Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
Neon Exodus Evangelion
Exodus 2: Symphony of Terror
Inspired by Neon Genesis Evangelion
created by Hideaki Anno, Gainax, et al.
Most characters created by Hideaki Anno and Yoshiyuki Sadamoto
DJ Croft created by Benjamin D. Hutchins
Jon Ellison created by Larry Mann
Certain of DJ's schoolmates (you know who they are)
created by Naoko Takeuchi
Additional material and inspiration cadged from Tomb Raider by Core Design, Ltd.
X-COM: UFO Defense and sequels from MPS Labs
(whoever owns them nowadays)
and The X-Files created by Chris Carter
Written by Benjamin D. Hutchins and Larry Mann
Aided and abetted by the Eyrie Productions, Unlimited crew
and special-guest-for-life Phil Moyer
© 1997 Eyrie Productions, Unlimited
HTML remastering © 2016 EPU
If delivering a status report on the activities of NERV for the SEELE ruling council made Gendō Ikari at all nervous, he failed to show it. Instead, he stood with his usual ramrod posture before them, unable to see them in the darkened room thanks to the glare of the video projector, and talked them through the clips he'd brought to illustrate operational points.
"Third Angel, codename Zachiel," said Ikari. "Attacked Worcester-3 ." At his deft manipulation of the remote control, the still image of the spindly black creature flowed into motion, flattening tanks, splintering an air-launched cruise missile, wrecking a Raiden DX-3 interceptor with the energy lance in its arm, and shrugging off the N2 explosion that had created Lake Oppenheimer.
"Conventional resistance proved entirely useless, as predicted," Ikari continued.
The screen changed to DJ Croft's file photo, showing the teenage boy from mid-chest up, in street clothes, the straps of his shoulder holster hidden under a lightweight denim jacket. He looked nonplussed, mostly because, at the time, he hadn't known why he was being photographed.
"Derek Joshua Croft, the Fifth Child," Ikari stated, his voice studiously neutral. "He had just arrived at Worcester-3 when Zachiel's attack commenced. He agreed to join NERV, and first synchronized with Evangelion Unit 01, codename Lucifer, at 2104 hours local time." The screen showed EVA-01, secured in a launch scaffold; it broke from stillframe to show EVA-01 being launched to street level and engaging.
One of the shadowy, silhouetted figures at the council table interrupted. "The Evangelion units have been codenamed as well?"
Gendō Ikari came as close to sheepish-looking as he ever did, which wasn't very, but his voice was even as he said, "An explanation of the practice is forthcoming in the briefing."
"Very well," grunted the SEELE councilman. "Carry on."
"Pilot Croft had some difficulties controlling the unit at first, owing to his inexperience and lack of preparation," continued Ikari as the screen behind him displayed EVA-01 receiving a beating at the claws of Zachiel. "EVA-01 sustained somewhat extensive cranial damage, and an eleven-second command blackout occurred."
EVA-01, damaged and insensate, collapsed to its back against a building, twitching spasmodically for a few seconds; then its remaining eye glowed, its jaw tore open, and it roared, springing to its feet and lighting into the enemy with renewed vigor.
"Subsequently, Croft regained control and displayed a high level of instinctive competence in defeating the Angel."
Zachiel's self-destruction lit the room, then led to a still-frame of the next in line, the red, giant-squid-like Fourth Angel.
"Fourth Angel, codename Shamshel," Ikari said. Footage flowed, showing Shamshel smashing conventional defenses and mixing it up with EVA-01, up to and including the Angel severing Lucifer's umbilicus and pinning the EVA against a hill.
"EVA-01's control system was disrupted by the impact; command personnel on duty at the time, Captain Misato Katsuragi, made the decision to launch a backup unit."
The screen shifted to the file photo of dark-haired, dour-looking Jon Ellison. "Jonathan Robert Ellison, Fourth Child. He had arrived a week earlier, but his Evangelion, Unit 03, codename Orcus, had only just arrived that day; recalibration of the control system was not yet complete and Pilot Ellison suffered severe synchronization problems."
The screen showed footage of EVA-03, obviously slightly out of kilter, fending off and damaging the Angel while EVA-01 retreated below ground to be fitted with a new power cable and rearmed; then the two EVAs dispatched the Angel, at which point a still of the Fifth Angel replaced the scene.
"Fifth Angel, codename Ramiel," noted Ikari. "EVA-03 attempted to intercept, but mechanical problems kept it pinned to the launch gantry, with predictable and unfortunate results." Footage of EVA-03 being blasted by the Angel and retracted was shown. "Pilot Ellison was not severely damaged, but his injuries kept him off the active duty list for the following week."
The screen shifted to a still of Rei, who Ikari promptly introduced: "Rei Ayanami, First Child. You were informed of her training accident at the time it occurred; she returned to active duty at this point. She and Pilot Croft were assigned to Operation Gabriel's Horn."
A still of the Gabriel's Horn operational area on Mount Wachusett, including the powerful particle-beam rifle "borrowed" from the US Army, filled the screen. "Shielded by Evangelion Unit 00, codename Moloch, unit Lucifer destroyed the Angel with a well-placed shot from the Gabriel's Horn particle-beam weapon." The operational footage was shown and duly appreciated.
"Unit 00 was seriously damaged and required a complete refit—no great problem, since one was required in any event."
"Explain," the same councilman as before interrupted.
"The prototype was never intended to serve in combat," Ikari replied without turning a hair. "Once the decision was made to assign it to Pilot Ayanami as a full-time combat unit, it had to be upgraded with combat-rated armor and proper fittings for Evangelion combat accessories. This could not be done within the Operation Gabriel's Horn timetable and would have had to be done afterward in any event."
"Acceptable," grunted the councilor. "Proceed."
"Pilots Ayanami and Croft were, for the most part, uninjured in the operation, and remained on the active list subsequently. During this operation, EVA-01 received the nickname 'Lucifer' for obvious reasons, and for morale purposes, the other EVA pilots were allowed to codename their designated units, then the codenames were officially adopted."
The councilor nodded, his original question apparently answered to his satisfaction, and Ikari proceeded, calling up an image of the whale-like Angel that had menaced the aircraft carrier Deutschland.
"Sixth Angel, codename Gaghiel. This Angel attacked the German aircraft carrier Deutschland's battle group as it escorted Evangelion Unit 02, codename Grendel, from its assembly facility in Germany." Ikari switched the screen to a still of EVA-02's pilot.
"Asuka Sōryū-Langley, Second Child, designated pilot of EVA-02," Ikari explained. "She was on hand for the Gaghiel attack, as was the Fifth Child. For reasons which remain unclear in their after-action reports, both Children were aboard EVA-02 during the battle with Gaghiel. Since most of this battle took place underwater, footage is sparse. We know that EVA-02 eventually destroyed the Angel using a pair of nuclear weapons taken from the carrier's inventory." Here Ikari showed footage of the titanic explosion, followed by Grendel's graceful landing on the Deutschland's deck.
Click—a still of the spindly, black, spider-like Angel as it crawled over the hills toward the center of Worcester-3. "Seventh Angel, codename Matriel," said Ikari. "This Angel attacked Worcester-3 during a power outage we suspect it created, possibly using its Absolute Terror Field. The Fifth Child was trapped in an elevator and unable to escape, but the other three operational EVA pilots reported to the operations bay, where teams from Maintenance and Repair had manually prepared their units for launch." Footage of the three EVAs engaged in concerted action against Matriel was shown—it was jerky, grainy, and filmed from inconvenient angles, comprised as it was entirely of "gun-camera" footage from the EVAs' own internal recording systems, but it was there. "This Angel was ultimately destroyed by Pilot Ellison and EVA-03."
The view froze on EVA-03 blazing away with its autorifle, then shifted to the shadow, embryonic form of the Angel found in the Kilauea magma dome. "Eighth Angel, codename Sandalphon. This Angel was found, still dormant, in the Kilauea volcano caldera in Hawaii, by sheer luck, by a United States Geodetic Survey team. Evangelion Combat Unit Number Two, comprised of Units 02 and 03, was dispatched to perform a delicate capture operation." Footage of EVA-02, equipped with the Type D diving suit, descending into the volcano, and very grainy internal-sensor footage of the capture operation, ensued.
