AN: Ooooooooh yeaaaaaaaaaah. There it is! There. It. Is. Done. DONE! Couple of days late, but hey, fuck deadlines, right? And still technically September! Get ready for a damn rollercoaster!

Note, some things have been added, and others revised. Ahem, anyway, enjoy!

I own nothing.

Now let's get it on!

Scar Tissue

Chapter Eighteen. Final Chapter. Act Seventeen, Part Two: Indestructible

The crimson light blinded the battalions, all the members of the Geofront and televisions throughout the world, and thousands were rendered unable to discern anything but the sight of a dreadful red cross engulfing their protector with the viciousness of a wild flame. As the smoke cleared it became clear how the last remaining Evangelion stumbled and bled as its left arm, charred and smoking, fell to its side from exertion and damage. With the dust finally settling and a very disgruntled Samael roared in utter frustration, the eyes of many a person watching the battle filled with tears. The AT-Field was still standing.

Shinji was still standing.

The front of Unit 02's armor was cracked after two missiles had impacted above the behemoth's upper left side, leaving nothing but the sight of charred ribs and internal organs beneath. The right knee and foot had received heavy damage from the artillery, yet the sight of burnt, exposed flesh paled in comparison to the way the muscle seemed to melt off the left leg and arm as though it were hot wax. The EVA's blue lifeblood continued to soak the charred ground under which it stood, leaking from the mouth, arms, midsection and legs; there was hardly an inch of its body that was not mangled, charcoaled or battered in some form.

Maya stared at the data on her screen with dread, shaky hands covering her mouth in apparent disgust and disbelief while tears ran down her face. "S-Shinji-kun's skin… is st-still… m-m-melting… his ribcage… dear Gods… Sempai… his body…"

It was not an exaggeration; the barrage of attacks, locks and attempts to kill him during the fight had been brutal, and while Shinji had somehow kept his anatomy together to defend the city from the final attack, his body had taken X's assault almost at point blank. He was disfigured; if his face could be seen in the darkened fog of tainted LCL, all they would be able to see would be a charred, molten mass of flesh dripping from the left side of his now hollow cheek.

Ritsuko nodded gloomily, and swallowed down the taste of bile. "I… can't even explain how he's still conscious at all…"

It was unthinkable; no human being could possibly maintain consciousness with bones protruding from their arms, torso, and face, with multiple pierced organs and exposed flesh, with burnt and blistered skin melting directly off the body, with enough blood loss to fill up a small bathtub. Shinji's left eye and arm had all but liquefied with the last blow, the entire left half of his face had been shattered by the unrelenting assault; moreover, both his lungs were pierced by broken shards of bone. His right femur had exploded violently in his leg, the kneecap having been damaged by a barrage of missiles just before Unit X released its AT-Field blast.

The more Ritsuko read over Maya's head, the more terrified she felt. It should be biologically impossible for even an Evangelion to survive, and yet Shinji continued to expertly -and consciously- draw energy from the Core to rebuild both bodies after the brutal attack, handling impossibly great power with unheard of proficiency. However, the price for the strategy he planned was too great; the onslaught had been so extreme that the EVA barely stood on its feet. Precious fluids dripped from every gap in its armor; it had bled so much that most of the metal was tinged blue. Bone was visible on the right side of its torso where a busted piece of rib had been pushed out. The mask was destroyed, with only the two right eyes shining a bright crimson; the only indication to the outside world that Unit 02 was still active.

Shinji's eye socket was empty, yet regenerating. The bones in his arms were a tangled mess of fissures and major fractures, and his wrists, elbows, forearms and shoulders were almost pulverized. His right hand was still raised, even as it shook and faltered due to indescribable pain.

In spite of the unrelenting assault, the damaged AT-Field glowed with a bright orange hue, unwilling to go down. There had been close to no further damage in the city, aside from a few thousand widows exploding. Unit 02 stood about fifty kilometers from Tokyo 3's border, in the rubble of the first Tokyo, scarcely able to hold its weight on its trembling left leg.

Ritsuko's eyes quickly darted towards Misato, fearing the worst; she had half-expected the Sub-Commander to abandon them and run off to shoot at Samael with her pistol. Misato was staring at the video feed of Unit 02's entry plug without blinking, to the blonde's shock and surprise.

As far as Ritsuko could see, the LCL was tainted scarlet. It boiled all over Shinji's body; the boy's tissue was regenerating at such an accelerated pace that the sickening sound of bones being pushed back into position was audible through the feed, creating a macabre sound to which even Ishikawa flinched in distaste. Angry tears fell from Misato's face unbidden and unchecked, she was biting down so hard on her own thumb she had long since pierced the skin and blood now trickled down her hand, dribbling down her wrist.

"Come on, Shin-chan…" Misato whispered, appalled by the bestial visage of her surrogate son's face. There was no still no eyeball on Shinji's left side, and yet she saw a red glint inside his skull, a crimson light that clearly reflected on his one remaining eye as though it came from… within him. He was sneering with half his face burnt off, with that horrible smile threatening to split his damaged features in half. She had never seen the expression of hungry bloodlust in his face before; the expression Asuka dreaded. Now, however, she was counting on it, praying for it, wishing for the appalling smirk which promised death to his enemy, victory, and the return of her young charges. "Please… please…"

Regardless of how grotesque or bestial he appeared, the same thought ran through the minds of everyone in the Geofront. The millions of evacuees huddled together in the streets, watching the badly televised battle, felt the intense tinge of despair and hope bundled together in their chests, constricting violently every time the mighty goliath stumbled. Soldiers, pilots, the armed and ready, battle-hardened soldiers from dozens of different nations did not dare to blink. They were all aware that Shinji was fighting for them.

Please Shinji, millions whispered in unison, in many different languages. The link which had opened in the press conference broadened, pulling every person watching or hearing about the battle through the radio closer. They felt it faintly, like a far-away sensation, a sense of déjà-vu pulling at their collective consciousness. Shinji's emotions were reaching out to them. They felt his pain -albeit vaguely- his immeasurable rage, and a silent, unbending determination. He would protect them.

Please Shinji…..

Ikari Gendou clenched his fist, scowling at the screen as though it had just offended his daughter. He knew about S, about their ridiculous agenda, about the disgustingly perfected plan to ensure a future for the young pilots, and still found himself unable to tear his eyes from the crouched, broken Unit 02 that refused to go down. "Come on, boy," he grunted angrily, teeth grinding in frustration.

He would win, or die trying.

Mari grabbed onto Touji's leg fiercely, hiding her face from the image on the large screen. The speakers deafened them as the reporter clung to his microphone and bellowed at the top of his lungs. "Unit 02's… still active! I can see the light shining in its eyes! They're still fighting! The pilots are still fighting, they're protecting us!" The image was distorted by a volley of missiles exploding nearby, but soon enough focused once more on the red mecha's right side.

"Touji-nii…" Mari mumbled into the fabric of his pants. "Asu-chan and Shin-chan are gonna be okay, right? Those mean people won't win, right?"

The former Fourth Child bit his lip, placing a hand on his sister's head in a reassuring gesture. He squeezed Hikari's hand and traded uneasy, uncertain looks with his father. "Of course, Mari-chan. This is Asuka we're talking about, and the Shin-man. They won't lose, you'll see. You just have to believe, okay, sis?"

Kensuke nodded; he was biting his own cheek so hard it was starting to hurt. Rei had held off many attacks with whatever was left of Unit 00; she was probably about to die of sheer exhaustion, and he was standing in the safest, strongest shelter in the world, being useless. Yeah. They won't lose, he thought, clenching his fists tight. They can't lose, right? He grimaced when Unit 02's body shook and a small dribble of bluish blood oozed off its mouth.

Right?

From his spot among the thousands in Okinawa's streets, Katashi regretted ever having the great idea of bad-mouthing the Evangelion pilots and upsetting the Second Child. Those two teens who had sat huddled close together in the press conference, with the boy's unsure, deeply tormented gaze staring right into his soul and the girl's deadly, rage-filled snarl... they were willing to die. And he felt like a piece of trash.

I harassed them, and forced the Ikari kid to puke. I almost put him in a hospital. Perhaps it was the threat of certain death looming above them all, perhaps it was the massive hysteria over the fact that there was thousands of them out on the open, and if the attack advanced they'd be the first ones to die after the people of Tokyo. Whatever it was, it brought tears to the reporter's eyes. Please, Shinji, he urged, clutching his hands together. Please win.

And so the thousands watching on the streets, the same thousands who had applauded the verbal assault on a sickly-looking child who had gone to inconceivable lengths to answer their doubts, the same thousands who had shunned, shoved, and spat on him months before; found themselves having a single, constant thought.

Please, Asuka… Shinji… please….

WIN!


"You hear that… Boss?" Dmitri's ragged voice rang through the entry plug just as his throat finished closing. Of course Unit 02 was still active, of course it had survived; he had long since given up on the idea of knocking the boy out. Not even his best moves had been able to put Shinji down, deter the violence of the pilot's attacks or prove effective in any way other than assuring his own demise. It had all been filmed, described, reported, documented and broadcast throughout the world; SEELE, humanity's enemy, had tried to attain the last functional Evangelion to attempt a Fourth Impact and destroy the world yet again in less than three decades, and three small children had stood in their way.

Dmitri's body felt absurdly drained and heavy, a pinkish drool refused to stop dripping off his mouth, and his throat was aching with the faint sensation of teeth biting down on his windpipe. Had the redhead and Shinji truly been able to inflict so much damage on him? "T-They're all chanting the brats' names… how very f-fucking poetic…" He could faintly hear the shouts of supports from Japan's troops through the device in his ear. Keh, he thought with delight. There ya go, Boss… first objective achieved.

The frustration of not being able to push Shinji to his knees even with the most concentrated blast X was able to produce was eating him alive. A light-headedness numbed out his fingers, arms and legs; a sensation he had long forgotten ran up and down his body when the charred remains of the EVA's hand clenched into a fist. His knees felt akin to ice blocks, his hands here clammy, his chest felt unnaturally tight, and his breathing was irregular. He was… afraid.

"You could just… get out of the EVA right now," Dmitri muttered through the comm, ignoring how his voice shook or how his teeth had chattered for a second before speaking. He felt his vision slip twice, along with the limited shreds of his consciousness. It was hard to breathe, hard to see with only one eye, hard to concentrate with every fiber of his being crying out in agony. "I only need the girl, really-" A sudden wave of nausea assaulted him, forcing something out of his empty stomach.

Both Unit X and its pilot doubled over as the result of Asuka's well-aimed kicks and Shinji's ungodly punches manifested again; they had completely eviscerated his midsection. While the Russian pilot retched a bloody mass of bile and what he assumed were pieces of his own guts, Unit X's jaws opened and a foul, crimson liquid too thick to be blood exploded from its maw. As it fell, the liquid scorched the ground and melted stone like hot lava, and a pinkish fog extended to the skies while the sounds of thousands screaming in both horror and glee invaded the battlefield.

He heaved one last time, spitting out a glob of half-coagulated blood coming from the internal hemorrhage in his liver and spleen. Shit, Dmitri realized the sudden absence of strength in the EVA's core right after it heaved. Those were… the souls of Myr. I'm down to the emergency gas in the tank. The wounds in his body were closing half as fast as they should, at best. Facing him, the broken visage of Unit 02 was steaming. He could see the core pulse again and again; the damn EVA was healing so fast there was actual smoke coming off it. Armor was being regenerated along with the flesh, bones were mending at alarming speeds, and the thing's red eyes never stopped glaring at him.

From a distance, the entire EVA appeared to shine through the steam, glowing a faint ruby while its predatory gaze wandered over to the ships closing in on Tokyo's shores. Even from afar, Dmitri could picture the faces of twenty thousand mercenaries go pale with horror; if Unit 02 deemed them a threat, it would wipe them out without a second's hesitation now.

Ikari Shinji was still conscious, and the thought alone was starting to terrify the experienced murderer to the marrow. For the first time in ten years, the boy who claimed to be Death itself felt a very familiar chill run repeatedly down his back and turn his stomach to ice. He had not felt like that since his mother's murder, so many years before, and was truly unsure whether the emotion was actual fear, or simple elation upon meeting his dream opponent in battle. The sudden sweating of his palms and the consistent shaking of his legs, however, agreed with the former.

He was facing the strongest living creature in the world; one who had been God, and who was by all means indestructible.

Victory was essential. Tearing off the head of Unit 02 would be sufficient; the constant nausea and involuntary shaking of his knees was a clear indicator that he was the one close to collapsing in a heap of stiff limbs. I'm gonna kill him. The realization dawned long after he had lifted his arm to the skies; it left a sour taste in his mouth, and instead of the jubilation that accompanied each kill, he felt reluctant. Got to kill him… gotta keep him down… destroy Unit 02… His synch rate rose to 240%. I'm gonna kill him… there's just no other way…

"This is number one bullshit…" Dmitri muttered raggedly to himself; Samael stomped its feet on the ground next to the reddish puddle with apparent revulsion as it attempted to collect yet more lives to absorb. Dmitri's vision swam and the world fell out of focus once, twice, thrice. He was lucky Unit 02 was too busy regenerating; both him and X were all but defenseless at the moment. Defeat meant moving to Plan B, and Plan B was most certainly a mad gamble, even for him.

The slight tremor in his hands enraged him, the chill in his back was bothering him more than the bones embedded deep in his organs. Ладно, I am officially, one hundred fucking percent done. He activated the comm so that the frequency reached every vessel and able radio, friend or foe. His boss would like the consideration towards the fighting Japanese troops, to be sure.

"All units… friend or foe… retreat. Now," he said with drained resolution. Fuck it, I'm done. I'm done. I'm hungry, I'm tired, I want dried venison, twenty pelmeni and Zagutai with black tea. I want three bottles of fucking vodka. I want to go back to Russia, now. "This whole stupid city is about to blow, along with Unit 02's head. Get clear, you shits, or die together with Tokyo 3."

The ultimatum was met with all sorts of complaints and screams being hurled at him from the comm. The units refused to leave their post, unaware that their so-called greatest asset was dead on his feet. The exhaustion was getting to him; all the ground work had left him somewhat drained, and the continued resistance of the Third Child with his stone-hard punches had left him barely able to control his bladder. Even when he would not admit it though, the cumulative damage from Asuka's attacks was actually what had him on the edge of collapsing.

"Listen to me, you… stupid bastards," Dmitri wheezed, coughing up more pink froth. Why in the fuck had the wound in his stomach not healed yet!? Why was the Prog Knife embedded in his leg still making him bleed, and why had he not taken it out? "This is the end… of Directive V-32. Either be gone-" A red, liquid looking Anti AT-Field expanded, covering a hundred miles of rubble, mountains and forest. "-or be fuel." The black hand of Samael extended. It enclosed just about half of his own reinforcements; he never did give them the chance to evacuate. Fuck it, fuck it all to hell. I can't even… think… straight…

Dmitri's head felt like a balloon filled with too much air, his right cheekbone was barely able to heal for the tenth time, and a still-open gash under his eye continued to drip. His midsection was little more than a mass of jelly, the stone-hard muscles of his abdomen had been reduced to a loose, fleshy surface that would send him to agony with any given blow. His legs had about four or five good kicks left; they were shaking with the exertion of trying to keep his opponent on the ground. It had to end with a single, defining last ditch effort, one applied at point blank. He'd have to pour all of his power, all the souls he had collected for Samael, all the lives he had taken, young and old, and punch Shinji with it.

Even as it absorbed the life-energy of ships, planes, plants, animals and hundreds of his soldiers, Samael's feet stumbled. I can't… overcome the… damage, Dmitri realized with grimness. My body won't respond, won't do what I say... I'm at the breaking point. He clenched the fist and collected whatever energy he could steal. Not much was extracted from the rubble in his vicinity, but the harvest of mercenary soldiers behind him had been fruitful. The small, shining red orb above him was snatched up and consumed, feeling like a surge of liquid power going up and down his body. He checked the adrenaline doses to his right; only one syringe left.

Boy, was Boss going to be proud of his performance...

This is it, he thought savagely, smirking despite himself. The fear, the rage, the hatred, they all coursed in his bloodstream and mingled together with insanity, making Dmitri feel giddy and more alive than ever before. He ignored the stab wound in his leg, the continuous leaking of blood down his chin, and the screams of hundreds as he devoured them.

"Ikari… Shinji!" he bellowed through the comm, and instantly spat out a mouthful of bile and blood. The adrenaline shot entered his bloodstream. "You thought… it was over?! HAH!" Samael's left arm began to pulse as the muscle fibers tore and elongated. "I won't let you fight without reprieve, Shinji… You're a hero after all, right?! There's a whole lot the great Third Child has to protect, right?! Like that gorgeous city behind you, right!?"

No response. Dmitri grinned, and drove the mass of power the Angel had absorbed directly towards his left arm, which bled and fizzled as it began to grow. The knuckle bones protruded through the armor and took the shape of spikes, the armor stretched around the limb like cloth, and the flesh underneath shone with a dark reddish hue all the way up to the shoulder. In an matter of seconds, Samael's left arm had grown three times its size and looked heavy enough to pull the creature off balance.

"If you dodge this..." Dmitri declared, out of breath without having moved an inch. Samael assumed a fighting position, drawing the grotesquely overgrown arm back. "The wind pressure of my attack alone will wipe out your precious home like dust." Dmitri focused the energy of his AT-Field around the fist. "Then my AT-Field blast will vaporize the shelters you're so desperately trying to keep safe, your little pyramid, and most of the buildings I... ugh… I didn't already destroy."

Unit 02 had not reacted at all; it simply stood there bleeding out and fuming like its insides were on fire. "AT-Field max power," the assassin recited quietly as the power overflowed his limb. "With all the lives I've taken…" Samael went through him and merged with his essence for a second time, as though the old demi-god wanted a front-row seat to the show. "I will strike you down, Second and Third Children!"

He flew, propelled by the AT-Field's power, directly towards Unit 02 at top speed. Dmitri had not expected, however, a sudden rise in his opponent's energy. He barely noticed how Shinji concentrated whatever power he had left in the red EVA's own mangled left fist, and responded to his attack with a left cross at the last second.

Samael grinned. You really are interesting, Ikari Shinji!


You'll have to be tricky.

Fight.

Fight.

Take the pain, take the punishment, and wait for the opening.

The red glow inside the entry plug matched Shinji's crimson pupils to appalling perfection. He felt very little; the pumping of the core in his chest, the shards of bone stuck in his muscle fibers and skin, the way he couldn't close his mouth properly. Every time he exhaled, a little blood came out of his mouth and nose, until it did not. More, he urged the Beast. More power, more anger. The tissue of his cheek finally stopped boiling, and slowly but surely vision returned to his left side. Grit your teeth, he thought, enraged, tightening his jaw with vehemence. Ball your fists. Fight.

Fight.

There was not much Samael could withstand, Shinji realized. Its left arm, the one he had ripped apart, kept growing uncharacteristically large, and the strain of the transformation alone pushed the thing off balance. It could barely stand, and its hands had lowered. Shinji's barely functional eyes narrowed.

He saw his opponent's desperate final attack, and knew instantly his opening had arrived. The Artist was running on fumes, and he would lower his guard. Fight, he urged his body to move. Breathing was nearly impossible; he had almost choked on his own blood three times trying to keep the AT-Field active, and the toll of resisting the last attack had cost him an eyeball, an arm and a leg. No matter; his eye was restored, and he could no longer feel the sensation of flesh peeling from his bone. He could see, and Shinji saw the opening. Be tricky, Ishikawa's voice boomed. You'll have to be tricky.

Shinji summoned all the power available to his own half-molten left arm, feeling how the regeneration forced dead nerves to activate and register the smoldering misery of muscle bubbling into existence and cells reproducing so fast that actual smoke began to come off his fingers and forearm. The shockwave of both AT-Fields colliding would certainly blow a curtain of rubble and dust all around them; he'd have to absorb as much of the impact as possible to minimize the shockwave. Tricky.

Tokyo's shelter was fifty kilometers away from his feet. If he failed, then Rei, who was protecting the area with Unit 00's remains, would die. The shelters would collapse and everybody in it would die squashed like a cockroach in the best of cases, or be left to starve in the enclosed vaults of the Geofront. Without Rei's AT-Field to keep the attacks from coming, the enemy's artillery would decimate whatever remained of his home in minutes, at best.

It was time to counterattack.

"Position… target in the center," he wheezed, coughing up blood as he drew his fist back. He saw the tip of Samael's knuckles coming towards his head; Shinji's glowing eyes narrowed as Unit 02 slightly moved to the right and slung its own punch. Pull the switch!

-BOOM-

Electricity and wind currents strong enough to lift trees, cars and rubble hundreds of meters in the air washed over the battlefield, with neither Evangelion backing off an inch. They appeared equal in power, although X's arm showed no signs of strain, whereas Unit 02's arm was visibly quivering with the task of keeping the dark behemoth's attack contained, bleeding anew as the speared knuckle bones penetrated its fist.

Dmitri grinned even wider. "Tired?! How about some energy, Ikari!?" he screamed, injecting a small dosage of the raw power he had absorbed directly into Unit 02's flesh. The result was instantaneous, his arm deflated somewhat while both Shinji's and Unit 02's limbs exploded in a shower of blood, gashes opened from the fingers all the way up to the shoulder as the bone cracked and fissured. Dmitri pressed forward, roaring along with Samael in a deafening, terrible howl while he marched with heavy steps and managed to push the red mecha back several kilometers.

Inside the entry plug, Shinji paid lno mind to the growing, twisted mess of broken bone and exposed flesh that was his arm; he felt himself get pushed back and found there was little strength in his legs left to resist. Stealing a glance at the sleeping figure above, he scowled in rage; if he failed then Asuka would be the first person to die due to his uselessness.

I see. Convinced and content that Shinji's strength was finally waning, Dmitri pressed further, gaining confidence. This is the power you hold in your hand; the raw power of the strongest being alive, the Wrath of God. It was poetic, how beautiful the boy's resistance truly was. You're desperately holding on until you fulfill your purpose! He poured the remainder of Samael's power towards regeneration and forced an extra push forward. Glorious.

Shinji spat out a full mouthful of blood. It's not just because I want to protect them, he realized. His feet stomped down on the ground and stopped Samael's advance about ten kilometers away from the city border, breaking the earth and forming a crater around the battling gods. Behind him, the windows of every building in a fifteen mile radius exploded from the ensuing shockwave alone.

True, he felt forever indebted to the millions whose lives he had ruined. Moreso to the people of his own city, the city where he had met Misato, Rei, and Asuka, but it was not what pushed him beyond any human limitation. No; his life was not his own, and had not been for months. How, then, could he lose something which did not belong to him at all?

The opening; he saw it. The enemy would always set up the attacks with his left, the next strike would most likely be a right hook or cross, and whenever Samael had thrown a right, his body had opened up so much Shinji had been able to see the Angel's organs and core within. The bones of his left arm shattered and protruded from the skin while the Angel pushed him further back. Feeling his strength slowly die out; Shinji opened a comm channel Unit 00 and screamed out with every bit of air in his lungs.

"REI-CHAN, NOW!"

He let the mangled limb fall and dodged the massive fist while ducking to the right. The spikes and protruding fingers flew past his head and as promised; the wind pressure impacted heavily against the AT-Field generators, where the shining hexagon manifested just in time to stop the main blast and absorbed the attack's blunt force. It cracked, but did not break.

Asuka's gonna be mad at me for what I did, so I have to make it up to her! Until I make it up to her…!

"Until I make it up to her…" Unit 02's right fist came up and slammed Samael's unprotected chin with a vicious uppercut. "I won't die!"

The punch was so hard that Dmitri's jaw broke in about four different places. Had it not been for the adrenaline he had just injected himself with, he would have lost consciousness.

Inside the Geofront, Ishikawa's eyes widened. "He used his left arm as bait!" he exclaimed, and pointed at the screen. "There! The enemy's guard will come down!"

Samael reared back, but the monster's right foot planted itself firmly on the ground. He threw a knee that impacted flush on the EVA's chin, followed by a left kick which slammed loudly on Unit 02's temple, rattling the already weakened Evangelion.

"Tch, that all you got, Third Child?!" Dmitri utterly ignored how pieces of what was probably his teeth flew past him as he shouted, retrieved the power in his left arm in a single second, and transferred the stream of scalding energy to the right. The limb elongated almost as much as the left had grown; his right hand was a hammer, and it had certainly been enough to put Asuka herself in trouble.

Time for the heavy artillery. Your loss, Shinji. "It's weak!" Dmitri was so engrossed in the premature sense of victory that he did not notice his opponent's stance.

Unit 02 was crouched down, right foot in front; while throwing the uppercut Shinji had also stepped forward and reduced the distance. The right arm retracted to protect his chin; the chest and midsection loosened, his body moved along the muscle memory as the shattered, bleeding left arm of Unit 02 was swung back. "That's because," Shinji grunted with bestial glee. "It's not even my best punch!"

Deeper. Deeper into the black pit of fire and pain.

He dove right into the Void without an ounce of doubt and felt the endless agony of Godhood wash over his entire being with a vengeance, consuming his awareness in an oppressive, heavy tar of agony. His very soul felt like it was being ripped to tiny shreds once more, but he did not relent. Deeper. He had to dig deeper. The image of Unit 02's mangled corpse; himself, strangling Asuka in their living room; the words he had uttered to nail the last coffin in humanity's fate... it all tried to stop him from advancing, but Shinji had nothing left to lose and everything to gain, so he muddled through the unutterable misery until at last, he saw a faint glow in the ocean of blackness that was his self-hatred and anger. He crawled, skin tearing from his body when hands and fingernails sharp as glass clung to him. He kept crawling deeper, deeper.

He felt for a gash, an opening, and when he found only raw, black material which stretched out as loose flesh would, Shinji bit down on it and chewed a way out. He had to dig deeper, deep into the seed of power planted in Unit 02, and mix it together with whatever Third Impact had left inside his chest. He had pushed it deep into the Void, along with the fading memory of his dead mother. He bit down like a crazed animal, ignoring how his entrails seemed to be hanging out from the intrusion of thousands of hungry fingers, and at last a myriad of colors -akin to what he saw while synching with the EVA- dominated his field of vision.

Once again, the small ball of light was within his grasp; the essence of Godhood which had been given to him by Rei, Kaworu and Lilith. Then, he felt it. He heard it, smelled it, and closed his eyes. There was a piece of his own soul he was to surrender if he desired the power once more. The power which had been given to him for a single second, the power Asuka had tapped into before her death; he required it to win.

"Mother…"

It made no difference; for the lives he was protecting, he would gladly give his own.

The glow was warm, almost as warm as the lazy mornings when he'd wake up and Asuka was clinging to him like he was a scrawny stuffed bear, while the incandescence threatened to lull him back to sleep for reasons unknown. He heard a voice he had rejected for nigh on a year; it spoke to him with not a trace of malice or deceit, to his everlasting dismay and disappointment.

"This is our hope, Shin-chan," said Ikari Yui.

At the end of the tunnel Shinji saw a faint figure begin to materialize, a forgotten lab coat and short, brown hair blowing in the wind. "The hope than maybe, one day; humans will be able to understand one another. The hope that somewhere, somehow, we might find happiness in each other. This hope that made you return; this is the hope for a better world, a world filled with snow."

Turning to him, his mother gave Shinji the placid, honest smile he had long since forgotten, one he had not witnessed since his third birthday; it washed away any trace of the agony and pain invading every inch of his body.

"My dearest Shinji," Ikari Yui said, sounding forlorn. "I love you. I will always love you, and I am so, so sorry for the pain I caused you." Her expression changed to one of barely contained grief. For reasons alien to his logic, Shinji believed her.

She smiled again, shakily, with tears of sorrow and joy streaming down her face. "Now," she uttered in uneven tones. "That bully out there dared to hit your girlfriend in the face. Go kick his butt." Yui offered him the snowflake in her hand, one which shone with the intensity of the sun. "I'm so proud of you. Do your best, Shinji-kun."

Shinji's bloodied hand closed around the flake. Unit 02's left arm regenerated in an instant, shining brightly with a yellowish, almost blinding white radiance which emanated from its fist as veins of incandescent light extended from the hand up to the shoulder and shone together with the core. The muscles bulged with unrelenting power; the armor peeled off in an instant and revealed a shining mass of graying muscle, with streams of brilliant light glowing in its veins. The EVA's right foot turned, and the counter-attack was set in motion. The entry plug glowed with a kaleidoscope of colors just as Shinji's body began the whipping motion to begin his attack.

Shit. Dmitri realized it was too late to block or defend in any way. He recognized the stance in an instant; perfectly performed defensive southpaw boxing. Shinji's right foot was in his zone; his own right hand was hoisted up in hopes of squashing Unit 02 like a bug. I lost my concentration… Time slowed to an almost complete halt. Shit, shit, no… don't… His already exhausted heart started beating frantically against his chest. Was this truly… fear? Actual dread? How had he not seen this coming, how had he so easily fallen into Shinji's trap?

A wave of calmness engulfed the Third Child just before his punch connected, a sudden elation, the feeling of Yui's hand against his cheek.

Goodbye, mother.

The rage kicked in; the full brunt of the Void crashed over Shinji like a tidal wave, merging his personality with the Beast in an excruciating vortex of pain and wrath."Position the target in the center," he whispered, blood oozing from his mouth with every word.

Unit 02 moved with blinding speed; but to Dmitri the world ground to a halt. As the milliseconds ticked too slowly for it to be real, he saw not the EVA, but both Ikari Shinji's and Sohryu Asuka Langley's enraged faces glaring back at him. The aura the EVA suddenly displayed… the pressure alone was forcing him back. He felt trapped, boxed in, caged.

"Pull-" A solid fist embedded itself in Samael's side, bending the armor like sand paper and cracking four ribs with the initial impact alone.

"-The-" Wind pressure, momentum and what Dmitri assumed to be the power of God went through his entire digestive system, making his spleen and right kidney explode within his body.

"-SWIIIIITCH!"

His mind went blank; the agony became powerful enough for his body to shut down.

The colossal, compressed power of the AT-Field dug into his guts and for a second, Dmitri felt a hole the size of a basketball explode out of his left side and rattle every one of his organs out of place. The impact shook the ships nearest to the battlefield and disrupted the aerial battle in its entirety. Bones dug deep into his organs, his liver, his intestines, stomach, and lungs. The agony was so excruciating that it made the experiments done to him pale in comparison; his body simply stiffened and went limp from the cumulative damage. Dmitri refused to believe it, but he saw in growing shock and fear how his own two arms fell limp to his sides. He was defenseless, exposed, and exhausted.

"That was my left," Shinji growled, noticing how the bones of his knuckles were visible through the shredded plugsuit once more, and what he assumed were his metatarsals stuck out of the wrist. The EVA's fist was literally embedded in Samael's side; the power behind it had been so great that the whole left side of a suspicious looking crimson sphere was cracked. He registered no pain; the only thing Shinji's infuriated mind acknowledged was how Unit X had stopped moving, how its arms fell dead to its sides as it doubled over in absolute agony. "Now have a taste…" Unit 02's eyes shone red once more. "OF ASUKA'S RIGHT!"

