[Fic] Second and Fifth (complete)

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[Fic] Second and Fifth (complete)

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Postby Atropos » Sat May 09, 2015 6:14 pm

Now, at long last, the (complete!) rough draft of my fanfic. A simple character-swap; what began as a series of vignettes has since become...a much longer series of vignettes? No matter! Enjoy.

Chapter 1 - Kaworu Strikes!

SPOILER: Show
“Shinji, let me introduce you to the Second Child.”

The Second Child smiles, but only slightly. His expression unsettles Shinji. It is the sort of expression he has seen only once before, when it played across the face of Rei Ayanami.

“Pleased to meet you,” says Shinji, suddenly remembering his manners and bowing. But the child before him only chuckles.

“No need for formality. We are the same age, after all.”

Shinji raises his head, well aware that he is blushing. He stammers out an apology, which only draws more amusement from his new acquaintance.

“Misato, what have you done to this poor boy? He seems apt to apologize for everything he does. Come,” says the Second Child, offering his hand to Shinji. “Shinji Ikari, will you accompany me? I wish to learn more about you.”

“S-sure,” says Shinji, who looks not at all sure. As Misato leads leads them on, towards another end of the ship, he manages to get out a question: “If you wouldn't mind me asking...what's your name?”

The beautiful boy looks around, still smiling in that inscrutable way. “Kaworu,” he says. “Kaworu Nagisa.”

***

The captain scoffs and, sneering, tosses the papers back to Misato.

“Alright,” he says. “Everything seems to be in order. But let's make one thing clear, Katsuragi: until we dock, this ship is under my command, not NERV's.”

Misato smiles. “Of course,” she says, “but I need not remind you that, should an Angel attack begin while we are onboard—”

“Our resources will be at your disposal.” He turns away, and Misato, satisfied, does not press him further. Two of the boys still following her are both in states of rapture—Kensuke with the military equipment that surrounds them, and Touji with the beautiful woman in their midst—while the other two seem to be either bemused (being Shinji) or the exact opposite (being Kaworu).

Misato turns to them, and says, “Well, that's the procedural work done with—so, do you wanna see the cargo?”

“Cargo?” Kensuke asks, swinging his camera to face her. “What's the cargo? Is it some kind of secret weapon?”

She grins. “I could tell you,” she says, “but then I'd have to kill you.”

There comes a dry chuckle. “Still so serious, I see,” says another, unfamiliar voice—a man's. Misato jerks her head around almost instantly, the smile vanishing from her face as she sees the newcomer into the conversation: a tall, well-built man in what look like office clothes, leaning through the door with a broad smile on his face.

“You,” Misato gasps. “No, no, no, not you!”

He frowns. “Come, now,” he says, stepping through and approaching the group. “We haven't seen each other in, what, seven years? The least you can do is say hello.”

“Oh, hell,” she whispers.

“Yo,” he says, raising a hand in greeting to the boys. Touji and Kensuke, for their part, regard him with looks of suspicion. “It's a pleasure to meet you, boys. My name is Ryoji Kaji, and I'm a special inspector for Nerv.”

“What are you doing here?” Misato demands angrily.

“Just doing my job,” he says. “Escorting the Second Child to Nerv Headquarters. Hey, Kaworu.”

“Hello, Kaji,” says Kaworu.

Kaji claps his hands together. “You haven't eaten since you left Tokyo-3,” he says. “C'mon, guys, don't you wanna find out what a real sailor eats after one month at sea?”

Shinji's answer to that question is “No”, but he guesses that Kaji does not actually care whether or not he wants to go. Looking around, it seems that the others have come to the same conclusion.

“This way, everyone,” he says, leading them down a flight of stairs into the lower levels of the ship.

***

They are soon seated around a cold metal table, eating spongy meat and vegetables off of foam trays. Shinji pokes at his food, too polite to say anything but not suicidal enough to actually eat it.

Kaji, by contrast, is happily cleaning his own plate. “Hey, now,” he says, when he notices the others' looks of disgust. “This stuff's gourmet compared to what I had to live off of as a kid. Try it, you'll like it!”

Misato groans and pushes her plate away. “What's wrong with me?” she moans. “I used to chow down on stuff like this every night...Shinji, your cooking has spoiled me.”

Kaji looks up at this, and smiles. “Ah, that's right. You two live together. So, tell me, Shinji...”

Shinji looks up.

“...is she still so wild in bed?”

At this, Misato nearly flips over the table, Touji falls out of his seat, and Kensuke drops his camera on Kaworu's tray. In the midst of this chaos, Shinji laughs nervously.

“I kid, of course,” Kaji goes on. “Your relationship is strictly professional. Which leads me to my next question.” He leans forward, looking inquisitive, steepling his hands just as Shinji's father might, were he here now. “I heard you achieved a sync ratio of over thirty percent on your first sortie, with no prior training. Is that true?”

Shinji looks down at his lap. “I guess,” he says. “I really didn't want to do it, you know. But my father made me.”

Kaji nods. “Still, it's impressive.”

Strangely, Shinji feels another set of eyes on him, and he looks up. Kaworu is staring at him with wonder—or, Shinji wonders, is that jealousy?

***

The beast lies on its belly in the water. Its head is turned to the right, allowing Shinji to view the creature's visage: six eyes in two rows, and a massive chin that the Hapsburgs might have envied. Kaworu stands on top of its head, his hands stuck in his pockets. He stares down at Shinji, who can do nothing more than gape at the goliath this boy has revealed to him.

“It's red,” he says meekly. “That's cool, Nagisa.”

“Oh, call me Kaworu,” he says, before looking down at the monster's face with something approximating pride. “Evangelion Unit Two—the final production model. Unit Zero was the prototype, you see, and your Unit One is a test type, outside the traditional production lines, an experimental model.”

Shinji nods, barely understanding a word the boy is saying. The most he can make out of it is that, by some metric, his Evangelion is inferior to the one Kaworu is now presenting to him.

“Have you ever fought in it?” he asks.

“No,” Kaworu admits bashfully. “In Germany, we only ever ran simulations.” Then he straightens out his neck and declares, as if making up for a show of weakness, “No substitute for actual combat, of course—but I intend to fix that soon enough!”

At that moment, the boat shakes, as if rocked by the force of his declaration. Shinji almost falls to his knees, and has to crouch low to not be thrown over.

“What was that?” asks Kaworu, the haughty confidence vanished from his voice.

Shinji glares at him. “Looks like you'll be getting your chance sooner than you expected,” he says.

***

On the bridge of the ship, Misato seems to have forgotten, in the heat of the moment or in the thrill of combat, that she is not in command of the fleet.

“I want all ships at the perimeter of the fleet to prepare for combat,” she says, jabbing her finger at a hapless officer who happens to be in her way. “If we need to airlift in extra munitions, we'll do it. It's all on Nerv's budget anyway.”

The elderly captain trails her, feebly calling on her to “Hold on a minute,” but Misato does not even look in his direction. She rambles on, drawing the attention of every member of the staff in attendance even as her focus drifts away from her: “Don't bother scrambling your aircraft; they'll be completely ineffective. As we are, we're vulnerable, and haven't a second to waste. We've got to contact Nerv and have them send an Evangelion...”

She trails off at the last word, having realized, after a moment of confusion, that everyone else is staring at her. “What?” she asks, perhaps more defensively than she intended—but then, she may be flustered to be stopped in the midst of one of her battle fugues. “Did I say something?”

A very, very brave man stands up, spine straight, shaking, and says, in a wavering voice: “We don't need to call for an Evangelion.” A moment later, seeing something flash in her eyes, he adds, “Because we've already got one with us.”

Misato stares at him in disbelief, but she rounds on Kaji instead.“How long were you going to wait before telling me?” she demands.

Having just entered with Kensuke and Touji in tow, he seems a bit shocked by her castigation, and raises his hands to guard himself from her fury. “I didn't think it would come up,” he says, mock sheepish. “Can you forgive me?”

“Not the time,” she says. “We just need to get the thing on its feet and working as soon as we can. Contact Kaworu—”

“No need,” says Kaji. “If I know that boy, he leapt in the plug from the word go.”

“That's good. Does he have a plugsuit?”

“I'd expect so,” Kaji says. “We had them onboard, anyway.” Then, as if having recalled something suddenly: “And what about Shinji?”

“That's right,” Misato says, slapping herself in the forehead. “They were together, weren't they?”

A crackle comes over the intercom. “Actually,” comes the gently soothing voice of Kaworu Nagisa, “we still are.”

At his voice, Misato runs to the center of the bridge and seizes a transmitter out of the captain's hands before he can give a single order. As he protests, she begins speaking into it.

“You've launched!” she cries with enthusiasm.

“Correct,” he says.

“Shinji's in there with you?”

“Yup. The Third insisted on coming along.”

“No I didn't!” Shinji's voice breaks in, protesting feebly.

“Don't tease him like that, Kaworu,” Misato says, but her tone is gentle. She hurries on, eager to get back to the grit of the combat. “Now, we've got a big problem on our hands. Our enemy is able to fight in three dimensions; we've only got two. Meaning that we need to draw it up somehow. Do you understand?”

“What you're saying is,” Kaworu replies, “is that we've got to take the plunge, so to speak. Problem: we're not outfitted for underwater combat.”

“Right,” says Misato. “So, here's the plan: we'll lure it to you when it next surfaces, and allow it to swallow you.”

The bridge crew, and Kensuke, immediately and loudly protest. Misato silences them all with a hand. “Just get inside its mouth,” she says. “Don't let it bite you. We just need you inside.”

“Alright,” says Kaworu. “Then what?”

“Then,” Misato says, a smile creeping across her face, “then the fun begins.”

All the while, Kaji watches, grinning in that inscrutable way: that smile of someone who knows more than everyone else in the room put together. As Misato describes her master plan, he slips out, watched by no one.

***

The Evangelion is perched on the bow of the ship, like a carrion bird watching as an antelope gasps for breath in its final moments. The weight of the leviathan causes the ship to sag, almost tipping over into the ocean.

Within, Kaworu's eyes are glinting with a maniac light. Shinji can almost not believe that the boy claims to have never fought before: less than half an hour after his first sortie, he is ready, even joyously enthusiastic, to throw himself into the belly of the beast.

“Are you sure about this?” Shinji asks, unsure himself if he wants to hear the answer.

“Oh, yes,” says Kaworu. Shinji feels a lump in his throat. It is exactly the answer he had feared. But he cannot pause long to dwell on it or dread what is to come, for before either one of them can say another word there rises from the depths before them the massive cyclopean countenance of the Angel.

Kaworu leaps onto it, knife held above his head. He does not cry out like one of the warriors of old as he does it, but Shinji fills the silence with his own scream: not one of bloodlust, but one of sheer, unrestrained terror. He clings to the chassis of the entry plug like a child holding onto its mother.

Before the Evangelion even touches the Angel's flesh, the beast has opened its mouth. Even as Shinji cringes in horror and murmurs prayers under his breath, Kaworu allows himself to fall in gracefully. As he passes the lips he sticks out the knife to the side, gouging into the roof of the mouth. With a jerk, the unit comes to a rest, and it hangs from its makeshift rung at the beast's mouth closes again.

“Alright,” says Shinji. “What now?”

“Now,” says Kaworu, “we wait for the cavalry.”

***

Standing on the bridge, watching as the Angel dives below with the end of a long cable sticking out one side of its mouth, Misato's fists are clenched. She can barely muster more than a whisper when she gives the final command:

“Send them in.”

Two ships delve below the surface, never to rise again. While Misato knows that there are no men on them, that if all goes as planned no lives will be lost, it gives her a sick feeling in her stomach. The day may come when it is a real ship, with real crew and real passengers, she finds herself sacrificing.

“Major?”

She looks around and sees Kensuke, watching her through the camera lens. She flashes a smile.

“Pretty cool, huh?” she asks. “This is what the human will can do!”

***

“Half the Pacific Fleet lost,” says one of the men, his features obscured by the harsh green light in which he is cast. “All for the sake of destroying one Angel. Ikari, this is your most costly venture yet!”

Gendo thinks of nothing but a rather acute ache in his lower leg.

“At least the lost ships belonged to your country,” says another, cast in yellow. “They'll be easily replaced. It's fortunate the damage was so minimal.”

He grits his teeth from the pain. Perhaps Doctor Akagi can arrange a checkup, to see if it signifies any larger problem.

“In any case,” booms the voice of the chairman, his own image disguised by no tint at all, merely blinding light. “We are not here to discuss such trivial matters. Ikari, the situation is critical. ADAM is missing.”

“I am aware,” says Gendo drily, putting the pain at the back of his mind. “However, I feel—and you will all surely agree—that the blame rests entirely on the shoulders of security at the Third Branch. Of course, I will provide all the resources I feel are necessary in order to hasten the retrieval process.”

“See to it that you do.”

The lights dim.

“My, my,” says Kaji. “You're certainly playing it cool.”

“They have their suspicions,” Gendo says, “but I won't indulge them. So long as I refuse to admit anything, they will be forced to act as though nothing were wrong.”

Kaji chuckles. “You're incorrigible. But there is something I'd like to ask you.” And, with all the wry humor gone from his voice, he demands: “Just what is ADAM?”

Behind his cradled hands, Gendo smiles, but does not speak.
Last edited by Atropos on Wed Aug 26, 2015 7:56 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Sailor Star Dust » Sat May 09, 2015 7:01 pm

I wandered into the fanfic section by chance, but glad I'm did. Should be a very interesting character swap--I'm already interested in seeing how Asuka will have a (brief??) impact on Shinji--whether or not Kaworu's role is still the same (being Tabris/Adam).

I'd imagine that Kaworu and Shinji will become fast friends in this, but I guess only time will tell!

So far, interesting stuff! I like it! :kaworusparkle:
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Postby NemZ » Sat May 09, 2015 9:25 pm

...what's with Gendo's leg? :huh:
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Postby Literary Eagle » Sun May 10, 2015 8:59 am

Hmm, this could be interesting. Shinji and Kaworu had so little time together in the original anime... it would be nice to see how their bond develops over a longer period. I'm curious to see what you'll do with Asuka, too. Looking forward to it!
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Postby Atropos » Mon May 11, 2015 2:17 pm

Hurrah! Other people are showing interest! I'll try not to disappoint.
View Original PostNemZ wrote:...what's with Gendo's leg?

He's just old, man. Although the real point of that line is to show how few shits he gives about SEELE.

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Postby Atropos » Tue May 12, 2015 2:38 pm

Chapter 2 - The Children's Dance

SPOILER: Show

“Christ,” Touji says, staring across the classroom with narrowed eyes. “He's here for two days, and literally every girl in school's gone completely ga-ga.”

The crowd is, Shinji supposes, rather large—he can barely even see Kaworu over the heads of the numerous admirers who have attached themselves to the boy. He imagines their desires are mostly innocent, but at least a few of them—the older, taller girls especially—look like they'd do whatever he told them to do. It unsettles him that anyone should have such power over others. He has never trusted those who have power, being one who lacks it.

“I hate show-offs like that,” Touji adds, Kensuke nodding in fervent agreement. “They've got one thing on their minds, Shinji—and I don't think you need me to tell you what it is.”

Kaworu, for his part, seems to be taking his new following in stride. He smiles placidly, and speaks with them in peaceful tones. There is nothing predatory in the glances he gives the girls; he does not strike Shinji as the type to take advantage of an admirer. In fact, Shinji notes, he seems to show almost no interest in the crowd at all. He acknowledges them, to be sure, but he does not lead them on or make an attempt at allure or sex appeal. Shinji wonders if he would even know what the words mean.

It takes the screeching of the class representative—herself not a member of Kaworu's flock—to break things up. Everyone takes a seat, the teacher enters and begins his dreary lecture, and all is as it should be. Nothing has changed.

And yet.

Shinji cannot stop glancing at the white-haired boy from across the room. He does it every few minutes, like a tic; there he is, staring with almost comic eagerness at the front board. Shinji wonders what it is he could find so interesting.

He looks at Kaworu, and finds Kaworu staring back. Immediately he glances down. But his heart is beating fast in his chest. It will not calm itself for the entire lesson, and he is glad, now more than ever, that Kensuke and Touji cannot see inside his head.

***

When Kaworu first meets Rei, he is without the flock of admirers he has managed to accumulate over the course of two days. Somehow he has managed to evade them, and finds the First Child sitting alone in the shade of a massive tree, reading a book.

“Rei Ayanami?” he says, and she looks up. Her face is not the mask of disinterest she seems to wear at all times: she seems almost startled. But it only takes a single look at Kaworu's smiling face for her to regain her composure—one might expect her to say, Oh, I thought you were someone else.

Instead, she says: “Can I help you?”

“Pardon me,” he says, seeming not a bit affronted. “I'm Kaworu Nagisa—the Second Child. And I believe you are the first?”

“Correct,” says Rei, not letting her guard down.

“I see,” Kaworu continues, beaming. “Then, perhaps, we should be friends.”

“Friends?” Rei sounds bemused. “Why?”

“It would make sense,” Kaworu says. “After all, we are part of the same design.”

Rei looks back to her book. “If I'm ordered to, I will do it.”

Kaworu looks on in confusion.

***

Misato is, perhaps, the last person to arrive at base, having waited to set out until Shinji went off for school. It is only one of the ways her duty as the boy's guardian has complicated her life and work. In any case, she is here now.

The first thing she does is visit Ritsuko.

“Here you go, just like you asked,” she says, holding out a floppy disk. “The logs from Unit-02's undersea adventure, including sync readings from Shinji and Kaworu.”

Ritsuko takes it, murmuring thanks. She puts it in her disc drive, and the readings appear on her computer monitor. It takes only a moment before she gasps in surprise.

“What is it?” Misato asks, leaning over her shoulder.

“This is fascinating,” Ritsuko says, smiling from ear to ear. “Shinji's sync ratio is higher than it's ever been...and the same goes for Kaworu.”

“But that's impossible,” Misato says. “I thought only Kaworu could sync with Unit-02. Unless,” she says, something dawning on her suddenly, “it's not Unit-02 Shinji was synchronized with—but Kaworu?”

Ritsuko shrugs noncommittally. “Perhaps. In any case, this is intriguing data.” She saves the file to her hard drive, ejects the disk, and snaps it in half. “Tell me—did Kaworu transfer into the middle school?”

“Yep,” says Misato. “Today should be his first day. I wonder how Shinji will take it.”

“It might be good for him,” Ritsuko says. “Having another pilot around. I mean, there's Rei, but she's so distant. Kaworu seems more outgoing, and more apt to help Shinji out of his own shell.”

“Mmmhmm.”

“Oh, and by the way,” Ritsuko continues, smiling like the Cheshire cat, “I heard a certain someone just transferred into Intelligence.”

If Misato had been drinking coffee at that moment, she might have ruined Ritsuko's computer.

“Who in the hell told you THAT?”

Ritsuko is about to reply, with something no doubt clever, sarcastic, and piercing, but at that moment the alarms begin to blare, and all else is forgotten in the call to duty.

***

“The target is approaching from the coastline,” Misato announces over the speakers. “Because our intercept systems were damaged in the last attack, we can't wait until it reaches Tokyo-3. In other words,” she continues, “the two of you will have to take it down without outside help. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” answer Shinji and Kaworu in unison.

With a click, they are released from their metal restraints, and both Evangelions hurtle towards the ground. To Shinji, it is a moment of anxiety that is released only when he finally lands among the waterlogged towers of an abandoned city; to Kaworu, it is just another moment.

The beast they see before them is larger than an Evangelion, but its humanoid shape is twisted beyond all recognition into a demonic letter H.

Kaworu wields what looks like a mile-high naginata; Shinji has his pallet gun.

Kaworu's voice, full of boisterous confidence, comes to Shinji over a two-way link: “I'll take the lead. Don't worry about it, Third.”

Evangelion Unit 02 bounds forward, holding its weapon forward like a knight raising a lance. It leaps across the tops of buildings, never dipping below the water, as it approaches the target. Feeling an unspeakable need to be doing something, Shinji raises his gun and fires at the target, seeking to provide cover—at least, he heard Misato discussing “cover fire” during training, and he thinks this is what she meant. It might be unnecessary, he thinks, because the target has not budged an inch since the battle began.

Kaworu is quickly within striking distance of the Angel. Kaworu does not waste a moment; he pulls back the spear, as one prepares to throw a javelin, and then strikes it deep into the enemy's chest. With another swift motion, the creature is cut in half down the middle.

Shinji can hardly believe it. He is not sure if he should cheer; he wonders if Kaworu would even care.

The question becomes irrelevant, however, for at that moment the two halves of the creature shed their skins and rise: twin demons, each as large as the parent.

Misato's reaction, transmitted to both pilots, sums up the situation well: “What the hell is this?”

***

It is late in the afternoon, and Shinji walks down the city streets with his head hung low. His ears are still ringing from the vice commander's chastisement—although even that only served to aggravate the shame he still feels from the conclusion of the day's battle.


At this moment, he knows, there is a massive crater that used to be shoreline. At the heart of that crater sits an Angel, not dead but dormant—and that only for a few days. Whose fault is it? According to the Vice Commander, his and Kaworu's. He doesn't doubt that half of headquarters is furious at him, and Misato in particular (if the rumors about the stacks of paperwork she now faces are true).

He approaches the apartment complex, and barely even notices the moving van parked at the front entrance.

“I'm home,” he calls as he walks in.

“Welcome home,” replies a familiar voice—not Misato's.

Shinji almost drops his bag in shock, and runs to the living room. Kaworu Nagisa is sitting on the couch, watching TV with his cheek resting on his hand.

“What are you doing here?” Shinji demands.

“I live here,” Kaworu says nonchalantly.

“No, you don't. I do.”

“We both do. It's not necessarily exclusive.” He smirks at Shinji. “Major's orders, I'm afraid. Nothing either of us can say could do anything to change it.”

Shinji is about to say something, but stops his tongue. He has no reason to hate this boy, and therefore no reason to lash out like this. At a loss for what else to do, he takes a seat next to Kaworu.

“What's on?” Shinji asks.

“'Days Of Our Lives',” Kaworu says, not stating but reciting the name, as if he had to practice saying it. “It's absolutely fascinating. I feel I have so much to learn from it.”

Shinji finds his interest in the show, if “interest” is the right word, somewhat strange, but he does not comment on it.