"Unfortunately, the Angel awoke before capture could be completed. Pilot Langley destroyed the Angel, and the Fourth Child prevented Unit 02's loss." This was shown also, as concretely as possible, before the image still-froze again, this time on a picture of the recently defeated bipartite Angel, still in its original single-unit form. "Ninth Angel, codename Israfel," said Ikari. "The Angel was intercepted by Units 00 and 03, at which point it divided into two linked creatures that acted in concert. The First and Fourth Children have an unusually resonant natural synchrony which gave them a similar battle style, and, the Angel having the faster set of innate reflexes, this placed them at a disadvantage. They were defeated, but the Angel was temporarily immobilized through the use of an N2 device." Footage showed the ill-fated battle, and still-froze on the two Angel components, standing fused and temporarily halted in the fast-forming new lake.
"Two days later, the creatures regained mobility, and were intercepted by Evangelion Combat Unit No. 1, consisting of Units 00 and 01. This time, the interception was successful; the First and Fifth Children were able to draw the two parts of the Angel apart until their resonance weakened, then destroy them."
The presentation thus concluded, the videoscreen went dark, and the lights in the room came up, if only slightly.
"It seems to us that the Fifth Child is rather important to NERV's combat organization," said the chairwoman of the council, beautiful, cold-eyed Jacqueline Natla.
"Perhaps," replied Ikari evenly, "but he jeopardizes the stability of the unit as a whole. It is my belief that he will eventually degrade the effectiveness of his fellow pilots with his attitude."
"Bah," said the grumpy councilor who had interrupted Ikari twice during his presentation. "You're afraid he's smart enough to figure out what we're really using these kids for, and charismatic enough to get the rest of them to rebel."
Ikari nodded. "If you want to phrase it that way, yes."
"You may have a point there," Natla conceded, "but his effectiveness is too undeniable. The war is still too much in doubt to throw away such an effective soldier simply because you fear you may someday lose control over him. If the situation becomes that grim, there are always other measures we can take. Your petition is denied."
"So be it," Ikari replied impassively. "Should the situation worsen, I will inform the council immediately."
"In the meantime, you've done well so far, Commander," Natla said, her demeanor brightening. "We look forward to continued progress."
Ikari said nothing to this; merely bowed his head as, one by one, the lights over the councilors' seats went out, leaving him standing alone in the dark.
DJ Croft peered skeptically over the top of his evening can of Guinness at the face of his housemate, Misato Katsuragi.
"You can't be serious," he remarked flatly.
"I'm perfectly serious," Misato replied. "The command staff had a special meeting session on the subject while you were away, and we concluded that it was best if we tried to make your lives outside your commitments to NERV as normal as possible."
"That's an admirable sentiment, Misato my dear," DJ observed, "but you're overlooking something. 'As normal as possible' for me means giving me the occasional lengthy leave time I'd need to go rooting out some secret of the Ancient World—not sending me to a bloody school."
"What's the problem, Mighty Adventurer?" Asuka Sōryū- Langley wondered from her side of the table. "Can't sit still for long enough to get through a school day? It's not that hard." She shrugged. "I don't think I should have to go, since I've already graduated college and all."
"It's as much public relations as anything else," Misato admitted. "We want to make it appear to the community at large that the children who pilot the EVAs are leading otherwise normal lives. We don't want them to think that you're being denied the things other children receive for the sake of the crisis." Misato sighed. "Why are you being so resistant, DJ? I thought I could count on you, of all people, to see the importance of a measure like that. Public opinion governs NERV's funding, you know... no bucks, no Buck Rogers."
"I should think that would be obvious," said DJ contentiously. "I'm being so resistant because I don't want to waste my bloody time in school. I've better things to do than sit in a room listening to someone explain the Binomial Theorem."
Forgetting that she herself was supposed to be opposed to the whole school concept, Asuka slid into her natural spot in opposition of whatever DJ was saying. "Come off it, Croft. You're saying that you shouldn't have to go to school with regular children our age because you're -better- than they are."
"Isn't that what you just said a bit ago?" DJ wondered. "'I don't think I should have to go, since I've already graduated college and all,'" he reminded her, parodying her high-horse tone rather well. "I just don't see that anything productive can be achieved by pushing me further into a regimented life. I gave NERV permission to risk my life in action against the Angels, but I never signed anything that said they could waste my time."
Misato groaned and held her head. "Why are you busting my hump about this, you guys? I'm just following orders."
"You and Adolf Eichmann," replied Asuka.
"Hey!" DJ barked. "Don't let's blow this too far out of proportion, shall we?"
Ignoring this byplay, Misato went on miserably, "Jon and Rei have already agreed that it's for the best—"
This elicited a snort of derision from Asuka, followed by her acid observation, "Ellison and Ayanami are professional conformists. They'll do anything Ikari tells them."
DJ banged a fist on the table, silencing her. "All right, damn it, that's enough! I think the whole thing's a bloody awful idea, but I'm not going to sit here and listen to you insult everybody, Asuka. If it's that bloody important to the Powers that Be, there's no sense in hassling Misato about it." He chuckled wryly. "Ikari had just better not hold it against me when I get poor grades."
"Well, there's a positive attitude," Asuka remarked. "Are you even going to try?"
"Oh, sure," DJ replied. "It's just that I haven't stepped foot in a school since I was eight. And the school year's already almost a month underway, so I've missed the easy stuff right at the beginning. I figure it'll only take me a week or so to get completely bloody lost."
Misato and Asuka stared at him, shocked.
"You haven't been to school since you were eight?" Asuka asked.
"No, why the hell would I? I've learned more about the things that're important to me in my travels and my reading than I ever would have in school."
"Maybe we should send him to grade school first," Asuka observed, looking at Misato.
"Don't be an idiot," Misato replied crossly. "Are you going or not?"
"What happens if I don't?" Asuka wondered.
"That's up to Commander Ikari. He'll probably have you detained for disobeying orders."
"Hmm," DJ mused. "Might be worth refusing just to see him try."
"Your loyalty is overwhelming," said Misato dryly.
"Haven't we already covered this?" DJ inquired. "I'm loyal to you, I'm loyal to the cause NERV is fighting for, but on a personal level, as far as I'm concerned, Gendō Ikari can go straight to hell."
"Well, if you are loyal to me, then please at least give it a try," said Misato. "It reflects badly on my performance when one of you makes trouble for the program, even though being your den mother isn't technically in my job description. Consider it a personal favor."
DJ sighed, relenting. "Oh, all right. I'll give it a shot."
Asuka also sighed, looking extremely put upon. "Fine, whatever," she said, throwing up her hands. "At least it won't be hard work. Even if I hadn't already gone through college, American schools are so undemanding."
Misato would have liked to say, "That's the spirit!" But, under the circumstances, she couldn't quite bring herself to do it.
Is it piloting the EVAs, she wondered, that makes them so cynical so young? Or is it just the world we live in?
Monday, September 21, 2015
Crossroads High School, Park Ave. and Salisbury St.
Across from the WPI campus
Nobody, DJ fumed silently, said anything about uniforms.
Oh, sure, they were Federally mandated in US schools—had been since 1999—but DJ could perhaps be excused for not having known about that. It was much too recent and much too trivial history for DJ to have taken it upon himself to learn it.
The idea behind the School Uniform Act had been a well-meaning one, if fatally flawed. The concept went something like this: These kids today, with their clothes and their hair! The reason they're so unruly and violent is because they're allowed to dress in such outlandish ways. If we were to make them wear standardized school uniforms, the violence level in American schools would drop. Hey, it works for Japan, look how safe their schools are.
The policy had not, in fact, curbed unruliness and violence in American schools, but it did ensure that the unruliness and violence were committed by well-dressed, respectable-looking young people.