This is bad…. Bad, bad, bad, bad… Dmitri was barely able to stay awake; body paralyzed with agony, his entire system had shut down with Shinji's liver shot, he was drooling, actually drooling on his own plugsuit, and thoroughly unable to stop it. He saw the other punch coming from a mile away, aware that he was in no state to dodge, roll with the punch or so much as take a stepl his arms felt like they weighed a ton each and his legs wobbled dangerously beneath him. Shit, shit, shit, shi-

A gigantic red right hook to the temple blurred his vision. He was losing consciousness, fast. He did not understand; whatever was happening was not supposed to have happened. He had planned it all out so perfectly, so why was he losing!? Why was Ikari Shinji so fucking strong?! Why would he not go down?!

NERV's crew and command staff held their collective breaths once they saw the black mecha's knees buckle for the first time in the fight. Slowly, Shinji's punches began to connect; he threw another right hook, a left elbow, grabbed Samael's head and dug his knee into the opponent's chin. Ever so slowly, Shinji's soul tore like a cloth stretched too thin and began to intermingle itself with the Beast, the power and the S2 Core.

"He's…" Misato said in disbelief. Shinji's arms were broken, both of them, and still he kept punching without reprieve, not even waiting until Unit 02 finished healing. She ignored Makoto's continued shouts that Shinji's synch rate was rising too fast, and that mental contamination had been detected. "He's pushing that thing back…"

Two, three, four brutal hooks connected flush against Samael's head from different angles, and a right jab straight to its maw reared it back a full two steps to the invading army's horror. The captain aboard the destroyer Admiral Vinogradov watched the battle without blinking, refusing to believe what his eyes were seeing. He has served beside the deranged brat in a mission and was perfectly aware of his durability, even more so with his beloved X.

"Dmitri's being… overwhelmed…" he muttered. Fear clung at his throat; the situation in front of him should be impossible. Unit X was the single most powerful weapon at their disposal. If it were to be defeated, the army would pose no threat to Unit 02, and the Evangelion would level their forces in a heartbeat, even depleted as it was.

"Signal for retreat," the captain muttered, thoroughly ignoring how he felt more frightened than when he had first seen battle as a young man. "Contact all ships and personnel, they are to disengage and retreat as soon as possible. Directive V-32 has… failed."

And failed it had, indeed. Dmitri's vision was down to a large black dot which he assumed was Unit 02. The adrenaline in his system and the indescribable pain were the only reasons he was breathing at that point; his body felt broken in half, and however slow and telegraphed Unit 02's attacks were, he could not dodge. Painstakingly unable to block, the assassin felt another massive glob of blood escape his mouth as a perfectly executed front push kick connected with his sternum and pushed the air out of his punctured lungs.

I have to- A right hook broke what remained of his jaw, and he felt Samael's mouth open and its tongue loll to the side. Can't feel anything under my tongue… did he- Two savage hooks, one to his temple and one to his already battered midsection forced the Angel of Death to retreat even more. He shattered my jaw, Dmitri realized while drunkenly managing to evade the next right uppercut. My ribs are broken, my body's bent, I can't… use my arms… have… to… the mission…

Unit 02's punches were gaining speed and power, Dmitri dodged another right jab coming his way, and never saw the left cross hiding behind it. It didn't feel at all like he was fighting Shinji, nor Asuka for that matter. The attack pattern was distorted, the mecha changed stance and lead foot with every step taken. It felt like he was fighting two opponents merged into one.

PUNCH.

Dmitri's front teeth made a cracking noise akin to eggshells and were thrown about in the entry plug. If he lowered his synch rate even for a second, X would devour him. It would all have been for nothing. Another liver blow rendered his mind blank for a second time, followed by a brutal left hook which impacted behind his ear. F….Fuck… I can't… lose…here… Vasiliy… Vasiliy…! He was dying, either his body would shut down on him, or Shinji would kill him with those horrendous knuckles of his. His little brother would forever be kept a pet and a prisoner of Samael, never allowed to live or die, and all the pain and torture and blood and death would have been for nothing. I don't want… to lose…

Another jab impacted on his broken, open mouth. He felt shards of teeth and bone dig into his throat. True to their word, Asuka and Shinji had effectively punched his teeth in. I can't… lose… An opening, he just needed an opening, just a fraction of a second and it'd be over. He could not lose, not when Vasiliy's fate depended on it.

The next punch came, a straight left cross. Dmitri's blotted, swollen eyes opened wide; he forced the broken bones in his mouth to work, feeling the slow, aching regeneration push the jaw back in place. He took the punch, but evaded most of the damage with a slip of the head at the last second; it would be his one opening.

"-Vshli…" he grunted, feeling the broken teeth shatter and dig deeper into his flesh as he used Samael's mouth to hold the arm in place. He had one last rush in him; when Unit 02 clenched its hand to squash his head between its forearm and fist, Dmitri pushed whatever power remained in the core to his legs. A left knee stung the Eva just under the liver, a right high kick sent Unit 02's head flying, to NERV's and the refugees' horror. Samael then bit into Unit 02's right arm hard enough to feel the elbow break, the left cross that came his way was intercepted swiftly, and then he used the meager strength in his arms and years of practice to snap the other elbow with a vicious lock.

Dmitri kicked high again, noticed how the EVA did not raise to defend with both its arms broken, and hit the red mecha on the chin with his next left kick. He used the momentum to launch his already extended left foot down on the Eva's head in a brutal axe kick which opened up a vertical gash in the behemoth's forehead.

Feeling his vision go black, Dmitri forced his body to move on mere instinct. "Vasiliy…" he muttered, and glared at the EVA. Why the hell would it not go down?! How many times had he beaten this guy to a bloody pulp already? How many of his various techniques was there left to use?! His entire martial arts arsenal had been displayed, and the fucking red robot was still on its feet!

"Vasiliy…!" There was one burst of motion remaining before the pain blinded him, so Dmitri unconsciously used his best technique, the right high kick, to end it all. He would kill Shinji with it. He had killed his own sparring partners with that technique, he had knocked down the ogre that tried to rape Hikari with it, and he had killed and knocked down countless of his own comrades with it. He had collected many souls with it. Let his boss deal with the consequences later; the girl was the target anyhow, so to hell with everything. He'd just kill Shinji. One well-aimed kick to his temple, and it would all be over.

Unit 02's head reared back up, just in time for its left side to be met with Samael's right foot.

"VASILIIIIIY!"

The kick hit the Eva flush right above where Shinji's ear would be, where armor had never fully finished regenerating; the force behind it was enough to crack the vertebrae in its neck and most likely concuss or kill it. Unit 02's glowing red eyes went dead as its head bounced left and right, and blood came from its mouth when the skull ricocheted on each side. Its arms hung to the side, useless and broken as the mighty Evangelion hunched over, seemingly defeated in a last feat of endurance and technique from its opponent.

No steam came off Unit 02 this time, no movement, no signal from the entry plug at all. It was as though someone had simply turned off a light bulb. There was not even much blood spilling from its opened mouth, no breaths raggedly coming from its chest, no movement but for the gentle sway of its broken neck.

It was done.

It's done… it's d- The assassin's train of thought was disrupted when the last remnants of adrenaline washed off his bloodstream and the pain crashed into him at once, forcing Shinji's liver shot into his mind's eye. He lost focus, feeling nauseated, and upon taking a step back the object in his leg caused a jolt of pain. Dmitri grunted with every bit of exhaustion and frustration he felt. Can't… think… Tired… With blurry vision he realized the mission needed to be finalized; he was almost at victory's gate, able to save Asuka once and for all.

Samael withered in pain, bending over its stomach and guts, knees shaking violently and quickly losing its footing as it attempted to walk forward. The Angel sluggishly reached for the Prog Knife stuck in its leg and pulled it out with visible anguish. The moment the blade left its flesh, blood began to trickle down and form a growing puddle beside its foot. The wound had not healed, and in the entry plug, Dmitri watched in growing dread as the LCL near his left leg was tainted crimson. He clutched the weapon in his fist while his other hand moved to stifle the hemorrhage. I'm out of fuel. Even if I synch up, the result will be the same… out of ammo… out of fuel… The image of Unit 02 standing before him; head bowed but still on its feet, fell in and out of focus once again. Gotta… finish…

A gnarled, heavily damaged arm shakily rose, blade dancing in its numb fingers as the limb trembled with the strain of moving. Despite his best efforts, Dmitri was unable to clearly see where the EVA's nape was; the knife almost fell from his hand from lack of concentration. He desperately wanted a nap, food, and some vodka. Dmitri squinted his eyes and aimed. It's over. Прощай, Ikari Shinji.

Samael's hand came down.

Unit 02's limp body swayed to the right just before the Prog Knife stabbed the entry plug's cavity; its left shoulder rose to meet the blade, which was then trapped by the bulging, fizzing muscle mass under the armor. Soon after, he heard the elbow forcibly pop itself back into place when Unit 02's hand clasped around his wrist.

It was at that moment that Dmitri knew… he'd fucked up.

The EVA's right arm, which was supposed to be broken as well, rose up with unreadable speed as its hand latched onto Samael's neck. A terrible growl emanated from the still inactive Evangelion as the hand began to squeeze. It easily lifted the black behemoth from the ground, eyes and body glowing scarlet.

Thumb-Thumb. Thumb-Thumb. Thumb-Thumb.

Efforts to try and pull the knife free proved pointless, so Dmitri twisted and broke the blade in an attempt to stab Unit 02 in the head with the knife's broken end, but to no avail. The eviscerated left arm held the knife in place mere centimeters from its temple. Four eyes blazed before him, incensing a deeper crimson than ever before.

Inside the entry plug, Dmitri saw his right hand get squashed like a ripe pear and explode in a gory mass of flesh, skin and bone. He screamed, mind doubling over in pain and absolute frustration. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Get away… g-get away….

Unit 02 was not the one glaring at him, or strangling him with apparent ease and patience. It was Shinji. He was glaring right into his soul, into the rotten soul of this… beast. "N-No…" Dmitri croaked, with evident fear shaking his exhausted voice. "Get away… get away from me!" Claustrophobia had never before felt so real as when the maddened titan lifted him off the ground and pressed its gnarling maw into his.

He hit him. He hit Shinji with his left arm again and again in obvious desperation. "Get away." Punch. "Get away." Punch. "Get away!" Punch. His knuckles cracked and broke, yet Unit 02's face remained immobile. "Get away!" He tried to remove a vital nerve from the EVA's neck, yet before his outstretched fingers could embed themselves deep enough, his one available hand was crushed to pieces when Unit 02's punch met him halfway.

Dmitri kicked the EVA in the stomach, on the side where he knew Shinji's injuries to be. He drove knees into the mecha's body and tried with all his might to pry his destroyed right hand free. It felt like he was kicking a brick wall; he heard his own bones fissuring from the impact. "Get the fuck away from me!" Throwing a vicious, overly extended left hook, he once more exposed himself and Unit 02 moved its head out of the way with bestial grace, and its jaws opened and clamped down on Dmitri's arm with enough force to shatter his elbow from the bite alone. Panicked, and sure he was about to lose the arm completely without any chance of it being regenerated, Dmitri lowered his synch rate.

Not that lowering it made a difference. Unit 02 bit down harder, crushing the muscle and humerus underneath. With a hand firmly clasped on his neck and the other holding the dangling flesh that had once been his right hand, the mecha pushed him away with its foot and bit off his left arm with no more effort than biting a piece of toast. It spit out the mangled limb and threw it to the side like a falcon plucking its prey.

Panic stifled Dmitri for the very first time in fourteen years; he screamed in agony from the phantom pain of having his arm forcefully removed, desperately clutching his elbow. T-That's not Unit 02… he realized, and completely forgot his bet with X, his brother, the mission, and his Boss. His synch rate was at 62% and dropping.

It didn't matter. Nothing mattered, except the fact that he kept seeing Shinji and not the almighty scarlet Evangelion. This Shinji was sneering up at him, sneering while his eyes glowed red and his lips drew into a bestial, bloodied smile. Shinji was about to devour him, Shinji was enjoying his useless flailing and resisting. Shinji was killing him with apparent ease. And it terrified him.

"G-get away…" It was getting harder to breathe; Shinji was taking his sweet time in ending him, it seemed. "Get away… from me…"

Unit 02 grinned, a cavernous growl emanated from its chest, akin to the low humming of a ravenous wolf. It lifted Samael's depleted form effortlessly while slowly applying more pressure to the neck. A feeble kick impacted its left side, so the mecha overstretched the arm it was holding not unlike how the Third Angel had done with Unit 01, causing Samael to squirm in agony. When the second kick came, the predator lost interest in the arm and grabbed onto the enemy's thigh and flexed its muscles, easily crushing the knee in seconds. Satisfied with the immobility of Samael's entire right side, the EVA's left hand accompanied its right, choking the Angel with ease as it growled louder and louder.

A reddish halo appeared on top of Unit 02's head just seconds before it threw Samael on the ground and began to rip off anything its hands and fangs could reach. It punched, it clawed, it bit and ripped off pieces of flesh, it growled, and it was grinning. He was grinning. Dmitri focused whatever power he could muster, and manifested a thin shield around Samael's neck, in hopes of delaying the inevitable.

In the midst of his first ever defeat in a major battle, Dmitri realized something, something which suddenly caused him to forget how he considered himself a monster beyond salvation, and left him feeling very much… human. He did not fear death, never had and never would; death was as natural to him as drawing breath. I'm trembling; my whole body is shaking like a leaf… Meeting his end by the hands of Ikari Shinji, however, was another matter entirely. This boy… he pondered, wide-eyed and alarmed enough to let his bladder empty its contents as he was slammed on the rubble. This man… frightens me…

From afar, thousands of mercenaries, commanders, soldiers and battle-hardened warriors saw the Angel of Death himself quiver in fright. Despite the increasingly loud growls Unit 02 produced, they could hear it; clear as they heard the tide turn violent or the wind as it blew on their faces. Knees, legs, ankles, arm. Teeth, even the broken legs and arms which hung from the Angel's body. They were all shaking.

The skies began to turn a deep shade of red all around them as Unit 02 roared to the Heavens, and so, the shadow of Fourth Impact loomed.


Fight. Kill. Enemy.

He watched Samael's body contort in agony and smiled. He liked it, hurting this monster; it was so alike him, this Samael, this Artist. It felt right to pummel him down. Shinji grinned viciously, eyes gleaming red, and bit into the Angel's arm with unbidden joy. Something in his neck snapped back where it belonged, letting him feel his body once more. After the head kick something had unhinged inside; there was no filter anymore, no limiter. There was nothing except the carnage.

A gush of crimson froth exploded from his enemy's newly formed stump, bathing him in warm blood when he tore off the limb; he felt it on his skin, felt the blood of his enemy coat him, and enjoyed it. Kill you… Shinji's mind, heart, and soul whispered in unison. His rage was finally justified. He was finally allowed to… let loose, to let it all out; at last he was allowed to crack open the iron gate holding in his rage. He sneered wider, ignored the buzzing sound of many desperate voices screaming in his ear, and felt his chin get slightly stung by his prey. Stay still…

Breaking the leg was satisfying; holding onto the monster who had hurt his precious Asuka, his friends, his newly-found happiness, felt akin to reaching Nirvana, the highest joy to be experienced. Feeble, weak punches continued to rain down on the right side of his face, quickly swelling his eye. He timed the following punch, reared his head back, and bit into the fist, tearing off fingers with ease as his left hand joined the right and held his helpless prey by its neck. He would not devour it, no, the flesh of the offender would be scattered all over Tokyo 3 as a reminder to any who so dared to touch that which was his.

Kill you… now…

Unit 02 grabbed onto Samael's neck and threw the Angel as though it were a rag doll onto the rubble, applying more pressure and growling menacingly. Drool dribbled from its tightly closed mouth as the AT-Field expanded into the skies above, sending a kaleidoscope of red and black circular droplets above the clouds. The Earth rumbled and complained, the sea boiled, and hundreds of ships, tanks, vehicles and planes were thrown scattered when an explosion erupted from within the EVA itself.

He felt the enemy's pulse underneath his fingers, felt his fingers dig deep into the windpipe and slowly but surely crack the faint crimson shield which kept him from decapitating his enemy with the vice grip of his hands. Kill you… slowly… slowly… squeeze… just…

Squeeze.

"Squeeze…" he whispered, unaware that Misato was bellowing in his ear, unaware that he was harnessing and releasing the power to create a massive Anti AT-Field, unaware that he was about to destroy the world which he had sacrificed everything to protect. "Just…" The small shield cracked even more, just as the skies turned blood crimson and a black sphere manifested above Unit 02. "Squeeze…" All he needed to do was squeeze and the world would be quiet, his mind would finally know quiet. There would be no more screams, insults, memories, images, or sensations which would blind him. There would be nothing more than him, squeezing the life out of his enemy. All he needed to do was to continue, and then he'd kill him. He'd kill him just as he had killed the Thirteenth Angel; he would kill his enemy just as he had killed Asuka. Yes. Squeeze. Just squeeze.

"Just… squeeze… squeeze…" The tiny AT-Field broke at last, just as the Anti AT-Field began expanding and every person in NERV felt their hearts stop in dread. "Squeeze…" Shinji mumbled, unaware that the LCL around him was boiling, unaware that 2.0 had long since given up on reaching him, and had instead pulled whatever power he had not taken to healing the redhead above him and bringing her back to consciousness. He was clenching his jaw so hard that his own saliva flew through his gritted teeth with every breath he took. The end was near. Let the world see the monster, let the world see the Beast, let the world fear Ikari Shinji. Let it all end by his hand once more, let him squeeze away the pain, the remorse, and the trauma.

Just as the Anti AT-Field began to expand, a mere four seconds before a new Black Moon would be brought to life and Lilith's power went about collecting the life-energy of every breathing human on the planet, a familiar hand fell heavily on Shinji's shoulder. He had been unfeeling towards the endless electrocutions his father had been attempting with his plugsuit, and yet the sudden contact forced blue eyes which were tinted scarlet to blink.

"Shinji," Asuka's voice whispered calm, familiar, and unbelievably sweet next to his ear. "Stop."

The massacred, trembling remains of Samael were no longer in his hands. Instead when he next forced himself to blink Shinji saw Asuka lying under him, her plugsuit soaked in LCL, her eyes dead and distant, and both her arm and eye covered in bandages. He was killing her again; he would kill her as well if he continued, if his thirst for violence and bloodshed was not quenched at that very instant. Somehow, only hearing her voice, feeling the gentle, tentative pressure of her fingers on his body was enough to make the matter clear; he needed to halt the anger at once. His eyes closed, opened, and then Samael was still shaking in fear beneath him, closed them again and Asuka was staring at him as her right arm rose ever so slowly and caressed his face. The shock of almost relieving the entire experience stunned him so much that Unit 02 let go of the Angel's neck a mere four seconds before snapping its neck, hands jumping as though burned by cinder.

He looked at his own gnarled, blistered hands, eyes wide with disbelief and chest constricting in confusion, the remnants of endless fury, and a sudden heaviness he knew to be guilt. Wide, unblinking blue eyes which bordered on absolute insanity finally drew over to his right.

Asuka was crouching next to him. The right side of her face was caked in blood, yet he could see the clarity of her cerulean eyes as clearly as he recognized her expression of quiet determination and slight anguish. Had he… had he harmed her in his quest for vengeance?

"D-" he stammered. His jaw had been fractured so many times that hearing his own bones moving in a normal manner for the first time since the fight began was surprising. He had almost forgotten how to speak, and had been on the brink of abandoning his own sense of self until one of the defining elements of his existence had chosen to lay a hand on him. "D-Did I… hurt you…?"

The edges of Asuka's lips quirked upwards, to his everlasting shock. A wave of queer relief and strange satisfaction washed over him through the synch, the lightness of the emotions began to subdue the rumbling in his chest.

"Of course you didn't, Baka." Her voice cut through the endless ramble inside his skull, caressing his brain with a soft, even breeze of sanity as he recalled she had taken a nasty injury and he had cowardly put an end to her fight merely for wanting to keep her alive. He had performed a transgression far greater than hurting Asuka's body, masturbating to it or damaging her with biting words which would injure her soul. He had taken away her glory as a warrior; there was no greater insult.

His lower lip shook with shame when all she did was smile tiredly at him and on his stiff shoulder until the death-like grip he had on the control yokes ceased. "A-Asuka, I…" Thoroughly unable to look her in the eye any longer, he lowered his head in shame. "I'm so sorry for what I d-"

She instantly pinched him hard on the shoulder, with a great force between her fingers which seemed to easily cut through his nerves. "Can you be any more of a freaking idiot?" she whispered, sounding as tired as he was suddenly feeling. "I was so fucking worried…" Her head gently knocked against the side of Shinji's skull and her hand lost itself in his bloodied hair. "I was so worried you wouldn't come back whole… that you'd tear your soul to pieces, you stupid jerk…"

"I…" Burning tears made their way down Shinji's cheeks. "I have a promise to keep," he muttered somewhat resolutely, ignoring how the world was single-handedly hanging on the edge of a new extinction. "I can't die… unless you tell me to…"

He felt Asuka's arms envelop him in a hug he did not deserve, with passion and relief flooding through the synch; passion he was unworthy of, and relief which was misguided for a vermin like himself. "I'll find a way to make you pay…" she whispered with a sudden edge to her tone, one which made the Beast itself tremble slightly when her fingers tightened around his scalp.

"With meals." A pair of lips made contact with his marred, swollen right cheek. "Lots and lots and lots of delicious, healthy meals you'll be making me for years to come. And if you can't die until I say so then…" The clear, honest, harmless mischief Shinji felt inside his own chest almost broke his feeble hold on the bursting shame which now branded him. "Then you'll just have to live forever, Baka. Or, you know, long enough so we… uhm… you know… go together."

Shinji let loose a sob, raw and filled with anguish. He felt Asuka nod beside him, and allowed a bellow to abandon his body. He screamed to the Heavens, dissipating the myriad of darkening colors which had manifested above him, and burst out of the black moon as Unit 02 screamed alongside him, making the ground even beneath the shelters in Tokyo 3 quake under its effect. He screamed, roared and cried all at once, and with the power flowing through him his emotions skyrocketed and were transferred to every human alive, young and old, letting them glance for a single, perfect second, the eternal agony that meant being God for a moment.

Drained of most of the rage he refused to acknowledge, Shinji forced arms which had been damaged beyond belief to cooperate and cling to Asuka for dear life, feeling Unit 02 take back the power from him with a gentleness he did not expect. Outside the reduced space of their entry plug, the outside world held their collective breath as the red and black circles which had momentarily covered the entirety of the world began to dissipate, and the clear image of clouds and the blue sky above became visible once more.

Asuka took a hold of Shinji's head, and stared deep into his eyes. "You are mine," she stated, noticing with a sense of queer respite that Shinji nodded in that robotic way of his, that way which was his and his alone, the way he moved when he was enticed by her. "And I am yours." Again, he nodded. "Let it go, Shinji. I won't be mad… immediately… for that move you pulled back there. Let go, Baka."

For Asuka herself, even while unconscious, strapped to her chair and drugged out of her mind, the synch had had remained active throughout the entire fight, letting her feel the immense anguish, self-hatred and anger buried deep inside her idiot. In his maddened frenzy to destroy that which had dared to hurt, scare and almost kill her, Shinji's chest had gushed out the rotting bile which had festered since his childhood and simmered with an even fouler stench as he was drafted as cannon fodder for the war on the Angels. The extent of his guilt was almost unimaginable, the sourness of his pain unbearable, and his rage unyielding to anything… anything but her, it seemed.

Somehow, the fact that such shame was embedded in her stomach and chest and flowed like fresh blood through the synch reassured Asuka. Shinji was whole, his soul, his sense of self, despite having been offered without a moment's hesitation to the ungodly power of the Fruit of Life. He had been delivered back to her, after successfully protecting her and damaging their enemy beyond anything fists could do. The simple fact that he was ashamed for stealing her warrior's glory cemented it; the Baka was back.

She felt a rush surge through her veins like a breath of clean, fresh air when Shinji relinquished the power and held onto her with strength he should not possess after being so depleted and damaged. 2.0… she whispered upon noticing how despite the numerous holes in his suit, the blood coating his face, midsection, legs, hair, and arms, Shinji was breathing healthily beside her. Thank you… really. Are you okay?

Are you kidding, Asuka-chan? came a somewhat depleted response. I'm like a God, remember?! This is nothing! I am a part of the Great Sohryu Asuka Langley, and rebuilding that damn Baka is nothing! By the way, hit him over the head for being an idiot! He almost killed himself and blew the whole damn world to hell, Asuka-chan!

"Did you hear that, you freaking idiot?" Asuka whispered with a grin on her exhausted features, and proceeded to softly bop Shinji's head with her knuckles. "You almost messed up." She lifted his face, and kissed his lips. "That's my Shinji."

"He hurt you," Shinji blurted out stupidly, staring at Asuka with a wide, unbelieving expression. "He hurt you, so I had to kill him."

His shame was slowly consumed by the increasing shock that only grew when he felt no clear, justified hatred coming from the girl who had just kissed him, despite the terrible action he had committed for selfish reasons. A warrior of her caliber would not stand for it. "I…" he tried, forced to the words to come out of his mouth. "It was unworthy of me… to steal… your fight like… like I did."

"This was never just my fight, you dolt." Once more, the weight of Asuka's hand fell harmlessly on his reconstructed skull. "We won, look." She pointed at the screen, where a clear image of a barely conscious, gasping Samael shone with clarity. The dark behemoth would shrink away, fangs chattering in apparent horror every time Unit 02 moved in the slightest of ways. "You broke that asshole. That's enough for me; you don't need to kill him anymore, Shinji."

"Ah…" At a complete loss for words and with the realization that Asuka was not actively trying to maim him, Shinji gaped for a few seconds before reason crashed upon him. "But…" he frowned, fists clenching in renewed distaste when his eyes fell upon the fading red light of Samael's left eye. "But he… he cut your face… he tried… he threatened to…"

Unit 02 growled alongside him and raised a menacing fist to the sky, aiming to squash the Angel's head. "He hurt you!" The Evangelion roared alongside him, making the rubble quake and the ocean water boil all around them.

Even subdued, the behemoth's power was enough to have every member of SEELE's reinforcements shaking in their military boots and rethinking both their decisions and their lives up until that point. Just a few moments before, after all, they had had the pleasure of having a first row seat to what it looked like, to be in the epicenter of an Impact event.

Inside the Plug, Asuka forced herself not to laugh out loud; she had noticed how deeply the Angel trapped underneath her EVA had flinched as Shinji had raised his fist. It was a level of terror beyond anything she had been able to inflict, the type of dread which either forced one to sit absolutely still or, in their enemy's case, to shake visibly and even whimper with pathetic sobs loud enough for them to hear, the type of fear that ground Asuka's brain and body to a halt. That'll teach you to mess with us, you little freak, she mused with sadistic satisfaction.

"I know." Asuka nodded, patting Shinji's head before painfully making her way to her own seat. Her head was still hurting quite badly and her muscles were strained, stiff and drained of their energy. There was still a job to finish, nonetheless. Shinji's rage continued to pour out and permeate the LCL; Asuka realized he would not relent until his subconscious mind was certain neither she nor their friends and family were clear of danger.

"But you told me to not let you kill anyone, Baka," she reminded him with forced normalcy. "Not even this guy, regardless of how much of an asshole he is. Besides, look." She feinted another punch, which made Shinji notice how much their enemy flinched beneath them. "You broke him already. As far as victory goes, there really is nothing better than this." She opened a comm channel to Samael, satisfied to be welcomed by the hurried, uneven wheezing that came through. "Say something to him," she whispered to Shinji, winking in his direction. "Anything."

Shinji appeared weary and perplexed, but upon noticing her expectant stare nodded, and glared down at his prey. "So?" he demanded, barely noticing how his own synch rate skyrocketed once he turned his head and addressed their opponent. Unit 02's right hand shot up and grabbed the enemy's neck, while its left retracted and curled into a fist intent to squash the Angel's head and splatter its brains into the rubble. "Do you want some more?!"

With its remaining arm broken and not regenerating, a shattered knee and a marred, disfigured face, Samael could only attempt to crawl deeper into the crater the EVA had created whilst strangling it in a vain attempt to escape. "I…" the whimpering voice of Child Zero rang through the comm, broken down almost to the point of tears. "I a-accept… my d-"

"Huh?!" Asuka interrupted, drawing the fist further back. "Speak up, punk!"

"I ACCEPT MY DEFEAT!"

The scream came both through Samael and Dmitri's mouths simultaneously; Unit 02 was still steaming pure energy, after all, and Shinji… Shinji was still in that entry plug, glaring down at him, wishing for nothing but to devour him. Immobile but for his left arm and completely empty of strength, Dmitri was painfully aware he was at both Asuka and Shinji's mercy, and for the first time since becoming a twisted killing machine, he had felt true fear. He was defeated, broken to the extent that the male pilot's liver blow was still forcing shudders out of him.

Dmitri trembled once more; barely aware of the slow, cautious regeneration of his right knee suddenly pushing his kneecap back into place. "I accept…" he repeated, as loudly as the involuntary shaking of his body and the complete physical agony allowed. "I accept my defeat. If you wish to kill me…" He closed his eyes and stuck out his chin with as much pride as he could muster, body trembling beyond control. "You have… earned the right. F-Finish me." Please, let it be Asuka who kills me, please, please…

The red mecha drew its arm further back, and inside the entry plug Asuka grinned. "I bet you'd just love that, wouldn't you? For me to soil Shinji's hands and my own with your dirty blood. What a treat that would be." The EVA's right fist slammed itself with deafening brutality into Samael's temple, rendering the trembling Angel motionless. "I think I'm gonna just let Misato rip every answer she wants out of you, and watch." She broke its neck afterwards, stepping on the skull as she lifted the mighty Evangelion back to its feet, and at last, removed the armor protecting the entry plug and took it out.

Asuka held the life of a man very much like Shinji, very much like her, and very, very twisted beyond salvation or return in her hand. A gentle pressure of her fingers was all it would take to reduce the pilot to human paste; a simple movement would send her opponent straight down to hell. Asuka felt the boy's killing intent as vividly as the bite mark on her neck. Shinji would not be sated yet, not with enemy troops still being bombarded by whichever allies Ritsuko had managed to blackmail into helping her.

"How did it feel?" Asuka asked aloud, broadcasting to every functional communication system within fifty miles as she raised the entry plug to Unit 02's face. "The power of God, the Wrath of my Shinji; how did it feel?" Certain that every man, woman and child within eyesight of the battle had already considered their life decisions two or three times ever since she had gotten knocked down, Asuka smiled deviously. Unit 02 released the metallic cylinder and let it free-fall three hundred feet. It bounced and ricocheted on the rubble, moving with enough violence to assure Asuka that the pilot was most definitely unconscious.

Unit 02 stomped hard on the ground and sent a wave through the ocean, right into the decks of many warships now being surrounded by NERV's allies. Soon, the sound of helicopters, carriers and planes coming behind them tore both Asuka and Shinji's gazes from the invading army. They redirected two sets of blue eyes to a growing mass of soldiers, weaponry and aircraft which now stood with them on the field of battle.

Asuka felt more accomplished than she had while decimating a virtual Zeruel with ease; the elation fell very close to the realization that her mother had been in the core during the battle against the EVA Series. Her wide smirk shone as the Evangelion's foot planted itself on the rubble with more power than before.

"This is our house," she stated, fuming. "As of right now, you, all of you are trespassing. Leave this instant, or me and Shinji will step on you in a very literal fashion." The behemoth shrugged with perceptible disinterest. "Your choice."

