Sam didn’t like training.
It should have been the coolest thing ever. Being one of the only people in the world – the entire world! – who could pilot an Eva should have been awesome. Getting to pilot a giant robot in a desperate battle for survival against a terrible enemy should have been exciting, or failing that, intense and filled with significance.
It wasn’t, though. It was just really dull.
Training involved sitting in the entry plug of the robot and concentrating really hard on ‘being one with the Eva’ to increase his synch ratio, which was what allowed him to give the Eva instructions. If he did well at it, they’d let him do other drills, like walking, or using the Eva’s arms.
Sometimes, Sam wished he’d refused to be an Eva pilot. Just turned around and walked out when Commander Winchester (Dad, his father) demanded it. (“I asked you to come because I needed you to. Either do it now or leave.”)
Leaving NERV would have meant leaving Dean, though, and Sam hadn’t been able to do that. It had been obvious that they were going to send Dean out into the battle, injured and still in pain, unless Sam took his place.
Dean was still in the hospital. Sam had gone in to visit him, once or twice. The first time, Dean had slept through the visit, and Sam had left within ten minutes. It hadn’t felt right to sit there and watch him sleep. The second time, Dean had been awake. He’d watched Sam come in the door, and said, “What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to check that you’re ok,” Sam had replied. Dean had kept his eyes trained on Sam like the words made no sense, weren’t even in English. Sam had stayed in the room for another excruciating minute before he made an excuse and left.
Ellen and Doctor Walker seemed pleased to have him around, anyway. They praised his progress in training all the time, and it was nearly enough to keep him going.
Most days Sam had lunch in the cafeteria, situated above ground in the non-restricted part of NERV’s headquarters. He didn’t have much time or inclination to cook for himself, and the cafeteria had pretty good food. Sam arrived there on this particular day to see one of the cafeteria workers waving him over to a table. Sam recognised him; it was Adam, who had always been reasonably friendly but never taken too much notice of him. He hadn’t got to know many people here, though, and so the prospect of making a friend was appealing.
Sam loaded a tray and took it to the table Adam was sitting at, smiling a greeting at him. Adam nodded to him, chewing on a bit of his burger.
“So, Sam,” Adam said, once he’d finished the mouthful. “You know what I do, obviously, but what do you do for NERV?”
“Uh-” Sam paused, not sure how to answer. His status as a pilot was supposed to be classified. People knew about Dean, but Sam figured that was just because Dean had been around for years, since he was a child.
“It’s funny how you turned up at the same time as the new pilot,” Adam added, his expression becoming harder. Sam swallowed. It was obvious that Adam had already reached the right conclusion, and not only that, but he seemed to have some sort of bone to pick with Sam.
“Yeah,” Sam agreed, no longer bothering to be evasive. Adam dropped the remains of his burger down onto his plate and leaned forwards over the tray.
“It’s you, isn’t it,” he asked, and Sam nodded.
“I knew it!” Adam exclaimed, pushing his chair back and bracing his fists on the edge of the table. “You son of a bitch!”
“What?” Sam exclaimed, confused.
“It was your fault!” Adam added, getting even angrier. “You had your stupid battle right in the middle of the city, you didn’t even care about the buildings you flattened, the people who got hurt!”
“The emergency shelters...”
“You caved in the roof of one of them,” Adam snapped. His voice was rising, and Sam was uncomfortably aware that they were attracting attention. “My mom was in there.” His voice cracked, and Sam’s stomach dropped. He hadn’t been told about the shelter. He figured it had been John’s decision not to tell him; John wouldn’t want him upset or distracted from the fight.
“I’m sorry,” he said, hoping Adam would listen, but the other man stormed around the table and shoved Sam in the chest. Sam was a lot bigger than Adam and the shove wasn’t hard enough to knock him back, but he could see that Adam wasn’t going to back down. He didn’t want to fight.
Adam drew one arm back and Sam reluctantly brought up his own fists, but then someone stepped in between them. Sam had an impression of blonde hair and a female voice saying “Okay, that’s enough, back up!” He stepped back, but kept eyeing Adam to be sure that he was doing the same thing.
Adam glared at him a second longer before tearing his gaze away to scowl at the girl who’d pushed them apart. He spun around and stormed away, knocking his chair over in his rush to leave.
Sam watched him go, too shocked to know how to feel. The girl was looking at him, eyes worried, and she asked, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” said Sam. “Just sort of...” he shrugged and let his gaze follow where Adam had gone.
“Oh, I know,” said the girl. “Adam’s usually not that... he’s just upset.”
“His mother,” Sam said, not sure he wanted to know. “Is she...”
“She’s in the hospital. She was hurt pretty badly, but the doctors say she’ll get better.” The girl smiled reassuringly up at him, and said, “I’m Jo. Jo Harvelle.”
“Oh- you’re Ell- er- Major Harvelle’s daughter!”
She nodded. “I’ve heard all about you,” she said cheerfully.
“Oh, really? She didn’t really...”
“Yeah, she’s not much for small talk during work hours.”
“You work for NERV too?”
“Data entry,” Jo confirmed with a smile. “It’s a boring job, but the pay’s good and it keeps me close to Mom. Someone’s got to keep an eye on her.”
Sam nodded, thinking of Ellen, tough, practical Ellen, and trying to imagine her needing to be taken care of.
“So,” Jo said, righting the chair Adam had knocked over and sitting down in it, “you’re the new pilot. What’s it like? Is it awesome?”
“Uh... it’s kind of...” Jo’s expression was so interested and animated that Sam felt badly for wanting to say that it kind of sucked. That first battle, he hadn’t even been given any training first. The alarms had gone off right when he’d arrived, and he’d been sitting in Unit 01’s entry plug before he even really knew what the Eva was. He couldn’t tell anyone that, though, not Adam, not even Jo. If people knew how poorly defended they really were, they’d panic.
Sometimes he marvelled at how fortunate it was that NERV existed at all, that they’d predicted the angels returning and summoned Sam when they needed him so that he arrived just in time. Sometimes he idly wondered how they’d known, but that sort of speculation never led anywhere.
“I guess it’s okay,” he said at last, not letting himself meet Jo’s incredulous look.
Before the silence could become too long, the alarms began to blare. “I’ve got to go,” Sam said quickly, and Jo waved him away, already turning to go to the on-site emergency shelter. Sam hurried down to Central Dogma, where the battles were coordinated.
Once he arrived he had to change into his plug suit. He hated wearing the thing; it wasn’t uncomfortable but it was skin tight and left nothing to the imagination. He changed quickly and hurried to the entry plug, fighting back the panic as the interior filled with fluid. At this point, he knew that breathing in the LCL wouldn’t hurt him, but that didn’t quite help to calm his instinctive fear of drowning.
With the entry plug inserted into Unit 01, they launched the Eva, and Sam’s first view of the angel was seeing it destroy a ten story building several blocks away.
The last angel had been massive, and this one was as well. Sam wondered if they would all be so large, easily as big as the Eva, possibly even bigger. The size was the only similarity, though. The other angel had looked sort of like a giant person; this one was more like an enormous cockroach standing up. Where a humanoid shape would have arms, the angel had two long tentacles, although they didn’t seem to be made of flesh but something like light, or energy.
It was monstrously unfair, Sam thought, that even in the middle of battle he had the same feeling of boredom. There wasn’t even a lack of fear to make up for it. He was afraid, and tense, and bored. It shouldn’t have been possible. He didn’t feel anything when the angel smashed his rifle to bits with one of its tentacles, or when it got them both wrapped around Unit 01’s neck and squeezed until Sam thought he might choke. He didn’t feel anything when he finally struck home with his progressive knife, sized for an Eva’s hands, and the angel thrashed in its death throes.
Later that night, when the excitement was over, Sam thought back on the day and reflected that it probably wasn’t a normal way to feel. He should probably try to do something about it, if he could just make himself care.
Dean was out of the hospital and back in training. Sam wasn’t sure what he did outside of training. He never saw Dean at other times, even though his apartment was in the same building as Sam’s.
Training did take up a fair amount of time, but Sam didn’t have any other commitments. He’d just finished pre-law and had been waiting on acceptance to a law school when he’d received his father’s summons. That was all on hold now. Sam tried to keep up with his reading. In the evenings, he’d dig out one of his textbooks and try to take notes. It was getting harder to focus, though; harder to believe that there’d be an end to this war that would allow him to pursue the future he’d once dreamed of.
He had no other demands on his time. He’d left all his friends back in California, and he hadn’t really been close enough to any of them to warrant staying in touch. He hadn’t minded leaving at the time. It hadn’t seemed like there would be much back there that he would miss. He sort of regretted it now, though. It had been days since he’d talked to anyone about something that wasn’t to do with work.
He ran into Dean one afternoon after they were both finished training for the day. Or, well, maybe he deliberately hung around until Dean appeared. The other NERV personnel were all nice enough, but Sam couldn’t help but think they saw him as a tool more than a person. They didn’t really understand what it was like to pilot an Eva. Dean, though. He would.
Dean came out of the training room and made to head straight past Sam without saying anything to him. “Hey,” Sam said quickly, moving up to stand next to Dean.
Dean halted in his tracks and looked at Sam expectantly, which made him hesitate. He was good with people, usually. He didn’t get lost for words under normal circumstances, but it was different with Dean, somehow. Sam liked to think of himself as a pretty accepting person, but Dean was strange.
“How are you coping with the training?” Sam asked.
“Fine,” said Dean, looking at Sam blankly.
“Oh. Good,” said Sam. There was no way to guess how Dean really felt about it. His face and voice held no expression at all. “I just thought that you might be nervous. You know, that the commander’s sending you out again after you got hurt last time.”
Dean looked at Sam, his brow creasing slightly. “He’s your father, isn’t he?” And off Sam’s blank look, he added, “Commander Winchester?”
“So, what, you don’t trust him to do his job right?”
Sam snorted, too surprised by the question to resist the impulse. “Are you serious? No. No, I don’t trust him, why would I?”
Dean stared at him some more, his expression barely changing. Sam began to feel uneasy, but before he could step away Dean moved, quick as a snake, grabbing Sam’s shirt and shoving him against the wall.
Sam gasped, going still, operating on some instinct that said if he didn’t move Dean might lose his desire to attack. Dean seemed to struggle for words, his mouth working soundlessly until he finally choked out, “Don’t talk about him like that.”
He pushed away from Sam violently and walked away without looking back. He’d only gone a few steps, though, before the alarms began to sound.
Dean beat Sam to the changing room, shucking his clothes and changing back into the plug suit he’d been wearing all day. Sam got a glimpse of well-muscled shoulders and a perfectly defined chest before he forced himself to look away, blushing and focusing on getting himself ready.
They were deployed within minutes, and Sam’s first view of the angel was when he saw it vaporise a building across the city with a beam of bright white light.
It didn’t look anything like the last angel he’d fought. That had been more like an insect or a giant squid or something. This was a prism. A huge, light blue, three dimensional shape with triangular sides. Sam blinked in confusion, and it shot out another beam of bright light.
It was shooting at Dean, he realised with a start. While Sam had been standing and staring at the angel, Dean had jumped into action and tried to attack. It didn’t do much good, though. His rifle shot seemed to hit but had no discernible effect, and Dean had to jump wildly to get out of the way of the angel’s counter attack.
Sam took aim with his own rifle, but although he was sure he’d targeted the angel properly, his shot didn’t seem to make contact.
“Its AT field is too strong for your weapons to penetrate,” Sam heard Ellen say over the communication link. “You might need to get closer.”
Sam did his best, and from the corner of one eye he could see Dean trying as well, but the angel seemed able to target them from every direction without having to move,. The angel kept firing its bright light weapon, wiping out entire city blocks. When Sam landed on a spot that the angel had just targeted, he thought he could feel the heat through Unit 01’s metal feet.
And for all their effort, it did no good. It didn’t seem to matter how close they got, their weapons didn’t harm the angel at all.
“This angel has the strongest AT field we’ve ever encountered!” said Ellen. “Pull back. We’re going to deploy a prototype weapon for you to use. It will take eight minutes and thirty seconds for it to be ready, so you need to stall for time.”
An AT field was like an armoured force field that both Evas and angels could project. They were too strong for normal weapons to penetrate, and difficult even for an Eva, but Sam hadn’t encountered one that he couldn’t dent at all. He retreated in Unit 01, making sure to keep track of the angel’s position.
“The weapon will be deployed eight blocks to the north and five to the west, Sam, can you move there now?” Ellen asked. “Dean, you will need to cover Unit 01’s position and keep the angel from him.”
Sam knew he had reached the right place when he saw the deployment structure. Eva weapons were massive, just like the Evas themselves. The weapon would be sent up a chute and emerge from what would appear to be a four storey concrete building, unless one happened to notice the fold-back doors which ran along the entirety of one wall.
“Once you retrieve the weapon, the power supply to the Eva will be diverted into powering it,” Ellen explained. “That means you will have only sixty seconds of battery power to take the shot.”
“You’re going to take the Eva’s power supply and put it into the weapon instead?” Sam asked doubtfully, eyeing the lengthy cord which connected the Eva to its power source. “Can’t you get the electricity from somewhere else in the city?”
“We already are,” said Ellen.
“You’re using the entire city’s power supply to power the weapon?”
“Actually, we’re diverting all of the electrical power available in America.”
Sam gaped, unable to comprehend the enormity of it, and then he was distracted by the deployment point’s alarm sounding, which was followed by the doors folding back to reveal a huge, sleek rifle. Ellen began rattling off instructions for how to operate it, and Sam struggled to keep up with her. The angel was still moving around though, and Sam began to panic as it appeared to line him up for a shot.
“Uh, this could be a problem...”
“Just hurry!” Ellen commanded. “We’ve only got one chance, hold your position!”
“It’s going to fire!”
“You won’t be hurt,” said Dean’s voice, and Sam started to hear him over the communication link. “I’ll protect you.” He shot at the angel again, another useless volley from his rifle while Sam struggled with the prototype weapon. Sam could see the beam of light racing towards him, and he cried out, lifting up the rifle which was finally ready to fire. He took aim, trying not to miss in his haste, but he was going to be hit by the angel’s fire and lose his chance...
Unit 00 moved and at first Sam didn’t understand what was happening. “Not that way!” he gasped. Dean was going to take his Eva right into the path of the angel’s attack.
Of course, that was exactly what he did. The light beam struck Unit 00, and over the communication link Sam heard Dean’s yell of agony. “Dean!” he shouted. His fingers twitched, the urge to run towards him almost irresistible.
“Don’t move!” Ellen shouted. “You have to finish the mission. Fire now!”
Sam clenched his jaw and checked that his aim was true, squeezing the trigger and letting a massive blast of power loose from the rifle. Even as he watched to see if the angel was defeated, he prepared to reload the rifle, although Ellen had explained that if the first shot didn’t work they were essentially fucked.
Luckily, he didn’t need to use the rifle again. The first blast connected with a massive explosion which left nothing behind. Sam waited only long enough to hear confirmation that the angel was destroyed before he ran to where Dean’s Eva had collapsed.
It had fallen on its back, and the entry plug was inserted into the base of the robot’s skull. They wouldn’t be able to get it out. Sam frantically grabbed at the Eva with Unit 01’s hands, ripping back the metal plates and gently removing the entry plug. Then he put his own Eva into eject mode, having it bring its head down so that he could climb out of the entry plug and reach the ground.
He ran across the ground to Dean’s entry plug, calling out to him even though he knew Dean wouldn’t be able to hear. He reached for the hatch on the side of the plug, twisting the handle around although it was so hot it hurt to touch.
Dean was inside. He didn’t seem hurt, just a little dazed, and Sam sighed with relief. “Jesus, Dean,” he said. “That was a completely stupid thing to do.”
Dean just looked back at him and didn’t seem affected at all. “I told you,” he said. “I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.”
“Do you have any idea how much you just scared me?” Sam demanded.
Dean looked thoughtful. “The giant space alien wasn’t scary?” he asked.
“Not as much as you being hurt,” Sam admitted with a raw honesty that took him by surprise.
“Oh.” Dean blinked. “Sorry,” he said wryly. “The moment’s getting sort of uncomfortable now.”
Sam had to laugh at that. “Yeah,” he chuckled. “You’re not wrong.”
A week later, Sam made his way to Central Dogma in a foul mood. The day had got off to a bad start. The night before, Ellen had told him and Dean that the Second Pilot would be coming to NERV.
“She’s been in training since she was young,” Ellen said. “I worked with her for a while, before I returned to America. She’s very good.”
It wasn’t bad news or anything, but it had Sam a little off balance. And then, when he was on his way down to start training for the day, he’d bumped into someone going the other way and they’d spilled their coffee all over his shirt. It hadn’t been scalding or anything, and he’d be changing into his plug suit soon anyway, but it still did nothing for his mood.
“Oh, bugger,” said the woman who’d bumped into him. “I’d hardly drunk any of that!”
“And you ruined my shirt!” Sam retorted, annoyed that she couldn’t even muster an apology.
“Hmm, yes,” said the woman. “Flannel? Well, at least it’s no great loss.” And with that, she went on her way, not even looking back.
Then, when Sam reached the doors leading to Central Dogma, he’d realised that he’d forgotten his wallet. With any luck, he’d just left it at home and could go back and get it during his lunch break, but he was pretty sure he’d put it in his pocket before leaving his apartment, and that meant he’d dropped it somewhere between home and NERV. He wasted a good ten minutes retracing his path through the hallways looking for it, but without success. Quite aside from the hassle of replacing his bankcard and driver’s licence, Sam was sure NERV would take a dim view of his official NERV ID being misplaced.
So, he was not in a good frame of mind when he stepped out onto the floor. And what he saw then didn’t improve things.
“You!” he snapped at the woman standing next to Dr Walker. “You spilled your coffee on me!”
The woman arched an eyebrow at him. “So you’re the Third Pilot,” she said, holding a small plastic rectangle between two fingers. “Sam... Winchester, is it?” She slid the card back into the wallet she was holding and pulled out a faded receipt. “And you have a liking for tacos?”
“You stole my wallet!” Sam strode forward, arm outstretched to snatch it back. The woman didn’t put up a fight and Sam flicked through the wallet suspiciously, checking that nothing was missing. It still held forty dollars, and Sam wasn’t sure if that was how much had been in there that morning or if this... person was clever enough to only take a small amount that wouldn’t be missed. He glared at her and she smirked back at him. “Just who are you?”
“I’m Bela Talbot,” she said, and when that evoked no reaction from him, she added, “the Second Pilot.”
“You?” he asked incredulously. She sniffed at him.
“I pilot Unit 02,” she said. “The first Eva purposely designed for use in combat, unlike the prototype Unit 00 and test type Unit 01.”
Sam, through great effort, restrained himself from rolling his eyes. “Units 01 and 00 handle just fine in combat,” he said.
“I’m sure you think so,” Bela replied. “So, is the First Pilot around here somewhere?”
Sam shrugged, but she wasn’t paying much attention anyway. She was looking around the cavernous room, and to Sam’s eyes she was judging NERV and finding it lacking. He was surprised to find himself feeling defensive on NERV’s behalf. He hadn’t realised that he cared that much. A distraction came in the form of the now familiar alarm.
“What’s that?” Bela asked.
The PA system crackled to life. “Angel detected. Pilots to report to the cage. Angel detected. All personnel on alert. Angel detected.”
“It’s an angel?” Bela exclaimed. “Already?”
Ellen marched up to them. “Sam, get ready to be deployed,” she ordered.
“Him?” Bela snapped. “Why not me? I’m far more qualified, he’s had barely any training.”
Sam bristled, but Ellen merely said “Alright. Suit up. It’s probably best that your first combat mission occurs while supported by another Eva.”
