Chapter 26

Inside a little house in the middle of an enormous God machine, the representatives of both WILLE and of NERV watched as two titans dueled for the fate of the world. Unit 08+02 resembled a twisted animal, the yellow trim on its red half glowing blue, an azure flame burning from its left eye. After tearing off her eye-patch, the angelic infection in Asuka's eye had flared up and somehow managed to reactivate the Eva, even with the Lance of Cassius protruding from its chest! And the mighty war machine was still in its inverted mode, so it still retained it's beast-like qualities as it rampaged onward.

The Eva squared off against a fearsome foe in its own right - the four-eyed Unit 13, the first Eva to employ a true dual entry system and one of the last remaining vessels of Adam. There was a spare set of arms locked around its chest, four RS Hoppers floating around its head acting as AT Field projectors, and its overall frame resembled that of Unit 01. Contrasting with Unit 08+02's savage brutality, Unit 13 was meticulous and defensive, its twin entry system sporting two effectively identical Dummy Plugs, who, like all Dummy Plugs, were as ruthless as they were simplistic.

As the house's occupants watched, however, a boy and a girl in black plug suits came creeping down the stairs, slowly making their way to the door. When they opened the door, however, the sound was enough to alert the one person they needed to avoid detection from.

"Would you kindly remain where you are?" Gendo Ikari asked without even turning his head.

Shinji gritted his teeth and yanked open the door, and was about to make a run for Unit 01, when he saw Rei simply standing in stunned silence.

"Rei?" he asked, suddenly afraid.

Rei's eyes were vacant again, as if in a trance once again. Shinji tugged at her arm insistently, but she wouldn't budge.

"Rei!" he cried, panic in his voice as he urged her out the door. But her evolution had made her physically stronger than ever before, and she remained firmly in place in spite of his grip.

Shinji gave his father an angry glare as he simply stared back at him, Misato, Ritsuko and Sakura simply watching him warily, not know how to help.

"What did you do!?" Shinji demanded angrily.

The old man held out a gloved hand, ignoring his son's demand.

"Come to me, Rei," he ordered, simply.

As if by puppet strings, the girl who had just saved his life slowly began to walk towards the old man.

"Rei!" Shinji blurted in a panic. "What are you doing? Stop!"

Rei did not stop. Gendo's grim smile did not waver. Misato made another attempt to strike him with the butt of her rifle, but was knocked back by an AT Field, the outburst of which knocked her off her feet, as it did to Ritsuko and Sakura.

"Rei!" Shinji wrapped his arms around her, slowing her down by literally dragging his feet. "Please stop! You don't have to listen to him!"

Gendo snorted derisively. "I am afraid that she does, Shinji. That was what she was made for."

Shinji shook his head as Rei continued to step forward as he held onto her, struggling to keep her from advancing any further.

"Rei, please!" he begged. "I know you're still in there! You saved my life just a moment ago! But it's not going to mean anything if we don't get out there and help the others! Please!"

Rei paused her step, as if unsure what to do.

Gendo frowned. "Rei, come to me."

"No!" Shinji screamed. "You can't leave like this! You can't! If you do, we'll lose everything! Everything we've fought for, everything we've done…it will all have been for nothing!"

Gendo took a step forward, reaching out with an expectant arm. "Rei, come to me!"

Shinji continued to hold onto her, embracing her tightly as he buried his face in her shoulder. "We've come so far, Rei! We accomplished so much! I don't want to see it all disappear! I can't lose you again!"

"Rei!" the Commander shouted. "Come to me!"

"I need you!" Shinji screamed.

Rei suddenly inhaled as color suddenly returned to her eyes.

"Shinji…" she breathed, as if waking up from a dream.

"Rei!" he gasped, looking up into her eyes. "Are you okay!?"

"I…I do not know…" she replied, blinking as if shrugging off fatigue. "The Dummy Plug hive mind attempted to retake control again, but I believe I have them contained for now."

Gendo glared in frustration. "Rei, you will obey me!"

She spared the Commander the briefest of glances, before returning her eyes to Shinji.

"Let us go," she said.

Shinji nodded and followed her as she darted out the door, making a run for Unit 01.

"No!" the Commander shouted in anger, finally deigning to run after them, dashing out of the kitchen and into the living room.

He stumbled, however, and fell to his hands and knees when an outstretched leg suddenly seemed to appear in front of him from out of nowhere.

"Oops," Sakura smiled innocently, backing away as the Commander got to his feet. "Sorry."

He growled angrily at her, but refocused his attention on the two fleeing pilots. He barreled out the door after them, but by then, the two of them had just reached Unit 01.

"Damn it!" he gritted his teeth in frustration, giving up his pursuit. "She was not supposed to evolve this way!

"That's the thing about evolution, Commander," Ritsuko mused as the three members of WILLE stepped out the door to stand in front of the house on the city-sized platform. "It's unpredictable."

The Commander said nothing as he watched Unit 01 activate, before rushing off to join the fight.

At first, Unit 08+02 had tried using the Magorox sword to attack its foe, but the weapon had proved ineffective against the dual-cored Eva, its cuts healing almost instantly. So it had eventually discarded it in favor of its own teeth and claws. The bestial war machine charged its four-eyed opponent with reckless abandon, the unit's RS Hoppers unable to respond in time to defend against the rampaging Evangelion's onslaught. The beast easily darted past Unit 13's projected shields, before seizing it by the arms and hurdling it over the landscape that was the interior of the massive Eva cloning chamber inside the Black Moon.

The terrain sloped and curved with the angle of the exterior of the Black Moon, as all around them, Eva-sized pods grew from the surface like a hive full of eggs, waiting to hatch. Inside the translucent pods, the half-formed Eva Series brewed in anticipation of the coming Armageddon, immobile and gestating within the LCL-based amniotic fluid.

As Unit 13 was tossed around the chamber, it knocked over pods like so much debris, heedless of the shriveled and dying beings that spilled from their delicate innards. As Unit 08+02 tore across the field of pods, chasing after its foe, it smashed through remnants of the failed Eva Series without hesitation or care.

For as one-sided as the battle was going, Unit 13's armor remained unscathed, its might upholding under the punishment of Unit 08+02.

And the occupants of the angel-infested Eva were slowly dying.

"Asuka!" Mari pleaded, clutching her left eye in shared pain as she was tossed around inside the entry plug. "Please stop!"

In her pilot's chair, Asuka had a manic look on her face, her teeth clenched in pure rage. Without her eye-patch, her eye was shining a bright blue that obscured the left side of her face. She did not respond to Mari's pleas. Instead, she produced another angry growl that echoed from the mech's throat as well as her own, as she and their Eva had become all but one.

Mari tried again to scale the incline of their entry plug to get to the redhead, but Asuka took their Eva into another charge, and Mari was thrown to the floor from the turbulence.

"Oof!" she grunted in pain, clutching her face as the pain in her eye grew more and more."Please, Asuka…you don't have to do this!"

