The following morning the children woke up with the anticipation of finally exploring their winter wonderland outside the cabin, and they were not disappointed: the weather had cleared out the storms but it was still cold outside, and the slopes and valleys around the little cabin were all covered in white, powdery goodness.
Dressed in their snow gear the four children all went out quickly through the front door. Misato didn’t join them, but would watch from inside the chalet instead. “Don’t stray too far from the cabin,” she called out as they left.
Once the pilots went out Misato walked back inside and grabbed PenPen, who had spent most of the last day inside his portable cooler or in Misato’s bedroom in the cabin. She pulled him by the wings and brought him outside the front door, and then carefully removed the coolant pack strapped around his neck. With a gentle pat she shoved him forward and into the snow-covered ground in front of the cabin.
Despite being a penguin PenPen was completely unacquainted with snow, as he was hatched and raised in a laboratory far away from anyplace cold. At first the bird took hesitant steps into the snowy ground, then panicked and fled back towards the cabin.
Misato saw the bird head back and promptly slammed the door in his face: it was tough love, she knew, but necessary to get her roommate accustomed to the new climate. PenPen furiously pounded on the cabin door to be let back in, squawking loudly as he did so. After a couple of minutes of prodding and crying to go back inside to no avail, the little bird gave up with a sad wail and then started to wonder aimlessly around the cabin.
On the other side, Patrick and the two girls looked down the steep slope below the chalet. Coming up from behind was Shinji, who was dragging a box behind him. “Here’s what we could find,” he said, breathless from hauling over the cargo.
Asuka looked inside the large box and found a snowboard. It was old and scratched up, but still looked very serviceable. After feeling the weight she immediately placed it on the snow and slid her boots into the straps.
“Do you even know how to use that?” Shinji asked her.
She looked at him with a smug look on her face. “Baka Shinji! It’s simple. How hard could it possibly be?” Asuka pushed off and immediately plunged down the slope, screaming along the way. After a few seconds the three of them heard a distant “thump” followed by anguished high-pitched cries of profanity. Both of the boys winced as they caught an earful from the fallen Asuka.
“Will she be OK?” Patrick asked Shinji.
“Not until she can beat everyone at doing this,” he said with a knowing look on his face.
Patrick grabbed the other snowboard inside the large box and checked the bottom to ensure it was smooth, without flaws or cracks. Satisfied, he carefully placed it on the ground and strapped himself in. Taking a deep breath, he felt the cool mountain air as his eyes excitedly looked down the slope. Since Second Impact his old home never had that much snow for very long. To him, boarding this would feel like an open bar to a drunk.
Rei saw him as he stood next to her and grinned broadly. In the whole time she had known Patrick Forrestal she had never seen him so happy as now.
“Wish me luck!” he said to her as he quickly kissed her on the cheek and then pushed himself off the edge of the slope. Placing her glove to her cheek, Rei watched him go down, picking up speed as he gleefully shouted and shredded his way down the slope. She couldn’t help but smile at it all.
“Ayanami!” Shinji called to Rei, and she turned around. Shinji was holding a large, wooden, old-fashioned sled in his hands. “Do you want to try it?” he asked her. Her eyes went wide and she nodded cheerfully.
The group of them spent the next few hours going up and down the hill. Despite her initial defeats Asuka determinedly kept at the snowboard and after a few tries was indeed able to properly shred down the slope, banking and curving and launching herself in the air.
Shinji and Rei also had fun with their own sled, as the two of them would sit on it together and then go barreling down the hillside. Braking was difficult at first, and they tumbled at the bottom more than a few times. They both enjoyed the rush and unique unpredictability of sledding. Shinji felt he especially loved the experience, as he held Rei in his arms in front of him and heard her joyful squeals as they went down the slope.
