The Day An Angel Flew Down [12]

 

Now

The three pilots were running through the deserted streets of Tokyo-3, Misaki doing her best to keep up with Asuka and Shinji as they hurried to respond to a real alert. Barely more than a week had passed since she had been called on to become an Eva pilot, and now she, Misaki, was going to have to do this for real.

And what a week it had been…


Then

“Good morning, Misakichi.”

Misaki started out of her trance. She had been worrying about everything that had happened the previous afternoon, the sudden change from ordinary schoolgirl to — to what, exactly?

“Good morning, Hatoko-chan.”

“Are you alright…” two voices spoke in chorus.

“…Suzuhara? Or is my sister bothering you?” Koutarou called as he hurried to catch up.

“…Misakichi? We didn't see you after school yesterday.”

The younger girl looked up at her with concern showing on her face.

“I…” What could she, should she, say?

She heard a gasp, as Tamayo arrived and put Koutarou into an armlock.

“Good morning, Misakichi. Where were you, yesterday?”

She took a deep breath. ‘Here goes,’ she thought.

“They came and made me a pilot, like Soryu-senpai and Ayanami-senpai. I was doing tests all day, until late.”

“You? One of the rocket-jocks? When did you apply? How did you know about it?” They were all firing questions at her.

“I didn't! They chose me! They called me out of class,and told me… ” she hesitated remembering that Misato had told her that most things were to be secret, “… they told me that they had chosen me, that I might be able to help protect us all from the Angels.”

“So, what was it like?”

“Have any of you ever played Spirit Warriors?”

“I have.” Hatoko stated, matter of factly, “My dæmon is Light-Speed.”

“Eeeks!” Misaki squeaked, “Mine is Magic Knight — You beat me in my first real tournament game.”

“And you won when we met again later. You were a good opponent.”

“But what has that got to do with it?” Koutarou asked, impatiently.

“Well, the little go they let me have, just getting used to one of the Evangelions, to see if I could really be a pilot, it was like working a really big and scary dæmon.”

“Spirit warrior and robot pilot, too. You're our hero, Misakichi!” Tamayo declared, hugging her, and kissing her on the cheek. “Marry me, Misaki!”

Misaki blushed, started to protest — but then something caught her eye. Approaching the school from the other direction, three boys about her own age. Two of them she vaguely remembered from class yesterday, but the third, trailing a little behind the other two — she hadn't seen him the day before, but she was certain she knew him from somewhere else, and couldn't help herself just staring at him. There was something important, she knew, that she should remember about him.

“Misakichi?” Tamayo asked, “Are you zoning out again?”

“Who is that boy?” Misaki indicated the quiet one of the trio.

“You didn't meet him? That's Ikari-kun, another pilot.” She reflected for a few moments, then continued, “He hasn't been in school for a few days, though. The pilots are out a lot.”

Misaki remembered the bulky manuals and schedules that Misato and Maya had left her with.

“There's a lot of work involved in being a pilot. I have to do all sort of tests and training out of school. But Ikari-kun wasn't there yesterday.

“I thought I knew him from somewhere, though.”

“He only transferred here a couple of months ago — maybe you saw him wherever that was he came from.

“Hey, Ikari-kun!” Tamayo called, “There's someone here you ought to meet.”

“Yes, you,” she reiterated, as he made a “Who, me?” gesture.

“Youse better be careful wid dat dame,” his taller companion advised, “she's woise dan Soryu when she wants ta be.”

Now with his two companions trailing behind him, Ikari came over, an expression of some bewilderment showing on his face.

“Ikari Shinji-kun, this is Misakichi.”

When it seems that Shinji and Misaki are deep in conversation, Tamayo glances at Hatoko, catches her eye. Both girls nod in unspoken agreement.

Hatoko takes her brother's hand and pulls him away, while Tamayo circles around the group and catches both Touji and Kensuke in armlocks. Having attracted their undivided attention, she too leads the hangers-on into school.