From the way Bela’s eyes narrowed, Sam guessed that she didn’t like the suggestion that she needed support.
The angel looked sort of like a big gorilla. Sam watched the way it moved and considered the best way to attack.
“Sam, take Unit 01 and try to get closer. Bela, stay back and cover him.”
“You want me to cover him?” Bela demanded. “I won’t! I’m the better pilot, I should take point!”
“Like hell!” Sam snapped, having had all he could take. “You’ve never even fought a battle before, you have no experience!”
Bela didn’t respond, instead moving her Eva forward towards the angel. It reacted when she got in range, swinging out one long arm. Bela dodged it and struck at the angel with one of Unit 02’s specialised weapons, a sort of spear.
“The round part in the middle is the S2 organ,” Ellen explained, apparently deciding it was better to take care of the angel before dealing with Bela’s complete disregard for seniority. “Try to target that, it’s the – the brain, for lack of a better word.”
Bela split the angel right down the middle and stood over it. Sam knew it was his imagination, but even the face of her Eva seemed to wear a smug expression.
“And that’s how it’s done,” said Bela. “Any questions, Third Pilot?”
Sam didn’t respond. He was busy watching the fallen angel. At first it was still, but after a few moments, it began to move. The two halves stood up and as Sam watched, the S2 organ which had been split in half regenerated creating two wholes.
“Look out!” he shouted, and Bela quickly turned back towards the angel. The one on her right struck out and knocked her off her feet, and Sam noticed that the one on the left mirrored its actions even though it was a dozen yards away. Bela cried out and tried to get back up. Sam moved in to help her.
The battle quickly became a mess after that. Sam attacked the left angel but it moved out of his range. Bela got back up and went after the right angel, and Sam followed her, calling suggestions to which she responded “Don’t tell me what to do, I can handle this myself!”
He rolled his eyes and kept on her tail. Bela took a swing at the angel and it grabbed Unit 02’s arm. Sam stabbed it with his progressive knife. It released Bela, but the other one appeared and grabbed Unit 01 around its throat. He could see that Bela was in the same predicament.
“I’m going to flip it, you move out of my way!” she choked out.
“You can’t, it’s too strong!” Sam stayed where he was and tried to push the angel off him.
“Move!”Bela yelled. She gripped the angel and lifted it up. Sam wasn’t expecting it to go far, so it took him by surprise when the angel landed on top of him.
“And that’s when Target B tossed Unit 02 halfway through the side of Mount Oakfall.” As Commander Singer summarised the battle, still photographs were projected onto a screen so that Sam and Bela could fully appreciate their failure. Sam watched the show with gritted teeth. It wasn’t his damn fault. She hadn’t listened to anyone’s advice about how to conduct the operation.
“We’ve observed that the two halves of the angel have reunified and it has retreated. But you can bet it’s gonna come back, and when it does, we need to defeat it. That’d be your job.” The commander glared at the two of them and Sam resisted the urge to shrink back. “That’s sort of the only point of NERV, so if you two idjits can’t handle it, we might as well pack it in and go home.” Singer stalked out of the room, and Sam felt a second of relief. It was short lived, because Ellen was still there.
“You two have made me look completely incompetent! I could have lost my job over that fiasco, do you realise that? What in the hell did you think you were doing?”
Neither of them spoke at first, and Ellen demanded, “Well?”
“It wasn’t my fault!” Bela said. She pointed at Sam. “He got in my way and prevented me from carrying out an effective offence!”
“What?” Sam cried. “That’s bull! It was your fault. You’d never piloted in a battle before, but you insisted on taking point, against orders! It was stupid!”
“If you’d backed me up properly instead of sulking over not being in the spotlight...”
“Stop it, both of you!” Ellen yelled. She sounded furious, and they both went quiet instantly. “Sam. Your past performance as a pilot led me to expect better from you. You should be guiding new pilots, not using your experience to push them around. Bela, I thought it was understood that your status as an Eva pilot places you under NERV’s authority. You’re supposed to take orders from me and other NERV commanders. We have no need of you if you can’t do that. You’d better learn to work together before you go out to face that angel again. Do you realise that until it’s gone, we need to maintain the city’s alert status and confine people to the shelters? They weren’t designed for long term occupation!”
“We’re sorry,” said Sam, feeling guilty. Next to him, Bela scowled and said nothing, apparently thinking better of whatever retort was on the tip of her tongue.
“Report tomorrow at 0600 hours for additional training,” Ellen ordered.
Sam went home with the intention of having an early night since he was going to be back in training at six am. He was halfway through heating up some dinner when he heard a knock at the door. Going to answer it, he found Ellen, and she’d brought someone with her.
“What areyou doing here?” demanded Bela, while Sam stared, refusing to believe that she was actually there.
“What am I doing here?” Sam demanded incredulously. “I live here. What are you doing here?”
Bela looked past him into the apartment, craning her neck to see all that she could. “It’s a bit small, isn’t it?”
Sam turned to Ellen, hoping to get a bit more sense out of her. “What is she doing here?”
“Bela is going to live here from now on,” said Ellen.
“It’s part of the training program I’ve put in place to get you two to work together.”
Sam groaned, and Bela smirked at him. “Come now, Third Pilot, it’s for the good of the helpless civilians we defend. You’re not going to put some petty grudge over that, are you?”
Sam merely rolled his eyes at Bela’s blatant ass-kissing, but Ellen said “Well, Sam?”
“Fine!” he snapped.
The rest of Ellen’s training program involved the two of them learning sequences of synchronised moves. It was as tedious as regular training, with the added frustration of having to work with Bela. She never listened to Ellen’s instructions and blamed Sam when they fell out of synch. Sam did his best to learn the sequences, but it was impossible when Bela seemed to be making no effort at all.
“Why are we doing this?” Bela snapped at one point. “It’s completely pointless. The two of us are not well matched. I should be working with a pilot whose calibre equals my own.”
A retort was on the tip of Sam’s tongue, but Ellen silenced him with a glare. “We don’t have so many Eva pilots that we can pick and choose who works with who,” she said. “You all need to learn how to work together, and the two of you need to improve. That is why this is necessary.”
Sam swallowed his angry words and even Bela looked a little sheepish. They continued for another fruitless hour and a half, until Bela once again ran out of patience and declared, “No one could possibly manage to co-ordinate with this clumsy oaf!”
“Hey!” Sam barked, at the end of his rope. “It’s not my fault!”
Ellen, for her part, looked thoughtfully at Bela and then said, “Dean, you try running the drill with Sam.”
Sam started, mainly because he hadn’t realised that Dean was even there. He’d been sitting by the wall, and he must have been there for a while, because he’d memorised an entire sequence and the two of them moved through it quite passably on their first try. Bela looked like she was eating a lemon sandwich.
Sam puffed his chest out. “I told you it wasn’t me!” he said smugly. “Maybe if you made a bit of an effort to cooperate with someone else, this would be easier.”
Ellen gave him a flinty look. “Now you try it with Bela, Dean,” she said, and to Sam’s annoyance the result was exactly the same. They went through the sequence near flawlessly.
“The problem isn’t that either of you are making a mistake,” said Ellen. “If that were the case, we’d just switch Dean with one of you. The problem is that you’re not working together. And that can’t continue if you’re going to defeat the angels. We can’t depend on you if you don’t work this out.”
That effectively silenced any further arguments that Sam and Bela might have made. Sam devoted twice as much effort to the training, and he could admit to himself that Bela did the same. He suppressed his irritation every time Bela made a tactless or disparaging comment and did what he could to avoid arguing with her. He would have avoided her entirely, but Ellen’s training regime precluded that.
Four days later, after training every spare second they had and after analysing the recording of the original battle again and again to learn the angel’s attack patterns, they prepared to face it one more time.
Bela was supposed to move in first, and draw it out. She struck rapidly with her knife, splitting the angel in half just like last time. They moved easily into the sequence they’d practiced, anticipating the angel’s movements based on the footage they’d watched and rewatched. The plan worked out until the angel did something unexpected.
They’d determined early on that the two halves of the angel weren’t really independent. Whatever one half did, so did the other, which had led them to create the synchronised attack sequences. It had worked well, allowing them to anticipate the angel’s movements, but it suddenly moved sideways contrary to what they’d expected based on the footage. It knocked Bela flying, and Sam only dodged it by an inch or two.
“Get up, Bela!” he could hear Ellen shouting. The two halves of the angel turned towards Sam, and he swallowed nervously. They moved on him, striking with their arms, and Sam ducked and struck back wildly, without connecting. He came back up and tried to get his balance back and make a more effective attack, but the nearest angel blocked his strikes effortlessly. From the corner of his eye, Sam could see Unit 02 getting up. He took a step backward, away from Bela, drawing the angel towards himself and away from her. The angel’s two halves slashed at him again with their long arms, and Sam struggled to parry the blows without being knocked over. He could see that Bela was finally back on her feet, and taking advantage of the angel’s focus on Sam, she went to the one on his left and drove her knife into the base of its neck.
The angel shrieked. Its uninjured counterpart turned towards Bela with jerky, uncoordinated movements and Sam wasted no time, adjusting his grip on his own knife and sinking it between the angel’s shoulders. He looked for a moment at the head of Unit 02, wondering if Bela was looking back at him with the same triumphant expression.
Ellen praised them, once they were both changed back into street clothes and the Evas were back in their bays. She was pleased that the training had produced such great results; that they had learned to work together well enough to anticipate one another’s movements as they had.
It seemed that Ellen’s superiors were pleased with the results too. After the successful operation she was promoted to Major. Bela insisted that they have a party in celebration, and Sam couldn’t see any reason to argue against the suggestion.
He was glad when Dean turned up, wearing jeans and a black t-shirt instead of his uniform for once, and helped himself to the ribs they’d barbecued. Sam had asked Jo along, and when she turned up Adam was with her.
Sam took half a step back, nonplussed. “Hey,” Adam said, nodding to Sam. Jo poked him hard in the side. “Ow! Fuck!” He stepped away from Jo. “So, um... I’m sorry,” he said, not quite looking at Sam. “I was out of line before. What happened wasn’t your fault, and... and you’re okay.”
“I’m so relieved to hear it,” Sam said dryly, but Jo glared at him and he gave in. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, moving to the side of the door and holding it open. “Come on in.”
The three of them sat together eating and chatting quietly. It was awkward and slightly subdued, because Bela sat off to one side interjecting her own frequently acerbic comments every so often, and Dean sat on the other side, silent. Sam tried to include him in the conversation, but Dean responded to his questions with monosyllabic answers and eventually Sam gave up.
Ellen didn’t seem to be having all that much fun, eating her meal with a serious expression on her face. Sam wondered if she was even pleased to be promoted.
A knock came at the door and when Ellen didn’t seem to hear it, and Bela refused to acknowledge it, Sam sighed and went to answer it once again. It was Doctor Walker, and he had someone with him that Sam didn’t recognise.
He led them back to the dining room, with Doctor Walker saying as they went, “Hi Sam, everyone, this is...”
“Gabriel!” Bela exclaimed, jumping up from her seat. “I didn’t know you were coming!”
“Neither did I,” said Ellen in icy tones. “What are you doing here?”
“Ellen! It’s been a long time. It’s so nice to see you again. And Jo! Haven’t you grown.” Gabriel returned Jo’s hug with a warmth he hadn’t extended to Bela, and Sam was sure he wasn’t the only one to notice the glare Bela directed at Jo. “How is life treating you these days?”
Ellen didn’t respond, simply fixing Gabriel with a cool glare. Gabriel smiled broadly at her, but Ellen’s expression didn’t soften one bit. Sam went back to his seat and leaned across to Dean, murmuring, “What’s the backstory there?”
Dean shrugged. “They must know one another.”
Sam had already figured that out. He hadn’t expected Dean to know anything, he’d just wanted to know what Dean thought of it. But he was so reserved that Sam still had no idea.
“Gabriel was stationed at the NERV headquarters in England while I was training there,” explained Bela, returning to the table. “He said I was the most gifted Eva pilot he’d ever trained.”
“Well, you are the only Eva pilot I’ve ever trained,” said Gabriel, taking a seat across from her and taking no notice of Ellen’s thunderous expression. “You never know, now that you’ve got some competition you might be knocked out of first place.”
“I doubt that very much!” Bela snapped, her eyes flashing while Sam inwardly groaned. “Come along to training sometime and we’ll see who’s the best!”
The conversation was stilted for the rest of the night. Ellen was plainly furious. Gabriel continually tried to draw her into conversation, and Ellen rebuffed his attempts while Bela was all too eager to reclaim Gabriel’s attention for herself. Walker was too reserved to be much help, seeming to find more amusement in the interactions of the other three. That left Sam, Jo, Adam and Dean to their own devices.
“Do you know what I heard about her?” Jo whispered to Sam at one point, with a nod towards Bela.
“What?” Sam asked quietly.
She looked from him to Bela and back again, as though to judge whether she might overhear. “We’ve drunk all the beer,” she said loudly. “I’m going to go get some more.” She got up, and when Sam only stared blankly at her, she kicked his ankle. “Come help me, Sam! Do I have to do everything?”
Sam followed her to the kitchen. Adam met them there, faster on the uptake than Sam. Jo put some dishes in the sink and ran the faucet, speaking softly over the running water. Sam rolled his eyes at her dramatics.
“She was in prison!” Jo whispered at last.
“Jo!” said Sam, “she was not. There’s no way that can be true.”
“Really?” Jo asked darkly. “Didn’t you say she stole your wallet on her first day here?”
“Yeah, but... she gave it back.”
Sam’s half-hearted defence didn’t make much of an impression. “We heard that her working for NERV is a condition of her parole,” Adam added. “That’s probably why she’s so keen to prove she’s the best pilot out of the three of you. They wouldn’t send the best Eva pilot back to prison.”
“Heard from who?” Sam asked sceptically. He turned back to Jo. “Did your mother tell you this?” he demanded.
“Of course not! Mom would never share classified information like that. But she’s being very close-mouthed about it, so there’s definitely something going on. Mom’s really bad at hiding stuff from me.”
“We heard it from Marcie in the cafeteria. She’s dating-“
“Who, Commander Singer?”
“No! Get real. Her boyfriend’s aunt does data entry for the technicians and she overheard them talking about it.”
“Well, that’s a nice credible source of information.” Sam tried to look disinterested but Jo stared him down. “Did she overhear what she was in prison for?”
“No, but she did hear she’s been there for a really long time. It must have been something awful.”
“Fantastic.” Sam grimaced. “Ellen’s still making me share the apartment with her.”
“Tread carefully, then,” said Adam.
“Yeah,” Jo added. “For all we know, she could have killed someone.”
Sam rolled his eyes. “I’m sure NERV isn’t giving an Eva to someone who committed murder.”
Jo rolled her eyes right back at him. “Well then, as long as you’re sure.”
The next morning, Sam overslept. He woke with the sun bright on his face and leaped out of bed, wondering why his alarm hadn’t gone off. His clock radio sat on the bedside table, the display dark.
His phone buzzed and Sam checked it, finding an order to report to Central Dogma. He dressed quickly and went to see if Bela had got the same message.
She ran from the bathroom, wrapped in a towel and looking furious. “Did you realise that the hot water service here runs on electricity?” she snapped.
“It’s like bathing in snow! This is completely primitive. How am I supposed to wash?”
“I don’t think we’ve really got time, anyway. We’re supposed to report to Central Dogma. I think it’s something to do with the power failure. Maybe an angel caused it.”
“Ugh.” Bela made a face, but to Sam’s relief she turned and went into her bedroom, presumably to dress. They walked to NERV headquarters because it was only a few streets away, and meet Dean in the foyer.
“The security gates won’t open,” he said, scowling. “They’re down because of the blackout. We can’t get in.”
“There must be another way in,” Bela insisted. Dean shrugged, and she huffed. “Well, it’s no good just standing there. We need to get through, they might need us.”
“I can call Ellen,” Sam said, pulling his phone from his pocket. “She might be able to tell us another way.” He dialled her cell phone, which went straight to voicemail, and then he tried the main NERV line, which gave him a busy signal. “It’s no good,” he said, disappointed.
They looked around the foyer uncertainly until Bela tossed her hair. “Well, I don’t know about you two, but I don’t plan to stand around here all day.” She marched off and opened a side door, seemingly at random. Sam exchanged a glance with Dean and they followed after her.
They wound up, after several more rooms and doors, in the back of the building where the cleaners came through, where deliveries were made and things were stored. It was like a maze; only half the rooms had windows and all the corridors opened up into one another so that they went around in circles. Bela didn’t let this deter her, opening door after door with a determined air that suggested if the next room wasn’t Central Dogma she was going to make it very sorry.
“Ellen said you’ve been training as a pilot since you were a child?” Sam asked, hoping to distract Bela from how lost they were and wanting to satisfy his curiosity. He was reluctant to bring up the rumours Jo had mentioned, but maybe he could get Bela to say something.
“That’s right,” said Bela. “Since I was seven years old. Why? Afraid of the competition?”
“It’s not a competition,” Sam insisted, although it was starting to feel like one. Bela was turning it into one. “So, you’ve just... been training since then, for fifteen years? You didn’t want to go away to college or something after school?”
Bela looked annoyed. “In England, we don’t... wait.” She turned a steely glare on Sam, and he gulped. “Why are you asking? Oh, Sam. You haven’t been listening to gossip, have you?”
“I’m just making conversation?”
“Surprised, are you? The two of you were the only pilots here for so long, the Commander’s pet and the Commander’s son, but if you have to share your status with a released felon, that makes it all a bit less special, doesn’t it?”
“Felon?” said Dean, sounding surprised. Sam figured he wouldn’t have heard the rumours; he wasn’t close enough to anyone in NERV to gossip with them.
“It’s just a rumour, Dean,” said Sam. “I bet it’s not even true.”
“Better watch yourself, Dean,” Bela added. “There’s no way of knowing what someone like me might do.”
“What did you do?” Dean asked. Sam couldn’t believe him. He was more than ready to pretend the conversation had never happened.
“None of your business,” Bela snapped. Sam’s breath rushed out of his lungs. “Just hope you don’t ever find out.”
Sam tried to think of a way to salvage the conversation and mollify Bela, but he was saved when his cell phone buzzed, Ellen returning his call.
She was able to direct them to the best way to reach Central Dogma, and when they finally arrived it was in an uproar. Teams of NERV personnel were racing about, doing something in the Eva cages.
“Finally,” said Doctor Walker. “We started to think you weren’t coming.”
“Go get dressed,” said Ellen. “We’ve got an angel to take down.”
The Evas were launched manually. Sam hadn’t known that such a thing was possible. They ran the Evas off battery power and each unit carried four batteries for when the first ones ran out. They had to crawl up the launch chute and peer out to get a glimpse of the angel. It was somewhat underwhelming.
They didn’t have to look far to find the angel, though. It sat just near the opening of the launch chute, crouching by it like a giant spider. It had eight long, thin legs just like one, and it seemed to have eyes on every side. It certainly didn’t take long to notice the Evas, and scuttled over, attacking with its legs. The three of them dropped back down the launch chute, having to go down quite a way to avoid the angel’s reach.
In the rush to evade the angel, Bela’s Eva slipped and fell onto Unit 01. Sam gasped as his grip on the wall was knocked loose, and the two of them crashed into Unit 00. Needing to make sure they didn’t all fall right down to the bottom of the chute, Sam let go of his rifle to free up his other hand to grip the wall. He saw the rifle disappear down into the darkness, as Dean’s and Bela’s did the same.
“Well, shit,” said Sam. “Now what?”
They crouched in the chute, waiting for someone to have an idea. Because the power was out, their communications link with NERV command was down too. Only the link between the three Evas was operating, because it was powered by the Evas’ batteries.
