Disclamer: I do not own Evangelion, nor any source of inspiration I used for this. I only write for fun, not profit. Please do not sue.
One Last Chance
"If I can see you again, I will say the words that I could not say 8 years ago."
Ryouji Kaji allowed himself a light chuckle.
'I just had to say something like that. I couldn't leave well enough alone. I just had to go and say it. Still, she's always been the only one to make me speak my heart instead of my mind. And when you're in my line of business, that could one day cost me my life.'
That last thought made his expression darken. That day may very well have come. He'd taken too many chances, crossed too many lines, and angered too many people. He had quite literally outlived his usefulness, and doubted he'd see another sunrise. And all for what? Supplying information for a corrupt government, or playing errand boy for a deranged lunatic who somehow became the commander of the most powerful organization on the globe? No. Those tasks meant nothing to him, mere errands that came with this job and position. His true allegiance was to the truth. And he'd found it. Every sickening detail of it. All things considered, he began to doubt his choice to leave things on Misato's shoulders. His quest was going to cost him his life, would this fate also befall her? No, events were already in motion, working their way to the final climax. This way, he'd still give her a chance. He'd give all of them a chance.
The faces of the people he cares about flashed in his mind's eye. Asuka, the little child smitten with him since forever. No, little woman, he corrected himself. Any girl who had to endure what she'd gone though has earned the right to be seen as a woman. He always felt a slight stab of guild for constantly shooting down her advances. The fact that nothing of that sort could ever be between them was clear as day, but the confusion, longing, and pain he saw in her eyes every time he dismissed her would haunt him forever. He never really gave her a reason for his rejection. He simply shrugged it off as a child's playfulness. To make matters worse, upon his arrival in Tokyo-3, he all but completely ignored her, focusing on his work. When all was settled with his employers, he'd have to make amends, and perhaps be a proper father figure to Asuka.
A father figure. Thinking about that, his thought were drawn to the third child, Shinji Ikari. Kaji had known the pilot for a relatively short period of time, but it was enough to leave a lasting effect in the man's soul. For someone so small, so seemingly frail, that boy could move mountains, even without that demonic machine. Even when faced with insurmountable odds, he always managed to find that one way out. Of course, he was still a child, and inevitably the strain did catch up to him. But he came back, and there was a sense of pride in Kaji for being the one who made that possible. Not in himself mind you, he was proud of Shinji. All he did was show him the way, and give him a choice. It was up to Shinji to make the final decision. And that he did, and followed it though till the end.
At that moment, an odd image popped in the agent's mind. He saw himself, arm in arm with Misato, along with Shinji and Asuka standing in front of them. All were smiling, the very picture of happiness. The whole setup screamed family photo, and the smiles on everyone's faces were contagious, since he also was smiling now. Call it a premonition, a blink into a possible future, or even a fleeting hope, it was beautiful. How ironic that fate made him see this now, when it was too late. But was it? 'A chance', he thought. He had given all of them a chance, so now he dared to wish for one for himself. If granted, he would seize it, and hang on for dear life. Just one more meeting, one more formality to take care of, and he'd work to make that image a reality. No, fate wasn't ironic, it just had a peculiar sense of timing.
Just then, he heard steps behind him. His meeting had arrived.
"Hey, you're late."
The figure still stood in the shadows, entirely concealed, so Kaji never saw the weapon being leveled at his chest, nor did he hear a shot. Just a slight metallic echo, like a spring being released.
Just as realization dawned on him, he felt it. The prick of a dart in his chest. And just as the tranquilizer started to run its course, his consciousness leaving him, the floor running up to meet his face, he corrected his earlier statement.
Not only is fate ironic, but it has one twisted sense of humor.
A little known fact about tranquilizers is that they leave you with one mother of a hangover. Kaji was shaking the cobwebs from his mind just enough to scan his surroundings. He was seated in a rather uncomfortable wooden chair, the room was small and poorly lit, with only one exit, and he could make out the outline of a man sitting across the table from him.
"Your name is Ryouji Kaji, an operative for NERV, as well as a double agent working for the Japanese government and an allegiance to SEELE. You have committed actions that have made your loyalties unreliable, and come across information that have rendered your life forfeit. I think it's important to have the reason for your execution all out in the open, don't you?"
Still not entirely focused, all Kaji could do was numbly repeat: "Ex... Execution?"
"Indeed. And welcome back to the land of the lucid Mr. Kaji."
The figure leaned forward into the light, allowing Kaji to finally see his would be executioner. He was a man of average height, bald, completely unremarkable if it wasn't for a most peculiar circular scar on the top of his head.