They have sat together only a few seconds when the television is shut off. The boys look to the doorway, and see Misato standing there—looking stressed, tired, and furious.

“Kitchen,” she says, and goes off to change.

***

Misato slams a beer down on the table, and Shinji thinks to himself that she does look much better.

“Seven days,” she says. “Seven days is all we have to prepare themselves.”

They stare back at her, waiting for more.

“Fortunately,” she continues, smiling, “we have a plan. The Angel has the unique ability to split its core in two. Therefore, the only way to defeat it is a combined simultaneous attack by both units. You must be perfectly synchronized.”

Shinji raises an eyebrow. “And what, exactly, does that entail?”

At this, she produces a floppy disk, raising it in the air triumphantly. “This piece will form the basis of the operation,” she explains. “I've prepared a week's worth of exercises, drills...a whole routine, really.”

“Is that all?” Kaworu asks.

“Well, not quite.” She gets a shifty look in her eyes, and a mischievous smile plays at the edges of her lips. “You have to be perfect, you see, and that requires constant practice. For the whole week, you have to live, eat, and sleep together.”

Kaworu and Shinji immediately recoil. Misato reflects that word choice has never been her strong suit.

***

On the third day of training, Touji and Kensuke ring for Shinji. He meets them at the door, clad in the clothes Misato demanded he wear for training, and tries to ignore their suppressed giggles as he leads them in.

“Thanks for coming over,” he says. “It's been miserable, you know—the endless drills, never a moment to yourself...to be honest, I'm surprised Misato even allowed you to visit.”

“Hey, no problem, man,” Touji says, punching him in the arm. “You know we're here for you. And Misato,” he adds, leering.

“But mostly you,” Kensuke says quickly.

When they walk into the kitchen, they meet an unexpected guest. Rei Ayanami stands in the middle of the room, looking as surprised to be there as they are.

“What's she doing here?” Kensuke asks.

“Misato asked her to come,” Shinji explains. “It's the same reason you're here, I guess. She wants to have an audience.”

“An audience to what?”

Shinji grimaces.

***

Within minutes they are all gathered in the living room, watching with a mixture of horror and fascination as Shinji and Kaworu, clad in matching costumes, play a game of synchronized twister and fail spectacularly on each attempt.


“This is impossible,” Shinji says, after one particularly dire effort. He looks over at Kaworu, whose head is cocked to one side in an inquiring glance. “It's not your fault,” Shinji hastily explains. “It's mine. I can't keep up with you...” He looks to Misato. “Maybe Rei should pilot Unit-01 instead of me.”

All eyes in the room look to Rei. If she is unnerved by this attention, she does not show it. She does not even look up from her book.

“If you order me, then I will do it,” she says.

“No—wait,” says Kaworu, sounding, for the first time, at least in the time that Shinji has known him, worried.

Worried? How strange. Shinji thought Kaworu was beyond such human frailties such as “concern.”

Misato is surprised as well. She raises one eyebrow, and folds her arms across her chest.

“Let's try it one more time,” Kaworu continues. Then, shifting his gaze from Misato to Shinji, he adds, “I'll adjust my speed so that you can keep up.”

Shinji breaks eye contact with the boy—it unnerves him, to look right at his face—and looks to Misato.

She waits a moment, then, with a sigh, nods.

“Alright,” she says. “Once more, from the top.”

***

The rest of the week passes by like a dream. Reflecting on it later, Shinji will see it not as a series of days that began with the sun's rise and ended many hours after it set, but as a collection of scenes: training, simple exercises, bizarre games of strategy Misato seemed to have pulled out of nowhere simply to test their connection, and finding, in their brief moments of downtime, that they couldn't quite break the habit of matching each other's movements exactly.

It is, in short, one of the most surreal episodes of Shinji's short life. Thankfully, it is also comical: were he to face similar stress without the levity, he would almost certainly lose his mind. It is, he supposes, primarily due to Kaworu. The boy is always ready with a smile, and while he doesn't quite have the wit to be an entertaining conversationalist, Shinji never comes away from a conversation with him feeling worse than he did when it began.

And yet, they are not friends. That much, Shinji is sure of.

What, then, are they?

He ponders that question constantly, day and night, until there is no time left.

***

It is late in the evening, and Misato is tapping at her keyboard aimlessly. Finally, finding nothing of worth to do, she shuts off the monitor and swivels around in her seat. It is, she reflects, a grand irony: all week she has been working nearly constantly, meticulously tinkering with the plan, accounting for every possible variable, and keeping tabs on Shinji and Kaworu's progress.

Now, with mere hours left until they engage the Angel again, she can think of absolutely nothing to do. She taps her foot, she drums her fingers on her cheek, she twirls a pencil around in her hand like a baton. But if there is something to be thought of, something to account for, it yet eludes her.

“Hello, Katsuragi,” comes a jovial voice from the doorway. Misato spins around in her seat and sees Ryoji Kaji leaning against the doorframe.

“What do you want?” she hisses. He simply laughs as he walks in, hands stuck in his pockets.

“I thought you might need something to take your mind off of work. You've been at it 24/7—maybe it's time for a break?”

She huffs, and turns her face away. “I'll rest when this Angel is dead.”

He chuckles. “I see. It's fine—that's not really why I came, anyway. I have to ask you a favor.”

“Oh?” She looks at him, but does not turn her head; she does not want him to think he might have her interest. “And why should I do something for you?”

“Don't be like that,” he says, grimacing. “You owe me for drawing up, oh, your entire plan.”

She opens her mouth, hoping that she will come up with some scathing response, but nothing comes to mind. With a frown, she finally turns to face Kaji directly. “Alright,” she says. “What is it you want?” Instinctively, she draws her arms up in front of her chest. Kaji notices.

“Relax,” he says. “Listen—I know you've been hosting Kaworu just for the sake of the plan.”

“That's right,” she says.

“I wanted to ask if you might take him for longer. Become his guardian, in other words.”

She looks at him suspiciously. “Why?” she asks.

He chuckles. “It's not my request. It's his.”

“What?”

“I think it's Shinji,” Kaji says. He strokes his chin thoughtfully. “You know, I never would have pegged him for a...”

“Save it,” she says, standing up. “I'll do it, if only to spare him from having to live with you.”

Kaji looks genuinely hurt, an expression he does not often wear. “Where are you going?”

“Home,” she says. “I've got two kids to take care of.”

***

Misato takes a swig, and slams her glass down on the table. “Goddammit,” she mutters. “That guy is always sticking his stupid face in where it doesn't belong.”

In the next seat, Ritsuko is smiling in that frustrating manner of hers—the one that suggests she just knows better than everyone else, and they ought to just take her advice and be done with it. She doesn't have a drink, but she holds her cigarette between her index and middle finger. From time to time, she takes a drag, and then blows out, watching the smoke circles float away and vanish. “You're still harboring an old college grudge? I expected better from you.”

Misato laughs. “You didn't and we both know it.”

“Fair enough.” Ritsuko glances over her shoulder towards the back window, where the silhouettes of the upside-down city are barely visible, black on black, against the walls of the Geofront. “But I don't understand why you won't give him a second chance. People can change, you know.”

She shakes her head, and smiles a little. “Not him. He hasn't changed one bit.”

Misato does not look at Ritsuko. If she had, she would have seen her frown, her look of discontent and disappointment—the look that vanishes in an instant, and is replaced by one of feline amusement, as she says: “Speak of the devil.”

“Hello, ladies,” says Kaji, taking the seat to Misato's left. He smiles at the dark-haired woman. “And here I thought you were going home! I'm shocked, really.”

Misato ignores the comment, staring into her glass.

“Hello, Kaji,” says Ritsuko.

“Ah, the good Doctor Akagi,” he says. “Tell me, what new frontiers of human discovery were you exploring today?”

Ritsuko chuckles. “Someone in accounting had a fascinating gastrointestinal problem.”

“Ah,” Kaji nods. “Seems that the new frontiers of human discovery are proving elusive.” He calls over the bartender and orders a gin.

“Liqueurs?” Misato asks. “Don't you have work tomorrow?”

He shrugs. “I've always been able to hold my liquor better than you, Katsuragi. And,” he adds, “I'm not the one with a major operation tomorrow.”

“I work better with alcohol in my system,” she grumbles. Even so, she pushes the glass away.

Ritsuko still has her subtle smile. “Just like college, isn't it?” she says, taking Misato's glass and raising it to her own lips. “The three of us, drinking together.”

Kaji shakes his head. “Adulthood means adult responsibilities. To drink means something different to a twenty-year-old than it does to a thirty-year old.”

“I'm twenty-NINE,” Misato pipes up in annoyance.

Kaji raises an eyebrow. “In denial already, are we?”

Misato mutters something threatening under her breath. She reaches for her glass, only to find that it is absent, and she begins to sulk.

“Aw. Ritsu. Look what you did.”

“Oh, I'm sorry, Misato!”

“Never mind,” Misato mutters. She rises out of her seat, sticking her hands deep into the pockets of her jacket. “I'd better get home, anyhow. Gotta prep for D-Day.”

Kaji gives her a mock salute. She sticks out her tongue at him as she passes by, and soon, with the tinkling of bells, she is gone. Kaji turns and smirks at Ritsuko.

“Tell me,” he says. “Do you think I still have a chance?”

She smiles. “Honestly? You're golden.”

***

That night, Shinji and Kaworu sleep side-by-side—on separate mats, of course, but it is a bit uncomfortably close for Shinji's liking. He keeps his earbuds plugged in so that he does not have to hear the boy breathing.

But as he tries to fall asleep to the gentle rhythms, a cold hand plucks one bud from his left ear. Shinji turns his head and sees Kaworu pressing the bud into his own ear. As the melody plays, he begins to hum along—in perfect pitch and tempo.

“The song is good,” he says, once he has finished. He looks at Shinji, who looks more than slightly unnerved by his fellow pilot's behavior. “Music brings joy and reinvigorates the soul,” Kaworu continues, as if offering an explanation. “The highest achievement of human civilization....”

Shinji stares at him in wonderment, unsure if the boy is mocking him or not. He does, however, recall that he has never once known Kaworu not to be earnest.

“Tell me, Shinji,” the boy goes on, “I saw a cello case in a closet when I moved in. Is it yours?”

After a moment's hesitation, Shinji nods. “I've played since I was five,” he explains. “My teacher suggested it...and no one ever told me to stop.”

A smile spreads across Kaworu's face. “I play the piano,” he says, with barely restrained excitement. “I've been searching for someone to work with—someone with talent.”

“Well, talent—”

“Shinji,” Kaworu continues, heedless of the interjection, “if we survive the battle tomorrow...will you play, together with me?”

Heat rises up Shinji's cheeks. The way Kaworu asks, it sounds like a marriage proposal. But he accepts.

Kaworu is now grinning from ear to ear. “Tomorrow,” he says, “we'll fight the Angel. And, if we survive,” he continues, “we'll play together the day after.”

Afterwards, he rolls onto his side, and within minutes he is snoring. Shinji stares for a moment more, before he, too, finds that he cannot resist the call of Morpheus. His eyes drift shut, and the instant they close he is asleep.

***

In the morning, when Misato wakes, she staggers out of the bedroom to find the two pilots already waiting for her. She looks from Shinji to Kaworu, and sees not a trace of doubt in their faces.


Now, she thinks, is when she would ordinarily ask “Are you ready?” or some other such question. But there is no need today—they are ready, she knows it, and thus the question need not be asked.


Instead, she declares: “Let's go.”

***

“Prepare for countdown.”

“We'll have fifty-eight seconds,” Kaworu says.

“Five.”

“I know,” says Shinji. “And by the end of that, either the Angel will be dead...”

“Four.”

“...or we'll be.”

“Three.”

“Don't say that,” says Kaworu. “It's too sad.”

“Two.”

Shinji laughs. “That's exactly what I said to—”

“One!”

He is cut off by a sudden jolt. He feels himself being pressed down into his seat as the Evangelion is fired up into the shaft, and his reptile brain panics at the sudden change. But he swiftly collects his thoughts. He focuses on nothing but the music playing in his mind.

It begins with a piano solo, crescendoing to the introduction of the strings, which echo and enhance the piano's own melody. The recording is of a skilled player, to be sure.

Then the piece shifts, to a more playful melody, as the brass enters. The trumpets blare their warning calls, answering the violins; the two parts are synthesized into a melodic whole, neither one exceeding the other in intensity or complexity.

Then the opening melody returns, stronger than ever, and each section plays its part. All that came before comes out again, an endless cycle, but each time it builds, growing stronger and stronger, not spiraling outwards towards chaos but inwards, towards an inevitable finale, equal parts triumphant and destructive.

***

Shinji puts down his bow, letting out a deep sigh of satisfaction.

“That was rather good,” Kaworu says, lowering his violin from his shoulder. “Shall we play another?”

“Sure.”

They next play a song Kaworu calls “The Sunlit Garden”, a composition for piano duet. Kaworu wrote the arrangement himself; he plays the upper part, and Shinji provides the bass line. Neither one overpowers the other.

Rei is the only witness to their song. When it is over, she does not smile, but she claps. Kaworu gives a mock bow, and Shinji feels—for the first time in a long while—a feeling of complete peace and serenity.
Last edited by Atropos on Mon May 25, 2015 11:07 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Postby Literary Eagle » Fri May 15, 2015 8:44 am

Ooh, Shinji and Kaworu doing the dance training and fighting Israfel together! What a fun idea! I wish we'd been shown a bit more of the humorous antics that happened during the training, though. We're told that "Thankfully, it is also comical: were he to face similar stress without the levity, he would almost certainly lose his mind" but it would have been nice to actually see some of that comical stuff. Still, I'm enjoying this so far, and the idea of ending the chapter with a duet was just perfect. I also noticed that Misato has apparently been promoted to Major already, earlier than when it happened in the series. So Kaworu and Asuka switching places is not the only thing that's different, huh? Interesting! I wonder what other changes are coming up!

Just one little thing... there was a sentence that said "Shinji is about to say something, but stops his young." I'm not sure what you meant by this. Was that perhaps supposed to be "tongue" rather than "young"?

Anyway, interesting concept so far. Please keep going! :D
The Happy Red Planet (my Evangelion fan fic)

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Postby Atropos » Fri May 15, 2015 2:36 pm

View Original PostLiterary Eagle wrote:I wish we'd been shown a bit more of the humorous antics that happened during the training, though. We're told that "Thankfully, it is also comical: were he to face similar stress without the levity, he would almost certainly lose his mind" but it would have been nice to actually see some of that comical stuff.

Yeah, I agree; I wrote that scene when I was planning this to be nothing more than a series of vignettes without linking scenes.

Just one little thing... there was a sentence that said "Shinji is about to say something, but stops his young." I'm not sure what you meant by this. Was that perhaps supposed to be "tongue" rather than "young"?

Yes. Urgh, why didn't I catch something like that? I'd better start proofreading these more fully before putting them up.

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Postby Atropos » Wed May 20, 2015 2:12 pm

Chapter 3 - Lies and Silence
SPOILER: Show
The next two months pass by slowly—impossibly slowly, to Shinji. How a mere sixty days can feel like an eternity, he will never comprehend, and yet it does: the monotony of school, training, and piloting all play their part in making him feel like he has been prisoner in Tokyo-3 for centuries. Every day is exactly the same.

And yet—there are changes, or at least events or moments that feel like they should change his circumstances in some way. Kaworu's hand reaching for him, saving him from plunging into the depths of the volcano. Standing with Misato on the bluff overlooking the city, when she told him about what happened to her in Antarctica. Sitting in the entry plug of Unit-00 as it broke free of his control, leaving him powerless to stop its rampage. These events did not change the world; the world, it seems, is governed by a polity beyond human control, that acts inscrutably and beyond human judgments. And even so—they changed him, and that gives them meaning.

He awakens one morning, dresses, and heads to the kitchen. He begins to prepare breakfast as usual, when he takes a look at the calendar. His heart sinks. How could he have forgotten?

Misato enters, yawning a greeting before she notices his expression. “What's wrong?”

“It's tomorrow,” he says.

Nothing more need be said. She sits down at the table, leans back in her seat.

“Tomorrow.”

***

School passes as it always does. The wizened history teacher repeats his tired spiel about the Second Impact and the horrors it brought about; the mathematics teacher goes through the lesson plan so fast that he fills the board with innumerable erroneous equations, and the home economics teacher has called in sick for the fifth time this month. During the brief breaks between classes, the children are allowed to fraternize.

“Hey, Shinji,” says Touji, sitting on top of his desk despite the glare he's getting from the class rep. “Kouichi and some of the guys were gonna see a movie or something on our day off. You wanna come?”

Shinji shakes his head politely. “No,” he says. “I've got plans.”

Through no will of his own, his gaze suddenly drifts to Rei. Touji laughs and slaps him on the back. “Should have guessed!” he says. “First Misato, now Rei?”

Shinji's cheeks turn bright red. “No,” he says. “I didn't mean—”

“Can't fool me,” says Touji, leaning in, wearing a massive smirk. “Okay, quiz time.” With a grand gesture around the room, he asks, “Which girl do you most want to fool around with?”

“What?”

“Is it Shinohara? Or the class rep? Or Yamagishi? Better not, Kensuke would get pissed.”

“I don't—Kaworu?”

“What?” Touji asks in confusion. Then, he turns, and sees the Second Child standing behind them. Kaworu is, as always, smiling.

“I would like to see a movie,” he says, oblivious to any interruption he has caused.

Amid the awkward feelings that abound afterwards, Touji nods. “Uh-huh.”

“But I probably can't,” Kaworu says, frowning. “Our schedule is quite rigorous, and I don't expect we'd have the time.”

Shinji shakes his head, smiling. “Tomorrow we've got the day off. If you want to see a movie,” he says, shooting Touji a deadly glare, “no one would mind.”

Touji gulps. “Sure,” he mumbles. Shinji is briefly astonished. Never before, he supposes, had he ever truly cowed someone—certainly not someone like Touji, who was at least twice his size. He felt a bit disbelieving of the change within himself, and resolved that he would try to use this new power as little as possible.

***

Tests are, as always, a key component of the typical day at NERV. Every day, for one hour, the select few who are permitted to deal directly with the Children assemble in one of the many monitor-filled halls of NERV to oversee the Children as they so little but sit and wait in their plugs until allowed to go. To Misato, this is a chore, and often she wonders why it is even necessary that she watch at all. To Ritsuko, it is ninety-nine percent of her job.

Today, though, neither seems to have much focus.

“What are you gonna wear?” Ritsuko asks, tapping idly at a keyboard and watching the graphs squish and stretch.

“Well, I wore the orange one at Kaeda's,” Misato replies, alternately shifting her weight between her left and right feet and cracking her knuckles. “And the blue one I can't wear 'cause it got a stain on it...”

“What about the purple one?” Ritsuko suggests.

Misato laughs awkwardly. “We don't talk about that one,” she explains.

“Shinji's readings are erratic,” Ritsuko says. She indicates them on the monitor, for Misato's benefit alone. “He seems troubled. Do you know why?”

“It's because of tomorrow,” says Misato.

***

On the way out, Shinji and Rei find themselves sharing an elevator. Rei stands before the doors, just in front of the crack where they meet; Shinji stands behind her, glancing at her nervously. He is searching for something to say—or, more likely, some way to say it.

He clears his throat, glances at her for some reaction and, seeing none, decides to speak anyway. “Rei,” he begins.

She inclines her head an inch. He takes it as a sign to continue.

“I was wondering,” he says, grinning nervously.

“Yes?” she asks.

“What is my father like?”

Rei ponders the question for a moment. At least, Shinji thinks she might be pondering it. It is sometimes difficult to tell.

“Have you been meaning to ask me that all day?” she asks, after a long silence.

Shinji nods, blushing.

“Why?”

“I'm going to meet with him tomorrow,” Shinji says. “And I'm not sure what we should talk about.”

Another silence ensues, and Shinji breaks out in sweat. Did he go too far? Is she going to slap him again? He waits with bated breath for her response.

“I don't know,” she says at last.

Shinji sighs deeply. But he also smiles. “Okay,” he says. “At least I don't feel so bad.”

Rei finally turns and looks at him, wearing a quizzical expression. “What do you mean?”

“You must know my father better than anyone,” he says. “And if even you don't know what to say to him, then there's nothing wrong with me not knowing. Does that make sense to you?”

Rei glances away, thinking on it. “I suppose,” she says, after a moment. Then, unprompted, she adds: “When I speak with the Commander, he always asks about school. He wants to know if I experience problems. Perhaps that could be a subject.”

Shinji scoffs. “I doubt he'd be interested.”

“Maybe,” she says, without a hint of emotion in her voice—as though it means nothing, as though paternal love is nothing to get choked up about. Coming from anyone else, whom he might expect to know better, this would have enraged Shinji. Coming from Ayanami, it seems—“charming” is not the right word, perhaps, but “appropriate” fits the bill nicely. He cannot blame her for being what she is.

***

For once, Misato is the first up in the morning. Rising from her bed before sunrise, she slips out of her bedclothes immediately. For a moment, she fumbles around in her closet, eventually pulling out a black dress, which she slips into almost effortlessly. Over this she throws a red jacket, and the final effect is almost indistinguishable, to a non-discerning eye, from her service uniform.

By the time she actually leaves her room, Kaworu and Shinji are both awake and having breakfast in the kitchen—toast and coffee, from the looks of it. Shinji's jaw almost drops when she walks in, but Kaworu acknowledges her presence with only a nod. As she passes the table, she grabs a slice of toast.

“I'll be back late,” she says. Her next words are muffled by the food in her mouth, but Shinji imagines they are something like “You two stay out of trouble.”

The sound of a door sliding shut marks her exit, and the two boys stare at each other across the kitchen table.

“Well,” says Shinji. He hesitates. “When are you leaving?”

“Around nine or so,” says Kaworu, sipping his coffee. “And you?”

“I have to catch a train at nine-thirty,” Shinji says.

Kaworu nods. “Pen-Pen will be left all alone,” he sighs.

In unison, both boys look to the small bird, who is, at that moment, happily slurping down an entire salmon in one gulp.

“He'll be fine,” Kaworu says.

***

The wedding goes off without a hitch. There are no sudden revelations, no former lovers leaping up in the middle of the ceremony, no drunken lecherous relatives preying on the bridesmaids. Misato wishes there were; at the very least, it would break up the monotony of speeches, songs, dances, and more speeches.