The angel, seeming to realise that it couldn’t reach them with its legs, crouched over the opening, and something began to drip down the chute.
“What is that?” Sam wondered. Bela stuck out a hand and hissed as drops of the viscous liquid landed on the armour.
“It’s some kind of acid.”
They all looked up again, to where the angel was blocking the patch of light. The outer metal armour of Unit 02 dissolved where the acid had landed. It had to be strong if it could corrode an Eva’s armour.
“Well, someone needs to go down and get the rifles,” Bela said. Sam gave a huff of annoyance. It was obvious she wasn’t offering to go herself.
“While that thing keeps dripping its acid on us?” Sam challenged. He couldn’t see Bela’s expression, but he imagined that she looked peeved.
“Of course not,” she snapped. She was silent for a brief moment before continuing, “I’ll block the tunnel, keep the acid from dripping on you nancies. Dean should go down, get the rifle, toss it up to you and you can take out the angel.”
“That’s far too dangerous,” said Sam, shocked.
“I’ll do it,” Dean offered. “I’ll block the tunnel.”
“Why, you don’t trust the jailbird to watch your back?” Bela asked, and before they could argue any more, she had moved away from the wall and braced her hands against the opposite side of the chute. Most of the acid dripping down landed on Unit 02’s back, and Bela hissed. “Hurry up!”
Dean dropped away down the tunnel, and Sam watched after him, looking for the rifle to appear. It seemed to take an age and the whole time, he was conscious of Bela above him, struggling to stand up against the acid wearing away the armour.
“Rifle’s coming up!” Dean announced, and a second later Sam held it in his hands.
“Move!” he cried, and Bela leaped away from the wall. Sam fired a torrent of ammunition up the chute, aiming for the tiny glimpse he could see of the angel surrounded by the light of the chute opening. He wasn’t sure if he’d hit or damaged the angel at all until the acid rain finally stopped.
After that, things settled down for a while. Training went on normally, and Sam found that having other people participating made things more interesting. He started to become competitive, and was gratified when his synch ratio outperformed both Bela’s and Dean’s.
Of course, that put Bela into a foul mood. Rather than returning to the apartment with her, Sam stayed back and watched Ellen finish up her day’s work.
“Why do the angels attack us?” he asked at one point, because it was something he’d been wondering for some time and hadn’t come to any satisfactory conclusion.
“Hmm?” Ellen said, absorbed with entering a long string of digits into the computer.
“Angels are supposed to be good, right? Servants of God, and all that. Why are we fighting them?”
“We’re defending ourselves,” Ellen murmured. “They attacked us first.”
“But it doesn’t seem...” Sam paused, working out the right words. “Has anyone ever tried to communicate with them, or figure out what they want?”
“It doesn’t matter what they want,” Ellen snapped, pushing the keyboard tray back under the desk. “They’re the aggressors here, Sam. Twenty-two years ago, they tried to wipe out the human race and nearly succeeded, and given half a chance, they’ll do it again.”
“You mean... the Second Impact?” Sam wondered, confused. “I thought a meteor strike...”
“That was just a cover story made up to keep people from panicking,” Ellen explained, returning to typing, but more slowly. “As NERV personnel, you should probably know that the Second Impact was really the attack of the first angel, Adam. That’s why NERV was founded and why the Evas were created.”
“To prevent a Third Impact?”
“Yes. The last one annihilated half of the Earth’s population. We might not survive another.”
Ellen returned all her focus to her work, clearly finished with the conversation, and Sam left quietly.
A few days later, he was eating lunch with Jo and a memory of his conversation with Ellen returned.
“Your mom really hates the angels, huh?” he said.
Jo shrugged. “Everyone hates the angels.” The words were flippant, but there was an expression of discomfort on her face.
“I don’t know,” Sam said, watching her carefully. “When she talked about it, it almost seemed like a personal grudge.”
Jo wouldn’t meet his gaze, looking out the window instead. “It’s not something I talk about much,” she said, “but my father was killed during the Second Impact. Mom’s never really gotten over it.”
“Oh,” Sam said, feeling guilty for prying. “I’m sorry...”
“It’s okay,” said Jo. “I never knew him. My mom was a few months pregnant with me when it happened. They were doing research in Antarctica. Mom was the only one who survived.”
“I didn’t know.”
“Dad got her to an escape pod, but there wasn’t time for him to reach one too.”
“I really am sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Jo gave him a thin smile. “Mom would probably be pissed if she knew I was telling you all about this, so, you know, don’t go blabbing about it. It’s the whole reason why she joined NERV – when they realised the angels were going to come back, or whatever, she wanted to fight them. It is personal for her.”
The conversation left Sam thoughtful.
The next angel sighting didn’t happen suddenly. There was no abrupt call to battle. NERV’s equipment detected the angel while it was still hovering far out of reach of their weapons.
That didn’t mean that they could sit back and wait for it to make its move, though. “It’s been firing some kind of energy beam,” Ellen said, analysing the data with a scowl. “The first one landed in the middle of the Atlantic, but the next one wasn’t too far from the coast. It’s getting closer.”
“Closer to us, you mean?” Doctor Walker asked her. “It’s targeting NERV.”
Ellen didn’t reply, but she was grinding her teeth and Sam nervously wondered what they were going to do.
It turned out that she did have a plan. It just wasn’t a plan that Sam liked.
“You want us to what?” he asked, his voice quaking.
“The angel is moving closer to us. I’ve narrowed down its path to a specific area. You three will be deployed at strategic points, and when the angel arrives you’ll need to converge, and then...”
“And then catch it,” said Bela. “With our hands.”
Ellen gazed at them, no reluctance or guilt on her face. “This is our best chance,” she said. “You don’t have to agree to do it. It is risky. But there’s no other way.”
Sam considered her words and accepted that they were true. “I’m in,” he said, trying to sound braver than he felt. “We can handle it, right?”
Dean remained silent, while Bela just glowered and huffed, “Fine.”
“Now... when you joined NERV, you were each instructed to complete a will, have you all...?”
“I don’t need a will,” Bela snapped. “I have no intention of dying.”
“Me either,” added Dean. “Not much point.”
Sam shrugged and flushed a little. He’d written his will, as soon as he got out of the hospital after his first battle. He didn’t have many possessions, but it was what he’d been told to do.
“If you’re sure that’s what you want, then,” said Ellen. “We have about six hours. Get some rest. Meet back here at 7pm. I’ll take you all for a steak dinner afterwards.”
“Steak?” asked Dean. “Cool.” The promise evoked more of a response from him than Sam had seen since he’d pissed Dean off by complaining about John.
“A steak dinner?” Bela asked incredulously.
“As long as you don’t forget,” Sam added quickly, before Bela could say anything else.
“I won’t,” Ellen said, leaving the room. The three of them watched her go.
“That’s supposed to impress us? A steak dinner?”Bela asked.
“I guess... her generation sees things a bit differently,” Sam said, trying to be diplomatic.
“We’re risking our lives! We should get steak every day!” Bela snapped. “Although Dean seemed pretty enthusiastic.”
Dean shrugged. “I like steak.”
When they were finally deployed in preparation for the angel’s arrival, the sun was just setting. Sam’s position was the southernmost; he looked north and waited. Far overhead, he imagined he could make out the shape of the angel. It was massive, if that was really what he was looking at and not just the formation of the clouds. He started to have doubts about the wisdom of Ellen’s plan.
The clouds started to drift and fade. Not in a way that matched the direction of the wind. Something was descending from above. Sam watched, becoming tense, and the angel finally came into view.
It really was massive. Far, far bigger than the three Evas put together, and Sam wondered how Ellen’s plan could possibly work. They were all going to be crushed.
It was round, and on its underside it had what appeared to be a giant eye. Sam wasn’t sure if it was actually a functioning eye or if it just looked like one. From either side of the angel’s body a limb protruded, both of them ending in another eye.
“Time to move,” Sam said into the communicator, and disengaged Unit 01 from its power cable. They were going to have to move too far, too fast, to keep using it. He began to run.
It was hard to judge exactly where the angel was going to come down and be there at the right moment. He leaped over buildings and skidded along the ground, afraid the whole time that he would misjudge the right spot or be too slow. He ran up a hill to find the angel directly above him. Lifting his hands, he kept it off the ground for a few seconds, but it was a struggle to do even that much.
“Extend your AT field!” Ellen snapped.
“Right,” Sam gasped, following the order right away. The pressure eased, but only barely. He needed Dean and Bela’s help.
They arrived seconds later, only just in time, Bela ripping through the angel’s AT field and Dean stabbing with his progressive knife. The angel died without much resistance, an explosion obliterating its remains.
An hour later, in the debriefing, Sam was barely listening, just counting the minutes until he could leave. Once everything was over and the angel defeated, Sam figured his job was done and he wanted to be gone. They always insisted that the pilots hang around, though, while they dissected everything that had happened. Sam didn’t understand why he needed to be there; they’d been watching the battle. They didn’t need him to tell them what had happened. He sighed.
“Are we keeping you, Pilot Winchester?” demanded a gruff voice.
“Uh... no, sir,” Sam answered rapidly, because no matter what he thought of John Winchester, there was no denying that he was a very intimidating man.
“Good. Because I wanted to ask about the decision to have the Evas use battery power throughout the mission. Who made that call?”
“I did, sir,” said Ellen. “If the Evas had had to disconnect and reconnect their power supply as they converged on the angel, they wouldn’t have made it in time.”
“Hmmm.” The commander wasn’t present, but on speaker phone. Sam could hear him ruffle through some papers. “Yes, I see. It’s too bad the biggest batteries we can manufacture of a practical size can be drained so quickly. I think that’s all we need. You’re dismissed.”
“Will that be all, sir?” Ellen asked, taking Sam by surprise. John had dismissed them, so it was pretty clear he was done with them. But Ellen sounded tentative, like she expected, or wanted, him to say something else.
“Yes Major, that will be all.”
At the promised dinner, the three pilots seemed subdued. Ellen figured they were tired from the battle. She watched them, sitting over plates of steak and salad, chewing silently.
“Like the food?” she asked. Dean nodded briskly. Sam nodded more slowly.
“It’s quite good,” Bela said.
Well, then. “You all did well today,” Ellen said. “I think so, and I know the Commander does as well.” Even if he couldn’t bring himself to say it. The success should keep SEELE from trying to reduce their funding for the time being, and that alone should have warranted some kind of praise, but Ellen supposed it wasn’t the Commander’s job, even if one of the pilots was his son. The three of them all hummed and nodded over their food, and Ellen gave up. Making small talk was hardly her area of expertise. They could sit and eat in silence if that was what they wanted.
After a few minutes, Bela said, “You seem down, Sam. Are you sad because Daddy didn’t tell you you were a good boy today?”
“What?” Sam asked, his head snapping upwards.
“Today, after the battle. It was obvious you couldn’t wait to get out of there. If I was the commander, I wouldn’t bother talking to you either. Does it make you sad that the only time he notices you is to tell you off?”
“Bela, that’s enough,” Ellen said, tired of her sniping.
Sam shrugged, hunching over his food. “I don’t know,” he said, sullen.
“Well, isn’t it why you pilot Eva in the first place? To get him to notice you?”
“No. I don’t know.” Sam shook his head, looking confused. “I just think it’s the right thing to do. And if I were you, I wouldn’t criticise someone else’s motivations for piloting.”
Oh, Jesus. This was getting out of hand. “That’s enough-” Ellen tried, but Bela wasn’t listening.
“Offended by the idea that I’m doing this out of self-interest?” Bela asked sweetly. “Or is it just that you think I should still be locked up?”
“You’ll be disappointed then, because NERV isn’t going to send their best pilot back to prison. And I am their best pilot. I’m going to make sure they realise it.”
Silence fell after that, everyone at the table looking around but trying to avoid one another’s gazes at the same time. Finally, and not too surprisingly, it was Bela who broke the silence.
“What about you, Dean?” Bela asked. “Why did you become a pilot?”
Dean didn’t react to the question at first, and it started to seem like he hadn’t heard. “To have a purpose,” he answered finally.
“To have a purpose?”Bela repeated, disbelief in her tone.
Sam leaned towards him. “So being an Eva pilot gives your life meaning?”
“Sure,” Dean said, loading his fork with a huge bite of steak.
The conversation was making Ellen distinctly uneasy, so she was relieved when it died down once more.
Dean didn’t stay around for too long after the meal was finished. Sam knew he wasn’t the type to socialise, even with a small group of people, but he jumped up when Dean moved to leave and announced that he was heading home as well. He could see that Dean was surprised, but Sam just wanted to learn more about him. That was all.
Dean seemed content to walk the whole way in silence, and although it wasn’t far, Sam had invited himself along because he wanted to talk.
“What you said in there...” he began awkwardly. “About the Eva giving you a purpose... what did you mean? Did you mean you like to help people?”
“I guess,” Dean answered.
Sam watched him, but Dean seemed to consider the question answered. “Have you ever thought about helping people some other way?”
Sam blinked at him. “I mean... you could do something safer. Safer than this. Don’t you think about it?” He sure did.
Dean shrugged. “Nah. This is what I’m meant to do.”
“How do you know that?” Sam demanded, frustrated. Dean wouldn’t meet his gaze, and a guarded look crossed his face.
“I just do,” he insisted. “I know that I was made to do this. I just know, okay?” He seemed to be sharing Sam’s frustration, and Sam relented.
“Okay,” he said. “Sure.” They’d reached the front of their apartment complex, and Sam could see that Dean was about to head off to his own floor. “Do you want to come up to mine?” he asked impulsively. “We can watch some TV or something.”
Dean stared at him for a moment, and Sam started to think he was going to say no. “I suppose,” he said at last. It wasn’t the enthusiastic acceptance Sam had hoped for, but it was something.
Dean came inside and stood in the small area between the kitchen bench and the couch, looking around.
“Do you want a tour?” Sam offered. Dean shrugged.
“The layout is the same as my apartment.”
“Oh. Okay then. Drink?” Dean looked at him blankly, and Sam went to the fridge. “I’ve got soda or apple juice. No beer, I don’t usually drink it...” Sam looked at Dean again, to find him watching with a mildly puzzled expression. “Are you thirsty?”
“Oh! Oh, no. No thanks.”
“Okay.” Sam poured himself a soda and rather than the TV, put the radio on. Music started to play and Dean listened without showing any sign of either enjoyment or disinterest.
“Do you like Metallica?” Sam asked, mostly just searching for a safe topic of conversation.
“What’s that?” Dean asked.
“They’re a band – this is one of their songs. Do you like it?”
“I don’t know.” Dean listened with his head cocked to one side for a little longer. “Maybe.”
Having Gabriel around was pissing Ellen off, putting her on edge. He strutted about and pretended to have changed, grown up, but it was a deception. He was no different from the childish jackass she’d thought she was in love with. Jo was delighted to see him again, which didn’t help. He’d been like a father to her when she was little, or at least, like a favourite uncle, there to take part in the fun bits and ready to hand the kid back to her mother when things got messy.
She would have liked to ignore Gabriel’s presence entirely, but it was difficult. She felt almost hyper-aware of his presence, of his every move, so it was unsurprising that she noticed when he turned up in places he wasn’t supposed to be, that he sometimes seemed to know things he shouldn’t know.
She didn’t let herself think about it. She started staying later at work, dropping in to NERV at odd hours to do things that could really wait until later, keeping the lights off and sticking to the shadows even when it wasn’t necessary.
She was heading home one night when she spotted Gabriel skulking in one of the corridors where he definitely didn’t have clearance to be. She kept out of his sight and watched for a few minutes. He walked down the corridor and she followed him. He paused at a doorway and Ellen decided to make her move.
“What are you doing?” she asked, stepping up behind Gabriel and drawing her handgun.
“Ellen,” he said, not sounding alarmed at all, which just made her angrier. “I thought you’d be here sooner.”
“Here for what?” Ellen snapped. “You’ve been snooping around for days, are you telling me it was just some ploy to lure me here? You couldn’t just call me? What’s going on?”
“Are you here on Commander Winchester’s orders?”
“No. Answer my questions and maybe I’ll keep this conversation to myself.”
Gabriel smirked at her, completely ignoring the gun like it wasn’t there. It was infuriating. “Keeping secrets from the commander?” he said. “I never thought I’d see the day.”
“I wouldn’t want to see you get into trouble over this.”
“Do you realise that what you’re doing could get you killed?” Ellen snapped. Gabriel’s smile widened, like he didn’t believe in the possibility at all.
“I understand exactly what I’m doing,” he said, and he sounded like he meant it, although Ellen had her doubts. He turned back to the door and swiped a passkey through the slot; Ellen watched in disbelief. The passkey had to be stolen, there was no way it could belong to Gabriel. Even Ellen didn’t have authorisation to open that door. It opened with a beep and Gabriel stepped through it.
“Where are you going?” she asked. “Stop!”
“Come with me,” Gabriel countered, and against her better judgement, Ellen followed.
“You’re going to get the both of us killed,” she muttered angrily.
“So take me back and report me,” said Gabriel. “I know you won’t, though. You want to know NERV’s secrets as badly as I do.”
They went through a second set of doors, and wound up in a huge, dark room. Gabriel flicked on a light switch, and Ellen gasped as the room was illuminated.
“What on earth...” she murmured, trying to understand what she was seeing. “Is that an Eva?” It sort of looked like one. It was the right size, and vaguely humanoid, although the bottom half of it, below the waist, was missing. “No,” she reconsidered, as she took in more detail. There was nothing mechanical about it. It was entirely organic, not a combination of machine and flesh like the Evas, and it was pinned to the wall with what looked like an enormous spear. “It can’t be...”
“It’s an angel,” Gabriel said, confirming her suspicions. “The first angel?”
“Adam,” Ellen agreed. “Why is it here?” NERV wasn’t supposed to have it. As far as Ellen had known, Adam’s body had been destroyed in the Second Impact.
“I don’t know,” Gabriel said, finally looking uneasy. “I was hoping you might have some idea.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Ellen said. “Why would you bring me here? What are you up to?”
“I know that NERV is getting mixed up in things that it shouldn’t be,” Gabriel said, “and I wanted to make sure that you knew too.”
“So that you’ll help me.”
“Making sure that NERV doesn’t go too far.”
As they walked away, Ellen holstered her handgun. She wasn’t going to turn Gabriel in now; she’d known all along that she wouldn’t. “Damn you,” she said fiercely. “What have you got me mixed up in?”
Next time they had to deploy all three Evas, the battle didn’t progress smoothly.
The angel was a huge striped ball which hung in the sky like a really low moon. Rifle shots went straight through it. To make matters worse, Sam and Bela had been constantly sniping at one another since they suited up. Their bickering was interfering with Ellen’s instructions and distracting them from what they were meant to do.
At one more insult from Bela about his piloting ability, Sam seemed to snap. “I’m going in!” he snapped. “You and Dean back me up!”
“Sam, that’s not the mission plan,” Ellen repeated wearily.
“But, Major Harvelle, wasn’t my synch ratio the highest in testing this morning?”
“You arrogant prick!” Bela snapped.
“And I’m still the most experienced pilot,” Sam added, as though that clinched it. “Don’t worry. The angel doesn’t stand a chance.”
He stepped out into range of the angel, and fired a volley from his rifle. The shots passed directly through the angel, and it suddenly vanished.
“What...” Sam wondered, as Ellen and the others in Central Dogma tensed.
“Pull back, Sam,” Ellen ordered. But a shadow passed over Sam, and he seemed to panic.
“What’s going on?” he yelled.
“Get out of there!” Ellen shouted. But Sam couldn’t seem to move.
“I’m sinking!” Ellen watched as he tried to lift his feet. The ground seemed to cling to him, the shadow of the angel becoming an inky black pool, and he was sinking, Ellen could see it now, up to Unit 01’s knees in the shadow.
