[Fic] Second and Fifth (complete)

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Atropos
Tabris
Tabris
Age: 22
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Postby Atropos » Wed Aug 26, 2015 7:55 am

Chapter 9 — Madimi

SPOILER: Show
The beast is colored a sickly gibbous green. It is not as massive as any one of the others of its kind, though its shape is somewhat similar; its head barely rises from its shoulders, and its legs bend backwards like a bird's—is that its nature, to be small and brittle, a mere annoyance? It rests on its back in the coolant, staring towards the ceiling with its lidless eyes, not dead but dreaming.

Misato regards it with suspicion.

“It was sent to us,” she says, with hesitation—not making a declaration, but seeking clarity. “The experimental Evangelion Alpha.”

“That's correct,” says Makoto Hyuga. “It's supposed to replace the lost Unit-02.”

Misato gives a hollow laugh. “And what about the operator?”

“Supposedly, it doesn't need one,” he says. “It was intended to be fully autonomous.”

Misato regards the beast some more. She imagines trying to command it, reason with it, and finds that in no possible world can she do so.

“There's no way something like this can fight an Angel.”

“Perhaps not. There's a lot of mysteries going on here.” He leans over to her—closer than she would be comfortable with, under any other circumstances—and whispers: “For example, there's the matter of its pilot.”

“I thought you said it didn't need one.”

“Supposedly, I said,” says Hyuga. His eyes narrow slightly, and his voice takes on a colder tone. “And yet, it has one. The Fifth Child arrives today.”

***

The Sun is setting, and Shinji Ikari stands by the lakefront, tormented by the storm of emotions raging within him.

Images rush through his consciousness: his father, Misato, Rei, Kaworu, mother. The person he hates, the person he flees from, the person he wants to protect, the person he wishes he had protected. All of them are now lost to him.

The wind is absent, or at the very least broken by the ring of mountains that surrounds the city. He is not standing close enough to the water for it to lap at his ankles, but if he wanted to submerge himself completely, it would require only a few steps.

All is silent, save for the crashing of waves. Then—

Someone is whistling. It is a tune Shinji knows, that, he imagines, nearly everyone knows: Ode to Joy.

He looks to the source of the noise. There, standing on top of a half-destroyed statue, is a girl, wearing a dress the color of sunflowers. He feels an urge to call out to her, to approach her—but to do so would be to stop her song, and he cannot do that.

It comes instead to an end on its own, and she speaks.

“The song is good,” she says, addressing him without regarding him. “The works of a genius reverberate throughout time, always returning, never forgotten. Isn't that right, Shinji Ikari?”

Shinji nearly jumps when he realizes that she is staring into his eyes. He looks away out of instinct, but feels her gaze on his brow.

“How do you know my name?” he asks.

“Everyone knows your name,” she says, a hint of amusement in her voice. “You're surprisingly ignorant of your own position.”

Shinji forces himself to raise his head, and looks at her.

“Who are you?” he asks.

“My name is Asuka Langley Soryu,” she says. “I'm one of the chosen people, just like you.”

***

“I heard you live with the operations director,” she says, standing just a step behind him on the escalator. “I heard she's one of the only survivors of the Second Impact—do you know if that's true?”

Shinji gives her a backwards glance. “It's true,” he says. “She told me—”

“Told you what?” she inquires, looking at him curiously.

“It's nothing,” he says, looking away. Of course, it's not his place to divulge Misato's secrets to this complete newcomer. He chastises himself for presuming he had the right to do so.

They step off the escalator. Shinji, as per usual, immediately turns in the direction of the boys' locker room. Out of habit, he begins undoing his shirt on the way there, and it is not until he has stepped through the door and unbuttoned his pants that he realizes Asuka is still behind him.

“What are you doing?” he cries, blushing deep red.

She smiles inscrutably.

“You didn't tell me where the girls' rooms are,” she says.

Shinji pushes her out the door. “There,” he says, pointing one direction down the hallway. “You can get changed down there.”

She starts down the hallway, then, looking back at him for a moment, says: “Danke, Shinji!”

As she runs off, he is left scratching his head.

***

In the locker room, she encounters Rei.

The door opens automatically, and she steps over the threshold into the chamber. Rei stands at the room's opposite wall, still dressed in her civilian clothing, holding her shoes in one hand. The moment, the instant Asuka enters the room, she turns around, eyes alert.

Asuka herself seems to be taken aback by the girl's reaction.

“Hello, there,” she says, immediately taking on her former calm demeanor. “You are the First Child, correct?”