That aside, Crossroads High had a good record; it was privately owned, in a fairly quiet part of Worcester, and was generally populated by smart, well-motivated youngsters with their sights on nearby WPI or other technical schools—or their parents' sights on same, which was almost as good, as far as the administration was concerned.
At any rate, DJ mused as he observed himself in the full-length mirror, it's not that bad. In fact, the Crossroads male uniform strongly resembled the outfits worn by the 'plainclothes' men in NERV's own Security Division—black suits with black ties, black shoes and white shirts, very plain, very stark. A pair of nice sunglasses for outdoors, like the Ray-Bans tucked into his jacket's top pocket, and DJ could work with this.
He stepped out of the fitting room with his street clothes tucked into his pack and two more of the uniforms in a garment bag over his shoulder, and was confronted by Jon, who wore the same outfit—though with his ponytail, Jon looked a little out of place in a suit, DJ thought, and the one he was wearing was a little too big for him.
"Y'know what the difference between you and me is, Jon?" asked DJ as he removed the sunglasses from his pocket and slipped them on.
Jon's quizzical look showed that he did not, in fact, know.
DJ grinned. "I make this look good," he replied, and went to the register.
Jon shook his head, smiling, and followed.
Naturally, Asuka expected to be, and was, the center of most attention, nattering happily about her old hometown in Germany and the good work she and her fellow EVA pilots were doing, and how she hoped they could all study and do well together, and all that stuff. Rei and Jon were their usual reticent selves, introducing themselves and precious little else; contrasted against Asuka's cheerful volubility they came off as positively sullen, and DJ himself, though pleasant, seemed comparatively quiet.
Which suited him just fine. Let Asuka have the spotlight—DJ just wanted to put in his time and escape, preferably as soon as possible. He received his rather bulky allotment of books, got them into his backpack, and then selected a seat toward the back, hoping, perhaps, to avoid scrutiny.
The problem he was anticipating with school—and rightly so, as he was discovering as the day unfolded hectically around him— was tied to the fact that his self-taught body of knowledge, while impressive, was uneven. He knew a great deal about the subjects that interested him: history, ancient art and culture, ancient languages, literature, the physical sciences, the intricacies of world travel, how to get into and out of third-world countries without their governments knowing he was ever there—but almost nothing about things he hadn't encountered often: mathematics more involved than long division, fundamentals of American government, computer programming. He never found the gaps in his knowledge base particularly inconvenient in day-to-day life, but in a school situation, even on the first day, they proved frustrating.
Besides which, school here was just as he remembered it from six years ago: confining, maddeningly dull. One class, which seemed to take up most of the morning, was devoted entirely to an old teacher rattling on at length about the way society had been before the Second Impact and the great changes wrought by that event, as if this was news to anybody? It struck DJ more as some kind of social indoctrination than an attempt to educate anybody, and he almost instantly tuned it out, focusing instead on what his classmates were doing.
Asuka was listening intently from her seat near the front and taking copious notes; DJ dismissed this as a blatant kiss-up to the teacher. Rei sat in the middle of the far left row, gazing aimlessly out the window in a way that would get most students reprimanded, but the teacher seemed to take no more notice of Rei than he would have of an empty desk. Par for the course, DJ concluded, given Rei's apparent possession of a Somebody Else's Problem effect. Jon was... well, Jon was looking at Rei with the same kind of look she was favoring the view out of the window with, big surprise there.
The others, DJ was pleased to note, looked just about as bored as he was—even the studious, dark-haired girl who sat to his left, who had either paid attention or given an extremely good impression of doing so even during the early morning's excruciating lecture on data structures and top-down program design. From where DJ was sitting, he could see that, though she was writing incessantly in a notebook, she wasn't taking notes; she was still working on the computer program from the previous class.
"In the still-chaotic world economy of the post-Second Impact world," the instructor was saying, "American students must work harder than ever before, if America is to regain her place as the number-one force in technological development and industry."
DJ suppressed a derisive snort and neglected to point out that America had lost that position in approximately 1965, well before the Second Impact. His covering cough, though, was apparently recognized for what it was by the girl to his left, if not the teacher, and she stifled a giggle just a little too late; the instructor stopped, leveled his flinty glare at the back of the room, and inquired,
"You find something in that statement amusing, Miss Anderson?"
She blushed and stammered, "Uh, no, n-no, sir! I was just, er, just trying not to sneeze."
Feeling responsible for her being in this situation in the first place, DJ snapped the reins and charged to her rescue: "It is rather dusty in here. Are you certain this building is up to code?"
The instructor's glare shifted to him, the girl entirely forgotten. "Are you trying to be funny, Mr. Croft?"
"Oh, no, sir," replied DJ, straight-faced. "NERV agents do not have a sense of humor as far as we are aware, sir."
Still suspicious, the instructor went back to his diatribe.
DJ sighed. It was going to be a long, long day. But the smile the girl he'd just saved favored him with did brighten his outlook some. Memo to myself, he thought, be sure to get her name.
And get it he did, at lunchtime, from the bespectacled boy who'd been sitting in front of him most of the morning. Melvin, DJ quickly learned, was a bit annoying, but he was also a walking file cabinet of information about the other students in the Crossroads High freshman class.
"Oh her?" Melvin replied, peering myopically across the cafeteria toward the table where the dark-haired girl was just sitting down opposite a friend. "That's Amy Anderson. She's new in the area... her parents moved here from someplace closer to Boston. I hear she's a straight-A student, a real brain. Before she came here she used to go to Yates Academy."
"Oh," DJ replied, nodding sagely, having no clue what or where Yates Academy was and not caring to have Melvin explain it. He had her name, and that was all he'd gone into the conversation wanting.
"Why do you ask?" Melvin wondered.
"I'm an insatiably curious person," DJ replied. "Thanks, Melvin."
Melvin would have pursued the subject further, but DJ got up and left the table, carrying his tray across to the place where Amy and her friend sat.
"Pardon," he inquired. "Is this seat taken?"
"Hm? Oh, no... um... go ahead," she said, blushing.
"Sorry about earlier," he said, sitting down. "Sometimes I forget where I am."
It was about then that DJ realized the cafeteria had gone eerily quiet. Looking around, he saw all eyes fixed on him—except Rei's, which were still surveying the lunch options with more than their usual measure of gloom.
"What?" DJ demanded.
The question made the other students realize they were staring, and, self-conscious, they resumed their dinners and conversations, albeit somewhat awkwardly.
DJ sighed. "Sometimes I hate being famous." He turned to Amy and her friend. "I can leave if you're embarrassed."
Amy smiled, ducking her head a little, and replied, "No... that's OK. Oh, I'm being rude... I'm Amy Anderson."
"So I've been told," said DJ with a grin. "DJ Croft."
Amy rolled her eyes a little. "Everyone here knows who you are."
"It's not so great," DJ said.
"A-hem," said the blonde girl across the table.
"Oh! I am being rude—DJ, this is my friend Serena Delapin."
"Charmed," said DJ, accidentally using his rakish grin on the poor girl. The result rather impressed him; he'd never seen anyone just up and short-circuit that way before.
"Whoops," said DJ as the blonde girl went blank.
"Oh, don't mind Serena," said Amy with a dismissive gesture. "She does that."
"Oh." DJ wondered what had happened to his train of thought, then abruptly caught up to it. "Right! Er, there was another reason I stopped by, other than to apologize."
"Mm?" Amy replied. "What's that?"
"Well... I'm given to understand that you're rather good at this whole school thing... and, well... I suspect I'm going to need some help."
Amy blinked. One of the Project Evangelion prodigies was asking her for help? "Um..."
"Thing is," DJ went on, breezily unaware of her discomfiture, "I never had much use for things like complex math or computer programming in my life, so I'm pretty far in the woods when they come up. I was hoping I could find somebody around here who could unravel the mystery for me, and I hear you're pretty good at that sort of thing."
"Well... I, uh, I do all right... but..."
"Well, it's just... Why don't you ask one of the other pilots for help?"