“Hello, Ikari-kun, I…” Misaki fumbled in her bag, and brought out her NERV ID card.

“Another? But…”

“I didn't know myself until yesterday, when Misato-san came and took me out of class. I only started here yesterday — I've come here to live with my aunt.

“I didn't see you there — just Asuka-senpai and Rei-senpai, when we were doing Synch tests.”

“I'd been sick — Misato-san's cooking is that bad.” A wan smile briefly played on his face, before withering as if a frost had caught it.

“So, you're just like me,” he continued, “called here, and then forced to pilot Eva.”

He paused a moment.

“When did your Eva arrive? Misato-san never mentioned it — when Asuka arrived, we flew out to meet her and Eva-02…”

“I… I don't have one. I'm just a backup, a substitute.”

“So if Asuka and Ayanami were there with you yesterday, when you did your synch test, then…”

“…it must have been your Eva. Eva-01. But that means…” now it was Misaki's turn to trail off into silence, as she suddenly realised how it was she had recognised this boy. He was older now, but, now she had made the connection, it was obvious that this was the lonely little boy whose ghost she had sensed when she had been immersed in the womblike dark of the entry-plug.

And she remembered how she had felt then, and looked at the sad and lonely young man in front of her. She took a deep breath, and smiled at him.

“…that means I can take over when it gets too much. Share the burden that neither of us wanted.”

She smiled at him, and was rewarded with another brief smile in return. And then in the silence, their shared realization — apart from a few stragglers, everyone else was already in class.

“We're late!”

And together they ran into school.


“See you tomorrow!” Misaki called as Asuka dragged Shinji away from class at the end of the day. Neither appeared to notice her, through the crowd.

She found herself a corner, out of the flow, and stopped, and sighed, then started as a hand was rested on her shoulder.

“Earth to Misakichi! Have you done sending out those lovey-dovey beams for today?” It was Tamayo.

“I,” could she deny it? “Was I?”

“Big puppy-dog eyes full, right at Ikari-kun, you were.”

“Are — are they an item?” She indicated the two pilots.

“They live together, and she's got him whipped; and I don't know of anyone else they're either of them involved with. I've not seen him show any interest in any of the other girls here — and it's not as if she was short of admirers when she arrived.

“Most of the boys — and even some of the girls — were buying photos of her, then; but she acts like we don't exist. She treats Ikari-kun like he was something she just scraped off her shoe.

“Really, I don't think even they know if they are. Be careful, Misakichi. But if either of them hurts you, I'll show them what for.”

“No, Tamayo-chan. Shinji-kun is sad enough already.”

“It is lurve. And I'll still protect you.”


Now

Still running. NERV was close now. Misaki reflected how different this was from the last time the three of them had made this journey from school. Now it was bright sunny day. Then, it had been a leaden, sullen late afternoon…


Then

Misaki trotted along, following the other pilots, towards the first of her regular after-school tests. As if she didn't have enough normal homework to do.

Walking behind the other two, occasionally having to quicken her pace to keep up, she took the chance to observe them. Asuka, freed from the classroom, was chattering away, flitting from topic to topic, often berating Shinji for thing he had — or maybe had not — done, usually domestic things, like taking out the trash, or cleaning the house. The effect was like an old married couple, he henpecked, she in charge.

That thought tugged at Misaki's heart. She didn't know whether Asuka truly knew anything about Shinji the way she did, for all that they shared Misato's flat, saw each oher all day, every day. Neither could she just march in and claim him for her own, take him away from her — that would be wrong, would lose the goodwill of at least one of the people she would have to work and study with.

Descending into NERV brought relief, at least, from the sullen, humid heat outside; and Misato was there to conduct them through the labyrinth. Misaki made sure she stuck close to her as someone who knew where they would be going — then was taken aback as Icchan emerged from one side passage, took both herself and Misato by the arm and began to lead them away, past where his daughter was standing waiting.

