Fear

Prison Walls Break

Shin Seiki Evangelion was created by Hideki Anno, and is owned by Gainax.

Mythos elements were created by H. P. Lovecraft and owned by Arkham Publishing. Byatis was created by Robert Bloch. Ithaqua and Cthugha created by August Derleth. Summanus, Mnomquah and Cthylla created by Brian Lumley. Ythogtha was created by Lin Carter. Mordiggian created by Clarke Ashton Smith. Cyäegha was created by Eddy C. Burtin.

Use of the characters and situations therein are not intended as any challenge of their copyrights.

Shinji stopped struggling, and watched as his mother dove headfirst into the waves. He waited, watching for her to surface, for long minutes, before turning and burying his face into his father's jacket.

Only to be shoved away, tripping and falling. He looked up at his father's cold eyes, and shivered.

"Never come back, Yui..."

He glanced down at his son, and Shinji's fear mounted as their eyes met.

The same arctic gaze now bored into Shinji's eyes.

Fear

Four: Prison Walls Break

Shinji's eyes snapped open.

He lay on the hard bunk, staring at the ceiling of his cell. A single fluorescent bulb, off at the moment, sat behind a tight metal cage. The bunk itself had a sheet and a thin blanket, but the cell was quite warm, and he lay on top of them. He still wore his plugsuit, which after a week was getting quite itchy and unpleasant. He would have removed it, but there was also a security camera, behind its own tight metal grille, and he had no desire to strip naked knowing it was there.

Misato had made her displeasure with his non-compliance quite clear on their last meeting.

"You put your life in danger, and those of your classmates. Not to mention mine!"

"I knew I could beat him."

"That doesn't matter!" Misato sighed. "We work as a team. I know it can be hard to remember that, when you're the one out piloting EVA, but the simple fact is that EVA is a complex piece of equipment. You need us to help you! You can't possibly monitor every circuit and vernier on your own. We do our best to help you, by lightening your load so you can concentrate on the battle. But for us to help you, you need to help us as well."

Shinji said nothing. Misato sighed again, and sat down on the chair outside the cell.

"It's a common error that every person makes. They think of the pilot, and think that he's just one man. The mistake goes back to the First World War. They just don't realize that it takes more than one man to turn a machine as complex as an airplane, or an EVA, into a weapon. You were thrown into this headlong, with little training. So I understand your mistake. I understand why you disobeyed me."

She stood and leaned against the bars. "But now I need you to understand me. I am in command. Me, not you. And it has to be that way, or EVA will not function as a weapon."

"I understand."

"Good." She turned to leave. "Your imprisonment was decided at one week by Subcommander Fuyutsuki. Use the time to consider what I've said."

He had thought about it. EVA had been designed by hundreds of specialists, and many of those specialists helped control it during battle. They put it in his hands—a fourteen-year-old boy's!—and entrusted him with their lives.

He'd let them down.

He felt his throat constricting with shame and fear.

Misato looked through the glass at the entry plug, suspended halfway into a pool of LCL.

"How's she doing?"

"About a thirty-five percent sync rate. Of course, that's being synced against a dummy unit, not an EVA. We're also filtering the harmonics and isolating them." Ritsuko lit another cigarette, in blatant violation of the strict no-smoking policy enforced throughout NERV. "Maybe five more minutes, till the MAGI have them pinned down."

"Good." She turned away from the window. "After that disaster with Jet Alone yesterday, the U.N. Security Council was falling all over themselves to 'find' the funds needed to reactivate EVA-00."

"It's just lucky that the auto-SCRAM worked. Eventually."

Misato chuckled. "Yeah. Though I'm betting we could have stopped it before then if we'd been allowed to."

"How?" asked Ritsuko. "Rei still can't sync with EVA-01, even if she was fully healed, and Shinji's in hack. Would you want to try to convince the Commander to spring him for that?"

"Even so," said Misato. "We should have found some way to handle it."

"Well, it's a moot point now," observed Ritsuko.

"All the artillery and firepower they brought against Byatis and the Wendigo only managed to piss them off," said Misato. "What makes them think another mechanical weapon would work?"