Unit 13 retaliated with a blast from its RS Hoppers, which Asuka dodged easily, flinging their mech backwards, before catapulting back into the fray, sending Mari slamming roughly into the wall of their entry plug.

"Ugh!" she winced as she clutched her head where it has struck the wall.

Mari lay on the floor of the entry plug, dazed as she watched the events transpire outside the Eva, helpless to stop them. Unit 08+02 let out an optic blast that struck Unit 13 square in the chest, sending it tumbling away off into the distance. Mari didn't see this, however, because the optic blast left a searing pain in her eyes that caused her to cry out in anguish!


As her eyes blinked open, Mari feared that the blast might have left permanent damage, because her vision was suddenly very blurry. But then she realized that her glasses had been flung off her face in the commotion.

She shuddered, letting out a helpless laugh. Here she was, one of the best pilots in the, and she was being tossed around like a rag-doll.

Were they going to die out here?

Then something caught her eye. She had to squint to see it with her glasses gone, but she couldn't help but notice something floating in the LCL beside her.

Asuka's eyepatch!

Then the entry plug shook again as something hit them, and then there was a sudden, merciful stillness that allowed the world to slowly stop spinning in Mari's head.

"Asuka!" came a voice.

It was Shinji!

"Asuka, can you hear me!?" Shinji cried, his face appeared on screen just above her view, obscured by static but definitely there. "Please, answer me!"

Mari looked around, and then let out a surprised gasp as she saw what was happening.

Unit 01 was back in the fight! It had charged their Eva from behind, apparently tackling them to the ground, and was holding it down with both its arms pinning behind its back, executing one of the many Judo holds they had been training in.

Shinji's timing couldn't have been more perfect, Mari thought with a smile! she snatched the eye-patch in front of her and scrambled up the shaft of the entry plug, climbing almost vertically to reach her ailing copilot. Asuka herself was thrusting her control yokes forward in a manic rage, her whole body thrashing in frustration, like a wild caged animal.

"YEEEAAARRRGH!" she screamed in a monstrous voice. "RAAARRRGH!"

Mari blinked from the bright blue light emanating from her eye, but she strove forward, blinded by the vibrancy, her head pounding from the shared pain of contamination, unable to even see clearly and bleeding from several cuts sustained from being bashed against the interior of the entry plug.

"Asuka!" Shinji's voice sounded from the comm.

Finally, Mari reached Asuka's writhing form, using all her strength to hold her still, wrapping both arms around her body and holding onto her tightly.

"I don't know if you can understand me…" Mari grimaced through the pain as Asuka thrashed within her grip. "But you better still be in there!"

Mari climbed on top of the girl, wrapping an arm around her neck to keep her head steady, before pressing the flat of the eye-patch into the bright blue light on her face.

Asuka suddenly twisted in pain.


The entry plug shook as the Eva responded to Asuka's panic, thrashing in Unit 01's grip, but Shinji and Rei managed to hold the beast down while Mari did the same from inside. The blue light seemed to almost push back against the eye-patch, bubbling furiously within the LCL, but Mari held it firmly in place against Asuka's left eye, until the tiny device inside began to glow a faint red as the symbols lining the rim began to illuminate. It was almost indistinguishable against the blue light that still radiated from beneath, but slowly, the blue began to subside as the eye-patch did its work, slowly fighting back against the contamination, like rabies being flushed from her system.

The blue light finally began to fade and Asuka's rigid posture suddenly went completely slack as she collapsed against her co-pilot as she continued pressing the eye-patch to her face. At the same time, Unit 01 released it's hold on Unit 08+02 and letting it slump the floor of the Black Moon, as the blue fire in its eye subsided, and it's left-side trim faded back to yellow.

Asuka stirred in Mari's arms, slowly whimpering in pain and fear.

"Oh God…oh God…" Asuka breathed in a tiny voice.

"Asuka…" Shinji's voice sounded from the screen.

Mari looked up to see Shinji's worried face. Had he seen the whole thing?

"Get away from me…" she groaned, her energy depleted. "Go away…"

Shinji watched in heartfelt sorrow as Asuka shivered in Mari's arms as the girl secured the eye-patch to her face.

"Asuka, please…" Shinji said. "Look at me."

"Just leave me alone!" Asuka moaned, on the verge of tears.

Shinji frowned and furrowed his brow, his hackles suddenly raising.

"I am not going anywhere, Asuka!" he blared, angrily. "You just scared the hell out of me! Now I'm not moving an inch until I know that you're alright! Now God damn it, look at me!"

Asuka lifted her head, eyes red with tears, as the light behind her eye-patch throbbed blue, as if there was a creature inside, itching to get out.

"What!?" she demanded, angrily. "What more do you want from me!?"

Shinji recoiled with a start. "Asuka…"

"Just say it already!" Asuka screamed. "You've seen what I am! You've seen what I become when I let that thing come out!"

Mari held Asuka tightly in her arms, her lips pursed in a way that suggested that she already knew all of this.

But Shinji could only stare in disbelief.

"You're not the only one with demons, Shinji," Asuka shook her head, eyebrows knit with tension. "There's a monster inside me. And this angelic contamination just makes it worse."

She fixed him with a tearful stare.

"You've seen it before," she said. "Every time I get angry, it gets a little harder to contain. And when I really lose it, it breaks free! And when it does, I…I go completely ape-shit…"

Shinji thought back to every moment he'd seen Asuka's eye-patch glowing blue. Every time she lost control of her temper, it would flare up like a fire. But every time it did, she would immediately seize control once again, as if she was wrestling for command of her emotions with some darker force within her. Had each of those moments been slowly wearing her down? He certainly hoped she was only being metaphorical with all this talk of demons and monsters.

"If you even knew how much I have to hold myself back all the time!" she shuddered, her good eye clenched in anguish. "How much effort it takes to keep from lashing out over every little thing! How much anger there is boiling up inside me all the time, and how it just won't die down! Cause the truth is…"

She let out a whimper that struck Shinji to the core.

"The truth is…I like it!" she cried in shame. "I like setting the monster free! I like feeling like an unstoppable killing machine!"

Mari squeezed her tightly in sympathy, concern evident in her eyes.

"That kind of power…that kind of control…that kind of dominance over anything that crosses your path…" Asuka murmured, hanging her head. "Nothing scares you! Cause nothing can hurt you! And for the first time, you feel like you're finally free!"

"Asuka…" Shinji breathed, completely taken aback.

She glared back at him, a look of shame on her face. She had finally told him everything there was to say. She had nothing left of her to hide.

"So just say it already!" she screamed, crying desperately. "I already know what you're thinking! I'm nothing but a crazy bitch! A maniac ready to snap at anything! A psycho killer just waiting to happen, and there's nothing I can do to stop it!"

She lowered her head as the tears flowed freely.