“Elda-chan,” he said, “Please tell the other pilots to carry on. I have some private business with the Captain and Misaki-chan.”

He looked briefly over his shoulder to check that that matter had been dealt with, then more graciously —

“Forgive my abruptness, but it seems that there may be a problem. Please, step into my office.”

— and he indicated one of the doors off this passage.

The office itself was in a state of chaos, but Icchan managed to clear stacks of paper off some of the chairs and part of the desk.

“So, what is the problem, Ichiro-kun?”

He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a folder, one with Misaki's picture, showing her in her old school uniform, clipped to the cover. “I had been expecting to present Pilot Suzuhara with her new ID card confirming her as, well… Mi-chan, here it is.”

He opened the folder, and peeled a card from one of the papers within. He placed it on the desk in front of Misaki. She looked at it, while Misato peered over her shoulder. Apart from the fact that it didn't have the large outline Provisional overprint, it looked much the same as the one she already carried.

Misato, on the other hand, made a sudden intake of breath.

“What does this mean?” She pointed at some of the smaller print, and Misaki looked more closely at it. It read

First Reserve Pilot (Child Zero)

First Reserve Pilot
(Child Zero)

“Exactly what it says. She is not, it seems, the Fourth Child.

“This is something that only the three of us, and the Commander, should know of. It seems that I made a mistake when instructed to induct a new pilot.”

“But if Misaki-chan isn't the Fourth, how did she manage to synchronize with Eva-01?”

“I don't know. The Commander was not forthcoming. He merely stated that having reviewed her case, she did not, in fact meet some necessary criterion to qualify as the Fourth — his exact words were ‘The girl shouldn't even be physically capable of being a pilot!’.”

There was a moment's silence, enough for Misaki to feel confident to ask the important question.

“Icchan-san, does that mean I'm not allowed to be a pilot, after all?”

“If you don't want to be a pilot, you don't have to be. Leave your old card here with this one, go home, be free of all this. Or…”

Misaki took her old card from her purse, looked at it, and the one one the table before her. She hesitated for a moment. But really there was no choice to make. If she left, she would not be able to do what she had promised, to share Shinji's burden, when it was too much for him. She dropped the old card onto the desk, and picked up the new one.

“If I can be a pilot, then I will be one. I want to — ” she paused. She couldn't say the real reason — it was her secret, hers and Eva-01's. But there was something she could say, and in thinking of it, felt her confidence return. “I want to keep my promise to Misato-san, to help protect us all.”

Misato looked at the girl by her side in amazement, at the radiant smile that had filled her whole countenance, and felt a little sadness. That moment of pure joy — how long would Misaki be able to sustain that frame of mind, so unlike the other, longer serving, pilots?

Misaki tucked her new card away, stood, and bowed in respect.

“May I carry on, now, get to the synch test?”

“Of course.” Icchan smiled back at her. And as Misaki bounded off, he turned to Misato, “She is her mother's daughter, all right. Shuuko-san will be proud of her.”

“Shouko — her aunt's name is Shouko,” Misato corrected him.

“Yes, that is her younger sister. Misaki's mother is living and working in America, just as she has been since she left the faculty at Tokyo-2.”

Misaki caught nothing of that, of the surprise on Misato's face. Back in the corridor, she could see Elda talking with Shinji and Asuka, and seeming to be upsetting Shinji, who was backing away from her, and protesting something. In that instant, she could see the same sadness and vulnerability she had tasted while synchronizing; and as much for her own comfort as to provide him with reassurance, she hurried the last few yards, and gave him a big hug.

“Cheer up!” she told him. She would be here, she would be a pilot, and she would make things better for him.

And after, riding home by herself on the metro, with time to reflect on the whole experience, she was glad for the solitude. She had looked forward with some trepidation to how it would be to synch with Rei-senpai's Eva, if it was going to be anything like with Shinji's. The first time, she hadn't known anything about the pilot she was standing in for — or that she would find out so directly.