Before the commanders and mercenary leaders had time to consider and politely accept her offer, Asuka mentioned. "Oh, by the way… I'm able to sense what my fellow pilot is feeling. You know, the one who just basically wrecked all of the shit out of your trump card, and he's…" Said fellow pilot was hunched down, with some of his hair obscuring his lightly damaged face, and eyes of steel burning into the enemy troops. "...Yup, he's building up murder in his mind."

Even to the foreign vessels meant to be freshly-arrived reinforcements against the diminished invading force, the threat felt quite real and strong; the crimson glow coming off Unit 02 was visible to a blind person, after all. The Evangelion's power was fearful indeed, but what truly intimidated even the Children's allies were both the sheer prowess of Asuka's fighting skills, and the brutality Shinji had displayed before, willing to tear his enemy apart with his own hands and teeth.

Perfectly aware that they stood no chance whatsoever, for even a solid minute, without Dmitri and his monstrosity to divert Unit 02's attention, SEELE's troops had no other choice but start laying down their arms as quickly as their limbs and radios allowed. Many tried to escape, with most being intercepted before they could even leave the carriers, and were apprehended with less than humane methods.

"Hey kids…" Once communications with the Geofront had been reestablished, Shinji and Asuka heard Misato's tired voice ring melodically in their ears. "First of all, congratulations. I'm… I mean… you… ugh to hell with it. I love you so much. Thank you both and… IkariShinji…" The idle use of his full name and the frigid undertone behind the Sub-Commander's voice forced the enraged Third Child to visibly deflate. "I'm gonna have a long, long, boring talk with you, and then I will ground you for putting Asuka, Rei and me through all of this."

Despite the seriousness of the situation outside, where the troops slowly advanced and SEELE's forces were disbanded with extreme prejudice, inside the entry plug and accompanied by Misato's worried, bloodied face glaring at them both from the Geofront, the young pair allowed themselves a small moment to breathe. "Ah… yeah… about that… How's Rei-chan?" Shinji replied with caution. "And…uhm… S-Sorry…?"

Asuka had to bite down the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing out loud at the way Misato's face twitched between concern, relief and clear annoyance. She understood, though; it was a welcoming sight to see Shinji apologize in his peculiar fashion instead of the maddened berserker he had been just minutes before. "Your sister's exhausted, thanks to your irresponsible, selfish, moronic actions from before, but she's alive, and safe," said Misato with as much bite to her words as the situation allowed, but she then succumbed to another fresh trail of tears. "J-Just… Just get back here in one piece, will you? Then I can scream at you properly… Asuka…" The redhead blinked upon noticing how the woman's poise dropped. Misato's head shook twice. "You really are something else. Great job, pilot."

A confident smirk lightened her slightly scratched features. "Copy that, Sub-Commander." The remains of Samael had not moved again; the entry plug was still a good three hundred feet from the still form of the Angel of Death, which continued to bleed out from the stump where its left arm had been. "The threat has been neutralized." She stated with authority beyond her years echoing through her voice. "Mission accomplished."


Moscow, Russia. Undisclosed Location. 3.27pm

He opened the briefcase with an expression of absolute distaste, face scrunched up in a revolted scowl which deepened with each number he punched into the old, portable launching device. After twisting both keys and unlocking the sequence, he pressed the button without hesitation.

If Immortality will be taken from me, Kalashnikov Yuri thought with blind determination. Then I will destroy Purgatory, Heaven and Earth. I will not go to that place. He did not once stop to consider that the last remaining offspring of his bloodline was on the same battlefield he had chosen to turn into flattened earth and salt. One cannot expect much from a failure such as you, bastard. The weapon activated in an instant; a horrid reminder to any who accessed it that they were about to erase the lives of millions in the blink of an eye.

Was it cowardice which fueled him? Had it been cowardice since the moment he was pushed out of the ocean, spat out of his own personal slice of Heaven by the black hand of Samael? Was it cowardice which had led him to so quickly offer Lorenz as a peace offering and a sacrifice to the monster they had chained down in Siberia? Indeed, realized the man who had caught a glimpse of the fate that awaited him once he died. I will not serve as meat for the child of Lilith, I will live on… forever if need be.

WARNING: LAUNCH SEQUENCE ACTIVATED.

He pushed the button a final time and condemned Tokyo 02 and 03, hundreds of thousands of soldiers from different nations, and his own troops to a fiery inferno of a death. Be grateful to me, that you will feel not a thing, Every second spent in the world was a year inside the stomach of Samael. Every aspect of the monster's gut was designed to torture his sense of self until it warped into a bestial version of his sins and sick desires, slowly being deprived of any human trace as he decayed for centuries, eons, in the most agonizing torture imaginable. The merciless, heartless men who were his soldiers were to be thankful for this mercy he offered. Be grateful to me, that I save from you this fate now. Be grateful, that I as I kill the Gods, I myself become one.

What was Unit 02, after all, if not a God? What was Samael? Beings with power to harness the flow of life within the planet were nothing short of Gods; and if he, Yuri, could not become one, then he would erase them all from existence. In ten minutes at best, he and the new synthesized form of Serum X would be all that remained of Evangelion technology. Akagi Ritsuko and her research, the remains of Unit 00, the many failed clones, Unit 02 and Unit X would all be vaporized.

I will become God.

There were clones aplenty in the dungeons of Siberia, half-rotten skeletons where the traces of Samael could still be found; the doorway to eternal life, bliss neverending, and Instrumentality. Completion, and power absolute, power strong enough to keep the jaws of the Angel of Death away; yes, it was fear and cowardice which drove him. He had forfeited his family, abandoned his children and buried them as they died, cheated on his wife several times. His sons were dead, so was his wife. There was nothing in the world that interested him, anymore. I will become God, then I will never fear, nor lose anything again.

He had all the time in the world; the knowledge, the data, the resources and the anonymity. Steinberg's wealth, the Prince's influence, Grosvenor's arsenals, Detzlev's hideouts and Ikari's research were all in his grasp due to the bastard's diligent work. An heir can be produced if required, the man resolutely thought with stoic cynicism, utterly convinced there was no possible way either Dmitri nor Samael could survive. On this day I lay down all pretensions as a mortal man, and humbly ascend to the realm of the Holy, and the Ethereal.

The door to his current office exploded just after the old computer notified him of a successful activation. His cold brown eyes rose to the splintered remains of what had once been the entrance, unimpressed. He had literal superhumans as bodyguards, brainwashed and conditioned to do his bidding blindly; the only living being who had survived Project X without becoming a mindless killing machine had been Dmitri, after all.

"Let us go, then." The briefcase was forced shut; Yuri picked up his glass of vodka and raised it towards the two dozen soldiers who faced him with stoic, dead eyes. "Time is of the essence, and there is yet much to do. We must signal the alibi's release; there will be chaos after a direct nuclear assault." He frowned instantly after noticing the men had not moved an inch after forcing their way inside. "Have you gone deaf as well as braindead, you dogs? We must leave! Come now, take me to the j-"

"You know, as a boss… you really suck," interrupted a voice in a broken down English; Yuri's body froze in an instant. It was impossible… the only person alive who knew of his whereabouts was Dmitri, and he had been monitoring the brat from afar ever since he had found him and pushed the locator deep into the bastard's neck. "It wasn't hard at all to turn all of your men against you."

A new figure appeared, a pony-tailed, bearded clown he remembered well; they had assassinated this man well before Third Impact. Yuri's teeth ground in anger while his hand reached for the pistol in his suit. "You little-"

Something hard hit him in the back of the head, cutting off the man's tirade before he could even switch languages to English or Japanese for that matter. Kaji Ryoji eyed the figure with barely-conveyed disgust and hatred, picking up the unconscious man as he tried to refrain from maiming SEELE 02 in some horrible form. Had he been a few seconds earlier, he could have stopped the man from activating the device; he could have saved Asuka, just one time in his wretched existence, and he had not seized the chance.

He had failed again.

Unharmed, Kaji reminded himself, surrounded by the aftereffects of what had spewed Dmitri out into the world. The soldiers were just as, if not more frightening than the boy himself, with their detached gaze and stoic expressions. Unharmed for what? Are you so arrogant to believe you'll survive, brat?

"When Adam woke up, the sheer power of the explosion melted down the pole," he whispered to himself, dropping the other man into the VTOL's carrier with more force than necessary. "Unit 02's more powerful than Adam, more powerful than anything we've ever seen." Seven minutes had already passed; the bomb was to hit Tokyo at any given time. "They'll make it. They will, I know they will."

Kaji's hands shook in utter helplessness while his body trembled with rage and his eyes burned. They had to survive, if the young pair was erased from existence, then suddenly being revived lacked any meaning at all. "They will make it."

Nine minutes had passed. "…I'm sorry, Asuka, Misato. I'm sorry, Shinji. I failed."


Chaos erupted in the Geofront the moment the invading troops signaled their official surrender; men and women roared with glee in unison, hugging one another and throwing papers, utensils, cups and anything else in their direct vicinity to the skies. Shigeru was actually standing on top of his chair, screaming and head-banging to the tune of a non-existent song, Makoto had gone into a maddened frenzy, running through the command center and embracing every person he came in contact to.

Maya held onto Ritsuko with enough strength to almost lift the Supreme Commander off the ground, while Ritsuko watched, astonished, the digitized image of Unit 02 standing tall at the shore of Tokyo's ruins, victorious. "Son of a bitch…" she whispered to herself, still unwilling to believe 48% had been more than enough. "Son of a bitch."

Ishikawa slapped Ikari Gendou so hard on the back that the man's glasses almost fell to the floor. "HAH!" he roared, clasping onto the man's shoulder with enough momentum to dip Ikari's body to the right. "Did you see that?!" he asked, face dangerously close to that of the Bastard King's. "I taught him that! I taught him that! That form was perfect! Ah, yes!" Once again, the man's back was slapped without reprieve, only this time Ikari did glare at Ishikawa and halted the man's hand in mid-air. "Ah, well you can't deny that was perfect form!" Ishikawa said after a few seconds, shocked and more than a bit intimidated by the look on the man's eyes.

"Yes," Gendou replied while he adjusted his glasses and leveled Ishikawa with a deadly stare. "Quite… remarkable."

Holy shit, that is just terrifying, the soldier turned to his radio and began answering the cheers of his soldiers with roars of victory of his own in a vain attempt to brush off the feeling of having been paralyzed with a stare. At least now I know where Shinji gets it from, sheesh.

"Yeah, that's right! That's fucking right!"

And of course, once she was certain her young charges were effectively out of harm's way, victorious and in one piece, Misato had jumped on top of the mainframe and appeared to be in an intimate, albeit quite public conversation with God. "That's what you get! You can suck on that! Go on, suck it! You can't handle us! You can't, go on and keep trying to stop us! What?! What?! That's right, nothing! Fuck you, that's what! YES! Those are my kids out there, damn it, my kids! Feel that shit, and suck it, damn you!"

The merriment was almost palpable, complete... and horribly short lived, for in the moment Misato climbed down and began to tackle Makoto to the ground, a red light abruptly descended on Command, followed by a deafening alarm.

ALARM. ALARM. ALARM. ALARM. DANGER: ATTACK IMMINENT.

A similar alarm rang all over Tokyo 02, 03, Nagano and the adjoining cities, drowning the festive echo of celebration from millions all over under its ominous melody. It was a sound they knew well; the imminent threat of a mayor bombardment.

Unsurprisingly, it was Ikari Gendou who pushed past the paralyzed clerks and tech crew and roared with enough base in his voice to drown out the alarm. "Status report, at once! Double-check the integrity of the shelters, initiate firewall protocol three and emergency shutdown! Seal all entry points!"

"What the hell is coming our way now?!" Ritsuko demanded after a second, having been able to disentangle Maya from her. "Don't tell me… did the bastards actually-"

"A weapon has been detected!" Shigeru jumped back down to his station in a fluid motion and started typing with desperation, shouting at the tops of his lungs as the data flowed into the MAGI. "It was being carried by one of SEELE's larger planes! The propelling system is a modern GPS, it's being hacked from afar! Someone's hacking the weapon's location system!"

"What the hell kind of weapon is it?!" Misato demanded with rage evident in her tone. "You bastard!" She screamed to the ceiling. "You just couldn't leave us alone, could you?! Status on the weapon, now!"

The moment the information glowed to life on Shigeru's screen, the man's maddened typing ceased at once, eyes wide as saucers and skin pale with fear. "Oh… G-God…" he cackled then, a maddened sound stuck between a sob and laughter. "You're kidding, right? Ha… ha ha…" He slapped himself in the face. "This is… just not fair…"

"It is a thermonuclear weapon," Ikari summarized after muting the alarm in the Geofront. More dreadful that the man's overall cold voice or the information he was facilitating was the sudden countdown that manifested on their screens. "About forty megatons, if the data we are receiving is correct. The tracking system has been hacked and compromised. The weapon will detonate about fifteen miles from our shores. The resulting tsunami alone will level at least two cities, and the fusion heat will melt down the entrances of our shelters." This was not part of the scenario, he fumed internally; for once in a lifetime or two he felt completely and utterly powerless. "There is no foreseeable escape."

"Heh… ha ha…" Shigeru continued to quickly descent to insanity. "Ha ha…. I mean it's funny, right? We die in a huge blast, and then… and then we die again in a huge blast! Ha ha… the bomb's destructive range will hit us dead on; the structural integrity of the Geofront will collapse on itself. If we don't die burning to death or getting turned to salt… we'll die trapped under the rock, or drown… he he… ha ha ha ha…"

Ritsuko's fists were so tight she swore her own palms were bleeding due to the pressure. "The old toads went along with it!" she exclaimed and slowly walked towards her oldest friend. "This weapon's potency competes with the Tzar Bomb, there's no way the city survives this. There's no way anybody survives this." Her hand found its way to Misato's. "I'm sorry."

Then, to the entire crew's shock, Ritsuko opened up a communication channel with Unit 02 and their allies. "Second and Third Children," she shouted with as much weight behind each word as possible. "This is a direct order from your Commander. You are to go to the exit point of Evacuation Route E-13 and take as many refugees as possible. Among them will be Ikari Rei, the First Child. Then, you are to reposition on Nagano's border and provide support for the shockwave as the blast hits. From that distance you should survive the explosion without much trouble if my calculations are correct."

Her hardened gaze turned to each and every one of those who surrounded her. "It has truly been an honor to serve alongside you all; now, we will spend whatever time we have left ensuring the survival of as many as possible. Get to work!"

There was no response from Unit 02.

"You heard the boss, kids." Misato's mighty shoulders slackened in defeat as the clock continued its accelerated descent to zero. "I just want to say… I love you both so much… and nobody will ever think badly of you." The allied troops had begun opening a pathway for the Evangelion to pass the moment Ritsuko had issued her command. "I love you so much… there's so much I still wanted to do… I wanted to see you grow up just a little more… but it's okay… it's eno-"

"Fuck you," Asuka's harsh whisper through the comm channel was like a sledgehammer to the heads of everyone in Command. "Fuck you, the both of you. You, Ritsuko, and you, drunk, can go on and eat a bag of dicks if you think we're just gonna high-tail it out of here and leave you to fry."

"Asuka..." Misato's voice cracked once more. God, perhaps it was strangely fitting that she should cry so much on her last day alive. "It's okay, honey. Just go, take Shin-chan away and live on, you did your part, you did your best, you won. Now do as you've been ordered, or so help me God I-"

"I'm sorry." This time it was Shinji who spoke, his low voice echoing through the suddenly quiet area. "But we won't do as you say. There's still one thing we can do."

Even Ikari Gendou's eyes widened in shock and dread when the next words came out of Asuka's mouth, resolute and deadly; the entirety of Command and their allies stood, flabbergasted, and at the mercy of an imposing doom.

"We're gonna stop that stupid missile."


"I really hate my job today," Asuka remarked while trying to get rid of the phantom pain in her left arm. How many times had Shinji shredded that limb, exactly? "I can't get one freaking break. This is such bullshit."

"Yeah, tell me about it." Shinji was barely hanging on by a thread; he was depleted of most of his energy, his nerves felt on edge and he swore the very bones inside his body were on fire. And now, as if surviving a hellish battle had not been enough, he was about to die, reduced to a pile of salt in the best case scenario. Damn it… I wanted more time! Damn it! Shit! He was quite aware that at their current energy level they could probably stop the heat and blast about to turn their home into nothingness, but they themselves had close to no chances of surviving. "If the radiation doesn't kill us, the heat will. But we'll be able to hold off most of the damage."

He felt Asuka's eyes on the back of his head. He felt the very same frustration which bubbled in his chest and threatened to force tears out his eyes ooze from her as well. "I could imagine of at least two or three worse ways to die," said Asuka with a rather defeated tone. "At least this time, we'll be together, huh, Baka?"

Unit 02 crouched down, turning to gain momentum as it sprang thunderously and crashed into the shores of Tokyo 03. "Yeah," Shinji agreed with a sad smile, sharing a pained look with the redhead who sat above. "We'll be together, until the very end."

"Listen to me right now, you pair of arrogant, stupid brats." Misato was using that no-bullshit tone of hers, the one that made generals and seasoned soldiers shake in their boots. "You will do as I say or I will personally get up there and drive that fucking tin can away from here, are you listening to m-"

Asuka cut off communications with a renewed sense of regret, and tried to imprint the image of Misato's flushed, angry face deep into her memory. The woman truly meant so much to her; a rival, a sister, a friend, a mother, a strange and often irresponsible protector, yet an unyielding one nonetheless.

"I guess your bastard father finally had a use, after all." There were roughly two minutes left before the bomb exploded. Roughly two minutes to convey her emotions into words and have a final sweet moment with her Baka. "Let it be known that of the countless, horrific events that have transpired in my wake, my only regret is… that I'm dying…" Asuka sighed once more after taking a firm hold of the control yokes. "I wish I had a little more time…"

Shinji refused to give into the helplessness, continuously ignored the Beast's demands that he do something even stupider in comparison to what he has already done in a vain attempt to save Asuka. "I wish we had more time, too…" he agreed and attempted to smile. "But it's enough." Closing his eyes, Shinji focused all his energy in remembering the good, unforgettable moments he had experienced ever since arriving in Tokyo 02, many of which were directly related to Asuka. "It's more than enough."

Asuka was about to agree, about to disengage her safety harness and sit next to Shinji in their final moments when three hundred tons of marred flesh and bone fell a few hundred feet away from them. "Ugh, you have got to be kidding me!" she exclaimed with dispassion, rolling her eyes. "Do you want me to kill you that much, you fucking punk? Can you not let me have this final moment with my Idiot alone!?"

Unit 02's fist rose to crush Samael's frail form with its AT-Field. The black behemoth was barely recognizable, with its midsection completely sunken in, its face destroyed and a missing arm. Still, the thing had managed to get back on its feet and reinsert the dented, damaged entry plug back into its nape. "Wait, wait!" the thing's pilot screamed with obvious difficulty and terrified desperation. "Just wait a second! I'm done, okay? I'm defeated! I'm not here to fight you anymore!"

"Yeah, like I'll believe anything from you." The Evangelion's eyes began to glow. "Dasvy-fuck you, you bastard. I didn't want to do this, but I'll guess you'll die anyway the moment that bomb hits, so I'll just kill you myself." Asuka would have reduced the uneven mass of metal and meat to ashes as well, had Shinji not waved at her to stop. "What, Baka, do you want to do it?"

"Asuka," Shinji said with grim seriousness; the EVA's eyes stopped glistening gold as it dropped its guard, while their former opponent kept his head bowed and one available hand open and outstretched in a clear message of non-aggression. "He doesn't lie."

"Listen, just listen for tw…two seconds, okay?!" Dimitri coughed several times, blood exploding from the EVA-like creature's mouth. It stumbled on its feet and almost fell, with only the left eye active and emitting an almost dead scarlet. "X here can absorb the radiation while you hold off the blast. That way we will minimize civilian causalities to zero. With both Units, it can be done. We can stop that bomb from leveling the city."

"And why the hell would you of all people care about civilian casualties?" Asuka retorted. "You had no trouble killing your own men a few minutes ago!"

"There's no time for this!" Dmitri urged with an almost pleading tone. "There is literally no fucking time for this, Sohryu! Listen! I swore to Shinji that if he defeated me, then nobody else would die, all right?!" With obvious difficulty, the dark Angel rose back to its feet and smacked its hand on its chest. "I'm a man of my word!"

"Fuck it," Asuka grumbled, turning to stare at the timer counting down. "Do you trust this piece of shit to do what he's saying, Baka?" She could feel Shinji's response before he voiced it out, and for the life of her she did not understand how he could so easily trust a person he had, seconds before, been willing to literally eat alive.

Shinji nodded while focusing on his synch rate; the higher it went, the more pressure he could take off Asuka's nervous system and redirect into his own. "He will keep his word. That's who he is."

Not a second afterwards, the behemoth painfully crouched back on the ground and propelled with an almighty jump which led it about thirty miles away from them; the Angel's feet stomped down a half-charred destroyer, where it took a defensive position and raised its arm, extending what Asuka believed to be Samael's own version of an Anti AT-Field.

"Okay, then, one minute." Asuka wanted to cry, so desperately she wanted to break down and cry, and laugh, and rage, and do the many things existence had denied her since childhood. In the imposing doom of her death, however, she found some solace in having Shinji be with her this time around. "Any last wishes or requests, Shinji?"

"Just the one," said Shinji, once again addressing her with that sad, knowledgeable smile of his. "When the time comes, can I just kiss you one last time?"

Stupidly romantic to the end, aye? She gave her own version of Shinji's smile in return. "Of course you get to kiss me, you idiot. Shit, if we had just a little more time… I'd let you do whatever you wanted with me…" It was enough, it was more than enough. It's okay this time. Her train of thought tried not to derail from the very few good memories she had. It's okay, you don't have to fight anymore, Asuka. You can just let go, and it'll be okay. She had been granted a chance to share Shinji's warmth in bed, his heart, his soul. She had been granted a chance to see Misato again and learn to love the woman, she had even been gifted with the only female friend of her age, and a rival. It's been more than I deserve, and it made me happy. "Alright."

Her hands were right on the button of her safety harness when the entirety of the entry plug went dark, and she felt her very soul be pulled back into the EVA's core without warning. Unlike before, they were not the dead, pointy and penetratingly frigid claws of before, which had curled around the back of her head and attempted to suck out her soul. The pull was placid, filled with care and devotion and above all warm; warm like her mother's embrace, like the lazy mornings without training where she would spend hours lying on Shinji's chest.

When she next opened her eyes, Asuka was shocked to find herself back in the Black Forest, standing in the clearing where she had first met the entity within Unit 02, fought against it, and ended up acknowledging and accepting it, partly due to Shinji's insistence on the matter. The boy in question was standing next to her; he was wearing his plugsuit as well, destroyed and bloodied as it was.

"What the..." Asuka started, and noticed how 2.0 was calmly sitting on the rock, overlooking the forest with a far-off expression on her face. "What the hell is going on here? Baka, what did you do this time?!"

"I… I'm just as freaked out as you." Shinji turned terrified cobalt eyes in Asuka's direction, letting her know he was being completely honest. "I didn't… are we…" He gulped, tone quickly turning into a desperate one. "Are we dead?"

"No, you're not dead, stupid," the entity replied with boredom. "You would be if it weren't for me, you know. I just… I wanted to see you guys."

"2.0, what's going on? We have a nuke to stop, you know! There's no time for this!" Asuka felt drained of her energy, she discovered; drained and absolutely not synchronized with Shinji anymore. "Are you…" She dreaded the worse, dreaded that as an ultimate measure, her Evangelion would choose for them and. "Are you trying to absorb us?"

Even without the synch it was easy to notice Shinji's shock; his entire body stiffened visibly as his head whipped in Unit 02's direction. The result of her mother's experimentation and a piece of her own soul shrugged, bringing up its legs to embrace itself tight. "Of course not, Asuka-chan," she answered with another sad sigh. "It's like I said, I just wanted to see you again."

"Why?" Asuka demanded while trying to reach into the pit of power that was the core; she was blocked, she could barely feel the EVA's body around her at all, anymore. "Why are you doing this right now?"

"For someone so brilliant, you sure do catch on slowly, my dearest Asuka."

Manifesting from a shadow under the rock formation, Shinji's clone revealed itself, crimson eyes shining bright. "You two need more time. You need to survive, so…"

"So you will," the female Evangelion finished. It untangled itself, stretched, and as abruptly as it had come, the entity's humorless demeanor disappeared, and she smiled at the young pair once she had jumped off the rock and landed next to the Beast. "Mother designed me to protect you, and I will. I can do this by myself. There's no need for you two to come along. So stay, and have some time for each other."

Realization dawned upon both teens like a car running into a street light; Unit 02 was planning on holding off the explosion on its own. A demigod capable of basically re-starting the world was just shy of a few moments away from sacrificing itself, willingly, to ensure they survived.

"No," Asuka answered flatly, shaking her head. "No, I am not letting you go and die there on your own. You're tired, depleted, I can feel it! Without us, you won't survive!"

The Beast smirked, giving Asuka a glimpse of its elongated fangs."With or without you, the Core is too drained to regenerate. This time, not even an ocean filled with LCL or a Fourth Impact will be enough… There's no coming back from this."

The girl nodded emphatically, and took a hold of the Beast's hand, clasping it firmly around her own and smiling even wider at Asuka and Shinji. "This way, nobody will bother you again about EVA, Asuka-chan, because there will be no more EVA. This is what Mama would've wanted. Please understand…"

"No!" Just as the entity had done before, Asuka stomped her foot on the ground and created a tremor that almost shook even Shinji off his feet. "No, screw that! Right, Shinji!?" She turned and received a curt nod from him. "Right! No! We're a team, we're doing this together, or not at all, damn it!"

"You don't get it." Unit 02's gaze turned melancholic, its smile reducing its fervor and length as it morphed into one. "No matter how far away, no matter where, or how, we will always be, Asuka-chan." Its free hand moved over to the chest; when the palm opened; Asuka felt the warmth of that hand on her own skin. "You gave me this, you made me into what I am now, who I am, because you shared a piece of your soul with me. That piece is what I am now, and I am The Great Sohryu Asuka Langley. I can do the impossible!"

"This isn't fair," Shinji said through gritted teeth, head bowed in anger. "None of it is fair… you shouldn't have to do this…! We can't let you do this!" As if to copy their alter-egos, Shinji took hold of Asuka's hand and stepped towards the contrasting, crimson-eyed couple. "We're all in this together!"

"Ah, put a sock in it, coward." Scoffing in nonchalance, the Beast glared down at him. "You have another mission, and you're fucking well aware that it transcends this stupid nuclear missile. You can't fulfill that mission if you're dead."

Even while trying to hold her hand with fervor, it was clear to Asuka that the boy beside her was dead on his feet; he could hardly move and had wobbled while taking a single step, and she was not fairing much better. Her vision constantly swam in and out of focus, her knees were quaky with agony and exhaustion, her mouth was dry and her head felt like it'd split in two at any given moment. "Fuck your mission," she muttered. "We're doing this, all of us, whether you like it or n-

"We're already doing it, all of us." As the figure spoke, Asuka noticed the slight tremor in their surroundings, the way the air was getting hotter, and the particular sound of glass breaking. "Don't you see, Asuka-chan? Baka-Shinji shared a part of him with me, too!" Unit 02 gestured towards the boy's ragged clone, the imposing, dark figure which was kept chained in Shinji's chest. "It doesn't have to be a good part, or a big part! But it's his, it's…"

"It's Shinji's love and hate towards his own mother," the Beast finished for her, glancing around and noticing how the sky above them was sporting a new crack. "It's the power that went through him during Third Impact, and the confusion regarding the enigma that is Ikari Yui. The very meaning of what the Third Child is; Shinji gave all that up to beat that Russian prick." A large cracking sound washed over them just as the ground beneath them quaked. "Now go, the both of you. I'll be near." Crimson eyes glowed. "I'm always near."

"Bye-Bye, Asuka-chan!" Her doppelganger waved amiably as though it was not about to be reduced to stone and salt by the force of a thermonuclear device. "Take care of Baka-Shinji, and he'll take care of you! I love you!"

Asuka wanted to protest until her lungs gave out and her throat constricted. She wanted to rage at the world for not letting her shine, or even enjoy her moment of victory together with her Evangelion, her brave Unit 02. She wanted to hit that other Shinji in the face because it was the monster who had tortured her Baka for months on end. She wanted to make herself be heard and above all else... she wanted to cling onto the Second Child for just a little bit more. She understood, however, that the Asuka standing before her was every bit as determined, stubborn and unbending as she was.

Due to that newfound empathy and understanding of her own self, Asuka nodded with blurry eyes, and focused all her strength in holding onto Shinji's hand. "I love you too, Asuka. That's who you are, by the way. Never forget it." Although a trail of hot tears flowed down her face, Asuka's expression was stoic and indomitable when she conveyed her profound respect towards the mighty Evangelion. "You are The Great Sohryu Asuka Langley."

"I know!" replied the EVA, and narrowed her eyes in Shinji's direction. "I'll leave her in your hands, Baka-Shinji. Don't fail me, or I swear to Me that I'll haunt your ass for eternity!"

"You have my word," Shinji promised, nodding with as much presence and poise as Asuka had ever seen. "I will never forget you, Asuka."

"You better not! Say Bye-Bye, Bad Baka-Shinji! Bye-Bye!"

"Always near." The Beast engulfed 2.0 in a one-armed embrace, shooing them both away from the rapidly collapsing scenery. "Remember that, Shinji."

The next thing Shinji and Asuka noticed was the sudden whipping motion inside the entry plug and the fact that they were standing before a literal fusion, explosion and the only thing keeping them from being vaporized was Unit 02's AT-Field. On the other side of the mass of blinding white light, the shadow of Samael stood with one arm outstretched, absorbing the better part of the bomb's radiation into its body. Before either of them could fully process what was transpiring, they felt a female body engulf them both simultaneously in a fierce hug, and not a second afterwards their connection with the EVA were violently severed.

The ejection sequence was activated without Asuka's consent; she had barely the wits about her to hold onto the seat for dear life and scream. "Shinji! Brace for impact and hold on!"

While Misato had actively tried to raise the LCL pressure, electrocute them and hack the entry plug to force an emergency ejection and came off unsuccessful, Unit 02 has taken a position knee-deep in the ocean and manifested its AT-Field. Hundreds of thousands of people in Tokyo's vicinity, and millions around the world, held their collective breath as their jaws hung open in disbelief at the sight before them; not only had the Evangelion pilots effectively held off several barrages of N2 mines, they were now protecting the city, and the entire country, from massive, unadulterated destruction.

Samael had somehow snaked its own strange, reddish liquid Anti AT-Field around the bomb as it fell and exploded, managing to constrict the reaction to a massive fireball about four times the size of the big destroyer over which it stood. The heat wave, nonetheless, and the ensuing fusion heat had not only long since evaporated the surrounding ocean water, but was also easily melting down the ship's surface and burning Unit 02's hands. The Evangelion roared, eyes shining with a deep jade hue, ignoring the way it was steaming as the high temperature filtered through the shield of orange light and slowly dehydrated its body.

The armor on the back became exposed, and the entry plug was ejected with enough force to fly about fifteen miles away. The EVA had the stubbornness of one certain Second Child, however, so in spite of the increasing heat which filtered at once, Unit 02 turned around and pushed the entry plug even further away with a compressed blast of wind pressure. The impact against the ground would be greater perhaps, but the LCL and the plug's emergency landing system would ensure the survival of the precious cargo within.