"I am to be your host for this occasion Mr. Kaji". He seemed to roll a thought in his mind and come to a decision when he nodded. "Yes, that will do. You may refer to me as Host from this point on."
"Host. Right." Kaji said, still shaking off the last of the dizziness. "Am I still in Tokyo-3?"
"Maybe, maybe not." Host replied, a sadistic grin pasted on his face. "It doesn't matter. You need only understand that you are sealed in this room with me, and no one else. There are no guards. Only us. That door behind me will only open if I press one of these buttons" he said while indicating a small console on the handle of his own chair. That done, he opened a bottle of wine that was resting next to him, and filled two glasses. "Oh, and do try this, an absolutely stunning Merlot, from Bulgaria of all places. Not a hint of peasant's feet in it..."
Throughout all this, that blasted grin never left his face. 'Arrogant bastard. Just wait till I get my hands on...'
He tried to get up, mind set on shoving that wine bottle down Host's throat, sideways. But all he managed to do was shake in his chair. It's amazing how adrenaline can instantly shoot you back to crystal clarity of mind in a second. Kaji now was fully aware of his situation. The chair was bolted to the ground, and was as sturdy as it was uncomfortable. What's more, he was held down in place by a metallic ring around the waist. He wasn't going anywhere. And then, there was this bastard taunting him like a five year old. His blood boiling, he started to thrash about, trying to free himself.
This seamed to amuse Host even more. "Oh my. That's quite the temper you have there Mr. Kaji. Now I must explain quickly. This room has been flooded with a virus, Mr. Kaji. It is psychically active, and reacts to stress, which is why I am remaining calm. Because the pathogen reacts to stress by destroying flesh. You are not calm, so..."
Just as Host said that, Kaji screamed in pain, as he felt like a knife had just swiped him across his left cheek. Needless to say, this violent thrashing stopped immediately.
"See? You're cut. Not very pleasant, I'm sure." Kaji could only stare back, a silent fire in his eyes. "Now, back to the matter at hand. I am a psychic, Mr. Kaji, on SEELE's pay."
Upon hearing that, Kaji could only blink, bewildered, and wondering of he should laugh. That little statement took him by surprise.
"Oh come now Mr. Kaji. In an age where giant bio-mechanical robots and 40 story-high monsters are common sight, surely a psychic isn't that big a deal to swallow?" Taking a sip of wine, he continued: "But I assure you, my power is very real, and not to be taken lightly." If such a thing were possible, his grin just got even wider. If Kaji was to survive this, he'd have to play it calm, and smart.
"I am here to field-test the virus on you. I intend to pick through your memories, make you relive the worst ones, create massive stress, and watch the virus slash you to ribbons."
"If I can see you again, I will say the words that I could not say 8 years ago."
Misato just stood there, still unwilling to believe. "Idiot... you're such an idiot." She played the message again, but didn't make it till the end, her knees failing her, and sobs becoming more pronounced.
Shinji could hear everything from his room, but was unwilling to do anything. 'There's nothing I can do. Nothing I can say, since I am a child.' But even as he said those things in his mind, they sounded hollow. The closest person he had to a mother was crying her heart out right outside his door, and here he was, trying to run away again. Running away. Just like last time. But then Kaji's words echoed in his mind. 'I bet there is something which YOU can do and only you can do. Nobody is forcing you. Think for yourself and decide by yourself... what you should do now. Well, I hope you have no regrets.'
Small, tentative steps. Behind her. Then a hand on her shoulder. She was barely aware of who it was, until she latched herself to him. Shinji, clumsily but sincerely, returned the embrace, gently rocking the distraught woman. Between her sobs, he was able to make out one thing: "He's gone Shinji. He's really gone..." It took very little thought to realize who she was referring to. He had heard most of the recorded message when he was approaching her.
He sat there with her, still rocking her, until her sobs lessened somewhat. That's when he decided to speak. "Misato. He's not gone. I haven't known him as long as you have, but... he isn't the kind to let himself be taken so easily. I think... no, I know we'll see him again. He's given me guidance, I'm sure he himself can find his own way. You have to have faith in him."
He half expected Misato to start crying again when he felt her tense up. It would have been a perfectly normal reaction, given the circumstances. But it didn't happen. She looked up at his face. She looked in his eyes, trying to find any trace of deception, or uncertainty. Instead, she found what she was in desperate need of. Strength, faith, and most of all, hope. Though her eyes were red and irritated, her breathing labored and heavy, she managed to give him a weak smile. 'Since when did you become so strong, Shinji? Was it his doing?' Almost as if he heard her thoughts, Shinji said: "He'll be back. Just wait and see." Then he proceeded to unceremoniously help her walk to her room.