As the LCL had flooded her this time, she was better prepared to cope with that, but all the taut anticipation of revelation made her more nervous overall than before. But if she had seen Shinji immediately, Rei, by contrast more than lived up to her name. Female certainly, but the essences were more attenuated, almost abstracted. Ayanami had been there, but it was like chasing a ghost, except for one almost blinding vision — like standing between two mirrors, but seeing only an infinite line of Reis.

And that had been it. In a dry, almost disconnected, fashion, she had performed the simple exercises that Dr Akagi had directed, and been recalled to purely human estate.

And then…

They had been given their results. Hers had been about the same as last time, and she thought Asuka's were too, but Shinji had done worse than either. Asuka had started ragging on him, that the veteran pilot couldn't keep up with the newcomer. If she had been braver, surer, she would have stepped in between them, to… To what? Defend? Protect? And would that not have proved the charge?


Now

“This way. I've been here before.” Shinji pointed timidly down a corridor. They had reached NERV, but had not commenced the usual descent into the geofront proper. He looked around. Misaki took his hand, and started off in that direction, leaving Asuka to pause, catch up, and then overtake.


Then

Then had come the fateful day — her first synch test against Eva-02. At first it had seemed that the only thing that might be out of the ordinary was that when she arrived, Icchan had stopped her, and asked her to pass on his congratulations to Misato, on her promotion to Major.

With Asuka absent, preparations had been quiet and efficient; and while she couldn't say that she enjoyed the process, there was getting to be a sense of it being something that she could get used to. She just went through the readiness procedures with a growing sense of routine, until the time came that she was immersed in LCL and was starting to synch with Eva-02.

This was the first Eva she had seen, one that had looked almost sadly at her, and the last one that she was actually being introduced to, and the last of the pilots too. She braced herself for the revelation.

It came, as she had feared. Where Shinji had been loneliness, and Ayanami an abstract void, Asuka was printed into the LCL like acid and terror.

She had thought that Shinji had been hurt — but this was something entirely different.

“I must be strong,” she repeated to herself, as she tried to get past that barrier, past where she could feel immense strength dedicated to keeping a door shut, against something that pounded ceaselessly for release.

The mantra worked, at least in part, and while she could not quite suppress the imprint completely, she was able to force her way past it and into the mental depths where the Eva herself dwelt. There, too, there was a struggle, to present herself in a manner that was acceptable. She had to try to push the print of Asuka out of her immediate consciousness, and fall back into her usual Spirit Warriors state of mind, of doing for the sheer joy of the deed, an unquestioning acceptance of the fact that she loved what she did, fighting with the respect for her opponents and their dæmons that flowed from that.

It took a long time, and she was having to work hard to keep the right frame of mind, but she finally managed to complete the trivial exercises she had been set.

Never before had the declaration that the test was over been so welcome, even the purging of the LCL. That had been hard work, and she found herself drifting a little during the debrief. Even the fact that she had managed a credible, if low, score, didn't really register.

She had started off home when the delayed shock finally hit. She was walking along one of the upper level corridors, when she realised that she had broken out into a cold sweat, and was starting to feel sick. She frantically sought a restroom, and then

“Misaki-chan! Can you hear me?”

There was something wrong with the bed, she thought, though while she was obviously waking up, she couldn't remember going to sleep. No, it wasn't even a bed mat, but a smooth hard floor. And it was Shinji, not Shouko, who was speaking.

She rolled over, looked up, focussing on the face above her, the look of bewilderment, of near panic.

“I — I must have fainted,” she concluded.

“Is piloting Eva so awful for you?” he asked.

“Not usually,” she smiled up at him, “but Asuka-senpai…” She shook her head, then shuffled herself to a half-way sitting up position. “Could you give me a hand up?”

“Uh, of course.”

She grabbed the proffered hand, aware that while the involuntary lie-down had been enough to dispel the faint, she was feeling battered and bruised all down the side where she had fallen. Carefully hauling herself up, she paused, to be sure of her balance, then, still holding his hand, wrapped her free arm about his body.