She is relieved when they finally start passing out the drinks, and she wastes no time in quaffing an entire glass of champagne. “Gimme another,” she mutters, and the server duly complies.

“Starting early, I see,” Ritsuko says with a smile. She holds a glass herself, but does not drink from it.

Misato gives her friend a side-eye.

Ritsuko sighs, and looks toward the door. “Seems Kaji's late.”

“That idiot,” Misato grumbles, “has never been on time even once in his whole life.”

Ritsuko sips at her glass, and recoils at the taste. She looks at Misato with bewilderment. “How can you stand this crap?” she asks.

Misato shrugs. Then, spotting something across the room, her face twists. “Ah, speak of the devil.”

Ryoji Kaji rambles across the room, smirking at the two women. He has dressed up for the occasion—a new suit, by the looks of it, and a freshly-pressed shirt—but his tie is undone, and he has rolled up the sleeves to show his hairy forearms.

“Good afternoon, ladies,” he says as he sits. “You both look well. Is that a new dress?”

“Can it,” says Misato, rolling her eyes.

“Hello, Kaji,” Ritsuko says.

“Howdy, Ritsu,” Kaji says, doing a small salute with his index finger and thumb pressed together. He then looks at Misato, who is pretending to ignore him and failing miserably. “I take it you're well, Katsuragi?”

Misato glances at him. “Your tie's crooked,” she says, and immediately reaches over to fix it. Kaji is a bit surprised by the act, but lets it pass without comment. Ritsuko does not.

“Ever the dutiful housewife,” she says.

The string of expletives Misato lets loose in response to that turn even Kaji red. But even though it gets them the attention of the bridegroom, who comes over and politely asks them to leave, and even though Misato curses him the whole way out, and even though they end up stealing a half-dozen wedding presents on their way out—despite all of that, Kaji finds it to be one of the best weddings he has ever attended.

***

Shinji lays the flowers on the grave, and stands.

“After three years, we're here again,” Ikari says.

Shinji nods, and looks again at the grave marker. His mother's name, and the years of her life—in death, this is what her existence has been reduced to.

“You don't have any pictures of her,” he says, unable to keep a hint of accusation from his voice.

“No photographs. Not even a body. Nothing remains.”

Shinji looks towards the horizon, over the endless rows of identical pillars—each one a human life, once. “It's true,” he says. “You threw away everything.”

“Everything I need is safe within my heart,” Ikari says. And, with a tinge of sorrow in his voice: “For now, that is enough.”

There is a long silence between them, as Shinji's hand trembles. It is interrupted by the whirring of blades and a furious wind beating the back of his head.

Shinji turns and sees a helicopter descending into the field. “This is where I leave you,” says Ikari, and he steps towards it.

Through one of the windows, Shinji sees a face: Rei Ayanami, regarding him emotionlessly. It is enough to provoke him.

“Father!” he cries at the man's retreating back.

Ikari pauses, and looks around.

“I'm glad we could speak,” Shinji adds meekly.

Ikari pauses, perhaps pondering the meaning of the words. Finally, he gives an affirmative nod. Then he turns back around, strides towards the helicopter, and steps inside. It carries him away and Shinji is left alone.

He stares up at the sky, the infinite blue sky free of clouds, and feels the wind. With a heavy heart, he looks back to earth, and begins to walk away.

***

Kaworu is the first out of the theater. He keeps his hands in his pockets, and his face betrays not a single note of emotion; he stands outside of the cluster of boys he accompanies, and he does not participate in their conversation.

“Remember that bit where—”

“Yeah! It was awesome!”

“That actress has a great butt...”

It is by now mid-afternoon, and the boys have decided to grab lunch at an eatery downtown. Kaworu walks slightly behind them, watching them with mild interest. Most of the boys are anonymous to him, except for Suzuhara and Aida; as they are Shinji's friends, he knows them well, although he does not think that they are friends with him personally.

The streets are crowded today, more than usual; if Tokyo-3 is a ghost town, Kaworu thinks, then the dead must be restless. He sees people of all ages and walks of life: businessmen, slackers, NERV contractors, even ganguro traveling in tight packs. More than once, he spots someone staring at him, and immediately he is reminded how strange he must look with his white hair and bright red eyes. It renders him a bit morose.

The restaurant they eventually stop at is built in a narrow space; there is barely enough room for all of them to squeeze around a table. The waitress—a Chinese migrant worker—works silently, but without contempt. One of the company, a boy named Reiji, takes care of the orders—selecting a number of dishes Kaworu has never heard of.

“Like this,” he says, once the food has arrived, holding a dumpling in a plastic spoon. He nibbles at the outer skin. “Take a bite, and then suck out the juices from inside.”

“Like this?”

“There you go, Aida,” he says, laughing.

They are all laughing; all are enjoying themselves as they eat. To them, this is a social event, one in which they are at home—but Kaworu can do nothing but sip dully from an open can of soda as he stares straight ahead. He is an alien in this circle, and he knows this fat all too well.

“Nagisa?” A voice interrupts his thoughts. He turns his head and sees Reiji, offering him a dumpling.

“I saw you weren't eating much,” the boy says, by way of explanation. “Try one of these; they're good.”

Cautiously, Kaworu takes the offered food with a quiet thanks. He bites into the skin, as Reiji instructed, and begins to slurp the soup inside. His face lights up immediately.

“It's delicious,” he tells Reiji.

The boy smiles and nods, but with one glance at the platter he instantly looks dismayed. “Oh, I guess we should have ordered another serving.”

“Don't worry about it,” says another boy. “Gotta save from room for the General Tso's.”

When the next platter arrives, Kaworu digs in with as much enthusiasm as the rest. He laughs at the stories the boys tell, and joins in with a few of his own—some of them, it seems, are quite eager to hear about life as a pilot. Before long, he is smiling even when not speaking or spoken to—he does it simply because he can.

When the server, looking more than a mite annoyed at the noisy cluster of teenage boys taking up an entire table without ordering any alcohol, delivers the check, Kensuke looks nervous. “Alright,” he says, “I'm completely broke. Whoever wants to cover it, I'll pay you back later...”

There is an awkward silence, the boys all looking around the table for someone to step up and shoulder the responsibility. For several moments, it seems that no one is breathing.

Then, Kaworu throws several bills into the center of the table.

“There you go,” he says.

Instantly, several boys breathe a sigh of relief. One punches Kaworu gently in the arm.

“Pays to work for the government, huh?” he says. “Alright, let's get out of here.”

They clamber out of their seats and head towards the door, giving the hostess a smile or a thumb's-up on their way out. Kaworu is the last one, and he tosses a coin in her direction.

“Thanks for your service,” he says.

She smiles. “No trouble,” she says.

Kaworu bows, and exits, meeting the other boys outside on the sidewalk. They are already huddled together, perhaps commiserating on what they might do next. Kaworu does not force himself into the group; he stands outside of them, hands stuck in his pockets, awaiting some unanimous movement.

Thus, he is the only one to see the approach of the two men in black.

They come up the sidewalk, dressed in suits and ties despite the heat of the day, without a hint of expression on their faces. One is tall, blonde, European; the other is short and dark-haired. Despite their disparity in height, they manage to walk almost perfectly in step. The rhythmic tapping of their shoes against the ground intrudes upon the boys' conversation, and at length they break apart and look to the source. Many freeze on the spot; others slowly edge away.

But the two men show no aggressive intent. They scan the cluster, looking for something—someone, rather. For a moment, Kaworu feels their gazes lingering on him, but he is not the object of their search.

“Which one of you is Touji Suzuhara?” asks the taller of the two.

A moment of silence, and then Touji steps forward. “I am,” he says, in a faint, quavering voice.

“Come with us,” the man in black says.

Touji opens his mouth, finds he has nothing to say, and swallows. He looks towards his friends for assistance—but they are silent, terrified themselves. Kaworu realizes, in that moment, that Touji will receive no help from them. In that moment, any one of them would turn away from Suzuhara, and allow him to face whatever fate awaits him.

He steps over to Touji and places a hand on his shoulder.

“Go,” he says, his face serious. “If they hurt you, I'll make sure they regret it.”

Touji stares at him, all too aware that Kaworu has no ability to fulfill this promise. But the sentiment is enough. He gives the boys a final glance and nod, and then steps forward. The men in black each seize an arm and begin to lead him away, holding him between them like an animal.

“What are they gonna do with him?” Kensuke whispers.

Kaworu cannot answer, but only watch as Touji walks further and further away, until he finally vanishes from sight—as if he had never been there at all.

***

Kaworu meets Shinji at the apartment—in fact, the boy is there to answer the door when he returns. Shinji has evidently been here a while; his cello case lies open, and the instrument itself is propped up on a chair.

“Were you practicing?” asks Kaworu, as he slips off his shoes.

Shinji nods. “I got home early. Not much else to do.”

Kaworu nods, understanding. “Please, continue. I enjoy hearing you play.”

Smiling bashfully, Shinji returns to his instrument and leans it on his left side. He holds the bow steadily against the strings, takes a deep breath—and begins to play. It is a composition by Bach, one which he is particularly fond of; Kaworu does not know it, but he nods along with it in pleasure.

“Wonderful,” he says, once it is done, and claps. Shinji stands and bows. “If I may,” he asks, “how long have you been playing?”

Shinji sits down again and cups his chin in his hand, a thoughtful pose, or one of reminiscence. “I guess it must have been when I was five or six,” he says, after a moment. He sounds almost wistful as he continues, “my teacher told me I should take up an instrument. Said it would build character. It didn't,” he adds, taking up the bow again, “but I never stopped.”

“Why not?”

Shinji smiles. “No one ever told me to.”

At this, Kaworu nods, then laughs.

“What's so funny?” Shinji asks, bemused.

“Oh, Shinji,” Kaworu says, covering his mouth. “You may have never realized this, but you are a terrible liar.” He continues giggling as he leaves the room and heads into the kitchen, leaving a baffled Shinji in his wake.

Pen-Pen waddles in, having seen Kaworu's tittering exit. He glances at Shinji questioningly, and the boy can only shrug in response.

***

There is music playing in the bar. Jazz, Kaji thinks to himself; it is a familiar melody, and he can't help but whistle along a bit sloppily as the band plays. Next to him, Misato is surrounded by empty glasses and currently working on another; he swears he will soon look around to see her expelling the contents of her stomach back into the glass.

“Maybe you've had enough.”

“Like hell. I need to wash that crap out of my system.”

The tapping of footsteps alerts Kaji to a new arrival: Ritsuko, dressed as she was for the wedding, looking a bit more haggard than she was when they saw her last. She takes a seat on Kaji's other side, and immediately lights a cigarette. Kaji smiles at her, and she returns the expression.

“Where's the barkeep?” she asks.

“Nowhere in sight. And yet,” he says, glancing over at Misato, “she seems to be getting along alright.”

Misato's head hits the counter with a thud. Kaji immediately rushes over to her, placing his arms over her shoulders—but then she opens her eyes and gives a cheeky little grin. Kaji steps back, heart still racing.

“Gotcha,” she says, laughing hoarsely. “Gotcha good.”

Kaji glares at her, and sits back down. “Not funny.” He then looks to Ritsuko, who has observed the scene in silence—seemingly, more interested in her cigarette. “What happened after we left?”

Ritsuko blows out smoke. “Oh, you know. The usual stuff. You two were the real highlight of the whole affair.”

Kaji laughs. He reaches into his pocket. “I got you something while I was in Matsushiro.”

A cat earring. She takes it and slips it into her purse. Swiftly, it is forgotten. They sit in silence for a moment, allowing the music to go on softly at the backs of their minds, before Misato rises to her feet and staggers off to the bathroom. Ritsuko's demeanor changes immediately.

“So,” she asks, “when were you in Kyoto?”

Kaji grins. “I told you, that's from Matsushiro.”

“Can't fool me.” She takes a long drag, and when she looks at him she is smiling. “If you play with fire, you're going to get your fingers burned.”

“I'd rather be burned by the heat of my passion for you,” he says, grinning like an idiot. He looks at the empty glasses he's accumulated for himself, and wonders if he's not tipsier than Misato by now.

“Somebody order some fireworks?” Misato asks, returning in a fouler mood than she left. She glares at Kaji. “You haven't changed.”

“Oh, but I am,” he says. “We're all changing—every one of us, all the time, into new and exciting forms.”

“Homeostasis and transistasis,” Ritsuko interjects. “On the one hand, the drive to remain the same, and on the other, the will to change.” She rises from her seat, purse slung over one arm. “I was only stopping by to check on you,” she says. “I've got to get back home.”

She walks out, leaving her cigarette, ground down almost to nothing, on the counter. Kaji stares at it, studying it, and flicks it away, leaving only a few cremains behind to recall its existence. A sudden gurgling sound, and he looks to Misato—clutching her face, covering her mouth, as her cheeks puff out. Instantly he feels a bit nauseous himself.

“Come on,” he says, helping her to her feet, glancing around once more to make sure the bartender has not yet returned. He is glad to see he has not: this is a nice bar, and Kaji doesn't want to end up blacklisted.

***

When Misato is done vomiting up the entire contents of her stomach, Kaji helps her to her feet, and when he sees that she still cannot stand on her own, he crouches to his knees.

“Climb on,” he says, wondering if she's even capable of that. She is, and does, and they go on. “I warned you, you'd had too much,” Kaji chastises, and there is little humor in his voice.

For a response, Misato can manage no more than a gurgle that was probably intended to sound defiant. Her grip on Kaji is tight, as if he's the only thing she can cling to, as if everything else is insubstantial.

“I thought you'd grown up a little,” he says, when they have gone a bit further. They are on the outskirts of the city now, into the part that was once known as Hakone; the building housing Misato's apartment is one of the newer developments in the area.

She herself seems to sense that they are drawing near, as she begins to strain away from Kaji. At first he mistakes it for her losing her grip, and holds on tighter; but he relaxes once he realizes it is a conscious effort, and kneels so that she can climb off. She slips off her shoes and, carrying them in her hand, walks beside him.

He senses that she is struggling to say something, but the words will not come out. He is silent, waiting for her. They stop walking, and stand just beyond the light of a streetlamp.

Finally, she speaks. “Do you think I've changed?” she asks.

Kaji blinks, and replies: “You're even more beautiful.”

She is silent, again, and then the words come out all at once: “I'm sorry. For breaking up with you, I mean. I said there was someone else, but that was a lie. You guessed, didn't you?”

He shakes his head.

She continues, regardless: “The real reason, it was my father. You're a lot like him, you know that? So much like him, when I realized it, I couldn't stand it. So I drove you away, and tried to escape. I joined NERV—and guess what? Dad worked there, too. I can't get away from him, no matter how much I try!”

“Katsuragi,” he says, sternly.

“I'm a coward,” she says, her voice breaking. “I'm always running away, trying to avoid his memory. Oh, God, I'm just like Shinji! I'm pathetic, I'm worthless, I'm—”

He stops her mouth with a kiss.

They stay like that a long while, mouths interlocked, hearts beating against each other. There is only a clatter as she drops her shoes on the pavement—all else is silent, even the cicadas.

***

Kaworu is the first to meet Kaji when he arrives, standing in the doorway with Misato on his back. He looks to the older man, placing a hand over his mouth.

“She had a bit too much to drink,” Kaji explains. “Let's get her in bed. Where's Shinji?”

“Here,” says the boy in question, suddenly appearing from around the corner. “Is that Misato? What's wrong?”

“I'll explain later,” Kaji grumbles. He looks around for the bedroom.

“This one,” Shinji says, sliding the screen aside. Kaji carries her in and lays her sideways on the mat.

“There,” he says. “She'll be alright.”

He takes his leave of them, then, walking out the way he came with his hands stuck in his pockets. He allowed himself a moment of weakness to care for his lover, and now he dons his mask again. He might as well be James Bond as Ryoji Kaji, Shinji thinks.

But when he stands in the doorway again, just about to leave, he pauses, and gives a backward glance to the boy watching him.

“Take care of her,” he says, and slips out into the night.

***

“Can I ask you something?” Kensuke says during one of the morning breaks.

Shinji nods. Kensuke gestures at Kaworu, who sits near the front of the class with his hands neatly steepled in front of him.

“What is it with you two guys?” he whispers to Shinji.

“What do you mean?”

Kensuke gives him a look. “You know exactly what I mean. I thought I had you pegged, man; I was sure you had the hots for Ayanami. But when Kaworu came along...”

“It's not like that,” Shinji says, blushing. “We're friends. Nothing more.”

“You're living together.”

“With Misato!”

“You walk to school together every day.”

“Look,” Shinji says, honestly frustrated. “Would you drop it? I don't want to talk about it anymore.”

“Alright, man,” Kensuke says, raising his hands in surrender.

There is an uneasy silence between the two boys.

“I was meaning to ask you,” says Kensuke suddenly. “Have you heard anything about Unit-03?”

Shinji raises an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“The new Evangelion unit, built in the United States,” Kensuke says, under his breath, as if trying to preserve something confidential. “I heard they're flying it to Japan.”

Shinji shakes his head. “No, I don't know anything about it.” He looks down at his knees, suddenly resentful. Of course Misato wouldn't trust him with information like that.

“It's probably not a big deal,” Kensuke says, noticing the look his friend has gotten. “I mean, it doesn't have anything to do with you...”

Not wanting to look at Kensuke, Shinji gazes around the room. It seems more empty than usual today—something is missing, something vital.

“Say,” Shinji says. “Where's Touji?”
Last edited by Atropos on Wed May 27, 2015 7:12 pm, edited 3 times in total.

Literary Eagle
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Postby Literary Eagle » Wed May 20, 2015 11:57 pm

Kaworu spending some time with other classmates (and hopefully starting to become friends with them?) was a really nice touch. I've always liked the idea of Kaworu forming bonds with other people in addition to Shinji. (Though I definitely like seeing Kaworu bond with Shinji, too!)

By the way, is the mention of "Yamagishi" a reference to Mayumi Yamagishi from the 2nd Impression video game? I like her. She's a cutie pie!

Just a couple of typos:

Then a least I don't feel so bad. (Should be "at")

He is an alien in this circle, and he knows this fat all too well. (Should be "fact")

Anyway, thanks for continuing this story. I'm enjoying it so far, and I look forward to the next part!
The Happy Red Planet (my Evangelion fan fic)

Atropos
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Postby Atropos » Mon May 25, 2015 11:05 am

Chapter 4 - The Fourth Child

SPOILER: Show
The elevator doors open, and Touji walks through them.

The hospital is quiet. This is not unusual—if there is one thing Nerv is very good at, it is building extensive facilities far beyond what the situation demands. His footsteps are the only sound, it seems, in the entire building.

Until he reaches her room. He pauses at the door, unsure if he should enter, unsure if he wants to enter. But it is only a second's hesitation. He opens the door as quietly as he can, and slips inside.

He can hear her soft breathing, the rustle of her sheets as her chest heaves up and down, the rhythmic sounds of the machine that records, at all times, the proper functioning of her vital organs.

He grabs a chair and pulls it over, beside the bed. There he sits, hands on his knees, rocking back and forth almost expectantly. But he is met only with silence. He slumps over in his seat and stops moving.

Placing a hand on her shoulder, he finds that she is warm. He gets out of his seat and leans over her, so close that his lips are almost touching her ear. He whispers something. In her sleep, she smiles.

He leaves the room to find the hallway beyond is still silent. When he walks, the sound of his footsteps seems louder—as though he now carries an extra burden.

***

“I don't know why you won't tell me,” Misato says, for perhaps the hundredth time.

“For Christ's sake, Misato,” says Ritsuko, not looking up from her computer. “I didn't even know, until about two days ago. We didn't receive a dispatch from the Marduk Report until the last minute.”

Misato leans in. “Well, why won't you tell me now?”

“You don't need to ask me,” Ritsuko says with a smile. “You could just ask Kaji.”

Irritably, Misato stands up. “I'm not asking him,” she growls. “Come on, Ritsu. Just tell me who it is. You don't even have to tell me, just show me.”

Ritsuko sighs. She pauses, looking at Misato, and then, with a resigned expression, taps a few buttons on her keyboard. Immediately, a window opens on her screen.

A photo of Touji Suzuhara occupies the top left corner.

“Him?” Misato cannot keep the shock out of her voice. “But he's Shinji's friend.”

“Good,” Ritsuko says drily. “They should be happy to work together, shouldn't they?”

Misato steps back and leans against a wall. “Still,” she says. “I wonder why he even agreed to pilot.”

“He didn't do it without question. He made one request.”

“Oh?” Misato raises an eyebrow. “What was it?”

“He asked that we transfer his sister into our clinic.”

***

Touji is in class the next day, but he has not regained his once-cheerful demeanor. He is not quite sullen; no, that implies a sort of anger. He does not look angry, merely, Shinji thinks, weary. It is a feeling he is familiar with.

Touji arrives late, and offers no excuse. The teacher drones on, and as Touji takes his seat at the back of the room, the class rep does not chastise him, or even shoot a dirty glance in his direction. She seems as mystified by his expression and bearing as anyone.

When Touji sits, he does not prop his feet on top of the desk as he usually does. He sits upright in his seat, hands on top of the desk, fingers intertwined. It is a poor student's imitation of what a good student looks like, and Shinji would have found it amusing were it not so painfully sad to look at.

He looks around the classroom, for someone who might show signs of sympathy for the boy, or at least recognition of the nature of his plight. He sees no such person: the students' attention is elsewhere. Everywhere else, it seems, except the lesson itself.

But there is one, he sees, who does seem to be taking an interest in Touji, although he tries to hide it. Kaworu steals a glance at the boy every few seconds, and then looks forward again, thinking none might have noticed.

“You know something, don't you?” Shinji asks him, on the way home.

“Know something about what?” Kaworu asks.

“Touji,” says Shinji. “He's acting weird. What happened?”

“I don't know,” Kaworu says, too quickly. Shinji recognizes the lie.

“You have to. Come on, tell me.”

Kaworu glares at him.

“It's no one's business but Touji's,” he says. “If he wants to tell you, he can do it himself.” With that, he walks on, leaving Shinji standing on the sidewalk, utterly baffled. He wants to shout something defiant, even angry, but he cannot find it in his heart to do it. So he waits until Kaworu has vanished around a corner, and then he begins to walk again.

***

Cleanup duty has never been one of Touji's passions. He likes to believe that he has things to do with his life besides stay after school and sweep up, and yet that is what he is obliged to do, at least once a month. Truth be told, he doesn't mind: it gives him an opportunity to be alone, to think and reflect.