Rei does not speak: she nods, cautiously, as if she fears giving away too much by speaking. Asuka stares at her, craning her neck, awaiting more. When she sees she will not get it, she goes on:

“How strange,” she says, a hint of amusement entering her voice. “Both of us have taken human form. At least, this time. When did we last meet? Or did I only dream that affair?”

Rei narrows her eyes. Her expression is unlike any she has yet shown. It is not the look she gets when she is annoyed, nor is it the one she wears in the heat of battle: it is a look of disconcertion, and of an attempt to discern that which is hidden. She is trying to guess what game the red-haired girl is playing.

She asks a question: “Who are you?”

And the red-haired girl laughs. It is subtle laugh, one that intends to provoke a response rather than one that intends to express a response. The girl is laughing at her, at her ignorance.

“Have I said something amusing?” Her voice is typically deadpan, but her eyes are burning with an anger she has shown only once before. It was on that occasion that she slapped Shinji Ikari across the face.

The red-haired girl senses the danger, and backs off. “Pardon me,” she says, raising a hand in her own defense. She stares at Rei's face in honest confusion. “I didn't know...you didn't know?”

“I do not know what?”

Asuka nods, comprehending at last. There is even a hint of apology in her expression as she walks towards Rei. “I see,” she says. “You've forgotten it all, then? Everything?” She nods, trying to prompt Rei to do the same.

“I don't know what you're talking about,” Rei says, drawing away from the red-haired girl's advance. “Which, I suppose, only proves your point: if I knew anything, I've forgotten it.”

Rei turns back to her locker and starts to undress. It takes her a moment to feel a gaze lingering on her naked back.

She looks around, truly annoyed, and asks, “Why are you staring at me?”

Asuka responds: “Because the human body is beautiful.”

“I am beautiful?”

“Yes,” says Asuka. “You are. But if you wish, I will allow you to change in peace.” She looks away, but adds: “Do you have a spare plugsuit? They haven't given me one, yet.”

Rei reaches into her locker and pulls out two suits. One she keeps in her hand, the other she tosses to Asuka.

“Danke,” the red-haired girl says.

“Bitte,” says Rei.

Asuka pauses when she hears the response, but goes on changing regardless. Is it an illusion, or does she grimace ever so slightly?

***

The testing room is aggrieved with tension. Ritsuko does not look at Misato does not look at Ritsuko. The technicians exchange nervous glances amongst themselves, far too aware of the dispute between their superiors.

“Take the First Child down another zero point three,” Ritsuko commands. The technician obeys with a single “Hai.”

“How are they doing?” Misato asks.

“Check the readouts yourself,” the technician says, edging aside to allow Misato to lean over his chair. She scans the screens, eyes alternately widening and narrowing, and finally lets out a long whistle.

“Her scores are that good?”

“It seems so, ma'am.”

Misato studies the readout for a moment more. The lines of the graph are easy enough to understand: Rei lags behind; Shinji is, as always, exceptional; and Asuka...

“Get me a printout of all data on the Fifth Child,” she orders.

“Roger that, Major.”

“And tell them the test is done,” she continues, turning around and heading for the door. “Let's give these kids a break.”

***

Shinji decides while in the shower that he does not want to go home. It is a decision that has been in the making for days, but only now does he have the power to substantiate it—by standing still, and refusing to be led away.

What, then, will he do instead? The question occupies him as he dresses, as he walks through the halls of headquarters, passing by endless men and women in beige who regard him with no more thought than what they give to a plastic fern in the corner.

He is almost, he thinks, invisible. It has been a useful property in the past, when all he wanted was to be left alone. But now....

By some chance, he picks up a shadow as he walks. He guesses who it is without looking around to check. He thinks it is eerie, that she would walk behind him without saying anything, as if her only wish is to regard the back of her head. What is eerier is that her footfalls seem to sound within seconds of his own—no; they are, in fact, perfectly synchronized, with no delay at all. Is she doing it on purpose? Or did it just happen that way, without her intending to?

“Shinji,” she says, speaking at last, and he is forced to look over his shoulder at her face. She wears the same inscrutable smile as always.

“You seem lost,” she continues, once they face each other.

Shinji shakes his head. “No, I know the way out.”

She giggles. “That's not what I meant,” she says. “You don't know what to do, what to think. Your soul is turbulent.”

“No.” But what she says is true, and he knows it, and that annoys him. He glares at her, and suddenly he becomes cold, bitter. “What makes you think you understand me, anyway? You just met me this morning.”