"I'm a monster, Shinji…" she breathed. "Just like her…"

Mari kept her arms wrapped tightly around Asuka's shoulders, but the girl said nothing as her best friend wept openly. Shinji's face remained on the monitor, his stupefaction giving way to concern and compassion.

"You're not a monster at all, Asuka…" he laughed weakly, nearly crying himself. "I've seen what a monster looks like! And you're nothing like him."

Asuka said nothing, her eyes remaining hidden.

"So you get angry or scared sometimes!" Shinji exclaimed. "So you lash out when it gets to be too much for you, and you thrive on the release that comes with it! So what? That's only human! How could I possibly call you a monster for something likethat?"

Asuka shuddered, her face still hidden behind her hair.

"The Asuka I know is the most amazing person I've ever seen!" Shinji explained. "She's able to channel that anger into something positive! And she's able to do amazing things because of it! Without that so-called monster inside you, Asuka, you wouldn't bethat amazing girl that I know!"

Asuka finally looked up, her eye still red from tears.

"So please!" Shinji begged. "Don't be so hard on yourself! Don't feel like you have to hold yourself back all the time! Don't be so afraid to show that side of you that you hide yourself completely! The Asuka that I know is proud of who she is!"

Shinji really was crying now, his lower lip quivering as he pleaded with her.

"Please, Asuka," he breathed. "I can't bear to see you in this much pain…"

Asuka stared back at him like he was some kind fool. How could he honestly believe such idealistic bullshit? How could he expect her to do the same? Had he not seen just what she had done? How brutal she had been? She had nearly gotten herself andMari killed, and she hadn't given it a second thought!

But those damn eyes! There was just so much trust and hope and devotion and affection in those blue eyes of his! When she looked into those eyes, she could almost believe that she was still human. She could almost let go of her anger, because when she looked into those eyes, she almost felt like she didn't need it.

"Shinji…" she breathed, almost unable to believe that he could be real. How could someone like this exist? How could someone look upon such a beast and still manage to see beauty?

His eyes did not leave hers, and she found herself blushing as she looked away.

"You're an idiot…" she whispered in a tiny voice. "You're such a stupid idiot…"

Shinji tried his best to smile back at her through the tears.

"The one and only," he sniffed.

Asuka let out a breath that she hadn't realized she'd been holding.

"God damn it, Shinji," she shuddered in a breathy voice. "How did I get to be the one leaning on you all of the sudden?"

He shrugged, shaking his head. "I don't know, Asuka. I just couldn't leave you like that."

She shuddered again, looking up at him, the barest glimmer of hope in her eyes. She had never allowed herself to trust anyone in this world. She always had her guard up, never letting anyone get close to her.

But maybe a world with Shinji in it…she might be able to trust again in a world like that.

"Thanks, Shinji…" she exhaled, closing her eyes. "I think…I think I'm alright now…"

"Thank God…" Shinji's relief was palpable as he wept. "Don't scare me like that, Asuka…"

Asuka looked back at him to see fresh tears in his eyes, and she felt an odd feeling come over her. She was used to being feared, idolized, depended on and even despised by her peers. She had grown used to those feelings and had learned to shrug them off as part of the territory. But for the first time since Third Impact, at that moment, Asuka truly felt treasured above all else. It was a feeling she had never felt with her mother, never with her foster parents, not for a single moment since since the fall of Tokyo-3. This was a feeling that went beyond mere companionship or love, she realized as she looked at him. With everything he was, Shinji could not bear to lose her.

And as that realization sunk in, she felt an enormous weight lift from her shoulders.

"Shinji…" she sighed, as a smile slowly crept across her face.

He smiled back at her, wiping away his tears. "Honestly, Asuka…"

It was like they were truly seeing each other for the first time. Asuka had finally allowed her weakness to be seen, and Shinji had finally shown her that it didn't matter. Faced with their deadliest enemy yet, and the two of them only now knew how the other felt. And that clarity brought with it a sense of peace that neither of them knew possible.

That peace, however, was not meant to last.

"Um…guys…" Mari cut in, nervously. "I really hate to interrupt…but that Eva is coming back!"

Shinji and Asuka turned to where Unit 13 had been flung, and sure enough, the Eva was lumbering back towards them, stepping over broken Eva pods and spilled LCL.

"Damn it…" Asuka muttered in exhausted agitation. "Why can't that thing just leave us alone?"

Shinji's eyes remained on Asuka as he studied her. She looked completely worn out, and Mari was looking no better, with blood running down her forehead and a pair of broken glasses.

"Hey Puppy-Boy," Mari called out to him. "Think you and Miss Ayanami can bring out that berserker again?"

Shinji glanced at Rei, who simply shook her head with a cautioning look in her eyes.

"We can't," Shinji sighed, shaking his head. "If we do, we risk exposing Rei to the Dummy Plugs' control again. We'll just have to win this ourselves."

"How?" Asuka demanded, a desperate look in her eyes, sounding completely hopeless. "You saw what I did to it, and it didn't even make a dent! And the Magorox Sword could barely scratch it!"

Shinji studied the Eva as it approached them. It was uncanny how much it resembled Unit 01. The same color scheme, the same protruding horn. Its RS Hoppers floated freely over its head as it strode towards them, seemingly unhurried. It didn't seem to perceive either of them as a threat, and Shinji knew that it still had a second set of arms it could call upon. How his father had recovered it was anyone's guess, but he assumed a pair of Dummy Plugs were being used as pilots. Who better to synchronize with than a carbon copy of yourself?

But then, what made the dual entry system so powerful was the blending of two unique perspectives. That was how he and Kaworu had synchronized so well. It was how he and Rei did the same. What his time synchronizing had taught him, what his training with Asuka had taught him, was that when two minds fought in unison as one, they were more than the sum of their parts.

He smiled.

He knew how to beat them.

"Mari," he called out to the Sixth Child using her first name. "You wouldn't happen to have any music on your entry plug's internal computer, would you?"

"Duh," she responded, rolling her eyes. "Why do you ask?"

Asuka turned to give Mari an incredulous look.

"What?" she demanded. "We spent four hours a day running sync tests in this thing! I had to do something to pass the time!"

Shinji smiled. If anyone would try something so audacious as using her entry plug's internal computer as a stereo, it was Mari.

"You don't happen to have track twenty-six on there, do you?"

Mari's eyes widened. And then she smiled. And then she nodded.

"Just give me a moment…" she said.

Asuka blinked in confusion. "We're about to get eaten alive, and you want to listen to music?"

Shinji nodded. "Yes I do. Rei, give me full control of Unit 01."

"Done," Rei replied, surrendering her control.

Shinji nodded and smiled at Asuka.

"Just match my rhythm, Asuka," she smiled knowingly. "And try to keep up. Cause I'm not going to stop till the song is done."

Asuka blinked at him in total and utter disbelief.

"You're not serious…" she breathed, wondering not for the first time whether he could even be real.

Shinji smirked as Unit 01 reached down to offer a hand to Unit 08+02.

