Part 15: Game Day Minus One

The next day was a blur. Asuka and Hikari told the principal that they had all been on NERV assignment, and the matter was dropped when Asuka told him that Commander Ikari had put Misato in charge of operational security, and Misato would field any questions he might ask, but that there was a good chance that questions would be fielded by a bullet to the head. Hikari had looked around for Touji, but he was absent that day, and the rumor was that he was visiting his sister. The brown-haired girl was somewhat disappointed, but quickly forgot the matter, as the tension in the school was so thick a person had to all but cut their way through the halls with a machete. Tomorrow is the day. She thought to herself, her stomach fluttering.

Asuka was eagerly anticipating the challenge, sure that they would win. She had gone to wake Shinji as she had the day before, but he was already up, and she was puzzled to find herself disappointed that he wasn't in bed. Rit-chan had been up as well, showering in preparation for the day. When Shinji had tossed Misato's beer into her room that morning, the German girl had sworn she had heard him say something to Misato quietly. But then, it was time to go and as usual, they were behind schedule. Now, she simply waited somewhat impatiently for the day to end. So eager was she that she didn't notice the odd closeness of Rit-chan and Shinji, or the smile that Rei slipped him whenever she could do so without being caught.

Lunch was a welcome retreat from the pressure, and the group took it in the glen again, this time being sure not to fall asleep. Rei noted that as a side effect of the cover story they had used, they could periodically miss half or whole days now with virtual impunity. Hikari shied away from that observation, saying that since she wasn't in NERV, the school would be suspicious if she kept disappearing with the others who were. Asuka just laughed and told her to become a pilot as well. Hikari laughed with her, saying that she would be a candidate for pilot when Suzahara and Aida were candidates. Asuka had scowled and told her that if Touji or Kensuke were ever chosen to pilot, she'd have to kill them to preserve the `sacred honor of the Pilots'. Shinji had said nothing, content to feel Rei's hand covertly touching his, Asuka's legs against his back and the closeness of Rit-chan and Hikari. This feels wonderful. I never want to be without this feeling again. Thought the boy.

Touji had awakened to feel a warm weight on his chest and another soft, wet sensation at his groin. When the dark-haired boy had opened his eyes, he saw Tomoko's head on his chest, asleep, and her body pressed to him. A little farther down, Naoko's lips were around his dick, drool spilling over his soft member and nuts as she slept. Her arm was thrown across his hips and her hand disappeared between Tomoko's thighs. The sight of the sleeping girls made his dick twitch with renewed life. What did we do last night? Wondered Touji, trying to sort through the memories of the night before. After several seconds of recollections, he came to his conclusion. I guess that it's more a case of what didn't we do. Hell, some of that I've never even seen in a porno! Wait until I tell Kensuke and Shinji about Naoko; they'll be so fucking jealous! I wonder if she's a porn actress or something? Man, some of the stuff she did was awesome! I'll have to remember thing with her and Tomoko lying down on top of each other so their pussies touch for when we win the challenge. It felt so good to do them like that, and I can't wait to see Inoue and Red Devil like that! Wait, the challenge is tomorrow. What time is it? Touji broke off his train of thoughts and looked around. Seeing no clock anywhere in the room, he decided to see if he could slide out of bed without disturbing the two girls. When he began to move, Tomoko made some sleepy sounds and rolled off him, turning her back to him, making a wet, slurping sound. The athlete saw Naoko's hand slip out from between the other girl's thighs; it was soaked with the group's mixed fluids. His dick gave a jerk and began to swell in the other girl's mouth when he realized that Naoko had had her hand in Tomoko's vagina up to her knuckles from the look of it. He gasped as Naoko's tongue began to tease the tip of his nearly fully aroused dick. He closed his eyes, and his hands went to her head, guiding her tempo and pace. As he rapidly built toward orgasm, he felt her wet, slick hand began to tease his balls as she swallowed his entire length as if it were nothing to her. Touji began to gasp and grunt as he felt him building toward eruption. Well, I don't think that jerking off will ever be as satisfying ever again after this. Thought a small portion of his mind as he felt his nuts tighten. Holding Naoko's head to his hips, he gave grunt as he shot his load down her throat. After the last of it had passed to her, he let go of her head and lay back against the pillow, breathing deeply. Naoko let his member slip out of her throat and swallowed a time or two, then moved up to lie beside Touji.

"Good morning, stud." She smiled.

"Uh, good morning, Naoko." Said Touji. Naoko looked over to where Tomoko was still asleep and smiled at the sleeping girl.

"Looks like we wore Tomo-chan out, lover." She said with a little giggle. "Do you think we should take another turn with her? She was really energetic last night, and she did everything we asked her to do, so we really should thank her. Don't you agree, lover?"

"Uh, sure. But I need to take a piss and find out what time it is. Do you know where the bathroom is, Naoko?" replied Touji, doubting that could get it up right then anyway.

"Sure." Smiled Naoko. "Follow me." She said, slipping out of bed and heading for the door. Touji did likewise, pausing to toss the sheets over Tomoko's naked form before following her. When he paused for his underwear, Naoko told him not to bother; there was nothing wrong with walking around naked in Kodo's house. Touji shrugged and followed her tight ass out the door and down the hall a few doors.

When Naoko opened the door to the bathroom, it was a room larger than the bedroom he had been in. There was as tub big and deep enough for several people, a glass-enclosed shower area with three nozzles and two spray heads, a toilet, twin sinks and a large towel-warming rack in the corner. The whole room was tiled floor, walls and ceiling, and vented and lit by recessed lights and silent fans. There were a couple of drains in the floor area, which Touji guessed were for draining any excess water and to make cleaning the room easier. Naoko stepped to the shower and turned it on, setting the controls as Touji relieved himself. When he was done, he saw Naoko in the shower, scrubbing herself clean. When she saw him watching her, she smiled and motioned for him to join her. Figuring that there was no reason not to, he stepped into the shower as well.

The girls were in the gym today, and the boys were on the field, but once more, there was little being done as the entire school was too busy speculating and gossiping about the events of the following day. The girls were supposed to be doing tumbling and gymnastics, but with the amount of excitement about the challenge, it was more like a gossip party than gym. Asuka and Rit-chan had each done a turn on the tumbling mat, the balance beam, the parallel bars and the vault, and were now watching Rei and Hikari work their way through the stations, cheering their fellow teammates on. Hikari was doing ok on the tumbling and bars, but was very uncomfortable on the beam and the vault. Rei as usual showed no concern for any of the stations, simply working her way through them with just enough effort to complete the sets the instructor laid out for her. Aki wandered over to the two red-haired girls and sat beside them as Rei did an unsupported back flip on the beam as if she were simply stepping over a crack in the sidewalk. Hikari was carefully working her way through a set of exercises on the bars. "That was a good pass you did, Asuka." Said Aki as an opening gambit.

"Well, it wasn't as good as it should have been; I was too far forward in the roll coming out of that double round-off, and blew the landing." Asuka said, waving off the compliment.

"A half step is blowing the landing? This isn't the Olympics, you know." Responded Aki, smiling. She knew that Asuka was a perfectionist and a show-off as well. "I can't get the kind of energy built up to do those kind of routines, and here you are complaining that you were a half-step off on the landing!"

"It's because you're taller and heavier than her that you can't do the intricate flips and spins she does. You have greater reach and a longer axis of rotation, so you should be using a routine based more on dance than on tumbling. The instructor should have realized that by now, but she doesn't seem to understand that passes should be different for each girl based on both skill and body type." Stated Rit-chan.

"Are you saying I'm fat, Rit-chan?" asked Aki, smiling to let the other know that she was kidding.

"Hardly. You have less than six percent body fat, after all. Your height and reach would be better utilized by a less aggressive tumbling pattern, that's all." Answered Ritsuko, her eyes on Rei as the blue-haired pilot completed the last handspring and twisted her body around for her landing, which she stuck like a pin. "Way to go, Rei!" she called, waving the girl over to their group. Hikari twisted her body around the bar one last time, then released, rolling to land on her feet. "Shit!" snapped Ritsuko. "She's too far over!"