PenPen had also started to get the hang of things outside. Waddling over to see the children, the bird watched as each one pushed off the edge of the slope in turn and slid down. He looked down the steep edge to watch Shinji and Rei on their sled and then suddenly felt a push as Asuka followed them down on her board. Losing his balance the penguin fell over the edge and rolled until his belly landed on a slick patch of snow. As he started to slide down the hill on his belly, if PenPen had any natural instincts left in him they clicked in at that moment. He stretched out his wings and let himself glide down the hill, cawing in excitement as he did so.
For his part after getting his balance down Patrick went about trying to tricks with the snowboard against the edges of the slope, picking up speed and then trying to flip in the air like he had seen winter athletes do on sports highlights videos. He had failed the first couple of times but then on the third try he spun off the edge of the slope and turned himself in the air. It had felt great and he didn’t even mind that he had crash landed after the jump. Unfortunately Asuka was just a little too close to his landing, and was sprayed on with snow when he came down.
“Hey, you idiot!” she shouted at him as he picked himself up off the bottom of the slope. “Watch where you’re going!”
“What’s the matter,” Patrick teased “You can’t take a little snow?”
Instead of answering back, Asuka quickly scooped up snow from the ground and tossed it at Patrick, hitting him in the face. Patrick almost immediately did the same in retaliation and then the two of them were soon pummeling each other with snowballs.
Speeding downward from another run, Shinji and Rei’s sled came to a stop in between the two others at the bottom of the hill and both children found themselves in the middle of the crossfire.
“Baka,” Asuka called out, “get over here!” Before Shinji could react he felt something hit him from the back and saw Patrick, his face held a sheepish grin. “Hey, are you in this or not?” he shouted at him.
Rei calmly stood and watched as Asuka continued to throw snowballs at Patrick until one hit her on the face instead. Standing there somewhat fazed, another snowball hit her as Asuka changed her target from Patrick to her.
“Rei, come over here!” Patrick shouted and the girl scurried to where he was crouched, working to scoop up more snowballs. At the same time Shinji ran over to where Asuka was standing.
“What are we doing?” Rei asked him.
“Snowball fight,” Patrick said breathlessly as he worked to scoop up more snowballs.
“What is the objective?” she said with a straight face.
Patrick laughed a little. “We just keep blasting them until they give up. Are you in?” Rei nodded in reply.
“Then start building snowballs and try to hit the other side.” The boy then scooped up another ball, packed it with his gloved hands, and hurled it at Asuka. The redhead managed to dodge the incoming strike and then tossed one of her own that exploded snow between Patrick and Rei.
In the next couple of minutes the two pairs of pilots each gathered up snowballs and tossed them at their opponents, while trying to avoid being hit themselves. Patrick watched as Asuka and Shinji huddled for a long moment, and then suddenly came out each tossing a flood of snowballs in coordination with each other, hitting both Patrick and Rei precisely at the same time.
Wow, they really do fight well as a team, Patrick observed.
“Forrestal,” Rei said to him, “If you want to win, I have a suggestion.”
Patrick’s eyebrows went up. “Sure.” Rei then whispered something into his ear. He thought about her strategy for a moment and then decided it would work. “Okay, let’s do it!”
Both of them went low to the ground and quickly worked to make as many snowballs as they could, all the while being pelted in the back by their opponents across the snow drift. Patrick noticed as they made snowballs that Rei’s snowballs were shaped nearly perfectly spherical, and despite working fast she crafted each one carefully.
Across the way Shinji watched the other two as Asuka continued her barrage. “What are they doing?” he asked.
“They’re going to make an assault,” she replied. “Stand by for attack!”
Once they had enough firepower Rei and Patrick divided up the snowballs and got into position. “Ready?” he asked her. Rei, standing behind Patrick with two snowballs in her hands, nodded confidently.
“Charge!” Patrick shouted and then ran over to the other side as fast as he could. As he approached the others, he threw snowball after snowball at Asuka. Annoyed at being hit multiple times, she hastily grabbed snow and tossed it at Patrick as he rapidly closed the distance.