DJ considered it for a moment. "Honestly, I'd never thought of that," he replied. "But... no... No, rather not, really. Mind you, it's not that I don't get along with them... well, except for Langley, but nobody gets along with her... anyway, it's just... we spend so much time down at NERV, together, working and testing and defending the world and all that rot—I think I could use some time away. It occurred to me the other day that I know no one in this city who isn't in some way involved with NERV. Working with you, or someone like you... it'd give me a chance to step back and see it all from a distance now and then..." He trailed off. "... Or maybe I'm just rambling. Forget it."
"No, it's all right," Amy replied quickly. "It's just... I wouldn't think you'd have time for any kind of tutoring arrangement... "
DJ grinned again. "I'd make time... if you've the time."
Amy considered it, then smiled. "I can find some."
"Great. I'm off call Friday evening... if you've no better plans."
"Um... no, none that I can think of."
DJ got out a card, jotted a quick note on the back, and handed it to her. "Well, ring me when you like, and we'll set something up. I really do appreciate this; it'll save me a lot of bother with the Powers that Be at NERV if I manage a respectable showing here."
DJ became aware of a presence behind him, looming, angry, filling his sphere of existence with foreboding and gloom. He half-turned in his seat to see Asuka standing over him and glaring down at him.
"Hullo," he remarked.
"Just what," Asuka demanded, "do you think you're doing over here? Your place," she indicated with an outstretched finger, "is over there. With the rest of the rejects."
At the end of the line described by her pointing finger, Jon looked up, quizzical, while Rei went unconcernedly on attempting to remove the meat from the submarine sandwich she'd been issued.
DJ got slowly to his feet, his face the picture of amiability. Calmly, he turned to face Asuka. His voice held nothing but warmth and goodwill as he said to her,
"I don't mind you cutting me down and pushing me round, love. I understand it's something you feel you need to do. But mark this: if you ever call Rei a reject again, I'll knock you right on your pretty little German arse. Am I making myself quite clear?"
In a rare moment in her life, Asuka Sōryū-Langley had nothing to say. In her momentary silence, DJ excused himself, walked around her, and left the cafeteria.
Asuka stared after him for a moment, then gave a sharp "hmph!", pivoted on her heel, and left by another exit.
"Wow," murmured Serena, having completely missed the exchange between the two EVA pilots. "He asked you out."
Amy hadn't really been paying attention; she was still engrossed in the lettering embossed on the front of the card DJ had given her. At length, she blinked, turned to her blonde friend and said, "I'm sorry, what?"
"Hello? I said, one of the Evangelion pilots asked you out, Brainiac!" Serena replied. "And he's -so- cute, too. And that accent! You have -all- the luck." She snatched the card from Amy's hand and read it, eyes widening. "Wow! And he's a vi... vis... nobleman. I bet he's rich, too."
"Serena!" Amy took the card back, glaring indignantly at her friend. "As if that had any relevance."
Of all the things DJ had expected to encounter on his way out the school door at the end of the day, a fist was fairly low on the list. It was a fairly solid one, and traveling at a pretty good pace, and he was totally unprepared for it as it slammed into his face and sent him sprawling. Only after being hauled to his feet by his shirtfront and then knocked down again did some semblance of focus return to his vision; he came up to a half-crouch, wiping at his bloodied lower lip with the back of his hand.
His attacker was a tall, rangy boy—perhaps his own age, perhaps a little older—with black hair in something just a little too tall and messy to be a proper crew cut, and dark eyes.
"I'm not sure just what you meant to prove by that," DJ told him matter-of-factly, "but you've about six seconds to explain it to me."
"Tommy, what the hell—?!" a sandy-haired, bespectacled boy standing behind the attacker added.
"You're the pilot of EVA Unit 01," said Tommy Sullivan, his face suffused with anger.
"Right, and that gives you a license to beat on me? I don't think so," DJ replied.
"Thanks to your incompetence in your first engagement, my sister's in the hospital!" Tommy barked. "They don't know if she'll ever walk again, and it's your fault!"
With that, the taller boy launched himself at DJ, his fists flying.
With his eyes open and his wits about him, DJ was fairly confident that he was the better fighter. Tommy had nearly six inches and probably twenty or thirty pounds on him, but DJ was willing to bet the taller boy hadn't had the training or the experience DJ had piled up in a lifetime of wandering the world's hidden places. At the very least, he hadn't learned the tender art of fistfighting from Lara Croft.
"Marquess of Queensbury rules?" asked DJ as Tommy threw a punch at his head. "Apparently not," he added, narrowly dodging a knee that would have lodged somewhere most unpleasant. "As you like it."
DJ ducked a punch so widely telegraphed Tommy might as well have sent it Western Union, dealing his opponent a quick body blow in return. A few exchanges like that, and Tommy's temper began to cool a little, allowing him to think about the fancy way his quarry was fighting him.
Uh-oh, though DJ as Tommy stopped flailing and, his face purposeful, closed in. He's figured out his height advantage. If he turns this into a grappling match, I've had it.
DJ backed away, trying to keep his distance and looking for an opening, but luck was against him; his heel caught against a sprinkler head and he stumbled.
Tommy darted forward and caught him as he did, then twisted him around in a modified wrestling move and threw him to the ground with his own considerable weight atop. This wouldn't have been such a big deal, if the offending sprinkler head hadn't compounded its offense by punching DJ squarely in the small of the back, a little bit left of center.
Blinded by the sudden pain, DJ had all he could do to get his hands up where they could protect his face as a newly enraged Tommy knelt astride his chest and lashed at him, spouting obscenities.
Jon Ellison and Rei Ayanami arrived at the scene of the altercation about the time DJ was thrown to the ground; at the sound of DJ's scream as the metal sprinkler head jabbed into his back, Jon was about to push his way through the growing crowd and intervene when suddenly he felt a firm hand on his arm, pushing -him- aside.
Rei Ayanami, her eyes narrowed and glittering, pushed her way silently through the crowd of students and strode up behind the raving, flailing Tommy. As Tommy drew his right hand back to launch yet another blow at DJ's semi-protected face, he suddenly felt a cool, strong grip on the nape of his neck—one that suddenly blossomed into agony as Rei crushed an important nerve cluster in her deceptively strong grip. Tommy bellowed in pain and tried to reach up and back to the injury, but he couldn't—his arms were numb and he couldn't get his hands above shoulder height. Then he was being yanked up and off his quarry by that agonizing grip, seized by the lapels and spun fully around.
He gasped in relief as his neck was released, then gaped, pinned on the glare of a pair of glittering red eyes set in a pale but flushed face; then she half-turned away from him, never taking her eyes off his, and launched a backhand across his jaw that spun him around and dropped him, stunned, to the grass.
Coughing, he blinked up at her as she stood over him, her face impassive but for those furious eyes. Right fist still clenched at her side, she said softly and evenly,
"You can't understand what he went through that day. Leave him alone."
Then, turning her back on him dismissively, she went to help DJ, who was beginning to struggle back toward composure.
Jon watched her go for a moment before trotting after her, wondering if she would ever stop mystifying him.
Tommy Sullivan, all the fight knocked out of him, sat up, rubbed his jaw, and watched in awe as the girl who'd knocked him down, joined by a tall, long-haired boy who spared him only a dirty glance, helped DJ to his feet. As he stared, he barely noticed his friend Ken Alda kneeling next to him.
"Boy, I guess she showed you, huh, Tommy?" asked Ken.
"Who is she?" Tommy asked, probing tentatively with his tongue at what would be, in an hour or two, a very fat lip.
"Don't you ever pay attention?" said Ken. "That's Rei Ayanami—one of the other EVA pilots. His partner, in fact."
Ken, renowned around the school as a walking repository of information about military hardware and tactics, nodded. "They fight in pairs. One takes the point while the other provides fire support and close-range backup as needed. They're one of the combat teams. He's point, she's mark... and she just did her job admirably," he added with a satisfied grin.
Tommy shook his head. "I could have fought her, but my dad taught me not to hit girls," he said sullenly.