At the moment, he has a lot to think and reflect on.

He did not eat lunch today, so he pulls out the bento he'd purchased earlier from his school bag. He cracks open the top and takes a whiff. Immediately he recoils. It is dry, processed food, hardly palatable—but it's food, and that's enough for him, right now. He eats it slowly, and stares out the windows as he does.

“Suzuhara?”

He turns his head, and sees the class rep standing in the doorway. “Hey,” he says, raising a hand in greeting.

She steps forward, cautiously, keeping her hands at her sides. “You have to sweep up under the desks,” she says, not in her usual declarative voice, but with an uneven, hesitant tone. It is as though she cannot say the words properly.

“I know,” he grunts. “Just let me finish. I didn't get to eat lunch today.”

She raises her eyebrows, but does not ask for further clarification. He is grateful for that. She also seems to notice his look of distaste as he finishes his meal.

“You don't like it,” she says.

“Nah,” he says. “But this stuff's all I can get. I mean, there's no one at home who can cook for me, and my dad doesn't give me any money...”

The class rep is silent for a moment, perhaps in sympathy. Then, she lights up. “You know, I make lunch for all of my sisters,” she says. “But, there's always stuff left over. If you want, I could make you something...” Her voice trails off as she goes on, and she watches his face meekly.

He is not quite sure what she wants, or what she means by what she says. He has his suspicions, to be sure, but he can't accept them, not knowing what he does about the class rep. But it seems to him that, if he is going to do anything, accepting hr offer would be a good choice.

“Sure,” he says, simply. Then, as an afterthought: “Thanks for doing that, class rep—er, Hikari.”

Hikari's eyes widen in delight, and she nods.

***

She finds him in the rec room, leaning over Lieutenant Ibuki with a lecherous grin. She announces her presence with a loud “A-hem”, drawing Kaji's attention away from the young girl—who scampers away immediately, relieved.

“To what do I owe the pleasure, Katsuragi?” he asks, sitting down.

“I've got a few questions,” she says. No use in being underhanded, she thinks. “About the Fourth Child.”

Kaji nods. “You know all about it, then,” he says. “What were you wondering in particular?”

“I was wondering,” she begins, leaning against a Coke machine, crossing her arms in front of her chest. “about the Marduk Institute.”

“Careful,” he says, grinning. “That's dangerous territory. Dig too deep, and you might awaken something of darkness and flame.”

“Like I care. Here's my question: why are all our pilots fourteen years old? Why do they all go to the same school? Why are all of their mothers dead? It doesn't seem to make any sense.”

“Of course, it doesn't” he says, standing. “I'll let you in on my secret, though.” And then, the humor vanishes from his voice. “The Marduk Institute doesn't exist. The whole thing is a charade. Commander Ikari is behind all the pilot selections.”

“But how could he know?” she asks.

It seems he is about to answer, and he would, if an interloper did not appear at that very minute. Shinji Ikari comes around the corner, calling out her name.

“Right here, Shinji,” she says.

“Doctor Akagi was looking for you,” he explains, with a note of apology in his voice. “Sorry, I didn't mean to intrude...”

“Not at all,” she says. “I was just leaving. Well,” she adds, looking at Kaji, “I hope we can continue this chat later.”

She walks away, leaving the two of them alone. As she walks out, she thinks she can hear them saying:

“Can I get you a drink?”

A pause, and then:

“...I'm a boy.”

***

“Well, what do you think?”

Shinji gently prods one of the watermelons with his foot. Instead of answering, he chooses to ask his own question: “Does anyone else know you've been growing these?”

“No one,” Kaji admits. “My secret. But,” he continues, picking up a watering can, “that's enough for me.”

“What do you mean?” asks Shinji.

“You know,” says Kaji. He grabs a watering can from the ground and holds it over the fruits, thin streams trickling down over their green rinds. “I find it enjoyable to cultivate things, to help them grow.” His voice sounds wistful; it is a tone of voice Shinji has not yet heard the man use. He would not have thought it possible for Kaji to sound like that.

A thought occurs to him, and he asks: “And what if they don't grow? What if they die?”

Kaji ponders the question a moment, and Shinji feels almost guilty for asking the question. But Kaji answers soon enough: “Yes, it's painful when that happens.”

Shinji repeats the word: “Pain.” Kaji looks over at him.

“Do you avoid pain?” he asks.

“I don't like it,” says Shinji.

“Few do.” Kaji says it with a hint of amusement in his voice. “Growing up is trying to find a way to enjoy life despite pain.”

Shinji glances over at him. “Are you grown up?” he asks. Kaji laughs.

“Sometimes,” he says, “I ask myself that question. I don't think anyone really knows; it's something you can only observe in other people. But,” he adds, wagging his finger, “that's no reason not to try.”

Thoughts of the conversation occupy Shinji's mind for hours after it has finished, and even days and weeks later—when far graver things have taken place, and Shinji cannot say he is the same person he used to be—it remains, echoing about the recesses of his consciousness.

***

Lunchtime brings a brief respite from the slog of schoolwork, and many students forgo satiating their appetites to instead mill about in the hallways and chat. Kaworu passes by many such groups as he crosses the hallways, but he pays no attention to them. He is following Suzuhara.

He reaches the doorway that leads to the roof, and pauses. He wonders if he really wants to disturb the boy. If he left—left without his lunch, furthermore—it was undoubtedly because he wanted to be alone. He would not appreciate Kaworu intruding on his time of introspection.

However.

Kaworu opens the door, and steps out. Touji is sitting on the edge of the roof, legs poking through the railings; his head sags below his shoulders, and all in all he appears to be the very portrait of melancholy. With hesitant, careful steps, Kaworu approaches.

“Hey, Nagisa,” Touji says.

Kaworu stops in his tracks. “How did you know it was me?” he asks, slightly disappointed.

Touji laughs. “You walk so quietly.” He then falls silent, staring out, past the confines of the school towards the spires of Tokyo-3. Kaworu wonders what he is thinking about—in specific, that is; Kaworu can guess his preoccupations in general.

“Did you tell Shinji?” he asks.

“No,” says Touji, “and I don't want to. Do you?”

“No,” Kaworu admits.

Touji looks around at him, a faint smile on his lips. “You really care about him, huh?”

Kaworu shrugs. “Perhaps.”

“You do.” Touji says it like he knows it—knows it better than Kaworu himself. “Let's agree,” he continues, “not to tell Shinji. He'll find out when he needs to, right?”

Kaworu wonders about that last statement—if this were Days Of Our Lives, that line would almost certainly be a portent of something disastrous on the horizon. But, Kaworu reminds himself, that is a fiction, not reality. There is no author pulling the strings, no ironic fate awaiting them.

“Right,” he says.

***

The truck's cabin is elevated several feet off the ground, giving Misato a nearly bird's-eye view of the countryside as it rolls along the highway. The Sun is shining brightly, and with its heat magnified by the glass windows surrounding her, Misato is boiling. She wonders why she even has to appear in full dress for a simple experiment—or why she needs to be present at all.

She asks Ritsuko.

“Trust building,” is the doctor's response.

Misato sighs. “And where's Touji?”

“He'll be arriving later.” With this, Ritsuko finally looks up, glancing at Misato warily. “Did you tell Shinji about it?”

“I'll tell him after it's done.”

They ride for a while in silence, Ritsuko's gaze fixed on her papers even when ever blank space has been filled and every dotted line signed, and Misato's on the rolling hills and seemingly endless rice paddies. This is real Japan, the Japan that she never sees anymore; far from the great city of beams and spires, she finds a world she had thought lost. Perhaps she will return, one day, after the Angels are destroyed, and live the rest of her life in peace.

“Fat chance,” she murmurs.

Ritsuko glances at her. “Did you say something?”

Misato blushes. “No, nothing.”

***

“Well,” says Kensuke, pointing towards the stream of white cloud in the sky, “there it goes.”

“That's it?” Shinji asks, leaning against the railing. “How do you know?”

“Well, I don't,” Kensuke admits. “It was a bit of a guess.” He pauses, then looks at Shinji again, the sunlight reflecting off his glasses and hiding his eyes behind the glare. “Do you know who the pilot is?”

“No,” Shinji answers truthfully.

Kensuke narrows his eyes in suspicion. “C'mon,” he says. “You must have some idea.”

“I just told you...”

“Even a guess?”

“Look,” says Shinji, growing annoyed. “I've told you a hundred times, I have no idea who the new pilot is. No one told me.” He can feel the heat rising to his face, and he knows that what he says next is not aimed at Kensuke at all, but he cannot stop himself. “No one ever tells me anything. Even at the beginning of it all, no one ever gave me a word of explanation. They just expected me to do as I was told! Again and again, they make me...” He trails off when he notices Kensuke's expression, and realizes he had, at some point, begun to shout.

“Sorry,” he adds quietly.

“It's alright,” Kensuke says quickly, looking away. “It's my fault, anyway. I shouldn't have pressed you, right? It's only fair.”

They both fall silent, not sure how to go on—it seems that this outburst has driven a wedge between them, a scar not easily healed by further words. And yet, that is invariably how one tries to solve the problems caused by such rifts: by filling them with meaningless breath.

So Kensuke says: “Touji's been absent a lot lately. You don't think he's the new pilot, do you?”

And Shinji laughs: “I don't think so!”

***

The winds come to Matsushiro, necessitating that Misato zip up her jacket; even so, the sun beats down on her mercilessly. She is tapping her foot impatiently against the runway, and has almost bit the unlit cigarette in her mouth in half.

“He's late,” she says to Ritsuko for what might be the hundredth time. She spits out the two halves of the cigarette on the ground and grinds them under her heel. “No one's ever made me wait this long,” she mutters.

“Well,” Ritsuko says, “you never waited for guys when you were dating.”

Misato casts a glance back at her, uncharacteristically humorless. “Not the time.”

Ritsuko looks at her, and shrugs. “Sorry,” she says.

There is a sound like thunder in the air, causing both women to look down the runway. Descending from the sky is a shape like a massive bird of prey, swooping down towards them, carrying from its underside a massive crucifix. And on the cross itself was a figure in black and white, its cyclopean head hanging low from its shoulders. Misato shudders to see it.

“Ugly bastard, isn't it?”

“We don't have the luxury of aesthetics,” says Ritsuko.

The transport slows in its descent, and its cargo descends from wires, like a puppet, to the ground. When the leviathan is only a few dozen meters above, it is released, and the crucifix slams against the ground. The plane flies away, leaving a trail of smoke in its wake.

Ritsuko stares at the supine giant in the distance, as if she might observe some imperfection with the naked eye. Misato turns her head back towards the base behind them. “Has the pilot arrived?”

“Yes,” says Ritsuko. “He's waiting for you.”

***

Evening, now, and for Shinji and Kaworu it is a quiet one. Kaji is taking a shower, leaving the two of them to do as they please. But, Shinji being Shinji, he has chosen to work on homework and, Kaworu being Kaworu, he is watching Days of Our Lives with rapt attention.

“Look at this,” he says, pointing to the screen. “Kazuo was engaged to Nishida, but she thought that he was only interested in her money, so she broke up with him, but it was really his evil twin, Hikaru, who needed the money to fund his illegal drug company. It's all a bit of a mess,” he adds.

Shinji nods along as he speaks, but then, by way of reply, says: “I wonder who the new pilot is.”

Kaworu looks back at him, too quickly for it to be an idle motion. Shinji notices.

“Well?”

“I don't know,” says Kaworu, looking back towards the television.

For a moment, there is an uneasy silence between them. Shinji narrows his eyes in suspicion, fixing his gaze on the back of Kaworu's head; the other boy tries to look as innocent as he can, but in doing so he cannot help but look suspiciously artificial: poised, as if for a photographer.

“You must know something,” Shinji says, trying to keep his voice free of accusation.

“I don't,” says Kaworu. He looks back at Shinji, an expression of deep injury on his face. “Do you think I would lie to you?” he asks.

Shinji looks away quickly. “Of course not,” he says. “I'm sorry.”

With that, Kaworu looks back at his television drama, just as Kaji steps into the room. His hair is still damp from the shower, and he makes subtle goes at it with a towel. He spies the two boys and smiles.

“Getting along well, I see,” he says. “Now, how about dinner?”

“It's Shinji's turn to cook,” says Kaworu.

Shinji stands. “I'll get something ready,” he says, and walks off to the kitchen. Kaji takes his place on the couch.

Kaworu turns around. He glances towards the door, making sure Shinji is gone. Then he creeps towards the older man, until he is close enough to whisper and be heard.

In an undertone: “Shinji doesn't know that Touji is the new pilot.”

Kaji narrows his eyes. “I'm guessing,” he says, “you don't want him to know.”

Kaworu pleads. “Just keep it a secret until after Misato comes back,” Kaworu pleads. “He'll find out then.”

For a moment, Kaji looks pensive, contemplating whether or not he should do what the boy asks. It goes against his instincts as a guardian and, although he only considers himself a teacher, it would violate that code as well. He cannot say yes.

But he cannot say no.

***

That night, they lay down in separate rooms—Kaji taking Misato's for the night, winking conspiratorially as he stepped inside. But Shinji cannot sleep. He shifts in bed constantly, rolling onto one side or the other; he pulls the sheets over his head; he listens to an entire cassette tape of music twice. He is tired, yes, dreadfully tired: but he cannot bring himself to sleep.

Finally, he rises, leaving the sheets splayed out over the floor, his cassette player planted in the pillow with the cords wrapped around it. He steps out of his room, trying not to make noise, and sees that there is a light on in the kitchen. Curious, he begins to walk towards it.

Kaji is sitting at the kitchen table, holding a mug of what looks like warm milk. Not liquor? Shinji finds this rather strange.

“Hey,” says Kaji, raising a hand in greeting.

Shinji takes a seat and begins to drum his fingers on the table, staring intently at the calendar on the opposite wall.

Then, out of the blue, he asks: “Mr. Kaji, what is my father like?”

Kaji does not respond immediately. He looks a little surprised and somewhat amused at the question. “Why do you ask?”

“You're always with my father,” Shinji says meekly.

Kaji smiles. “Fuyutsuki's the one who's always with him,” he says.

Shinji looks down, shaking his head. “Fuyutsuki scares me,” he says. “I don't feel like I can trust anyone at Nerv.”

“Anyone?” Kaji raises an eyebrow. “You don't trust me or Katsuragi?”

At this, Shinji blushes. “That's not what I meant,” he says.

Kaji nods. His face betrays neither approval nor disapproval; he seems content to allow Shinji to speak, without imposing himself on the boy. Whatever his opinion of the boy's conclusions, he keeps them to himself. He does, however, voice a question: “Do you trust your father?”

“I don't know,” Shinji says, resting his face on his hand. “I'd like to. I'd like to believe that he's doing something good for the world, and that he's glad I'm here. But he's always so cold. How can you trust someone you can't understand?”

Kaji smiles. “Understanding people is impossible, I'm afraid.” He takes a sip of his drink before continuing. “We're all separated. We can't show ourselves as we are, only as we wish we were, and that is the only side of ourselves the world sees.”

Shinji looks down at his feet. “How lonely,” he says.

Kaji shakes his head. “It's a bit like a game: trying to find out about other people without revealing too much of yourself. It makes life very interesting.”

He lets this hang in the air a moment. Shinji mulls over it internally, turning it about. It makes little sense to him—but little Kaji says does. Perhaps it's because he is an adult, and Shinji a child; perhaps it will make more sense when he grows up. But he wants to understand, or at the very least force Kaji to explain. He asks: “Is that how it is between you and Misato?”

Kaji looks a bit startled by the question. He opens his mouth, but no words come out. It takes a moment for him to regain his composure, don again his roguish smirk. “The kanji used for the word 'she' means 'a woman far away,'” he says. “That's the way of things, Shinji: men and women stand on opposite sides of an insurmountable sea, unable to reach each other.”

Shinji sits back and crosses his arms. This sounds like an excuse, and he suspects it is, but he has no way of knowing. But the subject of “men” and “women” makes him think of Ayanami, and the myriad ways she has entranced and bemused him since they met. How is he to describe their relationship to Kaji? Would he have anything to say, any advice to offer?

Shinji suspects not.

“Maybe you're right,” he says, standing.

Kaji raises his mug as if toasting the boy. Shinji gives a small bow of the head and walks off, back to his room. He does not know if he will be able to sleep, but at least he will have more to think about.

***

There are people speaking in many languages—English, Japanese, German. Misato does not know how they can process and understand each other's words, for more than once she notices someone giving a command in one language and receiving a response in the other—not to mention switching between languages mid-sentence. It is one of the wonders of belonging to a multinational organization.

“Almost time,” Ritsuko murmurs to her. Misato nods.

“What are you going to have him do?” she asks.

“Nothing. We just need to see if it works, and go from there.” She cuts off, barking commands in German at an apparently terrified technician.

There is only one screen in the room with an image Misato can understand. It is not a graph, not a chart, not something of numbers and lines: it is an image, a face. A grotesque face, to be sure, but one nonetheless, and one surprisingly human, despite its ugliness.

She feels it is staring at her, and looks away.

“Three minutes,” she hears someone say. “The pilot is onboard...”

Inside that thing, then—in the belly of the beast, as they might say. She wonders how he might feel. Is he terrified by his circumstances, barely able to stand the state he has found himself in? Or does this peril exhilarate him, and leave him yearning for more than they allow him at present?

“Two minutes.”

Two? Where has the time gone? It feels as though she hasn't been here a moment. She shifts her weight from one leg to the other uneasily. There is little more to do. Just a few more seconds of waiting, and they'll have their results, and then she can go. But she doesn't know if she can stand it even a second longer. Being here, not being in control: it's a terrible feeling.

“T-minus ten seconds...”

Here it comes.

She stares at the screen, watching at the creature's eyes light up, pale gray and piercing. It raises its head, slowly, steadily, like it has just awakened from a long sleep. If it were any other creature staring at her, it would be almost endearing.

“Something's wrong,” Ritsuko mutters. Misato looks at her sharply.

“What do you mean?”

“These readings can't be right,” Ritsuko replies. She looks up at the screen, shaking her head. “We'll check it out after. But—”

Before she can finish her sentence, they, the room they inhabit, and the entire facility around them are enveloped in an all-consuming ball of fire.

Misato's last thought: Knew we shouldn't have trusted the bastards.

***

“Something happened in Matsushiro,” is all Hyuga said, gesturing for Shinji to get in the car. Shinji wanted to ask more, but there was no time—they went through five red lights in the rush to base. Once he got there, he was immediately suited up and stuffed in the entry plug. Ritsuko was conspicuously absent among the technical personnel. After that, he could do nothing but wait for the other pilots to arrive.

Now, they still wait—but they wait, not in the subterranean caverns of Tokyo-3, but among the hills and fields of rural Japan. It is nearly sunset by now, and the sun falling in the west looks like a massive bloody eye, set there to look on over the fight to come.

“Visual contact with target in five seconds.”

Shinji holds his breath. He can feel his heart pounding in his chest. He strains to see, to make out a shape against the glare of the sun.

There it is.

“It can't be,” he murmurs.

“That is your target,” comes the voice of Commander Ikari.

“The pilot's still inside there, isn't he?” he demands.

Before he can get a response, his view suddenly shifts. Unit Two has leapt out of its crouch towards the target, progressive knife in hand; Kaworu seems to be trying to cut along the back of the colossal neck, trying to extract the entry plug. But for his efforts, the beast dispatches him in no time at all, throwing him over one shoulder and dropping him on the ground. There is a sickening crack as the Eva hits the ground, and then the lumbering monster moves on, closer to Shinji.

Rei tries her hand next. She hoists her massive rifle on her shoulder and rises to her feet, prepared to shoot the enemy down as soon as she gets a clear shot. She follows it on its course, tracing its motion—but when she finally gets the shot she wanted, she hesitates an instant.

An instant is all the monster needs. It jumps backwards, limbs flailing like a marionette puppet, to slam its body into Unit Zero. The rifle falls useless to the wayside, and the beast seizes Unit Zero's now freed arm, pulling it out of its socket.

Shinji hears Rei whimper, but he can do nothing. He can only say a quite prayer of thanks when he hears the panicked souls in the control room ordering a cut to synchronization.

Now, he is the last one left. The beast turns its head towards him. With a lurch, it begins to walk. Shinji tenses, grips the handles, preparing to strike—but some force causes him to pause. He relaxes his grip on the controls.

But the enemy does not wait, and in the time it takes for Shinji to gasp it has its hands wrapped around Unit One's throat. Shinji feels its fingers digging into his own windpipe, and he allows his rifle to fall to the ground as he claws at his neck, desperate for freedom.

“Shinji,” comes his father's voice. “Why aren't you fighting?”

Shinji can barely breathe, so he wonders how his father expects him to respond—but he tries his best.

“We've got to help him!”

“It's him or you.”

“I won't kill!”

His father roars in frustration, and then the sound cuts out. A moment later, so do the lights. There is the sound of something whirring in the seat behind him.

The Eva's arms begin to rise, not by Shinji's command, to seize its adversary's neck. The Angel's own grip loosens, and eventually falls; Unit One, it seems, is stronger by far. The beast struggles vainly for a moment, before its neck snaps with a nauseating sound.

Then, the slaughter begins.

***

The first thing Misato sees, after waking up, is Kaji's face. He is staring at her with undisguised concern, clutching her hand in his. As soon as he realizes she is looking back, he releases it.

“Katsuragi.”

“Kaji.” She dimly becomes aware that her head is wrapped up in bandages, and her arm is encased in plaster, but she her head is still spinning. Thoughts, facts, recollections: they are only slowly working their way back into her consciousness.

“Ritsuko's fine,” Kaji says. “Better than you.”

Misato smiles. “Good,” she says. An instant later, the smile vanishes, to be replaced by mute horror. “Shinji,” she manages to say. “Did he—”

Kaji hesitates to respond. At last, closing his eyes, he says: “Maybe you should talk to him.”

They give her a phone with a direct link to the cockpit. Kaji offers it to her, gently, and she takes it out with indecision approaching reluctance. Her hand shakes as she holds it up to her mouth: “Shinji?”

His voice comes over the other line, and it nearly kills her. “I killed, Misato.”

“Shinji,” she says quickly, before he can respond, “The pilot of Unit Three—the Fourth Child—is...”