There was not much time left; the heat alone was a death warrant with the limited power available in its core. The AT-Field was smaller and thinner than the one Shinji had managed to produce, but it would not relent nor break, even if it meant standing to the final second amidst a fiery inferno and turning to ash. Inside the core, the figure with Asuka's image smiled placidly while she ignored how the forest and the skies around her broke apart, and concentrated on the memories; the feeling of Shinji's arms around her shoulders, the distant memory of her mother's embrace and scent.

The mighty titan roared again as it strengthened the protection around the city; it would take several minutes until Samael was able to do little else than contain the explosion, minutes in which the fluids in Unit 02's body dried out at a cellular level. For years to come the image would be a reminder; a monument of what humanity had been toying with, the extent of power that a fully awakened Evangelion could comprise. The scarlet Evangelion, the Red Queen as it would be dubbed in the coming time, seemed to take a deep breath as it extended its hands even more, immortalized in its pose.

"I…" it growled just as the light turned blinding even for cameras miles away.

"I am… I AM ASUKAAAAAAAAA!"

The declaration reverberated through the city, slammed against the deep catacombs of NERV, and shook the very floor Akagi Ritsuko stood on. It reached the Heavens above, Unit 01 which floated near Saturn's orbit, and Dmitri himself on the other side of the battlefield. The heat melted away the armor ever so slowly, turned metal into stone, dried bone into ash, broke down flesh into salt, yet not for a single moment did the AT-Field falter, not until the explosion began to die out. As the dust cleared, the honorable visage of the mighty Evangelion with its arms outstretched came into view, devoid of any coloration whatsoever. The wind began to blow, the water crashed back; Unit 02's body started to fade away into the air, turning into a fine, silvery dust. And so the valiant Evangelion relinquished its own existence for a higher purpose, and for the promise of hope.

The hope of a better world, a world filled with snow.


Dmitri vaguely felt the LCL around him begin to boil. His entire body was on the verge of total collapse, he could barely even hold a synch rate, and no matter how much energy Samael consumed, the radiation would end up corroding the Angel's very molecules. He was down to his last bit of energy, at least seven spots on his body were still actively bleeding, and the only reason he had not been cooked in his own skin yet was the fact that the metal alloys around X's entry plug truly did come from the Soviet era. But even a metal structure built specifically for such a scenario would melt all the same; the bomb was just too ridiculously powerful.

"Keh…" Dmitri wheezed drunkenly, and licked dried, parched lips. He did not blame Samael for not healing what was now constant bleeding on his face, or for not rearranging his rib cage and internal organs one final time. The damage and the scars came with the battle; they were honorable, albeit painful, trophies to be appreciated and treasured. "I never thought… in a million years… that this was the way I die." Protecting a city, giving his life away in a final act of selfless redemption? Nah, fuck all that. I gave it... everything I had. I'm satisfied. This satisfaction is probably... what joy feels like. Let me burn in it!

Enough, a voice he knew well whispered in his ear, or directly into his soul. His one useful eye turned to the right, where he felt the presence coil and manifest. What the fuck do you mean, enough, X? Fuck this, right? You're immortal, ethereal or whatever! Just snack on my soul as well, and remember our deal! Protect my brother! Nothing else matters to me! He smirked through bloodied teeth and spat. "A great battle," he echoed, vision blurry. "A great battle deserves a fantastic finale, comrade. I delivered, now it's your turn!"

There is much you still will do for me. Samael clarified, severing the entry plug's connection in a heartbeat. Without the core's power and the adrenaline to sustain him, the mere shock of having the synch broken in such a way left Dmitri almost coughing up his liver. There are still two whom I wish to devour. You will carry out this penance, child. You still wish for it? The power? Well, then. A bottle too old to even belong to this century manifested through a compartment on Dmitri's left side. Inside the strange, ancient looking container a thick red liquid glowed in the relative darkness of blood-tainted LCL. Deliver these meals to me. We will meet again, comrade. Now, hunt them; hunt them down and we will feast on this great victory.

Even as the entry plug ejected and he began to lose consciousness in midair, Dmitri managed one last, strained laugh as he felt a broken rib puncture his lung. With the damage he had sustained, he was closer to death than life at that point. "Man," he yelled as hard as he could, coughing wetly seconds afterwards. "Asuka, Shinji, you two really are the greatest! Ha ha… Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"

The damaged cylinder with a red X marked on the outside crashed unceremoniously into the ocean just as Samael finished absorbing the massive blast. Devouring life was one thing; devouring so much pure energy, on the other hand, was too much for even the Angel of Death himself to take; its body started to decay and melt the moment it was finished, turning into a disgusting dark brown sludge that slowly cascaded down the last remaining piece of the ship's deck.

Flesh melted clean off the bone, bone turned to ash, and in the midst of the explosion's aftershock, Samael's body disappeared.


The compressed wind pressure Unit 02 had sent their way forced the entry plug's emergency landing system to go haywire and deploy the auxiliary turbines in a vain effort to slow down their rapid descent. Gravity was not their friend, nor was it infrastructure apparently, for Asuka felt, and would feel for the better part of the following two days, as the entry plug impacted against what she suspected to be a one-story building, considering their speed, trajectory, and the sheer violence of their landing.

The parachutes had deployed, slowing them down enough to ensure the entry plug didn't shatter into pieces once it hit the ground, and yet the fall was still thunderous enough to level the entire building they had landed on.

"Oww…" Asuka tried three times to open her eyes, and three times the pain on the right side of her head turned more unbearable than the bomb's fluorescent light. "I think my retinas are fried… S-Scan… scan for radiation nearby…"

There was an ominous hiss around the entry plug as it decompressed; the vents opened and released the LCL at high pressure, letting some welcoming fresh air filter through. If the vents had opened, then it meant the Russian creep had been true to his word and absorbed the radiation. Asuka's tired, uncooperative arms went about disengaging the safety harness with great difficulty, and on the fourth attempt her eyes focused at last. It was dark, the entry plug's surface was heavily dented, but as far as her tired eyes could see there was no clear indication of blood. Shinji's fight with Samael had left almost the entire area around him tainted crimson, so to reassure herself the idiot had not reopened a wound, Asuka forced her body to crawl over to his seat.

"Hey… hey, Baka," she mumbled, hand reaching out with her hand to shake his shoulder. "You alive over there?"

"Barely," Shinji murmured back as he tried and failed to untangle himself from his station. "God… my head feels like a bomb just went off in it…"

"Yeah. Tell me about it…" Asuka aided him to the best of her ability, and together the pair managed to stumble to their feet after tripping over twice. There would be time to mourn, she told herself. There would be time to honor Unit 02 now that they were alive. There would be time for everything now. "Can you move?"

"I don't think so." Now that every connection with the Evangelion had been severed, Asuka saw how depleted and damaged Shinji was. His right eye was swollen shut, his left cheek was bruised, and he was holding onto his midsection as though it burned. "I'm pretty… tired… ugh…"

To the exhausted girl's horror, Shinji's eyes rolled back to the back of his head and his body became slack in her arms. "Shinji? Shinji?! Hey, come on, don't do this…" She shook him a few times and noticed he was still breathing. I need to put him on a flat surface and administer first aid. barely able to hold her own weight under the exhausted and pained legs, Asuka roared in frustration and pushed them both to a standing position. "No! Screw this! We did it, and you are not dying on me! Come on!"

Asuka dragged them both to the hatch, where she proceeded to kick the release button repeatedly to activate the emergency opening mechanism. "Come on!" With Shinji entering what appeared to be a coma, she could not afford to drop him on the ground and pull the stupid lever open. "Come on, you fucking stupid door, come on!"

She braced for a final kick, but just before the ball of her foot reached the metal and possibly fractured, the hatch was forced open from the outside and Asuka ended up almost kicking Misato in the stomach as the woman launched herself at them both.

Misato grabbed onto Asuka as ragged sobs shook her body. "You pair of stupid, irresponsible brats!" she wailed, finally noticing how Shinji was not responding at all. "Are you okay?! Asuka, what's wrong with him?!"

"Don't know," Asuka tiredly replied. "He just… fell unconscious… help him…" Her hand faintly held onto the woman's jacket. "Help him… quick…"

She was grateful at that moment not only for Misato's presence, but also for her imposing ability of command; the moment she uttered the word 'help', Misato took a hold of them both and dragged them out of the entry plug, screaming at the top of her lungs. "Okay, everybody, make way! Make way! Let the medical team come through! Hurry up!"

The remainder of her rescue and retrieval from the entry plug was wrapped in a haze of concern and strange relief; Shinji was breathing, there had been no worrisome bleeding from any part of his body, and his eyes had seemed unfocused but without any clear evidence of brain damage. Asuka held onto Misato's jacket like a lifeline, wondering just how much time had transpired between Unit 02 saying her goodbyes and them crashing into the building, and how in the name of everything holy the woman had managed to literally be the first person at the crash site.

Her eyes widened even in their depleted state, however, as Shinji was being evaluated by the medical team. There was an ocean, a literal ocean of people surrounding her; thousands on the streets, hundreds more in the buildings, and they just kept coming and coming, piling up like fire ants on a forest floor. For a wild moment she was scared, extremely aware that she was tired beyond the ability to defend herself from a toddler at that point, and that she was not a very well-liked person in their society.

Misato seemed to think differently, it would seem, for she held Asuka just a bit tighter and took a hold of her hand. "That's for you, honey," Asuka heard Misato whisper in her ear. "All for you."

Misato raised Asuka's hand in victory and in that instant the crowd went mad with noise and celebration; the roar was powerful enough to almost knock Asuka back to the ground, had her guardian not kept a firm hold of her. Remember this, she told herself. Remember this moment, this, right here, because it's yours. Nobody will ever be able to take this from you. Nobody will touch this. "I want to stand," she said. "I want to stand on my own. Let me stand on my own."

"You got it, Asuka."

Asuka's feet hesitantly found the ground. Misato was very careful to assist her until she could tentatively stand up, one hand firmly clasped on the woman's arm until she took a deep breath, and raised her hand again with her own strength.

"Make me proud," Misato whispered.

Asuka needed no further encouragement nor energy boost, with whatever remained inside her cells Asuka closed her fist, and raised it to the blue skies above.

"YAAAAAAATTAAAAAAAAAAA!"

The scream was released with the best war face her depleted state allowed, receiving a thunderous roar in return, fist held high. She would remember this moment, her victory, a victory she had obtained for unselfish reasons, one she could share with others, a victory that did not center on her. She matured in that moment without noticing, and without meaning to, released the Second Child from her sense of self. She was Asuka, and Asuka was enough.

Even more than the image of the entire city gathering to celebrate their survival and their heroes, Asuka swore to engrave another memory deep in her soul, to live with for the rest of her days. When Shinji was raised up on the stretcher and the medics reported he was in no immediate danger, the crowd opened a path without even being told to do so.

As the medics carried him away to the ambulance, with both NERV's Sub-Commander and Asuka in tow, the entire entourage which had come to greet them bowed. They all bowed in unison as the boy was carried away, in a clear sign of solemn respect towards Ikari Shinji.


January the 30th, 2017. Outskirts of Nagano Precinct. 2.27pm

The rubble made her uncomfortable; the troops had not finished cleaning up the corpses that lay all over the place. The enemy's assault had truly been unmerciful; the EVA… Samael's pilot had not even taken a second to think about killing off its own reinforcements, reducing SEELE's carriers to dust and feasting on the soldiers below. The battle had been gruesome, yet the majority of the damage had been done in the already devastated ruins of old Tokyo.

She was concerned beyond words; Shinji had still not recovered consciousness and here she was, in the middle of freaking nowhere, surrounded by a maze of broken down structures and fallen concrete. At any given time a bullet could find a comfortable home in her skull, her innards or her limbs, and her precious brats would be without an irresponsible, alcoholic caretaker. An abrupt noise from behind her alerted the seasoned warrior.

The tracker in her suit beeped, signaling a a right turn. I've got a bad feeling about this… Taking out her sidearm and readying it in one fluid motion, Misato carried on through the deserted streets of what had once been an improvised central market to an old, abandoned UN shack. The orange plastic was corroded by the sun, holes were visible in the material and it stank enough to be smelled from five feet away. From the inside, the distinctive sound of music came through.

Misato prepared for an ambush, wondering why on God's green Earth Ritsuko would encourage her to follow the signal she'd extracted from the memory card she had long before managed to hack. Her brow twitched; there was more than music coming from inside the tent. A voice echoed the lyrics in an accent she did not immediately pick upon.

"Най, на на най най, най на на нааааааай... Най на на най най, наааааай на на най!"

What the... Misato thought, alarmed. of all the enemies she had gained in the last few months, the Sub-Commander did not quite remember when she had last upset a Kazakh descendant. Is that… Russian?

"Налил, поставил я пузырь, хотел обнять свою подругу! В ответ меня обнял упырь, раздался дикий вой в округе. Один вампир шашлык схватил, стекает кровь с клыков у гада. И сразу я пузырь допил, пиздец пришёл, ломиться надо!"

The voice took on a particularly nasty tone, one that spoke of damaged organs and most likely a pierced lung as it gained volume to sing along with the chorus. "Раз пошла такая пьянка, расставляй, бля, стаканы! Расставляй, бля, стаканы, пьём мы кровь у Сатаны!"

She quickly slid through the open zipper that worked as entrance and pointed her pistol at one of the two figures in the enclosed space. There was a small table in the shack, she noticed, with a laptop on its surface that only had a bluish background and the word 'S' in a bold font. There was also a man tied to a seat who seemed old and feeble; Misato felt a bit of disgust when she discovered the man was tied to the old furniture with barbed wire; his forearms and legs were tightly covered in the metal, and there were bloodstains on the man's clothing.

A boy of all things, a few years older than her charges at best, swayed hazily through the large tent's area, clutching a bottle of what she assumed to be alcohol in his left hand. The boy's left arm was bandaged from the shoulder all the way down to the fingers, with a heavy cast over his hand and forearm. His right arm was bandaged as well, with gauze running from the fingers to the shoulder. There was an obvious limp on his left side, his right knee had a heavy set of wrappings over the cargo pants, his head was also bandaged, from what she could dimly make out, with apposite on his skull painted pink. He sang along to a strange punk song that blasted from a speaker next to the laptop, right eye swollen shut with an apposite covering it.

""Если не умеешь пить, можешь душу ты пропить. Чтобы "белку" не схватить, научись, братишка, пить! Если не похмелишься, то тебе придёт кабздец. Раз пошла такая пьянка, режь последний огурец!- Oi!"

The boy was clearly drunk, for he almost fell over tripping on his own feet. "Pfff, бляяяяяять!" he exclaimed, and spat on the floor. Misato noticed tinges of red and pink in the glob he had just expelled, but the boy paid no mind to apparent internal bleeding, and sloshed down four large gulps of whatever alcohol he was drinking.

"Ahhhhh, я в говно..." (Ah, I'm super drunk...)"

The boy drank some more, loudly gulping down the liquid until the bottle was empty, whereupon he threw it on the ground where it shattered in spectacular fashion. He grabbed another from next to the unconscious, bound figure, opened it, and kept drinking, happy to ignore both Misato and her loaded firearm until she shot the speaker and made him jump.

"Oiiii!" he drunkenly shouted, swaying even more. His swollen eye squinted at her, and at last Misato was able to take in the whole of the boy's tattered form; he was terribly beaten up. There were swells and scratches all over his face, his left eye was grotesquely swollen shut and purple, more blotted than anything she'd seen Asuka do. His chin was full of red marks, his one useful eye completely blood-shot with a large apposite just under his eyelid where swelling was also noticeable. He wore military pants and a sweatshirt that allowed Misato to see the set of bandages along the boy's midsection, and the terrible, massive scarring on whatever skin was visible on his left arm.

The boy stood, or tried to at least, leaning to one side or the other while his head kept falling. Yup, Misato summarized with ease after a second glance. He's drunk out of his damn mind. And he was glaring at her whenever his eye managed to focus. He spat again in her direction and almost fell over just from the weight of the bottle, still paying no mind to the gun, and he had the gall to flip her off. "Ебать тя в рот, сука!"

A vein popped angrily in Misato's temple. "Did you just tell me to get fucked in the mouth, you little prick?!" she yelled and pointed her gun at his forehead. The brat offered a rare, open-mouthed grunt to her and drank, letting some of the liquid drip down his chin. "What the hell is this, who the hell is that, and who the hell are you?!"

"Psst, бляяяяяять. Ahhhh, хуёвооооо (what a shame), Oiii!" he exclaimed again, louder, and drank some more. He pointed at her with a bandaged finger. "Why'd you shoot my speaker, eeeeeh?" he slurred in fluent Japanese, making Misato blink. God, did the boy look horrible; it felt as though a gang had taken turns in beating him… for a week. "D' you know how much it costsss…you damned woman? T'was one of my favorite songs!"

"Alright, I'm done," Misato growled. "I'm gonna shoot you now, runt."

"Pfffffff, soooooo impatient!" The boy tripped on a chair, and crashed unceremoniously into a second one. "Sit… si' down, Sub-Commandeeer, we're all friends here," he said merrily, waving the bottle around. "Well… all except him, right?" He motioned towards the unconscious old man tied to the chair, and sloshed down another large gulp. "Baaaaah," he shouted, and coughed. "Aah shit, where are my manners? Vodka, Sub-Commander? It's from Finland, the good shit, not that… horse piss they make in my hometown!"

"I'll ask you one more time before I shoot you in the leg," Misato tersely replied, and took a seat as the other end of the table. "Who is that, and who are you?"

As if to mock her, the boy forcefully stood and brought the bottle to his forehead in a sarcastic salute. "Private Dmitri Yu… Yurievich Kalashnikov Krupnov, reportin' for duty! Aye Aye, Sub-Command-shit!" The boy tripped and fell on the ground, seemingly unaffected by the many bleeding wounds on his body. "My, my, guess is I had a little too many drinky-poos, did I?" he said to himself, giggling. "But… as to your other question, Sub-Commander K… Kat…. Katsum-"

"Katsuragi," Misato interrupted, standing and placing the barrel of the gun against the boy's forehead. "You have three seconds now."

The boy smiled, and her spine froze in dread at the sound of several weapons being loaded in her direct vicinity. Twelve rifles with youngsters around the boy's age attached to their triggers materialized from thin air and were now surrounding them in a circle, they had even managed to slip past Misato's keen instincts. Three of them moved over to the boy; one cleaned up a lone drip of reddish drool which escaped his mouth, another made certain that the bandages around his head were firmly in place, and the last pointed his weapon directly at her head, with a dead expression in his eye that loudly told her he would kill her without wavering.

"I told you," slurred Dmitri, and swatted away his apparent assistants. "We're aaaall good little friends, Sub-Commander… and that," the boy pointed at the tied figure, "that is my present to you, for being such a great sport in all of this! Really, even my boss isn't so hell-bent on killing you any…anymore! That, my dear Muh…Misato, is Ikari Shio. SEELE monolith 06, Shinji's grandpa! Yay!"

The weapon stilled in her hand, despite the large number of empty, hollow eyes taring at her and letting her know they'd shoot her on the spot, should she make the wrong move. "That's… " she began, and uncovered the man's face. There was no resemblance between the man and Shinji at all, and the features were so distorted by the man's swollen face that she could not even find similarities between him and Ikari Yui. "According to what Ritsu said, there's only four more members of SEELE left alive; Detzlev Peter who we've already apprehended, Grosvenor Tymothy, Kalash-" her eyes narrowed, remembering the boy's last name. "Kalashnikov Yuri, and Ikari Shio."

"She's riiiiiight!" the assassin agreed, and sat back down. "So, Misato… did you ever wonder who was it that sent your father on that suicide mission where you... where you had a front row seat to Second Impact?" He trailed off, words crushing together under his clear inebriation. "That man right there! Yay! Family reunion! So… in a sign of good will and fortune, friend… friendship and loooooove, we, the organization S, give you his life to take."

The young assassin had not finished speaking before Misato stood and shot the man in the head without warning or hesitation, to the boy's obvious aggravation and grimace. "There," she mentioned casually. "He's dead now. I'm leaving."

"Hey, hey hey heeeeeey!" screamed Dmitri while still drinking. "Do you have any idea of how hard it was to find that bastard?! And to bring him here, all wrapped up like a Christmas present for you, and you just shoot him, just like that?!" he slurred, complaining. "Absolutely no respect for my craft, no respect I tell you! Shame on you, Misato, shame on you!"

"Oh, shut up already," she ground out, leveling the pistol at the boy's face. "Dmitri, huh. You carry the Kalashnikov name, you're beaten to a bloody pulp, and you speak Russian. You're Child Zero, the pilot of that thing that tried to kill my girl and my boy." She would not survive, most likely, but it was worth it if she took him along. "I'm going to blow your brains out now."

"Ah ah aaaah!" The boy's bandaged forefinger moved left and right, while his hand clumsily held the half-empty bottle. "We don't want to deprive Asuka and Shinji of their guardian now, do we? Misato? Misato, dear? Come on, I wasn't really trying to kill 'em… ahh… maybe a little bit, yeah. But hey! It worked!"

"What exactly worked, Mr. Child Zero?" Misato demanded, fist colliding against the old table while her other held the pistol firmly pointed at the boy's forehead. "The fact that you put my boy in coma?!" She was screaming, almost ready to pull the trigger without notice or care of the soldiers around her.

"Oh, come on!" Dmitri exclaimed in turn, sounding chastised. "Big fucking deal, he put me in a coma too! Hell, I only woke up like five hours ago!" He pointed at the cast in his right arm for emphasis with a semblance of mild annoyance at best.

"And you're drunk already?!" Misato stood from the table, gun still in hand, and pointed at the fresh bottle of vodka attached to the boy's hand.

"Of course I am!" He puffed out his chest and hit it with his left hand, which brought up a chain of wet-sounding coughs from his rib cage. "Didn't you hear? Mission accomplished! S-Sub-Commander, your brats are officially… international, world renowned heroes! The Evangelions have ceased to exist, and there was a minimal amount of casualties! We won!"

"We won?" Misato repeated, enraged. "We won, we won?! Who the fuck is we, Dmitri?!"

The boy drank without respite nor concern for his own health, spat on the dead man to his left, and crashed onto his chair again. "We…" he started, slurring terribly. "We are S… dedicated to the survival of the Children! What, you think they'd ever stop being hunted unless we did something about it, Sub-Commander?"

Misato's raised eyebrow did not go unnoticed; the assassin smiled in an unpleasant fashion, eye gleaming with sadistic mischief, as he nodded and showed her a row of bloodied teeth.

"Noooo, they would not stop, my dear, never," Dmitri answered his own question, and took two glasses from behind the laptop. "We had to make sure there wasn't even one shadow of a doubt that your… kids… were heroes. You know why? People forget heroes! They sure as fuck forgot all the times Shinji saved their asses, these citizens of yours, didn't' they? But they neeeever, ever forget… publicly hated fu…figures! Sooo… heroes. If we… hadn't done what we did, sooner or later SEELE would've gotten their old, decrepit hands on your precious kids, and used them as guinea pigs along with Unit 02… and the very people of Tokyo would've just handed them over! You know that!"

"You're making less and less sense by the second, runt." Misato grumbled angrily. "Either get your shit together and spill or let me get out of here. I think any more time with you will make me do something I'll regret." She meant of course, killing an underage boy and being subsequently murdered by twelve of them.

"You know… you should take up drinkin' again," Dmitri urged, and gulped down more vodka. "You're soooo serious, it's no fun like that! Shit, you remind of my boss, always grumpy and stern and angry… shh…. But anyway." To her surprise and shock, the boy shook his head violently, hissing under the clear strain of his many injuries, and then he sounded… sober. "Look..." he started, and stole a last shot of his drink.

"We needed to make sure there was absolutely no doubt in anyone's mind that it had been SEELE who engineered Third Impact. So we let them attack you, and I tagged along with the very specific task of killing my own men, and somehow dismantling Unit 02, because let's be honest here..." The boy moved closer to hes. "As long as Unit 02 existed, they were never gonna be free. They were never gonna have normal lives. No, they'd be pilots. Soldiers. And they'd probably live and die in loneliness, and despair. So, me and my boss devised the ultimate scenario!"

"The ultimate scenario?" The way the concept even rolled off Misato's tongue felt so close to Ikari Gendou's nature that she suppressed the urge to cringe.

"Why, yes! By me tagging along with SEELE, we made them look like the bad guys, didn't we?! And when Asuka and Shinji offered to sacrifice themselves to keep the AT-Field active while the bomb exploded…. Oh… amazing! Now in everyone's minds, especially after that press conference, Shinji's just a broken down young man who, despite everything that happened to him, managed to at last be the hero he was meant to be! And Asuka! Oh, dear lord, that girl! Did you see Unit 02 scream 'I am Asuka' before everything went white? Best. Publicity. Ever! Now everyone's sure that Asuka's personality and drive are so strong, that they inspired a godlike machine created to kill us all to give its life protecting us! That is pure gold!"

He laughed, wheezed, and coughed, taking heavy drinks from the bottle. "They are safe now, safe to live their lives as they please. Imagine what would happen, if it had been anyone but me inside that Angel… imagine if Asuka had been forced to kill people to keep this shit country existing…"

It was a load of gibberish, but it somehow started to make sense in Misato's brain. "So you were basically a triple agent. You let SEELE think you were under their heel until the last moment, you hunted them down while they thought you were their unstoppable force which would bring them the power to begin a Fourth Impact, and you played your part making it seem like you were seriously trying to kill us all."

"Oh, no, that wasn't part of the performance," Dmitri corrected, sounding even clearer. "I was legitimately, honestly trying to kill your brats. It had to look real, you know? Can't make it look real without honest intentions!"

"So, that was you actually going all out?" Misato had unconsciously grabbed the full glass of vodka on the table, one Dmitri had filled, and gulped down its contents in one go, feeling the fine drink heat up her throat.

"Yes! Of course it was!" As he laughed aloud and patted one of the serious, dead-faced boys around them, the assassin lifted his bottle to the roof and drank.

A question slammed itself into her skull at the new information. "So Asuka and Shinji did beat you?"

The boy had the decency to appear deeply offended by her statement. "Did they beat me?!" he exclaimed, shocked and insulted by the very nature of the question. "Are you serious? Look at me!" the young soldier elaborated, clearly referring to the horrid state his body was in. "I'm all fucked up, of course they beat me! They kicked my ass so hard they turned it into mincemeat! I'm pissing blood, woman! Shit, I think I can feel that liver shot when I sleep! Shit..."

Misato was running out of patience, time, and her mood was quickly souring at the lack of any update whatsoever on Shinji's current state. "So, why the hell did you bring me here and let me kill this old toad?"

Dmitri shrugged without a care in the world. "Because, Misato, dear," he elaborated, producing a joint from his pocket and lighting it. "…My boss told me to."

The computer beeped for a second time, drawing the Sub-Commander's attention to the screen where the letter S was now absent. She raised an eyebrow towards the activated camera; whoever was on the other side was watching her with exquisite detail. "Okay, and may I ask who this boss of yours is?"

None of your concern, Katsuragi. The words drew themselves on the screen for her to read, astonishing the seasoned warrior once more. Your life is not yet in the clear.

Misato snarled without noticing, and leveled her gaze with the laptop's camera. "I don't really care who you are. Ritsuko said it was because of you that we received back-up in the battle, so I doubt you brought me all the way down here to let me kill that old bastard and then have me killed by your personal rabid lap dog, 'S'."

Defiant to the end, the organization's head responded with ease. And yet you sat idly by as Asuka and Shinji self-destructed, chose to reign over the city with an iron fist and neglected that which is most precious to this organization: the Children. We will take them away and bury you in an unmarked grave if I ever see fit to do it. Consider yourself lucky you are still able to breathe and interact with them at all.

Misato's fist slammed against the table with enough force to shake both the bottle, the glasses and computer. She snarled directly at the small red dot on the lap top. "Listen to me, you little shit, whoever the hell you are…"

She wondered if this was how Shinji felt when Asuka was insulted in his presence, wondered if he also felt a scalding mass of burning lava jump from her chest to her throat, her muscles and her brain. "If you think for one second that I'll let you say anything at all about my children, whoever the fuck you are, I'm going to promise you right now; I will hunt you down and kill you if you even try to take my kids away from me. I will tie your limbs to four different horses and let them tear you apart. Then I will eat your heart."

Even Dmitri's one visible eye was wide with surprise, his expression revealing a hint of satisfaction amidst the shock. "Damn," he muttered, licking parched, swollen lips. "You know, Boss? I kind of believe her when she says it like that."

Big words for a failure and an alcoholic, the unnamed entity responded with ease. 'Your' Children, you say, as though you have not neglected them since they first waltzed into your life. You lie, and hide away, and pretend to be this impregnable wall between the world and them. You follow only your personal interest, and personal gain. You pretend to be separate, to have your own slice of honor. Something that makes up for the horrors of your conscience, and yet you continue to fail. You've failed now, countless times. Pathetic.

Misato glared at the screen with increasing ire, face flushed bright with clear animosity, but took a long, deep breath, and nodded grimly at the screen. "You've got that much right," she answered, stealing a glance at the overall satisfied aura Dmitri exuded; it was infuriating to see the man who had hurt the kids be so pleased with himself. "I've fucked up so much it's almost laughable to think I can take care of myself, let alone anyone else. But…"

There was much yet to sort out with Asuka, and too much to share with Shinji to even consider parting from them in the coming three years. "These incredibly awesome kids gave me a chance to stand by them as they grow into adults. No person, Angel, alien, army or the damn Fourth Apocalypse is going to keep me from taking it. So try to take them from me. Try, go on." she placed her pistol on the table for added emphasis. "I will fight you to the death, whoever you are. You, and any other piece of shit that tries to hurt those three."

The half-dead carcass that was Dmitri received some information though the ear piece on his right ear, to which the boy raised a bruised hand and signaled for his entourage to disband and stop pointing their weapons straight at Misato's skull. "Well…" he said, painfully getting to his feet, taking the bottle with him after having refilled her glass. "I guess that's it, Sub-Commander. Mission accomplished, your brats are safe."

He slurred in a terrible manner as he spoke, and took four large gulps of vodka. "You wanna know what the hardest part of this whole stupid thing was?" The small group began to dissipate, leaving Misato with more questions than answers. "Finding the stupid penguin! Goddamnit, that took a while! Oh, but I found him, I always find them! Hey, Kat… Misato! Let's go out and drink some time! Hey!" The boy turned back and raised his drained bottle to her. "За здоровье!"

Despite herself, the guardian -officially now- of the former Second and Third Children took a hold of the glass, and held it up. "Kampai, you crazy bastard."

They drank, and soon enough Misato was left alone with the small computer. "So," she said off-handedly once the first update on Shinji's status reached her phone. "Care to elaborate on that gibberish your pet monster just spewed?"

So long as EVA existed, they were never going to be safe. The strange entity at the other side of the screen wasted no time in justifying what to Misato was something inexcusable. A scenario was needed where they would shine as heroes, survive, and extinguish the curse of Evangelions and Angel technology altogether. There was no other course but to use a leviathan of similar strength to drain Unit 02's core. We did not, however, plan on a nuclear strike.

"Like SEELE gives a damn about what you did or did not plan," Misato interjected with distaste. "They threw a nuclear weapon at my kids. They could have been vaporized beyond any sort of salvation, you…" Her grip on the pistol tightened. "You're just like Ikari Gendou. The end justifies the means, huh? Well, you got your end. Unit 02 sacrificed itself to save them, and it just so happened that they survived. I understand that SEELE was going to use that crazy little shit at one point or another, and I understand that had you not interjected, he would have probably won and taken my kids captive, but still…" She exhaled and sat back on her chair. "You're a piece of shit, whoever you are."