"Get real, Tommy," Ken replied with a laugh. "She knocked you on your ass and if you'd gotten up she'd have done it again. Let it go, willya? Your sister's gonna be OK, and Ayanami was right, anyway —there's no way you can know what Croft was going through that day. In a war, stuff happens."
Tommy glared at his friend, then sighed and shrugged. "I'll think about it."
"Are you sure you're all right?" Jon asked DJ as he and Rei helped their colleague into the school building. "Maybe we should get the nurse to have a look at your back."
DJ grunted, shaking his head. "I'll be fine in a bit," he said. "Sprinkler caught me at a nerve cluster, like a rabbit punch with brass knuckles on... I'll mend. Be a hell of a bruise, though."
"Your face doesn't look so great, either," Jon pointed out.
"Well, you lie down and let Raging Bull there batter you for a bit, and we'll see how fresh-from-the-shrink-wrap you look," DJ replied wryly. "What the hell happened anyway? One minute he's beating me into the dirt and the next he's lying on his back a meter away looking glassy-eyed."
"I hit him," said Rei softly.
"You hit him??" DJ replied. She nodded. DJ thought about that for a moment, then grinned. "Bloody well done! My intrepid mark comes through again."
"What the hell happened to you, Fifth Child?" Asuka Sōryū-Langley demanded as she met her colleagues in the corridor.
"What the hell's it look like?" DJ replied. "Somebody beat me up."
"Oh ho! And how did a mere mortal get the drop on you, Mighty Adventurer?"
"Beginner's luck," DJ replied sourly.
"We're just lucky it was over before any of the faculty caught on," said Jon. "It wouldn't look good for the program if it got out that EVA pilots are getting into fistfights."
"The bugger jumped me!" DJ protested indignantly. "I was minding my own bloody business—"
He trailed off as Amy Anderson met them in the hall, trailed by the ubiquitous Serena. "Goodness!" she cried. "What happened?"
"It's like I told you would happen," Serena declared. "Tommy Sullivan must have caught up with him."
"So nice of you to warn me," said DJ wryly.
"I only thought of it after you left," said Serena defensively. "Sue me."
"Are you all right?" asked Amy.
"I will be, soon enough," said DJ. "Probably look a sight in the morning, though. Hopefully it'll clear by week's end... I wouldn't want your folks thinking I'm disreputable," he added with a grin that elicited a wince as it stretched his sore face in directions it didn't want to go.
"Don't worry," said Amy. "I—"
"We'll just tell her it was another of Tommy's boneheaded rampages," Serena interrupted. "It won't surprise her."
"Er... yes," said Amy. "Anyway... you'd best go home and lie down."
"I look that bad already?" asked DJ wryly. "Still, I suspect you're right. I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Bye. Um... do you—"
"We'll save you a spot at lunch," said Serena, tugging her friend away by the arm. "Gotta go! Bye!"
"Serena, would you stop interrupting me?" Amy grumbled as she pulled her arm free and walked away at a more sedate pace.
"He is so cute," Serena replied.
Jon, Rei, Asuka and DJ engaged in a complex cycle that involved each of them sharing a look with the others, then collectively shrugged.
The rest of the week passed in a swirl of activity, the school routine blending fairly evenly with that of life in NERV. With enemy activity presently suspended for whatever reason, there was little to do but test and catalog, and even TechDiv could only manufacture so much of that before they ran out of things to examine (though Ritsuko would never admit to such a limitation). On Friday, with the stipulation that Team 2 and Misato keep pagers close at hand, everyone was given the day and full following weekend off—fortuitous for Misato and Ritsuko, who were to attend a friend's wedding that afternoon.
DJ, the bruises on his face from his encounter with Tommy Sullivan mostly faded, stood before the bathroom mirror tying his school tie. Misato stood next to him, sharing the mirror to touch up her makeup. She looked at his reflection rather than turning to face him as she spoke.
"What do you think?" she asked. "How do I look?"
DJ looked. "Marvelous," he replied. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were trying to impress somebody."
"Maybe I am," she replied with a smile.
"I won't even be at the wedding," DJ replied with a wry grin, grumbling under his breath as he adusted the tie and drew it tight.
"You're not the only man in my life," said Misato impishly.
"More's the pity," DJ replied.
"Ryoji will be there," Misato pointed out. Mentally, she chided herself for mentioning it—she knew DJ didn't like Ryoji Kaji. Mentioning the man just to get a rise out of DJ was hardly fair.
"What happened to never wanting to see him again?" DJ wondered, surveying the knot critically, shaking his head, undoing it and starting over.
Misato shrugged. "He's not as bad as I remembered him," she replied. "I think he really understands it's over... he just acts like he doesn't sometimes because he likes to get my goat."
DJ considered that, then shook his head, frowning at his reflection. "That's not all he's after."
Misato rolled her eyes. "Do I detect a note of jealousy?"
"Probably," DJ admitted. "Something about him just strikes me wrong. I feel... I feel paranoid whenever he's around, like there's something standing just beyond my field of view, something I bloody well don't want around." He fumbled the knot again, growled in frustration and untied it.
"Here, let me," said Misato, turning him to face her. "Y'know, you and Ryoji are more alike than you think. He can never get this right either."
DJ scowled. "It's because I was trying to talk at the same time."
"Uh huh," said Misato with a smile, finishing the knot and relinquishing the tie. "Ryoji always used to say that, too."
DJ sighed. "Please don't make light of this, Misato," he said. "I'm serious, there's just something off about the man, something I can't trust."
"Listen, DJ," said Misato. "I know you don't like Ryoji, and I know you mean well—but damn it, quit trying to run my life for me, will you? You're not my father!"
"So sorry to bother you," said DJ, his feelings hurt by her outburst. "I'm only trying to help."
"Oh, come off it, DJ! Ryoji's no danger to anyone. He's a flake and a pain in the ass, fine, but this is just character assassination. You're talking like you expect him to get me drunk and try to take advantage of me."
"I wouldn't put it past him," DJ replied.
"That's it, I'm not listening to this any more," said Misato hotly. "I just want you to know how immature I think you're being, DJ. I expected better from you."
"Immature? I'm being immature? Oh, that's rich. I'm not the one that's getting ready to make a huge mistake because of a stupid supersitition about turning thirty."
Misato flushed. "Get out!" she barked, pointing toward the exit. "I won't take this kind of abuse from anybody in my own home, DJ, not even you. I'm a grown woman and I know what I'm doing!"
"Fine," replied DJ stiffly. "Don't tell me later that I never warned you." He turned, picked up his jacket and helmet, and left.
"You self-righteous jerk!" Misato shouted at the door as it closed behind him. She glared at it for several minutes after he'd gone, trying to regain her composure and cursing his ability to get under her skin.
"Where are your comrades in arms tonight?" Mina Lockhart, one of Asuka's new friends from school, asked her as the two girls walked along the sidewalk on Chandler Street.
"Oh, I'm not sure," Asuka replied with an affected shrug. "Jon and Rei went for a walk, of all things, and His Britishness has a study date with Amy."
"You're kidding!" said Asuka's companion with a startled toss of her long blonde hair. "Amy Anderson? Miss Junior Supercomputer has a date with one of you guys?"
Asuka waved dismissively. "He needed help on his schoolwork."
"Why didn't he ask you? I mean, heck, you've already been to college and everything."
"Because he knows I'm immune to that charm of his," Asuka replied smugly.
Mina rolled her eyes. "You don't think I'm gonna buy that for a minute, do you?"
"What the hell's that supposed to mean?" Asuka demanded.
"I know the signs," said Mina cheerfully, skipping a few paces ahead of Asuka. "You wouldn't treat him as bad as you do if you didn't like him... you'd just ignore him."
"That's a load of crap!" Asuka replied.
"And now you're annoyed at Amy 'cause you're jealous," Mina taunted with a grin, breaking into a jog.
"You keep talking like that and I'm gonna smack you one, Lockhart!" cried Asuka, running after her friend.
"Try and catch me, Langley!" the blonde replied, and the discussion ended in favor of a race.