He regrets his words as soon as he says them. But she does not bat an eyelash. In fact, her smile becomes wider, and she says: “I know because I have regarded your soul, Shinji.”

“What? My soul?”

“Yes.” She steps closer to him, and although he wants to draw back, he is held there, paralyzed by her entrancing gaze, her blue eyes that mirror his own. “Your soul is like a battleground, Shinji—the warring desires, to win love and to avoid pain, struggle for dominance. A similar battle occurs in the hearts of all human beings.”

He opens his mouth to ask her what she's going on about, but she sweeps on.

“Your heart, however, is particularly fraught. I suspect this is because you have experienced great pain. As a result, you draw away, and many who have tried to draw close to you, you have hurt. Despite this, you bear the struggles of your life without fleeing, and you are able to do what is necessary for those around you. Your soul is like a crystal, Shinji—multifaceted, enticing.”

“Enticing?” Shinji blinks in confusion.

“What I'm trying to say,” she says, “is that I love you.”

He cannot speak. She has taken speech from him.

'I love you.' The words are echoing in his mind, not diminishing but growing in intensity. He has never heard such words before—understandable, he supposes, as he has never had someone who might say them to him. They are the sort of words one hears from a dear friend, from a lover, from a—

From a parent.

He looks away. “I have to go,” he says.

“Come with me.” She smiles.

He stares at her, jaw slightly agape, and for a long while does not answer.

***

She meets Hyuga in the parking lot after hours. He is there first, leaning against her car leisurely, smirking a little when she approaches. Ordinarily she'd be put off, but she's concerned enough that his expression is hardly an issue. And, if she's honest, it kind of turns her on.

“You have it,” she says—question or statement?

“I do,” says he, and produces the document in question.

She takes it without hesitiation and gives it only the barest of glances. Immediately she looks back to him, eyebrows pressed together in frustration.

“If you'd like to explain,” she says, “any time would be great.”

Makoto grins, taking the paper from her hands. “It's strange, isn't it? With no prior training, she was able to achieve a higher sync ratio than Shinji's ever had in tests. Moreover, it was not affected by plug depth or other factors—and believe me, we tried everything.”

“What you're saying is, she can set her sync ratio to whatever level she wants?”

“Yes.”

“But how?” Misato punches the car door in frustration, teeth grit. “Goddammit, is there anyone around here who isn't hiding something?”

Hyuga coughs, and Misato glares at him.

“What,” she says. “Are you gonna turn out to be a Russian double-agent or something?”

“That depends.” He gets a cocky look, and leans over, his cheek nearly touching hers, and his hands straying uncomfortably close to her chest. “If I were more dangerous, would you—”

“No, I wouldn't.”

He curses and pulls back. “Christ, why?”

She thinks, Because I'm a crazy woman with daddy issues and you don't understand any of that.

She says, “The last guy I slept with has a bullet where his lung used to be.”

It is far more effective at shutting him up, and this giving Misato a moment to ponder. She has few options at the moment. Hyuga is her only ally within NERV, and he only helps her in the hopes of getting into her skirt. She needs to speak with someone who might know the truth, and further, it has to be someone without an ulterior agenda.

***

Asuka cannot sleep. This is not meant in the way that some people say “I can't sleep” when suffering from insomnia; it is meant utterly literally. She was incapable of entering the state of sleep, and had never been capable in her brief life. Those responsible for her existence had not thought it necessary.

She stares at the boy sleeping beside her—he insisted on separate mats, but they are close enough that she can feel his breath on her face, and were he awake he would almost certainly feel hers on his—and feels a pang of longing in her heart. He is near, but she wishes he were nearer; she wishes he were hers.

At length, she notices that he does not sleep easy. His mouth is curved in a frown of discontent, and his breathing is labored.

She has the idea—she might prefer to say it came to her, so as to remove her agency and thus her responsibility—that she ought to somehow slow his breathing. Generally, as she recalls, one uses a bag to stop hyperventilation. She has no bags.

With some hesitation, she slides across the floor, to Shinji's mat, and moves in, until their faces are inches apart.

“Mother...”

She stops when their lips are already interlocked—paralyzed by his speech. He says it again. Tears glisten on his face.

So she pulls away. She rolls away, wraps herself in her blanket, and turns away from him—faces the opposite wall entirely.

“So,” she murmurs, “you, too, are just a child.”

***

Fuyutsuki waits by the reflecting pool, sitting on a bench with his hands clasped together. It is a place where few people come—indeed, he is probably one of a handful who even knows it exists, and chooses to visit it often. Misato knows of it, but has not come, until today.