"Hikari!" yelled Asuka, seeing the same thing that Rit-chan had seen. Her best friend would miss the landing mat, and hit the waxed wood floor instead. And at her angle of rotation, she would hit with her whole body weight and the extra energy of her dismount on her right foot. Asuka saw Hikari try to twist her body enough to hit the edge of the mat, but she didn't have enough energy left in her roll to do so. Asuka and Rit-chan were halfway to their feet when she hit. The class rep hit hard, but it wasn't the floor she hit; it was Rei's slender body that the brown-haired girl crashed into, the pilot wrapping her arms around the chest of the class rep and throwing her body to the side, both of them sprawling onto the edge of the mat and sliding a few feet from the momentum. Rei grunted as the pair slammed down, her body under Hikari's. "Hikari! Wondergirl!" yelled Asuka as she, Rit-chan and Aki dropped to their knees beside the two girls. "Are you two all right?" Asuka and Rit-chan began to untangle the two.

"I'm fine, but Rei was under me when we landed." Said a somewhat shaken class rep. "She took the brunt of the hit."

"You ok, Rei-chan?" asked Ritsuko, carefully helping the red-eyed girl to sit up. "Any bones broken? Did you hit your head? Are you bleeding?" asked the elf hunter as she quickly but thoroughly ran her hands over Rei's head, neck, chest and back, then down each of her arms. "Any pain when I press here?" asked the elf hunter, pressing on Rei's short ribs.

"A little. I do not think that any bones are broken. And I do not seem to be bleeding." Answered Rei, her voice as lifeless as ever. The instructor made her late appearance.

"Ayanami, are you injured?" asked the older woman, her tone a little fearful. If Ayanami was injured, she could expect a very unpleasant visit from NERV's security officers. Perhaps even a visit from the devil himself, Commander Ikari. Please, God, don't let her be injured. Begged the woman silently. She had only spoken the Commander once, and it had been over the phone, but she never wanted to see or hear him ever again. How can he and his son be so different? I wonder if he really is Shinji's biological father or not.

"Rei-chan, follow my fingertip with your eyes, ok?" said Rit-chan, moving her fingertip from side to side and up and down, watching the way that Rei's red lenses moved as she did so.

"I do not believe I am injured, sensei." Said Rei in response to the instructor's question.

"We're taking her to the nurse's station to make sure, though." Stated Asuka, her tone making it clear that she was not asking, but telling. "Hikari as well. Let's go, guys." Said the Second Child, standing and helping her friend to her feet, as Ritsuko and Aki helped Rei up. As the group headed for the gymnasium doors, a few of the girls were muttering nasty things under their breaths. Just as the group reached the door, one of the girls called out

"Since when are you such a fan of the doll, Sohryu? Worried she might have gotten chipped? Or do you just like playing doctor, Demoness?" A few girls snickered, but most of them were silent, waiting to see what Asuka would do.

"You want to handle this, or should I?" asked Aki softly, looking over at Asuka's snarling face.

"Asuka, don't play to their taunts." Whispered Hikari.

"I wasn't planning to, Hi-chan. Fuck them; they aren't worth my time." Said Asuka, moving through the doors with the group. Hikari smiled to herself. I guess she's maturing more than I thought. Behind them, they heard the instructor blow her whistle and order the milling girls back to their exercises.

As they crossed to the main school building on the way to the nurse's office, the group saw Shinji jogging toward them from the field. "I'll tell him, then meet you at the nurse's office, guys." Volunteered Aki, separating from the rest of the girls and heading down to tell the male pilot what was happening.

"Bring Shinji with you when you come." Said Rei, earning her strange looks from Asuka and Hikari. Aki nodded and moved to intercept Shinji. Aki grabbed his arm, stopping him, and began to speak with him. The rest of the girls proceeded to the Nurse's office, where they found the nurse had stepped out to treat a couple of injured boys on the field. Ritsuko led Rei to one of the beds and had her sit down on the bed, then carefully pulled the pilot's exercise shirt off her, revealing that Rei had once more gone without a bra that day. Rei was unconcerned with her nudity, sitting patiently as Ritsuko carefully checked over the other girl's back and chest, noting the darkening bruises and a couple of spots where the soft skin had been abraded from the friction of the landing.

"Are you a nurse, Rit-chan?" asked Hikari, seeing the professional manner in which Ritsuko was examining Rei.

"No, but I have taken basic, intermediate, and advanced first aid courses, and I have read the military manual for the field medics. When I was hunting elves, I had to act as the group's medic; at least, with Airi and Celsia. Junpei was on his own, though." Answered Ritsuko, carefully raising and rotating Rei's arm as she felt around the joint for swelling, heat, or tender spots. About then, Aki and Shinji entered the room, and Aki, seeing a naked Rei, slapped her hand over Shinji's eyes.

"No peeking, Shin-chan." She said, her tone friendly and somewhat teasing.

"I do not mind him seeing me." Stated Rei. Indeed, she wanted him to see her.

"Well, you might not, but we do." Snapped Asuka, pulling a wheeled curtain wall between the bed and Shinji. "Ok, Aki, you can let the baka see again." She said when the curtain was properly positioned. Ritsuko was carefully working her way down Rei's chest, telling to her say so if she hit a spot that hurt. Rei was silent as the older teen's fingertips carefully traced each rib. As the elf hunter traced the arc of the rib just below her breasts, Rei winced and hissed in pain. Ritsuko carefully pressed against the spot.

"It feels like it's intact, but there is more give than there should be. I'm going to say it's probably fractured, which is both good and bad news. Bad news is it will hurt for a few weeks and make heavy exertion feel like someone is punching you in the chest, but the good news is it isn't broken, which means it will heal faster than a full break, and won't be as inconvenient. Did you do that when you hit the floor?"

"No. When I caught Hikari, her shoulder hit there, and I felt it crack under the impact, but it did not break, so it is unimportant." Replied Rei.

"I'm so sorry, Rei." Said Hikari, feeling very guilty for Rei's injuries.

"Do not be concerned, Hikari. It is not your fault, and I will heal swiftly." Dismissed the Pilot of Unit 0. Ritsuko carefully finished her examination of Rei, then took some disinfectant and some gauze patches and cleaned her abraded skin before carefully applying some antibacterial cream to the red patches and covering them with large bandages.

"Aren't you going to wrap her ribs?" asked Aki, frowning as Ritsuko handed Rei her shirt back.

"There isn't much point to it, as the rib isn't broken, just fractured, and it's debatable rather or not wrapping broken ribs helps any or not. Ribs, like toes or fingers, get little assistance from being wrapped. If it were broken, I might have wrapped it to make it more comfortable for her, but there is no real point to it since her rib is intact. Ok, Hikari, your turn." Said Ritsuko as Rei settled her shirt and slid off the table. Hikari blushed a little.

"But I'm not hurt, Rit-chan. Rei took the brunt of the damage." She said, hoping to side step the issue.

"Quit stalling, sit down and lose the shirt, Hi-chan." Said Asuka in a mock-fierce tone. Hikari blushed a little deeper. "Geez, it's not like we haven't seen you naked before or anything, Hikari. Or is it because Baka is here?"

"No, it's not that. Rei didn't mind, after all." Said Hikari, her eyes on the floor.

"Wondergirl wouldn't care if she went to class naked." Said Asuka, an odd mix of admiration and disgust in her voice. "I swear! She has no modesty!"

"I have no need for modesty." Came Rei's soft voice from the other side of the screen, where she had stepped unnoticed by the others as soon as she had gotten off the bed. She stood next to Shinji, her hand on his shoulder and his hand on her waist, which was unseen by the others because of the curtain and the way the two were situated. "And neither should you, Hikari."

"She's right, you know. You have an excellent figure, Hi-chan." Seconded Aki, who smiled at her encouragingly. Hikari sighed in defeat and peeled her shirt off. Asuka's eyes opened a little wider, Rit-chan hid a smile and Aki gave a mock wolf-whistle as they saw that Hikari, like Rei, had gone without a bra that day.

