the box ideas. It was that normally, her inventiveness ran more to pranks and reverse engineering spells to turn people trying to kill me into coat racks instead of anything fatal.

I got the feeling that some of the things she was rigging up for Kaworu, or Adam, if he decided to double-cross us and finish the job of Second Impact by finishing off Shadow Earth were channeling Jurt-related aggression.

Of course, the fact that she was taking it out on a potential someone else as opposed to the boyfriend who had risked her home Shadow's survival probably meant she'd already forgiven him to whatever degree.

Once the last stray angel was accounted for, I did need to get back to the Courts. It would be good if Jurt and Julia were back together by then so they could take it from there, but it wasn't like I could be much help.

Then I realized that Jurt had another half-brother. Who had just bagged his first crush, one of the most powerful and dangerous-when-annoyed sorceresses on either end of Shadow. And they were still on their honeymoon: weren't people at that stage of things feeling magnanimous and inclined to share the good fortune?

I might have gone into my room and pulled out Mandor's trump right then, but I was a little better at thinking ahead now that I had been back in the day, so my survival instinct managed to connect the dots between honeymoon and remember all those times you've accidentally cockblocked Aunt Flora by trumping her at the wrong time? What do you think Mandor and Aunt Fiona would do to you?

Besides make me sweat for a few decades, give me time to get really paranoid?

Jurt could contact Mandor. Just had to figure out how to nudge him into it…

You have no idea how unbelievably tempted I have been to do some kind of omake with Frakir and manga!Kaworu. She's a living weapon, she's not going to feel bad about granting his request and mercy killing him the way Shinji did.

'Will you remember me?'

'Yes: I will absolutely remember adding a godlike alien to my kill count, don't worry about that.'

The sad thing is, he'd be happy with even that much. Sadamoto is Sadistmoto.

But yes, I am declaring this fic over, I mean it this time. I wrote something like 4,500 words with Misato and Kaji, but it was too much infodump even by the standards of this fic. If anyone wants to read it, I can put it up on tumblr or something.