“Meet me there,” he said. “I can disable what minimal surveillance is already equipped there...we can discuss matters outside of Ikari's sight.”

Per the conditions she agreed to, she does not carry her gun. Without it she feels vulnerable, but the reward she might gain—the information Fuyutsuki possesses—is well worth the anxiety she feels.

She is only a few feet away, but he does not turn to look at her. He stares into the waters of the pool, eyes unfocused, thoughts distant.

Did he not hear her approach? Anxious, Misato coughs.

“I know you're here,” he says. “Please, take a seat.”

Sheepishly, she sits beside him. He begins, in a whisper: “I suppose you already know what Seele is planning.”

“In broad strokes, yes. I'll need you to fill me in on the details.” Misato gives a tight smile. “But that's not what I wanted to ask you about today.”

“Then, what is it?”

Misato reaches inside her jacket. What she takes out, she gives to Fuyutsuki.

“Ah. Her.”

“Yes. Her.” Misato's voice is terse. The blood is pounding in her ears, and at any moment she expects to see men in black suits rise out of the hedge. “What is she?” She wants an answer.

Fuyutsuki speaks, in an ancient voice that shakes with suppressed emotion:

“She is probably the last Angel.”

His words hang in the air for a moment. The professor stands, wiping something from his eye.

“This has been a very productive discussion, Major,” he says. “I trust you'll keep it confidential.” Then, with the mask of the vice commander on him once again, he walks away.

Misato looks towards the water, trying to gather her thoughts, and finds that she cannot.

***

As Shinji wakes, Asuka lies in her bed, pretending to be asleep.

Out of a small sliver of vision, she watches as the boy blinks, confused by his surroundings, before the light of recollection enters his eyes. She sees him scramble out of bed and gather his things, embarrassed to find himself here and anxious to leave. Once he is dressed, he walks to the door. There he pauses, giving a final look back at her. He is, perhaps, contemplating leaving a note of thanks, some gesture to show his gratitude. In the end, he decides against it, and absconds without a word.

She rises soon after. All her things are packed in a trunk that rests against one wall of the apartment; rummaging through it, she finds underwear, a blouse and skirt. In silence, she slips them on, and goes out.

It is still dark out, though the sunlight has prematurely erased the stars from the eastern sky. She walks through the ruined city with her hands behind her back, looking neither above her head nor towards the ground, but straight ahead. She knows and understands the task before her, and while she still carries herself, she will not show even the slightest wavering in her resolve.

At least, so she tells herself.

The entrances to the Geofront are scattered across town like burrows leading to a warren. She enters the first one she finds, swiping her ID card at the entrance.

Every elevator is open to her. Every door is unlocked. She thinks that she can go anywhere, and do anything, and yet it wouldn't matter: nothing matters, unless she takes a single path out of all those multitudes open to her.

She begins to tremble. It begins with her lower lip, and then it spreads, infecting everything else. All strength that she had, every ounce of will that kept her upright, dissipates—now, without an audience, she allows herself to fall apart. Her thin knees buckle, and as she crumples to the floor, she wraps her arms around herself—a droll embrace, with a single participant who is both giver and receiver.

Today, she knows, she will die. She will die doing what she was meant to do, of course. And were she to live, she would find only misery in the world that would ensue. So, on balance, death is her best possible option, and she would be a fool to fear it.

But she does. And she wonders, although wondering is something that just a few days ago was unknown to her, if Shinji will miss her when she is gone.

The ringing of a bell draws her mind back to her present situation. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she stands. She steps out into the corridor, and finds it empty—provoking a moment of cautious doubt. Might they not have anticipated her? No, she thinks, it is not possible.

She proceeds, working her way through the labyrinth of the complex, round and round in a diminishing spiral, moving towards its center. She passes no one, but she can hear echoes—so there are others in the complex, she knows; but these others are either unaware or uncaring of her presence. They are tied up in their own concerns—watching the skies, watching the stars. Fools: the threat they seek walks among them, in the form of one of their own. The irony is almost too great for Asuka to stand.

She goes on, passing numbered hallways, offices, maintenance closets. There are souls within them of no interest to her. Her interest lies at the very heart of the complex, in the great cavernous shaft that leads to—

There it is, before her. She stands, almost amazed to have found it, as though it had been up to this point no more than a fairy story she sought. But, no, here it is before her. She takes a step towards it.

Then another.