That is certainly an eloquent way of thanking someone who not only saved your life, but the lives of millions.

The statement was so ludicrous in Misato's mind that she actually chuckled after the words appeared on the screen. "Oh, you're pretty self-centered, huh," she remarked, holstering her sidearm. "Like a certain someone I'm very close to. You know, it'd be in your best interests to keep away from my weird little family, because I'm a really great hunter."

The implication that she knew exactly who was behind the screen was left unsaid. "I'll say this in your favor though..." it was time for her to return; Shinji could wake up at any given moment, after all. "You did your part. Doesn't make up for all the shit you've done, but it's a decent beginning, certainly better than mine. Keep it up, and maybe someday… who knows? We might end up having dinner one day."

There was no further response. A strategy to have her kids be the center of the spotlight for just a few seconds; the fact that Unit 02 had evolved in Asuka's image and only because of that had it sacrificed itself for them; the ungodly beating and vicious attack Shinji had unleashed upon their enemy. They all fell into place in a sickening sequence of events to destroy Evangelion technology. She assumed the original plan had been to actually defeat Unit 02 and destroy the behemoth in a controlled environment, take the Children away and eradicate SEELE with the last remaining Angel, Samael.

As the most feared woman in Tokyo departed the stinking tent, she realized just how much their unnamed protector had miscalculated. You didn't think my kids would be an easy fight now, did you? Misato mused as the cold wind impacted her skin, cooling her rage to a controllable level for the time being. There is no one stronger than those three, stupid. Learn that, and we'll see if someday you work up the nerve to crawl on all fours at their feet and beg for forgiveness.

Without her knowledge, a man in a worn-out, bloodied winter coat mean for weather much harsher than Japan's followed Misato as the woman headed back to the Geofront.


The Curtain Closes: Final Act. Scar Tissue

The gentle breeze swayed alongside the waves of a crimson ocean which stretched as far as the eye could see. From above a golden hue bathed the scenery with an otherworldly glow, making the panorama appear as something from a different reality, an elated piece of land filled with tranquility and balance. There was no blinding agony in his body as he walked; he was most certainly drugged to the point of unconsciousness so the tremors and whimpers of dulled, phantom pain would not force him to open up the stitches in his head.

Instead of decayed buildings, ruins, and the disintegrating body of a gigantic Lilith who systematically decomposed, the beach seemed to extend endlessly through the landscape, with little more than the red ocean and the odd, radiant sun which hid behind a curtain of white clouds. There was no immediate sense of dread, no blood; there were no screams bursting his eardrum as they repeatedly spoke in unison and cried their anguish directly into his soul. The sensation of having his sense of self torn to shreds and reassembled in broken fashion, with knowledge and memories he did not desire, was gone altogether. Under the sun and the next to the waves, there was an atmosphere of serenity.

He wondered idly where the Beast was, and questioned the lack of putrid air in his immediate surroundings; the lack of Unit 02's flesh decomposing was strangely absent. In its place, he faintly recognized the scent of Asuka's shampoo, the sensation of Rei's presence and the overall protective aura Misato emanated whenever she was with them. It felt as though even in this strange dream, he was not alone.

His feet dragged him towards to the shore, where the figure of a certain tall, pale-skinned, red eyed youth became clear. Ikari Shinji's heart skipped a beat, only to begin hammering twice as fast as it had before when he sprinted towards the boy and embraced him with as much strength as this dream allowed. A pair of arms enveloped him with affection, drawing him close to the boy he considered his truest friend, and someone he thought he'd never get to see again.

"My dear friend," Nagisa Kaworu -Tabris- said with a warm undertone. "It has been too long, truly."

Shinji held onto him for an extra moment, bent on engraving the image of his friend and the scenery where they stood deep in his memory. "Kaworu-kun… I…" He sighed, defeated. Asuka would most likely reprimand him for his choice of words. "I know everybody's tired of hearing me say this, but… I'm sorry. I didn't want to be a… God, or anything. I just wanted to see them again… I'm sorry."

The Angel who had opted to believe in love and understanding over violence and bloodshed laughed with honest mirth, and held Shinji at arm's length. "Shinji-kun, if ever there was a just cause to sacrifice everything, the dream of seeing your loved ones again falls comfortably in that category." Kaworu chuckled, patting Shinji's shoulder. " And for these words of yours… you need not be ashamed of them. As a matter of fact..." He turned to the ocean, a far-off expression on his calm features. "My favorite speech in the entire history of the Lilim begins with those words of yours."

Shinji blinked, turning to stare at the endless crimson ocean, where somehow the image of a man with a shortened mustache began to manifest. "What do you mean?" he asked, puzzled and curious.

Kaworu's smile broadened as he began to walk. "A very wise and gentle man, a man who, without ever saying a word, brought laughter to so many at a time of inequity and war, gave a speech at the end of his film "The Great Dictator". The fact that you say these words, the fact that you worry so much for others, it is clear to me that you are a gentle soul. It was clear since the moment we met, my dear Shinji-kun. This speech, which to me is but the strong, honest cry of a good man such as you, speaks to those qualities of the Lilim that I admire."

The two young men observed the waves in a comfortable silence, and soon enough the golden sun glowed in such a way that it reflected over the scarlet waters and the face of Charlie Chaplin manifested completely, uniform and everything in place. Instead of his voice, however, it was Kaworu who spoke as the man's lips started to move. "I'm sorry," the young Angel echoed, turning his smile towards Shinji. "But I don't want to be an Emperor, that's not my business."

They began a slow walk along the beach, where on occasion Shinji would catch a glimpse of a distant life here, and a forgotten memory there, as though Kaworu's words ever so slowly mellowed the burning poison chained within his rib cage. "I don't want to rule or conquer anyone," Kaworu continued, and motioned towards the ocean. The figures of all those who were in any way close or related to Shinji manifested over the water, just under Chaplin's image. "I should like to help everyone if possible. Jew, gentile, black man, white…. We all want to help one another." A hand clasped around Shinji's shoulder and squeezed in a friendly manner. "Human beings are like that."

The boy who had been God for a second felt his gaze soften at the image of all those he knew, and all those who knew him. A small smile drew over his lips as Kaworu continued on. "We want to live by each other's happiness, not by each other's misery." The figure of Ikari Gendou stuck out at Kaworu's next words. "We don't want to hate and despise one another." The Angel's hand gestured towards the endless shore which stretched before them. "In this world there is room for everyone, and the good Earth is rich, and can provide for everyone; the way of life could be free and beautiful… but we have lost the way…"

All of a sudden, the shadow of the members of SEELE appeared behind Shinji's personal circle. "Greed has poisoned men's souls," Tabris commented somberly. "It has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed." Stray images of soldiers dying, fighting and suffering ran through them both. Planes, automobiles and trucks ran at full speed in Shinji's mind. "We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in." Suddenly, he saw starving children before him, hungry faces which evaporated as the pair moved along the shore and their steps were erased by the waves. "Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want."

Akagi Ritsuko, supreme commander of NERV and the woman who had aided his father in his blind ambition, shone especially bright. "Our knowledge has made us cynical," said Kaworu, and tapped his temple for emphasis."Our cleverness, hard and unkind." They stopped, and Shinji's eyes widened when Kaworu's expression turned serious, and somewhat pained. The Angel's hand fell to his chest. "We think too much, and feel too little."

SEELE was quickly erased from existence by a great wave, leaving behind all those he loved, hated, cherished in some way or the other, and the shadow of Unit 01, of his mother, far off in the distance. Kaworu gazed fondly into Shinji's eyes, and placed both hands on his shoulders. "More than machinery…" he felt the light pressure of Kaworu's fingers tightening around his shoulders. "We need humanity. More than cleverness, we need kindness and gentleness… Without these qualities life will be violent, and all will be lost…"

Kaworu offered him a wide, untroubled smile then, and patted him in an amiable fashion. "Be as you are, Shinji-kun. Be the gentle, kind soul that you are, and make this life free and beautiful. Make it a wonderful adventure. And at times, when we meet like this, tell me of your journeys. Share your loss, your pain, and your joy with me, my friend. I could ask for no sweeter gift."

The sound of the waves crashing against the shore slowly took away the image of both Chaplin and Shinji's personal circle. The breeze caressed his skin and hair once Kaworu released him, and calmly sat on the alabaster sand. "Well," Shinji remarked, and sat next to him. "Do you have a minute, Kaworu-kun?"

Smiling once more, the silver-haired youth turned to him and amiably nodded. "For you, my friend? I have all the time in the world. Come now, I am especially curious about your travels around that rubble. I would also love to hear all about Rei, and how she has grown. But first, do tell me how you and Asuka first decided to be together."

Shinji chuckled and forgot he was dreaming. He put aside the fact that this was all probably a figment of his imagination in complete negligence, and began his tale. "Okay, so you know how when I came back, there was nobody around? You wouldn't believe how that weighed on me after the first couple of days! That's why… I'm so thankful to you and Rei, that you both led me back to her. So, after I found her, we had a disagreement and I tried to…"

He carried on detailing everything he could remember, unaware of the time, engrossed in speaking so openly with a friend who only chuckled and smiled at his antics through the rubble, cried with him as he recalled the slow descent to insanity when Asuka left, and teased him as he recalled the first time he woke up next to her in the hospital and froze like an icicle. Shinji never noticed when the light became dim, nor when he stopped talking. He did, however, vowed to watch the movie 'The Great Dictator' with Asuka at some point.

Kaworu's hand felt real on his shoulder, so real that he noticed its absence as consciousness began to crawl back into his numb mind.

"Ugh…" For the first time in about two years, the order of the tiles and the light bulb's luminosity was not the one he had long since memorized. "Unfamiliar ceiling…"

His lips were parched, his head throbbed with the after effect of every punch he had received and shrugged off during the fight, his chin felt like a mass of cracked, broken eggshells, his left hand was immobile and most likely broken, since he could hardly feel his own fingers. His right cheek felt swollen, and the vision in his left eye was limited.

NERV Medical Ward. January the Thirty First. 10.31am

Shinji took a deep, painful breath, and for once in his existence found himself relishing in the fact that he was alive. Even if his hand was broken in some way or massively deprived of blood, there was a warm pressure clasped around his forearm; one which weighed him down, so he turned slowly to the left and felt a smile draw itself on his lips when a disarrayed mass of crimson hair welcomed his blurred line of vision.

"Verdammter Idiot…" the sleeping form of Sohryu Asuka Langley muttered in what seemed like a deep sleep derived from absolute exhaustion. "Wenn du wach bist… werde ich… dich ermördern… Baka…"

Even when the effort of forcing his right hand to move proved as painful as having a group of mobsters simultaneously attack him with bats, Shinji forced his hand to pat the top of Asuka's head. "Hey," he whispered, half-asleep and in so much pain the very action of moving or breathing hurt. "Wake up, sleepy head…"

Undeterred by the sudden intrusion into whatever vengeance she was inflicting on him deep in her dreams, Asuka shook her head and held a bit tighter onto his arm. Her back would probably be killing her due to the uncomfortable position of half-sitting, half-lying on his bed, using his bandaged left arm as a pillow. "Hmm…" Asuka grumbled and tried to pry her head from his hold. "Get back… to sleep… you idiot…" she mumbled back, smacking her lips. "I'll kill you… lat… er…"

He felt the arms around his limb stiffen, could almost count the seconds in his head before the burst of motion came and a pair of bloodshot, furious, incomparably beautiful cerulean eyes focused on his damaged face.

"Hi," said Shinji, smiling sheepishly. "How are you feeling?"

It shocked him to the point of near-paralysis when Asuka took hold of his head in a fluid motion, nails almost digging into his skin, and stared into his eyes with an intensity he knew well, loved, and was terrified of. "What's my full name?" she demanded stiffly, voice roughed with sleep and evident fatigue. His head was forcefully moved to where Rei slept, with her head bowed to the right and almost falling off her chair. "Who's that, and what does she mean to you?" A moment later, and to the displeasure of his healing cervical vertebrae, his head was then whipped back to her. "Tell me the name of the woman who's like a mother to you."

Shinji blinked, astonished at the intensity of Asuka's glare, which was somehow threatening to split his skull in half, should he not answer correctly, and found himself sweating despite the room's comfortable temperature. "Ah, well…" he began, gulping as her eyes narrowed. "You are Sohryu Asuka Lang- The Great! Sorry, uhm, you're The Great Sohryu Asuka Langley."

Ever so slowly, the scowl began to melt off her face. His right forefinger took an eternity to cooperate, but he was finally able to point at Rei. "She's Ikari Rei, my sister who I care very much for, who means a lot to me… my family. And there's only one woman's who's ever been anything even remotely close to a mother to me. She's Misato-san, and I know you love her very much too, despite everything."

Somewhere in the middle of him speaking, Asuka's forehead had come in contact with his; he noticed how she was probably biting the inside of her cheek to keep… something from coming out. "You stupid freaking jerk asshole…" she mumbled, voice quivering. She exhaled in relief, her breath feeling like a sweet tickle near his face. "Apologize to me in that stupid way of yours."

He couldn't help but smile a bit wider. Had the damage he had received been so extreme that she worried to such an extent? "Sorry," said Ikari Shinji. "Was it really that… bad?" he added after a few heartbeats and after he had seen the female pilot sigh a bit deeper in relief.

"You just flat out fell unconscious, you idiot," Asuka answered in an angry hiss, scowl returning in full force. "You eyes rolled to the back of your head and you fell down like a rag doll. I had to drag you out of the stupid entry plug, you freaking idiot. Baka." She hit him on the shoulder with no strength at all behind it. "My back hurts because of you, you dumb jerk."

Shinji's smile turned sheepish, he was hyper-aware of the pressure her fingers were exerting upon his back. "H-How long was I out?" he asked upon noticing just how disheveled Asuka's hair was.

Her eyes narrowed to slits, forcing another nervous gulp out of him. The girl's hands disentangled themselves from his head and she sat back on her chair, hissing when the pain in her lower back flared. "Three days, jerk." The emphasis on the last word was clearly meant to imply he had been causing trouble and concern to his small, unorthodox family for the last three days, which clearly did not sit well with Asuka. She crossed her arms and legs, glaring up at the ceiling. "What's the last thing you remember, you gigantic, insensitive dork?"

Shinji blinked, turning to stare at the unfamiliar ceiling for a response. "Uh… Unit 02…." He felt a heavy stab of guilt and anguish remembering the Evangelion's noble sacrifice. "Unit 02 saved us, saved everyone… She protected us until the very end. The entry plug hit hard against the ground, and I…" What felt like a very thick nail was hammered into the left side of his temple. "Ow…"

Producing a deeper sigh of relief, Asuka cleared her throat and continued to stare nonchalantly at anything but him. "Hey, Blue!" Her voice gained enough decibels to have both Shinji and his sister flinching in surprise. "Your stupid big brother's back in the land of the living."

Rei hissed, clutching her right ear as her crimson eyes came into view. As far as Shinji could see, she looked just as depleted as Asuka; with large purple circles under her eyes, unkempt hair and stiff limbs. "If ever there was an unpleasant sound in existence…" she muttered with obvious displeasure. "It is the screech from Hell you call a voice, Sohry…u…" She trailed off, and her eyes widened once she noticed Shinji's eyes were open and alert, with a small, sheepish expression on a face which had been all but inert for the past three days. "Nii-san…"

Overtired limbs were strained beyond any rational limit as Shinji tried and succeeded to sit up, with the help of a very reluctant and clearly angry Asuka. He was about to offer a warm greeting to the girl who had protected the city until her body had practically collapsed from exertion, but was unable to do much of anything. Rei closed the distance between them in the blink of an eye, and surprising even Asuka, hugged Shinji tightly and buried her head beside his shoulder.

Rei's bloodshot eyes whipped in Asuka's direction as she possessively held onto her brother. "Sohryu," she started, and clutched the boy tighter. "Is he…?"

"His cognitive response is normal, there's no evident sign of brain damage whatsoever," Asuka commented with an air of nonchalance. "His memory's not affected either, at least at first sight. He can move, his nervous system is functional, his motor functions are also with normal parameters considering the amount of phantom pain he must be going through, which I'm pretty sure is being made even worse with your stupid vice-grip there, Blue."

The young man in question had attempted to return the embrace with at least half as much fervor as he was receiving, yet the agony on the lower side of his body, his shoulders, arms, neck and head had him closing his eyes in pure agony. His very skin felt as though it was on fire, similar to the sensation of flesh melting clean off his bones. "H-Hi, Rei-chan…" Shinji choked out, feeling the large inflammation on his cheek complain. "S-Sorry to have w-worried you…"

Seemingly realizing what she was doing, the youngest member of the Ikari family disentangled herself from her sibling almost as fast as she had hugged him, face flushing a bright scarlet which was made all the more apparent by the pale hue of her skin. "Shinji-kun," she whispered, eyes glued to the blankets as she sat on the right side of his bed. "I… did not mean to cause you more distress or pain, I apologize if-"

A calloused hand fell on her own, silencing Rei's apology. "It's okay, Rei-chan. I'm the one who should be apologizing. I didn't mean to make you worry so much." Shinji scratched the back of his head, where he discovered a complete lack of any loose pieces of skull dancing around under his skin. "Sorry."

Rei shook her head, forcing a blink out of him. "I do not forgive you," she answered in a tired voice. "That is, until you have atoned for concerning us with a meal worthy of the Gods." Regardless of the shocked gaze Shinji was offering, she took a hold of his right hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

"I am truly happy that you have returned to us as you are, Nii-san." Rei stood, offering her brother a smile not unlike the one she had given him after the battle with the Fifth Angel. "I will inform the Sub-Commander that you have regained consciousness. I…" Her eyes turned to Asuka, and narrowed while her expression soured into a defiant frown. "It should take about ten to fifteen minutes."

His first day back in the world was seemingly hell-bent on shocking him to the point of a stroke and/or a heart attack, for the moment his sister left the room Asuka jumped on his bed without warning and took a hold of his head. "You heard Blue," she growled menacingly while her body pinned him down. "Ten minutes, Baka-Shinji. Make them worth my while." Her face drew close to his, hair cascading upon them both.

Asuka's face was slightly flushed, skin almost scalding as it pressed against his; the young boy felt his heart rate double in mere seconds. There was nothing truer than Asuka's face in this world, nothing that so closely related to the concept of reality in his brain, not after Third Impact, and being so close he was able to see the faint, almost invisible line which traveled down her eye.

"Yes, ma'am," he growled back, and pressed his lips against hers with hungered passion. Even his deadened left arm, which throbbed as though a thousand needles were piercing it, was forced to move and embrace the fiery redhead as her legs snaked around his and their tongues intermingled in a battle. He pressed her body flush against his, doing a tremendous job of keeping the blinding pain away from his mind when his every nerve cried out and wailed. They relished the limited privacy, and the fact that they had survived, and most of all on the chance to live their lives.

Once they separated and Asuka was panting on top of him, after what felt like an eternity of mashing their lips together and trying to weld into each other, Shinji's eyes clouded with guilt. "Asuka I…" he began, and hugged her just a bit tighter. "I'm so sorry about 2.0…"

Asuka's gaze sobered in an instant, glancing over the pillow as she pressed her cheek against Shinji's. "She did what she wanted to do." To the very end. Her precious Unit 02 had battled to the very end. "She faced her fate with pride. That is worthy of Sohryu Asuka Langley."

"Yeah," Shinji agreed quietly. His right hand found its way to Asuka's strained neck, his fingers moving in a circular fashion to alleviate some of her stress. The pain was intense, but from deep inside he heard a familiar rumble rattle in its chains. Properly, you witless coward, it whispered, bringing about a greater sense of familiarity and comfort. How queer, that the Beast which had for so long tormented him became a source of strange relief. Every second of every day counts, you shit. "I can't believe we actually made it."

His comment earned a low chuckle from the girl comfortably nestled in his arms. "Yeah, it's pretty crazy." A random pinch flared somewhere around the back of his shoulder. "Now we actually get to… live."

Shinji grinned at the unfamiliar ceiling. "So what's the first thing you want to do?"

Shrugging in response, he felt Asuka turn her face a bit in his direction so as to stare him in the eye. "Not sure yet," she answered simply, gaze turning curious. "What do you want to do?"

I want to tear off that shirt and those shorts and devour you completely, the Beast whispered in his mind. I want to let you feast on my flesh to your leisure, until we are both one living, breathing being. "I want to take what is mine," Shinji said at last with a serious, penetrating stare. "And I want you to take what is yours."

Satisfied with his response, Asuka grinned and stole another kiss from his lips, settling her head on his side. "Jerk. It's a deal. As soon as we get the hell out of here and you're able to move properly."

It raised a question he had been unaware of since regaining conciseness; the boy had never considered why he was in a hospital bed to begin with, or why his left arm was bandaged up to the elbow. "Right… uhm, so… what's wrong with me, exactly?"

Asuka raised her head a bit to give him a quizzical look before tapping his forehead with a finger twice. "Ba-Ka," she said. "Your body was smashed and reconstructed several times in a span of less than an hour. Your nerves, muscles, bones... they all pretty much belong more to a newborn child, since 2.0 bothered to patch us up the best she could. You overexerted yourself to the point that your body shut down for days just to recover." He felt a tap on the scalding part of his cheek, the one which flared in pain every time he spoke.

"Your right cheekbone is slightly cracked," Asuka elucidated. "And your left eye is swollen. Your shredded your left arm so many times the Blonde Bitch thought it better to bandage it with some sort of cream anesthesia for the next few days. Other than that… you're good to go."

"Oh." Shinji nodded in understanding, looking over to his bandaged hand. "So that's why breathing and existing hurts to the point of me wanting to go back to sleep, huh," Do the thing, the Beast suggested with rotten excitement. She's not even suspecting it, do the thing! "It's a good thing I have a pretty good reason to stay awake right now."

Asuka's eyes widened momentarily; he had caught her by surprise so he made his move and in turn stole a quick kiss from her before the fiery girl could react. She smirked at him, patting his cheek with playfulness. "Good one, slick. Romantic, too…" She came close to his earlobe and whispered, "Maybe I'll have to step up my game…"

The way her voice turned husky and seductive forced a sudden jolt down Shinji's recently reassembled spinal column; perhaps ten to fifteen minutes was too little time, after all. "Maybe I won't be able to control myself until we get our place back, though…" he responded with a low tone, feeling Asuka smirk against his cheek. "What's gonna happen the next time I see you there… so beautiful next to me, and just feel the need to…"

"Take what's yours?" Asuka finished for him and drew close enough so that their noses and lips were touching. "Because you can, you know. Anytime you want, wherever, whenever…" Her nails gently dug into his scalp as she trailed her hand down his hair. "That's what the mark means, Baka."

They were about to draw into another kiss when the door hissed open and both their eardrums threatened to explode.

"SHINJI!"

Soon enough, both teens were dragged into one of Misato's inhuman feats of strength when she invited herself into the room, closed the distance between herself and the bed in the blink of an eye and picked up both teens as though they weighed nothing. She pressed them both to her chest to the point of asphyxiation, and it took the doctor actually saying it was probably not the best idea to strangle Shinji just after he woke up to stop her from giving her surrogate son another trip to unconsciousness.

Asuka felt somewhat discouraged by the arrival of Hikari, Touji and his little sister, Kensuke, Rei, and a set of doctors who not only stole away her chance to spend some extra alone time with Shinji, but also blurted out a barrage of stupid, redundant questions to her… boyfriend. In spite of the interruption, she discovered that being surrounded by all those who accepted, cherished and supported her was not overall unpleasant. Even if it meant having to fend off Rei's repetitive and increasingly refined jabs and insults, that afternoon was the first in three days where she did not have to wonder what the hell she'd do with her life, should Shinji not awaken or return damaged beyond repair in some way.

Stupid, she realized upon noticing the relaxed, amiable expression on the face of a boy who had by all means suffered too much. I'd just have stayed, because this is where I belong. This is where I want to be. The idea of having her legal guardian and representative be the clearly mental, irresponsible slob of a human called Katsuragi Misato did not seem so painfully shameful anymore, either.

She decided to share her Baka for the time being. There was a lifetime to have him all to herself, after all.


NERV. Geofront Ventilation Ducts. February the 7th, 2017

He kept glancing at the horrid state of his winter coat in the darkness; there had been hardly any time at all since he had dropped the precious cargo back in Russia and Dmitri had not-so-kindly thrown him into a cargo plane with an eighty pound bag filled with cash and no further explanation other than flipping him off as the metal door closed. He had broken into the Geofront before, going as far as reaching the lower levels where Lilith was located. Astoundingly enough, this time around had been much harder; the entourage of security and defense Ritsuko and Misato had mounted at the pyramid's perimeter was imposing, near impregnable and quite intricate.

"Heh, can't believe I'm thanking that little shit," Ryoji Kaji muttered to himself as he crawled through the vents the Russian had highlighted on the piece of paper in his hand; he had been paid handsomely and been given codes and a reliable map to make his way back to both Misato and to the young girl he had neglected. "Little prick," he growled; the fact that he was at least a bit thicker than Dmitri had apparently never occurred nor interested the young assassin as he'd prepared the route. "I swear to God if I ever see your face again I'll-

That was when the noise came; the ventilation panel he had been currently dragging himself through had received some damage during the battle, it would seem, for it cringed and wailed at his weight. Kaji stayed paralyzed, hoping for the best and horribly aware that according to the map, he was a good twenty feet away from Asuka and Shinji's room in the medical ward. If he made the slightest mistake, men who had no clue who he was would fill him with enough holes to ensure nobody recognized him. Okay, it didn't give, he thought with desperate enthusiasm. Yup, bringing the bag was a terrible mistake. Let's just very, veeeery slowly move our right foot this w-

He swore on his mother's grave to hit Dmitri in the face one final time when the metal gave under him and gravity took hold of his short-lived destiny.

An entire section of the ventilation shaft gave under the extra weight; making Kaji wonder exactly why he had to go through that specific shaft to achieve his objective. He also wondered why on Earth, from the maze of vents he had already navigated through, this one specifically had received structural damage and fell onto the floor with a loud clang.

"Ow…" Even somewhat trapped inside the piece of ventilation duct, he heard the sound of about ten weapons being readied in unison behind him. "Ah, shit…" Well, kids, I tried… just seeing Misato and Asuka one last time would've been worth it. He counted down the seconds until the weapons began firing as he painfully extracted his body from the tight, uncomfortable metal prison. We had a good run, Ryoji, we did some good this time. Made a difference. It was worth it. It was worth it. It was w-

"So you're the bug my security system picked up about twenty minutes ago, huh?" the commanding voice of Akagi Ritsuko snapped in his general direction. "Jeez, Shinji really is something else, can't believe he actually brought back a waste of space like you. To think I'd see your stupid face again…"

"Commander, permission to shoot this man on the spot." Colonel Aishida placed the barrel of his gun directly against Kaji's skull, who raised his arms in defeat. "He may be a threat to the Children's security."

Ritsuko shrugged with clear indifference, and stared down at Kaji as though he were an especially annoying gnat. "Nah, it's okay. This is Agent Kaji; he's been working with us to hunt down SEELE while remaining comfortably dead to the outside world. At ease, soldiers." She yawned, producing a taser from her lab coat. "Today's my last day in the office and I'd rather end it without anybody's head exploding. If he misbehaves I'll just shock him until he pisses himself."

Kaji chuckled from his position on the ground. Even if the men had stopped aiming at him, the look in their eyes told him that a single wrong or suspicious move would result in them removing his gray matter from his skull. These men looked ready to die for the protection of the Children. "So," he said, clearing his throat. "I guess you knew I was here the whole time?"

"Oh, of course, you jackass." A hand slapped him in a not too friendly manner on the back of his head. "I really do hope that crawling through my building like the rodent you are was worth the trouble. Who do you take me for, Ryoji? Your little friend told me you'd drop by for a visit a couple of days ago. Get your pathetic ass up. Get up, I said."

He was hauled back to his feet by two men. "Can you imagine if Asuka just happened to come by here right now and see you like this? Disgraceful," Ritsuko continued. She took a sniff and winced in disgust. "Ugh, you even smell terrible..." A painted fingernail gestured for him to rise. "Pathetic doesn't even begin to describe the state you're in right now. Honestly, what was your strategy here, Mr. Triple Agent?"

"Honestly?" Kaji replied, laughing when he noticed he was, indeed in the medical ward, and that Ritsuko had been following him with an armed and deadly group of soldiers to kill time. "I didn't think I'd get this far. Just wanted to see Asuka one last time, give her this money here," he motioned to the heavy bag still stuck on the vent, "and, who knows? Maybe end the day with Misato shooting me in the head and not some random assassin you hired!"

Ritsuko raised a bored eyebrow, motioning for him to walk with her as her heels noisily moved forward. "Oh, I bet your reunion with Misato will be… glorious…" If ever there had been evil laughter, Kaji swore it was the way Ritsuko cackled at the idea of him at the mercy of NERV's Sub-Commander. "I'll have it recprded, so I can watch it in jail on a loop. Ah, my morning coffee with toast, and you getting your ass kicked; it will make my triple life sentence just fly by!"

Kaji laughed with honest relief and clasped a hand around the woman's shoulder as they walked; it truly had been more than a year since he had last seen a familiar face. "That's a very optimistic way of seeing things, considering they haven't even started the process against you. Maybe the court will be lenient if you manage to get Shinji or Asuka to testify."

"Yeah, because I'm on such good terms with the brats that they'd just love to help the woman who engineered their trauma and idly sat by while they lost their minds." Again, Ritsuko's hand impacted the back of his head. "Jackass. There's blood on your coat. Did you know there's blood on your coat? When was the last time you even showered?!"

Offering a shrug and a sheepish smirk in response, Kaji stopped to admire the deplorable state of his person. He was thinner, having lost much muscle mass while moving through Russia's underbelly to finally track down the signal Kalashnikov had produced, while eating dry fish and drinking all sorts of tea. His beard was almost thick enough to cover his face, giving the man a dirty, rugged look, his hair was dry and clammy due to Russia's unmerciful weather, and that one guard's blood was now a stinking mass of dried brown on the battered winter coat.

"I've been busy," Kaji answered at last, eyes turning sorrowful. He felt more fatigued than when he had first crawled out of the ocean. "Not that that's an excuse or anything."

The supreme commander of NERV seemed ready to throw another well-aimed insult at his crumbling and damaged self-esteem, had the easily recognizable voice of a certain fiery haired young lady not filtered through the hallway. Ritsuko's mouth closed, and opened again. "And that would be my cue to leave. Gentlemen, please stand down and do not kill this man unless Asuka explicitly demands it, yes? Oh, and give the poor bastard some privacy." The evil laughter manifested again; Kaji noticed the compliant smirks on the men's faces, sighed, and surrendered to his fate. "He's about to be tortured in a vast number of ways, and I have better things to do. Later, Ryoji. Let it be known that I've always considered you a good-for-nothing, womanizing shit of a man."

"Love you too, Rits." Kaji smiled through gritted teeth, overly aware of how the sound of the girl's voice got louder as seconds ticked by and Ritsuko left his life in Asuka's hands in the best of cases, and Misato's in the worst scenario.