Patrick got to within three feet of Asuka and then suddenly dropped down to the ground as he was pummeled by both of his opponents. As he dropped downward, Rei appeared from behind him: as he had approached she had followed close to him, using his larger frame to shield her petite self from being spotted. Now at nearly point-blank range, Rei took the snowball in her right hand and with all of her strength threw it straight at Asuka. The snowball hit her square in the chest, and the redhead went flying backwards. Before Shinji could react Rei took a second snowball she carried in her left hand and threw it at him. It too struck him hard and brought him straight down.
Having watched Rei’s surprise attack, Patrick leapt off the ground with a resounding “YES!” He held his hand out for her in a “high five” position and she quickly hit it back, giving him a big smile of her own: their teamwork and inspiration had paid off.
Shaking off the snow from her hair, Asuka sat up off the ground. “Where the hell is an AT Field when you need it!” she shouted.
Patrick stood over her. “Looks like we got you!” he cawed.
“Oh, I have not even BEGUN to fight!” she came back. Asuka used her leg to trip up an unsuspecting Patrick, toppling him to the ground. She then clamored back up, grabbed snow and packed it in her hands. Seeing Rei close by, she shouted “CHARGE!!!” and then ran over to her. Snow in hand, she shoved it in Rei’s face, bringing her to the ground.
Once on the ground Rei promptly countered by shoving snow in Asuka’s face and rolling over, and the two of them rolled on the ground throwing snow at each other. Shinji also got into the act, and started pelting Patrick with snowballs as he got up. The other boy fought back and then they both playfully charged each other. As each of the children began to pummel each other in a fresh round of snowplay, PenPen wondered over to see what the fuss was. He stood by and watched as each of the others threw snowballs and laughed and screamed in delight.
High above them in the chalet observing all of the frolics was Misato, who sat in front of a window in the kitchen keeping a careful eye on all of them. Listening carefully she could make out four distinctive voices below, all of them laughing and crying out to each other in merriment. Behind her a door opened, and she turned around to see Kaji returning from the outside. Walking inside after removing his snow boots he joined her in the kitchen.
“They seem to be having a good time.”
“Oh, yeah,” Misato said softly, her head turning back towards the window and the view downhill.
“They’ve been out a while,” said Kaji. “ I should probably bring them back in before they get too exhausted.”
“No,” she said, “just let them play a little bit longer.”
“Are you sure?”
Misato turned to him and gently took his hand. Kaji saw her face: she was smiling but tears were running down her cheeks. They were the happy kind, he knew, and he had so rarely seen Misato like this.
“Ryo-chan,” she said to him, “it’s alright. Let them play as much as they want. Just look at them.” She turned again towards the window, watching the kids below them who were joyfully wrapped up in their own little world, for the moment oblivious to everything outside of it.
“They’re children again!”
Early the next morning Kaji was awakened by a call on his satellite phone. He spoke in hushed tones to the receiver as Misato slowly woke up. After it ended he quickly clicked the phone shut and hurriedly got dressed.
“What is it?” Misato asked.
“One of my SEELE contacts. They’ve got information about their home base.”
Misato knew the right question to ask. “Are they reliable?”
“Up until now they have been,” Kaji said as he got his pants on. “They’ve been good at getting some critical information in the past. I need to play it out. They’ve asked me to meet them.”
“Not far from here. There’s a resort town about 20 kilometers away, I’m to meet him there.”
“Convenient that he’s so close to us,” she commented.
Kaji paused for a moment, thinking about Misato’s observation. “Be sure the children are well-covered. I’ll also get word to Yoshi-kun at Tokyo-3 to keep his eyes out, just in case this isn’t what it seems.”
“OK,” Misato said to him. She got out of bed as Kaji finished getting dressed, and wondered over to where he stood. She wore just a sports jersey and nothing else.
“The kids are going to hate leaving this place,” she said softly as she patted him on the chest.
“They’re not the only ones,” Kaji replied, and the two of them kissed tenderly. She smiled at him.