"This is why you didn't want to let Rit-chan check you out? Because you pulled a Wondergirl? I can't believe you were worried about that." Said Asuka, her tone dismissive of the very notion.

"Can't pull a Rei without any chest." Muttered Hikari, her tone depressed as she frowned at her A-cup breasts. "Ow!" she said as Ritsuko had smacked her on the head with a finger. "What was that for, Rit-chan?"

"That was because you were being stupid." Replied Ritsuko matter-of-factly. She began her examination of Hikari, who sported a few bruises, as she continued to talk. "In case you haven't noticed, you do have a chest, and a nice chest at that."

"Compared to what? A board? An eight year old? A guy?" muttered Hikari morosely. "At least Rei has enough to make it noticeable if she goes without a bra; no one notices when I go without one." A moment later, Rit-chan smacked her on the head with her finger again. "Ow! That hurt, Ritsuko!"

"Not as much as this obsession with the size of your breasts will hurt you. Besides, you are still due for another few years of development, and I am sure you will fill out some more; your bone structure indicates that you have a few more centimeters to grow, and you should put on a little more mass as well. It's only logical that your bust will develop more as well."

"Yeah! And did you know that I was flatter than you until about 18 months ago?" chimed in Asuka. "If I can develop from that to this," she struck an exaggerated glamour pose, "then you can do the same!"

In spite of herself, Hikari gave a snort. "But you're the Great Asuka Langley Sohryu, are you not? A mere mortal like me could never accomplish such an impressive feat."

"Yeah, that's right, I'm the Second Child, the best Eva pilot ever. But, I've seen your older sister, and you and her will look a lot alike, so I know you'll develop a lot more." Replied Asuka.

"So I'm not only flat-chested, but slow as well?" asked Hikari, who was still feeling down about her cup size. She gave each of the girls standing near her a meaningful look at their chests. "It's easy for you to say that since you have all hit your growth. The guys don't even bother to look at me when they're talking about girls."

"Then to hell with them." Came Shinji's voice from the other side of the curtain. "If all they can see is the size of your breasts, then they aren't worth your time, Hikari."

"And I suppose you don't like large breasts?" challenged Hikari, her stubborn nature making it hard to let go of her self-critical despondency.

"I like breasts more for who they belong to than for their size." Replied Shinji. "But then, what do I know?" he added. Silence reigned for a moment after that. Ritsuko finished checking Hikari over, but didn't say so. She wanted to see how this played out. For a girl as normally as confident and commanding as Hikari to be so concerned over her small breasts hinted at some problems with her emotional development. She already knew that Shinji, Asuka and Rei were emotional and mental wrecks, and her curiosity was aroused by the fact that several other students here exhibited the same type of symptoms. Was it something about this particular group, or was everyone born after Second Impact nuts? It was this subject she wanted to talk to Airi about, but she was content to wait until they could discuss it safely.

"So, you're saying you like my breasts?" asked Hikari, her tone meek.

"Yes. Because they are your breasts, not because of their size." Answered Shinji.

"Why would you like my breasts, Shinji? I'm only an A cup. Rei's a full B, and Asuka and Rit-chan are C's. How can you like me when they're better?"

"And Misato's a double D. What makes us better, the size of our tits?" asked Asuka. "And Aki is a D cup. Does that make her better?"

"You and Rei are Eva pilots and save the world. Rit-chan is a weapons expert and a genius and she's hunted elves. Aki is going to be a supermodel and probably an actress. What's so great about me?"

"You're a better cook than Asuka, Rei or myself, for one thing." Said Ritsuko.

"You're class rep and take care of your family, for another thing." Added Aki. "And you weren't supposed to tell them about the modeling."

"You have much more fashion sense than Wondergirl. You don't run away from trouble like Baka Shinji. And you have a great sense of humor." Asuka weighed in on the matter.

"You are responsible, reliable and compassionate, as well." Came the quiet words of Rei Ayanami.

"See? What's not to like, Hikari?" came Shinji's voice.

I guess Kodama was right, after all. Thought Hikari as she found herself smiling. "I guess you're right, guys."

"Of course we're right, Hi-chan." Said Asuka as she tossed her hair proudly. "We're the saviors of the world, after all. And when were you going to tell us about your modeling, Aki?"

"Well, it isn't set in stone yet, but I'm supposed to have a photo test next month, right about the time the school trip is supposed to be, so I'll probably have to skip it. If it goes well, then I will be offered a chance to model for New Fresh Youth magazine."

"New Fresh Youth? Are you serious?! That's like the Vogue of the new fashion magazines!" exclaimed Asuka. "What kind of modeling will you be doing?"

"Well, the agent who set up the photo shoot said it would depend on how the test went, but he mentioned that they haven't found a model for the swimsuit and active-wear pages, or for the school fashion pages for their summer extra edition. He hinted that if his boss liked the photos, he could find me a place as one of their contract models for evening and party dresses." Said Aki, smiling as she did.

"When did you get an agent?" asked Hikari, who had only known that Aki had a photo shoot planned sometime in the next month or two. "Isn't that expensive?"

"Well, actually, he volunteered to set up the photo shoot and show the pictures to his magazine. It's funny, but I was vegging one day after school, and ran out of snacks. So I pulled on an old pair of ripped jeans, a tight tee shirt and some sandals and went down to the store to grab some more snacks. As I was walking down there, this guy started to follow me, and when I get to the store, he stops me and asks if had ever wanted to model. Well, I figure that he's some scum-sucking porno recruiter, so I blow him off, grab my snacks and head back home. The guy is still there when I come out, and I told him if he followed me home, I'd break his legs, then call the cops. He said he wouldn't follow me home if I would take one of his cards and promise to think about modeling for him. I took the card and told him to beat it, and he walked off, so I didn't think much of it. When I got home, I was going to throw the card away, but decided to see which skin magazine was recruiting in my neighborhood. Imagine my surprise when I saw the card had the logo of NFY on it. Well, I figured that he was just using that to lure in innocent or naïve girls, so I got the number for the magazine from the operator, called their editor and asked if he had ever heard of the guy. Come to find out, he's their best photographer! Hell, the editor told me that if he had asked me to model for him, it was a virtual guarantee of a spot in the magazine!"

"Really! What's this guy's name?" asked Hikari.

"Fukunosi Toshio."

"Hmm. Not much of a name, but then, Shinji's not much to look at until he's in his Eva." Mused Asuka.

"Which means you are looking." Noted Rit-chan.

"Yeah, and?" came Asuka's offhand response.

Touji was walking toward the hospital where his sister was at, musing over the morning and early-afternoon events at Kodo's house. While he and Naoko had been in the shower, and Naoko had been soaping his dick and nuts, the girl who had passed out in front of the television the night before stumbled into the bathroom and over to the toilet. Touji glanced at her, then was distracted by Naoko, who had decided to see if she could get him hard again. Several minutes later, Touji was brought back to earth by the shower door opening and the girl entering the warm spray of water. Naoko paused long enough to look the other girl over and shake her head.

"You look like hell, Tsubada. Shodo get too rough with you or what?" Touji frowned and looked over to the other girl, who was scrubbing herself with a soap-covered washcloth. As he looked her over, he noticed that her neck was showing some bruising, as well as her breasts, ass, thighs, wrists and cheeks. She was also standing and moving stiffly. "Well, can you even say hi to your best friend, Tsu?" pressed Naoko.

"Please, Naoko, I've got a headache, I'm sore and feeling sick. Can this wait until I've had some coffee?"

"Sore? Tsu, I've had Shodo before and he's not that big. So why are you sore?" Naoko wanted to know.

"Naoko, please. You're loose enough to fit a grapefruit up there, but that doesn't mean I am. And you know I don't like ass fucking." Touji jerked in surprise. "If I wasn't so drunk last night, I'd have taken Kodo or this guy, not Shodo. God, what jerk." Moaned the other girl, standing under the showerhead. Naoko shrugged and turned back to Touji.