"Evening, ma'am," said DJ cheerfully to the well-dressed woman who answered the door. He still felt the lingering pain and anger from his spat with Misato, but was determined not to let it spill over into his dealings with Amy; the whole thing was nothing he should concern her with. "My name is—"
Dr. Naomi Anderson smiled. "Come in, please, Lord Crofthenge. I've been expecting you."
DJ blinked, thrown off-guard by her use of his title—he didn't like to spread around that he had it. How had she found out? "Er, please, call me DJ," he said as he was ushered inside. "All the titles and such... make me uncomfortable."
"Well, that's a problem most boys your age wouldn't mind having," said the doctor archly. "Amy, dear," she called as she led DJ through the foyer to a well-appointed den. "His lordship is here."
Presently Amy appeared, descending the staircase at the other side of the room. She'd changed out of her school uniform into comfortable-looking street clothes, and smiled with faint embarrassment at her mother's formality.
"Mother, please," she said with a trace of a blush. "He's not here for a state dinner."
"Well, it never hurts to be polite," Amy's mother chided her gently. "I'll leave you two alone here so you can get to work— just call if you need anything."
"Well... um... welcome," said Amy, feeling a bit awkward.
DJ smiled, taking off his suit jacket and loosening his tie. "Too formal? Sorry. I wasn't sure."
His grin was infectious, and Amy smiled too, relaxing a bit. "Sorry about my mom," she said. "I think she was worried that you'd be full of yourself."
"Because I'm with NERV?"
"No... I think it was the card you gave me."
DJ looked puzzled.
"Well—you give someone a card that says 'Derek J. Croft, Viscount Crofthenge' on it, you should be prepared for them to be formal in return."
DJ slapped his forehead. "Oh, damn!" he declared. "Did I give you one of those? I wanted to give you one of these." He reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and handed her another card, printed on identical white cardstock; this one said simply "DJ Croft, 22 Lee Street, Apartment 3-D".
"I keep the others around in case there's somebody officious getting in my way I think needs some impressing," said DJ. "I try not to give them to people I know. Sorry."
"Oh, it's OK," said Amy cheerfully. "No harm done. Anyway... where should we start?"
"OK, you guys, I'm heading home," Misato declared. "You know, while I can still drive, and all."
Ritsuko and the other old acquaintances—after all that had happened in the years since college, Misato wasn't sure she could really call any of them but Ritsuko friends any more—expressed their disappointment in the form of various jeers and catcalls.
"Ah, c'mon, Misato," said Ryoji Kaji with a grin. "It's not even ten yet. How often do you get a chance to hang out with the old gang and not worry about going to work in the morning?"
Misato hesitated. He had a point, and they were having a good time. It was nice to see everyone again after so long... what would staying a little while longer hurt?
In the back of her mind, she could hear a quiet echo of DJ's voice, trying to warn her.
Shut up, she told it angrily, and sat down, ordering another drink.
An hour or so passed as Amy explained the concepts which students taking the Crossroads introductory computer programming course were expected already to know, and which DJ was completely in the dark about. He found it relatively smooth going with someone he could identify with to explain it to him, but still, the harsh words that had passed between himself and Misato echoed in his mind, grating on his nerves and sapping his concentration. Amy sensed something was wrong, denying the subject matter his full attention; after a while, she hesitantly asked him about it.
"DJ... is something wrong? Something's distracting you."
He glanced up at her face, his eyes meeting hers. "If I'm intruding, never mind," she said hurriedly.
"No, it's OK... I need to talk to someone about it or I'll go bloody mad."
DJ proceeded to explain, as best he could, the situation he lived in and the events leading up to his argument with Misato that night—admitting that Misato might be right, the whole problem with Kaji might all be a product of a jealous imagination, and that was the part that truly weighed on him.
Amy sat silently absorbing all this as he spoke. When he finished, she thought about it for a few moments, then said, "Well... you could be wrong, it's true. But... " She fell silent, considering the right words, and then went on, "But if you are, I don't think it's out of jealousy."
"No?" asked DJ, looking puzzled.
"No... I think... I think if you're wrong you're erring on the side of caution," she said. "I think you're just trying to be the best friend you can be to her. My friend Raye is always telling me, 'You have to trust your instincts.' I think in this case she's probably right." She shrugged. "On the other hand, I don't know any of the people involved except you. I could be wrong myself."
DJ smiled. "Either way," he said, "it's a comfort to me that someone agrees with what I think my motives are, anyway. But still —Misato's instincts don't agree with mine. I hate to think of this thing causing a long-term problem between us."
"If she's uncomfortable with your suspicions about him, keep them to yourself," said Amy, "but that doesn't prevent you from keeping an eye on him, as long as you're discreet about it."
DJ's smile became his more familiar grin. "I can be very discreet when the need strikes me."
The whole notion of leisure time was something Jon was still getting used to, after years of near-constant training and activity. Still, it was becoming a rather pleasant counterbalance to the barrage of testing and combat training, never mind school, which daily life presented. And in the company of Rei Ayanami, of course, it was quite enjoyable.
Having had no particular agenda for the evening, Rei and Jon had simply embarked on a meandering walk through the city and the surrounding environs. They'd been through Elm Park and up Park Avenue, down Chandler to Tatnuck Bookseller and past the rotary to Institute Road, and had finally arrived at Bancroft Tower shortly before sunset, where they'd sat and watched the city grow brighter as the sun sank away, leaving behind the full moon to cast its glow over the land, challenged only by the city lights and the brightest of the stars. All in all, it was a very peaceful affair.
"Beautiful," he remarked.
"Yes," Rei answered. The moonlight seemed to surround her, giving her that same ethereal quality which had so fascinated DJ during the Gabriel's Horn operation, and which fascinated Jon now. It didn't take long for Rei to turn and look back into his eyes, naturally causing all of his senses to lose interest in any aspect of the outside world and focus on what they felt to be something far more important.
Still, for all his fascination (or perhaps encouraged by it), Jon's mind could not help but reflect back on the day's work activities at NERV. After who knew how many backbreaking hours of testing and research and studying the broken corpses of the ones they had managed to salvage, Dr. Akagi had managed to glean a few insights on the Angels, most notably the way Angel DNA seemed to mirror human DNA with surprising closeness. Something like 98%, if he remembered correctly.
At the time, Misato and the three Children (for Asuka had not yet arrived) had been standing on a catwalk in one of the big hangars, overlooking the broken remains of one of Israfel's two halves. Rei had put her hands against the railing, looked down at the corpse.
"We are like them..." she had started.
"...yet not," Jon had echoed automatically, without even realizing he'd said it at first. Everyone else present had looked at them after that, but he had paid no heed to any of them, his eyes directed only toward Rei, who had been looking right back at him.
Those eyes... a person could get lost in there forever and never care...
"Do you come here often?"
Jon hadn't quite heard it, but became aware that someone had spoken as his senses shifted back to the present time, the eye contact broken. "What?(Hm?)" he stereoed with Rei, looking in the direction of the voice.
The speaker in question was a boy their age, thin and of moderate height, with an unruly head of brown hair. In the bright moonlight he was easily recognizable as one of their schoolmates, Kevin Nelson.
"I said, 'Do you come here often?'" he repeated, looking faintly amused; he must have been watching them.
"First time.(Sometimes.)" they replied, then blushed as they realized they'd run over each other again.
Kevin chuckled and grinned. "I'll take that as a yes."
Jon called to mind everything he'd noted about Kevin Nelson during the week he'd known of the boy. Kevin was popular, but didn't seem to belong to any particular clique; he had a peculiar charisma that made him accepted by most everyone, yet held himself aloof in such a way that he was identified with no group. He had a ready smile and kind eyes that seemed to endear him to almost everyone he met, almost immediately.
In and of itself, that made Jon faintly suspicious, though he knew there was no earthly reason for it. He had mentally tagged Kevin as someone, if not to watch out for, at least to watch.
"I like to get out here whenever I can," Kevin said, looking up at the Moon. Abruptly his tone softened a bit, and a trace of something that was not happiness crept into his demeanor. "Helps me forget about things."