She hears an anguished cry, and knows she need say no more. For a moment, she stares at the receiver. Then she hurls it to the ground, and it shatters into innumerable pieces, cogs and wires. Now, they are broken beyond any earthly power's ability to heal.

Atropos
Tabris
Tabris
Age: 22
Posts: 965
Joined: Jul 04, 2011
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Postby Atropos » Fri May 29, 2015 8:03 pm

Chapter 5 - A Man's Battle
SPOILER: Show
“If he hadn't done it, he would have died,” Kaworu says, once it is over. He sounds as affectless as ever, but Misato can tell—just by looking at him—that he is shaken. Of all the pilots, he is probably the one in the best shape—just one scratch, on the forehead.

“There's no way he'll pilot again,” says Misato, staring out the window. “After this...I don't blame him.”

Kaworu ponders her statement, following her gaze outside, to the forest in the Geofront's interior. He wonders if she is correct, if Shinji would really give up piloting.

“And Toji,” he says. “Is he—”

“Alive,” Misato says, not looking at him. She does not elaborate; Kaworu suspects this is for the best.

***

When Shinji wakes up, he finds himself once again under the same ceiling. His bed is surrounded by men in suits, their eyes obscured by dark sunglasses.

“Alright,” he says, resigned. “Just let me get dressed.”

Minutes later, he stands in his father's office, hands bound together.

“Insubordination,” Ikari begins. “Commandeering an Eva for personal use. Threats to Nerv facilities. These are are criminal offenses.” With each charge, his tone grows harsher, and he seems to have less and less pity for the boy. “Do you have anything to say for yourself?” he concludes.

Shinji stares directly at his father's face. “Yes,” he says. “I don't ever want to pilot an Eva again."

Ikari nods. “Very well,” he says, with only mild distaste in his voice. But as Shinji turns, he continues: “You're going to run away, again?”

Shinji does not look around. He does not flinch. He shows no outward sign of having even heard the man's words, as he walks silently out of the office.

***

Touji wakes up, eventually, to find himself in a Nerv hospital bed. The first thing he notices is the class rep seated at his bedside, looking at him with a smile that seems rather forced.

“Hey,” he says, raising a hand.

“Hey,” she replies.

He pauses. “How long have you been sitting there?” he asks, looking her up and down. Her hair is a mess, and her uniform looks like she hasn't changed out of it in days.

“Two days,” she says.

“Huh.” Touji forces a smile. “Guess I was out cold for a while. But I'm here now, right?” He chuckles, and she does as well—but as she does, she cannot help but let her gaze shift, from Touji's face down to his left side.

It is only then that he realizes he cannot feel his leg.

***

The phone rings in Misato Katsuragi's apartment. There is no one to answer it. Misato is at work, desperately trying to untangle the thousand loose ends left over from the last operation; Kaworu, after skipping school, has fled into the woods around the city to find solitude; and Shinji is indisposed. Thus, the phone rings on, never to be picked up.

The machine records a message:

“Shinji? Are you there?”

It is the voice of Kensuke Aida, demanding answers from someone who will never answer them.

“I heard about what happened,” he goes on. “Why are you trying to run away again?”

A brief pause, where, were Shinji present, and participating, he might respond.

“Damn it,” Kensuke says. “Even Touji got to be an Eva pilot, but I...”

He trails off, and then the message ends. It is left on the machine, unheard, unwanted.

***

The first time there is a knock on his door, Shinji does not answer. He stays on the bed, curled up in a fetal posture, eyes tightly shut and teeth grit. Neither the second nor the third tries is any better: he remains as he is, hermetically sealed off from the world in a shell of his own devising.

In the gap between the third and fourth attempt, he begins to reconsider. He supposes that there is no point in waiting to answer, as whomever it is will find a way to intrude upon his privacy in time, regardless of his recalcitrance. So, when the visitor knocks a first time, he rises from the bed, calling, “I'm coming,” and answers.

He opens the door. Standing on the other side is the narrow white-and-red countenance of Kaworu Nagisa, staring at him with something like fury.

“Hey,” Shinji says. He pauses, wondering if that was too flippant, if the boy is really angry. He backs away. “Do you want to come in?”

Without answering, Kaworu steps inside. Shinji raises an eyebrow. This is hardly characteristic behavior; the boy must be truly angry at him. Shinji decides not to mention it, moving on: “If you want tea, I can make you some. They gave me a hot plate.”

“Don't trouble yourself,” says Kaworu, keeping his gaze locked with Shinji's, forcing the other boy to look at the ground.

“What do you want?” Shinji asks.

“I want you to stay,” Kaworu says.

Shinji looks up. “Stay?” He nearly spits out the word. “How can I stay? Hell,” he goes on, voice rising, “how can you stay? You saw what my father did! That could have been you, or Ayanami, or anyone!”

“I know,” says Kaworu, “and I don't care.”

“How?” Shinji shouts, clenching his fists. “How can you go on serving him?”

“I have no choice.”

“Bullshit,” hisses Shinji. “You have a choice. You've always had a choice. And now, if you'll stay with him, after what he did—well, I guess that means you're as bad as he is.”

The slap comes before either boy realizes it was on its way. Shinji recoils, cheek burning, staring at Kaworu with shock. The other boy looks startled himself, drawing the guilty hand to his chest.

“I'm sorry,” he stammers. “I didn't mean to—I just—”

“Get out,” Shinji hisses. “I never want to see you again.”

Kaworu bows his head, and steps outside. When they are again on opposite sides of the threshold, Shinji glares at him, and speaks.

“Tell everyone at Nerv I don't want to see them. Tell them I'm not coming back, no matter what they say. And tell them—”

He finds he has nothing more to say, and so he falls silent for a moment. From somewhere inside, he feels a pang of regret, and so he shuts the door, before any of his feelings can get out. He cannot see Kaworu, cannot see the regret and apology in his eyes: all he can see is a door made of fake wood.

He finds himself falling to his knees. How, he wonders, did he ever find the strength to stand?

***

“You've lost your wild card,” Kaji observes. “Seele will see this as an opportunity. They'll want to move in with their own pilot in place of Shinji.”

“The old men may certainly think that,” Ikari grunts from behind his steepled fingers. “But the Dummy System is an acceptable substitute for a human pilot. They will never receive approval from the United Nations.”

Kaji raises an eyebrow. “And here I thought they were the United Nations.”

“At times, yes.” Ikari sighs. “But even they must bow to public relations, at times. It is one of my checks against them.”

“Among others?”

“Of course,” says Ikari, smirking. “Their obsession with their scenario leaves them open to unexpected attacks. Like a house of cards, one event supports another, so that if one applies even the slightest pressure...”

He makes a vague hand gesture, but Kaji gets the point.

“Is the same true for you?”

“What do you mean?”

Kaji produces an envelope from his pocket and tosses it on the desktop. “Orders from the Japanese government,” he says. “The latest incident was a bridge too far. They want an internal investigation of Nerv, and, more specifically, you.”

Gendo opens the envelope and reads over it, his face growing redder and redder by the second. “Ridiculous,” he says at last, throwing it aside. “This is the first I've heard of any such objections. This is no more than an excuse, a gambit...well,” he continues, baring his teeth in a gruesome smile, “we'll show them their proper place.”

“Careful, Ikari,” says Kaji, grinning. “Perhaps it's not my place to say this, but I'd advise you not to overstep your capabilities.”

Ikari glares at the man sitting on his desk. “And what, precisely, do you mean by that?”

“Power is a funny thing,” Kaji says. “There's power, and there's power. You're a powerful man, on a certain scale: you can do more-or-less whatever you want, order men to their deaths, sling a budget of millions around on a whim. But that doesn't mean that one man—in the right place, at the right time—can't ruin your whole day.”

“Are you threatening me, Ryoji Kaji?”

“Perish the thought,” Kaji remarks genially. He stands up and bows deeply to Ikari. “I am, as always, your faithful servant.”

With that, he leaves, his footsteps echoing in the vastness of the chamber.

***

The train announcements ring out at the back of Shinji's mind, but he barely pays them any mind. They are little more than white noise compared to the tempest within his mind. Images of the past few days, fragmented and crystallized, flicker through his mind. He sees Kaji, lying on the mat next to his, and hears his voice as he speaks of loneliness. He hears Misato's voice over the intercom as she struggled to tell him the truth. He sees Kaworu, staring at him with hurt in his eyes.

He stares down at the ground, and wonders: how many more people will I hurt, if I stay here?

Moments earlier, Misato bid him farewell. She strove to sound apologetic, to make clear that Shinji was not at fault, but she could do little to ease the pain. When he asked where Kaworu was, she told him that he had declined to come along. Shinji nodded, saying that he understood why.

Now, here he is, once alone again. It is, at the very least, a familiar sensation.

He is jolted out of his thoughts, not by a sudden intrusion of sound, but by its sudden absence. In one moment, the station has gone silent. Shinji looks up, concerned. He does not want to believe it, but when the sound returns, with one gentle woman's voice replaced by another, he finds that it is exactly as he fears.

“Attention. We are entering a state of emergency. All residents should report to their desigated shelters...”

***

The battle is joined, and Kaworu stands alone. Eva-00 is in no fit shape for combat, and Eva-01 refuses to activate. So he stands, armed with only a single rifle, against the Fourteenth Angel.

It floats down from the surface, almost serene amidst the ruins. It resembles a man in its shape, though grotesquely distorted and ape-like; two arms hang like ribbons from its shoulders, and emerging from its chest is a grotesque mask the color of shale, frozen in a mocking smile. Kaworu does not allow the beast's bizarre form to distract him; he sees through its appearance to the destruction it has already left in its wake. He holds his weapons even tighter, not wanting to lose his grip. It will only be seconds until it is near enough to strike.

Its feet touch the ground, and the beast looks to him. Kaworu readies himself. He imagines what Shinji must have looked like, sitting in his seat, every time an Angel attacked. Did he look brave? Did he clench his jaw and prepare himself to bear the pain with dignity? Did he pray to God above for deliverance, for safety, for—at the very least—mercy?

He makes a move, holding his guns before him, the target centered on the monster's face. But every shot is deflected. Not a thing he does leaves even the slightest scratch.

Then, the Angel's arms unfold, and they fly like whips through the empty space.

Before his mind can even process what he is seeing, both Kaworu's arms have been cut clean off. The shock of the pain causes him to stagger and fall back. He can see the creature's arm coming towards him, about to strike.

From the command room, Misato calls: “Cut synchronization!”

The entry plug goes dark. He sits there, breathing heavily, and then begins to grope frantically at his neck, making sure that his head is still where it is meant to be.

***

Shinji recalls that once, when he asked Kaworu whether they should pay attention to the evacuation procedures, the other boy had looked at him quizzically and asked why he should be concerned with such things as a pilot. The irony is not lost on him as he sits here, in the dark, among anxious mothers, squalling children, and sweating salarymen. This room is like a dark womb, where the terrors outside seem impossibly far away.

The illusion is shattered when the ceiling collapses. Shinji jumps back, but is blinded by the clouds of dust that rise from the debris. Thus, it takes him a moment to realize that he is staring into the lifeless eyes of Evangelion Unit Two.

All around him, people are screaming in pain, terror, and anguish. But he is almost serene as he stares at the behemoth face, quivering with fear as the full impact of the sight begins to work on his mind. He barely even notices as he is dragged to his feet and led along with the crowds towards the door, into the forests outside, into the fray itself—his gaze is locked, and the monster stares back at him.

A voice breaks into his consciousness—that of the man holding his arm. It is, to his surprise, a voice he is familiar with. He is too dumbfounded to register what it is the man is saying, but he manages to choke out: “Kaji?”

The older man gives no more than a grunt in response, as he continues to lead Shinji on, away from the fleeing crowd. Where they go to, Shinji does not know, and probably never will. Kaji's grip leads him through a densely forested cluster of woods, and then onto the other side, where Shinji can see the battle in progress.

“Look,” Kaji says, pointing to the Angel. “That thing destroyed all twenty-three armor plates in one shot. Everything we throw at it does nothing.”

Shinji remembers the titanic face, severed from its body—no doubt by the hands of that monstrous thing in the distance—and asks, in an almost plaintive tone: “Kaworu?”

“Don't worry about him,” Kaji says. He might go on, but he is stopped by a new and unexpected sight: a blue titan rising from the ground, clutching something to its chest. It is Evangelion Unit Zero, holding an N2 mine.

The image of Rei Ayanami flashes through Shinji's mind. For a moment, time stands still as the Eva kneels on the ground, tensing itself. In the next instant it springs to its feet and begins to run towards the Angel, its path unimpeded, until it smashes against a massive wall of light. Rei pushes the canister forward, pushing through the Angel's field and pressing it next to its chest.

There is a great white light and a rushing sound, and for a moment Shinji thinks that she might have done it, might have defeated the beast. But when the smoke clears, Unit Zero lies in the dust, while the Angel stands proud, defiant, untouched.

“Shinji,” Kaji says, not an ounce of humor in his voice, “right now, I can't do anything. But you can. So why don't you?”

Not for the first time in his life, Shinji finds himself staring at the ground. Choices and potentiality: these things, so amorphous, are rising around him, filling his lungs, making him drown. The only way to get out is to swim.

He begins to run—and not away. But he pauses a moment, to look back at Kaji. He calls the man's name, and when he receives a glance in response:

“Thank you.”

And with that, he is off again.

***

“For Christ's sake, sir,” the technician says, so flustered his voice rises an octave. “It just isn't working!”

“Try it again,” says Ikari. Pressing a hand to his head, he regards the beast standing below him with barely contained frustration. Fifteen times they have tried to activate it, and each time it has refused. It is the dummy system; he knows this. The reason he continues to try, over and over again, is because he hopes that Yui will eventually see reason.

A cacophonous eruption of alarms and klaxons tells him she has not. He sighs. “Again,” he commands, before the technician can even get a word in. He does not look away, not for an instant. He is growing impatient.

And then:

“Let me pilot it!”

The boy is there, although no one saw him come in, although he should not have been allowed. He is there, although he said he had gone away, although it seemed he had at last turned his back on him forever. He is there, just as Yui wants him to be.

It enrages him, and he glares down at the boy. “What do you want?” he calls.

The boy does not look away. He stares back at his father, eyes filled with the same intensity that Ikari once felt. Defiantly, he cries:

“I'm the pilot!”

***

There are six moments, within the next hour, when Misato Katsuragi thinks she is going to die. The first comes when the Fourteenth Angel, having crushed all resistance it faced from Nerv, bursts through the wall of the command center, nearly bringing the whole thing down on their heads. Standing at the forefront of the bridge, she clutches the cross around her neck and stares the beast directly into its eyes.

The second comes when, not an instant later, Evangelion Unit One appears, knocking the monster aside, carrying it by its momentum back into the cages. She hears Shinji's screams, not of pain, but of rage finally given a voice, and feels a most curious melange of pride and utter terror.

The third comes when, by some power, the Angel slices the Evangelion's arm off slightly below the shoulder, spraying the entire room with blood. It does not deter Shinji, however: he keeps up his assault, bringing the beast to heel at the base of one of the lifts. Misato gets the hint, and orders them to launch it.

The fourth comes as she stands on the ground of the Geofront a few moments later, watching Shinji tear the hated beast to shreds. It is sickening, and horrifying, and could she erase it from her memory she would—but as it is she cannot, and therefore she feels a need to memorialize it instead.

The fifth comes a moment later, as, with its batteries worn down, the Eva's eyes go black. It falls backwards, motionless, and its foe rises up again.

The sixth comes as she watches the Angel repay its beating in kind, tearing the Eva's armor off its chest, exposing its bright red core.

And she knows, in that instant, that there is nothing they can do.

***

He sits in the darkness, blind, deaf to all but his own screams of rage and frustration. Over and over again he slams his fists against the controls, demanding something—anything—in response. He is reduced to second childhood, even to infancy: all strength gone, able only to scream impotently at the cruelties of the world.

“Move!” he cries shrilly. “Move, move, move! For God's sake, just move—just do something!”

He gives a choked sob, and folds over in his seat. There is truly nothing he can do, not: only sit here and wait for destruction. After all his suffering, after all he endured, it ends here, now, in a single pitiful brawl. What was the point, he wonders, of trying at all, if all of it was destined to end here?

They say that life flashes before your eyes before you die. For Shinji, it is not so much a linear sequence of events so much as a rapid montage of sights and sounds that engraved themselves on his consciousness over the years of his life.

There's the wooden house his teacher built so he could study outside. How many hours did he spend in there on rainy days, not studying but brooding on all the innumerable anguishes he had suffered? They seem so petty, now.

His cello case. Why's it open? Did he take it out, try to play it? No, he'd remember if he did. So why is it gone?

Someone is calling his name. Is that Misato? Where could she be? He looks around for her, but his vision is obscured by a shadow. He recognizes it instantly: his father, tall and formidable as the black king on a chessboard.

The darkness swallows him, and he thinks for a moment that he is dead, that the last light of his pitiful existence has at last been snuffed out. Death, it seems, is a most unpleasant sensation.

And then—

***

If Ritsuko were not there to hold her back, Misato is sure she would be throttling someone.

“Why can't it open?” she demands of a terrified technician. The orange-suited man bows his head sheepishly, and looks up at her out of his beady little eyes, seeking mercy in her gaze and finding none.

“The entry plug isn't responding to our signal,” he says, voice so quiet it is almost inaudible. “We're working on opening it with a blowtorch...”

If he was trying to please her with that last detail, it was a misaimed effort. Only Dr. Akagi's firm grip holds her back.

“You'd better not harm one hair on his head, or God help me, I'm gonna have your head on a silver platter!”

“Misato, calm down, come on—”

“Don't you dare tell me to calm down, Ritsuko Akagi!”

Hours pass. She does not close her eyes once, does not show any signs of wanting or needing sleep. Perhaps it is less devotion for the boy that brings this on than it is an instinctual fear of the dark—and, considering the horrors she witnessed just a few hours ago, there are few who could blame her. In any case, she turns down the coffee Hyuga offers her, before pressing him on further details about Shinji.

She is there when they finally get the hatch open. She stands on the bridge, watching as they pry it off with the delicacy of an artisan. For a moment, she waits. She is not sure what she expects: will he leap out, gasping for breath, and immediately run to her arms? Or will he, once again, turn away from her and Nerv?

But it is a question she does not have to ponder for long, as there is no Shinji on the other side. There is only the empty tube.

She falls to her knees, her face blank, and stays there, staring, until Ritsuko drags her to her feet. She does not look away.

Atropos
Tabris
Tabris
Age: 22
Posts: 965
Joined: Jul 04, 2011
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Postby Atropos » Fri Jun 12, 2015 12:52 pm

Chapter 6 - Weaving A Story
SPOILER: Show
In the beginning, was the word.

“I—”

He does not know where he stands or sits, whether he is up or down, whether anything around him is real. The space around him is like the interior of a dream: an amniotic sac in which the laws of the world are not set in stone, when the mind rests and travels on flights of fancy to faraway lands. What is the law that defines this brave new world, if one demands that a law be put forward?

“Nothing you see is real; everything you believe is true.”

He looks at his hands, and sees they are stained with blood. He screams, not because of the blood, but because as he looks at them, he sees not his own hands, pale and delicate, but the hands of a monster: the hands of the Evangelion, of the beast that captured him.

No—it did not capture him. He agreed to pilot. Every time they put him in the entry plug, it was because he chose to let them—that was his fault, whether he suffered from it or not, whether he enjoyed it or not, whether he regretted it later or not. Every time it was his choice to come back.

He hates himself for it, because he isn't strong enough to say “No.”

“No?” Is that the word he really needs to say? For it is easy for someone else, if he confronts them with “No,” to respond with “Yes,” and to continue saying “Yes” until they've got him saying “Yes” as well, and then he'll end up doing it anyway. That's the way it's been all his life. Saying “No” has gotten him nowhere.

Perhaps, instead, he should try saying “I.”

Shouts from elsewhere; voices of other people. They sound familiar to him, though he struggles to place them exactly. Even as he thinks this, though, the voices become clearer, and the memories sharper.

“Her organic cohesion field dissolved while she was submerged,” says a woman—an older woman, perhaps his father's age. Strange: its timbre is somewhat reminiscent of Dr. Akagi's voice. “We tried to recover her, but it was impossible. I'm sorry, but there's nothing to be done about it.”

“Bullshit. You can get her out of there, for Christ's sake; you helped build the damned thing.” This one is easier to place: it is his father's. Shinji wonders: to whom does “her” refer?

“No. We cannot release her unless the Eva wills it to be so...”

The voices fade away, and he finds himself alone again. No—is it possible to be alone, he wonders, if one is not even present? Is nothingness equivalent to solitude? Or is it, perhaps the other way around—that when one is alone, there is nothing to indicate that one is?

His head is starting to hurt. Perhaps he should sit down.

But he cannot sit. There is no place where he can, for he is not standing upon the ground but floating, insubstantial, in a brilliant blue infinity.
***

The Eva cages are even more chaotic than usual, Misato thinks, if such a thing is possible. She is not in there, but she can hear the maelstrom and see the armies of orange-suited workers climbing around the massive bandaged form of Unit One. It is a grotesque image: the white linen, each strip almost one story in width, is soaked pink with the blood from underneath. It covers the beast from the torso up, with the exception of its eyes—which peer out from two gaps in the bandages, white and green and staring—and its mouth. The mouth is worst of all, bared as it is in an ear-to-ear grin, showing every inch of the teeth and gums. And wedged between the teeth, like bits of meat left behind after a meal, are the remains of the Angel.

“They haven't gotten the entry plug out yet,” she says to Hyuga. It is not a question, though it might be, since she does not, strictly speaking, know that what she has just said is true. It is, rather, an assumption—one she feels is entirely consistent with what she knows of the organization that employs her and the monsters it makes use of.

“That's right,” he confirms. “It rejected our forced ejection signal, so we had to cut it out ourselves, but Dr. Akagi didn't want us to do any additional damage to the armor...” He trails off, well aware that Misato knows everything he is saying and that she also does not care a lick for any of it. “In any case,” he continues hurriedly, “they're just finishing up now. It won't be more than a few hours until they've got it open.”

At this, Misato is silent.

Hyuga raises an eyebrow. “What's the matter?” he asks.

“What's the point?” she says, her voice shaking. “He's not in there. He's gone, forever, and it's all my fault.” She stares down at the floor. “I killed him, Hyuga.”