“One for the road?” Misato said with a wink.
The agent smiled back at her. “Oh, I wish, but I’d better take a rain check.” They kissed again, and then he left the room.
After he left Misato stood there and watched out the window as his SUV left the cabin, contemplating what the next move would indeed be.
The pilots woke up late that morning, around 10 AM. Groggy and sluggish, they each shuffled to the kitchen to get breakfast and coffee or tea. Once they were all gathered together to their great disappointment Misato confirmed they would be leaving the cabin that afternoon, and also asked them to stay inside for today. She promised to make up for the truncated trip by taking them out for shabu-shabu at a local onsen down the road from them, on the way back to Tokyo-3.
Additionally she had also brought gifts for each of the four pilots. The two boys received handmade woolen sweaters that were made locally, both with patterns of flora and fauna. The two girls each received a sweater dress: Asuka’s was red with a large heart pattern, while Rei’s was blue with a large moon. Each girl also got matching wool pattern tights with the dress.
Trying the outfit on, Asuka felt she rather liked her dress until she saw that Rei has a very similar look. “Misato,” she protested, “why the hell did you get her the same dress?”
“It’s not the same one,” Misato pointed out. “Rei’s is a different color.”
“It’s still the same style,” the redhead replied. “We’re not freaking twins, okay?”
Misato ignored her comment. “I think they’re both really cute. Don’t you think so too, boys?” Both Shinji and Patrick nodded with glassy-eyed expressions that clearly meant approval.
Before an argument could ensue Misato got a call on her communicator from the outside security detail. There was an incident with the inhabitants of another cabin about a mile away and the detail leader was concerned enough to call Misato to inform her of it. She listened for a few minutes for the details and then hung up and went back into the kitchen.
“I’ve got an idea,” she said. “Why don’t you kids work together making sweets.” The officer pulled out a bag and placed blocks of chocolate, marshmallows, and candies on the table. Asuka narrowed her eyes at her. “What are we supposed to do, exactly?”
“Well, I’m not sure of the exact method, but I’m pretty confident you kids can figure out how to make cookies or something with these.” Before any one of them could protest the communicator sounded off and Misato again escaped to the other room.
“She’s just trying to buy us off because we can’t go outside,” Asuka said.
“No matter,” replied Shinji. “All you have to do is just melt these and mix it together.”
Rei stood at the table and examined the chocolate block, looking at it as if it were a rare mineral. “You’ve had chocolate before, haven’t you?” Patrick asked her.
“Yes,” she replied. “But not this much of it. I think I may get sick again.”
Misato charged back into the kitchen. “Kids, pay attention! I’ve got something important!” All four of them stopped what they were doing.
“There’s been an incident with our security team,” she told them. “I’m going out to investigate it. I’m leaving additional guards here in the cabin and outside. Do not leave the cabin until I get back.” She pointed at Asuka specifically. “Yes, ma’am,” everyone said in reply. Misato then quickly left the cabin, putting on her snow parka and strapping on a knapsack. She grabbed a submachine gun as she walked on her way out. Shinji looked out the window and saw that she took one of the snowmobiles, starting it up and then running it down the hill at full speed.
“Great,” Asuka said. “Now what do we do?”
Patrick snapped off a piece of the chocolate and popped it in his mouth. “We don’t really need to cook this stuff, do we?” he spoke as he chewed.
“Whatever.” The redhead left the kitchen and marched back to her bedroom.
An hour passed without any word from Misato. The kids just sat around the cabin reading or fiddling with things. Shinji heated up some tea and poured it for Rei and Patrick, while Asuka lay on the floor curled up by the waning fire. PenPen was lying on the floor next to her. Also standing in the room were two large security guards, who mostly just kept scanning outside the windows.
Asuka noticed that the fire was starting to go out, and struggled to get it back. She blew hot air and poked at it with the metal pokers, but managed to blow it out instead. “Damn,” she said. “Baka, get over here.” Both Shinji and Patrick walked over to the fireplace.