"... yes," Rei said quietly. Jon glanced at her. Only now was he consciously aware that his right hand had closed around her left.
"You know, some of the others at school don't like you four very much," said Kevin. "I don't know for sure if it's fear or envy or some combination." He chuckled, running his fingers idly through his disarrayed hair. "Like all things human, it's irrational. Be that as it may, I have a lot of respect for you. I don't know that I could do what you do. Carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and all that. How do you handle it?"
"We're not alone," said Jon. "NERV provides a tremendous support structure. Without the efforts of all those people, we wouldn't be able to do our job."
"Ah," said Kevin with a smile, "but when it all comes down to the wire, it's just you and your EVA out there."
"A limited viewpoint," said Rei abruptly. Holding up her hand still linked to Jon's, she went on, "We four are connected in ways no one else can understand. We are never alone."
Kevin nodded, gracefully conceding the point. Still, his voice had a trace of amusement left in it as he said, "Never?"
"Never," Rei replied firmly.
Kevin gazed thoughtfully into her eyes for a moment; then he said quietly, "I guess you have stuff you'd rather forget about too."
Rei did not answer verbally, but Jon felt her grip on his hand abruptly tighten, something not pleasant seeming to flicker across her eyes. If asked, Jon would not have been able to explain why this made his hackles raise with undefined anger. It was a perfectly innocent question... wasn't it?
Kevin seemed to realize he'd hit a sore spot as well, and backed up a step. "Forgive me. It was rude of me to ask."
"I'm sorry," said Jon, baffled and feeling a bit foolish at that sudden jab of irrational hostility. "It's... it's been a long week."
"I understand." Kevin smiled. "I'll leave you alone... it's time I was getting back, anyway. Good night."
Jon opened his mouth to say goodbye, but as he did, Kevin bowed with a sardonic grin, then stepped back and disappeared into the night.
"How strange... " he murmured. Turning to Rei, he started to ask what she made of it all, to find her looking to him with the same question in her eyes.
A searching look revealed no answer to the enigma, but that didn't stop them trying.
At length and with an effort, Jon tore his attention back to his surroundings. Letting out a breath that crystallized in the growing evening chill, he asked softly,
"Want to walk around for a bit more?"
"Yes," was all Rei said.
DJ arrived home at around eleven-thirty, having taken a leisurely cruise round the lakes rather than heading straight home; all was dark and quiet in the apartment, and for a few moments he thought he was alone. Only for a few moments, though. As he hung his jacket on its accustomed peg by the door, he felt, more than heard, quiet sounds from behind one of the closed doors along the hall— soft disturbances in the quiet that alerted him to the fact that there was someone home.
Just as DJ was about to go investigate, the quiet voice of Hal, speaking from the console installed on the kitchen counter, stopped him:
Looking quizzical, DJ walked over to the console and addressed it in a similarly hushed tone. "What's wrong?"
"I am monitoring a potential crisis situation in Misato's room," Hal replied. "I believe your intervention may be necessary."
DJ blinked. "Crisis situation?" he asked, his brow furrowing. "Show me."
Hal showed him.
DJ watched, at first unconvinced. The memory of his clash with Misato still fresh in his mind, he held back his immediate negative reaction and wondered if Hal might not have interpreted his attitude toward Kaji with even more paranoia than he himself felt. DJ felt his face warming; he felt a bit guilty and a lot voyeuristic watching his housemate making out with her old boyfriend. He didn't like Kaji, but it was Misato's business, after all, not his. She'd already made it quite clear that interference from him on that level was not welcome. He was about to resign himself and have Hal shut off the monitor when he felt an alarm at the back of his mind.
... look again.
Misato wasn't caressing the man's chest passionately... she was pushing at it ineffectually. She wasn't flushed with passion; she was plastered. He couldn't help but be aware of it—and yet he was going on, unbuttoning her blouse, sliding his hand inside...
DJ stepped away from the counter, his face darkening. "Keep monitoring. If I lose control of the situation, call the police."
"DJ, be careful," Hal cautioned as DJ went into the hall. "Mr. Kaji has had a few drinks himself; he may not be completely rational."
"That's fine, Hal," said DJ, pausing outside Misato's door. "I'm not either."
Then he kicked the door open.
Kaji turned, eyes wide, at the noise of the door frame splintering. Misato tried to focus on the doorway, but failed, and quickly lost interest in favor of passing out.
"Mr. Kaji," said DJ, his voice tight and even, "I'm afraid I shall have to ask you to leave."
Kaji turned and glared at DJ; when he spoke, his voice was hoarse and low. "Who the hell do you think you are, kid?"
DJ cracked a humorless grin. "I'm your conscience, Ryoji," he said with dark cheer. "Today I'm rearing my ugly head to keep you from taking advantage of a helpless woman." The smile vanished. "I'm funny that way."
"Butt out," Kaji growled. "You don't know anything about this. Misato was mine long before she met you, kid, and we're just making up lost time."
"Bad time to be doing that," DJ replied flatly.
"What would you know about it?" Kaji sneered.
"Look at her, Kaji!" DJ declared. "She is completely pissed. She knows more about the price of Microsoft stock on the Moon than what's going on around her right now. That's your idea of consent?"
Kaji shrugged. "For Misato, it's close enough."
DJ flushed. "Right, that's enough, by God," he growled. "Get out. Get out right now."
"You're gonna make me?" Kaji asked, taking his hand out of Misato's partially unbuttoned blouse and standing. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm a lot bigger than you are."
"Fine by me," DJ replied without hesitation. "I'm a lot angrier than you are."
"All right, then," said Kaji, scowling as he pushed up his sleeves. "Let's dance, you little snot."
"Fine," DJ said. He made as if to remove his jacket, and suddenly his left hand was full of metal. The muzzle of his automatic gazed unwinkingly at Kaji, as if daring him to act.
"I'll lead," said DJ humorlessly from behind his .45. "Get out."
"Threatening display of a deadly weapon," Kaji observed, some amusement coming back into his eyes as DJ stepped back through the doorway into the hall and motioned for Kaji to follow. "That's a class-C felony."
"I'll see your threatening display and raise you attempted rape, you bastard," DJ retorted.
Kaji stepped into the hallway, and DJ motioned for him to leave the apartment. As he entered the kitchen, Kaji turned, his face serious and his eyes full of anger, and said,
"Kid, you have no idea who you're screwing with."
"Maybe not," DJ replied, "but I know who you're not, long as I have anything to say about it. Now be a good lad and sod off."
Kaji glared at DJ for a few more seconds, then turned and left.
As the door closed and automatically locked behind the man, DJ slumped a little and let out a deep, heartfelt sigh.
"Christ," he muttered, putting the pistol away. "As though my bloody life weren't complicated enough."
Rei and Jon returned at two, tired but pleased with the fruits of their evening's excursion.
"I noticed there were some lights on next door," Jon observed. "Think I'll see if anyone's really still up. Want to join me?"
"No," Rei replied, hanging up her jacket and heading toward her room. "I'm tired, I think I'd rather just go to sleep. Find out how DJ's date went for me."
"He won't admit that's what it was," Jon pointed out.
"I know," Rei acknowledged from her room. Unconcerned, she pulled the WPI sweatshirt she wore over her head, carefully reversing it so that when it went through the wash it went with the decal turned inside. "Find out anyway... "
Jon shrugged, smiling. "Suit yourself. See you tomorrow."
"Night," said Rei, closing the door.
Jon made his way quietly next door. Apartment 3-D's common areas were dark; the only light he could see was a triangular slash coming out of DJ's bedroom, the door to which was apparently not fully closed. An almost unnatural quiet lay over the apartment. Curious, Jon crept down the hallway, not really knowing why he was trying to keep quiet. He had come almost even with the half-open door when it abruptly burst open, unleashing a bright cone of light with a hard, angry shadow in the center.