Back in the room, things haven't changed. The two men just sitting there, facing off.
Host decided to break the silence. Let the games begin.
"I can see inside your mind. Memories spill out like a tumbling stack of polaroids. Hmm, which one to use first. Ah, this one will do. You were in America, sent to break into the premises of a New York cult..."
"Take your best shot, slaphead." Kaji shot, his trademark smirk clearly showing.
Unfazed, Host jut kept going, and as he talked, Kaji was taken back to a place he'd never thought he'd see again.
"The cult worshipped an unusual item that SEELE wanted back, didn't they? It was late at night when you forced the door open, expecting the place to be deserted. And it was... in a matter of speaking."
For all intents and purposes, Kaji was right back there. He could hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears, deafening. His palms were sweaty, trembling. And he could smell something... foul.
"The cult had committed suicide, some days earlier. No one had yet discovered the corpses. The air was thick with corruption. The poison they'd used had spilled on the floor, forming a vile scum on the bare boards... They'd even poisoned their animals, hadn't they? You particularly remember the dead kittens trapped under their mother's corpse."
In his chair, Kaji was starting to shake, trying to keep whatever he had consumed from leaving his stomach from the wrong end. If this kept up, he was going to...
"Pulling yourself together, you looked for the thing SEELE had sent you to get. You stepped carefully across the carpet of rotting bodies for it... and there it was, beating, making sucking noises. The heart of an immortal, actually the heart of the first human S2 organ experiment, worshiped by a doomsday cult. And you had to steal it. Can't imagine how they got it out of the poor man in the first place. Can you?"
He couldn't take any more of this. It was too much. He screamed out his anguish, and his pain, as two more cuts appeared on his forehead, and others in places not seen.
Host only had a dark laugh to give in return for Kaji's scream. "No? Very well. Perhaps we might talk about the day your mother died instead."
"You bastard... I'll kill you, you basta-"
Relentless, Host just kept on talking. "You weren't getting along very well... Hmm, didn't go to visit her on the day you'd promised to eh? She lived in Hiroshima. Ah, I see, that was the day a man walked through her neighborhood with guns and killed everyone he saw. And your mother was waiting at the window for you to arrive."
Once again, screams echoed in the sealed room, far from being the last.
Shinji wasn't in his room. He was currently in Misato's room, lying next to her.
After placing Misato in her futon, he tried to retire to his own room, but was stopped by a death grip on his arm. Turning back, his silent confusion was immediately answered by the look on Misato's face. He simply nodded, and laid back down.
Sleep came all too quickly for his guardian. Maybe it was because of her exhaustion, both physical and mental. Perhaps it was even from his being there with her, easing her pain. But Shinji simply couldn't find it in himself to sleep. His thoughts kept drifting back to the one responsible for this situation. However, his thoughts held no malice, nor blame. Just a small prayer. 'You'd better come back alive Kaji. She needs you. We all do.'
"Not long now, Mr. Kaji, not long now. The internal bleeding will start soon. Your lungs will begin to fill with blood, and eventually, I imagine, you will drown in it."
Kaji looked horrible. Cuts all over his face, clothes stained with more blood from the numerous others all over his body. His breathing was reduced to short painful breaths, his voice a hoarse whisper. Still, he managed to say something, even if incomplete.
"kiss... my... entire..."
Another spasm of pain shock his body. It took all his willpower not to scream and black out right there and then.
Host was unimpressed. He simply swirled the wine in his cup and pressed on. "Now, that's rude. Let's find another little memory... perhaps another token of your time with SEELE. Aha! The phrase Cold Grey appears to hold a special pain for you."
The plea fell on deaf ears. "Let's see. A fortress on Japanese owned soil, taken over by terrorists. Oh I see, that fortress was used by SEELE for some "delicate" research, the type that needed to be hidden from the public eye. So that's why you and your team were sent in. Interesting, a hand picked team of three. You were inserted into the mountainous area via helicopter, entirely alone... Good grief, the four of you were expected to disable them all yourselves?" For a moment, Host seemed to find something... amiss in this image. He couldn't quite put his finger on it, but quickly dismissed the thought. This memory was too ripe to be a mistake. So he continued. "I can see it in your mind now, so clearly, more vivid than before... The terrorists' spotter chopper was between you and the fortress entrance. You recognized the pilot sitting in the chopper from your briefing. A family man, involved with the group simply because he though it was right. You gesture to your comrades, you all level you weapons and... hold on... no... no you couldn't have..."