Dmitri, you son of a bitch, he thought with despair. I look and smell like shit, I'm trapped in what's probably the safest location in the world, and the girl I came here to see, who thinks I'm very, very dead, is literally walking in my direction. You son of a-

"-bitch! I swear, Baka, every damn time you throw that liver shot, Kaneki squirms like a little bitty bitch! 'Ow… my tummy!' Hah! His offense is sooo readable, it's boring! And he was bragging when Sensei first brought him in, remember? Stupid dumb beta, did you know he tried to flirt with me one time? Like I'd waste a single second of my existence on him of all people."

"Come on, Asuka." Shinji's voice had grown a tiny bit deeper, he discovered, with the realization making him smile for some reason. "Cut the guy some slack, will you? You can't blame him for trying to intimidate his opponent, right?"

"So you don't care at all that he tried to flirt with your girlfriend, Ba-Ka?"

There it was, the biting but playful voice Asuka had used whenever Kaji had managed to squeeze out twenty minutes to spend with her. Girlfriend, never thought I'd hear that one. His shoulders slackened as the footsteps closed in on him. How much have I missed? Am I even deserving of a chance to see you again, Asuka? He hoped against hope that the door to his left was actually the room the young pair shared.

"Well, if he had made you feel uncomfortable… I'm pretty sure you would've kicked him in the stomach, at least. And besides," the boy's voice turned much quieter, "if he insulted you in any way I'm gonna have him puke out his liver the next time we spar. Just say the words."

"Now that's what a girl likes to hear, Baka-Shinji! See? If you keep working like this, you might actually fi-"

Two pairs of feet came to a grinding halt about two meters away from where he stood, dressed in the clothes he'd worn for the past three days. Asuka's blue eyes were the exact hue he recalled, her hair was longer, shining only a tad brighter under the light. She was taller, older, more mature; all of this he discovered at a single glance, and was pained to see fear and what he assumed was the beginning of shock turn the girl's skin pale. Ah… yeah. Maybe this really wasn't the best idea in the world, Kaji. She looks like she just saw a ghost.

"Girlfriend, huh? My, my!" exclaimed the man who had been dead in Asuka's memory. "Say, Asuka-chan! You're looking quite healthy! Care to give this poor man a welcome back hug?"

He noticed how Asuka's hand unconsciously sought Shinji's and repeatedly tugged it with desperation, eyes growing even wider in terror. "S-Shin…" she began, voice quivering with evident dread. "Shinji… are we awake? Is this reality? I'm not asleep right now?!" Whatever it was Asuka saw in Shinji's eyes when they fell on hers was deeper than anything Kaji could have ever conveyed with words, he realized. There was a bond there between them, one which was almost palpable, certainly almost visible to him. The Red String of Fate, huh, Dmitri? Crazy as you are, you were right about that one.

Shinji's reaction had been rather unexpected; he had smiled broadly the moment the disheveled man on the hallway came into view, as though he had known the double agent would be standing there like a fool.

Kaji saw Asuka claw at Shinji's arm with increasing anxiety. "Answer me, you stupid jerk!" Her voice gained volume and became uneven when she spoke. "What the hell is going on?! Are we still asleep?! Did Sensei knock me out?! Please, tell me this is a dream, Shinji!"

It tore Kaji's heart to pieces when he noticed hot tears trail down the girl's face; yet to his increasing astonishment Shinji continued to glance back at Asuka with an expression of calm understanding. "It's real, Asuka," he said at last when the young woman took him by the shoulders and began to shake him. "It's okay. You're awake, this is reality. And that's Kaji-san, right there."

Asuka's lower lip quivered violently. Her teary eyes whipped back in Kaji's direction, then back to Shinji. "Y-You…" she mumbled as her hands moved to clasp Shinji around his shirt's collar. "You…"

"Sorry," he answered the unspoken question, and forced Kaji to feel even more out of place than before. How much, he wondered, how much pain had they gone through to finally achieve the sense of normalcy and unspoken messages between them? "I just want you to be happy."

Asuka's head hung for a moment, expression souring into a mixture of anguish, gratefulness, disbelief and anger. Kajin thought she was attempting to glare at the former male pilot, and was failing miserablely. Her face turned to one of active, unbidden despair as her lips descended onto Shinji's and began a deep kiss, blatantly ignoring both the tears which refused to stop falling off her face and the presence of the undead Ryoji Kaji.

After what felt like a small eternity Kaji saw his former charge disengage from the kiss, hug Shinji tight and whisper something in his ear as she held him close. He had never, in his many years of knowing her, ever seen Asuka hug anybody so openly.

It was due to the strange scene unveiling before him that Kaji was thoroughly unprepared when Asuka flung herself at him at full speed and embraced him, jumped on his neck and clasped both her hands on his back. "Hey," he whispered.

Asuka's body quaked under the severity of the sobs she was attempting to hold back as Kaji physically lifted them both off the ground and carried her to the room Shinji had been so kind to open. "It's okay, sweetie." He sat them both on the largest chair available, and felt Asuka's strong legs tangle around his form. "You know you don't have to pretend anything when you're with me."

Kaji felt her body unlock in a way it only ever did around people she considered trustworthy, which in this case meant only himself or Shinji. A strangled wail bled out of Asuka's throat the moment he set them both down, a cry far too raw and uncontrolled to be anything less than the accumulated guilt, pain and grief she had gone through ever since he had been murdered. She screamed into his shoulder and banged her fists on his chest, clutching his shirt afterwards while angry tears cascaded down her face and further stained the ragged coat he wore. She slapped him hard in the face, harder than he thought possible for someone of her age and physique, then buried her head in the hem of his coat.

Letting the young woman scream and rage to her leisure, Kaji offered an apologetic smile to Shinji which also attempted to convey a fraction of the gratitude he felt towards the boy; Shinji gave him an uncomfortable smirk in return, clearly feeling out of place in the entire scenario. For someone who had become so overprotective of the precious bundle of red and golden in his arms, the former Third Child took the situation rather well in Kaji's opinion. "You know," he whispered in between the senseless rambling and occasional German curse word. "I missed you too."

"K-K-Kaji…" Asuka mumbled with a broken voice. She seemed so guilty, so filled with a shame he could not understand nor grasp, that all he could do was nod in return and offer a reassuring grin.

"It's okay, whatever you think it is, Asuka, it's okay," Kaji emphasized as he hugged her just a bit tighter. "Whatever it is, I won't think any less of you. How could I? You are probably the most amazing person on this planet, sweetie." He removed a strand of hair from her face. "I'm here for you, and I'll be here, as long as there's breath in my body."

Asuka stared at him for a long time, and the following silence had both Kaji and Shinji gulping in apprehension and discomfort. She looked directly into his eyes, barely blinking at all, seeking even the slightest trace of falsehood, of his fake promises and disinterested excuses. Finding none, she nodded, burying her face back into the crook of her neck.

"Uhmm…" Shinji scratched the back of his head while his eyes darted to the door; a couple of steps and he'd be free to go prepare a filling dinner worthy of the occasion, and perhaps Asuka would abstain from killing him for not revealing his actions before. "So, I guess I'll give you guys some space, and maybe tell Misato s-"

"If you leave this room, I swear to God, Shinji," came the muffled response from Asuka herself, "I will hunt you down through this entire pyramid."

Kaji's expression turned to one of shock and, glancing back at the boy in question, the threat did not appear so far-fetched after all.

"You did this, didn't you?" Asuka demanded, not bothering to release Kaji from the tight hold or even raise her head. "You fucking idiot… that's why… that's why your nightmares are so bad, right?"

"Ah, well you see…" There was no escaping anymore; of course 2.0 would tell her how deep down, there was a slight trace of Lilith's touch left on his soul, a scratch of sorts, a wound that had not quite healed yet. In his efforts to try and bring happiness to Asuka's existence, Shinji had subconsciously wished for the power to bring Kaji back at a great personal cost, going against the natural law of life, death and rebirth. In doing so, Lilith had branded him; the memories of all those who went past him, the visions, the Void, they were all after effects of the poison Lilith had inflicted. "I… uhh… I wanted to make y-"

"Stupid," Asuka interrupted before Shinji could even finish his sentence. "Stupid selfish jerk… damn you for b-being such a idiot… g-god damn you both…"

Asuka took a few deep breaths, and slowly disentangled her arms from Kaji's neck so she could effectively glare, or try to, in Shinji's direction. He watched, perplexed, as Asuka's face shifted between anguish, anger, and what he interpreted as a very deep and unique affection. "What are you, stupid?" she demanded brokenly. "Why do you do this, Shinji?!"

"I just…" he replied sheepishly, head bowed. "I want to help you, somehow."

Kaji continued to admire the events unfolding before him as though they were an out-of-body experience; there was a bond between these two broken youngsters, one strong enough to make him reconsider many of his life's decisions and viewpoints. They communicated through sheer body language; the slightest movement of any facial muscle had a meaning behind it he did not dare inquire about, a silent speech possible only between those who had truly opened up to each other. He saw Asuka close her eyes in a sort of quiet resolution, and then turn those cerulean eyes he did not know had missed so very much towards him. The guilt returned tenfold to her gaze.

"Kaji… ever since you… left…" Asuka started; he noticed how her eyes darted towards a particularly torn corner of the coat's collar instead of his bearded mug, and a new flow of tears made its steady way down her face. "I… a lot of things happened… and I couldn't pilot anymore after an Angel r-r-raped my mind, and I… I ran away and I tried to starve myself… b-but then I fell into a c-coma, and NERV found me and they hooked me up to this bed, and I didn't know what was going on… t-then the army c-came and they put me in Unit 02 and they rained down bombs on me, they tried to kill me!" Asuka's body quivered with sobs, forcing Kaji to wonder just how long she had been bottling up these emotions.

"A-And I d-didn't want to die…" she continued. "S-So M-Mama spoke to me… she had been there the whole time…! P-Protecting…me and I… I fought, Kaji, I did. I fought so hard and I was winning, we were winning, Mama and I and then… t-then they…" Kaji tried not to cringe as he watched Shinji's eyes turn sorrowful, and Asuka hold the left side of her face with her hand. "They… they b-beat me… Kaji… and they ate me… I was a-alive… I felt everything!" A fist impacted against his shoulder. "They killed me! And then… and then the world ended, and began again… and I…" The way Asuka's head moved in Shinji's direction concerned him; her eyes were filled with a guilt he had only ever seen, ironically enough, in Shinji's face. "K-Kaji I did…I did a lot of bad things after that…"

"And you can tell me each and every one," Kaji answered at last, forcing her eyes to his with both hands. "Each and every one, Asuka, and I won't ever leave again. I'll stay right here, it won't change anything." Asuka adopted a less uncomfortable position, half-sitting on his lap while both her arms held onto him tight. "Go on," he added, gently coercing the person he had failed in so many ways, and to whom he owed so much now. "We have all the time in the world now."

A pair of cerulean eyes nervously sought out Shinji's gaze, making him blink. "S-Shinj?" Asuka asked with caution; her right hand unhinged from Kaji's shoulder and motioned for him to come near. "C-Could you come a little closer, please?"

What left Kaji more perplexed than anything was the way that Asuka had uttered Shinji's name, and the fact that she had said 'please' at all. Once the former Third Child was at an acceptable difference, Asuka's right forefinger traced a small, almost circular discoloration under Shinji's cheekbone. "S-See that?" she said with clear uncertainty and trepidation. Kaji nodded grimly; he had read the reports of course, and found himself wishing that Misato would come bursting through the door at that moment.

"I did that," Asuka admitted, and dried her tears with the shirt's hem. "It was the first night after I came back from Instrumentality. Shinji m-made noodles, and he gave me a bowl… and I threw them in his face. He got blisters, which I…" her finger traced down to another, slightly more noticeable dot, "I hit him here, when he smiled because he found us meat. I couldn't stand it when he smiled, because it made me feel insecure. I didn't want to be near him… but I didn't want to leave either…" Her finger moved to Shinji's left cheek. "I did that. I hit him there about a week and a half after we came back, I hit him so much that the blister wound reopened and got infected… then I pushed him one time while we were gathering water, and he got a cut on his leg… Shinji could you…"

And so it went for what felt like hours; Kaji's leg deadened at some point due to blood deprivation, but he could not, for the life of him, interrupt. Asuka told him of every single scratch, wound, forgotten bruise, insult and abuse she had committed on her fellow pilot, with Shinji standing right there, and did not stop except to take sips of water from a cup that Shinji offered, or to point towards another location of his body she had assaulted. Her memory was uncanny, almost eidetic in his opinion, for she even recalled events which had left only temporary marks that had long since disappeared. She still specified with abundant detail and went as far as recalling her state of mind, mostly to a certain point where she blacked out, during each attack.

Shinji's eyes threw Kaji off during the bizarre exchange; while at times he looked truly uncomfortable and shyly removed his shirt to show off the two long scars on his torso, there were other in which he appeared ready to pry Asuka off him, should he react in the wrong manner. Something told the seasoned agent that the slightest sign of rejection, disgust or disapproval would earn him a torn-out windpipe.

Despite Shinji's protest declaring it was enough, Asuka shook her head and told Kaji of the times she had abused him sexually, going as far as detailing her exact train of thought at the deed's moment, and even dry-heaving a few times as she reminisced the actions her uncontrolled rage and trauma had brought about.

"A-And then I told him he was n-n-nothing, and I kicked him and I kicked and I kicked, and I swear I didn't mean to, I swear Kaji I swear, I didn't mean to kick him so hard… but it was our rule and the t-truth… the truth is that I did want him to h-hold me… and I didn't want to admit it… and I did t-that… I almost k-killed him, Kaji… I didn't mean what I said, I swear I didn't. I didn't mean it…but I still did it… and I-I'm sorry, I really am…"

"I think you can put your shirt on again, now, Shinji-kun," said Kaji, not once breaking eye contact with the teary girl in his arms who continued to scrutinize him for any sign of rejection.

The only reason she looks and acts like that, shy, Kaji mused as Asuka blinked and stole quick, timid glances every now and then. Is because she's surrounded, right now, at this very moment, by the only two people she actually trusts. She can be herself, and boy, isn't that a great sight. "So." Kaji gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Is that it?"

"I…" Asuka licked her lips, seemingly embarrassed of her lengthy and detailed confession. "I guess…"

Settling back on the chair and releasing a large sigh of contentment, Kaji turned to wink at Shinji, who had long since taken a seat on their bed. "Well," he started, and patted Asuka's shoulder. "Then I think we're gonna have to have a series of long, lengthy, highly uncomfortable conversations while I invite you for dinner repeatedly, for the following, say…. Forty, fifty years? How's that sound? If your boyfriend here approves of it, of course."

Asuka's cheeks colored instantly; the confession had begun spilling out the moment she had laid eyes on Kaji. She knew the Baka well enough; he was the type of person who would bring back the man Misato loved, and not his own mother, for completely unselfish reasons. The fact that he was conveniently there the moment Kaji had decided to waltz back into her life, as though brought back from the underworld with a magic wand, had been a perfect coincidence. She had wanted to let Shinji know; she remembered each hit, every bruise, every insult; she would atone for them in some way or the other, not because she was forced to, but because she wanted to.

"Okay…" she agreed, nodding, and slowly rose and crossed her arms, cheeks growing increasingly pink. She gestured for Shinji to hold her and not a moment later she was pulled into a tight hug she did not quite return. "You're both idiots…" whispered the former Second Child. "Especially you, Baka-Shinji."

"I know," Shinji agreed amiably, offering her a glass of water with his bandaged hand. "But if it makes you happy, it's worth it."

"I'm gonna make you happy," Asuka grumbled back in a somewhat competitive tone. "You'll see, you stupid jerk… I'll get you good for this stupid little stunt you pulled… Baka. Just you wait."

"I believe you," Shinji agreed, placing a kiss on the girl's cheek like they had been doing it for a lifetime, and clearly ignoring Kaji's presence in the room. She's grown up so wonderfully, he realized with an overwhelming sense of elation; it felt good to know he had participated, however little, in the incredible development of the young woman before him. God, it feel's like there's a lifetime to catch up on.

"Thank you," Kaji said all of a sudden. He stood at last, only to bow deeply to the pair a second afterwards. "Thank you very much, Shinji."

Shinji was about to respond in an amiable manner and finally, finally get to the kitchen where it was safe and he would not be in the direct vicinity of Ryoji Kaji before Misato arrived, which according to the watch on their wall and the woman's recent punctuality would be in… about two minutes. He extended his hand to shake Kaji's and would have been successful, had the door not hissed open at that moment. The man's expression turned into a quiet grimace; his demise had arrived in the form of the woman of his dreams.

"Say, Katsurag-"

A purplish cannon flew at inhuman speed toward the unsuspecting man. Shinji was too slow to warn Kaji, too slow to warn Asuka, far too slow to do anything short of removing both himself and the girl in his arms a good two meters from the room once Kaji was knocked to the floor. Both teens flinched as the thunderous roar stifled their room, and echoed through the halls of the Med Bay.

"ASSHOLE!"


Facility X, Siberia. Russia. Tenth Lower Level. February the 10th, 2017

He came to just as a group of masked men unceremoniously threw him to the floor of what appeared to be one of Facility X's lower levels. He remembered little else than the face of a bearded, long-haired man who had slammed the butt of a rifle into his back just mere seconds after he had activated the nuclear device. He was unaware of whether the bomb had exterminated all of Tokyo, the Evangelions, and the thing he feared above all else in the world, but certainly hoped the sheer power of the bomb sufficed.

Kalashnikov Yuri, SEELE 02, slowly got back to his feet and surveyed his surroundings; cast about on the ground were the failed clones they had produced while trying to harness Samael's power and study its metabolic structure. How a being could exist in two different planes of reality at once had always interested him, disregarding the Twelfth Angel. After all, Samael possessed the nearest direct link to Lilith's power.

He had been kidnapped, of that much Yuri was certain, having been kept in a non-too comfortable panic room for days, and was sure to meet his demise at any given point, most certainly at the hands of one of his bastard's old comrades.

"Where is Dmitri?" he demanded of the nothingness all around, he felt the eyes of them, he felt their dead, emotionless eyes observe his every move with ferocious scrutiny. "Where is he?! Bring him to me at once, you useless runts!"

Soon enough, a pair of uneven steps slowly made their way to his direction. A figure he easily recognized manifested just behind one of their most successful clones, one which had actually grown a head and pair of arms before its cellular composition had begun deteriorating.

"You're being too loud… and I have a headache," his son responded with a gravelly voice. He was beaten up, bandaged, carried his left leg as though it weighed him down, and one of his eyes was covered by white wrappings sprinkled in crimson. The boy's clothes were dripping blood that did not seem to be his own. "I'm touched by your concern, Отец. I mean, I did just survive a nuclear attack you sent my way, after all."

Yuri tsked, spitting on the ground to signify his discomfort. "You knew what was to happen, should you fail, boy. How fitting, that the likes of you should be defeated by a pair of weakling whelps." Unaware he was doing so and once more ignoring the dozens of eyes which pierced him from all sides, Yuri close the distance between himself and his son in four large strides and took a hold of the boy's collar. He effortlessly lifted the young soldier's damaged body off the ground, a reminder of his strength of old.

"Your little idea? Your little plan?! It did not work!" Yuri yelled directly into the soldier's untroubled face, spittle foaming out of his mouth. "Now… now we have nothing short of the serum! You have effectively deprived us of the technology we required for the scenario! How do you expect me to bring back your mother and brother without Unit 02 now?! Have you no sense of self-worth, you dog?! Defeated by the waste of space that is Ikari's brat?! Pathetic! You should have split that piece of garbage in half when you had the chance! Do you not see?! Are you this much of an imbecile, bastard?! Cowering under a worm as miserably feeble as Ikari Shin-"

He felt it; the tip of that old, rusty knife Dmitri kept with him at all times easily dug through Yuri's expensive suit and created a small but deep puncture wound just under his rib cage in the blink of an eye. All of a sudden, the boy's one useful hand curled around his suit, and Dmitri's forehead impacted with his with enough force to open a gash above his hairline. The blade was removed and reinserted about five centimeters from the first entry point, then removed again and stabbed into the left side of his body.

"Do not ever," Dmitri growled as he greedily twisted the knife and rendered his father immobile, "ever insult Ikari Shinji in my presence."

Yuri wheezed, hand curling around his last remaining son's neck. "I am in charge…" he wheezed while failing to apply pressure at all; the spots where the boy had stabbed him were all locations where massive bleeding was sure to ensue, with the last wound having almost pierced his stomach.

The dreadful smirk everybody was terrified of drew itself on Dmitri's features when he removed the blade and kicked his father to the ground. "Are you?" he asked in turn, laughing and coughing at once. "Are you, really?"

"Y-You little." Yuri spat out a mouthful of blood, turning to stare at the growing red dots on his white shirt. "You would… kill your own father…"

"Oh, no." The boy's forefinger moved left and right. "No, no no no. Patricide… is a certain boundary I'm not quite yet willing to cross. You'd never understand, of course, considering how many times you tried to have Grandfather killed." He pocketed the knife once the blood had been swiped off on his cargo pants. "That bleeding is by no means lethal, it's just about enough to keep you in place, though."

To Yuri's everlasting horror, Dmitri produced a small glass bottle; in it shone a bright red liquid too thick to be blood; a liquid the once powerful man was very familiar with. "No…" he found himself whispering as his eyes grew large with fear. "No, no, this can… this cannot be…" He crawled away, tried to stand and slipped on his own blood, falling heavily on the ground and worsening his wounds. "No!" he screamed, effectively crawling away on all fours. "No, no, please! No! Let me go! Let me go!"

The product of his desire for a particularly beautiful female clerk who had once worked in Facility X smiled a cold, nasty smile as he once more neared the failed experiment and opened the lid, pouring the heavy, glowing liquid on the clone's body. The moment the strange sludge fell on the thing's arm, the entire half-rotten body convulsed, and a terrible, starved shriek erupted from the skeletal features as it thrashed about and gained mass, wailing in agony and ravenous hunger. With one available arm and no legs, no internal organs but for the lungs, core and stomach, the creature began to move forward.

It was then that Yuri noticed the unconscious, half-disemboweled form of Grosvenor Tymothy, who sat bleeding out on a wooden chair, tied with barbed wire and with the better part of his lower intestines wrapped around his own neck. Still, he could see the man wheeze almost imperceptibility as blood continued to dribble down his exposed abdomen and mouth and his face grew almost blue; he had been strangled with his own guts, and still somehow kept alive. The ghastly apparition growled in hunger as its hand curled around Grosvenor; the man shared a last, infinitely terrified look with Yuri before he was devoured in one gulp, chair and wire included.

Yuri watched in absolute horror as Samael gnawed on the man's entire body; a piece of severed foot fell just a few feet from him while blood cascaded down the monster's chin. It opened a new pair of eyes, and once it had swallowed what had once been a man, moved the eviscerated body in his direction. "No, no… I killed you..." Yuri screamed with evident revulsion. "I killed you… I killed you! Get the fuck away from me! I killed you!"

Two pairs of brown eyes met in the midst of the chaos and the disgruntling growls of the zombified creature, which continued its slow advance towards him. Whereas Yuri's eyes were white with raw terror, Dmitri's held a slight glimmer of humor as he watched his father loosen his bowels in front of him. "You killed him, huh?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. "That's funny. Do tell me, dad…" He laughed once more, a disturbing sound that competed with Samael's grunts. "How, exactly, do you kill the Angel of Death?"

"Y-You said," Yuri cried out, tears of dread and desperation ran down his face. "You said you wouldn't kill me!" A gigantic hand closed in on him, the fingers crushed his ribs with ease as they lifted his bleeding form to the ceiling. "You said you wouldn't kill me!"

Dmitri shrugged, smiling as he scratched a heavily swollen cheek. "Well, I'm not killing you, you know. Actually, Athies, I'm giving you a present. Imagine this: a soul as… corrupted… as yours will take hundreds… thousands of years to be fully digested! You finally get to see Lorenz once again! You get to share his dream!"

"No, no, no, no, please, no…" Yuri pleaded, and then screamed long and loud when the Angel's crooked teeth hinged closed around his legs and tore apart his lower body in a gory spectacle, innards hanging from him as the monstrous child of Lilith fed on his flesh. "No… y-you said… D-Dmitri…"

The son of SEELE 02 offered a sunny smile, content and seemingly unbothered with watching his father's intestines hanging off Samael's closed maw as it gorged on his legs. "You get to have your ambition come true, dad; be happy about it! You get to be part of a God! You… you get to live forever."

The last thing Kalashnikov Yuri saw before being swallowed whole by Samael was the red glint in the boy's eyes, so alike the monster which devoured him.

"Прощай."

Blood oozed from the malfunctioning mouth of the monstrous reincarnation of Samael. It chewed every piece of Yuri with care, as though reveling in a fine meal after a long period of starvation. Dmitri watched the spectacle with a sense of morbid enjoyment and strange detachment. How many years had he dreamed of this day? How many nights had he planned his father's demise? The release that came with fulfilling this last particular task paled in comparison to the elation and dread he had been gifted whilst battling the Second and Third Children.

"I was five years old when those mercenaries came to our village," he said to the bestial Angel, which continued to regenerate at an alarming rate as it devoured the last part of Yuri's head. "They killed our neighbors, killed the old woman who gave my mother milk in the mornings, killed the cows, the goats, the dogs. They never even told us why. Then they got into our house, my brother was barely reaching his second birthday…"

He pulled out the knife from his back pocket. "They raped her, and killed her with this knife, telling her that if she screamed they would kill us first. They were a death squad sent by you, paid to eradicate all evidence of your infidelity since it could damage your political career and Lorenz's opinion of you. Your one mistake was leaving me and my brother alive to be your playthings, though. You should've never told them to bring us back alive."

Samael swallowed the last bite of its meal, maw dripping crimson as its eyes glistened in the darkness of the forgotten cage. The figure turned to stare at Dmitri next; the young soldier shrugged with his uninjured elbow. "What?" he asked, hand extended. "Still hungry, old friend? Wanna have me as dessert?"

The monstrous Angel growled loud enough to alert the many child soldiers positioned in Dmitri's vicinity, yet the boy in question did not so much as flinch. "I guess this is it, then. It was a great battle, wasn't it?"

Nodding once in the soldier's direction, Samael manifested its core in the new body's center. The crimson orb vanished and the body started to decay as quickly as it had regenerated. Without a mask, the visage of the Angel's face was frightening enough to give nightmares to the most seasoned warrior; its eyes glowed from within its skull, razor sharp teeth which faintly resembled a human's mouth were visible, strands of flesh and clothing still clung to the half-rotten gums, the skeletonized features that stuck out grotesquely through the half-rotten skin. The decomposing body let itself fall back with a thunderous crash, eyes slowly dying out.

Samael had feasted on the souls of SEELE, there was no greater meal for him, not for another two generations, at the very least. Satisfied, the Angel of Death went back to its dimension, and to its mother.

"A great battle," said Child Zero after a few moments passed and the evidence of his father's existence had vanished. Along with the souls of Myr, he suspected Vasiliy had been released and was now making his way to their mother's embrace, an embrace he would never again feel or remember. He convinced himself it was better that way; no mother should ever have to see their child become a monster, regardless of the reasons behind it. They molded me into a killing machine, but I did it. I liked it, still do. I'm a monster beyond salvation, and I'm okay with it. I was born wrong, but he wasn't. He was pure… and now, he can be with you, Mother.

"Our ancestors used to believe," Dmitri told the nothingness of the cage. "That death was a fate far better than life." He imagined the face of his younger sibling, remembered the last time the boy had truly smiled. Vasiliy was always smiling in his memory. "For you will be reunited with lost loved ones in the halls of Valhalla, and you will sup with them and the Gods, and you will drink with them, and share their stories… but we will never meet again, brother."

Dmitri's eyes turned to the metal ceiling, his vision darkened without his consent. How many years had passed now, since he had last shed a tear? "I have a feeling that the Gods… might object to me visiting you in Valhalla… But do give my love to our mother when you see her, my dear Vasiliy. I'm sorry… that I failed, I'm sorry that I couldn't protect you. I truly am."

He glared down at the steel floor in despair. He had been brainwashed, tortured to the point of exhaustion and conditioned like a prison guard dog, to the point where he would not breathe unless ordered to. He had volunteered for the contact experiments with the demand that his brother was to be left alone. "Why did you have to die?" he demanded, and bit the inside of his mouth strongly enough to draw blood. He had been fatigued beyond reason on the day they had fed his brother to Samael, fatigued, and broken. He had stood there with a dead look in his eyes as his brother threw a desperate glance in his direction, and the entry plug hissed closed. A tear burned its way down the boy's face.

"I hate you for leaving me."

His left knee was still slightly damaged, his midsection was a mass of pain and heavily ground muscle mass, his head throbbed and he swore at least three organs were not where they belonged. The aftershock of Shinji's devastating liver blow would be waking him up in a cold sweat for the foreseeable future, it would seem. Despite the best efforts of Samael, he had ended up more broken than the last time a group of his instructors had ganged up on him. His steps were uneven but steady as he made his way to the exit, followed by all those who, like himself, had survived the initial experimentation.

He blatantly ignored the sound of Samael's body disintegrating and bubbling out of existence; after a battle worthy of mythology, a feast on corrupted souls Shinji had been too much of a decent human to condemn, and a last dessert which came in the form of SEELE's last important member, the Angel of Death was sated. Perhaps in another millennia, once humans were extinct and a different, higher life form took over, he would rise again to devour. Dmitri's advance was cut short, however, when a small, almost imperceptible cough echoed through the cage.

"D-Dima?"

A voice he knew well, a voice he had not heard in years, not even in Instrumentality, crashed into Dmitri's unbelieving mind.

"Dima? Is that you?"

He forgot all about the pain in his body, the broken arm, the internal hemorrhaging, the cracked ribs, the way his jaw felt broken in four or five different places. He forgot all about the agony in his left knee or the pain of his organs. Because as he ran and pulled the boy to his battered chest, the blonde youth who now stood where Samael's body had dissolved, he discovered no physical agony in life could ever compare to the shame of having let his brother die.

And so, the young assassin who considered himself a monster beyond salvation was granted the last shred of hope in his rotten heart. Samael had kept his word, but as he embraced the young boy who had seemingly not aged a day since he had been absorbed, Dmitri found himself eternally grateful and indebted to both Asuka and Shinji.

Would a lifetime be sufficient, he wondered whilst bawling into his confused brother's blonde hair, would a lifetime be enough to thank them both?


February the 12th, 2017. Undisclosed Location: Russia

The typing never stopped, despite the fact that the data was already handled and processed; as soon as one duty was done, she jumped to the next with barely a blink of an eye. There were still so many loops, so much to sort out, so many people to pay and blackmail properly so as to ensure the mission's absolute success. There was still so much to do, and yet she desired none of it.

The video feed from the hospital, courtesy of the camera Dmitri had managed to sneak in, had told her everything; they did not need her anymore. Asuka and Shinji had managed to find each other in the dark, in the black abyss that was their trauma; trauma she had inflicted, and by holding onto each other they had stumbled out of the Void and into the light of a new life. They had done so without her.

"Boy, oh boy," came the ragged voice from behind as uneven steps neared her hunched over figure. The hangar was old and rusted, but it was twenty meters underground and surrounded by concrete and metal. The air was scarce; her working station was a chaotic arrangement of computers, screens, and all sorts of plastic containers where the food she had not devoured in a haste was currently developing its own tiny ecosystem. "You know, your office reeks of… it's pungently aromatized as… ugh… it just smells like shit, Boss."