"The basic idea behind Jet Alone wasn't too awful." Ritsuko waved her hand in the air, the cigarette tracing a ribbon of smoke. "After all, we've seen what happens when most people see an Old One. Even seeing it through sensors can drive a person mad."

"And so far," conceded Misato, "the only four people we've found that can battle one directly are fourteen years old."

"You've seen one, and not gone mad."

"No, but every time I see one, I freeze up." Misato shrugged. "Besides, for some reason, you can't get a sync rate on me higher than three percent, remember?"

"Yes." Ritsuko paused for a drag on the cigarette. "Only the four Dreamers. I wonder why the Commander calls them that?"

Misato paused, and frowned. "It's not just him."

"Hm?" Ritsuko frowned as well. "Of course, other people here call them that, but—"

"No," said Misato, shaking her head. "Not what I meant. Shinji called himself that as well. During the debriefing."

Ritsuko sighed. "Misato, he's been here a lot over the last month. Surely someone—"

"How often do we refer to them as anything but Pilots?"

"Well—"

"As far as I know, the only people who call them Dreamers are you, Subcommander Fuyutsuki, the Commander, and Rei. I can assure you that Rei hasn't told him of this; even she refers to herself as a Pilot, not a Dreamer. So who told him?"

Ritsuko's frown deepened. "You're right." She considered, then shrugged. "He must have heard it somewhere."

"Maybe. But I think I'll ask him."

They sat in silence for a minute. The computer beeped. Ritsuko turned, and touched a control stud.

"Rei?"

"Yes."

"We're all done here."

"I understand."

Ritsuko released the stud, watched as the entry plug was slowly withdrawn from the pool. "How's her home life?"

"Same as always," muttered Misato. "Never a word she can avoid."

Rei...

At first, he'd thought it was just him. Later, he'd decided that it was the whole world that she despised. Now, he wasn't so certain.

He'd asked his father about it. It was shortly after the battle with Byatis. His father had summoned him to his office...

The office was large, and bare of furniture except for a single desk and chair. Behind the desk sat his father, hands folded in front of his face.

The cold look in Gendo's eyes faded as Shinji walked up to the desk.

"I'm proud of you, son."

Shinji looked down at the floor.

"Look, Shinji." His father put his hands down on his desk, and sighed. "I know we haven't been close in the past. Ever since your mother died, I've had...difficulty...relating to people."

"I know."

"Ah, he can speak." Gendo smiled.

"I'm sorry."

"I should have been..." He stood, started pacing behind the desk.

"Dad..."

His father looked up, surprised.

"It's all right. You did the best you could." He smiled tentatively.

Gendo looked at his son for a while, then smiled. "My brother-in-law has raised a man after all." He looked down again, and said, "I regret the harsh words I used yesterday."

Shinji shrugged.

"Well, enough on business." Gendo smiled. "How are you settling in at Captain Katsuragi's?"

He shrugged. "It's an okay place. At least I have some company there."

"You mean Rei?"

He shook his head. "She's not very good company. But Misato's okay."

"You should try to be more friendly with Rei. She is your fiancee."

"I don't think she wants to be."

"Nonetheless." Gendo smiled. "I feel it is in your best interest, and hers."

"Ritsuko said she'd been abused, and you were trying to help her past that."

"There is some truth to that." He shrugged. "Certainly, it wouldn't hurt her."

"But if that were the case, you could have simply told me to be friendly to her."

Gendo paused, and considered. "You are right, there is more than just that reason. I can only ask you to trust me. I know you will find that difficult, but..."

They stood in silence for a moment.

Gendo broke it first. "Well. I have to look over your latest sync rates. Go home, get something to eat."

"All right."

He turned and walked from the office, but just before the door closed, turned back...and saw the familiar cold mask on his father's face.

But now he was no longer certain if it was a mask...or if the warm, friendly, uncertain Gendo was the mask.

The cafeteria was nearly empty; aside from the three of them, there was only the cook and a bus-boy present. Ritsuko sipped her coffee, leaving lipstick marks on the cup.

"With the data from Rei's sync rates, we should be able to find the bug in EVA-00's operating system, and nullify it. Once the OS is patched, we can proceed to the next step: Startup tests."

"Will I be required for that step?" Rei's voice was quiet, easily lost even within the empty cafeteria.