"Right, you son of a bitch, I warned you," hissed DJ Croft, his right hand spreading flat against Jon's chest to push him back against the far wall. Jon, startled, did not react; he was too busy being astonished by the depth of the rage glittering in his usually unflappable friend's blue eyes. The presence of the gun didn't enter into Jon's thoughts at all; he was too busy wondering what could motivate DJ to such wrath.
Then, just like that, it melted away, as DJ recognized Jon and visibly relaxed, the fire in his eyes dying.
"Oh Christ, Jon," DJ whispered, putting his pistol away and slumping. "I'm sorry, I thought you were that bastard Kaji."
Uh-oh, thought Jon.
"... What happened?" he inquired.
DJ gestured for Jon to follow him and went back into his room. There, Jon was surprised again, this time at finding Misato Katsuragi bundled up in DJ's bed, in a state of what could only be described as profound unconsciousness. DJ listened to her deep, regular, even breathing for a moment, then seated himself on the edge of the bed next to her with a satsified expression, gesturing for Jon to take the desk chair. Once he had, DJ recounted for him the evening's events.
At the conclusion of the tale, Jon sat and looked blankly at DJ for a moment. When he spoke, it was merely to say slowly,
"... You pointed... a gun at him."
"Well what the hell was I supposed to do, Jon?" DJ demanded, his whisper becoming a hiss as he tried to keep his voice down even as he became agitated. "Shrug my shoulders, 'Whatever you say, Mr. Kaji, carry on,' and turn away? I should rot first."
"No, no... you did the right thing," Jon replied, shaking his head at the whole situation.
"So glad you approve," DJ observed sardonically.
"... It's just that I'm not gonna hear the end of this for a long, long time," Jon finished.
DJ snorted. "You're not my keeper. Haven't they heard? I'm the wild and uncontrollable DJ Croft, a beast untameable, except perhaps by Rei."
Jon ignored the comment. "I don't know whether Dr. Ikari thinks I have more influence than I do... or hopes it."
"I've done nothing wrong," said DJ stolidly, his hand absently stroking Misato's hair.
Jon nodded. "I know." He considered. "I knew Ryoji Kaji, as a boy... he used to come by the base every now and again on a liaison job for NERV, especially after Project EVA started heating up. I knew he was a bit of a lecher, but..." Jon shrugged. "No more so than you."
"Oh, thanks very much," DJ grumped.
"No, seriously—he used to hit on the women on-base a lot, but it always struck me as being in at least partial jest. I would never have figured him for the type to take such advantage, especially of an old friend."
"Men like Kaji don't have friends, they have victims," DJ declared. "I've met his kind before. He's a snake out of the same mold as Pierre du Pont."
"Forget it, you don't know him."
Jon hmm'd and fell back into silence, musing. "He was funnier then... more sincere. My mother liked him."
"You have a mother? Funny, I've always pictured you leaping full-grown from the brow of Zeus, clad in a plug suit and ready for battle, a kind of modern-day Athena."
Jon glowered. "That's not funny, DJ."
DJ considered it glumly for a moment, then shook his head. "No... I suppose it isn't." He sighed. "Anyway, after I convinced him to leave, I got Misato cleaned up and put her to bed, and I've been keeping an eye on ever since. I got a decent amount of water and some aspirin down her, so with a little luck she'll cheat the hangover she deserves." He regarded her with fond, exasperated eyes, and Jon was bemused to realize that it was the first time he'd ever considered their relationship in any sort of parent-child light.
He cares about everything, everyone who touches his life, with such intensity, Jon mused to himself. That's his true strength... and I have to admit I envy him it at times.
Jon stifled a yawn. "Well... it's been a long evening for all of us, I think. I'm going to go to bed... do you need anything?"
"Thank you, no," DJ replied. "I've everything I need right here, for the moment."
"Well... good night, then."
Misato awoke slowly from a muddle of pleasantly erotic dreams, feeling much better than she had any right to feel. Rather than rush herself to wakefulness, she let her consciousness take whatever meandering course it cared to, wandering the remnants of sleep, savoring the afterimages of her dreams. Shortly, she became aware enough of her real surroundings to surrender to that wonderful middling lassitude that comes only with a truly great loll in bed, when the covers are lying -just perfectly right- over one, pressing down with just the right delicious amount of force to perpetuate the illusion of being comfortingly cocooned, and the pillow is holding one's head at the precisely proper angle for total relaxation. It is in this state that people happily make the conscious choice to be late for work.
Mumbling her contentment, she burrowed a little deeper into the covers, turned, and threw an arm across her bedmate, pulling him closer with a happy sound.
Drawing back a little, she reluctantly abandoned sleep altogether and slowly, carefully opened her eyes.
"Morning," said DJ softly, his smile unexpectedly solemn.
Dumbstruck, Misato blinked. "Um... m... m... morning," she finally managed.
"How much do you remember?" DJ asked quietly.
Beginning to feel increasingly frantic, Misato searched her memories, only to find that they became more scattered and indistinct the more she tried to organize them. Oh, God, not much, she didn't remember much at all after leaving the Leitrim... obviously she'd made it home, but... oh, God...
"... Did... um... DJ... did, um, did we..."
DJ snorted, folding his hands behind his head, and rolled his eyes.
"In your condition, my love," he replied calmly, "you couldn't have found King Kong's equipment, let alone mine."
Misato went blank for a moment, unable to decide between relief and secret disappointment, and DJ, sighing, climbed out of bed, smoothing out his rumpled, slept-in clothes as best he could. "Hungry?" he inquired.
"Wha?" Misato asked, having only half-heard him as she finished sorting out her reactions. "Um... yeah." She blinked, realizing something else. "Hold on a minute... you're dressed, but I'm... not."
DJ nodded. "I rather think you hit one or two pubs too many last night," he observed. "I couldn't put you to bed in the condition you were in without cleaning you up a bit first."
"That bad, huh?" she asked ruefully.
Again, DJ nodded. "I'll give you the details once I've made breakfast. Or, rather, Hal will show you the security playback. You should see it unfold for yourself before you hear anybody's subjective version of what happened."
"Kid, you have no idea who you're screwing with," said the small image of Kaji on Hal's kitchen monitor screen.
"Maybe not," DJ's voice replied from offscreen, "but I know who you're not, long as I have anything to say about it. Now be a good lad and sod off."
Kaji glared toward that direction for a few long moments, then turned and left, slamming the door.
Playback ended with a black screen bearing a timestamp.
"That son of a bitch!" Misato cried, slamming a fist down on the kitchen table and wincing as her shout echoed inside her head. She wasn't hung over, exactly, but it had come to her attention as she came off the small adrenaline rush that woke her that she wasn't not hung over, exactly, either. In a quieter tone, she continued, "Next time I see him I'm going to hit him so hard his ancestors feel it. I can't believe he would do something like that! I..." She trailed off, the expression on her face shifting from angry to contrite.
"... I guess I owe you an apology, huh," she finished quietly.
DJ shook his head. "I didn't enjoy being proven right."
"But you were," Misato said. "I should have listened to you instead of assuming..."
DJ remained silent, busying himself with the cleanup.
"Aren't you going to say 'I told you so'?" asked Misato.
He turned and looked at her for a moment, his eyes sad; then he said, "It wouldn't really give me any joy. Just because I was right doesn't mean I wasn't jealous."
Misato smiled. "Maybe not—but it means you weren't -just- jealous." Sobering, she added, "Seriously, DJ. Thank you. What you did... was very brave." Even as she said it the platitude rang hollow, but still, it was the best she could come up with.
DJ smiled, reached across the table, and patted her hand.
"'Sall right," he said. "I know what you're trying to say."
As DJ headed back to his room, Misato called after him, "DJ?"
"Yes?" he inquired, turning back to face her.
"Would you really have shot him?"
Without hesitation, DJ replied, "Never point a gun at anything you're not willing to shoot. You've had military training. You should know that."
Then he went to his room, leaving Misato alone with her thoughts.
The Children take a swim.
Ritsuko remembers her mother.
HAL uncovers a piece of the truth.
All in the attack of the strangest Angel yet.
In seven days:
"Maybe the rush job on this facility wasn't such a good idea."