"May I have this dance?" he asked sardonically.

Asuka began to laugh hysterically. He actually thought they could pull this off! She could hardly believe she was actually entertaining the idea.

"Shinji, you crazy son of a…" she laughed. "Four-Eyes, give me full control!"

"Already done," Mari smiled.

Asuka sighed. Why the fuck not? It's not like they had any other options.

Unit 08+02 reached up to take Unit 01's hand.

And the music began to play.


Misato, Ritsuko, and Sakura, as well as the Commander of all of NERV stood staring in stupefied awe as the three Evangelions did battle. Unit 01 and Unit 08+02 moved like they were one and the same, striking at the Eva before them as it lashed out at them in frustration. They dodged its attacks so easily, while the two of them struck with such keen perception, it was as if Unit 13 was not even fighting them, but rather participating in the dance of its own destruction.

"Do these pilots not comprehend what I am trying to accomplish?" Gendo asked, as if the answer would be forthcoming. "I am trying to create a better world."

Misato crossed her arms as she and others watched the battle. They had all ventured out the front door to get a better look. Hyuga and Shigeru had stepped outside the VTOL craft to watch as well.

"My goals would benefit them as much as they would benefit myself," he said, sounding more tired than irritated. "A world free from fear, free from pain, free from hatred…I offer them paradise, and they would fight to remain in purgatory."

As if fueled by the Commander's determination, Unit 13's extra arms unfolded form its chest, and with the extra grip provided, managed to seize both of its attackers, throwing them both back. All at once, the tide of the battle began to turn as the four-eyed, four-armed Eva lunged at them both, pinning the two bio-weapons to the ground, hands at both their throats.

"How would such a world have any meaning?" Misato demanded, eyebrows knit. "The world we come from may have been flawed, but we still found a way to live in it!"

Unit 08+02 managed to get its legs free, and place Unit 13's neck in a scissor hold, yanking its own neck free from its grip.

"You have to let go of this delusion, Commander," Ritsuko added with a frown. "You would sacrifice your children's future so that you could keep on living in the past."

Unit 01 managed to break free as well and charged its enemy, knocking it onto its back as Unit 08+02 continued to choke the life out of it.

"The damage is already done now!" the Commander growled angrily. "We must make the most of what we have now! Right now, our choice is a simple one! Remain in this hellhole, or build a new world for ourselves!"

Unit 13's halo flared up as it release a quad-optic beam, each set of two veering off in the direction of one of its opponents, sending both Unit 01 and 02+08 flying backwards, toppling over pods and sending dust and debris flying everywhere. The ground around the house shook violently as Unit 01 landed haphazardly back on top of the platform upon which they all stood, sending wind rushing past them.

"That's exactly what we intend to do, Commander!" Ritsuko declared as the gust whipped at her coat. "The right way! If humanity was destined to live their lives as mindless dreamers, we would have never crawled out of the oceans a billion years ago! Humanity struggled and fought and persevered because we are survivors, Commander! We adapt! We learn! We grow! You would have us remain as we are in this exact moment in time, never to grow beyond what we are now!"

Unit 01 rose to its feet, its head turning to fall upon the weapon that had been left on the platform.

The Lance of Cassius.

"Right now, those kids are fighting for the world they believe in!" Misato blared, pointing at Unit 01 as it wrapped its hands around the haft of the lance that was embedded into the surface of the platform. "They're living proof that you're wrong! Humanity doesn't want a dreamworld where everything is spoon-fed to us like children! For humanity to be free, we must grow and move beyond mere imagination! The human ability to fight for our dreams and turn them into a reality is what makes us what we are!"

Unit 01 lunged into the air with a ferocious roar, and descended upon Unit 13, driving the Lance of Cassius through its chest, pinning it to the ground. The Eva writhed and struggled, but somehow, the beast still did not relent.

"I'm so close…" Gendo breathed, shaking his head, his voice faltering. "I'm so close. I almost got her right this time…"

Ritsuko shook her head, sadly. "That's where you're wrong, Sir. You got her right from the very start."

She gestured back towards the house.

"The one who you should be the most proud of isn't in here…" she said, pointing back to the battle. "They're out there."

Unit 08+02 came down with its Magorox sword, and sliced off Unit 13's head.

"Your children, the children of Eva, have all fought in this war for so long…" Misato smiled bitterly through watery eyes. "They've given up everything to survive this madness so that humanity can have a future. They deserve the world they're fighting for, not some illusion to make them feel better. They're not children anymore, Commander. It's time we stopped treating them that way."

Unit 13 finally expired and crumbled into red dust. Unit 01 and Unit 08+02 stood above their fallen foe, staring at each other as if neither truly believe what they had accomplished.

"If that is what humanity has chosen…" Gendo breathed. "Then I am powerless to prevent our race from destroying itself."

He slowly made his way back into the house.

"Wait!" Ritsuko shouted as she and Misato followed him inside. "The Black Moon! Tell us how to stop it!?"

Gendo sat down at the living room table and shook his head. "You cannot. Things have been set into motion that even I cannot stop. The Key of Nebuchadnezzar has been encrypted with its command, and has been absorbed into the very fabric of the Black Moon. The Black Moon will continue to generate this army until every drop of LCL is leeched from the Earth. Every Evangelion that has fallen here today shall simply recycle their essence into the next generation. And within each Unit, a single human soul shall reside, living the life they choose to live within the garden of their mind. Nothing can stop that now."

Misato and Ritsuko both gaped in horror.

"There has to be something you can do!" Ritsuko demanded.

The Commander frowned and shook his head. "It is already done. There is naught for me to do but await my fate."

Misato shook her head. "No! We won't accept this! We'll find some way to put a stop to this!"

Gendo lowered his head as Misato turned to leave.

"I pray that you do," he sighed. "But if you succeed, there will be no place in that world for one such as I."

He turned to look at her.

"May I ask one favor, Captain?"

Misato turned her head back and frowned suspiciously. "What's that?"

The old man slowly unfastened the visor from his face and set it down on the table. He looked up at them with pale, blind eyes, smiling sadly as he did.

"Would you mind leaving me your sidearm?"

Her eyes widened, as did Ritsuko's. He continued to stare at them with unblinking white eyes. Then Misato slowly nodded, drawing her pistol from its holster and placing it on the table.

"Fuyutsuki bids you farewell," she said softly.

Gendo Ikari nodded as the two of them left the house.

And there was the sound of a single gun shot.

Shinji and Rei were out of breath, as were Asuka and Mari. But as they panted and gasped for what felt like hours, they exchanged a look that shone with pride.

They did it. They beat the un-killable Eva. Without losing themselves to the monsters within.

"I can't believe that worked!" Asuka exhaled in exhilaration.

Mari grinned. "I totally knew that would work! You and Shinji make a pretty good team!"

"Oh be quiet," Asuka stuck her tongue out at her. "Nobody asked you."