"Not until you're fully healed." Misato indicated the splint and the eyepatch. "I don't want to risk further injury until you're back up to speed."

Ritsuko's eyes narrowed. "Actually, having Rei available for the startup procedure will cut the time required to a third."

"I am nearly completely well," Rei added.

"Nearly." Misato glanced over at Ritsuko. "And there's no need to take any shortcuts." She sipped her coffee. "Why the hell don't they serve beer at this place?"

"Because it's against regulations."

"So says the chain-smoker."

"Back to the subject at hand. Why won't you release Rei for the startup tests?"

"It's simple, really." Misato set her coffee cup down, and waved towards Rei again. "This is a dangerous job, and there's no need to expose these kids to unnecessary risks. The necessary risks are bad enough."

"I could take this to Commander Ikari."

"You could. But I'd refuse even a direct order from him. The bottom line is this: The EVA are your responsibility. The Pilots are mine. And if he doesn't like the way I do my job, he can always replace me."

Ritsuko considered this, then said, "You do realize that he could replace you, don't you?"

"As I said." Misato shrugged. "Mind you, I doubt he could do so easily. Finding someone who's immune to the Old Ones' effects, and is trained in tactics and battle management...that's not going to be easy."

"We found sixteen other people who are immune, or at least highly resistant, to the sight of an Old One," pointed out Ritsuko.

"And how many of them are on our command deck?" She waited, until it became obvious that Ritsuko was not going to answer. "So you see my point. I might not be indispensible, but I would at least be difficult to replace. Rei, on the other hand, is indispensible, and I will not risk her if we don't have to."

"Is this concern for my well-being?" asked Rei. "Or merely concern for a tool?"

Misato bit her lip.

Rei...

Everyone kept telling him that she was a cute girl. There was no denying that; she was quite beautiful, really. Even her cold demeanour added to her allure.

But the simple fact was that she remained cold to him. The few times he'd gotten a glimpse behind the frozen mask, he'd seen...well, it certainly wasn't anything warm and friendly.

In fact, it was downright scary. As he had discovered, a week ago, at home...

Shinji knocked on the bathroom door. Loudly.

It had been drilled into him, quite forcefully, that when living with two women, he had better be certain the bathroom was empty before he entered. Well, Rei hadn't said anything, and he got the distinct impression that she couldn't care less, but Misato had made it more than clear enough for the both of them.

There was no answer from beyond the door. He slid it open, and stepped in. The toilet room was just off to the left; he walked in, shutting the door behind him.

He sighed. Two weeks in this apartment. It hadn't been nerve-wracking, but it hadn't exactly been a picnic either. Rei's constant stony silence was unnerving, but as long as they stayed away from each other, they didn't get on each other's nerves.

Misato was trying to make up for their respective silences by being three times as chatty as any normal person. According to Ritsuko, she was normally twice as chatty as any normal person, so this wasn't much of a change for her. But he wished she'd stop dropping hints about Rei and himself.

He zipped up, and flushed the toilet, then turned to leave the toilet room.

Rei was in the bathroom.

She was naked. The splint lay on the counter—how had he missed that? Her eyepatch was also missing, and he could see the greenish-yellow bruise that surrounded the eye. Her skin glistened with water; she must have been in the bathtub. She made no attempt to cover herself, just stared at him emotionlessly, hand frozen as it reached for a towel.

Why the hell didn't she say something—or even make some noise—when I knocked?

"Sorry!" He turned to leave, as quickly as he could. His toe caught the runner at the base of the door, and he tripped, falling into the bathroom. He threw his hands out to stop his fall, and collapsed into Rei, pinning her underneath him.

She screamed.

She shoved him violently, throwing him aside with inhuman strength, and he collapsed like a rag doll against the wall. She pushed herself to a seated position, and scrabbled away from him, still screaming.

The door slammed open, and Misato took in the scene with a stunned look on her face.

"What the hell did you do to her?"

"I didn't do anything!" Shinji shook his head an an attempt to clear it. "I was in the toilet, and when I came out, she was there!"

"Why didn't you knock?"

"I did knock! She didn't answer!"

Misato took a step towards Rei, who scrabbled away again. "Rei, calm down!" She glanced over at Shinji. "Why is she screaming?"