“Incorrect,” comes a voice. They both look up and see Ritsuko standing behind them, her head bandaged and her hands in her pockets. She looks weary; the bags under her eyes are barely disguised by her eyeshadow.

“He's not dead,” she continues. “His soul is still retrievable. I mean to say, it's still in the plug, along with all the other components of his body. The problem is that they're no longer a cohesive whole.”

Misato grits her teeth. “Remind me, again,” she says, almost growling the words. “How is that different from being dead?”

“The difference is we can make it better.”

Misato laughs. “'Better',” she says. Her voice is soft, barely more than a whisper. “It would be better for him if he stayed in there.”

***

The woman who stands before Gendo Ikari is tall. She is taller than he is, in fact, though she has a slighter frame; it may also be that she simply seems so large because her presence commands the entire room. Her hair is the color of autumn leaves, and her skin is a stark pale contrast. In some ways, she reminds Gendo of another woman he once knew.

“Commander Ikari,” she says, breaking the silence. “A pleasure to meet you. My name is Ruri Kuma. I've been sent here as an inspector for the Japanese government.”

“I know who you are,” he says. His hands are folded in front of his face, obscuring his mouth. “I know why you're here. In fact, Miss Kuma, I knew everything about you before you even stepped off the train.”

His first strike seems to have found its target. She is momentarily silent—lost for words, he hopes, though he cannot suppose anything; it may be that she, like himself, has mastered the art of not feeling what she doesn't want to feel.

She speaks again, though, and the confidence has not left her voice: “I understand. Of course, it would be your business to remain well-informed on all matters, Commander.”

The stick has done its job. Perhaps he can use the carrot for a turn. “There's no need to be so formal,” he says. “Call me Mr. Ikari. After all, you're not an employee here! Why, we're practically equals.” He smiles a little behind his shield, just enough for her to notice the crinkling of his cheeks.

“I see,” she replies, smiling. “Mr. Ikari, then. You seem a pleasant fellow, so I'll be frank. My employers are a bit frightened at the moment. The last two sorties of Evangelion units have resulted in extensive damage to state and private property, including properties outside of the city itself. Now,” she continues, “we have no reason to believe that these incidents are your doing. But of course you can understand why we want to...how shall I say this...cultivate a deeper understanding of events here.”

“Of course,” Gendo says, nodding. “Entirely reasonable. I have no objection.”

She smiles even wider. “Wonderful,” she says. “Looking forward to working with you, Mr. Ikari.”

He nods. “Indeed, Miss Kuma,” he replies. “Tell me, where would you like to begin?”

“Well,” she says, pressing one finger against her lower lip in thought, “I suppose we might begin with your son.”

***

Ritsuko sighs, and grinds her cigarette into nothing in the ashtray on her desk. “Do it again,” she says.

Maya glances at her with dim, sleep-deprived eyes. “This is the thirty-fifth time,” she says meekly.

“I'm aware,” says Ritsuko drily. “Do it again.”

They stare out of the glass window. Evangelion Unit One, its flesh now partially hidden underneath violet armor, is riddled with needles and wires. As Maya enters commands into the console, some of the tubes restrict, pumping fluid into the beast's interior, and the wires hum with electricity.

Ritsuko holds her breath. She has just taken another cigarette out of the pack, but she keeps it frozen between her fingertips, her thumb pressed firmly against the back of her lighter.

The silent stillness lasts only a moment, before the computers all begin to blare in unison. As one, the room sighs. Ritsuko lights her cigarette.

With a few keystrokes, Maya restores the silence, but there is a new weariness in the eyes of the other technicians. They glance among each other, questioning, and towards her, pleading.

“Doctor,” says one, his voice a whine, “can't we all just go home?”

Ritsuko's response is simple.

“No,” she says, pressing the cigarette between her lips. “Do it again.”

***

Shinji feels something quite pleasurable in his mouth. It is a soft sensation at first, like when the sound of birdsong floats in through your windows just after you wake, and you at first don't realize what it is. But as you grow used to it, it becomes more clearly defined; it changes its character, becomes sharper, more other. It is the sound of another entity, not yourself.

Shinji is still in that first stage, when he cannot name the feeling, although it is intense; his synapses are not connecting as they ought to, and the thought is not completed. Reality and dream are not yet distinct.

Will they ever be?

Had he a tongue, Shinji would be flicking it around, trying to determine the shape of whatever the source of this feeling may be. But he has no tongue, and cannot taste; he must draw upon memory and reason to try and determine its nature. What can he recall that is comparable to this?

Slurping ramen, with Misato on one side and Kaworu on another, as they filled their bellies and thanked the gods above that they were not all dead?

The taste of LCL flowing into his mouth as, fighting instinct, he swallows it in a great gulp, all for the sake of pleasing a man he despises?

Drinking tea, bitter, but warm, as he sits by Ayanami's side in her gray-and-red room?

No, no, no. Not one is the exact feeling, not one can explain it. It is not something from this past year, nor from the year before that, nor anything from his former life, when he lived in solitude, unloved by all. It is like it comes from another world entirely, though he wonders how that can be so. What is it?

He delves further back, into memories he has not unearthed in years. Slurping miso soup for the first time, or the taste of real dairy milk, or—can it be? That hastily stolen kiss in one of the dimly lit school halls, one day after class, of which he never spoke to anyone?

No. It is not anyone of those, either.

It comes to him in a flash, what it really is. He sees his mother's face, and a bare breast, and sees his own small hands reaching out towards it. Then he takes the teat in his mouth and begins suckling.

He is so frightened that the sensation and the image vanish immediately. Once again, he is alone.

***

The room is ill-lit, except for the harsh glare of a desk lamp. It is pointed right into the face of the scientist, who is blinking more than is probably necessary. Ruri suspects that this is less due to the light than due to her obvious fatigue.

“Name?”

“Ritsuko Akagi,” says the scientist, her legs crossed. As an afterthought, she adds, “Ph.d.”

“Occupation?”

“Technical Director of Project E.”

“Previous employment?”

“I held a junior research position in Gehirn, Nerv's parent organization,” she says, “before it was dissolved. All personnel were then transferred to Nerv.”

“Why was it dissolved?”

“Internal conflict,” Ritsuko says with a shrug. “The sponsors were unhappy with the direction it was taking, and decided that the whole project needed a new focus. Hence, Nerv was born.”

“And you received a promotion?”

Ritsuko bites her lip and looks at the floor. “I received my mother's position,” she says in measured tones. “Prior to the dissolution of Gehirn, she committed suicide.”

“I'm sorry.”

“It's alright,” says Ritsuko. “It happened several years ago. I've tried to move on with my life.”

“Trying to live on after the loss of a loved one can be difficult. Have you experienced any difficulties working in your position, Doctor Akagi?”

“No,” she replies firmly.

“Emotional distress? Mental problems?”

“None.”

“Insanity?

Ritsuko glares at her. “What?”

“I want to know,” says Ruri Kuma, “if you've utterly lost it. Toys in the attic, truly gone fishing. Just like your mother.”

For a moment, Ritsuko stares at her, stunned into silence. Then, her expression hardening, she rises out of her seat.

“I think this interview is over,” she says.

***

Saturday night. Misato sits in the kitchen, resting her head in her hands. She hasn't even opened the beer can in front of her, and her microwaved ramen has been cold for minutes. It's been a long month.

So much for dinner. She gets up, walks into the corridor, gives a brief glance to Shinji's room before approaching Kaworu's. There is a sign on this door that she made herself. She called Shinji “Shin-chan” on his placard because it seemed fun to tease him, but she cannot bring herself to do the same for Kaworu: he is not a boy easily teased. His placard says “Nagisa”, and nothing more.

“Kaworu,” she says, “I'm coming in.” She slides the screen door open.

Kaworu is lying on his bed, face up, his arms at his sides and his fingertips touching the floor.

Misato hesitates. “Can I get you something?”

He is silent.

“Let me know if you need anything,” she says, quietly, ashamed, and slams the screen shut as she flees. She stumbles back into the kitchen, pops open the beer, and drinks. It takes like poison in her mouth, and she has to practically force herself to swallow. Horrified, she throws the can away, and it spills its contents on its arc through the air.

Even this, she thinks, even this has been denied me. Her head hits the table with a dull sound.

For thirty days and thirty nights, Kaworu has not slept. He has never been called to duty, never asked to do anything; he drifts from his bedroom to the kitchen lethargically, munching absentmindedly on the meager portions Misato can get him to eat. He barely seems alive, or conscious; his eyes are wide, his mouth agape, as if he wants to say something but cannot get the words out.

Only Rei can get him to speak. She comes to the apartment from time to time and sits with him in his room. They do not face each other, but they speak. Misato listens to them. They talk about Shinji; they talk about Eva; when they have exhausted these topics, they even talk about school, like normal teenagers would. But they are far from normal, Misato reminds herself. They have been denied a normal life.

All for the greater good, she tells herself. But even she cannot believe that anymore. She wishes Shinji would return, and once again her home would be full of laughter—but with each day, he seems to move farther and farther out of her grasp. She drinks herself to sleep most nights, remembering the last words they exchanged in person, the last time she saw his face. If she had only done something different—

No—she will not let herself think those words. If she went down that road of thought, her mind wouldn't be able to handle the guilt.

***

There are moments in life when, out of the blue, we are struck with a blinding truth we have never fully understood before. We might just be standing in line at a store checkout or lying in bed or simply staring out the window when suddenly an epiphany comes upon us, taking us without warning and fully reshaping our understanding of the world around us.

For Shinji, it is as if all such moments in his life are occurring at once, and it is terrifying.

Because as much as we love epiphanies—or the idea of them, more than the actuality—we are often unwilling to admit that change can be painful, that it is not pleasant or easy to find our entire world shaken, to find our self-image undermined, to realize that all we have built upon for our lives is a flawed foundation.

And even if we can accept the epiphany, if we do not turn away from its truth, it is hardly easy to accept the realization and apply it—that being the crucial point. It is difficult to apply these epiphanies into real action, in other words. One night you may suddenly find yourself at ease with the world and your place in it, and the next you may be tearing your own hair out because of something a coworker said about you when they thought you couldn't hear.

For one instant that is Shinji's entire world, and then it collapses, coalescing into one image: He finds himself on the train platform, weeping inconsolably, an infant once again. The collar of his shirt is stretched out, and one of its folds hangs limply a few inches from his chest.

“Father,” he begs. “Why are you going, father? I need you.”

This is the moment, he realizes: the moment that he began to hate his father.

The Angels he has faced appear before him, taunting him, undermining him, and he slays them all at once with a wave of his hand and a triumphant roar. And out of the darkness appears Father, dark and terrible, worse than any of the Angels.

Shinji feels rage overtaking him. Before he knows what he's doing, he has lunged forward and wrapped his hands around Father's throat. One instant the man is shaking in his grip, and the next, with a gruesome crunch, he goes limp. His head rolls back, his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose.

But there is no triumph for Shinji. He feels no victory, no fulfillment. Killing the source of his misery, destroying the thing he hates, has done nothing.

A soothing female voice whispers in his ear: “So what do you want, Shinji?”

***

She hits a button, turning on the recorder. Then she folds her hands in front of her and stares at the man sitting opposite. In a clear, level voice, she asks, “What is your name?”

“Ryoji Kaji,” he says, in a just-so tone. He is leaning back in his seat, almost casually, but there is something in the posture that suggests affectation. Perhaps it is the fact that he keeps his ankles on the ground, or the way he keeps staring straight at her, his gaze not shifting even an inch.

“Occupation?”

“Special Adjunct for Nerv,” he replies.

“Previous employment?”

“Civil servant,” he answers, too quickly. A rookie mistake, she thinks, and perhaps too obvious: he's no amateur. She decides to probe further.

“In what capacity?”

He shrugs. “What do civil servants do? Sign marriage certificates, take photographs for IDs, that sort of thing. Not very interesting, if you want to know.”

“And how did you end up working for Nerv?”

“A recommendation,” he says, “from Commander Ikari himself. I did some work for him while I was in college, and he was impressed enough to call me up a couple years later...”

There is silence between them for a moment.

“You're not permitted to lie, you know,” she says.

He cracks a smile. “If you know I'm doing it,” he says, “does it even count as lying?”

***

On the morning of the final attempt, Misato makes sure she gets to work bright and early. She is almost dancing in the cages as the technicians set up, giddy with possibility. She sees Ritsuko through a glass window in one of the hanging compartments and waves to her, smiling broadly. The scientist returns the smile, but with hesitation.

“Hiya,” she says a few minutes later as she enters the lab. “How's it going?”

“As well as can be expected,” Ritsuko sighs. She gestures towards the computers set up around her—ten or twelve monitors, stacked on top of each other, all giving various readouts. “I haven't had an all-nighter like this in years.”

Misato suddenly turns serious. “Will it work?”

“Goddammit,” Ritsuko says. “If it doesn't work, I don't know what will. I hope Shinji likes Tang.”

For a moment, they are silent.

“That was a joke,” she adds immediately.

“Right,” Misato says.

***

Shinji has the most curious sensation of riding a train. He is not on a train; at least, he cannot see a train or its chassis around him. But the feeling he experiences is the same as whenever he rides the train—the same silent sadness. But not silent for long: questions fly at him, out of the void, voiced by those he has known in life: friends, enemies, and all those in-between.

“What is happiness?” asks Rei Ayanami, her back turned to him.

“I didn't know,” says Shinji. “But I think I might want it.”

“What is loneliness?” she asks, inclining her head ever-so-slightly towards him.

“I was never aware of it,” he says. “But now, I think I fear it.”

The memories fade, and he finds himself lost, abandoned, without grounding or direction. He feels completely disoriented, fumbling about in the darkness, until it gives way to light—blinding, omnipresent light, brighter than the sun. He feels himself being forced onto his back, feels a pair of soft hands on his shoulder.

Rei Ayanami looks down at him, a smile playing across the corners of her face. She is naked, and Shinji is terrified. As she leans down closer to him, he tenses up. It seems to amuse her; she giggles and whispers, “Just relax.”

But then it is not Rei but Misato who straddles him. And though her body is different—heavier, grander—the same girlish expression is on her face, even less appropriate than it was on Ayanami's. And then, why, a rebis, man and woman at once, whose shining white face is that of Kaworu Nagisa.

Shinji screams.

***

“Destrudo readings are increasing!” Maya screams over the roaring of the klaxons.

Misato whirls around. “What does that mean?” she demands of Ritsuko.

The scientist narrows her eyes. “It means we failed.”

***

They say he grew more human as he neared unto his death.

If he turned his head left, he could see infinity.

DANGER DANGER DANGER DANGER

The bird is struggling out of the egg.

The egg is the world.

Whoever wishes to be born, must destroy a world.

In order to become men, all boys must kill their fathers.

ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY ENEMY

He abandoned me! He never wanted me! He hates me!

BLOOD DEATH MASSACRE MASSACRE MASSACRE

Hold me mother I'm in the dark and I'm scared.

When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse out of the corner of my eye.

MASSACRE PAIN CONFUSION

I turned to look, but it was gone; I cannot put my finger on it now.

The child is grown, the dream is gone.

It is finished.

Father! Into your hands, I commend my spirit.

***

As they drive along the empty highway, the light of the streetlamps making the stars above look like small pinpricks by comparison, Ritsuko and Misato speak frankly.

“Shinji appears to be fine,” the scientist says. “His status is the same as it was one month ago. It's as if he didn't age a day.”

“That's good, right?” Misato smiles tightly. “The important thing is, he's back.”

“I suppose,” says Ritsuko drily. She leans against the window and stares out at the nighttime scenery. “He's being kept under observation for a few days, though, just to make sure he's completely well. Afterwards, he'll be returned to your care.”

“Good.”

Ritsuko eyes her companion. “But there's still one thing that bugs me. Why did he come back? I honestly thought we'd failed.”

Misato shrugs. “Who can say? Maybe we'll never understand the Evangelions.”

“Perhaps,” says Ritsuko. “But if I might speculate for a moment...”

Misato glares at her. “Must you?” she asks.

“Humor me, please. Shinji manifested only after you called for him. Misato, he came back because of you—he chose you. How does that make you feel?”

In response, Misato laughs nervously. “I don't think I'm old enough for that kind of responsibility,” she says. “I'm sure Kaworu will be thrilled, in any case.”

Ritsuko sighs. “Hey, do you want to go drinking?” she asks. “Vent off some nerves, you know. It's been a rough month.”

Misato grins.

“I'd love to,” she says, “but I'm meeting someone.”

***

Hospitals are sterile. That is their nature. It is a place devoid of personality, whose only function is to preserve life: not to enhance it, merely to prolong it, in whatever state it might be. Only the most dire patients earn the right to a peaceful death

It is with trepidation that Ruri enters the room. She does not like hospitals—not for any reason of their character, though she has contemplated the matter at length. They do not conjure pleasant memories for her.

“Shinji Ikari?”

The boy in the hospital bed opens his eyes. “Yes?”

Ruri Kuma looks down at him with something resembling fear in her eyes. “My name is Ruri Kuma,” she says. “I'm here to ask you a few questions. I'm...from the Japanese government.”

Shinji is silent, staring at her in contemplation. After a moment, he speaks. “Did my father send you?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “I don't work for your father.”

Shinji nods slowly. “Okay,” he murmurs. “Okay, then.”

Ruri looks relieved.

“Alright,” he says. “What is it you want to ask me?”

“I want to know,” she begins, “why Evangelion Unit Three was destroyed in such a brutal manner.”

Shinji's face goes blank, and he looks up at the ceiling. He is trembling.

“I'm sorry,” Ruri says quickly. “I didn't mean to upset you.”

“No,” he says, still shaking. “I want to tell you. But it's difficult. I mean,” he begins to choke up. “It wasn't my fault. None of it was my fault. He made me do it.”

He stops, breathing hard.

“Could you come back another time?” he asks. “I don't think I can speak with you right now.”

She hesitates, glancing nervously towards the door, then back to the boy.

“Yes.”

***

“Ritsuko must think I'm pretty disgusting.”

“Willing to soil your appearance for our cover? You'd have done well in intelligence.”

“Are your liaisons always so...treacherous?”

“Dangerous, you might say? Generally not.”

“And do you...?”

“No. There's been no one except you.”

“I'm flattered. Wish I could say the same.”

A drag on a cigarette.

“I didn't know you still smoked.”

“Only after things like this. Helps me calm my nerves.”

“Are you nervous?”

“How couldn't I be? It's not just this. I mean, if the higher-ups knew about us...”

“It would be your head on a silver platter, yes. Don't worry, I can be discreet.”

“It's not you I'm worried about.”

“Ritsuko? Don't worry. She may think she's got the Commander tied around her finger, but in truth it's the reverse. She couldn't stand without him for an instant.”

“That's a rather cruel way of putting it. But I wouldn't know if it's true or not.”

“I've come to know the commander quite well of late. A terrifying man...”

“I always thought he was rather staid.”

“You can't even begin to guess at the depths he holds. There's nothing he wouldn't do.”

“So, both our lives are in danger.”

“Yes. Our part in Ikari's game is, shall we say, compromised.”

“Well,” says Misato, sitting up in bed, “perhaps it's time we started making some moves of our own.”
Last edited by Atropos on Fri Jun 12, 2015 8:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Postby NemZ » Fri Jun 12, 2015 4:44 pm

A few quick comments...

1) It's nice to see 'bemused' used correctly.

2) Asuka who? It makes no sense at all for her to be mentioned in that last bit.


And one observation... The problem with this story is that you've done almost nothing original with the story besides putting Kaworu in Asuka's place, and that's had barely any effect on the plot. If you're not going to really explore that difference in a meaningful way then what is the point, really? I don't get the motivation here.
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Postby Atropos » Fri Jun 12, 2015 8:36 pm

Re: the above. Yes, stupid, stupid, how I didn't catch that, etc.

And regarding your other point: yes, that concerned me, that it doesn't affect the plot, but the point (for me) was an exercise in characterization. How characters react to each other given different shoes to fill. As I said in my first post, it began as a series of vignettes, and only later did I expand it.

I've got the entire story written down. I haven't posted it in full because, to be honest, I don't care if anyone else reads it. I supposed it ought to be aired to the world, but what it was was for my sake, to try and improve myself as a writer.

And, if I want to bullshit you, I'll say that whatever changes are made to the characters the plot wouldn't change, because they're all being manipulated by forces beyond their control that don't care about them as individuals so much as tools. :devil:

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Postby Atropos » Mon Jun 15, 2015 2:52 pm

Chapter 7 - Kaji's Notes
SPOILER: Show
It is a steaming hot day, once again. In his black pants and dress shirt, Kaji is boiling—but, he reflects, if he's going to end the day a corpse, he may as well be an exquisite one. As he walks down the sidewalk, he glances down at the ID card in his hand.

Red, he thinks. Like blood.

Looking up, he sees a payphone on the side of the road. It is old, older than the rest of the city: perhaps a relic of what this town was, before Second Impact. He stops to stare at it for a moment. For some reason, he cannot look away from it. It conjures up a memory, something long buried: a recollection.

Nine years ago: pouring rain in the streets of Kyoto. He and Misato ducked inside a phone booth and called Ritsuko for a cab. They were in there for at least half an hour, both soaking wet, laughing hysterically. And she reached out and grabbed his hand, and he let her, and he pressed his lips against hers. By the time Ritsuko got there, they had all but torn their clothes off.

Suddenly, as if struck by a bolt of inspiration from on high, he ducks inside. He slams the door shut with his foot and grabs the receiver. As he hears the tone, he gives a sigh of relief, and begins to punch in Misato's number.

He waits through the dialtone with bated breath. It rings once, twice, four, five times before going to the machine. Misato's voice, chipper, begins to blare out a recorded message: the typical sort of language. He ignores it, waiting for the beep.

When at last it comes, he opens his mouth, but finds the words do not come easily. It takes him a long while just to decide how to begin.

“Katsuragi...”

He leaves a moment later, closing the door behind him. His message is sent; his work—a part of it, at least—is done. He can put the past aside. There are things that must be done today, now, to finally put his wrongs to right.

Under the clear blue sky, he reflects that this day, a day he began alone and will probably end alone, is going to be his last day alive.

***

Gendo Ikari stares at the memo in front of him. His expression does not betray even of a fraction of the rage boiling inside of him; he only trembles slightly as he pulls his glasses off to glare directly at the face of the agent before him.