A single, blood-shot blue eye turned to glare hatefully at the bandaged figure behind her. "You shouldn't have been so hard on them," she whispered with poison leaking from her tone. To her displeasure, the young battered agent simply shrugged, and hissed in pain as his broken ribs complained.

"You wanted it to be real, right Boss?" he answered with obvious difficulty. "Besides, they fucked all my shit up, have you even looked at me? I can barely walk, let alone fig-"

Her fists impacted heavily against the keyboard, sending pieces of plastic flying while others embedded themselves in her skin. "You shouldn't have been so hard on them!" The scream was thunderous, ragged. Tt bled out of her aching chest with every bit of pain and rage she felt.

The boy soldier raised his one useful hand in an apologetic fashion. "Jesus fuck, okay!" Nodding with wide eyes and a stiff body, the Russian took a step away from the disheveled woman who had recruited him, and who had effectively transferred all of his father's assets and resources to him. "I'm sorry, alright!? Those damn brats are stronger than we thought, Boss! Shit, I barely even made it out with my life! Oh, and thanks so much for the concern, by the way!"

She continued to glare at the person who for so many strange reasons reminded her of the terrible actions which weighed on her soul. He was a monster, by all means; Dmitri had no true notion or value for life, living in a world of undisclosed violence and sadism where innocence was snuffed out at a tender age; a world where only the deadliest, scariest creatures survived. A world not unlike the world where Asuka had been raised; cold, sterile, official, formal, a world devoid of humanity in its most basic form. After effectively glaring a hole through the boy's swollen face, she turned, threw away the broken keyboard and connected a new one.

"I assume you've taken your vengeance on Yuri," the woman stated flatly as new images began to appear on her screen and threatening emails were continuously sent to different politicians, mob bosses, assassins, presidents and prime ministers. "He was always a pretentious, womanizing shit of a man. I do hope you made his death twice as painful as Steinberg's."

Laughter mingled with coughing sprang from the young man she had seen once as a dirty, starving boy, and labeled as Child Zero. How easy it had been then, to detach herself from the fact that she had a newborn child and that the boy staring at her with dead eyes from across the room was a paltry three years older than her. How easy it had been in those days, to pretend her own child would one day stare at the world through that same lifeless expression, to hope that her child would somehow be spared of such a fate.

"Oh, he's been… taken care of, Boss." Dmitri neared her station, and deposited a picture of a blonde youth sleeping on a cot; if she tried had enough, the similarities in the cheekbones and overall features of the face were apparent. The boy's face was, however, softer, milder; whereas Dmitri had inherited the defined figure of his father's hard lines, his brother was a true mixture of him, and the beauty that his mother had once been. "Vasiliy 's asleep now. He doesn't remember much of what happened after he was absorbed, apparently Samael took away most of his memories from his time in Purgatory. He does remember the… training, and Mother's death."

For once, her dull fingers ceased their endless typing and her left thumb and forefinger gently traced the youth's face in the picture. He seemed oddly at ease when asleep, a polarizing opposite to the scowls, frowns and tears of her own child. "He is a handsome boy," Dmitri's boss commented in a softer tone as her eyes grew glassy. "There may yet be hope for him, given that he has not aged. He can be saved, since he is not as broken as you are."

Behind her the eyes of a killer, who had not once in about seven years reflected anything other than sadistic pleasure, hatred and rage, softened as well. "Yeah, he might just have a regular, happy life in the end." A heavy, calloused hand fell on her shoulder, devoid of any ill intentions or murderous intent. "Thank you," said Dmitri, and patted her twice. "Thank you, Boss."

He began limping away, which in turn left her with nothing to stare at but the endless data before her and the picture of the blonde boy Samael had regurgitated. There was still so much to do, so many affairs to attend to, so many more details to finalize, and yet… she found herself speaking to him. "I have a final request, Agent Krupnov."

The steps halted at once; she could almost feel his questioning gaze on her head. "And what would that be, Boss? I mean, I already have a list of about a hundred and fifty people I have to kill once I'm patched u-"

"I want you to kill me," she interrupted; her strained, tired neck gave in as her head hung in shame, anguish and defeat. "Please."

Not a second after the words had left her mouth, the steps redoubled in speed, almost losing the noticeable gait in them and soon enough the cold kiss of Dmitri's engraved Makarov was pressed against her skull. "Are you sure about that order, Boss?" he asked, and loaded the pistol in one fluid motion.

For reasons beyond her vast and brilliant understanding, tears began to leak from her eyes and fell down her face, clouding her vision. Just once, it would have been nice to touch her child's hair; just one more time would be sufficient. The pain, nonetheless, was stifling, the recurrent nightmares and horrid trances were breaking apart her sanity, the memories of her time inside the Core, of the inability to communicate at all with her child were corroding her soul. Living was turning harder to bear than being inside that prison of flesh and metal.

"Yes," she muttered, nodding. "Please."

The pressure on the back side of her skull increased; she felt and heard the click as Dmitri pulled the trigger, closing her eyes, but there was no rewarding nothingness to welcome her. There was no Samael returning to reclaim that which was his meal, there was no sign of Purgatory. The tears, on the other hand, continued to fall. Her blurry vision turned almost black when she scowled.

"Why…?" she demanded with rage and sorrow. "Why won't you do it?!" Her eyes sought his, which to the woman's surprised were glazed, detached, as though relieving a far-off, distant memory.

Dmitri sighed and placed the pistol next to the picture of his brother. "My grandfather was Mikhail Kalashnikov, inventor of the AK-47 and many other weapons," he said. With evident difficulty due to his wounds, he brought out an old, rusted kitchen knife and also placed it next to the picture. "He was a man of peace, who by the end of his life was haunted ceaselessly by the many lives his weapons had taken. Even as our nation called him a hero and a patriot, he felt nothing but regret and shame. In the search of defending those he loved and his beloved motherland, he created that which he most dreaded. He should have passed with great honor and no regrets, but he was, to his core, a good man."

His scarred hand traced gently over the minute, beautifully carved decorations on the pistol. "I found this under my cot one day, exactly a year after he passed. Grandfather made it himself and left it to me, along with whatever money he could hide away from my father. Heh," he chuckled, and yet she noticed how his brown eyes grew moist with the shadow of a tear. "He hoped that I would be better than Yuri, better than him even. He wished that I would become a man of peace. Now, I will pass on his will to my brother, along with this pistol. This pistol that cannot fire."

Her gaze turned questioning, to which the boy smiled and pocketed the weapon. "Like a sword without edge, this pistol is a symbol. A symbol of hope for a better future, for a better life. This, on the other hand," Dmitri pointed toward the knife. "This is the knife they used to murder my mother. They stabbed her about a dozen times, after they grew bored of raping her. I've used this knife to kill every person directly or indirectly responsible for her death."

"Then why won't you cut my throat?" she demanded brokenly. "Why won't you kill me?"

Sighing in apparent defeat, Dmitro turned his eyes to the computer, pushed a few keys on her new keyboard and after a resounding click, every one of her seven screens suddenly displayed a picture of Asuka and Shinji in the medical ward's hospital bed, with Misato sprawled between two chairs and Pen-Pen sleeping nestled on Shinji's stomach.

"Do you have any idea how horrible Shinji's nightmares are, Boss?" Dmitri asked, and zoomed in on the peaceful expression on both youths. "Do you know the horrors he's had to overcome because he brought you back? Do you think I wouldn't do that? I'd sell my soul a thousand times over to both Samael and Lilith; I'd offer all of mankind, all of human life, just to see my mother again. Hell, I'd offer all of you to Purgatory if it meant that Vasiliy gets a chance to see her, and speak to her, even once, even f it's just a couple of words."

Painfully crouching next to her, Dmitri pointed towards the Second and Third Children. "This was always the mission, wasn't it, Boss? This, right there, in that picture. Well, Shinji is on his own mission now, one that involves you."

Being reminded of the fact that by all means she should be dead was not pleasant, nor a good idea. Dmitri knew better, and seemed overly eager to test her limited patience, waste her time and continue to disobey her; he was infuriating, like the child she had left behind, the child who might one day… need… her. Blue eyes widened in sudden understanding.

"This isn't about you, Boss. Never was. It's about her, and because of that… well it's not that I won't kill you… I just… can't." He patted her shoulder again. "I respect Shinji too much. I admire him. I fear him. I will not meddle in his mission; it would be a dishonor and a great insult to a worthy adversary."

The boy grunted in agony as he stood, leaving her dumbfounded once more, this time with both the picture of his brother and his most prized possession, his mother's knife. "With that being said," his voice trailed off as he left, growing louder as his footsteps drifted further and further away. "Don't you have any freaking sense of responsibility, you slob?! For fuck's sake, he brought you back to life! Go get your freaking head straight, Boss! Get some fucking therapy! Get your grip back on reality, and for the love of fuck, go see your damn daughter! Holy shit! I swear to God, you Sohryus are so fucking stubborn! Блять! Get your head out of your ass, woman! Live for her! Get healthy for her! Go see her! You irresponsible, childish, arrogant German Bitch!"

Soon enough the sound of Dmitri's loud demands and insults drifted away, leaving behind the picture of a boy whose life had been spared, and a blade which had cut many throats, legs, veins and arteries over less than a lifetime. She felt compelled to slit her wrists, as her daughter had been compelled to once her synch rate had fallen to zero. She had almost caused her daughter's suicide, had been thoroughly unable to reach her at all through Unit 02, a feat that a semi-sentient beast had accomplished with far more success than her. Her pride and joy had been designed to evolve, after all. It had been designed to protect Asuka, even if the core was cracked and broken... even if she was no longer in it.

And yet it changed nothing; the fact that Unit 02 had sacrificed itself for Asuka did not change the memory her precious daughter dreaded, the image of finding her mother's body dangling from a rope. It did not change the fact that her own obsession with EVA had molded Asuka's desire to be a part of the cursed world of those who defied nature. She had broken and butchered her own daughter's heart and soul, created walls that Shinji had bled to overcome, and damaged Asuka's life in a way that she could not hope to mend.

So many sins, Sohryu Kyoko Zeppelin thought with despair as her fingers grazed the impossibly sharp edges of the blade. The knife was so well honed it would take just a slight graze to slice open her neck or wrists. It would certainly be a welcoming change to waking up feeling the noose constrict around her windpipe and her spine crack. So little time… mein Schatz… I wonder…

Even a man such as Dmitri fought for a higher purpose now; even a monstrous boy born out of hatred and tragedy had found a tiny portion of redemption whilst rescuing not only his brother, but his last shred of humanity as well. A boy who wanted the world to burn now worked to ensure it did not go up in flames for the sake of his brother, and the sake of the only man he respected.

Her eyes drew over to her young daughter's peaceful face. A symbol of hope, hope for a better world, a better life… Shinji had truly been ready to give away his own soul, his sanity, life and health for her, not because he loved her in a blind, hormone-driven frenzy, but because he felt empathy that only he could truly feel towards her daughter. His love was pure, and so were his reasons for risking a grudge with the Angel of Death, just so she could make up for some of the damage she had caused to her own offspring. Shinji was honestly and purely seeking to help Asuka in her pursuit of happiness, for in that pursuit he himself had found purpose, had found himself and acquired peace. Of your entire generation, Shinji, of the entire world… I truly am lucky that you chose Asuka, and that she chose you…

The knife clattered noisily in the otherwise muted room when she threw it as far away from her as humanly possible. Perhaps, in his insane admiration, Dmitri had the right of it. If Shinji had sacrificed so much, then perhaps she had no right to take her own life once more, even when it meant experiencing those horrendous episodes where the memories of her empty existence after the Contact Experiment crashed into her numb brain, and visions of herself holding a doll, speaking to it, hugging it and loving it as though it was her daughter threatened to destroy her already frail sanity.

She sighed, and stared at the image on the screens. One day, I will come to you, mein Schatz. And on that day, if you wish to take my life, not a person in this world will be able to say a thing about it, because it is your right. It will be your right if you wish to hit me, or never see me again, or demand that I die, or leave. Anything, anything you do will be justified, because no matter what you do, no matter what happens, I will love you forever. I will take this time now, to heal myself for you, and keep you safe as you grow.

"Wenn die Zeit richtig ist, meine liebe Asuka," she promised, swearing under the honor she held as a Sohryu, and as the mother of such a strong young woman, as a person and as someone who owed a great debt to a certain brown-haired boy. "Ich werde zu dir zurrückkommen und versuchen, mit dir zusammen zu heilen. Zwichenzeitlich, hast du deinen lieben Shinji bei dir, und deine verrückte Aufseherin, und deinen Penguin. Ich werde nicht sterben, meine liebe, bis wir uns wieder sehen."

(When the time is right, my dear Asuka, I will come back to you and try to heal together with you. In the meantime, you have your dearest Shinji, and your crazy guardian, and your penguin. I will not die, my love, until we see each other again.)

She took out the small doll Dmitri had brought her before the mission started, the one he had found in her old house, and kissed the silken hair on the figurine's head. One day, perhaps, with Shinji's help, she would be able to kiss Asuka's head one more time.

Hope for a better world, for a better life; she had believed in crazier things in her lifetime, so why not?


Tokyo 02, Residential District. Apartment 132. February the 16th. 2.37pm

After two painfully slow-going and boring weeks in which the group, along with their friends and family had been confined to the spacious expanse of the Geofront while the dust cleared and the last enemy mercenaries were detained, the day had finally arrived. Asuka had been the first to stomp into their old, freshly updated and remodeled apartment and scream "Tadaima!" at the top of her lungs, proceeding to jog all over the place, open all the windows and doors, scream once more on their balcony, and lastly begin rummaging through her belongings.

The three residents, with the reluctant aid of their new neighbor Ikari Rei and her temporary guardian Maya, had dedicated the larger part of the evening to adjusting and setting their possessions in a new order. Asuka's room was now twice as big, with plenty of room for both teens to share, even with a new private bathroom and separate closets for clothing and personal effects. Shinji's room was now an area they could use if they ever needed space or had guests over; the boy had insisted to Rei that it was her room to use as frequently as she so desired, to which the former albino had gently declined.

"I am unsure if whether the instinct to assassinate Sohryu will be controllable in such closed quarters, for an extended period of time such as an entire night, or many a night, if I were to accept your generous offer." Her reasoning, though strange, had convinced the small family in seconds.

They had laughed awkwardly at the joke, for the most part, with Asuka nodding vaguely at the unspoken new treaty between herself and Shinji's sister. Their home was now neutral ground; a place of peace and support, not one fit for clever, biting insults and vicious attacks at each other's physique. There was plenty of room in Rei's new house, after all.

Ritsuko had truly spared no expense; every part of the apartment's systems, electrical lines, switches, windows, doors and overall functions now ran on a private, isolated system which included Rei's living quarters. In the event of a hacking or blackout, their power sources would still run, and if the former Second Child was to be believed, the new firewall Ritsuko had perfected for the system was almost impossible to break through. The damaged table had been replaced, since the old, reliable piece of broken down wood had been cracked in half during Dmitri's failed attempt to kill them. Although much nicer in appearance, Shinji could not help but miss the noticeable scratches and dents on the surface of their old one, the table Asuka had deemed sturdy enough to be in their home after Third Impact.

It felt like an eternity since the last time the small family had spent any sort of quality time in their shared apartment, the war on the Angels included. Misato had made certain that their belongings were placed specifically where they had been taken from, had brought a brand new king-sized bed for them, and forced the young pair to promise there would be neither babies nor the celebration of any weddings until Shinji was done with college.

Asuka had fumed, grumbled, screamed and blushed at the implication for about ten minutes. Shinji had gaped like a fish, only to blush and murmur to himself, and nod stupidly a few seconds after Asuka had grudgingly accepted Misato's new terms. Among them was a detailed schedule of Misato's new appointment as Security Councilor, detailing the hours of every day she could afford to spend with them both. Of course, there were large sections of said schedule where a red marker had been used without reprieve to write down "PUNISH THE ASSHOLE" in various small boxes. There was even a full Sunday dedicated to, as Misato so eloquently had written, 'make the asshole crawl for twelve hours straight'.

Misato had apologized sheepishly and told them there was one final meeting she was required to attend as a NERV representative, and left promising to return with an actual cake this time around. She had asked them both in a quite non-begging voice to behave and not break anything, each other included, in a fit of passion, anger, sadness, or any other such extreme emotion, and had provided a punching dummy located in their living room, should the need to hit something arise.

Alone with Asuka, who had taken the chance to leave her chores to him and finally shower in her own private bathroom once their guardian had excused herself, Shinji occupied himself with the final preparations for dinner by cleaning his newly replenished kitchen. Kaji's return, which had come at great personal cost, had left a very sour taste in his mouth, but not because he resented the man or his actions. If anything Shinji admired Kaji more now, knowing how much the man had sacrificed and risked to keep them alive from the shadows. He looked up to the ceiling as he cleaned the counter, lost in thought, and sighed dejectedly.

Asuka's reaction had surprised him, to be sure. He had not expected the girl to look at him in such a way and kiss him in front of her platonic love, then slap the man soundly, and then cling onto him and wail her shame and guilt into his shoulder. Her confession had left Kaji dumbfounded; and her request for him to stay had rendered him immobile for the better part of the tirade.

The tempura was to be cooked just before being eaten, and the curry sauce needed some time to simmer, so Shinji set about rearranging the kitchen utensils to his liking.

After about an hour and a half of hurried murmurs, angry shouts and silent crying, Asuka had indirectly asked Kaji if he would leave her, almost challenging him to do so with the weight of her actions. Kaji had then reassured her in a way only a parent or guardian could, by telling her that while her actions were inexcusable at best, he would not raise judgment nor reject her for them. He had told Asuka he loved her, and if allowed, would make amends for the wounds his absence and negligence had caused.

Once the new crockery glistened, Shinji delicately placed the plates on the table and made certain Asuka's fork and knife were also shining under the fluorescent light. Tonight, he was preparing a special set of dishes as a welcoming meal for Rei, Maya, Misato, Asuka and himself. If there were leftovers, he'd give them to Maya so she could in turn deliver them to Ritsuko on her next visit. There was tempura ready to simmer in the oil, fresh cuts of prime beef for Asuka's steak, vegetarian lasagna cooking in the oven for Rei, and curry sauce with chicken and pork for Misato.

Kaji was banished from the premises for the night, despite Asuka's constant complaints.

The late reunion had gone all good and sweet, making Shinji feel like he had for once made a correct decision, until Misato had caught a glimpse of a ponytail, or perhaps smelled the stench of cheap cigarettes. Whatever the cause, Misato had seen Kaji, and never before had Shinji been so terrified of his guardian as he had been at that moment. Misato had jumped on him with a flying kick to the liver after making sure Asuka was back at Shinji's side and then, blatantly ignoring the girl's half-hearted request to not kill the resurrected man, Misato had taken her time properly slapping and insulting Kaji for a solid twenty minutes.

Shinji was certain he had never before heard, and would probably never again hear, the word 'asshole' be used with such frequency and with such a variety of combinations.

After realizing the man was bleeding from his lower lip, his left cheek had been swollen along with his eye after repeated punches, and he could barely stand on his feet due to the devastating kick she had delivered to his genitals, Misato had listed the things Kaji was to do if he ever so desired to be a part of Asuka's life or her own. On the list were elements such as sharing in the parental responsibility of guiding their female charge; regular visits to the house which would be scheduled and could not be moved or rearranged regardless of rain, work, war, or the eve of a new Apocalypse; ridiculous demands to take the redhead to places such as amusements parks, shopping malls, trips to the beach; and the strange order to pet Pen-Pen every time he visited.

There was also the remark that he was to take Misato to dinner, repeatedly, at least once a week, in a romantic fashion which spoke of clear, unquestionable loyalty and fealty to her and her alone. A rather strange one had been the demand that he was now to be involved in Shinji's life as well and aid him as he progressed through puberty and maturity, a very far-fetched request considering the raw extent of Shinji's trauma. The fact that he and Kaji had hardly ever 'bonded' at all did not much help matters, but Misato was clearly not being led by rationality as she held onto Kaji's coat and shook him with strength a woman of her build was not meant to possess.

Regardless of an extraordinary beating, demands made literally at gunpoint and a black eye, Misato had graciously kissed Kaji after her tirade, and muttered a very quiet "I missed you so much, you asshole" in his ear.

The schedule also clearly specified the date of Ritsuko and his father's trials which were to be held simultaneously on the tenth of March. The now retired commander had been granted a luxury seven days to get her affairs in order and present herself to court. There had been much talk of the trial taking place in the Netherlands, but due to the insistence of one Katsuragi Misato and the emphasis she made on how important his, Rei's and Asuka's testimonies were, an important part of the trial would be held in Tokyo 02.

I guess I owe it to her. The fact that Shinji's left arm was not currently being attacked by millions of tiny, scalding needles was all due to Ritsuko's diligent care of his health. Besides, if I'm lucky I'll get to kick my father in the balls before they lock him up.

Shinji crashed onto their couch with a satisfied groan once the food was finished. The lasagna was out of the oven and the tempura ready to be cooked at any given point. He massaged a spot around his right arm where some phantom pain still lingered. Blue eyes caressed the edges of the family's furniture with a strange fondness that still did not fully get rid of the taste of ash on his tongue. I guess wishing for a happy, tearful family reunion was too much to ask, huh, he mused, and pouted at the television. From afar he heard the sound of the shower be extinguished, which signaled that Asuka was done with her bath; in record time at that. Weird, he realized while checking the time on his- her-... their music player. That was less than thirty minutes. She normally takes an hour.

Effectively derailed from the train of thought involving his dissatisfaction with Misato's re-encounter with Kaji and feeling the strain of the day fall heavily on his pain-ridden body, Shinji took out his earphones and SDAT, and pressed play on the new cassette he had received. The cover only read "Incredible Mix, Vol. 1"; it had been left precisely in his right pants pocket by someone who clearly knew their way around the Geofront, and had left presents before. Another token of appreciation and respect from his adversary; had he been a bit more suspicious Shinji would have probably dropped the tape in the toilet, but the mad Child Zero truly was a man of his word. He had no clue as to what to expect, yet as he pressed play, Shinji's eyes mellowed to the soft tunes of an electric guitar and a male voice gently singing to the rhythm. According to a slip of paper that came with the cassette, this first song was called 'Slow Cheetah'.

Shinji's head lolled as he exhaled happily and sunk deeper into the couch's soft surface. I guess this is how it feels, huh, he pondered, intrigued. There was no fear in his chest, no apprehension, no anger, no insecurity, and if there had been before he had started listening to his SDAT, the song worked wonders to vanish them. Peace of mind… this is it. Happiness.

The couch sunk to his left; the scent of freshness, soap and strawberry shampoo enticed his nostrils, and a pair of familiar arms fell on the boy's frame while a delicate hand robbed him of one of his earphones. Asuka pressed her cheek against his collarbone once Shinji's pained arms were forced to cooperate and engulf her in a close embrace.

"Hey, jerk," Asuka whispered, head gently swaying to the tune. "What'cha doing?"

Shinji smiled to himself, which did not go unnoticed by his fiery companion. "Thinking about…" Peace, happiness, illumination; all these concepts were somehow tied to her in his mind. "Thinking about you," he finished.

"Oh, really?" A soft pinch to the back of his neck coincided perfectly with the song's growing chorus. "And what about me, may I ask Baka, were you thinking, hmm?" Her voice was playful, warm, a gentle caress on his earlobe sweeter than any new song or instrument; it had been her voice, after all, which had brought him back from the Void's pit.

Offering a half-shrug in her direction, Shinji's right hand caught a hold of hers and shyly began to intertwine his fingers with hers. "Just how awesome you are in general, and how when I'm with you, like this… I feel…" The closest sensation he could compare the current state of mind he was in was the last time he had seen his mother. "I feel at peace."

Asuka was wearing his big blue shirt, Shinji offhandedly noticed, and the elongated shirt's collar easily displayed the bite mark on the left side of Asuka's nape, near her shoulder. He wondered if she had worn the shirt that way just to make the scar visible.

"Hmmm," Asuka grunted, as she claimed more and more space, until they were both lying on the couch in a comfortable embrace. "Do you know how much you made me worry with your little freaking stunt, you idiot?"

One pinch, two, three and a fourth flared on his stomach despite Shinji's efforts to squirm away from her expert fingers. "I already said I'm-ow. I said I'm- OW! Come on, let me just apologize for bein-ow. For being an idiot. Ow. Please? May I apo-OW!"

As the song played, Asuka devoted herself to pinching every available inch of the skin around his chest and midsection while he vainly attempted to apologize. "Where the hell would my peace be if you came back all shredded and fucked up, you selfish jerk?" she muttered with feigned annoyance once the pinching desisted some, and hugged him tighter. "I never wanted to need anyone, you know. I never wanted to be with anyone, or… I thought I didn't." Her hand snaked under Shinji's shirt and settled next to his heart, where the palpitations could be felt just under her fingertips. "Thanks for opening my eyes, and I know you're probably bored of hearing this, but thanks… for staying."

A girl who was thoroughly and absolutely convinced every person that came into her life would leave lay next to him. In the course of their lives, Shinji decided, along with his mission to make her happy and smile, he also proposed himself to erase such thoughts from her head altogether.

Kaworu-kun, Shinji thought, almost in tears for a wild moment. I… I did it… I helped her. I helped me. I actually made a tiny difference. Thank you, thank you so much, my friend. "First of all," he began while his bandaged left hand took a hold of a strand of her hair. "It's a privilege to… uhm… help. Second, I…" A wider smile drew over his features. "I said forever, didn't I?" he answered simply, and tried not to chuckle or scowl at the next words that came out his mouth. "I'm a man of my word."

"That you are," Asuka conceded as her leg snaked around his. "You're also a gentleman, and a selfless idiot, and a gigantic jerk of nearly immeasurable proportions." A pause, and then he felt her hand caress the side of his chest where the two long scars were located. "But you're my jerk, my idiot, and you're my peace of mind, too."

My Asuka always has the most original ways of giving compliments. It did not bother him in the slightest, since it was one of the things that made her who she was; one of the things which made him love her all the more. "And you're the most beautiful girl I've ever seen. I just know that when we grow up I'll have to pinch myself every day just to make sure I'm really with you," Shinji replied, surprised at how easy it came now, to communicate what he felt to her.

Asuka stretched and curled back to him in a fluid motion while she stifled a yawn. Her lips left a scalding mark just below his neck when she kissed him. "Making long-term plans, hm?" She sighed in contentment and closed her eyes when Shinji's hand began to run through her hair. "I like that." He brought Kaji back for me, Asuka thought quietly, wondering just how thoughtful and selfless Shinji truly was. He brought him back for Misato and me, because he wanted us to be happy, even if he suffered forever for it.

"I want to stay with you, you daft idiot," Asuka murmured, lulled to a peaceful trance by both the music and Shinji's presence. "No matter what shit we go through as we grow up, no matter how many fights we have, no matter how many stupid beta bitches I have to scare off." I will deserve you, she decided with solid resolution. I will be worthy of you, I will heal the damage I inflicted, and I will be yours. Every inch of me, every cell in my body, every drop of blood, every strand of hair is and will be yours. And some day, I will muster up the courage to say all this to you, Shinji.

"I want to stay with you, too." A sudden, strange thought invaded Shinji's mind as wild strands of golden-red hair fell from his fingertips; he would very much like to see this radiant hair turn silver, for he knew somehow that even as it aged and changed, it would remain a fascination for him. So too would the entirety of Asuka also entice him for a lifetime, or ten, or a hundred thousand. "I'd like to say I'll keep the jackasses away from you, but I know you'll kick them in the gut before giving them the time of day."

Her giggle was a sound which came as rarely as his own honest laughter. They were but the butchered remnants of their stolen childhood innocence, small glimpses at what could have been, should their lives had been somewhat normal.

"Well, you're not wrong," Asuka agreed with humor dancing off her tongue. "No weakling, shallow, moronic douchebag beta male is worthy of the Great Sohryu Asuka Langley."

Besides, her mind added; she consciously brought the bite mark closer to Shinji's line of sight. We're like macaws, or penguins, or wolves, you and I. We mate for life.

Shinji's bright smile was a welcoming sight for Asuka's gaze, which softened in a way it seldom ever did in the presence of others. "Yeah, you're right. Like always." She felt Shinji's chest expand as he filled his lungs with her scent, a healthy inhalation without any hisses of pain, cautious breaths or agony.

She had been given a new chance; her Evangelion, a part of her, the Second Child had been sacrificed so that Sohryu Asuka Langley could live on, and by the pits of hell she would seize this opportunity. 2.0 had healed all of Shinji's injuries, but left behind all the scars Asuka had inflicted.

I'll take this chance, 2.0, Mama, Asuka mused with pride while enjoying Shinji's heartbeat and their new music. I'll take it, and I'll make him happy. I will deserve him, and we'll be happy. We'll be sad too, and angry, and everything in between. When it feels like something's broken, I'll work to mend it, instead of throwing it away.

"I'll have you take me to a play," she commented off-handedly, and smirked in Shinji's direction. "An actual, top-quality theatrical presentation. I need to teach you how to enjoy the fine arts."

Shinji raised an amused eyebrow and for once, offered an innocuous pinch of his own. "What about classical music concerts?" If there were fine arts to be enjoyed, after all, what better way to spend an evening than to assist to their local symphony's next presentation?

"I'm thinking more like…" Asuka threw a hand in the air, letting the living room's light filter through her fingers; life was good, for once. "Rock concerts." The pout her boyfriend gave her was almost palpable, which in turn earned a slight chuckle from her when he tickled a particularly sensitive area of her abdomen. "Okay, okay! Classical music too, geez… hmm…" The hand came back down and settled on Shinji's chest. "Movies, as well. We'll go to the movies, and the arcades, and amusement parks, and the beach. Hell, we'll even go to Costa Rica."

Not even the combined power of the Angel of Death, SEELE, and an army of mercenaries had been able to stop the girl lying next to him, so was there a limit at all? "That sounds like a plan," he added. "Can we take Kit-"

"We're not taking your mutt on field trips, Baka," Asuka interrupted with a hint of annoyance behind her voice. "It's bad enough you forced that responsibility on your sister." The ensuing tickles to her sides were the only response she required. "Hey, stop that-pff. Stop, Shinji! Come-pfff, come on! Okay, the mutt gets to go on some field trips, okay?!"

They laughed, ticking one another and sharing unhurried kisses as the minutes and hours ticked by. What was the hurry, anyhow?

The former pilots spent the better part of the afternoon in a comfortable silence, shifting on occasion to get into a more intimate position after a certain number of songs played. Their caresses were intimate and gentle, their kisses slow and sweet. Asuka presented him with a deep kiss when she asked for a glass of water and he got it for her. She would stop the tunes on occasion, in order to give him an overall explanation of what the lyrics said, granted that she liked the song in the first place.

Shinji would pretend to listen while admiring the way Asuka's hair and eyes made each other stand out, letting his mind be eased by the music and reveling in the lack of any horrible weight crushing his shoulders, chest, or soul. With music dissolving any thoughts regarding responsibilities and Asuka's presence engulfing him, Shinji felt, for once, like a carefree teenager. The young pair had almost dozed off when the door opened and Misato came crashing into the house with a large number of bags, and an actual cake safely wrapped up on a plastic tray.

"Tadaima!" she yelled at the top of her lungs, even after seeing the pair sprawled out on their couch. Ah, at last, pondered the now official Security Councilor for Tokyo 03. I'm home.