“Oh, Shinji-kun, Shinji-kun,” she murmured in his ear,“Don't worry so. I will be strong, strong enough to share your burden, when I am let. I will pilot Eva for you.”

“Th… Thank you, Misakichi.” He sounded lost, operating beyond his usual script. And then, after a pause, “Are you sure you're alright?”

“I… think so,” she began, then ‘Be brave, girl!’ she exhorted herself. “But 'nee-san wont be home until late this evening.”

‘Can he take a hint?’ she wondered to herself, hardly daring to breathe as she waited for his response.

“You could come over to Misato-san's with me while you wait. It's just as close to the Metro as here.”

She let go a sigh of relief, let go the embrace, but took his hand, and began to walk, trying her hardest to ignore the aches and bruising.

They walked together most of the way to the exit, when she plucked up the courage to ask the important question.

“Shinji-kun? Is Asuka-senpai your girlfriend?”

He hesitated, literally pausing before taking his next step, let alone before answering.

“No,” he said, not looking her in the eye.

“But if she called you, you would answer?”

He nodded, head downcast.

“I understand, Shinji-kun. She is prettier than me, and a better pilot, and…” And she had been hurt worse than you have, she concluded silently to herself.

“But she has never… Misakichi — what did you feel when you were in Eva's entry-plug the first time?”

“I…”

Crunch time.

“I could feel your presence, though I didn't know it was you, then. That was why I called out to you at school the next day.”

“Misakichi, you were there too, when I was in the entry plug. Asuka has never…”

They both blushed. This had been like an indirect kiss, even before they had been introduced, and more than just a kiss.

They were at the entrance now, where rain was pounding down. They looked at one another, and at the weather.

“Let's run!” Misaki exclaimed.

And hand in hand, they ran home.


Now

Descending, now, into the depths, three pilots together, uniformed, ready to go. This was it.

As they rode the platform down, Misaki was acutely aware that she was scared. So far, she had simply been able to rely on luck. In the coming fight, she didn't know if that would be enough.

Even the briefing had been bad. Having to walk out over a glass floor that showed that there was nothing else betveen her and the geofront than a kilometer of air was bad enough; but the idea that she would be one of those who stayed while a monster plunged from outer space onto this city was worse.

She had repeated her mantra, “I have to be brave.” incessantly, trying to take heart from Shinji, and especially Asuka, who had both faced Angels before; but her confidence had taken a knock when Misato had asked them about their wills. She had been content to take Asuka's lead on that; but had betrayed her own nervousness by snapping at Asuka when she had belittled Misato's attempt at a conciliatory gesture, the offer of a special meal out.

And now, it seemed, she wasn't the only nervous one. Shinji, in the middle, seemed almost as uncertain as she as to what he was doing there, asking Asuka why she wanted to pilot.

Asuka responded in her usual sarcastic fashion, then turned the question back on her.

“Because I was asked, and because I can,” she replied matter-of-factly, telling the first truth, omitting the truth within the truth, because today, though she would soon be piloting for real, it would not be to save Shinji from having to.


Then

It was the morning after her synch test with Eva-02, after an unsettled night. The aches from her faint had gone away long before she had returned home — but the consequences still left her wondering whether she was doing the right thing.

Had she, the latecomer, uninvited, blundered her way into something that would get some of the other pilots mad at her? She could not tell, from Asuka's distant, stand-offish manner the previous evening, if she had mortally offended her, or whether it was just her funny gaijin manner, that she was just like that anyway.

The German girl had stayed in her room while she and Shinji had prepared supper. when the food was ready, she had emerged, reading a book, which she hid behind, save for one moment, when she looked up in surprise, looked at what she had picked up in her chopsticks, and said, with surprise, “…But this is real food…” before retreating again.


Now

Insertion. This was not a drill, not just another test. Misaki felt scared as the LCL started to fill the plug. Up to now, she had been working on sheer luck. This time, it was for real — she would have to fight an angel, not just synch with an Eva.