"Because when I tried to leave, I tripped and knocked her over." Shinji was staring down at the floor.

"Shinji, I need you to get out of here, she's still panicked."

"Okay." Shinji stood and left quickly. He walked slowly to his room, and leaned against the door; no need to make Misato look for him to chew him out.

The screaming continued from the bathroom.

"Rei, calm down. I'm not going to hurt—Ugh!"

The screaming stopped. Shinji looked up, to see a terrified—and still naked—Rei run past him and into her bedroom.

There was a moment of near silence. Rei was sobbing in her room, just out of his sight. Misato emerged from the bathroom, rubbing her belly.

"Girl packs a punch." She looked up at Shinji. "Living room. Now. We gotta talk about this."

Shinji nodded. He took a step forward, and gently shut Rei's door. He made his way to the living room, and sat down.

Misato made a detour to the kitchen, emerging with two cans of beer. She set one down in front of Shinji, then cracked the other and drained it in one pull.

Shinji eyed the other. "Misato...I'm underage."

"Drink it. You look like you need it."

He shrugged, cracked the can and took a sip. And shuddered; if this was an example of the sort of thing Misato drank, it was a wonder she was still alive.

Misato sat down opposite him. "Okay. First things first. I'm sorry."

He looked up, surprised. "Why—?"

"I went in there, saw her nude and screaming, and assumed the worst. I shouldn't have snapped at you." She rubbed her belly again. "I figured out when I tried to help her that it wouldn't have mattered."

"She didn't start freaking until I touched her."

"Where did you touch her exactly?"

"Well..." Shinji blushed. "One hand landed on..."

"Her boob, right?"

"Yeah." His blush deepend.

"I thought so." She sighed. "The girl doesn't seem to have the body modesty of a cat. But when I tried to help her up, she turned savage, and punched me. Then left, post-haste."

"Ritsuko said she'd been abused."

"I'm guessing that she's right." Misato considered the empty beer can in her hand. "It wasn't your fault. If she had her head dunked, she might not have heard you knocking. Or maybe she really just doesn't care. But when you touched her, you triggered a fight-or-flight reflex. And when I cornered her..." She sighed. "So I'm sorry I jumped to conclusions, Shinji."

"It's all right." He continued to stare down at the table. "It looked pretty bad."

Misato looked him over, then leaned towards him. "Are you all right?"

He shook his head. "I'm supposed to be being nice to her, and all I did is make her scared of me."

"Give her time, Shinji. She's not going to heal overnight."

"I know." He looked up. "I don't really want to be engaged to someone who hates me. And I know she doesn't want to be engaged to me. I don't know why Father did something this stupid."

"Nobody's perfect, Shinji. Not you. Not me. Not your father. Not Rei." She considered. "Ritsuko comes close, but even she has a few flaws."

Shinji chuckled at that.

"Ah, good. A laugh." Misato indicated his beer. "Finish that up."

"I don't really like it."

Misato shrugged, picked up the can and drained it.

There was a knock at his door.

Shinji hit the stop button on his S-DAT, and pulled the plugs from his ears. "Yeah?"

The door slid open, and Rei stepped in. She was wearing a nightgown, with an old housecoat thrown over it, both obviously borrowed from Misato. They hung on her tiny frame like bedsheets.

"Ikari."

"Rei. Yeah?"

"I apologize for distressing you."

"It's all right. I should have knocked louder."

"I heard you talking with Misato earlier." She looked down at the floor. "I do not hate you."

"You...don't?"

She looked up again, and the icy mask returned. "Hatred requires more emotion that I am willing to invest in you."

She stepped back, and closed the door.

Almost, that time, it had seemed that maybe they could've moved out of the impasse they were in. The idea of being engaged to her still seemed stupid, but...

It would have been nice to have a friend.

"Today is the day that pilot Ikari will be released from solitary."

Misato nodded, keeping one eye on the traffic. "I'll be going to pick him up at 17:00."

"I am glad."

Misato grinned. "Missed him, have you?"

"He has become a part of my daily life, and I am unsettled when a change is made."

"So you do miss him."

"If it pleases you, you may call it that." Rei looked down. "I would prefer to say, I wish no more changes in my life. There have been too many recently."