"She's right though, Asuka," Shinji ventured. "That was amazing."

Asuka smirked back at him. "Yeah…well, don't give me too much credit - I was ready to throw in the towel for a minute there."

She gave him the most genuine smile he had ever seen her make.

"You really pulled through, Shinji."

Shinji was taken aback by the look of honest gratitude on her face. He was used to seeing her display confidence, arrogance, brashness and ire, and when she was happy, the smile she made was usually one borne of self-importance. This was the first time he had seen genuine happiness on her face, much less one given knowingly and freely to someone who, by all rights, she still should have hated.

That smile alone made it all worth it.

"Thanks, Asuka," he said, blushing. "You don't know how much that means to me."

"I meant it," she smiled wryly at him, seemingly aware of the effect she was having on him. "You fought pretty well…for a pipsqueak."

Shinji smiled back at her. "Well, I had a good teacher."

"Oh, don't get too comfortable now," she said with a wink. "I still have a few things left to teach you."

Shinji blushed even more at her implications, even knowing full well that she was deliberately yanking his chain. But still, he was happy.

It was good to have the old Asuka back.

"Locating our fallen weapons was a stroke of fortune," the black-haired Rei observed. "Without them, we would not have likely succeeded."

"We still held it off long enough to even find the weapons!" Mari laughed. "That counts for something at least!"

Asuka sat back. "I still can't believe the Doctor let you upload mp3 files onto the entry plug's sound system!"

Mari smiled back. "Hey, nothing promotes synchronization like the power of music!"

Shinji sat back, thinking back on the fight. There was something troubling him at the back of his mind.

"Shinji?" Rei asked, looking up at him, sensing his uneasiness.

Shinji chewed on his lip.

"All this time, we've been fighting clones of the Mark.06," he said, suspiciously. "Why only now do we see Unit 13?"

Asuka shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe the Commander was holding it back to protect his stronghold?"

"Or maybe a dual entry system Eva is more difficult to clone?" Mari offered.

Shinji frowned. "I don't know. That fight just felt too easy…"

He looked up.

And he paled.

There was a section of Eva pods over their heads that did not contain replicas of the Mark.06, as the others did. In these pods, and in several others they could see by their strange green glow, were vibrant gray-green copies of Unit 13.

Hundreds, maybe thousands of them.

And some of them looked like they were ready to wake up.

"We have to go!" he said urgently. "Now!"

Everyone looked up, and they too saw what Shinji saw.


The two Evas suddenly made for the exit, scrambling over the fallen remains of countless Eva pods. And even as they fled, a gray-green copy of Unit 13 landed on the ground behind them, a ferocious look in its eyes. It was soon followed by another. And another.

The pilots redoubled their pace.

"Captain!" Shinji shouted over the intercom as the interior of the Black Moon speed past his entry plug. "NERV made copies of Unit 13! We need to get out of here!"

Misato's face appeared on screen. "My thoughts exactly, Shinji. We're already airborne."

Even as she spoke, Shinji could see the VTOL lifting from the platform as the two of them passed it by on the way towards the exit.

"You are?" Shinji asked. "What about my father?"

Misato lowered her eyes.

"He…won't be giving us any more trouble, Shinji."

Shinji set his teeth.

"I…I see…" he said, taking a cleansing breath. "We…we need to destroy the Black Moon before it can do any more damage."

Misato nodded. "Agreed, Shinji, but we just don't have the capability to do so on our own. The Naraka has been hitting it with everything it's got, and it hasn't been having any effect. That ship is our most powerful weapon right now, and it can't make a dent!"

Shinji chewed on his lip. They were running out of options. The replicas of Unit 13 would soon overrun them, and they would lose their foothold on the inside. After that, they would soon lose the Geo-Front, and soon after, the armies of Super Evangelions would cover the world, overpowering their forces with impunity.

Then he saw Rei's eyes focused on his. Those eyes, once red, were now as black as night, as black as her hair, in stark contrast of her pale white skin. But for all that, within her eyes, he saw the same girl he knew from all those years ago.

"There is something we can do, Shinji," she said simply. "Something that only we can do."

Shinji blinked, before a shudder ran through him. The two of them had spent so much time synchronizing that they could practically read each others' minds. And right then, Shinji did not like what he knew she was thinking.

"Are…are you serious?" he asked.

She nodded. She tried smiling as she did. But there was too much sadness in the smile to make a difference.

Shinji closed his eyes. Her choice was already made. He knew her all too well than to think otherwise. All that remained was his own. All that remained was for him to decide just what he was willing to sacrifice.

He released a breath as he made his decision.

He had sworn an oath. It was time to uphold it.

"Captain," he said, looking up at his one time guardian as his Eva continued to bound over the pod-lined interior of the Black Moon. "Misato, I need the Wunder."

Misato blinked in confusion. "The Wunder? The Wunder's shipwrecked, Shinji. Even if we could get Unit 01 back inside, there's no way we could get it operational in any reasonable amount of time."

Shinji shook his head. "That won't be a problem, Misato. I just need you to confirm that all the crew have abandoned ship."

Misato crossed her arms. "What's with all the informality, Shinji? What exactly are you planning?"

Shinji closed his eyes. "Misato, please - can you confirm that all crew has been evacuated from the Wunder?"

Misato frowned and nodded. "Well…yes, Shinji. But why?"

Shinji released a breath. "Because where we're going…it might not be coming back."

Misato's eyes widened as Shinji and Rei explained their plan. She stared at them in stunned silence for a moment as she went over the alternatives in her head.

Nothing came to her. At least, nothing that she was confident in. With the copies of Unit 13 spreading as fast they were, they were fast running out of options.

But this?

"Doctor?" she asked, turning to Ritsuko for input, who sat next to her in the VTOL.

Dr. Akagi looked completely stumped, conflicted about relaying a truth that had such grave implications.

"It's…" she said hesitantly. "Theoretically…possible…"

Misato shook her head and looked back at Shinji.

"Shinji, this is insane!" she said. "There's no way this can work! And even if it does, you…you cannot ask me to authorize this! I won't have it, Shinji!"

Shinji glared back at her. "Misato, this is something that no one else can do!"

Misato was still shaking her head. "Shinji, that's enough! There has to be another way!"

"Captain, this will work," Rei interjected. "This is our only chance to end this ."

"I'm not asking you to have faith in me, Misato!" Shinji cried. "I'm just asking you to give me a chance to set things right again!"

"Shinji…" Misato breathed.

"Why else would you have brought me back, Misato!?" Shinji demanded, sincerity in his eyes. "What other purpose, if not this!?"

Misato stared bitterly back at him, and to his surprise, she had tears in her eyes. She reached into her jacket, as if clutching something hanging from her neck.

"God damn it, Shinji…" she muttered. "I never meant for things to come to this…"

Shinji shook his head. "Neither did I, Misato. I don't pretend to be the soldier WILLE needs me to be…I'm just the best soldier I can be."