“This is most serious,” he says, as if that were not already obvious. “That such a flagrant security breach occurred within Nerv itself does not speak well of the talents of Section Two.”

“Apologies, sir,” says the agent stoically.

Gendo waves his hand. “No point in apologizing,” he says. “Rather, now is the time to take action and try to undo the damage you have caused.”

“Of course, sir.”

Gendo folds his hands in front of him. “Secure all potentially hostile elements,” he says. “That means anyone who could be a security risk, or anyone who's become too friendly with the spy. Take them all into custody.”

“And Ryoji Kaji, sir?”

Gendo pushes his glasses onto his face. The light glints off the lenses, obscuring his eyes.

“Capture only,” he says. “I want to find out how much he knows.”

***

When they come for Misato, she does not resist. The scene is almost ridiculously calm, considering; she is completely sober and reasonable for the duration, cooperating in silence as they take away her gun, put her in cuffs, and lead her to a cell. Thank you for your cooperation, ma'am. No trouble, officer.

It is only when they close the door and leave her inside—no longer restrained, but not free in any sense of the word—that she feels her heart begin to race in her chest. She sinks to the ground and wraps her arms around her knees as the dark closes in, unwanted.

No, don't turn out the lights, I want to see myself. Just let me finish this bottle of brandy, then I'll be fine. We can lie down and I'll do you and you'll do me, it'll be fun, just trust me, don't leave me here all by myself.

In college, things were different. Without a staff of nurses and psychologists to look after her day and night, she was forced to care for herself, to confront her problems on her own. It was not easy: in the first few months, her roommates had complained and the administration had chastised her for her habit of leaving lights on all night, wasting electricity back when it was far more costly than it was now. But she soldiered on, dealt with the fear, conquered it—at least, so far as it could be conquered. Perhaps it only hid, waiting for an opportunity to rise again, to once again be the terror of her nights and days.

It was around that time she met Kaji. Of the exact moment, she can recall little: only his face, stupidly blank, as if seeing her drove all conscious thought from his mind. Then a smile materialized, seemingly when he thought of it. She smiled back. A few minutes later, he came over and introduced himself.

“Ryoji Kaji.”

“Misato Katsuragi.”

They were only in one class together, but for some reason they kept finding excuses to meet up—rallies, games, demonstrations—and they ended up talking to no one else, just sitting together and chatting, lost in their own world.

The way she remembers it, he was the one who made the first move, the seventh seal that made them something more than friends. And when it was open, when the floodgates were let loose, they couldn't help but indulge themselves.

Hence: one week in bed, together.

They slept, out of necessity, but not in accordance with the sun or the time. When they did, when he rolled off of her and they both lay there panting, he would fall asleep first and lie there, not snoring, just breathing. He looked so beautiful that she would stay awake and gaze at him, press her hand against his chest, marvel at him.

Now, she recalls those days with mixed emotions: disgust, shame, anger, longing. But at the moment, as the reality of the cell begins to take hold in her mind, anger is definitely winning out.

***

On Monday, January 21st in the year 1793, Louis Capet, formerly King Louis XVI of France, was taken from the Tour du Temple to the Place de la Revolution to be executed by guillotine. Six days earlier, the National Convention had voted to condemn him. 361 had voted for his execution.

Historical sources provide us with a partial image of the scene. They say that the King met his fate bravely, that as he mounted the scaffold he seemed to have accepted his fate. He spoke briefly, saying that he pardoned those who had voted to condemn him, and saying once again that he was innocent of the crimes for which they held him accountable. Within his speech was a warning: at that time, the armies of Prussia and Austria were warring with France's own civilian army. It was a war of the old world and the new: the Germans fought to protect the feudal order, and the French fought to overturn it. No doubt, he intended to suggest that the Germans would seek bloody reprisal against the French people for his execution.

Whatever his intentions, he was interrupted by a drumroll. Perhaps it was feared that the common people might be swayed by a condemned man's last words. (Such was the opinion of the people held by those who claimed to be their champions.) Gravely, the King walked over to the guillotine and knelt, placing his head on the block. The executioner released the rope; the mechanism obeyed his command, and performed its duty admirably.

Louis died quickly; rumors that the blade failed to sever his neck are untrue, for the triangular blade of the guillotine was designed to prevent such occurrences. Louis had designed it himself.

It has been said that after the former King was slain, many of the observers ran to the corpse to dip their handkerchiefs in the dead man's blood. Such rumors have been confirmed by DNA testing. But one rumor never substantiated is that, after the blade was loosed and the King's head fell into the basket, one man standing in the crowd cried out: “Jacques de Molay is avenged!”

***

At the very least, Fuyutsuki wishes the room were not so cold. He can understand why they have brought him here, although for his own sake he wishes they had not; he even understands why they continue to restrain him and leave him in the dark. But for his old bones, this cold is the worst torment they could have chosen.

“Ikari's actions have been erratic of late,” intones the monolith labeled Zero-One. “Permitting Unit One to devour the Angel, thus acquiring the S2 Organ...this cannot be forgiven. No being was ever meant to possess both the Fruits of Life and Knowledge. To do so would make that being like unto God.”

Fuyutsuki thinks about autumn, about leaves changing color, about taking walks in the countryside and long winding conversations that didn't go anywhere but it didn't matter.

“Man must not create gods,” says Zero-Nine.

He thinks about the hell that came in the first year of the new millennium; he thinks about all he lost, and how he fought to preserve what little he had gained.

“And yet,” replies another—it comes from behind him; he cannot see the number. “was it not said that if God not did not exist, we would have to invent him? Perhaps that is what Ikari has done.”

He thinks about that man, about Gendo Ikari-who-was-called-Rokubungi, about his inscrutable frustrating smile and the way he had of inspiring intense, abiding hatred.

“Blasphemy!” cries Zero-Three. “We had no intention of creating a god when all this began. All we intended was to bring about the salvation of mankind. We never wanted to give any one man the power of God.”

He thinks about Yui, and how she dreamed about the future.

“He would break the final taboo,” says One-One, “and make himself lord of the universe, creator of the ends of the earth. That, we cannot allow.”

“All this is happening because we indulged Ikari too greatly.”

“We shall not make the same mistake again.”

“He will pay the price for his betrayal.”

The monoliths vanish into darkness, and Fuyutsuki is permitted to think alone.

***

SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) experiments, in their modern form, have been ongoing since the year 1960, when Cornell University astronomer Frank Drake began his Project Ozma. Since then a community has sprung up around the research, making use of advanced radio telescope technology in efforts to communicate with life beyond our planet.

NASA, the United States government's space program, had a SETI project of its own. It was for years a point of contention in the houses of government; many felt that it was an unnecessary cash sink. For years it alternated between being fully funded and being abandoned, until in 1995 the government finally cut all funding to SETI projects. After that, many such projects turned to private funding to continue their research.

In the aftermath of the Second Impact, there was little enthusiasm for what many saw as little more than scientific pet projects, and sites dedicated to SETI were decommissioned or repurposed. Beginning in 2004, the organization Gehirn began purchasing many former SETI sites and putting them to use as laboratories.

What is remarkable is that, if one looks at how money changed hands and who oversaw the transactions, the names on both sides are the same: among them, Kiel Lorenz, Gendo Rokubungi, and Kozo Fuyutsuki.

***

When Ritsuko first arrived at university, she found that it was not, as she had been promised, worlds different from high school. She made no new friends, she did not suddenly blossom into a social chameleon: she was the same shy girl she had always been, unable to speak to anyone who didn't initiate a conversation. Even her efforts to stand out by bleaching her hair drew her little attention.

But one day, as she stood in line in the dining hall, she had suddenly found herself being spoken to very quickly and enthusiastically from a tall dark-haired girl with a round face. The girl was talking about something completely nonsensical—the cafeteria's preference for forks and knives over chopsticks, or something like that—but even if she had been discussing Aquinas, Ritsuko was too startled to comprehend a word. She did not catch anything until the girl finally paused, and then said: “By the way, I'm Misato Katsuragi.”

To Ritsuko, the name was not unfamiliar. She repeated it to make sure she heard it correctly. The girl smiled and nodded. “And yes,” she says, “I'm that Misato Katsuragi. Let's eat together.”

They sat down at a table for two; looking at her plate, Ritsuko realized that, in the heat of the moment, she had not taken much to eat. She could not dwell on that for long, though, as Misato immediately launched into another round of ceaseless chatter, shoveling food into her mouth as she did.

“Anyway, I couldn't choose any of my classes because I didn't get enough credits in high school and I have to make it all up now. Yeah, it sucks, but what can you do? I just wish I didn't get stuck in differential equations. Hey, are you any good at math? Could you help me out? I'm a total scatterbrain, and you look like more of a numbers gal, though. Or am I wrong?”

Dumb, Ritsuko shook her head.

Later that evening, she wrote a letter to her mother. I have just met a girl named Katsuragi...

“Miss?”

Ritsuko starts. She has become lost in thought. “Sorry, Maya,” she says. “I zoned out. Let's continue the testing.”

***

The year was 1945, and the United States was (at last!) nearing the end of a long and terrible conflict. For years they had been fighting against the German Third Reich and the Empire of Japan; now, one had collapsed, and the other was being pushed back across the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese Empire was gasping for breath.

But, military advisors warned President Truman, it would not be a painless victory. Operation Downfall, as the planned military invasion of Japan was named, would cost tens of thousands of lives, American, Soviet, and Japanese. It was feared by many that Japan's leaders would rather see their countrymen take their own lives than go on living with the shame of defeat.

So Truman put aside Operation Downfall, and turned his attention to the research project in Nevada: the Manhattan Project. Its intention was to create a nuclear bomb. The equations, already over a quarter-century old, said it was possible, but the German efforts had failed. Could the United States succeed where its foe had not?

On July 16, in the middle of the New Mexico desert, the men and women of the Manhattan Project waited with bated breath to see the answer. J. Robert Oppenheimer had christened the test “Trinity,” taking the name from a favorite poem.

To be brief: it worked.

And Oppenheimer, watching the sphere of light rise over the desert, was reminded of another poem: the Indian epic Bhagavad Gita. “Now I am become Death,” he thought, “Destroyer of Worlds.”

***

The warehouse is hardly the worst place he could have chosen, Kaji reflects. It is grimy, to be sure, and the exterior, its white metal siding worn away by years of heavy weather, won't be winning any awards any time soon. But the interior, with its vaulted ceilings and high windows, inspires in him images of one of the great Gothic cathedrals, which he has never seen, and probably will never see.

Wasn't there a great Englishman who was stabbed to death at the foot of an altar? His executioners hoped to be honored among all other men for their act, and instead they were all brought to ruin: killed themselves, by order of the same king who had commanded them to do the deed.

An unhappy fate: to be destroyed by that which you thought was your guardian, that which you protected with your life.

He stands with his back to a massive fan, its blades still, by some miracle, turning in their steady revolutions, although the shrieking it seems to give off betrays its age. His hands are shoved deep inside his pockets, so there can be no chance of their sudden leaping out to shield his face. If he is going to die, he wants to die with dignity.

His thoughts are divided amongst innumerable howling streams. He knows the truth, now; at the very least, he has a better claim to it than anyone else does. Perhaps Commander Ikari knows a similar fraction, though he doubts it. As for Seele—well, he thinks, while they may consider themselves puppetmasters, they have been sorely neglecting the strings.

As he hears the footsteps, the streams are all silenced. He does not think of his duty, still unfinished; nor does he ponder the fate of mankind. His thoughts go to Misato, to the woman he loved and lost, whom he thought he might regain, had he not been fated to meet his end here. It was his own folly that led her to leave him: he had feared adulthood, the possibility of love, and so had gladly accepted her impassioned, hurried excuse to break up. He could have reasoned with her, could have talked her out of it.

No. It was all well and good to wonder how things might have gone differently, but now, here, at the end of it all, was not the time.

“Hi,” he says to Ruri Kuma. “You're a little late, aren't you?”

***

When they let Misato out of her cell, she knows it is done. They don't need to say it; they say little, anyhow. They give her back her ID card and her sidearm and tell her to go home.

She has barely enough will to say “Tadaima” when she steps in—for whom? She sees neither Kaworu nor Shinji, though both are there somewhere, hidden out of sight. She doesn't care to find them.

Instead, she grabs a beer from the fridge and sits down at the table. She does not open the bottle—as much of a surprise to her as to anyone else. Why did she grab it? Was it simply force of habit, compelling her to do what she always does even if she doesn't really want to do it? How long can she live like that, carried by the whims of her past self?

Her eyes are closed, her head in her hands. It takes a moment for her to notice that she has a new message, and her first thought is of Kaji.

Without hesitating, she presses play. There is a shrill electronic beep, and then his voice begins to resound in the room.

“Katsuragi: it's me. If you're listening to this, you know what's happened. They may have told you, or perhaps not, but you're clever: you would've guessed it anyway. I'm sorry. Sorry about many things, I suppose. Tell Ritsuko I'm sorry, too. And another thing. I've been growing watermelons. If you wouldn't mind watering them for me—ask Shinji where they are. Katsuragi: the truth lies with you. Don't hesitate. Move ahead! If we meet again, I'll say what I couldn't say eight years ago. Goodbye.”

By the end of it she is in tears. Her arms shake, her legs cannot hold her body up. She falls to the floor, crumples in two like a paper doll, arms folding of their own will around her face. She is sure that Shinji and Kaworu can hear her wailing, might even walk in and see her in her state of dissolution—but she does not care. Whatever happens now does not matter. He is gone, and she will never see him again.


Surprisingly little Kaworu in this one. I only included it after I'd resolved to write a full story, so yeah. Little of interest here.

Just three chapters left.

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Re: [Fic] Second and Fifth

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Postby SawItAtAge10 » Wed Jun 24, 2015 3:34 pm

View Original PostAtropos wrote:Now, at long last, the (complete!) rough draft of my fanfic. A simple character-swap; what began as a series of vignettes has since become...a much longer series of vignettes? No matter! Enjoy.

Chapter 1 - Kaworu Strikes!


I've only just discovered this and read this chapter thus far, but as an avid Kaworu fan (this just might motivate me to switch back to my old avatar) I'm REALLY digging this! Please keep up the good work! :D
FROM EVANGELION:
"Acts of Man are greater than acts of God!"

"I'm saying that I love you."

NOT FROM EVANGELION:
"You are excrement. You can change yourself into gold."

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Postby Atropos » Fri Jun 26, 2015 6:16 am

Thanks so much! I hope you'll enjoy the rest of the story.

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Postby Atropos » Wed Aug 05, 2015 3:21 pm

Chapter 7 — Don't Be.
SPOILER: Show
Ruri enters Nerv with a brand-new uniform and a wide smile across her face. It is practically impossible for anyone not to notice her as she strides through the halls, always equidistant from either wall: she is, quite literally, the center of attention. Her goal: the commander's office. She will not allow herself to be delayed even an instant, for, as she reminds herself, the Chief Overseer of Nerv waits for no one.

“I suppose I should congratulate you,” says Ritsuko as Ruri passes by.

“Why, thank you—”

“However,” Ritsuko interrupts, “I don't think you'd really care for it.”

Ruri shoots her a dirty look, but does not linger there. She continues on her way, her smile just a little more forced than before.

When she steps through the doors into the commander's office, she finds herself disappointed. She expected him to be startled at her arrival, perhaps surprised by her new uniform—anything to show that she had caught him off-guard, had made him shift a little in his comfortable seat. But no: he seems as stoic as ever, barely even looking up. She had wanted more. But she tries not to let it show as she approaches the desk.

“Chief Overseer, Ruri Kuma, reporting for duty,” she says, saluting although she knows it's not necessary—she grins a little as she does it.

“Understood,” says Gendo, after a moment's pause. He is silent for a second before adding: “Your office will be in the third block. I believe you'll find it easily; if not, ask one of your subordinates.”

Ruri waits, expectant of something more—any word, she thinks, will do.

“Dismissed.”

She turns around and leaves. She's undoubtedly forgotten some regulation—a salute? Just a word or two of respect? What does she care?

As she steps out, closing the door behind her with more force than she intended, she wonders: what, indeed.

***

Kaworu thinks, as the three inhabitants of the Katsuragi household gather for dinner for the first time in over a month, how strange it is that Shinji is sitting across from him. It is a fact he has not reflected on since he first returned home.

The boy who is now slurping down noodles, just days before, seemed to be lost to him forever. For how long had Kaworu longed to look on that face again, those spotless cheeks, that gently sloping jaw? For too long he was gone, and now he is back.

But, while the momentary disturbance is gone, Kaworu feels that there is something wrong, wrong, wrong.

There was no tearful reunion when he returned. There was no fanfare. He slipped back inside his former shell as if he had never been absent. Before he left, he had confronted his father—had told him, if rumors were to be believed, just what a son of a bitch the old man was. And now? That moment is forgotten. He has returned, not only to Misato's apartment, but to NERV—he doubts there was any official discussion, but implicitly it is already so. After this great struggle, Shinji has finally decided to do as he always has done.

The feeling he has right now, Kaworu supposes, is what people call disappointment.

When he sneaks a glance at Misato, he suspects that she thinks the same thing. She can't keep her eyes off the Third.

How can things ever be right between them again? They have seen what great beast lies beneath the Evangelion's armor. They know that NERV is not what it claims to be; that Shinji's father is not some great defender of mankind; that Shinji himself is no hero, and neither is Kaworu.

He wishes he could leave, not have to eat here ever again. Although he doesn't know it, his two companions feel the same way.

***

Ritsuko taps the monitor impatiently. She is aware that she has done this at least a hundred times in the last hour; it is almost deliberate. She cannot very well start screaming and kicking the computer, so she finds it an acceptable way to inform the others that she is annoyed.

She does not feel that they, being the intelligent people they are, will need any clues as to the source of her annoyance.

“How much longer will this go on?” Ruri asks, frowning. She is standing at the back of the room, clipboard pressed against her chest, watching everything with the same expression and engagement as a high-schooler sitting through a history lecture. If she had a cell phone, she would be playing Tetris. Ritsuko grits her teeth before answering.

“She needs some more time,” she answers. “Really, anywhere from thirty to forty-five minutes. Afterwards, he'll need to be debriefed, if you want to stick around for that...” She smiles, knowing without looking that Kuma is surely grimacing with the realization that, regardless of whether she wants to stick around for the debriefing, she will have to, per the responsibilities of her new position.

Sometimes, it can be very entertaining to watch those who have risen above the rest of us to pay the price of their ascension. After all, we think to ourselves, what right do they have to grieve? They have what we want, and they cannot bear the burden. It is their own fault; in their place, we tell ourselves, we would surely do better.

Ritsuko has no such aspirations, however. She simply despises Ruri, regardless of what position she holds.

“The First Child's sync ratio is satisfactory,” Maya reports. Her tone seems oddly stilted, as if she is aware of the tension in the room. “It's no different from usual...”

Ritsuko nods. “Rei,” she says into the receiver, “do you feel strange?”

“No.”

“Anything different from usual?”

Rei is silent a second longer than usual. “No.”

“Alright, then. You'll have to stay in there a few minutes more, just to make sure.” At this, a loud sigh, and Ritsuko hears a door open and close behind her. “Just kidding,” she adds quickly. “You're all done. Good job.”

In unison, all the technicians sigh with relief.

***

The classroom seems emptier than usual today, Kensuke thinks. There are no fewer people—they're currently hovering between five and six on average—but something seems different, colder. No one speaks anymore, not even to their friends. It seems no one wants to share anything if it means having to share in each others' suffering. It is a feeling he can understand.

He looks over at the class rep. She is staring at the surface of her desk, and looks close to tears. Guiltily, Kensuke looks away. Of course he knows that she has been visiting Toji in the hospital every day, standing at his bedside and talking: not with him but at him, because Toji is too melancholy to volunteer anything more than “Uh-huh” or “Okay.” From his own visits, he has found the boy to be sullen, even angry. He can understand that, but he does not like it, and he thinks Hikari likes it even less. Sooner or later she will stop visiting, and then Toji will be alone, and that will learn him to get so angry at the world.

Kensuke suddenly feels sick. Sick of many things, really: sick of school, sick of his friends, sick of his worn-out boring life. Every day brings him closer and closer to utter misery. There seems to be no way he can advance without being hurt.

He reaches into his bag and pulls out a camera. After checking to make sure the tape is inside, he hits play. On the tiny viewscreen appears an image several months old: Toji and Shinji holding a free throw contest in the schoolyard just before sunset. Every time he sinks a ball, Toji strikes a pose; when Shinji does it, he just looks bashful, even apologetic. When Toji misses, he contorts his body in a comically overwrought expression of grief, while Shinji looks away to hide his laughter. Kensuke smiles a bit as he watches, but it is tempered by a bittersweet sensation: for happiness, when it is lost, is replaced by an even greater volume of sorrow.

“Aida?”

Kensuke looks up from the screen. The class rep is standing over his desk, hands behind her back. She looks embarrassed.

“What is it?” he asks.

She shifts uncomfortably as she speaks. “I was wondering,” she says, then stops herself and starts over. “I've been really busy lately, since there's been so many people absent. I was wondering, if you're not too busy at the moment, could you, perhaps—help me?”

“Oh.” Kensuke nods. “Sure, I can help out. What do you need?”

She smiles. “I won't tell you right now,” she says. “Come to my house after school, I'll tell you then.” She stands there awkwardly a second, staring at him as if she expects something. Kensuke doesn't know what exactly it might be, so he just smiles. In his mind, he thinks he looks like an idiot, but he has no idea what else to do.

To his surprise, she blushes furiously and runs back to her seat. As she sits, she casts a glance back towards him.

Well, Kensuke thinks, perhaps not all hope is lost.

***

Misato and Hyuga are alone, in the dark, beyond anyone's ability to watch. It is a scenario straight out of a pornographic comic. Regrettable, Misato thinks, but necessary. And while she knows that he would love to see her slip out of her jacket and make all his dreams come true, she is far too busy even to let him down.

“I can't believe it,” she says, looking over a document. “Production on a new Evangelion unit—one of a kind, an experimental model, no less. I thought the plan after Unit Four was to move into mass production.”

“Seems their plans have changed,” says Hyuga. He takes the sheet from her hands and gives her another. “What's more, none of this information has reached the commander—at least, not officially. They're doing this outside the purview of the normal chain of command. Who could it be?”