"Hey, stud, what's wrong?" she asked seeing his facial expression.

"Did Shodo do that to her?" he asked motioning with his head to the bruises. Naoko shrugged dismissively.

"Yeah, he likes it a little rough sometimes, but not as bad as some. And don't worry; Tsubada'll be fine. Usually, she likes it a little rough too. Guess she was too drunk to enjoy it this time, which is probably why the ape gave her some backdoor action as well." She paused, watching Touji's face. "Does this bother you or something, stud?" she asked, her tone suspicious.

"Well, a little. It seems kinda…stupid to beat up on a girl you're having sex with." Said Touji. He didn't expect Naoko to laugh at him.

"God, what a virgin!" she laughed. "Listen, Touji-chan, the whole sex thing is new to you, so right now, you have no idea once you do it couple of hundred times, the old in-and-out gets boring. When it gets boring, the way you refresh it is to try new things. Like last night with Tomoko. She's done some stuff with Shodo, but never slept with a girl until last night. And you had never had sex either until last night, and you managed to get in not only sex, but also a three-some. Well, after a while, you'll want to try new stuff like S&M, or role-playing or any number of things. Understand? Shodo and Kodo have been fucking for long enough to get bored with the basics, so they go for new things. I understand that they have lined up a chance to do a rape-fantasy and to have some girls get some body piercing done. Hey, do you know anything about that?"

Touji froze. He was talking about the challenge. Has to be about that. I didn't think he was serious about that idea. But now, I'm sure he wants to ball Asuka on the front lawn of the school and have Rei get her clit pierced. What kind of freak is he? "Sort of, Naoko. But I don't know if he's going to win the challenge or not. After all, the pilots and Ritsuko are pretty good at this kind of thing."

"Rumor has it that he's made arrangements to win, and even if things don't go his way, he said it wouldn't matter any. He said that a loss would only delay him a bit." Replied Naoko.

Not good. I need to know what he's planning. "Well, that's Shodo for you; always has an angle. Anyway, what time is it?"

"Does it matter?" asked Naoko, smiling and pressing herself closer to him. "Unless you want to go get Tomoko to join us? Or do you want to give Tsu a try?"

"Naoko, cut it out; I'm not up for any more this morning." Came the distorted voice of Naoko's friend. Touji was trying to decide what to say to that when the door opened and Tomoko entered, yawning and rubbing her eyes. As she headed for the toilet, Naoko called out

"Morning, sweet cheeks! Come have a shower!" Tomoko waved a hand at Naoko.

"In a minute. Gotta finish here, first. What time is it?"

"How should I know? It's gotta be nearly lunch now, since it was half past ten when I came out here." Answered Naoko in a disinterested tone.

"Shit!" yelled Touji, heading for the door to the shower; or trying to as Naoko had no plans to let him go just yet. "I'm really late for school!"

"So, blow it off for today." Naoko said, her tone a bit petulant. "One day won't kill you, stud."

"Stop yelling; I've got a hangover." Begged Tsu, her head back under the spray again.

"Just chill, Suzahara. Tell them you were visiting your sister and they won't care if you missed a day." Said Tomoko, flushing the toilet and stepping into the shower, which forced Touji back against Naoko, who happily wrapped her arms around him, and her fingers around his dick, giggling as she did so.

"And what are you going to tell them, Tomoko?" asked Touji, trying his best to ignore Naoko's fingers playing with his penis.

"I'll tell them that I was feeling sick because it's my period." She said, her tone sweetly innocent and her body language shy. Touji wondered how she managed to sound so sweet when she was such a slut. Naoko and Tsu were laughing with her now.

"I'll bet those old wrinklely teachers still fall for that line." Managed Naoko.

"Yeah, they can't handle the innocent eyes and the period thing." Agreed Tomoko. Tsu took this time to hand Tomoko the bottle of body wash and a sponge. "Thanks, Tsu. You gonna be ok?" asked Tomoko, lathering up as she talked.

"Yeah." Nodded Tsu, who seemed to be feeling a little better judging from her increased movement and generally more alert posture. "Need some coffee."

"And some aspirin, too. About a bottle worth." Added Naoko, who had managed to get Touji hard again. "Want some cream, Tsu?" she asked, giggling wickedly. Tsu turned to look at Touji's hard member, then shrugged. "What's a little more?" she said, leaning against the tiled wall and spreading her legs. "Just don't get too rough, ok, stud?"

"Wha…?" managed Touji before Naoko had pushed him forward, guiding his hard dick into the other girl's soaked pussy. Touji quickly lost his train of thought.

It was nearly an hour later when Touji had managed to get dried off and dressed again. In the kitchen, he found Naoko and Tomoko sipping coffee and eating some light snacks. He noticed that Tomoko was in her school uniform, and that Naoko wore the uniform of a private prep school. Kodo and Shodo were in the shower with the other two girls still, and from the sounds of it, they weren't going to be done any time soon. A look at the clock on the microwave told him it was an hour past lunch at school. No point to going today, I guess. Besides, this way I can spend some more time with Maki. Thought the athlete. Looking over at the trays on the counter, he selected a croissant and some apple slices to start off, with real food later. Feeling a nudge at his elbow, he looked over to see that Tomoko had a cup of coffee in her hand, offering it to him. "Here, Touji." She said, sipping from her own cup. "Careful, it's hot."

"Thanks, Tomoko." He said, sipping the hot beverage. Not a coffee drinker by nature, he found the taste to be somewhat harsh, but oddly smooth. "What kind of coffee is this?" he asked the two girls.

"Well, yours is Starbucks, but ours are Irish." Laughed Naoko.

"Irish?" wondered Touji. The girls looked at each other and laughed.

"Nothing you need to worry about, stud." Said Naoko. "Some other time, maybe."

"Uh, ok." He replied, knowing that they were hiding something that should have been obvious. Deciding not to embarrass himself more, he took a large bite of the croissant and chewed, reviewing the choices for today. I guess I'll go see the squirt after I eat, then, depending on how long she's able to visit with me, I'll head over to Kensuke's and see what I missed. I'm sure he covered for me; wouldn't be the first time. Then, tomorrow… Touji's thoughts went dead as he realized that tomorrow, things were going to change, one way or the other.

"You look like you're thinking about something pretty hard." Observed Naoko, refilling his half-empty cup. "You thinking about your kid sister?"

"How did you know about that?" asked Touji.

"Well, it's not like I don't hang with Shodo, Kodo and Tomoko nearly all the time, and the two of them are on your teams, after all. They told me about your kid sister getting hurt by that Eva thing, and about how you pounded the pilot of it later. Tomoko said you and that pilot are friends now. Why would you want to be friends with the guy who nearly killed your sister?"

"It wasn't him; it was the angel. The building collapsed when the angel self-destructed on Unit 1. And Shinji didn't ask to be there; they made him pilot it. I can't believe that he hasn't run away or gone insane by now, the way that thing works him over."

"The way what works him over? You mean the Eva?" Touji nodded, remembering the screams and sobs when he and Kensuke had been in the cockpit when Shinji killed the Fourth angel. He shuddered involuntarily. "Do you mean you've been in there before?" asked Naoko, sounding interested. Touji paled, remembering the words of Commander Ikari about what would happen if they ever spoke about that incident. Death would be a blessing.

"I…can't talk about that. Sorry." He managed, feeling the deathly-cold stare of the man behind the tinted glasses and white gloves even now. How can Shinji stand that bastard? I mean, Ayanami is cold enough to freeze molten lava, but that man could freeze hell with that stare!

"So, it's true." Said Tomoko. "You were there."

"I…can't say anything else. Sorry." He repeated.

"Well, I guess it doesn't matter. After tomorrow, you won't have to worry about it." Said Tomoko, dismissively.

"Why's that?" he asked, his tone suspicious. "You got plans for Shinji?" Tomoko smiled.