Misato looked back at him, tears trickling down her face. She knew full well what he was asking her to do, and she knew full well that he would do it.

She slowly nodded, giving them the go ahead.

"I'm…" she whispered. "I'm proud of you, Shinji…I'm proud of both of you…"

Shinji nodded in return, before shutting off the transmission.

Neither of them were very good at goodbyes.

As the two Evangelions fled down the passageway in which they had entered, the crew's VTOL flying overhead, the army of Unit 13's not far behind them, they had to carefully wade through the bodies littered by Asuka and Mari's rampage on the way in. Fortunately, the army behind them would be similarly hindered.

"So what exactly is the plan here, Shinji?" Asuka demanded over the radio as they made their way towards the exit. "The Captain just said we need to get to the Wunder."

Shinji nodded surreptitiously. "The Wunder has the power to stop the Black Moon. We just need to get to it and reactivate it before this army of Evas overwhelms us."

Asuka nodded, but had an uneasy frown on her face. She could tell he was hiding something.

They made it to the exit, and immediately began skidding down the steep slope of the beveled concave dome of the Black Moon's surface. The VTOL flew by overhead, as far below them, the smoldering wasteland that was the remains of the Geo-Front, as well as the floating pyramid of the AAA Naraka came into view. And off in the distance, past the remains of NERV HQ, was the fallen bird shape of the Wunder.

The two Evas skidded off the edge, plummeting downward at least a mile, before hitting the ground hard with a BOOM, leaving a sizable crater where they landed. The ground was littered with the corpses of Asuka and Mari's kills, but overhead, the clones of Unit 13 were already starting to rain down.

"Go!" Asuka shouted, and they both took off into a run towards the Geo-Front.

All four pilots were beyond exhausted, both mentally and physically, but they pushed forward, their lungs breathing fire and their veins pumping battery acid. The two of them reached the crater, and flung themselves back into the remains of the Geo-Front, jumping over more bodies from Unit 01's rampage. As they passed the Naraka, the massive warship began to open fire on the oncoming legion of Super-Evas, keeping the bulk of them at bay.

"There it is!" Shinji cried as the Wunder came into view. "Keep going!"

The two of them nearly broke the sound barrier as they rushed the fallen war machine, before skidding to a halt before the great, mighty bird.

"Alright!" Shinji cried as he handed the Lance of Cassius to the other Eva as Unit 01 began to climb up the wire-frame mess that was the Wunder's belly. "I need you two to hold them off as long as possible so we can get this thing started! Buy us as muchtime as you can!"

"You got it!" Mari nodded as they turned their attention to the units that managed to make it past the Naraka.

Unit 08+02 swung its Magorox sword at the first Eva, slicing off its arm, which quickly fell off and deteriorated, but then was almost immediately replaced by another arm. They parried the next attack, and drove the spear through its belly, which only caused it to scream and rage even more.

"Damn, either weapon by itself really isn't enough!" Mari grunt, before slicing the creature's head off, causing it to convulse into core material. "We have to use them in a combined attack to neutralize both cores!"

"Then how come the lance was enough to take us down!?" Asuka demanded.

"Cause Unit 02 never had an S2 engine," Mari reflected. "Unit 08+02 only has the one S2 that we borrowed from the Eva Series. Once it was shut down, the other core must not have had enough juice to compensate or something."

"Great," Asuka rolled her eyes.

It was unwieldy work, swinging around one weapon in either hand. The advancing Super-Eva Series was sparse at first as the Naraka took out the bulk of them, but as their numbers began to increase, and Unit 08+02 found itself fighting off several at a time, the necessary one-two punch of lance and sword became more and more difficult.

"Shinji, we're starting to get overwhelmed here!" Asuka called out.

No sooner had she spoken, then the Wunder began to stir. Unit 01 had ensconced itself within the belly of the beast, and the ship seemed to recognize and welcome them in by once again wrapping its rib-cage around them. It creaked unsteadily, awkwardly righting itself, tearing up the landscape just by moving, before stretching out its wings to shake off the debris. The giant creature bulged and flexed, and entire pieces of its battle-scarred armor came falling off of its sides. Both shoulder pauldrons crumbled and fell away, along with its turrets and the bridge, and soon, all that was left of the flying machine was the bird-like Angel underneath.

Of course, Unit 08+02 was in no shape to appreciate this.

"Puppy-boy!" Mari cried out as she kicked an Eva off of the lance. "We could really use some help right about now!"

Shinji's face finally appeared on their screens. "Got it! Hold on!"

A dark shadow fell over their Eva as it fought, before one of the Wunder's massive bird-like talons wrapped around Unit 08+02's torso, before a massive flap of its wings sent them both upward, well out of harm's way.

Both Shinji and Rei were perfectly in synch now, flying the Wunder like they were born to do it.

"Whew!" Mari sighed in relief.

As they rose, they could see the VTOL craft making its way to the Naraka as it continued to fire upon the oncoming tide of Unit 13's. Ahead of them, the gray-green Evas were raining down from the Black Moon at an accelerated rate. It would soon overpower even the Naraka.

Asuka frowned, staring up at the Wunder, puzzled by its more animalistic look. After absorbing over sixteen cores, plus the four it had gained over the past few months, it seemed to have regenerated from a skeleton to almost a fully formed Angel.

How long before it started acting like one?

As they flew towards the Black Moon, they passed over the Naraka, before descending back downward to fly over the battleship.

"This is your stop, ladies," Shinji said calmly.

Asuka and Mari's eyes both widened as the Wunder's talons suddenly released them directly over the Naraka.

"Hey, what - whoa!" Mari blurted as they abruptly fell.

They quickly righted themselves in mid-air and landed on their feet on the ground by the Naraka, sword sheathed behind their back and lance in hand, but could only watch in confusion as the Wunder flew off towards the Black Moon.

"What do you think you're doing, Shinji!?" Asuka demanded.

"You two need to protect the Naraka," Shinji called back. "Protect WILLE. Rei and I will deal with the Black Moon"

"By yourselves!?" Mari demanded.

"Shinji, what are you planning!?" Asuka demanded. "What's the Captain got you doing!?"

Shinji sighed, helplessly. "This wasn't the Captain's idea."

Asuka's eyes widened in disbelief. "That…but…you…"

Shinji smiled. "It's okay, Asuka. I'm not afraid anymore."

Asuka shook her head. "Shinji, you better not be doing something stupid! Do you hear me!?"

Shinji didn't respond. The Wunder continued to climb, the Black Moon getting bigger and bigger.

"Shinji…" Asuka called out, urgency in her voice. "Just…please, just tell me what you're doing!"

Shinji clenched his eyes shut. He didn't dare explain it. He couldn't bear to see the hurt in her eyes if he did.

"Shinji!" Asuka yelled insistently.