“Dean, Bela, can you help him?”
They tried, but they couldn’t get close enough without falling into the shadow. Eventually, Ellen had to order them to back off so that they didn’t get stuck as well. Unit 01 was barely visible by that point, its head and one hand sticking up out of the dark pool. The communication link with Sam was breaking up, and vanished completely once he disappeared below the shadow’s surface.
Ellen watched the Eva go helplessly, paralysed in front of the video display of the battle. She hoped that she would never experience that again, the feeling that there was absolutely nothing she could do.
When they reeled in Unit 01’s power cable, the other end was gone. Sam was lost, and in addition he had no power supply. If Sam kept Unit 01 on the lowest possible power settings, the battery power would last him for around sixteen hours. Ellen hoped he would have the sense to do so.
After hours of studying the angel and trying to find a weakness without success, Ellen was exhausted, but she couldn’t leave NERV to rest while Sam was still gone. It would feel like she was betraying him, like she was giving up. She sat with her computer terminal running scenario after scenario, trying to come up with something that might work. Periodically, someone would leave a cup of coffee on the desk. Sometimes with food too. She ate and drank and never really noticed who was keeping her fed, mind too occupied with other things.
Some genius had set up a large clock, counting down to the latest possible moment when there was a chance of finding Sam alive. If the Eva ran out of power, its oxygen filtration system would stop working and he would drown. Ellen gritted her teeth and tried to ignore the clock. It had no effect on how hard she could work to save Sam.
It was dark. So dark, and silent and still. Sam wasn’t sure he could bear it much longer. Every so often he raised the Eva’s power setting so that he could see the interface, confirm that nothing had changed and see how much time had passed, but he tried not to do it much. He didn’t want to wear down the battery power. He’d tried talking to himself at first, singing, anything to make noise, but he’d stopped after a while. Not just because it used up more oxygen and made him thirsty, but because it made him more conscious of just how alone he was.
It was so dark, and silent, and still, that all he could see were the images inside his head. All he could hear was a voice in his mind, whispering to him. Insisting that they’d never find him, never save him, that he was doomed. That he was going to die alone.
Because he was alone.
Gordon was working alongside her, just as determined to get Sam back. When the time they had left could be measured in minutes rather than hours, Ellen looked over to him and said, “We could blow it up.”
“Blow what up?”
“The angel. We can detonate explosives around the surface of the sphere and also the shadow beneath it, since we can’t determine which is truly the angel. It’s a last resort, but we have to try.”
Gordon looked thoughtful but shook his head. “There’s too great a risk of Unit 01 being destroyed along with it.”
“It’s still better than doing nothing while Sam suffocates,” Ellen insisted. “We have to try something.”
“We just have to keep working.”
“We’re nearly out of time!” Ellen snapped, beyond frustrated. “There’s no point retrieving Unit 01 whole in an hour’s time, Sam will be dead by then.”
“The commander’s orders are to retrieve Unit 01 whole, regardless of how long it takes,” said Gordon.
“Even if that means Sam’s death?” Ellen wondered, disbelieving. Gordon looked away; she grabbed his arm. “Even if that means his son’s death?” she asked, shaking it. Gordon stared her down silently. “What in hell is so special about Unit 01 that he would make such a choice?” she demanded.
Gordon pulled his arm loose and shook his head at her. “Those are the commander’s orders,” he said. “That’s what we have to do.”
Another damn secret being kept. Ellen turned back to her work, rage making her hands shake. Once, she’d believed in NERV and the work it did, but it was becoming harder and harder. And she was losing hope that they would find a way to save Sam in time. The clock counted down to zero, but she kept working. How long could a man hold his breath for? A minute? Two? The people around her ceased their work, accepting that it was too late, but Ellen refused. She continued until she heard someone ask, “What is that?”
It had been so long, floating in the black that Sam thought he was starting to imagine things. Things that weren’t there, that couldn’t be there.
He was alone. He knew that he was alone. He’d gone out to battle in Unit 01, and no one else had been in the dummy plug with him. Then he’d been sucked down into the angel’s shadow, that pool of black ooze that he hadn’t been able to escape. So he knew no one else was there, and if he thought he could hear a voice, a quiet, female voice whispering softly to him, well, it wasn’t real.
‘I’m here,’ it said. ‘You’re not alone.’
Go away, Sam thought, trying to block the voice out.
When he’d last checked the time, he’d had just under two hours left. He wondered if that time was almost up. He thought it had to be. He wanted to check, but at the same time he thought it would be better not to know that he was about to die. Maybe it would be easier if he wasn’t forewarned. He couldn’t be sure, and he supposed that it wasn’t going to make much difference in the long run. His hand hovered over the controls, inching forwards and then back, as he tried to decide.
‘I’m watching over you. I’m always with you. Don’t be afraid.’
Sam clenched his jaw, and, with a decisive jab of his finger he raised the Eva’s power level. The dull light that illuminated the dummy plug was bright against his eyes. He blinked and squinted at the interface to see how much power remained. He blinked some more. He had no hours left, not even minutes. The rest of his life would be measured in seconds, and he watched them tick away with a sense of numbness, unable to even try to make himself care. It was probably better that he didn’t.
‘You won’t die. I won’t allow it.’
The angel was moving. Shuddering, bulging, a long split opening down the side of the sphere. Blood gushed from the wound – for that was what it was – and as Ellen watched a massive fist struck through.
“Is that Unit 01?” she wondered.
“The Eva’s power must be completely drained by now, that’s not possible,” Gordon argued, but it became clear that Ellen was right. The Eva was tearing the angel apart from within and crawling free like a horrific parody of childbirth.
“How can this happen?” Ellen demanded of Gordon, but he didn’t answer, looking so shocked and unsure that Ellen wondered if he really didn’t know. It wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened, though. They both knew that. The first day Sam had come to NERV, Unit 01 had activated and moved an arm to prevent him from being crushed by a falling pipe. The entry plug hadn’t even been inserted at the time. Ellen had taken it as a quirk of the Evas that she didn’t understand, but now she had to wonder if even Gordon and Commander Winchester understood their true nature. More and more, she understood Gabriel’s concern that NERV was playing with things it didn’t fully comprehend, not seeming to care about the consequences.
They kept Sam in the hospital long after he argued that he was fine and should be released. It was frustrating, but he figured it was just that they couldn’t accept he’d actually survived. He’d been asked a million questions about what had happened when Unit 01 was taken in by the angel. He’d answered as evasively as he could. It wasn’t really that he didn’t want to help; he just didn’t have the words to explain it. The parts that he had described, the hours floating in darkness and the stench of blood, the sudden shift when the Eva had reactivated itself, had been written off by NERV as impossible, childish fancy. And the other parts were too personal for him to want to share.
Dean had visited him every day. Sam would have figured that he was doing it out of social obligation, because Sam had visited him, but he wasn’t sure Dean knew what social obligation was or how it worked. And so, that first time Dean had visited him, Sam had turned his head Dean’s way and said, “Why are you here?”
“I wanted to know that you’re... okay,” Dean said, his eyes not leaving Sam’s. He didn’t seem to want to add anything else, but the long pause before ‘okay’ made Sam wonder if he’d substituted it for another word. “We were all really worried about you. Ellen was, she was real worried.”
“I’m okay,” Sam repeated, for what seemed like the thousandth time.
“I kn- she knows that,” Dean said, and Sam tried to hide his grin. He’d sort of given up his hope that he and Dean would become friends, but maybe he’d given up a bit too soon. “She never stopped trying to find a way to save you. She worked the whole time you were lost.”
Sam nodded, and wondered from Dean’s focus on Ellen if there had been others in NERV that hadn’t tried so hard to rescue him. He wouldn’t ask if Dean didn’t bring it up, though. He didn’t really want to know.
“It was scary,” Sam admitted, the frightening truth he hadn’t yet voiced to anyone else. “I didn’t really think you’d be able to help me. I thought I was going to die.”
“Death’s not so bad,” said Dean, and Sam cocked his head at him.
“How would you know?” he asked, and Dean looked away. He started to get up, and Sam said quickly, “Dean... do you think... I mean, something kind of strange happened while I was... there.”
“Strange like how?” Dean asked, sitting back down.
Sam considered what to say for a moment. “I was floating in the dark for hours,” he said. “Hours,” he repeated for emphasis, because surely that was the sort of thing that could make a person confused. It was to be expected that he was a little messed up after that.
“Sixteen hours,” said Dean helpfully.
“Yeah, thanks,” said Sam. “But at the end, I thought... it’s impossible, but when the Eva reactivated, I thought that... my mom was there.”
“Your mom? Isn’t she...”
“She’s dead,” Sam confirmed. “She died when I was little, I can barely remember her, but I could have sworn... but that’s impossible, isn’t it? I was probably just imagining it.”
“Maybe,” said Dean. He seemed a little uncomfortable with the topic of the conversation, like he didn’t know what to say.
“She used to work here, you know,” Sam added, not sure where the words were bubbling up from. “She and Dad – she was senior to him, even. She died in an experiment that went wrong. You’d think Dad would have stopped after that. Most people would have, wouldn’t they? You’d think he’d leave the place his wife died and those memories, but it’s like he’s buried himself in them. He sent me away so he could keep working here and not have to bother with me.” A bitter twist turned Sam’s stomach at the last words. Dean looked annoyed but restrained; Sam remembered that he didn’t like to hear John criticised. “It just makes me mad,” he added weakly. “Do you... do you get along with your parents?”
Dean shifted. He didn’t answer for a long time, but he looked as though he was thinking hard. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know them.”
“Oh,” said Sam, surprised. “I didn’t realise.” He paused over his next question, wanting to know but not sure how to ask.
Dean seemed to realise what he was thinking anyway. “I grew up here, at NERV,” he said.
“Oh, right. Like Bela... sort of. I know she started training when she was a kid. You know, before...”
“Yeah... not that much like Bela,” Dean said, not seeming fond of the comparison.
Sam chuckled. “You mean you weren’t recruited out of prison?” It wasn’t that funny a joke, and his smile faded after a moment. He looked over at Dean, but he wasn’t offering any more information.
“Are you bored, in here?” Dean asked instead, and Sam accepted the change of topic.
“Horribly,” he said.
“I brought you something,” Dean said, revealing a plastic shopping bag. He pulled out a radio – not as big as Sam’s, but the same brand. Dean plugged it in and began hunting for a station. “I’ve been listening to heaps of music.” A Jason Manns song began to play, and Dean made a face. “A lot of it sucks,” he added, changing the station. “But I like Metallica a lot. And AC/DC. And Led Zeppelin. And-”
He went on listing his favourite musical discoveries, and Sam listened. It was nice, seeing Dean figure out what he liked, but it was a little bit bittersweet too. The bands Dean was talking about were ones that John liked and Sam had never really cared for. He couldn’t help but think that Dean would have made John a much better son than he ever had.
Not long after that, Ellen was summoned to a meeting with Commander Winchester. She went with some trepidation. It was like being summoned to the principal’s office, if the principal had the authority (or at least, the connections) to have people killed. She worried that somehow he’d learned of her late night explorations with Gabriel. Gabriel, who was deep in SEELE’s pocket, keeping track for them of just what NERV was doing with SEELE’s funding. It was a dangerous game to play.
“Major Harvelle,” he said, only briefly glancing up from the desk stacked with paperwork. “Our debrief with the First Pilot didn’t gain much useful information.”
Ellen searched for something non-committal enough to say in response. “Sam hasn’t wanted to talk about it.”
“So he hasn’t discussed what happened with you?” Winchester asked, looking up again and holding Ellen’s gaze this time.
“No,” she said. “He’s made it clear that he doesn’t want to, and I decided not to push him.” She sensed that Winchester wasn’t quite satisfied with that explanation. “The important thing is that we got him back, isn’t it?”
“If there’s a chance that Sam had direct communication with an angel-”
“That, I think he would have mentioned.”
“But he might not realise. We don’t know enough about what the angels think, or how. Not to mention that the angel took Unit 01 wholly into itself. Why would it do that?”
“You think the angels aren’t just attacking us, they’re studying us?”
Winchester shuffled some of the paperwork on his desk, but Ellen recognised the gesture for what it was; a play for more time. “The attacks have changed. They’re becoming more formidable, but more than that, they’re becoming smarter. They’re learning.”
“Learning to what?”
Winchester shrugged. “It’s just idle speculation anyway. That’s not really the point of this meeting.”
“Oh,” said Ellen, the abrupt change of topic taking her aback. “What is it, then?”
“The Marduk Institute has identified the Fourth Pilot.”
“Ah,” Ellen sighed. They’d been waiting for this news for some time. “Who is it?”
She argued as long and as hard as she could, but as Commander Winchester pointed out, they didn’t need her to agree. They only needed the prospective pilot to agree, and she had. Ellen was going to murder her.
She sat through the preliminary tests simmering with resentment. The other pilots knew that the fourth had been identified, but no one had told them who it was. Ellen certainly hadn’t. She was still coming to terms with the knowledge herself, she didn’t want to have to comfort Jo’s friends, her peers, through the prospect of her becoming the Fourth Pilot. On the day when Unit 03 was ready to be launched for the first time, Ellen awoke with a twisting sensation in her stomach.
The other pilots weren’t there for the activation test, probably to make Jo feel more at ease. It went smoothly for the first few minutes, with Ellen passing along simple instructions which were executed passably well. The first they knew something was wrong was when their feed of information on the Eva started to show some unusual readings. Then it stopped responding to the pilot’s commands. And then the Eva started to do other things, of its own volition, which Jo certainly wasn’t telling it to do.
“It won’t stop!” Jo cried as Unit 03 levelled an office building and scuffed its feet through the remains like a child kicking sand. “It won’t stop, what do I do? Mom?”
Jo couldn’t do anything, but Ellen instructed the technicians to eject the Eva’s power cable.
“We already have,” she was told. “The Eva appears to be running on its backup power.”
“Then it should already have run out! What’s going on?” Ellen glared at the monitor, which showed the Eva growing steadily closer to NERV headquarters. The link from Jo had gone worryingly silent.
“Jo?” Ellen asked, trying to keep her voice level. “Jo, can you hear me? What’s going on?”
There was no answer, and Ellen gripped the back of her chair so hard it creaked. She glanced over at the technicians and snapped, “Pilot’s status?”
“Her heart rate is stable, but...” The technician trailed off, the rigid professionalism demanded by NERV forgotten.
“But we don’t know anything else,” Ellen finished for her. She glanced over at Gordon. “Because you think Eva Unit 03 is an angel, and we have no way of knowing what effect that will have on a human mind.”
Gordon didn’t answer, but his silence was answer enough. “How could this happen?” Ellen snapped. “How could something like this possibly happen without anyone being aware of it?” Gordon didn’t respond, and she slapped him. He showed no reaction, the only evidence that it had happened the stinging in her hand. “My daughter is out there,” she choked. “You owe me an explanation.”
“Calm down,” said Gordon, his voice cold. “Your hysterics aren’t going to do a thing to fix this, so stop it and do your job.”
Their video surveillance showed that the Eva (angel?) was breaking through the thick defensive walls of one of the emergency shelters. They were strong, but they hadn’t been built to stand up to a dedicated attack. Ellen watched helplessly, slowly becoming aware that Gordon and everyone else in the room was watching her expectantly.
Right. This was her part of the operation. She was supposed to be in control. “Eject the entry plug!” she ordered.
“We’ve tried that, the signal isn’t being received,” said a technician.
Fuck. What else could they do? Ellen thought as fast as she could, aware that every second let Unit 03 do more damage.
“Major Harvelle, you need to deploy the other Evas,” said Gordon. “It has to be stopped.”
Ellen’s breath rushed out of her lungs. He was right. She’d just been hoping there would be another way.
“Be careful,” she instructed as Sam, Bela and Dean were readied for combat. “Disable the other Eva, but do it without harming the pilot. The pilot...she...” Ellen trailed off.
“Major Harvelle,” Gordon said in a warning tone, which instead of dissuading her from speaking spurred her on.
“It’s Jo,” she said. “The pilot is Jo, please don’t...”
“As far as we know, it may already be too late to retrieve the Fourth Pilot!” interrupted Gordon. Ellen wanted to scream at him, the urge only passing when Commander Winchester spoke up instead.
“Your first priority is to prevent civilian casualties,” he said. “Disable Unit 03 without harming the pilot if you can, if not, do what you have to.”
Ellen’s breath caught in her throat, a painful, tight pressure that couldn’t be relieved. Sam, Dean and Bela were all silent for a few seconds before Dean said, “Understood,” and the other two followed his lead.
The three Evas were deployed as close to Unit 03’s location as possible. The deployment sites were some distance apart, and Bela was the closest. Ellen knew she should be giving the pilots directions; telling them how to approach the angel, but after giving a few short instructions her voice faltered and Gordon took over.
He had Bela travelling into a very built-up part of the city, and they lost sight of the angel in between the tall buildings. “It might be close,” Gordon said. “Watch out.” But Bela still wasn’t ready when she passed an alley and it leaped out at her.
She reacted quickly, pushing away from the angel’s grip and trying to get into position to strike, but the angel had come from behind and wouldn’t let go. It took hold of one arm and applied pressure to the elbow joint until it snapped. Bela screamed and flailed ineffectually with Unit 02’s other arm, but the angel pinned it as well and put one hand to the Eva’s face, squeezing until the metal plates cracked.
Dean was closer to Bela than Sam, and Gordon snapped out instructions rapidly, telling him how best to find her. Now that the angel had shown itself, Dean and Sam raced through the streets, trying to reach Bela before she was too badly hurt. Dean rounded a corner and bore down on the angel, but it had heard him coming and was ready. A shot from his rifle missed widely as the angel leaped in the air, landing precisely behind Unit 00 and pushing it forward, down onto the ground. Dean flung out one arm, trying to push the angel off, and their information feeds began to go wild.
“There’s some sort of bio-contamination affecting Unit 00’s arm.”
“Is the angel trying to duplicate itself?”
“You’ve got to pull free, Dean,” Gordon ordered.
“I... I can’t,” he said, sounding strained. “The arm isn’t responding. It hurts.”
“Sever the arm,” Commander Winchester ordered.
“But the pilot still has an active nerve connection!” a technician argued. Ellen shuddered. When the pilots were in the entry plug, they could sense the Eva as keenly as their own body. If they removed Unit 00’s arm now, to Dean it would feel like his own arm had been cut off. Jo, if she could still feel anything, would be able to feel everything the angel was doing as though it were her own hands doing it.
Acceptable losses. They could spare an Eva’s arm better than they could the entire Eva and maybe its pilot as well. The technician input the appropriate commands, and the room filled with Dean’s howl of pain as Unit 00’s left arm was disconnected.
Sam had finally reached the site of the battle, and Gordon said, “You need to end this before we lose three pilots instead of just one. Take the shot now, while it’s busy. Through the head armour.”
“But... if I do that, I’m sure to kill Jo, aren’t I?” Sam asked.
“It’s probably already too late, Sam,” said Gordon, and that spurred Ellen into action.
“You don’t know that!” she snapped.
“If there’s still a chance of saving her...” Sam objected hesitantly. The angel had abandoned Unit 00 and was making its way slowly towards Sam, like a cat stalking its prey.
“The angel has to be destroyed, Sam,” said Commander Winchester. “You’re our last chance of defeating it, and we can’t risk failure. We can’t afford to think about anything else.” Ellen would never forgive him for that; never forgive him for the moment when he declared Jo’s life not worth thinking about.
“But I can’t kill Jo! I can’t do it!” Sam hung back, maintaining a slight distance between Unit 01 and the angel. The angel appeared to coil itself up and then sprang forward. Sam tried to dodge out of the way and block the angel’s strike without taking the offensive.