With each step she takes, she feels her skin becoming more taught, feels her veins and arteries beginning to constrict. Her skin turns pale, and all her blood vessels are now visible, like a maze drawn on her flesh. She had expected this to happen as she neared her end—what need has an Angel of blood, of air? The useless relics of her human body are being discarded as she approaches the throne of godhood.

With her final step, she now stands just before the door. It would take no more than a thought to open it. She hesitates a moment.

“Hey, you—”

Behind her, a man, unaware of her identity or not recognizing her in her altered form, is pointing a gun at her. His eyes are full of fear.

She looks at him, cool, merciless.

“I'm warning you,” he says, but his voice is no more than a terrified shriek. Asuka looks away from him, back to the door.

It opens. Wind rushes into the corridor from the cavity on the other side; Asuka's hair blows about, free of any restraint. In the same instant, the guard lets loose a barrage of machine gun fire.

She whips around, enraged, and with a wave of her hand she flattens him against the wall. There is a loud crack, and the man slumps to the floor. He is not breathing.

Asuka steps forward, and begins her descent.

***

He sits in the darkness, plugged in. He is listening to some mindless pop song; he doesn't even know the name, it doesn't matter, as long as it's loud enough that he can't hear anything else it's fine. He does not know the time, and he has only the faintest idea of the day.

One sound manages to break through the droning music. It is a door slamming in the distance. Misato, he thinks. Immediately he rolls over, facing away from the sole portal into his room. He shuts his eyes and tries to forget everything, everything in the world except for the sound.

Next thing he knows, his earbuds are ripped out, and Misato is standing over him.

He has no recourse except to ask the ridiculous question: “What's wrong?”

Misato doesn't even look at him. She drags him along like a suitcase until he finally scrambles to his feet and walks the rest of the way.

“Another Angel,” she says as they get into the car. “And this one's a real bitch, I can already tell.”

Shinji peers out the window, but sees no gargantuan aberration on the horizon. He glares. Is she lying to him? Has she deceived him, simply to get him out and about? Well, if that's so, why does she look so furious?

“Where is it?” he asks.

“It's among us,” she says. She is driving unsteadily, jerking the wheel every which way and braking abruptly. “Hell, it's one of us.”

“You mean it's human.” Shinji's voice is slowly rising. He will not accept this, not again.

“Yes.”

“Who?”

The answer doesn't matter, Misato knows. So she does not speak. But his gaze does not waver, and he demands, with barely restrained fury: “Who is it?”

“The Fifth Child,” Misato says, her voice barely more than a whisper. It is a moment of weakness, a moment when she can allow herself to be apologetic. But when it is past, she moves on instantly, and then she is not Misato, but Major: “You will be deployed into the central shaft of headquarters. Your objective is to destroy the Angel before it reaches Terminal Dogma...”

Shinji has looked away. He cannot stand to face her, now. He will do his duty; he will pilot, but he will not kill Asuka. In this, he is resolute.

He will not have more blood on his hands.

***

They meet in the cavern, him lowered by a long cable, her borne by some power of her own. He does not recognize her immediately. She has been truly transformed now; all her skin except for her face is obsidian, and red lines run up and down the length of her body. She still possesses some kind of beauty—but it is veiled behind her monstrous form. Now, she is truly Angel, and human not at all.

She notices him first, and turns her head to look at him. He cannot quite discern what she feels: she wears an expression comparable to Ayanami's, or his father's, in its ability to strike a chord deep in Shinji's heart without giving a hint to inner thoughts or emotions.

“You're late,” she says.

“You betrayed me,” he shouts at her, heat rising in his face, muscles clenching. “You lied to me!”

Asuka shakes her head, expression unchanged. “You allowed yourself to be deceived. I was never dishonest.”

Shinji reaches out one of the Eva's massive hands towards her, but when it is inches away a massive wall of light stops its advance. Asuka does not even flinch.

“You have an AT Field?” he cries out as he struggles against the boundary.

“Yes,” she answers, serenely as ever. “At least, that is what you call this—the light of my soul.”

She looks straight at him, peering through the body of the Evangelion itself to look him in the eye. He shudders and shuts his eyes, but still he feels her gaze burning into him.

“This sacred ground, on which one may intrude,” she continues. “The answer was before you all along: the AT Field is merely that which encloses your mind.”

Shinji screams, and at that instant something bursts through the wall of the shaft. Shinji draws away, the cable on which he hangs swinging wildly. It takes him a moment to grasp what he is seeing: a cyclopean beast, little more than an imp to the Evangelion, now floats behind Asuka. It seems to have startled her: she whirls around in shock when she sees it, and she is unprepared when it reaches out to her.