"Welcome home!" both Asuka and Shinji replied in unison, not at all in a hurry to get up and go about serving dinner, nor in the least concerned about the cuddling position their guardian had found them in.

"What the hell is all that crap you brought with you, Misato?" asked Asuka, yawning and stretching. The music player was paused near the beginning of the final song.

Smiling with pride, Misato produced a set of framed pictures, a new cushion for Pen-Pen, who squawked in excitement at his owner, and lastly what appeared to be a large… very large fistful of cash dumped in a plastic bag. "I got a bonus, hah!" she declared, and threw some loose yen at the ceiling. "So I thought I'd get us some actual pictures to decorate the place, and I brought Pen here a brand-new comfy cushion for him to nap on! Aaaaaand," she placed the massive cake on the table, with her sunny smirk threatening to split her head in two, "I brought the cake!"

While Asuka crossed her arms, raised a curious eyebrow and stared at her with boredom, Shinji's whole face turned elated once he saw the frame depicting Asuka with him on her shoulders as she dragged them both out of the entry plug, and the masses who had gathered to welcome them threw their hands in the air in celebration.

"Wow…" he said, going through the varied pictures and the finely decorated frames. There was a great shot of their retrieval from the entry plug, one of many details he had no memory of, where the group had bowed in unison as they were carried onto the ambulance to receive medical treatment. "These are awesome, Misato-san," he mumbled, turning to smile at his guardian and surrogate parent. "Thanks." His favorite, he decided, was the image of Unit 02 holding the explosion back, with the words 'The Red Queen' on the bottom.

Misato ruffled his hair with fondness, and quickly retrieved and hid one particular small frame which held the picture she had taken before Christmas. "It's a pleasure, Shin-chan. I also got you guys this!" The last frame held a bright yellow piece of paper which read 'Asuka-chan and Shin-Chan's Lovely Suite', and in a corner of the larger-than-before sign, the small letter Shinji had received was stretched out.

"Okay, slob," Asuka remarked, offering a smirk. She picked up the frame where she was pulling Shinji out of the entry plug and chuckled. "You outdid yourself this time. Did you get the chocolate cake I asked for?"

"Yeah, yeah, Captain, mission accomplished, you're welcome by the way," Misato responded in a flash, and stuck out her tongue after she was done with her rather rough ruffling of Shinji's hair. "I got your cake, look! I got the biggest, sweetest, most chocolatiest chocolate cake in Tokyo 02, 03, and probably all of Japan! You know what it has? Huh? It has Tapa de Dulce! I don't even know what that is!" She grinned with pride. "Now…come here and give Mama Bear a big hug!"

Asuka rolled her eyes and grunted, pretending with incredible success to be dissatisfied at the idea. "Ugh, do I have to?"

Shinji, for his part, blushed deep crimson and stiffly walked over to Misato, who wasted no time in trapping him between her arms and dragging an unwilling redhead along to squish them both with enough strength to constrict their breathing. "Mmm, I love you, kids. Now..." The vice-grip loosened, letting both teens get a well-needed lungful of air. "How about some dinner, Shin-chan? I'll go ring up your sister while you do your… finishing touches. And I'm not just talking about the food." She winked at the pair and laughed out loud when both their faces turned bright scarlet.

"What the hell do you mean, Misato?" Unsurprisingly, it was Asuka who complained at her teasing whilst Shinji stared at his feet with wide eyes and flushed cheeks. It brought a sense of familiarity to her home, a sense she had long since lost, and missed terribly for over a year, or perhaps ever since her parents had separated.

"Oooh, the Captain's feeling grouchy; better feed her before she starts spitting fire, Shin-chan!" Misato ducked a lazily thrown rag which flew in her general direction and headed for the front door to retrieve the younger Ikari sibling.

"Damn it, Misato!" came the screeching retort just before the door hissed closed behind her. "Mind your own damn business, woman!"

"Try to not suck face every second I'm away, will you, kids? Love ya, be right back!"

The moment the door hissed shut, Asuka closed the distance between herself and Shinji and kissed him soundly. Her arms snaked around his neck while he held onto her midsection and brought her close.

After they separated, she placed her forehead next to his. "You know what's gonna happen tonight, don't you?" she murmured huskily, and trembled when Shinji's fingers curled around her hips and he sharply inhaled.

"Yes," Shinji growled while staring straight into her eyes. "I'm going to take what is mine."

As if to agree with him, Asuka momentarily disentangled herself from Shinji and stretched out her shirt collar to show off the circular mark behind her left shoulder. "All yours, Shinji." She then playfully pushed him into the kitchen, and occupied herself with deciding exactly where in the house each frame should be put up.

"Now, can we get some food going, Baka? Pretty please? I saw that steak you bought today, you know. Hmm, I wonder how you'll pay your penance tonight. I want a light dinner, because dessert…" She turned to him, and blinked; Shinji was staring at her with a strange predatory glint in his eye, which was not unpleasant in the slightest. "Dessert's for later."

Shinji continued on with his task in an almost robotic fashion as he smirked back at his… mate. "And that's the truth of it."

The small family shared an amicable, varied dinner with Rei, who in turn asked for assistance in decorating the new house she was to share with Maya and continuously rejected any request to part with a single piece of the lasagna Shinji had prepared for her. Misato continued to try and steal a small portion of the dish for herself, with Rei finally moving to envelop the plate in aluminum foil as a sign that it was to be taken back home and not consumed at once. In a strange turn of events, Asuka reprimanded their home chef when he moved to wash the dishes, arguing that he was still recovering, and had already cooked for them, and did most of the heavy lifting during their move back home.

The action earned a sarcastic remark from Rei; she commented on the absurdity of washing dishes after letting Shinji repeatedly go up and down the stairs, since the elevator was still being repaired, with heavy bags, and cook on top of that, only to do the simplest of household chores in a pathetic, poetic form. The ensuing discussion had Shinji and Misato awkwardly staring at one another while they ate cake and discussed the possible, almost human awareness that Pen-Pen possessed.

After about thirty minutes of solid, but strangely subdued and clever insults and a set date for their next sparring session, Rei excused herself and escaped with her lasagna before Misato could steal a piece without her noticing. "I bid you all good night," she said, and bowed lightly in Misato and Shinji's direction. "Thank you for dinner, Nii-san, Misato-san."

"Sleep well, Rei!" Shinji stood, and bowed even deeper to her. "And, uhm… remember… ah…" he added once he straightened up. "If you have a bad dream… or you just wanna talk, or anything, just knock okay? We're always here for you, at any hour! I… yeah."

"Speak for yourself, Baka!" Asuka replied from the kitchen. "Fuck you, sis! Sleep tight!"

"Fuck you as well, harlot," replied Rei, to Shinji's dismay. "Take care of my brother, or I will s-"

"Yeah, yeah, you'll stab me in the middle in the night with our biggest kitchen knife and eat my heart, yada, yada. Seriously, though, you know you live literally a few feet away from your precious Shinji, don't you? So… don't be a stranger…?"

"Girls," Misato complained half-heartedly and devoured another slice of cake. "Language. No f-words, no curses, and everything else in between is allowed. Do we have an accord?"

"Agreed," Rei nodded at Misato, hugging the lasagna tighter to her chest when she saw the woman's hungered gaze.

"Okay, sure, no big curse words." Asuka shrugged and helped herself to some cake. Surprising even Rei, nonetheless, she sliced a large portion and placed it in a plastic container, turning to hand it over to Rei. "Here. Some fuel for our next bout, Ikari."

For what felt like the first time in her entire existence, leaving the antics of her four-year-old first incarnation aside, an honest smirk drew itself on Rei's features. "Not that it is required to crush your mediocre jiu-jitsu, Sohryu."

Asuka's small but hard knuckles connected playfully against Rei's shoulder. "Ooh, cutting deep again, Blue. I'll be sure to choke you out next time, then you can dream a bit more on how your skills are just… ugh... they're just dull."

Shinji's forehead impacted against their brand new table. "Do you two have to fight every time you see each other?" he asked with evident misery.

"YES!" both girls yelled back instantly. "GET USED TO IT!"

Soon after Rei departed and Misato drank her celebratory beer, their guardian excused herself to bed, taking their penguin in a tight hug. She headed for her room and emphasized that while the walls were thick in their apartment, they were not by any means soundproof, and she needed her beauty sleep to start her new job the following morning, so discretion was greatly appreciated and expected.

The young couple inaugurated their new bed by Asuka tackling Shinji to the mattress and lying flat next to him, her eyes darkened with desire. "Hey, jerk," she muttered, and stole a kiss from his lips. "You owe me something since that time in the changing room." His hands slowly began to lift the hem of her shirt and caress her belly, eliciting a sudden shudder from her. "You gonna do something about that?"

Shinji's eyes acquired the strange, inky black hue that appeared when they were alone and intimate. "I'm gonna do everything about that," he growled, and embraced her with possessive ardor, pulling away her shirt as he rained down kisses on her neck.

Asuka responded in kind, running her fingernails up and down his scalp and scratching his back just as his teeth ever so lightly nibbled on her ear, making her spine arch. She moaned low in her throat, loud enough for Shinji to hear and react instinctively by pulling her shirt all the way up to her chest and gripping her hips with enough force to leave a bruise the next day.

"Shinji," Asuka panted and wrapped her legs around his body while her hands sought out his cheeks and forced his lips to clash with hers. "Do…" She was getting shudders from every part of her body; Shinji's cobalt gaze, turned almost black with want, and his irregular, strange growling made her feel, for once in her life, like letting go of the reins. "Do whatever you want…"

With his hand now caressing her belly and his other one tangled in the girl's fiery hair, Shinji kissed her again, reveling in the feeling that she was indeed kissing him back with every bit as much fervor, and had effectively, for once in his life and memory, allowed him to lead. "I'm doing that," he grunted after breaking away, feeling his self-control slip and his breathing become hot and erratic; his chest felt incensed with a flame which had ignited every time Asuka had sat above him. He wanted her; had wanted her for years and now, at last, he could fully share the fire with her. "I'm doing that… whether you want it… or not…"

"Oh…" The keen gaze of a predator gleamed in the relative darkness of their room as Shinji fully removed her shirt in a fluid, none-too-gentle motion and sat on his knees to remove his own, grasping her hands with his own as he once again attacked her neck and shoulder, kissing and licking the curvy, uneven edges of the scar on her nape. "Ohh… B-Baka… that's… ohh…"

Shinji was taking his sweet time, Asuka realised to her strange dismay; kissing and nipping at her earlobe, dragging his lips along her collarbone, running his teeth up and down her throat while his firm hold kept her hands in place. Every now and then, those same hungry eyes would draw back to her face, softening ever so slightly every time Shinji's lips descended on her own. Bad… this is really bad… She realized her legs had locked themselves around Shinji's midsection, and that with every ministration, be it a gentle kiss or a possessive bite accompanied by a hungry grunt and heavy breathing, she was making her hips move and grind themselves against him. Oh Gott… I really want him bad

Shinji's head lowered to her breasts and his hands finally released her just as his teeth grabbed onto the cloth of her bra and tore at it with unrelenting savagery until the material surrendered and tore apart. Mine, Shinji's hazed mind whispered while his mouth descended on one of her nipples and his hands took a firm hold of the soft flesh under his jaws. Mine, and mine alone. Mine! Despite the irrational possessiveness and uncontrollable desire, he abstained from actually hurting her in any way or form, enticed and hypnotized by the sounds she produced. She's enjoying it, she likes it… she wants me to…

"Don't stop that," he heard Asuka whisper in a tiny voice he had seldom heard. "Don't-" Shinji bit down on her other nipple with as much caution as the raging fire in his loins allowed. "Oh! Gott… yes… that feels… ooh…"

Her words mingled and crashed onto each other as he did as his instinct demanded and continued familiarizing himself with the taste of every inch of Asuka's skin. Once he felt both tips of her aureoles harden beyond belief, he dipped his body lower and lower, running his tongue down and around her navel abdominals, oblique and lastly, under her bellybutton. "W-What are you…" Asuka wondered, hands already tangled in Shinji's hair again. "What are you doing…?"

Her scent was all around him, as Shinji left hand slid up and down her mound and forced a quiver out of her legs, he was shocked to discover just how moist her undergarments had gotten. The aroma was driving him insane, pushing any rational thoughts away when he took a hold of her panties and shredded them with his hands in a violent, mindless move. "Dessert," he growled, and planted his mouth first on her legs, licking away the fluid and relishing in the taste of Asuka on his tongue.

As for Asuka, she was hyper-aware of Shinji's breathing on her sweaty skin, the tender bites he was leaving on her thighs, the way the hotness of his tongue trailing every available inch of exposed flesh. "S-Stop… stop t-that… B-Baka… uhh…. don't… tease me like th-OH!"

It was then that his mouth descended on her mound, devouring her with rabid hunger, and his hands curled around her bottom and dragged her body towards him. W-When the hell did he get this good?! Unable and unwilling to continue limiting herself, Asuka allowed her body to uncoil; her hands continued to cradle Shinji's head, pushing it deeper into her while his tongue found her clitoris and began to tease it. "Gott, yes! Yes! J-Just like…. Ohhh… just like that… Gott…!" Shinji'ss bestial growls only served to drive her even more into a pit of pleasure, with his possessive hold on her made tremors run up and down her spine.

She was unaware that her nails were now actively scratching Shinji's nape, nor was she conscious of her legs locking his head in place; she was aware of the way their eyes met from that position, unfocused cerulean clashing against dark, intense cobalt. She was also aware that something akin to liquid fire was stirring in her navel, a sensation she knew well but had not experienced in such a fashion before. Seemingly more in synch with her body than her own mind, Shinji's hands went up and down her frame, groping both her breasts as her hands clenched in his hair and her legs shook and quivered.

"Oh… uh oh… S-Shinji…" Asuka murmured, only half-attempting to stifle the sounds which continued to escape her chest and throat without permission. He licked even harder, growling loud enough for her to hear, and for her mind to turn into mush. "I… I'm gonna… ah… ah…"

When his thumb and forefinger closed in around her left nipple, Asuka's back arched and the now strongest orgasm she'd ever felt discharged a current of electricity and liquid fire from her navel to the rest of her body.

"GOOOOOTT!"

The shaking did not stop for a good minute, and in an effort to keep her very soul from escaping her body Asuka held both of his hands for dear life. She was puffing deep, irregular breathes, legs unwilling to cooperate in the slightest of ways, mind a complete blank as she felt Shinji rest his head on her right thigh and pant almost in unison with her.

"Hmm," she heard him grunt low in his throat. "Delicious."

Sweat was dripping from her brow despite the comfortably cool temperature of their room, her thighs felt heavy and drained, still trembling every now and then, her skin was hypersensitive and she was hissing every time Shinji's nails slowly caressed her leg.

"W-Wow…" After what felt like an eternity, thought managed to snake back into Asuka's brain, along with the sight of the apartment's ceiling. Her hands still gripping Shinji's tightly and his head resting on her leg, a certain hunger awakened; her fingers slowly uncurled from Shinji's hands and took a hold of his head.

Asuka licked her lips, grinning. "…my turn."

It was amusing to her, and in her heart she hoped it stayed so for years to come, the way she could so easily catch Shinji off guard, derail his brain and even melt the ravenous, gleaming eyes of a starved wolf into those of a surprised puppy. Unhurriedly untangling her legs from his body, Asuka motioned for him to come close, gently pulling his face towards hers. She kissed him then; a passionate, slow exchange which allowed her to taste herself on his tongue as he responded in kind and pressed his body flush against hers.

Asuka grinned once more, with her lips still on his, and used one of her hard-earned jiu-jitsu techniques to roll Shinji on his back and lay on top, letting her mound press against his erection. She saw his eyes almost roll back at the slight contact, yet a pang of grim understanding slammed against her gut when, in a reminder of their past experiences, Shinji's body tensed and he gripped the sheets with enough force to make the muscles of his forearms bulge, eyes suddenly shut tight and face scrunched up in sudden stress. He was breathing quickly, holding back what was possibly the desire to touch her with all his might. Some scars, after all, needed more than just time to heal even the slightest bit.

She caressed his face, letting the shame and guilt brand her soul permanently as his eyes opened once more. "It's okay," she whispered, and offered a smile despite the stab of remorse that crawled its way into her heart. "It's not like before, remember? It'll never be like before."

In spite of the guilt, however, there was also the famished sensation in her belly, the fact that Shinji was still unsatisfied, and the raging desire which had her pulse beating madly on her ears. "Do you want to stop?" Nice, be nice, be Asuka. Don't be the Second Child, be his Asuka, his Asuka that he likes so much and protects. Surprisingly, even to her, the conclusion was as clear as the strength of her of her orgasm. If Shinji wanted to stop or felt in any way uncomfortable, then they would stop, and she would not once diminish, mock or otherwise address the instance with anything less than care and understanding.

"It's okay, really," Asuka repeated, and planted an affectionate peck on his lips. "I told you, as slow as you want it to go."

Shinji face went from abrupt grimace to shock in seconds, widening when he recognized the soft, calm expression on her face. Stupid, stupid stupid witless coward, he reprimanded himself for the pathetic display of muscle memory and conditioning, shaking his head.

I swear to God I will break out and take the wheel unless you unfuck this situation right now, Ikari!

He wanted to slap himself hard in the face, or perhaps even slam his skull against the wall a few times to be remedied of his stupidity; such actions, however, would sour what was turning out to be the best night of his life. To hell with you, he answered the Beast, and locked it away with strange ease. This is mine, and mine alone.

"No," he said at last, sounding sheepish. "Sorry," he quickly added and forced his hands to gently caress Asuka's arms. "Just a stupid reflex. I most definitely do not want to stop, Asuka-chan. And I know it's not like before." They drew into another kiss in perfect synchronization, and as soon as it had come, the heaviness lifted off their shoulders. Shinji's hands roamed down her arms and settled on her hips, fingers pressing hard on her skin. He was touching her again, claiming what was his.

"Good," Asuka growled, her nails went up and down Shinji's chest, gaining a shudder and a sudden jolt from his midsection. "Hmmm... because I'm hungry for my dessert, too."

Asuka repaid Shinji in kind for the sweet, constant teasing he had given her by tenderly nipping down his neck, dragging her tongue down his abdominals, kissing every inch she could of the two long scars on his torso, and finally removing his boxers. He was stiff as a rock, she noticed with delight, almost pulsing along with his heart rate, panting, and actively sweating like her. "A-Asuka, I… ah…" His words were cut short when she brought him into her mouth and his hips jolted once more. "W-W-Wow… Asuka… I'm… I'm gonna… uh… wait, wait… don't… aah…"

Not happening, Baka, Asuka thought while her mouth and hands worked to please him. It thrilled her beyond any sort of domination inflicted before, to watch Shinji enjoy his pleasure, pleasure she and only she was providing. The way he responded and sounded was hers and hers alone, just like the way he tasted. Do it, it doesn't matter. Give it to me, it's mine! You're mine, and I'm yours!

"Asuka, I… ah… Aaaaaaaaa…" Shinji's body convulsed under her hold; he climaxed into her mouth just as his body went stiff as a board, only to unwind completely a few seconds afterwards. She drank down as much as possible, and stroked the remnants out of him; a bit of his seed clung to her cheek, lips and chin. "Oh… God…" she heard him grunt while her eyes playfully sought out his. "Wow…"

"Not bad for my first time, hmm?" said Asuka, inwardly thrilled to see that despite his previous orgasm, Shinji was still erect in her hands. "I think… yeah…" She knew he was about to apologize, could almost feel the words forming in his brain, yet before the order could be sent to his mouth, Asuka licked her lips, giving Shinji a hungry smirk. "I think I'm addicted to your taste, Baka." She rose up and sat on top of him, breathing heavily. "Ready for round three?"

The way his eyes darkened one more, and the heavy growl which emanated from his chest, where her hands were resting, was the only answer Asuka got as she instinctively leaned for another kiss, bodies mingling together in a slow, delicious dance as their pent-up desire for one another was allowed to fully bloom and manifest, without the shadow of fear clouding their minds.

All in all, dessert was lengthy, sweet, rough, and it ended with both teens having scratches on their backs, thighs and necks. At about two in the morning, naked but for the covering the rough material of their large blanket offered, Asuka took a hold of the blanket and Shinji's SDAT, still enticed by the scent of their lovemaking, and motioned for Shinji to walk with her. He got up from their bed and traced down the girl's jaw line with the tip of his fingers, softly removing a strand of hair from her face. She smiled; a sight which filled Shinji with a calmness he thought impossible to exist and forced him to wonder if he was alive at all.

That was, of course, until Asuka pinched him, threw a good portion of their blanket over his shoulder, and placed an earphone in his ear. "Come on, dork, let's go enjoy our freshly redecorated balcony."

He hugged her exposed flesh to his, embracing her close as he placed a soft kiss on her forehead; the pair walked over to the screen door and stepped into the night sky, undeterred by the relatively cold breeze. They settled for one of the larger chairs with Asuka lying on top of Shinji with the large blanket covering them both, and in the relative silence of the night, she pressed play.

Somewhat fittingly, the name of the song turned out to be 'Scar Tissue', another song from the random band which dominated most of the mix tape. It opened with a few placid cords on the guitar, the song began just as a lack of air began to burn both teens' chests. The song took an upbeat, albeit somewhat sad melody, and carried on with the lyrics. Shinji noticed the tunes while Asuka's taste engulfed him and her hand held his head firmly in place. It was a melody he did not remember hearing from the band which had first played on the cassette, a somewhat melancholic but upbeat tone that for whatever reasons flowed perfectly with the moment. Both teens drew away from the kiss simultaneously, gazed with fondness at the shining moon, and admired the night city lights.

The road behind them had been bloody and filled with anguish; the loneliness and alienation had almost stifled them both alive, with or without Third Impact. Asuka's personality and ego had been uniquely cemented in her status as a pilot, both of which had crumbled with ease once Shinji's proficiency in piloting manifested itself, whereas the former Third Child had been harboring emotions and a crushing loneliness even he was unaware of.

At any given point they would have broken, and broken they had, in the most complete and scarring way imaginable, losing whatever innocence their jaded existences had managed to conserve. EVA had consumed them, their trauma had blinded them, and the world and their own parents had attempted to break them.

In the end, they had found each other, had found a family, a reason for continuing on despite the pain, and a purpose to improve themselves for. Despite the pain, the horrors and mad memories, despite the nightmares, two broken youngsters created a healthy, complete soul as they lay next to each other and gazed upon the city they called home.

The half-moon visible above served as a reminder of Shinji's mother's words. "Anywhere can be paradise as long as you have the will to live." However unlikely, he had found his own little slice of paradise amidst the devastation of a post-Impact world.

"You are alive, after all." Ikari Yui told him again, in his memory, just as the stars came into his line of sight. "You will always have the chance to be happy." There had been pain and torture aplenty, and in the end, he had discovered what being happy actually felt like. "So long as the Sun, the Earth and the Moon exist, everything will be all right."

Yes it will, Shinji nodded absently, holding onto the redhead with fervor. Yes it will, Mother.

"That's a nice view," Asuka remarked, turning so that Shinji was hugging her from behind, eyes moving from the stars and onto their joined hands. The golden chain around her neck shone brightly when the dim light reflected against it, broadening her smile. "I could get used to this."

"Me too," she heard Shinji whisper; the warm feeling of his breath next to her ear sent a shiver down Asuka's body.

He certainly could get used to waking up next to her, and having her face be the first thing his eyes fell upon once consciousness returned and the nightmares ended for another night felt like a true gift from God. He found himself expectant, almost ready to jump out of his own skin, with a renewed desire to live, to experience the myriad of emotions which awaited him, should Asuka decide to let him stay by her side.

Oh, Shinji realized with a blink. The city lights were still not fully installed, so there were some glowing dots of far away galaxies and suns to admire in the night sky. That's right, this is… how it feels. This is it. He smiled. "I love you."

There were no fireworks in the distance, no loud celebration or a specially concocted event for him to say the words; they came out his mouth as naturally as he told her good morning every day, and kissed her forehead each morning. And then Asuka realized it was because she had known, for a while now, that Shinji loved her and she loved him, and that as they grew, the emotion would grow and evolve with them.

"I know that, Baka-Shinji," she whispered, and brought up their joined hands to kiss the circular scar on his skin. "The feeling's mutual, you know that, right?"

He chuckled deep in his throat, and wondered when exactly he had realized it. "Yeah, I do."

The song played on and for the life of him, Shinji swore to hear it every single time he wanted to think of Asuka, because it had been this song that had been playing on the day he felt complete for the very first time. Needless to say, Asuka shared the emotion, every bit of it, so she turned back to him and kissed Shinji with as much fierceness and passion as she could muster.

They held each other while the light slowly faded and the stars glistened like silver lights in the black, cloudless curtain of the sky. Those same stars, with the stain on the moon marking the event humanity would know as Third Impact, would watch in curiosity for months to come as the young pair fell into a normal, comfortable rhythm of life. There would be challenges, pain, many sleepless nights and continued nightmares, but there would also be comfort, support and understanding.

For the following decades the stars would observe, enticed, as every year the pair returned to the place where they'd first admitted their feelings, and listen to the same old song, over and over again. Those stars would watch as newcomers accompanied them and years slowly ticked away. They would witness fights, mad dashes to reconciliation, oaths made in the rain, the moonlight and the privacy of a bedroom; they would witness the birth of children of brown hair, of red hair and blue eyes.

They'd watch a young, redheaded girl question her parents loudly about the significance of the lyrics and location, they'd watch as limbs grew tired, movements slowed and hair grew gray and silver.

And so they would watch until the final night the tune was played, the night both Shinji and Asuka, in their old age, decided to walk together towards them. Behind them trailed the small tune, and a black, metallic box clutched in Asuka's hand.

The SDAT played away, and for a second, two stars in the night sky shone especially bright.

FINIS

(Rewinding sound. Stop. Play.)

(Intro Chords)

Scar tissue that I wish you saw
Sarcastic mister know-it-all
Close your eyes and I'll kiss you 'cause
With the birds I'll share

With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'
With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'

Push me up against the wall
Young Kentucky girl in a push-up bra
Fallin' all over myself
To lick your heart and taste your health 'cause

With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'
With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'
With the birds I'll share this lonely view

Blood loss in a bathroom stall
A southern girl with a scarlet drawl
Wave goodbye to ma and pa
'Cause with the birds I'll share

With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'
With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'

Soft spoken with a broken jaw
Step outside but not to brawl and
Autumn's sweet we call it fall
I'll make it to the moon if I have to crawl and

With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'
With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'
With the birds I'll share this lonely view

Scar tissue that I wish you saw
Sarcastic mister know-it-all
Close your eyes and I'll kiss you, 'cause
With the birds I'll share

With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'
With the birds I'll share this lonely viewin'
With the birds I'll share this lonely view

Incredible Mix Track List:

Slow Cheetah – RHCP

Strip My Mind – RHCP

Wet Sand – RHCP

Hey- RHCP

Tell Me Baby – RHCP

Desecration Smile – RHCP

She Looks to Me - RHCP

Venice Queen – RHCP

Dosed- RHCP

Under Your Scars – Godsmack

Wish You Were Here- Pink Floyd

Learning to Fly – Pink Floyd (Pulse)

Comfortably Numb – Pink Floyd (Pulse)

Kukushka – Viktor Tsoi

Cigarette – Kino

Calm Night - Kino

Castles Made of Sand – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Voodoo Child – The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Stadium Arcadium - RHCP

Scar Tissue- RHCP

(Bruce Buffer voice): Ladies and Gentlemen, the referee has put a stop to this contest at four minutes, forty nine seconds of the very last round! Declaring your winner…. By T.K.O… Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaand STILL the Undisputed, Super Heavyweight Champions of the World! ASUKA! THE RED DEVIL… SOHRYU, and SHINJI, The Wrath of God, IKARI!


Inspirational Music: Man in the Box, Rooster – Alice in Chains; Orion, Master of Puppets, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), The Unforgiven 2, Bleeding Me, Fixxxer – Metallica, Caught Somewhere in Time, Heaven Can Wait, Sea of Madness, Déjà vu, Alexander the Great, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (Life after Death) – Iron Maiden; Territory, Arise (album) – Sepultura; Angry Again, Addicted to Chaos, Symphony of Destruction – Megadeth; Keep Away, Every Part of Me, Moonbaby, Something Different – Godsmack; This Dying Soul, In The Name of God, New Millenium – Dream Theater; Learning to Fly, High Hopes, Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd.

I'd like to take a moment and thank MisterHalt for all his incredible effort in proofing not only this, but the vas majority of this story, and helping me improve the reader's experience! Love you, brother!

Shinji's injuries during the fight include, but are not limited to: Multiple, repetitive fractures on both hands; extensive damage to the left arm to the point of considering amputation without the help of a convenient S2 engine; 9 broken ribs and pierced lungs; molten skin and bone in the left arm and leg, multiple hemorrhaging in the areas of the stomach, esophagus, mouth, ears, nose, respiratory system, skull capillary and trachea; cracked and fractured cervical vertebrae; shattered left knee, broken nose, shattered eye sockets, fractured skull, destroyed meniscus in the right knee, broken tibia, fissured sternum; severe neural damage, life-threatening blood loss, and massive, massive agony. And the guy just kept moving forward. Yeah. Try not to get scared of that!

Our Mary Sue's final list of injuries are as follow: Broken right cheekbone, cracked left cheekbone; detached retina in the left eye; four broken and five fissured ribs; extensive damage to the abdominal area; overextended ACL; slight damage to the meniscus, internal hemorrhaging in the areas of the liver, stomach, spleen, intestines and bladder; broken right hand, dislocated left shoulder, and a permanent scar on the lower right cheekbone, courtesy of Shinji's left cross.

Ramble:

Okay.

Okay… Okay. I guess… shit. I can't believe this day actually came. Holy fuck, it happened. Last chapter my dear friends! Again, it turns… episodic, but hell, I hope it's worth the read, and I hope it's a worthy ending for this story. Long one, eh?! I tried to squeeze in as much fluff for our pair as possible, with the slight and obvious addition of some much needed angst, and a little honey to finish our meal of ST.

This is it. I mean, I am open to and will most definitely (fucking certainly), ahem, most definitely make an epilogue depicting our family's reintroduction to society, school, and a normal life! There will be angst! There will be fluff! There will be plenty of Gendou manipulating the shite out of powerful people! There will be further details on the new Katsuragi household! There will be details I didn't write here because of reasons! There will be more of Rei, Touji, Kensuke, and Hikari! It will be epic and probably long as shit! But… this is it. Scar Tissue is… finished. For the time being. Maybe. Nah, fuck it, it's done. Holy fucking shit, right?!

Anyhow! My dearest readers, it has been my honor to have had you accompany me through this journey. I truly do hope it was a worthy finale, albeit a pretty long one, but I digress. Thank you. THANK YOU. THANK YOU! Thanks for reading, for the continued support, the patience, the constructive criticism, the love, the hate, the laughs and the tears. Thank you.

I hope that this bunch of scribbled words arranged in a strange order have helped bring about some peace, some escape, some solace and hopefully a clusterfuck of emotions that end up with happiness to brighten a part of your day. Be kind to one another; always try to be better than the you of yesterday. Talk to random people on the bus. Go jogging on occasion and flip a stranger off. Laugh without reason, cry without reprieve. LIVE, damn it! And share love with everyone, this world needs it. Shinji and Asuka need it. We need it. So love! And be happy!

Remember to stay healthy and eat your veggies!

PEACE.