"Well, yes and no. Kodo and Shodo have agreed to some of my…suggestions about him, but don't worry; it's not him I'm mad at. He'll be ok. Probably. Hell, he'll more than likely get to like it, once he gets used to it. Sohryu, however, is another matter." She said, her tone dark and angry as she said the name of the Demoness. "Her, Ayanami, Horaki and that new girl Inoue; yeah, they're gonna get what they have coming."

"You know, you never did tell me what you have against these girls, Tomoko." Noted Naoko. "What did she do? Sleep with your Shodo?" Naoko chuckled at that. Tomoko sent her a look that made her go from chuckling to laughing outright.

"No, Naoko. Let's just say that what goes around, comes around. After tomorrow, I'll tell you, deal?"

"I'll hold you to that, Tomo-chan." Agreed Naoko. Further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of two somewhat damp and very naked girls as well as a less damp, but no less naked Kodo.

"Morning, guys. You treat Touji good, girls?" asked Kodo.

"Of course. He's fun." Smiled Naoko. She turned to the counter and fixed her host a cup of coffee. "One Irish, two sugars, right, sweetie?" she confirmed.

"Oh, yeah." He cheered, taking the mug and carefully sipping it. "Hazelnut and mint? Where did you find this stuff, Naoko?"

"In the cupboard, of course. Idiot." Said the girl, tossing her head at the cabinets over the dishwasher. Kodo shrugged, then took another sip.

"The things you learn." He muttered, watching the two naked girls shoveling food down their throats. "Are those aspirin?" he asked, pointing to a large pile of pills on the edge of a tray of pastries.

"I think so." She said. "The bottle wasn't marked, but they smell like aspirin and taste like it, so I'm going to pretend they are."

"Ah, a woman after my heart!" he said jovially, grabbing perhaps a dozen of them and tossing them down. Touji blinked.

"You feeling ok, bro?" he asked, raising an eyebrow at his teammate.

"Will be in a half-hour, Touji my man. Need some?"

"Not really; I seem to be in the best shape this morning." Replied the young man, noting the condition of the others. "Where's Shodo at?"

"Left him puking in the bathroom. He's probably not going to be sociable until later tonight. Don't worry; he'll be up for the match tomorrow. The bitches are as good as fucked." Smiled Kodo.

"Rumor has it you have a ace up the sleeve. Comments?" pressed Touji. Kodo smiled and winked at him.

"All I gotta say ta you, copper, is no comment." He said, doing a passable impersonation of the classic gangster from the old pre-Second Impact black and white movies. "Seriously, keep tight with me and Shodo tomorrow, got it?"

"Yeah. Sure." Replied Touji. It'll make it easier to make sure you don't get too carried away with this. It wasn't until he was halfway to the hospital that he found himself wondering why he was worrying about the other team. "Shit, I still have to ask Shinji to come see Maki."

Three minutes before the final bell, the insistent tone of a cell phone interrupted the teacher's explanation of the coming chapters of physics 101. The eyes of the entire class darted to the three pilots, who calmly pulled out their NERV-issued cell phones and checked the screens. It was Asuka's phone that was chirping. She felt the touch of her fellow pilots eyes on her. The calm, patient sense of Rei's red orbs counter pointed by the apprehensive, somewhat nervous gaze of Shinji's dark blue eyes. Ah, I am once more in the spot I was born to be: in the lead. Gloated the German girl, touching buttons swiftly, answering the call and making sure the scramble function was on. "Sohryu. Go." She said, her tone clipped and professional.

"Pilot Sohryu, you are to report to NERV immediately for duty." Came the tense voice of the NERV communications officer.

"And Pilots Ikari and Ayanami?" returned Asuka, her eyes involuntarily flitting to her fellow pilots.

"They are on standby, Pilot Sohryu. Acknowledge orders."

"Understood, sir. Reporting now." She said, ending the call, grabbing her bag and raking the notes on her desk into her bag. "Baka, you and Wondergirl are on standby. Catch you later, guys." She called, running out the door. Outside the window, a NERV car pulled up as Asuka hit the door, and a moment later, she was gone, the bell ringing as the car disappeared from view. Hikari finished the routine of rise-bow-dismissed, named the cleaning crew and hurried to where Ritsuko, Rei and Shinji were waiting.

"Is there another attack coming?" asked the class rep, anxious about the prospect of her friends going into another life-or-death battle on the eve of the challenge.

"No." Said Rei, her tone so certain that it was a statement, not a suggestion. "There is no angel coming this time, Hikari. This is another matter. Probably a test of some type."

"Will it run for long? Tomorrow is the day, you know." Said Rit-chan.

"Unknown." Replied Rei.

"Well, we could call Misato and ask." Suggested Shinji, holding up his phone. Rit-chan nodded.

"Do it." She decided, assuming command of the group. Shinji presses two buttons and the phone connected him to Misato. Rit-chan had watched him dial. Hmm. Misato is on his first memory station. I wonder who else might be pre-programmed.

"Katsuragi, here." Came Misato's calm, confident voice. Her behavior when at work was markedly different than her normal behavior.

"It's me, Shinji." Said the young man, which made Rit-chan smile a bit. "Um, I was wondering if…" he began, then broke off as Misato interrupted him.

"Nothing to worry about, Shin-chan. Go ahead and head on home. Hopefully, we'll be there by dinner time." She said, seeming to know what he wanted to ask.

"Uh, sure, Misato." He answered, relieved that there was nothing out of the ordinary so far.

"Hey, Shinji!" came Misato's yell over his phone. Shinji put the phone back to his ear.

"Yes?"

"Can you make some hamburgers for supper?" asked the purple-haired woman of her charge.

"I guess. Why?" asked the confused teen.

"Just have a craving for them." Came her happy voice. "Hamburgers, beer and my Shinji: the makings for a perfect evening after a hard day of NERV-wracking work." Shinji sweat dropped.

"Yeah, I guess. I'll go…get started…with something, now. Bye, Misato." Said the boy, hearing her laughter as he terminated the call.

"Everything ok?" asked Hikari, not really needing to hear his answer as the relief in his voice and body language told her all she needed to know.

"Yeah. Looks like we're having hamburgers for supper. Is that good with you all?" he asked, looking over the three girls. "We'll get some tofu or veggie patties for you, Rei." He added, knowing that she was a vegetarian.

"Hamburgers are good with me as long as I don't have to take orders." Smiled Rit-chan. Seeing the curious looks from the others, she elaborated. "There was a time in my elf hunting days that we ran low on money, so we had to get some jobs to get supplies. Junpei and Celsia worked for a road crew, Airi sold dresses, and I ended up at Elf Burger. I nearly went mad working there."

"That sounds like a dangerous situation, given your skills." Noted Rei, subtly sliding behind Shinji, her hand touching his lower back.

"Well, let me tell you the rest of the story." Said Rit-chan as the group headed out.

"So, she didn't have a spell fragment on her, after all that?" asked Hikari, having just heard the rest of that adventure.

"Nope, not one single mark." Chuckled Rit-chan. "Collina got her prince, we got a good lump of money for leaving, and Junpei got a nice right cross from Airi. It's one of the best endings we've had."

"I'm never going to be able to eat at a burger joint again for fear of looking up and seeing you behind the counter." Joked Hikari. "Talk about going postal."

"Hey! I didn't kill anyone, did I? So it's nothing, right?" defended Rit-chan indignantly.

"It is apparent that the only reason you did not kill anyone was that you were able to vent your anger on other targets." Noted Rei, her hand still touching Shinji's back, out of view of the others. Shinji found the contact comforting.

"Well, I never aspired to work retail or sales, anyway." Shrugged Rit-chan. As the group moved past a grocery store, Shinji paused, which meant that Rei paused as well.

"Guys, I have to grab some stuff here. I'll catch up with you at the apartment, ok?" he said, inclining his head toward the store.

"I will accompany you, Shinji." Stated Rei.

"What do you need to get, Shinji?" asked Hikari as the others paused on their way home.