It traps her in a closed fist.

“A trap,” she says. “I should have guessed. Man is such a crafty ape, after all.”

Within the entry plug, Shinji shakes his head, denying it. “I didn't know,” he calls out to her, begging for forgiveness. It might be unneeded: there is no malice in her eyes when she looks to him again. “If it was a trap,” says she, “it was a misguided one.”

The creature relaxes its grip, and Asuka is freed. She rises in the shaft—or, Shinji thinks, slows her descent relative to his so that the creature can pass under her—and the beast lunges towards him. Quickly, Shinji draws his progressive knife. He spears the approaching monster on his blade, and it goes limp.

Asuka sighs on seeing her pawn so quickly defeated. “It was a worthy effort, at least. Although,” she adds, looking down, “perhaps unnecessary.”

Shinji follows her gaze. Below them, in a conical depression, is the shaft's base. For a moment, he is perplexed. What does she intend to do now? His answer comes quickly. Asuka vanishes, and Shinji is blinded by a great light. He hears the cord snap, and then he feels the awful sensation in his stomach that tells him he is tumbling into the abyss below.

A splash, and he is brought to a halt. Shinji looks: he can see again. He wishes he could not. Around him is a landscape from the depths of hell, a massive blood-red lake with bone-white peaks rising here and there from the depths. And in the distance, a gate of some kind. Asuka floats before it.

“Wait!” he calls, but it is by far too late. She gives a final, wistful look, and then turns her head forward, to the task ahead.

There is nothing she needs to do: the gate opens for her. Beyond, in the darkness, waits a white giant nailed to a cross, a many-eyed mask bound to its face.

As soon as she is past the threshold, the gates shut again.

Shinji forces himself to his feet. He takes a first step, made difficult by the waters that run up to the Evangelion's ankles; but at length, he is able to take a second. Indeed, with some force of will he did not know he had, he manages a third. He sloshes through the lake, trying to ignore his exhaustion and catch up with her. More than once, he finds himself tripping over a peak more than half-submerged in the water, and each time he raises himself up again, refusing to be brought low. Blood is pounding in his ears like some awful drum.

He passes through the gate—no, tore through it, ripping a silhouette in the wall by his passage—and enters the chamber beyond. There is the white giant, there the cross, all around them the lake of blood—and there she is, waiting for him.

He staggers forward, energy all but exhausted. She does not flee or raise her barrier as he approaches; she is smiling, like this has all been some game she found greatly entertaining. When he stands before her, the Evangelion's arms hanging limply from their sockets, she speaks.

“Thank you, Shinji,” she says. “You have performed beautifully—I suspected you had such strength within you, but even I had my doubts.”

He might have said to her a million things, asked her a million questions, simply stood there and spoken to her forever after—but he has little breath to spare, and so all he can manage is to gasp out: “Why?”

She nods, as if she anticipated this question. “It is my destiny,” she says, by way of reply, “to reach apotheosis and then live forever. To do so would be to ensure mankind's doom. But it is possible—only a possibility, I must admit; it will require human will and effort to see it done—that I may meet my end here. Shinji, whether I live or die means nothing to me. One of your great playwrights once wrote: 'Call no man fortunate that is not dead, for the dead are free from pain.' Only in death can we escape the sorrows of this world. This I know, and yet...” She smiles at him—a smile that barely disguises the sorrow within. “I am grateful for having lived. Because of you, my life was meaningful.

“Now, please, destroy me.”

Shinji hesitates. His heart is pounding in his chest, daring him to decide, daring him to kill. He cannot do it; he will not do it, not so long as he is his own man, he can never do it—

“Please!” she screams, and flies towards the giant.

Led by blind instinct, Shinji raises his hand and seizes her, closes his fingers around her. It is not until he feels the crunch within his fist that he realizes what he has done.

Horrified, he lets go, and the limp, shattered body of Asuka Langley Soryu falls into the lake below.

***

“Asuka said she loved me,” he tells Misato, after it is all over. “No one had ever said that to me, before her.”

Misato is silent. She will not even look him in the eye.

“She was like me,” he continues. “No—she was better than I am. I should have died, and she should have lived.”

“No,” she says. “The one who deserves to survive is the one who wills it. She asked to die. Your survival is not a mistake.”

He shuts his eyes. “Misato,” he says, after a long silence, “how can you be so cruel?”


And with that, it is finished.


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