But the image was there, clear as day. Kaji's voice was still a whisper, but he might as well have been shouting. "That's right Host... We drove a few rounds right into its fuel tank... Keep looking..."
Host was sitting there, a look of morbid fascination and horror on his face. "Oh God. You went inside. Oh God. What... what're you doing to them?"
The smirk was back on Kaji's features, along with a cold look in his eyes. "Why, I'm killing them all, Host."
At this point, the wine in Host's cup wasn't as inviting as it was when he started picking through Kaji's mind. As it were, he was clutching his cup as if his life depended on it. And he just kept on looking. He couldn't stop.
"I saved this memory especially for you, Host. Keep looking around Host, and you'll see some entrails laying in the snow, courtesy of a few incendiary grenades... Remember them steaming..."
The sound of breaking glass echoed in the room. Host had dropped his glass. "Such... such carnage... such calm in your mind... You're a monster." But through all he was seeing, something else was registered. A searing pain from his left arm, where he had just been cut.
"Cut? Oh, oh no..."
Screams again filled the room, but this time, they weren't coming from Kaji. Host started thrashing and convulsing in his chair. The pain was unbearable. Just then, a random swing of his arm hit the console, one of the buttons opening the ring holding Kaji in place on the chair. Free of his binding, Kaji stood up, slamming his palms on the table.
"A little stressed, are we Host? You miserable little button pusher! You've never had to deal with an honest emotion in your life have you?" If Host was paying any attention, he wasn't showing it. He was too busy screaming. Now it was Kaji's turn to press on. "I specifically dug this memory out of my mind, arranged it in my head, pushed it to the front so you had to find it." Now he was walking towards where host was sitting, taking the wine bottle in his hand as he walked. "I have to accept what I've done, and move on, try to become someone better. You try to control, to experiment with emotions... and that's not the way it works. How does real life taste like, Host?"
Having asked his final question, Kaji raised the bottle, and brought it down onto Host's head. Pretty soon, all screaming stopped. Throwing the bottle, or what was left of it, back on the table, Kaji took the cup Host had poured him earlier, taking a sip of its contents.
"If you spend your entire life just watching, you'll never develop the stuff to live it." He then emptied the rest of the cup on Host's head, before adding: "And your wine was horrible."
Examining the console, he quickly found the button to open the door. Carefully taking a look outside, he was surprised for the second time today. "Well I'll be... There really are no guards. Guess you figured I'd be dead long before now eh Host?" Host of course relayed no answer. The dead rarely do.
Stepping out of the room, he took his first steps. He quickly recognized where he was. This was just outside the outskirts of Tokyo-3. Looking back at where he was imprisoned, he started forming a plan. With a little editing, he could convince SEELE that he was dead. All he needed was a body double. Then it occurred to him. Host. Covered in wine. Flammable wine. There was enough spread around in there to burn down the room, long with all evidence of his escape. Besides, it was procedure to completely erase traces of an execution. And who was he to go against procedure now?
A few moments later, there was a little bonfire going just outside Tokyo-3. But the times any authorities were called to the scene, there's be nothing recognizable left, and he'd be long gone. But before leaving, he looked back to the lights of the city.
"A chance. One last chance. I was able to grasp it. Wait for me everyone. Just a little longer, and then truly, everything will be right in the world."
The next morning, Shinji awoke with a sore arm. But seeing the peaceful slumber Misato was still in, he figured it was worth it. He was able to disengage himself from her. After all, he was supposed to get up and fix breakfast. Walking into the kitchen, he notices something out of place. There was a package placed on the counter. He was certain this wasn't here yesterday. Carefully examining it, he found no notes, or any indication of who the sender was. Curiosity got the best of him, so he opened it. He could only stare for a moment. Then, slowly, a smile lit his face. He thought of waking Misato for this, but thought better of it. She needed her rest. Besides, she'd need to be awake and hungry to really appreciate this ripe melon.
I was digging around in some old comic books, and came across an issue dealing with the capture and torture of an agent. That issue stayed in my mind for a few days, up until the day I was showing Evangelion to some friends. When Kaji's "execution" came up, I found it to be, well, anti-climactic. One shot, and it was over. Then, the two ideas met, and I got the idea for this story. I wanted Kaji to have a fighting chance, but I wasn't going to make it easy for him either.
As for Shinji's reaction, well, that was one of the only times when I found his running away wasn't an excuse. It may not be very fitting to his character, but I thought this way it'd be more fitting in this context. Besides, I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
Well, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.
By the by, I'm curious to see if anyone can guess which comic book I used to write this. It's kinda old, so it might not be so obvious.