“Please,” Ellen said, unable to keep quiet.
“Be silent, Major Harvelle! Sam, if you don’t eliminate the angel, it will kill you, and then all of us. You don’t have a choice.”
The angel had put its hands around Unit 01’s neck, squeezing tight. “I can’t do it,” Sam gasped. “I can’t hurt Jo. I won’t do it!”
Ellen knew she ought to talk to Sam, tell him that he should fight back and save himself. She formed the words in her mind, over and over, but they died on her lips without voice. It was her daughter.
“Shut down the synchronisation connections between Unit 01 and its pilot,” ordered Commander Winchester. Everyone in the room turned to stare at him. “Do it!”
The order was unprecedented. Shutting down Sam’s synchronisation with Unit 01 would remove his ability to pilot the Eva and render him completely defenceless. The technicians carried out the commander’s order, and he added, “Initialise the dummy plug program.”
“That hasn’t been tested yet...”
“It would still be an improvement. Hurry up!”
Sam didn’t seem to understand what was happening. He noticed when his synchronisation was cut, of course, because the attack from Unit 03 stopped affecting him. “What’s going on?” he asked. And then Unit 01 began to move.
It grabbed Unit 03 by the neck and crushed down on the Eva’s throat. A tense few minutes passed, with Ellen desperately wondering whether Jo or Sam would come through whole. Unit 01 seemed to get the upper hand and the other Eva went limp. But Unit 01 didn’t stop there; it shoved Unit 03 down onto the ground and began ripping apart its metal external armour.
From inside Unit 01’s entry plug, they could hear Sam shrieking, “Stop it! Stop it! Make it stop!” Unit 01 broke through the armouring to the flesh underneath, and a spray of blood covered both Evas. Sam’s screams intensified and Ellen felt sick.
“That’s enough!” she yelled, terror making her unsteady. “Shut it down, it’s over!”
“No it’s not,” said Commander Winchester. “Not yet.”
“Damn you...” Ellen lunged for him, but Gordon held her back. She shoved at him, but he didn’t budge. “Stop it, stop it now! My child is out there! And yours, are you such a monster that you’ll let them kill each other?”
Winchester didn’t even look at her, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on the display of the battle. He looked tense, but Ellen didn’t know anymore if he was worried about the pilots or just worried about the success of the mission. Unit 01 had removed the entry plug from the other Eva in one massive hand. It held it for a few seconds before tightening its grip.
Ellen thought Sam screamed; she wasn’t sure over the sound of her own cry. The slim white case cracked like a twig.
Ellen had stopped paying much attention to what was happening in the room. She was aware that people were nearby, security guards, she figured, there to make sure she didn’t get up and try to attack Winchester. Probably a wise precaution. She could overhear the commander arguing with someone – Sam? Yes, Sam. He was refusing to leave the Eva and overriding the technicians’ efforts to eject the entry plug.
A retrieval team had been sent to collect what was left of Unit 03, and so Ellen overheard the moment when one of its members reported, “We’ve retrieved the pilot – EMTs have detected a pulse!”
Ellen got to her feet. “Jo’s alive?” she asked, not quite believing. “She’s alive?”
No one in the room seemed to know what to say. Ellen watched the video feed avidly for confirmation. “Her injuries are extensive,” said the EMT. “We’re bringing her in.”
Ellen swayed on her feet and grabbed the edge of her desk to keep from falling. “She’s alive,” she whispered. She dared a glance over at Winchester, who looked just as unmoved now as he had when the battle was taking place, even though she could hear Sam over the communication link accusing him of not caring whether Sam was killed. Maybe it was true, Ellen thought, although until now she’d always believed that Winchester truly did care and just hid it well. But she had to question that now. Maybe he really wouldn’t care if Sam was killed.
The last straw was realising that everyone employed by NERV – all the people working in non-specialised roles, the cafeteria workers, the janitors, the reception staff – they were all potential Eva pilots, waiting on confirmation from the Marduk Institute. NERV sought them out and offered attractive jobs so that the pool of potential pilots could be kept close. They’d known all along that Jo could become a pilot, and chosen to keep that information from Ellen. That knowledge killed whatever remained of Ellen’s trust in NERV, its goals, its leader. She didn’t want to work there anymore.
It wasn’t that simple, of course. She knew too much for NERV to let her go easily. And besides, she wasn’t comfortable with the idea of walking away, leaving NERV to continue with whatever it was doing out of her sight.
“What do you think NERV will do after defeating the angels?” Gabriel asked her late one night. It was quiet in the apartment without Jo around, but coming home to Gabriel made it bearable. Sometimes.
“Do you think NERV will ever defeat all the angels?” Ellen asked. “We don’t know if they’ll ever stop.”
Gabriel had been playing with a strand of her hair, but he paused at that, and she looked at him. “SEELE does,” he said. “They’ve known from the beginning, but they’ve kept it very quiet. They uncovered secret documents, back in the early days, when SEELE was first founded.”
“Secret documents? How could they know... Have they had some kind of communication with the angels? Or is it supposed to be some kind of prophecy?”
“That I don’t know, but SEELE is convinced of their accuracy.”
“Then how many angels are there?”
“I’m not sure of that either... look, I’m not even supposed to know that these documents exist. But based on the climate at SEELE, I think it’s nearly over. If NERV can defeat the remaining angels, what will it do with the Evas? It won’t need them anymore.”
Ellen gazed at Gabriel, waiting for him to say what he was getting at. She’d already guessed, but she was growing weary of hints and suggestions. The doctors did the same thing, refusing to come out and say what they thought about Jo’s chances of recovery, couching it in the vaguest terms they could find. She wanted someone, somewhere, to put it to her straight.
“With an Eva, you could take over the country. With three, you could rule the world.”
“And SEELE is afraid that’s what NERV will try to do? Take the Evas and try to take over?”
“What’s to stop them?” Gabriel asked, raising an eyebrow at her. “So much power that we’ve simply handed to them.”
“And if NERV gives the Evas back, what will SEELE do?” Ellen challenged, and Gabriel looked away.
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “But...”
“Do you trust them more than you trust Winchester?” Ellen asked. She wasn’t sure what he’d say. She didn’t trust Winchester at all, but she did know him, which was more than she could say for anyone in SEELE. It was hard to choose between them.
“I don’t know,” Gabriel admitted after a long silence.
Tired of the serious discussion, Ellen took Gabriel’s hand from her hair and drew it lower.
“I don’t want to be a pilot anymore.”
He looked at Ellen like he expected her to shout at him. He still blamed himself for what had happened to Jo. Once she’d recovered from the pain of thinking Jo was dead and the relief of knowing that she wasn’t, Ellen had assured him that it wasn’t his fault. It hadn’t done much good. She understood that. She knew it wasn’t her fault, either, but it still felt like it was.
“I don’t want to be a pilot anymore.”
Ellen studied him. He looked resigned, his shoulders slumped and his eyes blank. “But you’re not going to leave, are you?” she asked.
He looked at her, a hint of fight returning to his face. “Are you?”
“While I continue to work for NERV, they provide Jo’s medical care.” That was the public reason, the one that she told people about. Winchester’s lackey Singer had made the offer, managing to make it sound like she was being offered a huge gift, while they both knew it was just the prod being used to keep her under NERV’s control.
Sam nodded. “I can’t leave,” he said. “There’s no one else to pilot Unit 01, is there?”
The next angel got far too close. It was early in the morning. The pilots had all arrived for training not too long before. With Unit 00 still being repaired, Bela was deployed in Unit 02, encountering the angel on the edge of the city.
The angel had capabilities they hadn’t encountered before. It was lightning-fast. Where a human torso would have arms, the angel had two long, razor sharp strips that it used to strike with deadly accuracy. Bela moved to attack, but in a fast series of moves the angel smashed her rifle and severed both of the Eva’s arms. Bela screamed and tried to retreat, but the angel followed her.
“You have to send me out,” Sam insisted, but the commander pretended not to hear him. He’d given orders that Unit 01 was not to be launched; some kind of punishment for the incident with Jo. Sam was sitting in Unit 01’s entry plug ready for battle, but the order wouldn’t be given.
“I can go,” Dean offered. He, too, was suited up and waiting, but not likely to be used.
“You only have one working arm, you wouldn’t stand a chance,” Ellen said.
“The angel’s going to kill Bela, you have to send someone. If the commander won’t send Sam out, let it be me.”
“You’ll be killed, Dean.”
“It’s okay, Ellen,” he said, and before Ellen could snap that he wasn’t invincible as he seemed to think, Dean added, “If I die, I can be replaced.”
It was Commander Winchester, in the end, who ordered that Unit 00 be launched. Ellen imagined that everyone in the room was looking at her and beginning to question her fitness for the job, her commitment, her ruthlessness. How could she send Dean out to sure death? It could have been Jo. It almost had been.
With only one arm, Dean couldn’t use a rifle. He awkwardly lifted an N2 mine and clasped it to his chest, charging at the angel and shoving the bomb through its AT field. It exploded in a brilliant flash of light which made it impossible to tell if it had hit its target or not. Ellen blinked her eyes clear and could see the angel still standing, Unit 00 lying in front of it and not moving. Dean had stopped responding over the communication link. Ellen spared a thought that they should send out a team to get him before it was pushed out of her mind by the more pressing issue of the angel.
It was standing directly above NERV headquarters, and two crushing blows hit the structure and shook the ground Ellen stood on. Data feeds showed that the above-ground NERV buildings had been completely demolished. A third still greater blow fell and the ceiling caved in.
NERV’s central command was laid open to the sky above, and Ellen saw the angel directly. It was bigger than it had looked in video. It stepped down and began to climb down the edges of the hole it had created. Without waiting for word from the commander, Ellen gave orders for Unit 01 to be activated, hoping that it wouldn’t be too late.
Unit 01 met the angel as it reached the floor, pushing it aside and dragging it to the launch cage. At a word from Sam, Ellen triggered the launch mechanism and both Eva and angel were ejected.
Sam fought furiously, with a rage that Ellen had never seen from him before. He seemed to be gaining the upper hand when an alarm on Ellen’s terminal began to flash.
“He didn’t install the power cable when he emerged from the shaft,” Ellen realised. “He’s going to run out of power. Sam!” she cried. “Sam, you need to insert the power cable. Sam!”
He didn’t respond, too busy fending off the angel’s attempts to overpower him. Sam kept going until Unit 01’s backup power was completely depleted, and then cried out in shock when it abruptly stopped functioning.
“Oh, no...” Ellen murmured. The angel tossed the now defenceless Eva aside like a doll and unfurled its arms, striking repeatedly at Unit 01’s chest. She could hear Sam screaming, a mixture of pain and fear. “We need the military team to move in, now!” she ordered, but it was a futile gesture. If the angel’s AT field was difficult for the Evas to penetrate, it would be impossible for conventional military weapons.
“Move!” Sam was yelling. “Oh God, move, move, please move...”
The armour plating on Unit 01’s chest cracked and tore away, exposing what lay underneath. The angel continued to attack while Sam’s cries became more frightened and desperate. Then he fell silent.
On the ground, Ellen and the rest of NERV’s team watched in horror. With Unit 01 still and silent, they had no way to know what was happening to Sam. The angel prepared to lash out again, and then Unit 01 began to move.
It struck through the strip that functioned as the angel’s arm, shattering it completely. It grabbed the second arm and used it to drag the angel in and then fling it away.
“But it has no power!” said Ellen. “How can it move?” She looked over to Gordon for an explanation. He was watching with an expression she couldn’t decipher.
“It’s aware,” he said.
“How can it be aware?” she demanded. “It’s a machine!”
“A bio-mechanical construct,” Gordon corrected her. “Not just a machine.”
Unit 01 got to its feet and crouched, like an animal preparing to leap. It threw its head back and roared. Ellen jerked backwards. The Evas weren’t supposed to be able to do that; they hadn’t been programmed to speak. It flexed its limbs, and the armour encasing it, already damaged and fragile from the battle, split further and began to fall away.
“It’s breaking free,” said Gordon.
“Free of what?” Ellen demanded, grabbing Gordon’s arm.
“The metal plates aren’t just armour, they’re restraints used to keep the Evas under our control,” he explained.
Ellen watched as the Eva began to run, that unearthly howl coming from its mouth once more. “So you’ve always know that something like this was possible,” she said. “And you chose not to inform me because...?”
Gordon didn’t answer, watching the Eva pounce on the angel and bear it down to the ground, snapping its neck with giant metal hands. His attention didn’t waver for a moment. It screamed once more, crouching over the body, and the hairs on Ellen’s neck stood on end. The mouth wide open, it leaned down and tore at the angel with its teeth.
“You’re saying the Eva has a mind of its own?” Ellen asked shakily. “What? What sort of mind would do that? What is it?”
That got a response from Gordon, if not an answer. He turned to look, not at Ellen but at the raised dais where Commander Winchester sat at his desk. The commander leaned forward to speak into the microphone that fed into the Eva’s interface, saying, “Can you understand me?”
“Dad? It’s Sam,” came the answer, but Winchester shook his head impatiently. Whatever he was thinking, it wasn’t Sam he’d been hoping would reply.
“There’s someone else here,” Sam added. Ellen gasped. Could he sense the mind that Gordon had been talking about? Could he talk to it?
Winchester froze, poised over his microphone. If he were a different man, Ellen would have said he seemed indecisive, but not John Winchester. The idea was unthinkable. At last, he wet his lips and spoke.
By that point there was nothing left of the angel but a slimy coating of blood over the ground. The Eva stepped back and stilled, shutting down like it should have when its battery power was depleted.
It took a monumental effort to get the Eva back down into Central Dogma. Once they’d overcome the difficulties created by the damage to the cage and got the rudimentary systems operational again, they had to reconfigure the programming before they could eject the entry plug and let Sam out. Ellen expected that he would be shocked, shaken, just like she was herself, but instead he just seemed – calm. Even serene. Winchester, on the other hand, seemed disappointed. Maybe, Ellen mused, the Eva hadn’t shut down because it had done what it needed to. Maybe it was fleeing something.
Bela was struggling in training. Ellen had tried to be supportive and not put pressure on her, but she couldn’t keep doing that forever.
“Your synch ratio keeps dropping, Bela,” she said. “You need to concentrate.”
“I’m doing my best,” Bela answered snappily. “Why don’t you go bother Sam, he’s the perfect one. I’m sure he’ll have no trouble doing anything you ask.”
Ellen exchanged a long glance with Gordon and left Bela to brood. She was still mulling over the worrying situation in her office later that day when she was approached by NERV security.
“Major Harvelle,” the senior agent said. “We’ve been sent to bring you to Containment.”
Ellen stared at him. “What?”
The two security agents looked at one another. “Are you aware that Commander Singer has been abducted?”
“He was last seen on the second level, two hours ago.”
“So he went missing here? Where were you guys?”
“Someone inside NERV had to be involved.”
Everything abruptly became clear. “You suspect Gabriel.”
“He is our main suspect. And as you have the most extensive history with him...”
“You think I might know something.”
“Your co-operation would be appreciated.”
Sharing an apartment with Bela was not proving to be an ideal living situation. She alternated between pretending Sam didn’t exist and flying into a rage at the mere sight of him.
If Ellen had been around to hear his complaints, Sam might have gone to her to see if she could arrange something else, but she’d been detained for questioning, or so Sam had been told. It didn’t sound pleasant. They were all unsettled by it, but Sam couldn’t think of anyone he could talk to about it.
The only thing that eased the tension was Gabriel dropping by, which he did, briefly, late at night a couple of times, always seeming to be in a hurry and looking over his shoulder.
“Can you make sure Ellen gets this?” he asked one night as he was heading to the door. He held out an envelope to Sam, sealed and with her name on it.
“Sure,” said Sam, taking it. “I can drop it in her mail slot.”
“I’d rather you handed it over personally, when you see her,” said Gabriel.
“Oh. Sure,” said Sam, wondering what was in the envelope.
“And not on NERV ground, okay? Somewhere private.”
Sam looked at Gabriel, who returned his gaze without expression. After a minute, Sam gave up on the staring contest and looked away. Gabriel gave him a smile which looked a little sad. “Thanks, Sam,” he said. “You’re a good kid.”
Sam shrugged. “It’s no big deal...”
“I didn’t mean the note,” Gabriel said. “I was talking about the other things you do. There aren’t many people who would give up so much to help others.”
The words made Sam feel ashamed instead of proud. He looked away. “I don’t want to,” he admitted. “I don’t like it.”
“Not many would,” Gabriel agreed. “But you do it anyway. The world relies on people who do the unpleasant, dangerous work so that others can live.” His expression went distant and Sam guessed Gabriel wasn’t talking about him anymore, but before he could ask, Gabriel was gone.
That afternoon they got notice of another angel approaching. Ellen was still being held for questioning about... Sam didn’t know exactly what. Commander Winchester was going to oversee the operation in her absence. The idea made Sam nervous. He hadn’t forgotten what had happened with Unit 03, would never forget.
He, Bela and Dean had been deployed and since then had been waiting for the angel to come within range. Bela in particular wasn’t handling the wait well.
“This is ridiculous,” she exclaimed. “As though it’s scared to come down and fight! What does it want, for us to put down our weapons and turn our backs so it can take us by surprise?”
“Just because it’s still in orbit doesn’t mean it can’t attack,” John pointed out. “We don’t know what its capabilities are.”
“Well if it’s going to attack, it should hurry up,” Bela snapped, and she fired a pointless volley from her rifle into the sky. “This is a waste of time when I could be doing something productive.”
For a few seconds they all watched the angel hovering, far overhead, just barely visible to the naked eye. And then Bela screamed.
“What is it?” she cried. “What is this? Stop! STOP!”
“What’s going on?” Sam asked urgently, training his rifle on the angel even though it was still too far away to attack. “Is it attacking her from way up there?”
No one responded to his question, but Sam could hear people arguing frantically about what to do. Bela was still crying out in Unit 02. “It’s in my mind, breaking into my mind. Get out!”
“We have to do something!” Sam yelled, making his way over to Bela although he knew he couldn’t help.
“Keep your distance!” ordered John. “We don’t know if it will react to you approaching her.”
Sam hesitated a short distance from Bela, looking on helplessly. She screamed again, and Sam’s fists clenched reflexively.
“Nooo!” Bela cried. “You’re dead! You’re dead and you can’t touch me anymore! I know because I killed you! Make it stop! Make it stop!”
“Fuck,” Sam whispered, and then he directed his words to John. “Do something!”
“Pull back, Bela, you need to retreat!”
“I will never!” Bela snapped. “I’d rather die!” But her voice was growing shakier, and Unit 02 dropped its rifle to the ground.
“As long as the angel remains in orbit, we have no weapons that are capable of harming it,” said Doctor Walker.
“That’s not entirely true,” said John.
“What are you talking about?” asked Walker. “Wait... you mean the Lance of Longinus?”
“Yes,” said John. “It’s the only... wait...” There was a brief pause, and as the silence lengthened Sam realised that he had been deliberately excluded from the conversation. There was something he wasn’t supposed to know.
Sam looked up again. The angel looked closer than it actually was, hanging huge in the sky. NERV’s instruments revealed that it was still outside the Earth’s atmosphere, and Sam wondered how massive it had to be, that the sheer size of it made it seem no higher than a passing plane.
Bela sobbed out, “I don’t want to remember this, don’t make me...” Sam shot at the angel with his rifle, not expecting to hit it – that would be impossible – but faintly hoping to distract it, although he feared what memories the angel might dredge up in his own mind if it decided to change its target. From the corner of his eye, he saw Unit 00 leave, but since Dean didn’t respond to his question he didn’t take much notice, instead waiting for an opportunity to help Bela. But then Dean came back.