Even Asuka seemed to have been affected — when Misato asked if everything was OK, she had at first replied in some harsh sounding gibberish that she guessed must be German.

She took a deep breath, and sighed in a cloud of bubbles, as the LCL covered her. Now it was time to synch. She was glad that on this occasion, she was standing in for Rei, not either of the other pilots. She remembered the vast analytic, almost inhuman, abstraction she had met before, and was gratified by the distancing effect it had as synch swept over her. In this state, alert, but not quite conscious as she was used to it, all her anxieties faded into the distance.

Calmly, she responded to Misato's command to launch, and then to walk, moving from power cord to power cord, along the highways, to her designated ready point, where she would wait for the Angel to be spotted.

She wasn't sure which of them had seen the orange speck first, but all three Evas were in motion on the instant, discarding their umbilicals and striving to be the first to get to the point where it would impact.

Shinji reached the point first, having the advantage of terrain, and at that moment demonstrated the awesome power of the AT field, sweeping away everything from the earth about himself, as he strove to cushion the strike. She heard Asuka shouting to her as she ran “Misaki! Spread your AT field!” and belatedly realised that she had not, had just been watching as she ran; but then, reminded, she let the power flow out of her, and took up the brunt of the impact, while the two experienced pilots struggled to defeat the Angel.

The end came as a shock, the crushing force of the impact transmuted into a rush of white light.


At the debriefing afterwards, she could hardly remember what had happened then, though she was sure that Misato had recalled them all, and they had staggered home, with some slight injuries, but nothing worse than scrapes and bruises. She was surprised and pleased that the Commander singled Shinji out for praise. And then after the formalities were over, and they were able to talk freely again, she remembered one of the things she had forgotten, in the desolation of Ayanami.

“Ayanami-senpai, I'm sorry your Eva got hurt. And I forgot to ask — what is her name?”

She was disappointed, if not entirely suprised by Rei's reaction of muted surprise, and matter-of-fact response, “Eva-00”; but seeing Asuka's look of scorn, reacted to assert her own point—

“Shinji-kun's Eva's name is Yui-sama, ” she announced.

“But my mother's name was Yui!” The statement had taken Shinji by surprise.

“Well, ” Misaki was taken a little aback by that. But then the meaning of it all seemed obvious to her, “She carries you inside herself, protects you, That makes it the right name for you, doesn't it?”

“Uh, I guess so.”

“Oh, Shinji-kun!” she shook her head fondly at his reaction, and took his hand, while Asuka fussed over the trivial details of where they were going to eat.


Misaki

Asuka is all very mysterious as she guides us to our destination. I can see Misato looking upset — I think she may be worried about how much she is going to have to spend, when she should be happy, or at least thankful that this crisis is over.

I'm glad, at least, that my first real day as a pilot didn't end badly. I did what was needed. And these people, these people whom I know so intimately, yet hardly at all, seem to have accepted me as one of their number, both tonight, and at Misato's party the other night.

“Et voila!” Asuka announces, pointing at, of all places, a really old-fashioned ramen stand, with just enough room on the bench for us all to fit. No wonder she was being such a tease.

Misato looks for an instant like she's going to give her a playful cuff round the ear — I know I feel that way — then laughs, the first genuine laugh I have heard from any of the people at NERV.

I'd not expected that side of Asuka — she comes over prickly and bossy, and above all so serious; but it is at least a streak of humour, however wicked, and it makes me smile, even though I know that she, like Shinji, is really crying inside.

I wonder how long I shall be able to keep on smiling on the inside.


© Steve Gilham 2004
© Mr. Tines 2004

#include <std::copyright> — most of the characters and situations in the fic belong to GAINAX/Project Eva, and almost all the rest to the ladies of Clamp. It's just this form of words that is mine.


[11b] Misaki's Nervous Afternoon

Or, (re-)join the main Asuka-centred narrative

[18-19] Human Intervention

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