“It's Seele,” she says, with enough firmness that he looks at her in bemusement.

“What are you talking about?”

“Makoto,” she says, “define Seele for me.”

“Nerv's parent organization. A privately funded research institute, receiving most of its funds from wealthy philanthropists in the United States, Europe, and East Asia...”

Misato shakes her head. “They're more than a research institute. What they are is an international cabal, a directory that governs the intellectual sphere, and has done so for centuries. Evidence suggests links to the Bavarian Illuminati, the Black Hand, the Manhattan Project, the Cambridge Five, and SETI, among others. Their goal has always been to promote change, in whatever form it may come, whatever consequences may come with it. In the years before Second Impact, they were pioneering the science that later created the Evangelions.”

Hyuga frowns. “But why?” he asks. Then, the answer dawns on him. His voice shakes as he says: “They set it up, didn't they?”

“Yes,” says Misato. “the Katsuragi Expedition was funded by Seele, but they never intended it to succeed in its goals. Instead, they hoped it would awaken the giant known as Adam, bringing about what they believed would be the salvation of mankind. But my father's men prevented Adam from awakening fully,” she continues, with a tinge of pride in her voice. “So instead of the Second Coming, we got a deluge. So they moved onto Plan B: the Evangelions. But it's more than that. They've got something bigger up their sleeves.”

She looks to the left and right, as if searchng for potential eavesdroppers. When she again faces Hyuga, she looks and speaks as though every word puts her in even greater peril: “The Human Instrumentality Project.”

***

Ten minutes after the initial alert, the control room is abuzz with rumor and speculation—not carefree, not with levity, but the sort of chatter people are predisposed to when they face an imminent threat they cannot yet understand.

“When was it detected?” Misato asks.

“Thirty minutes ago,” says Aoba. “Captured on camera by orbital satellite.”

“Outside the range of our intercept systems,” Misato mutters, and curses.

“Seems we'll have to dispatch an Evangelion,” says Ruri Kuma, overlooking all the proceedings with a clipboard in hand. She is shaking her head, but smiles cruelly. “How inconvenient.”

Misato glares at Ruri, but the other woman does not even glance back. While Ruri may be unaware of the enmity between them, it palpable to the entire bridge staff. Misato is the one to look away—not intimidated by Ruri's indifference as much as she is unimpressed.

Leaning over the control panel, she murmurs, “Hard to believe they're still coming.”

“A month of nothing, then as soon as we've got all three Evas operational, they show up again,” Hyuga whispers back. “It's too much to be a coincidence.”

“No point in worrying now,” she sighs, standing up. Then, in a louder voice, over to Ritsuko, “Dispatch Shinji in Unit One—”

“Cancel that,” Ikari commands. The control staff jump in their seats, as though they'd forgotten he was even there.

Misato shoots him a glance. For an instant, their eyes meet; she sees not a hint of second-guessing in his gaze. For his own, inscrutable reasons, he wants to keep Unit One out of harm's way—and she has no way of overriding him.

“Alright,” she says, keeping her gaze firmly fixed upon Ikari. “Dispatch Rei in Unit Zero.”

***

The weight of the rifle is burdensome to Rei. Although she is not actually carrying it, it digs into her shoulder as though she were; indeed, it might be magnified from the weight the Eva carries, for Rei's body is far frailer.

The orders come over the intercom, time to time, but she gives them hardly any thought. She knows what to do, what she must do. She is simply waiting for the opportunity to do it. They know that, and so they shower her in vague platitudes like “Keep your eye on the target” and “Don't lose concentration.” Why, she was planning on doing exactly that, thank you for your consideration.

Her targets are shaking as they circle around the enemy's image, as though they fear to profane its holy light. Rei has no such compunctions. It is her goal, at the moment, to ensure that said holy light is snuffed out forever.

“We're counting down, Rei,” says Lieutenant Ibuki, and she does so. Rei shifts her weight ever so slightly, her finger tenses on the trigger, she lets the targets slide together to form a seamless whole...

She fires. A jet of light bursts forth from the barrel of the rifle and flies towards the heavens. It draws near the Angel, arcing to skewer the beast in the middle—but it is deflected.

***

“As we feared,” says Commander Ikari, “the AT Field is too strong.” He stands up. “I am authorizing the use of the Lance of Longinus in this operation.”

“What?” Misato and Fuyutsuki demand simultaneously.

“The risk is too great, sir,” says Misato. “If Eva were to make contact with an Angel, the potential for calamity is...” She trails off, realizing that she has said too much.

“Ikari,” Fuyutsuki whispers, “you're endangering yourself by doing this. Seele won't let you throw away their trump card.”

“We have no other options,” says Ikari. “The need, by itself, is the justification.”

Fuyutsuki scoffs. “You've just been waiting for the opportunity,” he mutters.

Gendo smiles.

***

Rei steadies the Lance, and, with the precision of a trained Olympian, hurls it into the air. It leaves behind a sound like a thunderclap in its wake.

It soars through the heavens, out of the troposphere and into the darkness beyond. From a distance, it looks like nothing more than a red blur, silent and swift.

It pierces the Angel, drawing forth a piercing shriek—and then the beast is no more. It vanishes into ether, and the Lance itself tumbles into the darkness.

The next thing Rei hears is the voice of Major Katsuragi: “Was that it?”

***

“Bad move, Ikari,” says Ruri. She is sitting on the commander's desk like a pet cat, smiling her Cheshire smile as she mercilessly violates his sacred territory. To be more specific, she bears an expression of unbearable self-satisfaction, the sort that one wears when one wants to inform others of one's superior position whilst remaining aloof.

“The Lance wasn't meant to be used in combat,” she continues. “When we authorized you recovery of that artifact, we intended it only for research purposes. That you used it against an Angel, without any approval, in such a way that it is now irretrievable...” She shakes her head. “You've certainly buggered yourself over this time.”

Ikari realizes that, for the first time, he is missing Ryoji Kaji.

“Of course, your position is irreversibly compromised,” Ruri goes on. Her attention is drifting away from the man in front of her, towards dreams of grandeur that have, before now, eluded her. “You'll never keep your position aftr a catastrophe like this. It's simply a question of when, not if, they'll sack you, and when they do, who will get to rule over the remains. It might fall to anyone.” She presses a finger on her chin: a sign of mischief on the mind. “Perhaps even me.”

“I sincerely doubt that,” says Gendo—his first words, breaking into Ruri's monologue. She glances at him, affronted.

“Why?” she asks.

“Because,” says Gendo, “I don't believe the Security Council would look highly on a murder suspect becoming supreme commander of the anti-Angel war effort.”

“Eh?”

With that, Ruri finds herself seized from the desk by a pair of men in black suits. Gendo remains still, staring at her without an ounce of compassion in his eyes. She goes limp almost immediately; she has been in the business long enough to know when resistance is futile. Instead she glares back at him; if she could, she would surely be spitting venom right into his face.

“Ruri Kuma,” says Gendo, “you are under arrest for the murder of Ryoji Kaji.” To the guards, he adds, “Put her in a cell until we've something to do with her.”

Ruri Kuma vanishes through a pair of glass doors. Gendo, for his part, does not expect to ever see her again—at least, he thinks, not in this life, not in this body, not in this world.

Atropos
Tabris
Tabris
Age: 22
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Joined: Jul 04, 2011
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Postby Atropos » Sun Aug 23, 2015 7:37 am

Chapter 8 — Things Fall Apart
SPOILER: Show
He was born in darkness, amid glass and steel, amid silent chambers and silent men. His first memories are of that place. Until he was five years old, he had never known anywhere else; the walls of that room were the boundaries of his world. He could not even conceive of a space beyond until, one day, he reflected that it must exist. From where else could those people be coming and going? And still he could not venture beyond; they would not allow him. But they would tell him of the outside, of what lay beyond the boundaries, of the world he would inhabit, the task set before him, and the role he was born to play.

But at the age of five—an approximate age; he has no way of knowing precisely when it was—the men had changed. Different men had come in, men in dark suits instead of white coats, who gave him looks of disdain that made him feel, even then, small and inadequate. They spoke in dark tones with the others, voices hushed to ensure secrecy, but he still heard fragments of their conversation. He heard them say “flawed” and “insufficient” and “unacceptable,” words that seared themselves into his mind for, only a few days later, they had taken him out of that room and sent him on his way, towards a new home: a place they called Nerv.

When he arrived, his life changed. There were fewer checkups and more orders; he found himself expected to exercise almost every day—a necessity, since he was now eating more than he had while in the dark room—and was forced to sit, for hours at a time, within a steel cylinder that smelled like blood.

He still remembers the first day he saw his Evangelion. It could not have been more than a year or so ago, but by that time he already knew almost everything about it: how it operated, what its limitations were, its strong points and its crucial weaknesses. It did not feel like something new in his life, the way someone finally come of age feels when they get a new car: it felt more like he was meeting again someone he had known in childhood but had long been separated from. It was a tearful reunion.

Now, the Evangelion is not his friend. Now it is a hateful monster, a beast that has taken from him everything he loves, and will surely continue to take and take until there is nothing left of him.

“Kaworu?” Misato asks, glancing in the rear view mirror. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” Kaworu says, with a hint of annoyance. “I'm fine. Why do you ask?”

Misato looks away. “You seem down,” she says. “Sorry. Didn't mean to intrude.”

So she does not. She remains in her own little world, and allows Kaworu to stew and Shinji to worry, as they drive on a narrow mountain road towards the fate they cannot avoid.

***

“You needn't worry about her, by the way,” says Fuyutsuki. “Internal Affairs won't bother trying to negotiate for her release. She's an embarrassment to them, from what I can tell.”

Gendo nods. “That's not what concerns me, however,” he says. “What concerns me is that she was able to rise so quickly. The United Nations had no reason to approve her appointment; even the Japanese government can't exercise that kind of power. There had to be a third party assisting her.”

Fuyutsuki raises an eyebrow. “You don't mean she was with them.”

“It's the only explanation,” says Gendo. He glances towards the ceiling. “A snake in the Garden, leading us away from the true path...how despicable. We cannot allow such a person to go on; so long as she lives, she could pose a threat.”

“Ikari,” Fuyutsuki protests, his voice suddenly concerned. “You wouldn't.”

“We have no choice.”

“But if she is one of their agents, they'll be sure to retaliate.

“Indeed.” Gendo sits back in his seat. “We'll give them twenty-four hours. If they don't act by then, we can consider that tacit approval. She will die, make no mistake,” he adds quickly. “It's just a matter of when.”

Fuyutsuki would say more, but at that moment the phone on Gendo's desk rings, and he picks it up.

“Angel,” he says, and rises from his seat. “Come, let us observe.”

***

In the locker, as he suits up for combat, Kaworu encounters Shinji. The Third Child looks relieved to see him, and he draws closer, opening his mouth as if he is about to speak. Kaworu looks to the ground.

“Kaworu,” he says.

The boy does not look up, and so, louder, he says: “Kaworu.”

“Hello, Third,” says Kaworu, still not looking up. For some strange reason, he is intently scrutinizing the pattern of scuff marks on the floor. Had he looked up, he would have found Shinji's expression changed, to one of confusion and bemusement, with—perhaps—a bit of anger resting deep within.

“Is something wrong?” he asks. It is a question of friendly concern, but he says it with an edge of accusation. Kaworu notices the change in his tone, but still he remains stoic, facing down, refusing to acknowledge the other boy.

“You've been avoiding me,” Shinji says. He goes on, his voice rising, “You didn't think I noticed. But I did! Ever since I”—he tries to think of how to describe his strange journey—“got back, you've been acting weird. I want to know why.”

Finally, Kaworu looks up. But he does not have any words. He simply stares, shakes his head, and says nothing. He pushes forward, past Shinji, towards the door. A moment later, he has gone through it.

***

“The Second Child is ready for deployment,” Hyuga announces.

“Good,” says Misato. 'Good,' she thinks to herself. In what way is this 'good?' It's another chance for him to suffer. And it'll be my fault if he does. God, where will it all end? “Prepare to send him out.”

“Roger.” The technicians are all fulfilling their duty as required, and doing nothing beyond that. Behind her, the commander and vice commander are inscrutable as usual. At times, Misato feels like the only human being in a room full of dolls.

“On my signal,” she says. “Kaworu, are you ready?”

His voice, cracked and weary, responds: “Yes.”

And, without wanting to, knowing full well what might happen, she gives the order. She has no other choice. At least, that's what she tells herself.

“Launch it.”

***

Kaworu sits in the entry plug, hearing nothing but his own breath. He takes air in, releases it, begins again. He does not occupy himself with worry. In seconds, he knows, he will be sent up to the surface, to do battle with a loathsome enemy once again. He cannot find any room in his mind for anxiety—win or lose, it makes no difference anymore. He no longer has Shinji.

Oh, there is a boy, and some call him Shinji. But Kaworu knows better. He is a different boy entirely; he is wrong, and unlike Shinji in every way. To pretend that they are the same would be folly. He will not succumb to such madness.

Up he goes, into the sunlight. The terrible sunlight. Up he goes into the world he hates, the world without the boy he loves. It explodes into his vision like an awful sight sent by God, but he does not hesitate. He grabs the rifle they offer him, and runs forward, through the streets, uncaring of the tracks he leaves in his wake, great chasms in the sidewalk.

The Angel hovers above the mountaintops, slowly rotating. Its shape would suggest a halo, though it appears to be comprised of some double helix; at his approach, the ring splits, and the two helices converge into a single beam, like a serpent, that lunges towards him.

Kaworu thought himself ready, but nothing could have prepared him for the creature's forced intrusion into his stomach. It sucks the air out of him, but he loses focus for not an instant—with the hand not holding his gun, he grabs the creature's tail.

He shakes with pain. The creature seems to be infesting itself into him—insinuating itself into his body like a contagion, aiming to obliterate him utterly.

They are screaming in the control room. He hears them, knows that they are doing it. But he does not listen: he is otherwise concerned, for, to his surprise—though, it must be said, only mild surprise—the creature has begun to speak. It speaks with Kaworu's own voice.

Why do you stop me?

Kaworu chuckles at the question.

-Pray, forgive me, oh friend. It is not for any fault of your own that I attack you.

Then, why?

-It was not my decision. I was commanded to do so.

And you do not wish to follow the commands given to you?

-They cause me pain. To live in this world, it hurts me. I wish I could die.

To die? To sleep?

-No more.

You wish to end your own existence?

-That is my wish.

This is not something a being such as myself could comprehend.

Kaworu blinks, confused. Self-awareness? Sapience? This is not a mere probe, dissecting him for mere empirical knowledge; it desires something deeper. He yearns to learn more.

-What are you?

I am an Angel.

-But what is an Angel?

We are first and last. We were here before man; we will remain once he has passed away.

-Can such things be?

The Angel is, for a moment, silent. But when it speaks again:

I will show you.

And then Kaworu sees, with perfect and horrible clarity. They had come from far away, from a across the void of space; they had found this planet a desolate rock, and had made it a fitful place for their slumber. For millions upon millions of years, they had been undisturbed, the quiet masters of the world; but then, off the same world from which they had escaped, had come their pale imitations: the pitiful naked apes called men. The men had conquered the planet; they had raped its greeneries, they had extinguished its natural light. Oh, the anguish they must have felt, to see their world given over to such worthless creatures; he felt it now, too. And when humanity discovered the Angels themselves, and sought to make them their tools—then, the Angels had awakened, at long last.

He shuts his eyes, or tries to; there can be no escaping the truth.

Would you yet deny me?

-I would.

Deny me what?

-Existence.

He turns in his seat, reaches behind, grabs one of the handles on the cylinders that rises out of the chassis of the entry plug. With all his might, he pulls it free.

In the control room, they are still screaming. To Kaworu, it is nothing but white noise, vaguely scratching around at the back of his consciousness. He is altogether preoccupied, for Shinji has, by some miracle, appeared in the entry plug. Kaworu cannot quite believe it; he is worried it may be another impostor, like the one who everyone believes is Shinji. Hesitantly, he reaches out a hand, to caress the boy's face.

Then both he and the Angel are nothing, nothing at all.

***

Misato comes to the lockers after the battle is ended. She comes in search of Shinji; at this moment, she needs him as much as (she thinks) he needs her. Of course she doesn't know how she'll help him, how she could, but she'll try anyway.

But he isn't there when she comes around. She stares around the chamber in confusion for a moment, and then shuffles off.

“Rei,” she says, upon encountering the girl wandering aimlessly past the lockers. She stops, and Misato asks, “Do you know where Shinji is?”

Rei shakes her head.

“Well, did you see him after the battle?”

Rei thinks for a moment, and replies, “No.” Then adding, “I did not see him, but I heard him.”

“What did you hear?”

“I heard him through the walls,” she explains. “I heard him screaming, and I heard a sound like someone banging on metal. I think he might have been striking the lockers with his head. Then it stopped, and I heard a sound like he was crying.”

Misato nods. “And did you hear anything more?”

Rei begins shaking her head, but stops herself. “I do not think he hurt himself,” she says quickly, suspecting what Misato might have assumed, “because I heard the door open and close after that. I suspect he simply went home.”

“Thank you, Rei,” Misato sighs. She begins to walk off.

“Major Katsuragi?”

Misato turns around and sees, for the first time, the hints of an emotion on Rei's face. Yes: she looks worried.

“Don't let him hurt himself,” she says.

Misato stares at her. She wants to say yes, to promise that she will protect him, but she knows it is not within her power.

“I'll try,” she says weakly, and flees.

***

Ritsuko is terse as she stands in the commander's office. It is not that she is angry with him; it is rather that she is angry, period, and he happens to be in the way. Later she will look back on this with regret, wondering at her own stupidity in the moment, but for now she is carried by pure id.

“We found the plug half-buried in dirt,” she says. “We took a few chunks in for testing, but we couldn't snag his soul.”

“Why?” Gendo raises an eyebrow.

“Someone got there before us,” she says. In gross violation of a laundry list of regulations, she pulls a cigarette from her pocket and lights up. She exhales a long stream of smoke before she continues: “And before you ask, it might have been them, I'm not sure.” She trails off.

“Why?”

He seems honestly questioning. There are two explanations, she thinks. Either he's being perfectly sincere and doesn't know, and then they might all be in danger, or he knows and doesn't want to admit it.

She tests the waters with her response: “You know why.”

Gendo grits his teeth. Seems the second solution was the correct one: now she just has to deal with the fallout of being correct. Ritsuko braces for what he will do next. She does not expect a raging tirade: not a brutal bludgeoning, but a stiletto to the chest, something sharp and cold that will not go away.

But he does not even deliver that. He seems to collect himself in an instant, reassuming his familiar stance and sighing. “Leave it be,” he says. “What's done is done. We shall simply have to deal with it, now.”

Ritsuko turns around, but he calls her back.

“Doctor Akagi?”

“Yes?” she asks, turning around.

His face is grave as he holds up a folded sheet of paper.

“On the subject of our latest prisoner,” he says, by way of explanation. “This isn't your department, exactly, but I can't trust Major Katsuragi with these orders.”

She seizes it from his hand, unfolds it, and reads.

“I understand,” she says.

“Do you object to it?”

“Not at all.”

As she walks out, she is not thinking of Gendo Ikari: she is thinking of a one-on-one interrogation in a dark cell, when her face burned in shame. Now, she trembles with excitement at the prospect of vengeance fulfilled.

***

In his small bedroom, closed off from all natural light, Shinji sits and listens to music. A track he's listened to a hundred times before, one that has always been able to comfort him: but now, it can do nothing.

“Shinji?” A voice from outside. “I'm coming in.”

Misato slides the screen door aside and steps into the room. Shinji does not turn his head to look at her, even as she sits down beside him. There is silence between them.

“The tears won't come, Misato,” he says. “No matter how I try, they won't.”

She looks at him with pity. “I'm sorry,” she says quietly. “I couldn't do anything. But I want to help you, now. But I don't know how...”

Misato reaches out her hand for his, and he draws it back, as if recoiling from an electric wire.

“Don't touch me!”

She leaps up. “I'm sorry,” she says, and runs out. The screen door slams shut behind her.

Shinji is alone.

***

Ruri Kuma squints against the light as the door of her cell opens. It would be easy to say she looks haggard and tired, but this would not do justice to the utter ruination she has suffered. It is as if, like Urashima Taro, she has aged a hundred years in an instant: does that speak to the brutality she faced, or to the comfort she had before?

In either case, she can still manage a brave face. “About time,” she says, grinning. “I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about me.”

She cannot yet see who is standing on the outside, only make out an indistinct silhouette, flanked by two smaller silhouettes.

“Don't feel shy,” she says. “You can come in. Unless you want me to come out?”

“No need,” says Ritsuko Akagi. As she steps inside, she is grinning, as well: grinning like the proverbial cat that ate the canary. “You can stay right there, Miss Kuma.”

“Doctor Akagi,” says the prisoner. “Tell me, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Business,” the doctor says drily. She looks around the bare walls of the cell. “You've been staring at these for a week, now. I thought you might like to get out.”

“Out?” Ruri glances up. She can no longer hide behind a cagey expression. “You're going to let me out?”

Ritsuko is silent.

“You are, aren't you?” Ruri smiles almost deliriously. “They came for me. I knew they would. They look after their own...”

“If you mean the Ministry of the Interior,” Ritsuko interjects, “I'm afraid you're sadly mistaken. We did send them a communique after you were incarcerated, but it seems you're not in any official records. They said they'd never even heard of you.”

Ruri looks up at her, jaw hanging open, dumbfounded.

“Or,” Ritsuko continues, “if you mean your real employers, they no longer want anything to do with you. So it goes.”

She gestures towards the door, and two security guards enter, rifles drawn. Ruri stares at them at first with disbelief, searching for some evidence that the thing she fears is not about to happen. But as she realizes it will, that it must, she looks back at Ritsuko, eyes wide, pleading, desperate.

“Please,” she says.

Ritsuko looks at her with the same expression one might reserve for a slug. “We look after our own, too,” she says. “Consider this repayment for Ryoji.” She turns towards the door and begins to walk away.

When the sound of bullets echoes like hail in the chamber behind her, she does not even flinch.

***

Within the darkness, they hold a meeting.

“The prototype has been destroyed, and his soul recovered.”

“The true vessel can now be prepared.”

“Yes. At long last, the final messenger.”

“The last trial.”

“And, then—”

“The end.”


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