He was carrying something. It was massive, longer than the Eva was tall, and ending in two sharp points at one end. Sam looked on, confused. Was this the Lance of Longinus his father had mentioned?
Dean wound up like a javelin thrower training for the Olympics, and threw the lance with a grunt of effort. It sailed up into the sky, long past the point when Sam figured it would have to begin falling back down. It travelled so quickly that clouds in its path dissipated.
“It’s reached escape velocity,” commented Doctor Walker, and then, although it was hard to tell at such a great distance, Sam was sure it struck the angel. It flared brightly, and Bela’s cries ceased.
In the aftermath of the battle, Sam tried to find a moment to see if Bela was alright, but she slipped out of the room without him noticing.
Commander Singer and Ellen emerged on the same day. Ellen was tight-lipped about what had happened, and after Sam’s first tentative inquiries were firmly rebuffed, he stopped asking about it. He told her instead about the note that Gabriel had left, thinking that it might cheer her up, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. She spent a day and a night holed up in her apartment, and when Sam went to visit her she seemed exhausted and her eyes were red. He still had no idea what had been in the note and wasn’t about to ask, but he felt an urge to punch Gabriel in his stupid face. Sam wouldn’t have thought he’d hurt Ellen like this.
Things weren’t much better in Sam’s apartment, where Bela was brooding and making it clear that there would be no talking about the last battle, that any attempt to offer comfort would be rebuffed and that Sam’s very presence was only tolerated under sufferance. Sam spent quite a lot of time at Ellen’s apartment or going with her to visit Jo, who was no longer sleeping sixteen hours a day. Sam had just walked Ellen home after a visit one day when Doctor Walker turned up.
He had some new paperwork for Sam and Bela that they hadn’t picked up, as training had been suspended for a few days while repairs and maintenance were performed on the Evas. With a grunt of annoyance, the doctor pulled out an identical sheet of paper and glared at it.
“I’m meant to give this one to Dean,” he said. His gaze flicked over to Sam. “You could drop it off for me, couldn’t you? You two are friends, right?”
“Uh... I suppose we are,” said Sam hesitantly. Walker handed it over without a moment’s delay and Sam took it gladly, welcoming any excuse to go somewhere other than his apartment, Ellen’s or the hospital. “I’ll take it over now.”
It took a few minutes to walk back to his own apartment block and find Dean’s door. He knocked on it, waited a minute, and knocked again before finally hearing a shouted, “Just a minute!”
At last, Dean opened the door, and stood there staring at Sam, looking mildly surprised.
“Uh, hi,” said Sam, when Dean didn’t speak. “Doctor Walker sent me around to give you this.” He held out the paperwork. “You’re supposed to fill it in and take it back to NERV next time you go in.”
“Thanks,” said Dean, slowly reaching out for the papers. Sam handed them over and waited for Dean to say something else. He didn’t though.
After a moment Sam said, “I’d better go, then,” and turned to walk away.
He hadn’t gone a full step before Dean said, “Don’t you want to come in?”
“Yeah!” said Sam, hoping that he didn’t come across too eager. It wasn’t just that he was less than eager to go back to the apartment immediately, although he wasn’t. He wanted the chance to spend more time with Dean. He’d worked hard to get Dean to open up; he wasn’t going to withdraw from him now.
Inside, the apartment was... barren. There was an open-plan kitchen, living and dining area, and a small bedroom with a smaller bathroom opening off it. There wasn’t much in the way of furniture, and no decorations at all, not even a framed photograph. A thick layer of dust lay over everything and the sink was full of dirty dishes. Sam tried not to stare. Ellen’s house was messy, but not like this.
“Drink?” Dean asked, and Sam answered,
“Yeah, whatever you’ve got.”
It turned out to be just tap water. Dean brought it over, but hadn’t poured a glass for himself, so Sam stood and awkwardly sipped, wondering if he should have made an excuse to leave after all.
“TV?” Dean asked, turning the set on with a flick of the remote without waiting for Sam’s answer. A news report came on, something extremely dull to do with the economy. Dean sat on the sofa which faced the TV, and after a moment’s pause Sam joined him.
There was quiet between them. Sam thought it should have been easier to think of something to say. So much had happened, and he hadn’t really had a chance to talk about any of it with anyone. Not between Ellen being taken into custody, and Gabriel vanishing, and Jo being hurt, and Bela’s... well, and Bela. But the task of putting words around the bizarre events of their lives seemed so enormous that Sam could hardly bear to think about it.
Dean was flicking through the channels and not pausing for long on any of them. “Don’t you like any of these shows?” Sam asked. Dean shrugged.
“I think they’re all kind of stupid,” he said. He stopped for a second on a channel that was playing a legal drama Sam liked.
“This show’s pretty good,” Sam said, and Dean obligingly left it on.
“What do you like about it?” he asked after a few minutes, eyeing the television suspiciously as though it was a trick. Sam laughed.
“Well, I wanted to be a lawyer,” he said. “You know... before. All this.” Dean nodded. “And it’s pretty well written. It’s funny.” On the screen, someone made a joke about habeas corpus and Dean raised an eyebrow. “Well, it’s funny to lawyers, maybe,” Sam allowed. “I guess that’s not your career goal?”
Dean shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Well, if you weren’t an Eva pilot,” Sam asked him, “what would you do instead?”
“If I wasn’t an Eva pilot?” Dean asked, as though the concept was completely foreign to him.
“Yeah. What would you want to do, you know, if there were no angels, and this was all...” Sam trailed off, and shrugged, not able to come up with a succinct way to say ‘if the whole world was different to how it is.’
“I’ve never thought about it.” Not only that, Dean seemed to find the very notion somehow unappealing. “There isn’t really anything else. I was made to be a pilot. It’s what I do.”
Sam remembered, ages ago, Dean saying that being an Eva pilot gave him a purpose. He hadn’t realised then that Dean meant it quite so literally.
“Made to be a pilot?” he repeated. “It really means that much to you?”
Dean shifted on the couch seat. “It’s not about what it means to me,” he said with a hint of impatience. “I was made to pilot Eva. If I’m not doing that, there’s not really any point.”
“Point to what?” Sam demanded, although he suspected he knew.
“To me!” Dean snapped.
Sam slid across the sofa cushions and gripped Dean’s arm. “That’s not true,” he said firmly. “You can do anything, anything you want, besides be a pilot. We all make our choices, no one’s born for one reason and one reason alone.”
Dean smiled at him, a small half smile that said he didn’t really believe Sam. “That’s true for you, maybe,” he said, “but not me. It’s different for me.”
“It just is.”
“There has to be something you want to do,” Sam insisted.
Dean’s expression remained stubborn, but there was something shifty there as well and Sam knew he was right. “There is!” he insisted. “You’re trying to hide it, but I can tell.” Dean looked away, looking as though he was trying to pretend Sam wasn’t there, but Sam wasn’t doing to let him get away with that. “You don’t have to just follow orders all the time, you know,” Sam said. Dean gave up on ignoring him, looking across at Sam with an intense expression that stole Sam’s breath. “It’s okay to do things that you want to do, to do things for yourself. You should just... do whatever it is. I-”
He wasn’t sure what he was about to say, because Dean leaned across the couch and pressed their lips together, hard enough to hurt. Sam’s breath rushed out of his lungs and for several seconds he was too surprised to reciprocate, but just when Dean began to hesitate, his mind seemed to catch on to what was happening and prompted him to kiss Dean back. It wasn’t his first kiss, not by any means, not even his first kiss with a guy, but there was something about it all the same. Something different, something special. Sam gave up trying to figure out what it was, eventually just putting it down to the fact that it was Dean.
He’d always written messily, scrawled his words out with no care for how they looked on the page or whether they were legible to anyone else. This letter was written carefully, as though it was important. Ellen could still recognise Gabriel’s handwriting.
Stupid Gabriel. He would go on and on about the danger he’d put Ellen in, as though she hadn’t made her own damn choices. Never speaking a word of the risks he took with his own life. If she saw Gabriel now, she’d want to shake him.
I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve put you through. I made my choice to take this mission knowing what the risks were, but I didn’t give you much choice in the matter, just dragged you along with me. I meant to keep you safe from NERV’s attention, to keep them from realising what I was doing and so becoming suspicious of you, but I’ve made a mess of that, unfortunately.
It wasn’t just that he’d brought her into this path of subterfuge, but that he’d done so and then left her behind to handle the repercussions. Ellen knew that he hadn’t meant to, and that he felt badly for it – the letter proved that. But she still didn’t think she’d ever forgive him.
You should be fine – NERV has no real reason to think that you know anything. I had the wisdom to keep that hidden, at least. I expect they’ll release you after a few days, especially once Commander Singer escapes SEELE – something I intend to see to myself. I can’t chance leaving him in SEELE’s control, you see.
Damn him. First, for making her question NERV, and then, just when she’d accepted that NERV had malicious intentions, taking away any faith she’d had in SEELE as well. Who was left that she could turn to?
I thought NERV needed SEELE’s oversight to ensure that it managed the Evas responsibly and didn’t use them for anything besides their stated purpose, but I’ve learned since then that SEELE means to do exactly what they say they’ll prevent NERV from doing. I no longer believe we can trust either of them. Unfortunately, it seems SEELE is aware of this change in my loyalties. That’s why they took Commander Singer and made sure that NERV suspected me. I’m no use to them any more as a spy, so they’ll use me to divide NERV with suspicion and doubt.
And that was it. Ellen would never have thought that she could be so angry with someone she loved, and missed, so much.
I’m sorry to pass this mess over to you. Sadly, I think the time left for me to stand against SEELE is short. I’ve done what I can to obstruct them. The flash drive enclosed contains everything I know. The rest, Ellen, must be up to you. I wish you well. I hope that I’m wrong, and that I will see you again, armed with the knowledge that regret is a much worse pain than loss.
Over the next few days, Ellen seemed to emerge from her gloom, but for all that, she remained withdrawn. When she wasn’t working she kept to her own apartment. As far as Sam could tell she was working on something in there, but it didn’t seem to be related to NERV, and she didn’t talk about it at all.
One day while Sam was visiting her he casually mentioned that they hadn’t seen Gabriel in a while, not thinking much of it until Ellen stiffened and gave him a long look.
“He won’t be back,” she said, and Sam started to understand.
“Did something happen? Between you two?”
Ellen didn’t answer straight away. She went to the kitchen table and sat down. An air of gravity had settled over the room, and Sam followed her.
With a voice that sounded hollow, but steady, she said, “I don’t know for sure, but Gabriel is probably dead.”
The words felt like a physical blow. Not only for the news itself, but for the grim light it cast over the past week.
“What?” Sam asked, and then, when that didn’t adequately convey his disbelief, he repeated, “What?”
“Gabriel was working for SEELE,” Ellen explained, keeping her voice low. “Gathering inside information about NERV and passing it on. But he found out something – he didn’t say what, but he stopped working for them, stopped trusting them. So they abducted Commander Singer and made sure he was implicated. That’s why I was taken in... they thought I might know something because we were... close.”
Sam knew he should ask about it. He wanted to know, but his mind was still stuck on the idea that Gabriel was gone. He hadn’t mentioned that he was in any trouble – well, he wouldn’t have, Sam supposed. He hadn’t said goodbye.
Ellen seemed to be waiting for him, but when he continued to sit quietly, she said, “Sam, something’s not right at NERV. I’ve known this for a while, and I’m sure you’ve noticed things yourself. It’s why Gabriel was here to begin with, it’s just that... he ended up trusting SEELE even less.”
Sam shook his head, still not ready to accept what he’d heard. “Why are you telling me this?”
“I’m sorry.” Ellen really did look like she meant it. “I don’t think that this will be easy to hear, but it concerns you. I think you need to know.”
“What do you remember about... about your mother?”
Sam was taken aback, not sure what that had to do with anything. “Well, um... she was pretty...”
“I meant...” Ellen looked uncomfortable. “I mean when she died.”
“I don’t... nothing.” Sam thought it over, and shook his head. “Nothing. Should I?”
“Well, according to Gabriel, you were there. You were young, though. About five?”
“Four,” Sam said. John had told him that much, although he couldn’t remember anything about it.
“Right.” Ellen shifted. She must have been hoping that Sam would remember on his own, so that she wouldn’t have to say whatever it was.
“They were doing testing on Unit 01. It wasn’t functional yet, wasn’t completed. Your mother was in the entry plug to observe the interface.”
“My mom was a pilot?”
“No.” Ellen shook her head. “She was too old. She was just one of the scientists on the project. She’d brought you along that day because she wanted you to see that there was hope for the future, but something went wrong.”
“It’s not really clear,” she said. “Gabriel’s letter didn’t explain. I have a feeling no one really knows. She just vanished.”
“She vanished,” Sam repeated. “She vanished while she was in Unit 01’s entry plug?” he asked with a growing sense of horror.
“Yes.” Ellen’s eyes were on his, and Sam had to look away. “It’s been clear all along that there was something odd about Unit 01,” she said. “It does things that can’t be explained. And Commander Winchester is protective of it, much more than the other Evas.”
She looked expectantly at Sam, and he knew that she was driving towards some conclusion, but it was one that he was reluctant to accept. He sat and waited.
“I have to ask, Sam... have you ever noticed anything about Unit 01 that’s unusual?”
“Compared to what?” Sam asked. “It’s not like I have much to compare it to.” Even though what Ellen had told him had thrown his experiences into a startling new light, it felt too personal to share with anyone else.
“I know,” said Ellen. “But I have so many of the pieces now... it’s just a matter of working out how they go together. I need your help for that.”
Sam wet his lips, but he couldn’t figure out how to say ‘I was swallowed by an angel and my dead mother rescued me’ without sounding insane. “What’s going to happen?” he asked instead.
Ellen was silent a long time, and Sam thought perhaps she wouldn’t answer at all. But she did, at last. “I need to get answers,” she said. “But you don’t have to be involved. I’ve put you in enough danger just by telling you this much. You’ll be safer if you stay out of it.”
“No,” said Sam. He’d come this far, he wasn’t going to be content now to know only half the truth. “I want to know. I’m in this too.”
It was just a matter of picking the right time. Waiting until NERV was deserted enough that there was a chance of getting away with it, and making sure that the person they needed was still there. Luckily, Doctor Walker was at NERV more often than not.
Ellen held him at gunpoint. It shocked Sam; he hadn’t known she was going to do that. Maybe he should have realised. It should have occurred to him that she’d have to force him to comply somehow.
Walker barely even reacted. It was almost like he’d been expecting something like this to happen. “I want you to show me all of NERV’s dirty little secrets,” Ellen demanded, and he just nodded with a small smirk on his lips.
There were entire sections of NERV that Sam had never seen, wasn’t technically allowed to see. He’d never given them much thought, not until Ellen’s revelations. Now Doctor Walker took them up to one of those restricted access doors and led them through it.
It was nerve-racking. Sam was sure that they were going to get caught any second, but neither Walker nor Ellen seemed to be worried, and they didn’t see anyone else. They passed through many, many doors, and the security measures seemed to grow increasingly tighter, although Doctor Walker bypassed each one.
After several minutes, they emerged into a dark room. Although it was too dark to see, Sam felt a sense of being in a vast space. He tensed, and when the lights flickered on, he jumped and shouted.
The room was even bigger than he’d thought. It was a vast, cavernous space. Down here, under the ground, NERV stretched out for miles. Sam was far more occupied with what he could see, right in front of him.
It was a skeleton, or at least, vaguely skeletal. It had a spinal column and he could see where the shoulders were, although it had no arms. It was huge, and beyond it there was another, similar skeleton, and another beyond that...
“They’re Evas,” he whispered.
“These are all Evas,” Ellen added, and as Sam took in more he could see that the room was filled with them, as far as he could see. “Failed Evas? The early models that didn’t work?”
“Yes,” said Walker. “We dump them here. Through study we’ve been able to learn what did and didn’t work, and make upgrades for each successive Eva.” He led the way quickly across the floor and through another door, into another dark room.
The lights inside were only dim, illuminating just the immediate area. The previous room had been eerily silent, but now Sam could hear the hum of machinery, a constant low level of mechanical sound. And then Doctor Walker flicked another switch.
Another bank of lights came on along the walls of the room. Lining the walls were a series of long, cylindrical glass vats. There was something inside them, and Sam edged forwards to see better. Doctor Walker turned on the last set of lights, which lit the vats from below, and Sam recoiled.
They were filled with a liquid – with LCL, Sam thought. And floating in the LCL there were...
People. They were people, just floating there, not moving, eyes shut. And they looked...
“They’re-” Sam was hesitant to say it aloud. “Dean...”
“They all are,” Ellen confirmed, and looking around Sam could see that it was true. Some of them looked older and some younger, but they were all clearly Dean. “What the hell is this?” she demanded, turning back to Doctor Walker.
“This is the core of the dummy plug system,” Walker explained, looking over the vats with a terrifying expression. “These are the components.”
“But it’s Dean.” Sam didn’t understand, not really. He couldn’t. “Dean is... the dummy plug?”
“He’s what makes the system work,” Walker said. “Evas are essentially human, you know. Created by us with bodies to suit what we need, but human nonetheless.”
Sam shook his head, not denying Walker’s words, just not quite willing to accept them.
“But they have no souls,” Walker continued. “Which is why we need Dean, an empty vessel to hold a soul.”
“It’s not possible,” Sam muttered, although the evidence was right in front of him. “You can’t just create people – clone them? From some random person, and keep them around to use for whatever you want.”
Doctor Walker laughed, a nasty sound. “You don’t know, do you?” he asked.
“The Dean Smith you know was one of these things, too. Created in this room and taken out when the first Eva prototype was ready for pilot test runs.”
“No!” Sam yelled. “That’s not true. Dean is...” He trailed off, not willing to say what Dean was to him.
Maybe Walker guessed, because he laughed again. “And they’re not clones,” he added. “Or at least, the original Dean wasn’t. He’s gone now, of course, but he was created in one of our labs using DNA from two of NERV’s highest ranked personnel.”
“Gordon, I think that’s enough...”
“But you wanted to know, Ellen.” Doctor Walker took a step towards the tube in the middle, peering at the face of the Dean inside. “I think he looks more like his mother. Although I suppose you wouldn’t really remember Mary, eh Sam?”
“Shut up!” Sam yelled, backing away. “It’s not true!”
“It is true!” Walker snapped, becoming angry. “He’s not human, Sam! Don’t sentimentalise him like your father does. He’s a tool, and nothing more.”
“He’s a person!”
“No, he’s just a convincing imitation.” Walker glowered around the room at the empty faces staring out at them. “Winchester has deluded himself into thinking that there’s something more to what he’s created, but really, Dean is less than an animal. The only point to his existence is to serve the purpose we created him for, and Winchester has lost sight of that.”
Ellen and Sam stared at him for a long minute before Ellen holstered her gun. “That’s why you brought us here,” she said. “It bothers you so much that... what, you want to bring down NERV from within? All by yourself? I didn’t even need to threaten you, did I?”
Walker shrugged. “It’s convenient that you did,” he said. “If anyone asks, I have that in my defence. And if your loyalty to NERV isn’t affected, then you’re not the woman I thought you were.”
“What do you expect us to do that you can’t?” Sam demanded.
Walker sneered. “Fine,” he said. “Run. Forget all of it, and hope that keeps you safe when SEELE strikes against NERV. You know they will.”
Ellen led Sam back the way they’d come, and when he looked back, Walker was still standing there, staring at the row of identical Deans.
Sam knew that Walker had been mocking him when he’d talked about trying to forget everything, but that was exactly what he tried to do. He didn’t think about what he’d seen. He didn’t talk about any of it, not even with Ellen. He avoided Dean as much as he possibly could. He kept it up and thought that Dean would let it go on, but one day he cornered Sam as they were about to leave for the day.