"Well, I better get some fresh meat, as I don't know where the stuff in Misato's refridge came from, and we'll need some buns, and I wanted to try a recipe I overheard for something called Orleans Eats, but we don't have the spices on hand. And there are supposed to be vegetables with hamburgers as well. Just some of this and some of that." He answered, making up a list mentally of what he needed to pick up.

"I'll give you a hand, Shinji." Volunteered Hikari with a smile. "Besides, I wanted to pick up some peach and white grape soda that Asuka wanted to try."

"Um, sure." Agreed Shinji. Rit-chan saw a chance to have a talk with a certain pilot.

"Hey Rei, could you walk with me to the apartment while Hikari and Shinji get the food?" asked the older teen. Rei considered her request.

"What for?" she asked, her tone mildly curious, though she was unwilling to break contact with Shinji.

Ok, so we'll stop being so subtle. Decided Rit-chan. "I wanted to talk with you a little." She said aloud.

"About what?" countered Rei.

"Girl talk." Returned Rit-chan, maintaining eye contact with Rei. I can play this way too, girl. Rei's eyes slid to Shinji's for a moment.

"Very well." She agreed, stepping toward Rit-chan as Shinji and Hikari turned for the door to the market. Rit-chan and Rei resumed the walk home, Rit-chan seeing Shinji give them both a look before stepping into the shop with Hikari.

Christ, she's some piece of work! Thought Rit-chan as she and Rei entered the Katsuragi Zoo, as Asuka called the apartment. But still, for being so damned cold, she is surprisingly…insightful about her relationship with Shinji, as well as the situation with Asuka, Hikari, Misato, Airi and myself. I wouldn't have been able to grasp the view she has without her explaining it to me with questions. And I can see her point. I wonder if I will ever be strong enough to apply that concept to my own relationships? Rei sat calmly on the couch and watched as Rit-chan walked into her and Asuka's room to slip into something more comfortable. As she waited, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed Misato's number, reminding the Captain to bring with her the tools and supplies they had discussed earlier for the next day's festivities. Misato seemed a little puzzled by Rei calling her, a situation she had never experienced before, as Rei never called anyone. Period. Rei closed the call as soon as Misato confirmed that the supplies would be with her when she got home. Pausing to consider the situation, she ultimately decided not to call Shinji's number, at least right away. Rit-chan reappeared and saw Rei putting her phone away. "Called to remind Misato, I presume?"

"Correct, Rit-chan." Confirmed Rei calmly.

"I hope she found some Simmunition." Said Rit-chan, frowning a little. "We need every advantage we can get here."

"Are you concerned about losing, Rit-chan?" asked Rei of the other teen.

"A little." Conceded Rit-chan.

"Is it because you have not had sexual intercourse yet?" asked Rei, her tone curious. Rit-chan felt her cheeks get a little warm, but not enough to be fairly called a blush.

"Not precisesly. And Rei, can't you just call it `sex' instead of sexual intercourse?"

"Then why are you concerned? Unless it is not a question of sex, but of who would be having sex with you?" pressed Rei.

"That's about the size of it." Agreed Rit-chan. "I like to think that I have standards for who I choose to share myself with."

"Like Shinji?" came Rei's even question. Rit-chan declined to answer. "If you are worried, then I suggest that you ask him if he would be your first. That way, if things do not work out according to plan, you will at least no longer be a virgin, and you would know that your first time was with someone you loves."

"What about you, Rei-chan?" challenged Rit-chan. "Is that why you slept with Shinji? And wouldn't it bother you if all those guys got to have sex with you - an activity that you say you only desire with Shinji, I would remind you."

"Yes, it would bother me to allow them to enter me as Shinji does, but I will not allow myself to lose this challenge, for that and another reason." Replied Rei.

"What other reason?" asked Rit-chan, her curiosity piqued.

"It would anger and hurt Shinji if we were to lose and the opponents were able to have sex with those he loves." Replied Rei, her tone still level and collected.

Shinji and Hikari walked toward the apartment, their arms full of groceries. Hikari had decided that they would get some stuff to celebrate when they won the next day, and she had seemed to be under the impression that Misato's refridge needed more choices than it currently had. So, Shinji held three bags, and Hikari held two bags, all of them full. Still, we'll eat well tonight. Reasoned Shinji. I must have been imaging her flirting with me. Still, why did she ask if I had a favorite condom brand and style? It would be nice if she wanted to…oh, get real, Shinji; she's probably just wondering because she wants to get a good brand for when Touji gets his head out of his ass and notices that she likes him. But then, I don't know anything about condoms, since Rei insists that I don't need them. And I would be lying if I said that didn't trust her judgment, or that I didn't like the feeling of not wearing one when we have sex. The memory of Rei's naked form and the slick warmth of her sex made him smile like an idiot.

"Are you thinking of someone special, Shinji?" asked the brown-haired girl at his side, interrupting his daydream.

"Yeah, I guess so. Sorry." Replied Shinji, a little embarrassed to be caught daydreaming. "You were saying…?"

"Nothing too important, Shinji." Laughed Hikari. "Just that I was nervous about tomorrow. I have to say, the thought of losing isn't appealing."

"We won't lose." Stated Shinji, his tone factual. Hikari felt a thrill run down her spine at his sure manner.

"Of course not." She agreed. "But, what if we did? I don't want to…be had by all those guys for my first time. If nothing else, I want my first time to be with someone I love." Mused the girl.

"Like Touji?" asked Shinji, his tone a little wistful. Oddly, Hikari found the thought of her first time being with Touji to be somewhat repugnant. His participation in the planning for the girls had really made her re-think her impression of him. And the conversations with Asuka had been undermining her fantasies of Touji, and replacing them with fantasies of Shinji. Oh, admit it, Hikari: you want to get your hands - and other parts - on his dick! The girl scolded herself mentally.

"Well, not exactly. I was thinking…maybe…someone more…deserving." She hedged, feeling her cheeks heat up.

"What?" he asked, frowning a bit. "Someone more…deserving?" Hikari felt herself getting warmer in the face and belly.

"Someone like…you, Shinji." She whispered, half hoping, half fearing that he would hear her.

"Aren't we done yet?" came Asuka's impatient, petulant voice. She was sitting in her entry plug, inserted in Unit 2's back and was currently working on disassembling and re-assembling a kind of blocky…thing that Doctor Akagi had said was a test for the fine motor control improvements she had come up with for the Eva series. It was the ninth time the volatile German girl had completed the exercise of taking the…whatever it was apart, then building it again. "I swear, this is the most useless thing I have ever done." She muttered. "And worse, it's embarrassing to sit here like a giant kid playing with blocks."

"Quit your complaining, Asuka." Came the Doctor's voice. "I need this data to improve your Eva's performance."

"My Unit 2 doesn't need any improvement! And why not have Baka and Wondergirl here with their defective units, instead of my Unit 2?!" exploded Asuka. Any suggestion that her Eva Unit 2 wasn't the pinnacle of human achievement was automatically an attack on her pride, and her pride was her weak spot.

"We've covered this before, Asuka." Came Ritsuko Akagi's voice. "Units 0 and 1 are not standardized units like Unit 2. Therefore, they cannot be fitted with production upgrades. And yes, they are going to be doing this test as well, but not tonight. This is your turn, so get back to work." Asuka resumed the pointless task, grumbling under her breath in German. Misato, having picked up a fairly comprehensive vocabulary while she was in NERV in Germany back in the day, hid a smile as she caught several less-than-flattering comments on Ritsu's parentage, family tree, mental state, sexual orientation and professional competency.

"You were planning to finish this soon, right, Ritsu?" asked the dark haired Operations Director of her old roomie.

"We're almost done. Anxious about tomorrow?" asked the doctor, her eyes not leaving the readouts at Maya's station. Misato considered her answer as she watched the large screen in front of the bridge, which showed Asuka's Unit 2 sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the catapults, the large, blocky, multi-colored components looking a lot like oversized Legos.

"What is that thing, anyway?" replied Misato, ignoring her friends earlier question. You're going to have to work harder than that for an answer, Ritsu. Thought the captain.