The Wunder finally surpassed the Black Moon, almost above the cloud-line, the sky around them still lined with smoke from the fight below. Rei allowed the Wunder to glide downward towards the dark black surface along the edge of the top-most ring of the God machine as Shinji lined up their talons for the landing, before sinking his claws into the rigid black material, perching atop the machine like a bird.

Then the Wunder the turned its eyes to the sky and began to flap its wings.

At first, nothing happened. The Wunder's claws were dug in deep into the cold, hard surface of the Black Moon. Its massive, kilometer-long wings took several seconds to come up, and another several seconds to go back down, and pushed so much air in the process that it created gale force winds. The smoke and clouds surrounding them began to swirl and spiral around them into a furious dust storm. But so much moving air had no chance of affecting such a titanic colossus as the Black Moon.

But then the mountains below began to crumble and shake. Massive landslides began to tumble across the entire landscape as as the very earth below began to break away as slowly but surely the Black Moon began to stir.

Asuka and Mari both gaped in astonishment.

"No way…" Asuka breathed.

Below them, the mountains began to crumble into dust as massive vibrations shook them to rubble. The very force from above began to spew the the land itself in all directions, shattering the earth into smithereens. The entire Geo-Front shook from the massive shock-waves emanating from the site as the Naraka flew with all haste in the opposite direction, Unit 08+02 clinging to its side, Misato's VTOL craft parked safely inside. All eyes were glued to the Black Moon as it began to rise.

"No way…" Asuka repeated in disbelief.

As the Black Moon lifted, the bedrock beneath it could be seen glowing white hot as the titanic pressure condensed it into super-heated magma. As more and more of the surface was exposed, within the space between the land and the Black Moon, a single gigantic AT Field could be seen undulating back and forth between the Black Moon and the surface beneath it like a country-sized jackhammer, striking the ground a thousand times a second. The constant, pulsating barrage of absolute terror impacted against the ground with such force that it was actually lifting the Black Moon into the air.

"That thing's bigger than the entire city!" Asuka shouted. "There's just no fucking way!"

The Wunder continued flapping its wings, the motion itself having no effect, but was itself an after effect of the two pilots' stalwart effort to fly. The Wunder kept its nose pointed upward as it willed the God machine ever skyward, its AT Field manifesting below to generate lift as it slowly dragged its tremendous burden into the air.

It was a dove lifting a freight engine. It was an act of God itself.

As the Naraka sped away, Misato and Kaji were both watching from the operations center, as Ritsuko and Maya both studied their instruments.

"An AT assisted takeoff," Ritsuko gasped in amazement.

Misato clutched the cross at her neck with Kaji at her side.

"The Wunder really is the ship of hope!" she breathed.

As the Black Moon continued to rise, its top half began to tilt upward to point at the sky, as the bottom half ground the mountain range below into rubble. The Wunder, now gripping the landmass sized behemoth from the edge of its topmost ring, the white hot earth beneath it sizzling still as its AT Field continue to pummel it into plasma. As the Black Moon continued to rise, displacing an entire country's worth of air, the smoke and clouds rushed out in all directions at hurricane speeds. They were rising at escape velocity, and even so, the Black Moon appeared to move at a snail's pace, the smoke and clouds still appearing to only gradually give way, like elastic wrap.

As the clouds blew away, the mid-morning sky shone clear and bright. And high above the Wunder, the first hint of stars twinkled through the blue mask of sky, as the Wunder slowly carried the Black Moon out into space.

As Asuka watched it lift away, she finally felt the tears come. She knew. She didn't know how, but somehow she just knew that she would never see him again.

"Shinji, stop!" she cried into the comm as his brow strained in concentration. "Please, Shinji! You don't have to do this! I forgive you, alright!? So please, just stop!"

Shinji closed his eyes, trying desperately to stave off tears of his own. "Yes I do, Asuka. This is all that's left for me to do."

Asuka's look of hurt and betrayal was almost too much for him to bear.

"Don't do this to me, Shinji!" she begged. "Don't leave me like this! Not again!"

Shinji lost the battle with his tears and smiled sadly back at her.

"I'm sorry, Asuka…" he cried, pleading for forgiveness with every breath. "I'm so sorry…"

Asuka's image began to flicker as the distance between them increased.

"Shinji!?" Asuka shouted in fear. "You're breaking up! I-I can't hear you! Please, come back!"

Shinji struck his fist against the entry plug interior.

If only they'd had more time!

"Shinji!" Asuka screamed. "SHINJI!"

And then her image flickered to static as they drifted out of range, and the Black Moon was dragged out into space.

Shinji's head rested in Rei's lap as she continued to fly the Wunder. Their entry plug was adequately sealed against the vacuum of space, and their AT Field continued to power them forward. Now that they were unhindered by the Earth's atmosphere and gravity, their speed increased a hundred-fold. They did not have the navigation instruments necessary to plot a precise course through the solar system, however. But it was immaterial, as Rei steered them towards the only distant object they could perceive without question.

Rei mercifully avoided conversation. She did not bring up Asuka or his feelings towards her, nor did she try to initiate anything herself. She didn't even mention the fact that nobody seemed to care that she too had been in the entry plug with him as they'd left. Nobody had told her not to do it, nobody had pleaded with her, nobody even seemed upset with the fact that she was going.

And the worst part was, she didn't even seem to mind.

"I'm sorry, Rei," he breathed silently, as around them, the stars twinkled brightly.

"For what?" the black-haired girl asked, not taking her eyes off of their target.

"For dragging you along with me," he said. "If I could have piloted Unit 01 on my own, you could have stayed behind with Asuka and the others. You wouldn't have had to come with me out here. You wouldn't have to…have to…"

Rei smiled down at him and ran a hand through his hair.

"You cannot pilot this Eva by yourself, Shinji," she said simply. "There is no point dwelling on what-ifs. Besides…I would have come with you either way."

Shinji blinked and looked up at her. "Why?"

Rei closed her eyes. "Because no hero should die alone."

Shinji took a breath. He tried not to stare outside the entry plug. Even at the lowest shading, the sun's rays were too bright for the Evas UV filters.

"I'm no hero…" he breathed. "I'm the one who caused this mess to begin with."

"Shinji…" Rei chided. "We've discussed this. Third Impact was not your doing. You were manipulated by NERV. As were we all."

Shinji clenched his eyes shut.

"If I had never been born, I never would have been there to be manipulated in the first place."

Rei nodded. "That is true, I suppose. But then, the Commander would have merely found someone else."

Shinji stared blankly off into the stars.

"This someone else would have likely caused Third Impact just as surely as you did," Rei said, taking Shinji's hand in hers. "But if it had been someone else, Shinji, they may very well not have come back afterward to fix it. That was your doing, Shinji. No one manipulated you into saving the world."

Shinji shed another tear that bled off into the LCL around them. And as the entry plug got brighter and brighter as they neared their target, Shinji shuddered in fear.

"Do you…" he breathed. "Do you think we have a chance?"