“What the hell?” Dean said.
Sam couldn’t even really look at him. He tried, but his eyes slid away to the corner of the room. “Sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean to... I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”
He knew Dean was watching him, and he tried to collect his thoughts to say something else, something clever that would fix things. Dean said, “I thought that you... that we... did I do something?” and he sounded so miserable it made Sam hate himself.
“It’s not... no, no you didn’t,” Sam said quickly. “It’s just... some stuff’s happened and I need to figure it out. That’s all.” He knew his voice sounded thin and unconvincing, but he couldn’t seem to help it.
“Then why can’t you look at me?” Dean demanded.
“I’m not not looking at you!” Sam said quickly, and he turned his eyes to Dean’s face to prove his point. After a brief moment, though, they slid away again like the traitorous bastards they were.
“Right,” Dean scoffed, and Sam shrank back. He couldn’t see Dean’s face, with his eyes glued to the corner of the room like they seemed to be, but he could tell when Dean’s shoulders slumped. “Tell me the truth.”
“I saw something,” Sam said quietly, just in case someone was listening. “Here.”
“You saw something?” Dean asked, his voice cutting. “What?” Sam didn’t answer, and Dean said, “Oh. You mean...”
Sam held still, not sure what he might unintentionally reveal by moving closer to Dean or stepping away. “I didn’t know what I was going to find... I didn’t know...”
Dean stepped back, arms defensively crossed in front of him. “Right. It’s cool. You probably shouldn’t, uh, talk about it to anyone...”
“I wouldn’t,” Sam said quickly. “I’m not an asshole. And I’m not freaking out.”
“You’re acting pretty freaked out,” Dean retorted, and he finished tying his shoes and swept out of the room.
After that, Sam stopped avoiding Dean, but it didn’t matter, because Dean started to avoid him.
Sam wasn’t sure if it was real, or merely his imagination, but he sometimes thought John was becoming protective of him, or maybe of Unit 01. When John did things like sending Dean and Bela out first into battle and keeping Sam back to cover them, he felt certain of it.
The angel was a huge ring of light. Sam looked up at it and wondered what it was thinking, if it could think. Did it want to see them all dead, or had it come for some other purpose? His musing was irrelevant, though, as it began to move.
The ring split and one end lashed out towards Dean. Ellen shouted, “Dean, move!” but he couldn’t evade the angel. The Eva was too big and the angel too fast.
The angel stabbed through the torso of the Eva, and Dean grabbed it with both hands, trying to pull it away. He didn’t seem to be having much success.
“The angel is spreading some kind of contamination,” noted one of the technicians. “Unit 00’s AT field can’t halt the spread completely.”
“Bela, go out and help him,” Ellen ordered, and Unit 02 was sent up the launch chute. Bela didn’t step out, though, and Ellen yelled, “Move, Bela!”
There was nothing. “What’s wrong?” Ellen asked frantically.
“She can’t move, her synch ratio is below the minimum threshold,” came the snappy response.
After a moment’s deliberation, Sam could see Ellen come to her decision and say, “Bring her back down, she’s just a sitting duck out there. Sam...” There was a short pause, maybe while Ellen thought over what she needed him to do, or maybe while she checked with John that it was okay to send him out. “Prepare to move out in Unit 01.”
Unit 02 was brought back down the chute, but Ellen’s attention – and Sam’s – had instantly gone back to the battle Dean was embroiled in up above. “The contamination is infecting the pilot’s hands,” reported one of the technicians. Sam felt sick. He reached the end of the launch chute and looked around quickly for the angel, seeing it a short distance away with Unit 00 pinned to the ground beneath it.
Sam stepped out towards the angel and it reacted immediately, striking at him with the end of its long form that wasn’t wrapped around Dean. Sam lifted up his rifle to block the attack. It worked, but his rifle was destroyed. He watched in dismay as the angel regrouped and prepared to attack again. He grabbed his progressive knife and readied his stance, trying to ignore the sinking feeling that said he had no chance of winning.
“Dean’s AT field has reversed,” he overheard over his communication link. “He’s stopped resisting the attack!”
“Is he trying to contain the angel?” Ellen asked frantically.
“The contamination is everywhere now,” replied the technician, without really answering her question.
“Dean, you have to get out of there!” Ellen snapped, and Sam could hear sharp, pure fear in her voice. “You can still eject the entry plug and run for it, don’t do this!”
The angel had stopped trying to attack Sam as soon as Dean had dropped his AT field. It had curled back around to him, hovering above Unit 00 like it was studying. Sam stepped towards the angel, meaning to attack it while it appeared to be distracted, but Dean said, “No, Sam, stay back there.”
“You should get out of there, Dean, like Ellen said,” Sam insisted.
“Sorry Sammy,” said Dean, his voice strained. “If I do that, the AT field goes with me. Not gonna do that.”
“What are you doing, Dean? You’re going to get killed!” Sam hadn’t allowed the thought to enter his mind until then, but as he spoke it, he knew it was the truth. Dean was going to be killed.
“He’s put Unit 00 into minimum power mode,” said one of the technicians, their voice hollow. “Contamination is beyond critical.”
Being in Unit 01 saved Sam’s life. When the explosion came, it knocked him off his feet. It knocked Unit 01 off its feet, the enormously powerful machine being tossed aside like a rag doll. When Sam righted himself and looked up, he couldn’t see the angel anymore.
And he couldn’t see Unit 00 either.
The days after that passed in a blur. Not that they went quickly, because they didn’t. They crawled, like a parade of snails marching in half-time. But all the detail from that time drained away, blended together. Afterwards, Sam was never sure what happened, or in which order. He remembered screaming at John, and being ordered to leave the base. He remembered trying to make fried rice, and burning it, and setting off the smoke alarm. He remembered lying awake in bed all night, reluctant even to close his eyes because of what he saw when he did. But he didn’t remember what came first, or how any of it felt.
Then Ellen received a call from NERV. “Sam,” she said, voice trembling. “Dean’s alive.” And everything seemed to snap back into place.
“How can he be alive?” Sam wondered. “That’s impossible.”
“He’s in the hospital,” Ellen said. “They’re saying that he just woke up.”
So they went in to see him. He was sitting up in bed by the time they got there, and he seemed tired but alert. He watched Sam walk into the room without showing much of a reaction.
“Dean,” he said. “I’m so glad you’re okay.” Dean sort of blinked at him, and didn’t answer, so Sam said, “Thank you... you saved my life.”
“I saved you?” Dean replied, and it was clearly not just repetition, but a question.
“Yeah,” Sam answered. “You sacrificed Unit 00 to destroy the angel that was going to kill me.” Dean met his gaze but showed not a flicker of recognition. “You don’t remember?”
“I don’t know,” Dean said. “I think I must be the third one.”
It was only then that Sam remembered the hidden room with its vats of cloned Deans, and realised that the man he was talking to wasn’t the man he’d spent months carefully coaxing into a friendship. It was Dean, but it wasn’t his Dean.
That Dean was dead.
And then one afternoon Ellen walked into the kitchen and said the words that Sam later thought of as the beginning of the end.
“I’m needed in at NERV,” she said. “The Fifth Pilot has been found.”
Sam was surprised, but he thought maybe he shouldn’t be. He knew they’d been looking for the Fifth Pilot. It made sense that they’d eventually find them.
He wasn’t required to go in, but he did anyway, out of curiosity. The Fifth Pilot was named Castiel. He was good. Not good, like Sam had been – naturally talented from the start. Not good, like Bela, the product of years of relentless training. Not even good like Dean was, like it was the only thing he cared about in the world.
He was good without needing to think about it or try. Ellen marvelled over his test scores. At one point she said it was like he could set his synch ratio to be whatever he wanted. That shouldn’t have been possible.
Bela was furious, because Castiel had been brought into NERV more or less explicitly to serve as her replacement. She pretended to feel nothing but disdain about the whole situation, but Sam had overheard her asking Ellen whether she was staying on as a pilot. Sam supposed if she wasn’t, she’d be sent back to prison.
Sam didn’t like him. Not because he outperformed Sam in training or anything petty like that. Sam didn’t like him because he’d latched onto Dean, and Dean seemed to be falling for the act, whatever it was.
Sam knew it wasn’t fair to feel hurt or rejected. Dean didn’t remember him, or anything that had happened in the past months. Sam hadn’t had the heart to rebuild their friendship; it was too painful a reminder of the Dean that was now gone. He had no reason to be upset that Dean had befriended someone else.
It was fine. It wasn’t like Sam cared, or noticed, or tried to coincidentally be in the places where Dean tended to be at the same time that Dean was usually there, just to see him. The kicker was when Sam saw them arriving for training together, and he realised that Castiel had been staying at Dean’s apartment. It had been months before Dean had invited Sam into his apartment.
They always ate lunch together in the cafeteria, and one day Sam walked past to overhear Castiel say, “Well, if a person can truly know the sole purpose for their existence, then I believe that I was put on this Earth to meet you, Dean Smith.”
Sam halted in his tracks, then turned and left the room, appetite gone. It had taken weeks for Sam to get Dean into a conversation like that, weeks of gentle questions and sharing personal stuff. Castiel had managed it within days. He had to be some kind of wizard.
Sam went to Ellen with his worries and complaints. He didn’t expect much to come of it. Since Jo had been released from hospital the week before, Ellen had dropped her work hours and spent all her free time caring for her. With so much on her mind, Sam expected that she would dismiss his theories and tell him he was imagining things. He was even sort of counting on it. But instead, Ellen hummed and looked serious.
“Don’t you think?” Sam pushed. “He’s all shifty and weird, but for some reason Dean likes him.” That was the part that bothered him the most; that even when they’d been at their closest, even when Dean had kissed him, Sam wasn’t sure he’d liked him as much as he seemed to like Castiel. It was stupid, childish jealousy, but he couldn’t help it.
Ellen still didn’t answer, but she started to look worried, which freaked Sam out. He’d been counting on her to make him realise he was being ridiculous. Convince him that he was overreacting. Instead, she was acting like something was actually wrong. “You know something!” Sam said. “What is it? What’s going on? What do you know about Castiel?”
“Nothing!” Ellen snapped. “I don’t know anything.” She paused which gave Sam a moment to appreciate the emphasis in that sentence. “I only have what I’ve pieced together from what Gabriel and Gordon have told me.”
“Gordon believes – and Gabriel’s files support it – that Castiel is the last angel.”
That was impossible. “That’s impossible,” Sam insisted. “Castiel can’t be an angel. He’s human. Angels can’t be human!”
“With every attack, the angels have gathered more information about us,” said Ellen. “The last one tried to merge with Dean. The one before that attacked Bela’s mind. Gabriel believed that the angels were trying to understand humanity better – what we are and what we do. Gordon thinks that they will have learned enough to send the last angel to us in a human form.”
“No!” Sam insisted. He disliked Castiel but he hadn’t expected this. “That’s crazy! What have you been doing all this time, if you believe that? Just sitting around and letting Castiel have free run of NERV? Why haven’t you done anything to stop him?”
“We can’t attack him without first confirming that he’s an angel. We can’t do that until he reveals himself.”
“But in the meantime,” Sam said, feeling sick, “you’ve just let him in and treated him normally – let the rest of us think he was just another pilot. If this turns out to be true, what do you think it will do to Dean?”
Ellen looked uncomfortable but didn’t back down. “We had no alternative,” she said firmly. “We couldn’t risk letting Castiel realise what we suspected. We couldn’t afford to share what we knew and chance one of you revealing the truth to him. You have to understand, Sam, our responsibility is to defend the world, we need to be cautious...”
“Screw your caution!” Sam yelled, running out of the apartment. He ran to NERV, half expecting to see the place burning down or being torn apart by monsters. It looked just as it always did, though, half deserted for the night. There were a few people around, like there always were, monitoring the city and the surrounding area for miles around for the presence of angels. If Castiel were there, and he was doing something, they would have to know. They’d have to.
Sam didn’t want to see or talk to anyone, so he ducked into an empty office to quietly freak out. It was a tiny space; when NERV’s aboveground headquarters had been demolished, they’d been rebuilt hastily and cheaply. He crouched behind the desk and let his breathing become ragged and hoarse, gripped the edge of the chair with his hands and willed the nausea away. It was hard when his mind was filled with the idea that everything bad in his world was pilling up, getting taller and taller, and eventually, inevitably, it was going to crash down and bury not only Sam but everyone he cared about.
Some time later – it felt like a long time, but his watch said it had only been a few minutes – he felt calm enough to leave. He should go home, he decided. He should go home and eat something, and then try to sleep, so that he could be ready for training in the morning.
He’d just stepped out of the office and into the hallway when the alarm began to ring.
He ran to Central Dogma, because regardless of what was going on, that was where he needed to be. He wondered if people would be surprised when he turned up so quickly, but they didn’t seem to take much notice. Probably they were distracted by the giant hole in the infrastructure where Eva Unit 04, the one Castiel had been training in, seemed to have ripped its way out of the cage and smashed the floor in.
Sam blinked at the wreckage in some shock. It wasn’t the first time NERV had taken damage like this, of course, but it was a bad sign. He shook his head, unwilling to think about whether or not this supported Ellen’s theory, and went to get suited up.
Unit 04 had descended down into the deepest levels of NERV, where Sam had never been, not even that one time he and Ellen had snuck in. Any other time, Sam figured he would have looked around, tried to get more of a view of what was down there, but he was too busy looking around for Unit 04 and – maybe – Castiel. It wasn’t hard to find them, he just had to follow the path of destruction.
Far, far below the ground, Unit 04 was standing in a vast chamber. It was looking down on something lying on the floor – a huge, white, humanoid shape with seven eyes on its blank face. Sam blinked at it in astonishment, then tried to redirect his attention to more pressing concerns like the Eva that was possibly about to try to kill him.
He didn’t realise at first that Castiel was there too. He was so small compared to everything else, and besides, Sam was expecting that if he was there it would be to pilot Unit 04. But he was wrong.
Castiel was between Unit 04 and the... thing on the ground. Not standing between them. He hovered in the air just before Unit 04’s huge robot face.
Sam emerged into the room, stepping lightly, as though there was a chance that Castiel wouldn’t notice an eighty foot robot advancing on him. Of course, even trying to tread quietly, an Eva weighed around 2000 tonnes, so it was hard not to hear it coming. Castiel glanced over at Sam as he walked into the room.
“I thought you’d be coming,” he said calmly.
“What are you doing?” Sam asked, still sort of hoping Castiel would come up with some explanation for stealing Unit 04 and breaking into NERV’s lower levels and, oh yeah, the floating.
Castiel frowned down at the enormous figure lying on the ground. “I was looking for the first of us, the one you call Adam,” he said seriously. “But this is not him.” His expression was puzzled, like it was a mystery he was on the verge of solving.
“Oh,” said Sam. “Great. Um... why?”
Castiel looked at him again and his lips quirked into a sad little smile. “You know that,” he said. “We have been trying to reach Adam ever since your people retrieved him twenty-three years ago. But it seems he is not where we believed him to be.”
“So it’s true,” Sam said, devastated. “You are an angel.”
“Yes,” Castiel said. “That is what you call us.”
“You’re trying to destroy us,” Sam said, terror warring with rage inside him. “Humanity. You want us wiped out.”
“No,” said Castiel. “We don’t want that.”
“You don’t?” Sam asked, a spark of hope lighting deeply within him.
“It’s just that the only way to ensure the supremacy of the angels is to bring about your destruction,” Castiel went on calmly. “We’ve known that this would come about. It’s why Adam came to this planet to begin with, but he was attacked while still in his weaker form and so, humanity struggled on.”
“He was attacked... no, he attacked us first!”
“No. The team headed by Commander Harvelle – Ellen’s husband – attacked Adam and deliberately triggered the Second Impact because they knew it was the only way to prevent total destruction of the planet. They captured the remains and kept them to study, but, it seems, not where we thought.” Castiel frowned some more.
“So... if that... thing isn’t Adam, what is it?” Sam asked.
The furrow in Castiel’s brow abruptly smoothed away. “Lilith,” he said, as though the name meant something to him, although it meant nothing to Sam. “She’s been protecting you,” he added, “leading the angels here instead of towards Adam’s true location, delaying the Third Impact.”
“Why?” Sam wondered. “Isn’t Lilith an angel too?”
“No. Just like Adam was the first of us angels, Lilith is the first of you... the first human.”
Sam looked down at her. She didn’t look anything like a human. He shook his head slowly, not in disbelief exactly, just in general failure to understand. “Why?” he asked.
Castiel didn’t bother to respond. “I can see I was wrong,” he said instead.
“Dean is going to be crushed by this,” Sam said angrily.
“Yes,” said Castiel. “He will see it as a betrayal.”
Furious, Sam stabbed at Castiel with his prog knife, only to find it halting inches from his target.
“You have an AT field?” Sam gasped, disbelieving.
“That is your name for it. It is my soul, it is the force which keeps my self separate from every other self.” Castiel’s glance flickered away from Sam and back to the thing on the ground – the thing he’d called Lilith.
Sam wanted to ask what he was going to do, but Castiel moved first, stretching out one long arm towards Lilith. Unit 04 moved along with him, reaching towards Lilith and coming to an abrupt halt a few feet away.
“What is this?” Castiel asked, sounding shocked. “Who is it?”
“Another AT field?” Sam wondered, and he looked across the room. He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t noticed Dean before, why Dean hadn’t been the first thing he’d noticed in the room. Maybe he hadn’t been there at first, but he was now.
Castiel looked at him too. “Dean,” he breathed, and Sam, suddenly feeling protective, reached out and grabbed him in Unit 01’s giant hand.
Castiel looked up at him. “Thank you for stopping me, Sam,” he said. “I hoped that you would.”
“If you hadn’t stopped me, I might have survived to cause catastrophic destruction to the human race,” Castiel explained nonsensically. “I would have killed all of you. And that is not what should happen.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You are the one who has to destroy me Sam, to prevent me from destroying you.”
Sam gazed down at Castiel in horror. “I can’t kill you. I won’t!”
“You must. My death in the long run will make little difference, but right now it will allow the human race to survive.” He smiled up at Sam, who returned his gaze with a shake of his head. “You should not pretend that you don’t understand,” Castiel added. “You should not permit millions of deaths to spare yourself from taking one life.” There was no way he could see Sam’s face, but somehow he seemed to sense when Sam had come to his decision. He looked... happy. “Thank you.”
His body was small, fragile, and provided as much resistance to an Eva’s grasp as a paper cup.
There was a sense of quiet over the next week. Partly from Dean; Sam thought he understood about Castiel, but that didn’t mean he could forgive Sam. They still weren’t talking. And partly because of the talk going around NERV, saying that there weren’t going to be any more angels, that Castiel was the last one and now NERV had no purpose any more.
If that was true, Sam figured they’d be disbanded or something. There was no point in NERV hanging around, pilots and Evas with no battles to fight. He could get his life back, if it was really over. But they didn’t seem to be doing any of that. Training continued as usual. Ellen and Walker were tight-lipped about whether NERV expected any more angels to appear. Commander Winchester sat far away in his office and was silent, but they all sensed that he was watching. Waiting.
After seven days of uncomfortable pauses, Sam ran into Dean as he was leaving NERV after training one day. Dean stiffened and turned his face away, and Sam, after a week of trying to be sensitive, could no longer contain himself.
“Could you at least look at me?” Sam snapped.
Dean did, but held his gaze for only a moment before his eyes dropped. “What do you want?”
“It wasn’t my fault, you know,” Sam insisted, although he wasn’t sure why he thought he could get Dean to listen. He didn’t really believe in his own innocence.