"Just some old components and some miscellaneous parts I had dragged over there for this test. And stop trying to dodge the question. Are you worried about tomorrow?" countered Akagi.

"What's tomorrow?" asked Misato, her tone innocent.

"The challenge that Asuka's big mouth got her and the rest into. As I understand it, the cost of losing will be…educational for her and the others." Responded Ritsuko, her eyes still on her screens. "Not that it would be entirely bad for them to lose, but there are other considerations."

"Such as?" asked Misato, her voice a little hard at the dismissive tone of her friend toward the possibility of their pilots and their friends getting screwed. Literally.

"It would be…unfortunate for NERV to be associated with something so…tawdry. And with the UN always breathing down our necks, not to mention the Japanese government and our ever-loving fans, NERV must never be seen as weak, gullible or fallible."

"Sounds like something that Commander Ikari would say." Murmured Misato.

"What did you say?" asked Ritsu, glancing over from the screen.

"I said, they won't lose. Not with Rit-chan and the pilots on the team."

"For all our sakes, they better not. Ok, Asuka, you're done. Park Unit 2 and get changed." Said Ritsuko Akagi, picking up her clipboard and making a few notes as she departed the room.

In Commander Ikari's office, the Vice Commander stood in front of Gendo's desk, watching as the younger man scanned a report from Section 2. It was not new information, but Gendo was a methodical son of bitch and he tended to make sure that noting was left to chance when he was scheming. So, he re-read the reports and considered all his recent choices again. "Well?" asked Fuyutsuki at last.

"There is no need to intervene, old friend. They should be able to achieve victory, judging from the reports. And if they do not, we can still use them, soiled though they will be." Replied Gendo.

"And the other matter?" inquired the older man.

"Interesting possibilities there, I agree. I will have Akagi administer the tests next week, for them both. I believe that placing Inoue in Unit 1 with pilot Ikari will prove the most…enlightening test."

Even to yourself, you cannot call him your son, can you, bastard? Thought the old teacher. "And Komiyama?"

"With a lower chance with her, I think that she should be placed with pilot Sohryu in Unit 2. Of course, this all depends on their scores in the first two tests."

"Naturally." Agreed Fuyutsuki. The office was silent for a long few moments, then Gendo spoke again. "Call agent Kaji and tell him he is to report to me here within the hour. I think it is time to see what he is truly capable of."

"Very well. Anything else?" asked the gray-haired man.

"Tell me, why did you change the security measures for the pilots and tier 2 personnel?"

"I deemed this new group a threat, Ikari. Why ask?"

"And what makes you so sure they are in fact a threat, and not some barking dogs like the rest?" pressed Gendo.

Fuyutsuki was silent for a few heartbeats. "Because they have excellent grammar, sir."

"Dismissed." Replied Gendo, turning his attention back to the screen before him. As the door closed behind his Vice Commander, he selected another report and perused it yet again. Still, it made no sense to him. Why would Rei suddenly feel the need to rent porno flicks? Wondered the Commander. I have seen little indication that she is any different from before, so I will treat this as a phase she is going through, similar to when she was researching urban legends because that moron Aida's kid told her that the school was built on top of a graveyard and she decided that the most logical means to determine the truth was to have a backhoe dig a hole in the front lawn. Still, I have to wonder why the sudden interest in sex? Ah, I see. With Sophia's arrival, there is a new stimulant in her environment, and she is reacting to the things that Sohryu is saying. Hmm. No point to get concerned yet. I will have Akagi give her a physical just in case. The commander, his mind made up, felt much better, his eyes examining a more detailed list of Rei's more recent purchases. As his eyes slid over the list of titles she had rented, he found himself somewhat impressed. She certainly chose some good ones. That one is my favorite, and I can remember the first time I saw this one as well. Hell, I've got that one in my personal collection. Those three as well. I haven't heard of this one, though. I should check it out; just to make sure Rei isn't seeing something that isn't in the plan, or course.

Kaji frowned as he read the latest orders from one of his many masters. Maybe three is two too many. He thought, frowning a little more. But, he was addicted to the thrill of playing the game with such a crowded board. And the more factions he could play against each other, the easier it would be to learn the truth behind Project E and Gendo Ikari. Even so, the request of his most basic employer was going to be difficult. Not to mention dangerous. I really need to start watching my back; especially with this watch dog assigned to me. Trying to work with him here is like trying to swim with one leg tied to a millstone. Inside the apartment, Junpei was watching TV, his ever-present bowl of rice curry in hand, his eyes glued to the chest of the actress strutting around on screen.

Over the last week, he had come to know the other guy's pattern. First thing in the morning, Julie worked out. Then it was curry time. Next came wandering the streets of Tokyo 3 or following Kaji around NERV. Lunch was curry again if he had any say in it. Afternoons were spent composing poetry for miss Airi or wondering where Rit-chan was and what she was doing. Evenings were tube time and rice curry eating. Kaji had a couple of thoughts on what to do to temporarily rid himself of the obstacle, and it looked like it was time to use one or more of them. Starting tomorrow, you will have a new hobby, Junpei. Promised Kaji to himself, destroying the note and returning to the apartment, catching the beer Junpei tossed him as he flopped down on the sofa. But for now, it was tube time.

Celsia was laying on her bare cot, in her bare cell, her naked form chained to the wall as always, but for the first time in a long time, she wasn't sound asleep or yelling and cursing at any and all around her. No, it had been two days since her last set of tests with that blonde bitch, and Celsia had caught up on her sleep, and was now rested enough that she could calmly think her way through the situation she found herself in. Since she felt that her friends were more than likely busy trying to figure this situation out, she had to concentrate on finding a way back to the elf world, as she was their only magic user.

A little experimentation had shown her that her magic was failing because it was not able to interface with the physical world as it should. I got here by magic, and it does seem that I can use my magic, IF I can figure out why the power won't hold here. It's like there is a missing part of the series of steps, almost like when I was first learning spells and would miss a word or step. If I allow that some component is in fact missing, then factor in that the spell brought us here in a stable form, what does that give me? It gives me that there were or will be some event that allows me to utilize my magic. Unfortunately, I have no clue what that event might be. It could be a certain stellar occurrence, or a certain festival, or, well, anything. I need to get out of this cell and see what the hell is going on here, so I can get the hell out of this world as quick as possible. What I really need is Airi's brains, Rit-chan's guns and Junpei's martial arts. But, I haven't seen them since we got captured. I hope they're all right; if not, I'm going to hate my life for a long time.

Misato's arrival at the Zoo proved to be a boon for once, as she and Asuka lugged up three heavy-duty cordless drills with socket drives, a box of anchor stays and three boxes of Simunition ammo in Rit-chan's caliber. Shinji and Hikari were cooking dinner in the kitchen, Rit-chan and Rei were sitting at the table, watching the two work, and Airi was in Misato's and her room, engrossed in a stack of reports, newspaper clippings, and confidential NERV files. She had been that way for a week, with only occasional trips to NERV with Misato or the odd trip out with Rit-chan after school, and before her nightly drill sessions at NERV with the other team mates.

"Well, isn't this a homey scene?" asked Asuka, her tone irritable. A dull clunk sounded as she dropped her set of drills and anchor stays to the floor. Misato set her drill, anchor stays and purse by the set Asuka had dropped and tossed the three, 20 round boxes of Simunition to the table in front of Rit-chan.

"This what you wanted, Rit-chan?" asked the Captain of the teen elf hunter. Rit-chan slipped a strip of ammo out of one of the boxes and checked it over.

"That'll do!" she answered happily. "Thanks, Misato!"

"It was nothing. Besides, I want to see what that stuff does myself. When's the party?" asked Misato, her tone cheerful and happy as it usually was when she was relaxing with her Children.

"Tomorrow at nine, but you might want to be there at about eight, as that will be when we'll do our final run though and tune up." Answered Rit-chan. "We're going to be out of here by 0415 hours if we're on schedule."

"You know where the place is, right?" asked Asuka, stretching her back and heading for her room. "I'm gonna get changed."