“You put the fire out!” Patrick exclaimed when he saw the dead fireplace.
“It wasn’t my fault,” she retorted. “You didn’t put enough wood on the fire.”
“Fine,” Patrick said, “I’ll go and get some more.” He was about to start out the door when he was stopped by the guards.
“Sorry, kid,” one of them said. “Orders are to keep you inside.”
Patrick didn’t really like the idea of being cooped up on the cabin with such good, sunny weather outside. “I’m just going to go get firewood. It’s, like, right next door.”
“Can we get it for you?” the other guard asked.
“Uh, sure. It’s all stacked towards the road out back.” One of the guards went outside to go look for the firewood pile. The other stayed inside, standing in the living room.
Patrick waited for a moment until he was sure the other guard wasn’t coming back right away. Motioning to the kitchen, he asked the guard. “Do you know anything about ovens? I think Rei in there was having some trouble.” The other guard raised his eyebrows for a moment and then turned to go to the kitchen to check on her. When he went through the kitchen door, Patrick quickly put his finger over his lips and grabbed Shinji, taking him out the front door.
“Where the hell are you going?” Asuka asked.
“Firewood,” Patrick said on his way out.
Both boys stealthily went around the cabin, Patrick picking up an axe from the side of the cabin as they headed towards the forest line. From his earlier time setting up the fire in the fireplace, Patrick knew the actual firewood pile was along the edge of the forest, and not by the road where he sent the guard. He quickly walked into the forest edge with Shinji next to him.
“Why didn’t you just have him get it?” Shinji asked quietly.
“Because I just wanted from fresh air,” he said. “Can’t stand being cooped up in there.”
The two boys walked down to the woodpile, looking back behind themselves to see if they were followed. They were, in fact, but it was not by a guard. PenPen had also snuck out, and was waddling down to the woodpile with them.
“Is this place like your old home,” Shinji asked him.
“It does remind me of it,” Patrick replied. “Just with more snow.” He sniffed at the air and took a deep breath. “I rather like this place. Hate that we’re leaving today.” Shinji nodded.
Patrick stopped and then faced Shinji. “Hey,” he asked the other boy. “Can I ask you a sort of personal question.”
“What is it?”
“Are you really okay with me going out with Rei?”
Shinji was pensive for a bit. “I never was against it.”
“But, you know, I don’t want to get in the way of anything between you two.”
“It’s not really like that with us,” Shinji said.
“Actually, she talks about you a lot, “ Patrick told him. “She also told me what the connection is between the two of you.” Shinji was silent for a moment as Patrick looked at him. “I can only think that could get really confusing for you both.”
“Maybe, “ Shinji said quietly, “but I think we haven’t quite figured how where we fit together. I kind of worry about her a little.”
“Just be careful,” Shinji said with concern. “Ayanami’s really strong inside, stronger than all of us. But she’s also got this shadow around her, like she’s too afraid to be happy.”
“I get it,” the other boy said. “I’ll be careful.”
A voice called out behind them. “HEY!!!” Both boys turned around and saw a very annoyed security guard coming down the hill towards them. Patrick looked at Shinji and shrugged as Shinji gave him a broken smile.
The security leader inside the cabin blew a sigh of relief that the two male pilots were accounted for. As the children were the #1 security priority for the new NERV and the Alliance he'd rather not contemplate the consequences of losing any one of them. Unfortunately he knew, kids will be kids and do things like evade their guards. It was an ongoing challenge of the job.
Looking out the window he thought he saw some kind of flash and stepped up to the windowsill to take a closer look. Besides him there were three other guards in the immediate vicinity of the cabin, and another four spread out through the forest area within a kilometer. Enough to handle any infiltration threat, he figured. Not seeing the source of the flash outside, the team leader called into his microphone. “OWL LEADER to OWL TWO, did you see something flash outside?” He didn't hear an immediate reply.
“OWL TWO, please copy.” There was still silence.