Misato pulled into the parking lot, shut down the car, then turned to face the albino girl. "C'mon, Rei. Let your hair down just this once, okay?"

"My hair is not bound."

"You know what I mean, Rei." She leaned back against the door. "What do you really think of Shinji?"

Rei looked down at her hands, folded in her lap.

"I am afraid of him."

"Why?"

She looked up. "Because he does not scare me. Everyone scares me except him."

Misato looked hurt. "Even me?"

"You more than most." She looked down at her hands. "I apologize."

Rei...

His thoughts kept returning to her. There was something about her that kept drawing him back, like a moth to a cold flame. He knew he'd be burned, but...

She'd known that the Old One was coming. How?

So often, she'd seem to let her guard down, then it would come back, colder than ever. Why?

She'd been abused, then placed in his father's care. By whom?

Every time he had thought he'd found an answer, it seems that he'd found more questions.

He drifted off to sleep, the questions still circling his mind...

He was in a village.

Small houses crowded the narrow streets. Everywhere he looked, there were cats. Sitting on windowsills, standing on barrels, perched on fences. Staring at him.

He wandered through the streets and roads of the village. The houses were of a wide variety of constructions, mostly old. In the sky above, he could see two moons.

He turned a corner, and saw a girl.

She was an inch taller than him, and as slender as Rei. Her long hair was a reddish-blonde, and she wore a yellow sundress. She turned, and looked at him, her expression puzzled.

"Wer bist du?"

It sounded like German, but he wasn't certain.

"Bist du dumm? Sprichst du Deutsch?" She took a step towards him, looking angry. "Wo ist dieser Ort? Ich glaube das nicht, warum muss ich von einem Idioten träumen?"

"I'm sorry, I don't speak German."

"Japanese? Where is this place?" Her use of the language was halting, but her accent much less pronounced than he expected. "Who are you?"

"Shinji. Ikari Shinji." He bowed, hesitantly. "Pleased to meet you."

"I am less than pleased." She scowled at him. "Where exactly are we?"

"In my dream, I think." He remembered falling asleep in the cell. This must therefore be a dream.

She was shaking her head. "Not your dream. Verrückter Idiot."

She slapped him. Hard.

He awoke, and raised a hand to his cheek. It stung.

The light flipped on, and the door opened. Misato stood in the doorframe.

"Ready to go?"

"Yeah." He stood up.

"What happened to your face?"

He raised his hand to his cheek again. "I wish I knew."

"Hm." She turned. "Let's go. Rei's been missing you."

"I doubt that."

"You'd be surprised."

"Hey, Misato."

"Yeah?"

He grinned a bit weakly. "Can we stop at the command center for a minute?"

She looked at him, a bit uncertainly. "Sure."

The hatch slid open, and he stepped out onto the command deck. Most of the regular crew were present; Ritsuko was working on a command console, but Maya was absent. Hyuga and Aoba were arguing over something in one corner. All, however, paused as he entered, and looked up.

He bowed to them, then walked over to Ritsuko. "How is Shogoki?"

"Fully operational." She grinned at him. "If you need it, it'll be ready to deploy."

"Good." He glanced down at her board. "What's this?"

"We're reactivating EVA-00 for Rei."

"She's able to pilot again?"

"Very soon. Likely tomorrow."

"Okay." He bowed his head. "Thanks."

"No problem, kid." She sniffed, and wrinkled her nose. "Do us a favour, and go take a bath, will ya?"

He grinned.

"I'm sorry I disobeyed you, Misato."

She waved it off. "Don't worry about it."

"I am worried." He looked up at her. "I'll do my best from now on."

She glanced over at him, then back to the road. "I know you will."

"Rei has likely been glad to have me gone."

"Remember, I said you might be surprised." Misato grinned at the road. "Don't expect her to jump into your arms or anything, but she told me that not having you around was unsettling."

The rest of the ride, as well as the elevator ride to the fifteenth floor, was spent in silence. Misato opened the door with her keycard, and he stepped into the dining room.

"I'm home."

Rei was sitting on the couch as he entered. "Welcome back, Shinji."

He blinked.

"Thank you, Rei."

"The bath is currently unoccupied."

She stood, collected her books, and walked to her room.

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