“I know that,” said Dean, but Sam could tell he didn’t mean it. A sick, heavy despair settled over him. This wasn’t his Dean. This Dean had no memories of being Sam’s friend. He remembered being Castiel’s friend, and that Sam had killed him. He should give up on having Dean as a friend or anything else he might have hoped for.
That was when alarms from inside the base began to ring. Sam didn’t recognise it; it wasn’t the alarm he was used to. A voice recording sounded over the ringing, saying “The base is under attack.”
“Another angel?” Sam wondered. “I thought...” He didn’t complete the sentence. It would sound foolish to say that he’d thought Castiel was the last angel. He had nothing to base that on besides gossip.
“It’s not the correct protocol for an angel attack,” Dean replied, frowning. A military truck pulled up in front of the main door, with three more behind it.
“Is that military backup?” Sam wondered. “We’ve never received military support before.”
Soldiers started pouring out of the trucks.
“Do you think they can tell us what’s going on?”
“Sam, get DOWN!”
He was only just in time, pulling Sam around a corner into a narrow corridor and out of the line of fire as the soldiers began firing. The glass doors shattered with a crash almost louder than the gunfire, the room filling with fragments of tile and plaster. The shooting stopped abruptly, and Sam wondered what was happening, whether the soldiers were coming inside. He tried to listen but his ears were still ringing, so he tried to peer around the corner, but Dean yanked on his arm and hauled him further down the corridor.
Sam remembered this hall. They’d be able to find their way to Central Dogma eventually, if he could remember the way and if they weren’t shot before they arrived. Dean pulled his arm again and Sam began to run.
It was hard to stay hidden, to keep moving, to cope with the fear. A few minutes after the chase began, they heard an explosion much louder than the discharge of bullets and the walls shook. One end of a fluorescent light fitting came loose from the ceiling and swung towards Dean’s head. He barely ducked in time and it smashed into the wall, showering the area with tiny fragments of fine glass. Without discussing it, they found the next stairwell and started to climb down.
They barrelled down two flights and barred the door with an axe encased in glass next to the fire alarm. Dean had wanted to keep the axe as a weapon, but Sam had pointed out that it would be useless against bullets. It didn’t matter too much anyway, because they discovered the building was swarming with soldiers. They tried their best to stay out of sight, ducking into utility closets and hiding under tables, and in one terrible instance lying beside the corpses of NERV personnel who had been shot, pretending to be dead. That was the worst. Sam heard, from not too far away, soldiers confronting more workers, who begged for their lives until gunshots rendered them silent. Sam didn’t know what was going on or why the soldiers were here, but he wanted every last one of them dead.
They couldn’t manage to stay hidden forever. Three soldiers were harder to spot than thirty, they were so much quieter. That was how they were discovered – walking down another hallway which looked empty and sounded deserted, and there they were.
They crawled into the meagre cover offered under a staircase and waited. The footfalls of the soldiers sounded deafening now, and Sam wondered how they’d missed them.
“Dean,” he said, voice shaky. “I’m sorry...”
When it came, the gunshot made him start. He expected to feel his flesh ripping like soft cardboard. Instead there was the sound, and nothing else. It was followed by two more shots. A soldier collapsed in Sam’s line of sight, rifle loosely clutched in one hand, a hole in his forehead leaking blood. Another set of footsteps came, lighter than the last, and then a head ducked under the stairs to peer at them. Sam could be compelled to admit that he shrieked.
“What are you two doing?” Ellen asked. “Come on, there’s work for you to do!”
She led them directly towards Unit 01’s launch cage. As they went, Ellen spoke rapidly into her communicator. “Did you find Bela yet?” she demanded. “Put her in Unit 02... I know she can’t pilot. Put the Eva down on the bottom level. She’ll be safest there. If they find her, they’ll kill her.”
Ellen cut the transmission and looked over at them. “The soldiers have been ordered to shoot Eva pilots on sight,” she said. “If we can get you both into Unit 01, you might be able to do something.”
Sam tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. “Hurry,” Ellen said, and they followed her, running through the hallways, Ellen pausing every so often to watch and listen, and once or twice to shoot a soldier who stumbled across them. As they got closer to the elevator that would take them up to Unit 01’s dummy plug, the tunnels became thicker with soldiers. They had to turn back and find another path again and again.
“They know they can’t risk one of the Evas being launched,” Ellen murmured, becoming frustrated. She seemed to hear something over her communicator, and gestured for Sam and Dean to wait.
“Bela,” she said, “what?”
“What’s going on?” Sam tried to ask, but Ellen waved at him to be quiet.
“No,” she said, and then, “okay. You hang in there, Unit 01 will be out soon.”
“Is Bela in trouble?” Dean asked.
“Did they get her to safety?” Sam added.
Ellen shook her head. “She’s up on the surface, fighting SEELE,” she said. Sam gaped at her.
“But Bela can’t pilot anymore...”
“Yes, that’s what I thought too, but apparently...” Ellen went quiet again as they drew near yet another group of soldiers. Waiting a few minutes revealed that the soldiers weren’t going anywhere and were too numerous to fight, and they turned back, disheartened.
“What’s happening now?” Ellen asked, and it took Sam a second to realise she was talking to Bela, not them. “Oh...” she added. “That’s... not good.”
“What?” Sam mouthed, but she pretended not to see him.
“Sam and Dean are coming,” she said. “Until then, you’ve got to hold them off. Do whatever you need to.” She cut the communication again.
“What is it?” Sam immediately demanded.
Ellen spared him a quick glance, her brows drawn into a deep frown. “It’s the rest of the Eva series,” she said. “SEELE must have finished building it, and they’ve sent them here. After us.”
“That’s...” Sam tried to figure out how many Evas would be up there.
“Nine,” said Ellen, correctly guessing his train of thought. “And Bela’s facing off with them alone. We’ve got to get you to Unit 01.”
That was no easier than it had been five minutes ago. They’d managed to get close this time, huddled in the shadows in view of the elevator shaft that would take them to Unit 01’s entry plug. A handful of soldiers lingered outside the elevator doors, not looking quite as alert as those they’d passed.
“They thought that you wouldn’t be able to get this far,” said Ellen. “We can probably take them out and get you into the elevator.”
“Risky,” whispered Sam.
“Mm,” said Ellen, not bothering to agree or disagree. She checked the clip in her gun, pursing her lips at the number of rounds remaining, and said, “I’m going to step out from the wall and shoot. You have to start running straight away. Keep close to the wall and out of my line of fire. Stay low. They’ll shoot back at me and shouldn’t even notice you if you stay low and quiet. Once you get in the elevator, close the doors straight away. They won’t be able to reach you then.”
“But you have to come too,” Sam argued.
“Yeah,” said Dean, taking him by surprise. “We’re not leaving you behind.”
“Yes, okay,” said Ellen impatiently. “I’m coming too. But hurry up.”
They waited expectantly for Ellen’s signal. She gripped her gun tightly, coiled and ready to spring. She glanced at them one last time before leaping from the shadows and opening fire.
It was painfully loud in the enclosed corridor. Sam ducked and ran, keeping close to the wall like Ellen had said. He knew that her plan hinged on all of them being fast. Ellen had taken out two of the soldiers before they’d realised what was happening, but the remaining two returned her fire. One of them fell with a strangled cry, blood gushing from his neck. The other was still shooting, though, and although Sam had been resisting the urge to look back, he couldn’t fight it forever.
Ellen had been hit. It took a second after he first noticed it for it to become real. She’d been hit. There was blood staining her shirt, bright red and dripping. She’d put a hand over the wound but the stain was still spreading.
Sam looked back at the soldier and charged at him with a roar. Noticing Sam for the first time, he swung his rifle around and Sam was sure it was all over.
The soldier staggered back, the muzzle of the rifle dropping as he sagged against the wall. Sam blinked, confused briefly because he’d barely registered the sound of Ellen’s gun amongst all the other noise. He looked back at her again.
“Get in the elevator, you two,” she said, supporting herself against the wall.
“Ellen-” Sam said, taking a step towards her. “You’re coming too, remember?”
She laughed at him, shook her head. “You know I can’t.”
“The others are coming,” Dean whispered, pointing out the sound of more soldiers racing towards the sound of the gunfight.
“Listen Sam,” said Ellen, her voice weak but harsh. “You need to make sure that... get Jo safe. I can’t... I need you to...”
“It’s fine, Ellen,” Sam said quickly. Dean was pulling him towards the elevator by one arm, and he resisted the pull, hoping for more time. “I will. I will.”
“You two go on. I can’t follow you.” Ellen slid down the wall to sit on the floor, leaving a red smear in her wake. “And boys?” she added as Dean tugged him through the elevator doors. “Kick ‘em in the ass.”
As soon as the dummy plug was inserted, with Sam and Dean safely inside, the communications system came online and Sam could hear Bela talking. Or more accurately, yelling.
“You can’t defeat me!” she shrieked. “Come on, try me if you think you can!”
“Uh, Bela-?” Sam asked uncertainly.
“Sam?” she snapped, sounding surprised. “What the bloody hell have you been doing? We’re being attacked up here, you know?”
“I’m sorry, Bela, we couldn’t get past the soldiers. Ellen...” Sam’s voice broke and he had to stop. “Ellen...”
“She’s back there,” Dean added for him. “But we’re coming up now, just hang in there-”
“Oh, you don’t have to worry about me,” Bela said. “There’s only one of them left now, and pretty soon I’ll have brought it down as well. I didn’t need your help after all.”
Sam and Dean exchanged a glance. Bela had taken out all nine Evas by herself?
Unit 01 reached the top of the shaft and they looked out on the scene. A guttural scream from Bela echoed in their ears as she kicked the last enemy Eva in the head, knocking it to the ground.
“Hah!” she cried triumphantly. She turned around to face Sam and Dean; Sam noticed something swinging from the back of the Eva as she moved. It was the end of the power cable. It must have been cut in the battle. “That’s how it’s done!” she announced. “Any questions?”
Sam had loads of questions, but he was having a little trouble right then thinking of the words.
“I have one,” said Dean. “What the fuck is that?”
He pointed and Sam followed his arm to where one of the Evas was – it was moving. It was getting up, and the damage was repairing itself. Another of the Evas began to move, regenerating an entire arm as it stood.
“Fuck,” said Sam.
“Bela, get ready, they’re getting up!” Dean barked, but she didn’t move.
“My backup power is drained,” she said, beginning to sound frightened. “I can’t!”
The Evas rose and converged on Bela. She screamed. Sam sent Unit 01 into motion, flying across the ground and flinging the Evas aside as they came within reach. The first two were taken by surprise and he tossed them out of the way with ease. The rest noticed him and redirected their attention his way.
Sam gulped and waited for the enemy Evas to move first. They were vicious, fast and brutal, and it was all he could do to hold them off.
“Sam,” someone said over the communication link. It took a moment for Sam to realise it was John. “Sam, personnel are deploying another backup battery for Unit 02. You need to push back the other Evangelions and insert the new battery.”
“Seriously?” Sam gasped as he ducked a blow from one of the units and frantically kicked at another. He doubted he could withstand their attack at all, let alone force them to retreat enough to put a new battery into Unit 02.
“Quickly!” John snapped. Sam looked around helplessly.
“You’re staying too long in one place,” Dean said. “You’ve got to be faster.”
“Because you’d be so much faster?” Sam asked, but he leaped to the side, just in time as it turned out, and managed to knock one Eva into another. Sam moved to the side of the group and attacked furiously before he could be surrounded again. Dean gave a variety of helpful suggestions and Sam thought he’d damaged a few of the other units. He snatched up the battery and spun around to Unit 02. An Eva came at him and he spread his AT field. It wouldn’t hold the other Evas off for more than a few seconds, but that would have to be long enough.
He took out Unit 02’s dead battery pack. The other Evas pressed closer, and Sam could almost feel their long, sharp fingers. He put the new battery pack in place, and as he secured it he felt one Eva grabbing his arm and pulling him away. At the same time, the visual screen flashed a warning that Unit 01 was running on its own backup battery. Five minutes. Of course, the other Evas would know their weak point.
Sam pushed the Eva away and took his prog knife, slashing at its head. He was running out of hope, though. It seemed these things couldn’t be killed, so what hope did they have?
“Sam,” came John’s voice again. “Is Bela up and running?”
“She is, sir,” answered Dean, as Sam was distracted in the battle.
“Okay. You need to put the Evangelions down again.”
“But we already did that, and it didn’t stick!” Bela snapped, frustration clear in her voice.
“Lead them away from there, first. Lead them to where NERV headquarters stood. The building’s come down, it’s just a pit in the ground now. Get them as close as you can before you take them out.”
“What are you planning?” Sam asked, but Dean shoved at his shoulder and Sam dutifully began moving away, leading the Evas towards the remains of NERV. Four minutes. He brought down the first Eva just before he reached the rubble; it stepped in front of him and without thinking, Sam ducked low and slammed both fists into its stomach, nearly breaking it in half. He shoved the defeated Eva towards the toppled building and hoped it was close enough. A little way off to the left, Bela kicked the leg out from another Eva and smashed at its head while it lay on the ground.
“Commander Winchester?” he repeated as he looked for his next target. “What are you going to do?”
“Just worry about doing your part, Sam, okay?”
“I am!” Sam snapped, breaking another Eva’s neck as though to prove his point. “Why won’t you tell me what’s going on?” Bela had one Eva on the ground, but another was racing towards her. Sam rushed over to prevent the second from gutting her. Three minutes.
“I don’t want to argue, Sam. I’m tired of arguing, okay?” John’s voice sounded so worn, so defeated, that Sam forgot he was angry. An Eva attacked him from behind, knocking him to the ground. He looked up, startled, just in time to see Unit 02 bringing one foot down heavily on its head. He picked himself up and moved to stand back to back with Bela.
“There’s three left?” John asked.
“Not for long,” Sam said, resisting the urge to ask more questions. Two minutes. He selected his target and moved in, but the Eva didn’t fall for his feint and struck at his arm. Sam heard a horrible crunch and felt a hot pain travel up his arm; Unit 01’s left arm hung uselessly by its side. Sam screamed and pulled back, turning slightly to see that another Eva was coming at him from behind, holding its own prog knife. It was moving fast, so fast, and the other Eva was still on his other side. Sam waited until the last possible moment before jumping to the side.
The Evas collided with a crash, the knife sinking deep into the chest of one of them. The other Eva let the knife go and turned away, paying no attention to the Eva collapsing behind it. Sam nearly panicked; he didn’t stand much chance with only one working arm. But then Bela was there, forcing the Eva to turn and defend itself against her so that Sam could move up behind it and crush its skull.
“They’re all down,” Sam gasped.
There was a short pause before John answered. “Okay,” he said. “That’s good. Now, you and Bela and Dean need to get away, okay? As far as you can?”
“But...” Sam began, and then paused because he didn’t know what to say. “Dad?”
Bela didn’t stick around, running as fast as Unit 02’s legs would work. Sam couldn’t leave so easily.
“You’ll be okay,” said John. “You both will. You too, Dean, I know you can do just about anything. But you’ve got to do what I ask, Sam, this one last time, okay?”
“I don’t want to.”
“I know,” answered John.
“Fuck, Sam, are you paying attention?” Dean said. “You made a promise to Ellen. You need to keep it.”
“Jo,” Sam breathed. There was no more time, then, no time to stay and argue and mend fences. Not at the cost of Jo’s life. A few rapid strides brought him to the apartment block where Ellen had lived. It was nearly abandoned, everyone who was capable of doing so having already fled. Jo had dragged herself to the front entrance through some great feat of will. Sam didn’t question it, was just thankful that it made it easier to scoop her up in Unit 01’s massive hands.
They were able to get a pretty long way before the power ran out, but not so far that they couldn’t see, and hear, and feel, the explosion of a dozen N2 mines being detonated.
Thirty seconds was enough time for an Eva to cover a lot of ground. The city was just a dot on the horizon by then. Sam placed Jo carefully on the ground only moments before the Eva shut down.
In the aftermath of the explosion, Sam wasn’t sure what to do first. Dean seemed just as stunned as he was, and offered no help. Sam tested the release on the entry plug, which thankfully still worked. He had to drag Dean out by his arm; he didn’t quite seem to be moving under his own power.
Once they were safely on the ground Sam looked up at Unit 01. Its eyes were dull, blank, but he tried to imagine that there was a spark to them. Something more than just a machine.
“We shouldn’t stay here,” said Dean. “SEELE will come looking for us, and Unit 01 will be hard to miss.” He moved over to help Jo stand, and she leaned heavily against him, a sheen of sweat covering her face.
Sam didn’t want to leave it, though. He put a hand on the metal armour plating. It felt warm to his touch, not in the same way a human hand was warm, but close enough to pretend.
“They’re both gone now,” he whispered. “Mom, and now Dad too.”
“It blew up,” Jo whispered. “Did... did anyone else...?”
Sam couldn’t look at her. It was Dean who had to say, “Just us, and Bela... I’m sorry.”
Sam thought Jo must have already guessed, because she didn’t really react to the news. She dropped her head and her shoulders shook, silently. He looked away, back towards Unit 01.
“Come on, Sam,” said Dean gently. “I don’t think we’ve got time.”
“Should we leave her for SEELE?” Sam wondered. “Who knows what they’ll do with her, now that NERV is gone. I don’t trust them with her.”
“Neither do I,” said Dean. “But there’s not much the three of us can do to stand between SEELE and anything they want. We have to go.”
Sam looked at Unit 01’s face. “I know you’re in there – if it is you,” he said uncertainly. “It doesn’t matter, anyway. There’s someone in there who activated when you shouldn’t have been able to. If SEELE finds you lying here, they’ll use you to fight for them, or just as a template to build more Evas. And they won’t do it to save people, like before. They’ll make you fight for them, and just them. So you can’t stay here where they’ll find you.”
Nothing happened for a long minute after that. Dean said, “Seriously, Sam? Talking to it like it’s alive?”
“You never know!” Sam argued. “You’ve seen what this thing has done in the past year, you can’t deny it can obviously think for itself!”
Whatever response Dean was about to make was cut off when Unit 01 began to move, pushing off the ground and lifting itself back onto its feet.
“Yes!” Sam shouted. “Okay. You have to go, now. Far away.” The Eva moved away from them in great strides, and Sam watched it go.
“We just let a giant robot loose in the wild like we were sending a wolf cub back to its pack or something,” Dean pointed out, his tone one of mild disbelief.
“Better than leaving it for SEELE.”
“There are other Evas.” Dean tried to walk, taking a slightly different direction to the one Unit 01 had gone in, but Jo’s steps were shaky and hesitant. Sam moved in to support her on the other side.
“We destroyed the ones they sent. And Unit 00...” Sam glanced at Dean to see how he was taking the idea of his Eva being gone. “Unit 00 would have been destroyed in that explosion too.”
“They can make more.”
“Then we’ll have to stop them.”
“And there’s always Unit 02.”
“Yeah, but Bela’s gone who knows where with it.” Sam paused for a second. “Do you think she’d help us?”
Jo, having no breath to spare after the effort of walking, snorted derisively. Dean said, “With what, stopping SEELE from using Evas to take over the world?” They all gave that a moment’s thought. “They did try to kill her. She might.”
“Just like old times, then,” said Sam thoughtfully.
“No, it’s not,” said Jo, her voice hard. “I’m going to make them pay for what they’ve done.”
“Yeah,” Sam agreed. “Someone should.”
“We can make it better,” Dean added, looking at Sam over Jo’s head. With the arm he was using to support Jo, he reached across to clasp Sam’s shoulder, his eyes warming for the first time since Castiel.
It was the first thing to give Sam hope in a long time. He could show Dean how to live again. He could face down SEELE again. He could do it with people he trusted beside him; people he’d chosen.
He could believe that they’d all be okay.