Rei slowly shook her head. "I have made the calculations in my head, Shinji. The impact of the Black Moon will cause a massive shock-wave of energy. It will overtake us before we can alter our course. We will not be able to escape it in time."

Shinji inhaled and shuddered again.

"Still…we have to at least try…"

Rei looked down at him, hesitantly. "I…do not wish to give you false hope, Shinji."

He looked up at her, and saw the fear in her eyes as well. And he knew that it was not only himself whom she wished to save from false hope.

"Please try…" he breathed.

Rei set her jaw, and finally nodded.

"Very well, Shinji," she said, gesturing towards his seat. "Prepare for release."

He nodded and pulled himself upward, drifting in the zero-gravity up towards his seat to pull himself into it.

"Release in five…" Rei said. "Four…three…two…one…"

Shinji closed his eyes and urged the Wunder's claws to let go of its cargo.

The Black Moon slowly began to drift away, and began to spiral along the grooves of its rifling, looking like a giant space goblet. The machine may have been his father's tomb, but it was still active, and it still sought out its intended destination. It was not a very strong pull, but it was there. The God Machine was alive with energy, as if it possessed a will of its own. If left to drift, it would have eventually found its way back to Earth again. The only way to keep it from returning was to trap it in the gravity well of something larger.

In this case, that something was the sun.

Unfortunately, that meant that the Wunder couldn't just simply fling it away from Earth's orbit. It had to get within the orbit of Mercury before releasing the Black Moon, sending it spiraling down into the sun's gravity well. Any farther away, and it would have simply corrected its course, entered into orbit around the Sun, before sling-shotting itself back to Earth. Thus far, the Wunder's AT Fields were keeping it mostly protected from the sun's harsh rays even at that proximity. But even so, the entry plug was terribly warm from the radiant energy, their AT Field clearly visible as it struggle to stave off the sun's rays. The catastrophic failure of the God Machine would release such an outburst of energy that it would have been more than the ship could possibly hope to contend with it on top of that.

Still, Rei steered their craft to the side, trying to enter into a shallow orbit and put some distance between them and the Black Moon as it fell towards the sun. The Wunder's AT Field flew outward, pushing against the very fabric of space, urging the Angel of Birth to one side.

Soon, the Black Moon fell away beyond view.

Rei released a breath. "We are in orbit, Shinji. I have done all I can. I…"

Rei hesitated, her mouth hanging open as if she wanted to say more.

"Rei?" Shinji blinked, looking down at her.

"I…I…" she shuddered, lifting her hands up and watching as they trembled. "I…I cannot seem to stop shaking…"

Shinji quickly made his way down to her seat.

"I do not understand…" Rei said tremulously, her pitch rising. "I…I…"

Shinji's hands came around hers, and she started, looking up at him.

"Shinji…?" she shivered.

"It's okay, Rei," he smiled soothingly back at her. "It's okay to be afraid."

Rei stared at her hands within his, as if they were a mystery to her.

"I…" she whispered. "I have never…feared for my own life before…"

Shinji squinted through his tears as the Black Moon struck the surface of the sun, and released a blinding explosion of energy as a thousand, thousand super solenoid devices simultaneously failed and detonated, creating a shockwave that spread out in all directions.

"I'm sorry, Rei…" he breathed, before clutching her to him. "I'm so sorry…"

She clutched him back, holding his body against her own as tightly as she could.

"It is I who am sorry, Shinji," she whimpered. "At least…at least now, you are not alone…"

Shinji watched as the shockwave approached them. He knew their AT Field was moving them away as fast as it could. He knew it did not matter.

"You're right…" he said with a smile. "I'm not."

The two of them held their embrace for an eternity. And then the blast overtook them, and their worlds became filled with light.

Misato shielded her eyes as she watched the explosion from the operations center of the Naraka. The pyramidal battleship sped away from Tokyo-3, the fallen bodies of the Eva Series littering the ground, like ants without a queen. Around Misato, the tearful faces of the members of WILLE all stood and watched in solemn silence. Sakura had her hands clasped together, as if in prayer. Asuka clutched Kaji's arm, eyes red, as Mari rested her hand on her shoulder, a somber look in her eyes. Even Maya held her beret over her heart and was staring up at the sky with a look of pride and regret.

Misato turned to Ritsuko, who studiously monitored their orbital instruments, a folded pair of headphones pressed to her ear.


Ritsuko set down her headphones and slowly shook her head as she returned her friend's hopeful gaze with a frown.

Asuka pressed her face into Kaji's arm and released a sob as Mari squeezed her shoulder.

Sakura began to tear up. The rest of the crew lowered their eyes.

Misato slipped her Captain's hat off her head and lowered her eyes as well.

She was their Captain! She had been responsible for their lives! Had there been any other way? Had she just sent Shinji and Rei to their death for nothing? Did some part of her still resent them? It had been such a simple decision to make. They made all the hard choices themselves. All she had needed to do was say yes. Sacrifice two more lives, and win the war. That should have been an obvious choice. So why did she feel like garbage for making it?

So many questions raced through her head that she could not keep track of them all, though one eventually trickled to the surface.

What were they to do now?

She returned her hat to her head and looked up.

"Hyuga," she said. "Send out a message to every outpost we can reach."

He looked confused. "Ma'am?"

"Spread the word," she said with a solemn set to her jaw. "The war is over. NERV has been eliminated. And make sure they know…that Shinji Ikari and Rei Ayanami made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of humanity."

Hyuga straightened his shoulders and saluted.

"Aye-aye, Ma'am."

The crew got to work. The ship continued to fly onward. And Asuka continued to weep.

Ritsuko gave one last look to her monitoring equipment, before shutting it off. She then went over to stand beside Misato, arms crossed.

"You didn't tell them that the Black Moon probably contained the essence of millions of human lives?" she asked.

Misato shook her head. "What would it have mattered? We cannot bring back the dead. And even if we could, the Black Moon would have continued to drain more LCL from the world. They were a necessary sacrifice."

Ritsuko frowned, watching as Asuka buried her face into Kaji's shirt as he consoled her. She watched Sakura and Mari holding back tears of their own as they both tried to find something useful to do. She glanced back out the window to see the glimmer that was all that remained of the explosion, the volcano that now erupted where Tokyo-3 had been, and the absolute desolation of the countryside of Japan as they pressed on for miles and miles and miles.

"A necessary sacrifice…" Ritsuko breathed, not sure whether she believed it or not.

The communication channels opened up with the responses from WILLE outposts all over the world. As the message went out across channel after channel, the airwaves began to buzz with the sounds of people cheering. From Rotterdam to Beijing, from Sao Paolo to New Orleans, one by one, the last survivors of the human race began to crawl out of their caves and finally taste freedom. As more and more of the world was alerted, it seemed the entire planet was erupting with the echoes of the celebration and joy of a thousand, thousand people.

And as the cacophony of thunderous applause shook the Earth, the mournful sound of one crying girl faded into obscurity.

To be concluded…

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