Instinctively the team leader grabbed his submachine gun from its shoulder harness and went for the door. “OWL LEADER TO OWL TEAM, FALL BACK ON NEST,” as he opened the door. Pushing out the door he saw why OWL TWO was unable to reply to him. It was also the last thing he would ever see.
Inside the kitchen Asuka pouted around as Rei experimented with melting the chocolate inside of a frying pan on the stove.
“When the hell are they going to get back here?” Asuka said aloud. “I'm freezing.”
“The stove is warm,” Rei said, knowing that Asuka just wanted to complain.
The redhead walked up to Rei at the stove and stared at her until she had her attention. Rei stopped what she was doing, and met her gaze.
“You know, can't you make up your mind?” Askua accused.
“What do you mean?”
“Forrestal or Shinji, which one do you want?”
“It's not simple like that,” Rei replied. “I don't feel it's a choice.”
“Oh, so you play both of them, then?” she shot back.
Rei turned from her and went back to the stove. “Each has a role to play, but I'm still determining where the pieces all fit in.” Her answer wasn't definitive enough for Asuka, and she stepped close to Rei, almost within a few inches of her.
“What do you think you are, some kind of empress? I'd bad enough you're obsessed with being the center of attention but can't you stop playing with people's hearts?”
Rei stopped as she listened for something outside. “Soryu-chan?”
“The guard outside is dead,” she said calmly.
At first Asuka thought to retort back but she saw Rei's eerily quiet manner and knew from months of experience being with her that she was very serious. She then quietly stepped backward from the stove and leaned against a wall, grabbing a large kitchen knife and silently sliding it out of its holder. Rei found a corner by a pantry and quietly crouched from view.
The kitchen door slowly opened and through it walked in a large man in white camouflage, his head masked by a white wool cap and goggles. He held a silenced submachine gun that was pointed in front of him. The soldier began to swing his gaze around the room when Asuka raised the knife in her hands and threw it at the man’s head. The knife hit him on the left temple, gushing out blood as he twisted in reaction. Reflexes pulled the trigger on his SMG and it fired a burst as he collapsed down on the floor.
Asuka didn’t get any chance to breathe easier. Immediately after the first soldier fell a second one entered the kitchen door, pistol in hand. On seeing Asuka he swung around and aimed the pistol at her. Years of combat training and honing razor-sharp reflexes now kicked in, as the girl quickly thrust up her foot and kicked the pistol out of the hands of the soldier. She rapidly followed her first kick with a roundhouse to the man’s face and then kicked him in the chest again as he was stunned by the previous two blows.
As the intruder fell backwards Asuka rushed back to the kitchen counter to grab another knife from the knife holder. The man stopped his fall however, and pivoting on his back foot he recovered. His right hand went to the small of his back and he pulled out a second pistol. With two hands on the grip he took quick aim at Asuka, but before he could pull the trigger he felt a massive blow to his head from behind and fell unconscious. Asuka watched him go down, a new knife in her right hand as he crumbled to the floor and landed on top of the first soldier. Standing above them was Rei, holding the frying pan in her hands.
“Let’s get out of here,” Asuka said to Rei as they both made for the open kitchen door. They both quickly walked through but stopped when they reached the living room. Standing inside was a third soldier dressed in white, gripping an assault rifle. Seeing the two pilots the soldier swung around and aimed his rifle at both of them.
Asuka reached back with the knife and was about to throw it when Rei stepped in front of her. She saw a flash from the muzzle of the rifle as bright geometric patterns filled the air all around the two girls. None of the bullets reached them, instead ricocheting from the patterns and bouncing around the cabin.
An AT Field, Asuka realized. The First can still be an Angel if she wants to be.
Several loud cracks were heard to the right outside the cabin and the soldier swung around to his left. Before he could fire three bright red blossoms appeared on his white parka and he immediately fell backwards. Both girls turned to the door and saw another man run through it, pistol in hand. It was Kaji.