"I know the site, Asuka. And I can't wait to see you guys in action." Affirmed Misato.

"Hopefully not the hentai kind of action." Murmured Hikari to Shinji, her tone teasing, but underlain with tension.

"It won't come to that, Hikari." Answered Shinji quietly, looking into her eyes. "No way will we lose. Not with Rit-chan, Asuka and Rei-chan on the team." Hikari gave him a smile, and turned her attention back to the dish she was preparing. Lasagna was a dish she had come to have fair familiarity with, but this was her first time trying her hand at vegetarian lasagna, and she was trying to make sure that it would come out right. Shinji was finishing up the last of the regular lasagna and would then move on to the garlic bread, salad and drinks as Hikari took care of the actual cooking of the main dish. Rei and Rit-chan had watched the two work and talked of little things, since Rit-chan had been slowly learning how to get Rei to talk. Not to be confused with a conversationalist, Ayanami was nevertheless holding actual conversations with Rit-chan, Shinji and Hikari, though the conversations were much shorter than a conversation with Asuka could ever be.

And it was about then that the fire-haired teen reappeared, dressed in her normal oversized tee shirt and loose cotton shorts, her hair still in her trademark `A10 Interface Showcase' hairdo. Hooking a chair out from under the table with her foot, she settled next to Rit-chan and sighed. "What a day."

"So, what was the deal with going into NERV so suddenly?" asked Hikari of her friend, handing the redhead a noodle wrapped around some sauce, cheese, meat and mushrooms. Asuka consumed the morsel in one gulp.

"Saving the world isn't what it used to be." Groused the German. "Still, if experimental mechanical components ever attack us, I'll kick ass!"

"What?" asked Shinji, her answer as clear as if she were speaking Martian.

"I'd tell you, Baka, but then I would be ruining the surprise. And we can't have that, now can we?" she replied, her tone condescending and droll.

"Oh." Was all Shinji said, picking up a knife and slicing into the loaf of bread, preparing to make some garlic toast. Hikari covered the two dishes and slipped them into the oven.

"Supper will be in about 40 minutes, guys!" called the brown-headed girl, her voice pitched to carry. Years of doing that with her sisters had conditioned her to announce meals in such a manner. Her announcement made Misato and Airi miraculously appear. The Operations Director had her tight tank top and her smaller-by-the-day shorts on, while Airi wore a more normal loose shirt and long shorts. Misato finished tying her hair back in a ponytail and sat down by Rei, who actually deigned to acknowledge her presence with a minuscule head dip. Airi gracefully slipped into a chair next to Asuka.

"Hey, Airi." Said Rit-chan, looking over to her fellow elf stripper. The girl's tone was as upbeat as it always was.

"Good evening, Rit-chan. Are you ready for tomorrow?" asked the actress.

"Sure. We should win, all things being even."

"Knowing you as I do, I am going to say that you do not plan for them to play fairly and have taken appropriate steps to insure you victory. Correct?" smiled Airi. A year of working closely with the skillful girl had taught the actress much about how the weapons otaku preferred to work.

"Yeah, you know me." Laughed the teen, sharing a smile with her fellow traveler. "So, whose idea was it to have Italian tonight?"

"It was mine. Why, do you not like pasta?" asked Hikari.

"Italian?" asked Misato, frowning. "What happened to burgers?"

"Uh, well, I guess you got over-ruled?" Offered Shinji, his tone apologetic.

"By who?!" demanded Misato, her hand hitting the table for emphasis. "Damn it, I'm your boss and this is my house, and I get over-ruled?!"

"It was Commander Ikari's orders." Said Hikari, maintaining a straight face with great effort. "Doctor Akagi mentioned that certain members of the bridge were gaining weight and he told her to make sure that the bridge crew didn't gain any more weight, so she called Shinji and ordered him to change the menu." Shinji resolutely kept his face locked to the cutting board below him and his back to his commanding officer. Hikari had come up with this little story to get back at Misato for the constant teasing she had been giving them all, and Shinji was curious as to rather or not it would work.

"He said…why would….damn him to hell!" yelled Misato.

"You got my vote." Seconded Asuka.

"Sounds good to me." Added Shinji, his tone dark and angry. Misato ignored them, her anger still burning.

"How dare Ritsu say that! She's put on more weight than me, the porker! If she weren't a chain smoker, she'd weigh a ton by now! And since when has that bastard Ikari cared about anyone but himself and his plans?! I ought to…" The sounds of laughter finally penetrated her angry mind, displacing her daydream of marching into NERV central with a machine gun and a flamethrower to deal justice to the Commander and anyone else who might deserve it. Seeing Hikari, Asuka and Rit-chan all but rolling on the floor with laughter and Shinji smiling with Rei, she suddenly understood: the Children had played a joke on her. The more she thought about it, the more she wryly appreciated the situation, and soon, she too was laughing with the others. If nothing else, Misato could take it as well as she could dish it.

The small hours of the day were settled over the city, everything quiet and restful. In the crowded apartment of one Captain Katsuragi, seven people lay sleeping. Or rather, five lay sleeping, one tossed restlessly on the couch and one stared at the ceiling of her room. Eventually, the young man on the couch sat up and moved silently to the glass door leading to the balcony. He stood there for a long moment, wondering why he couldn't sleep without bad dreams. He also debated rather or not to risk waking someone else by opening the door to allow him to step onto the balcony. The debate was discarded in favor of watching the city lights below. After several minutes, he began to try to pick out the section that in a few hours would be their battleground.

In Shinji's room, Hikari stared at the ceiling and wondered what tomorrow would bring. After dinner, the group had decided to retire at a time that none of them had ever gone to bed, to try and gain as much energy as possible for the coming day's challenge. Even though her bed was the largest in the apartment, three people were a crowd, and Hikari had decided that everyone would sleep better if she bunked with Rei in Shinji's room. Asuka had given a half-hearted attempt to dissuade her, but it was just for appearances, as she knew that three of them in her bed was not going to give any of them much sleep. Rei hadn't said anything when Hikari showed up at Shinji's door, dressed in her silk Chinese-cut pajamas. Indeed, the blue-haired one simply looked at her for a moment, then moved over to allow her half of Shinji's bed. Hikari had slipped in and settled herself for sleep before she realized that Rei slept naked. For whatever reasons, Asuka had failed to warn her, and she was shocked when she accidentally brushed up against Rei's lower back with her arm and felt bare skin. For a moment, the brown-haired girl thought that Rei slept in a short top and panties, but the moonlight shining in through the window shone on Rei's alabaster skin, revealed by the cover and sheet that stopped at mid-chest. Hikari blinked, then carefully touched Rei's hip. Sure enough, bare skin. The girl withdrew her hand and felt her cheeks heat up. "What is wrong, Hikari?" asked the First Child, her soft voice barely audible.

"Nothing." Answered Hikari, her cheeks warm. "I just didn't know that you slept…that way."

"Which way?" asked the pilot, her tone slightly colored with curiosity.

"Um, you know." Managed Hikari. "Not wearing anything."

"Does it bother you?" asked Rei.

"No! Of course not. I just didn't know you slept naked." Assured Hikari.

"I find it much more comfortable than wearing clothes to bed. You might wish to try it sometime." Responded Rei, her tone indicating that she was planning on sleeping, as this seemed to end the discussion as far as she was concerned.

"Well, good night, Rei." Offered Hikari, trying to settle down for some sleep. Still, it was a little distracting to know that Rei was naked. Oh, come on, Hikari. She's a girl too, so it's not like you have to worry about her jumping your bones or anything. Another thought came to her. I wonder if Shinji sleeps naked? Or maybe she was expecting Shinji to come see her later tonight? Oh my god! What if he doesn't see me here, and comes to see Rei, but finds me instead! What would I tell Rei when she woke up to see him massaging my breasts or pulling my pajama bottoms off or…WHAT THE HELL AM I THINKING!?!? Still, Hikari could feel her nipples pressing against the soft material of her top, already as hard as rocks from her mental musings, and her groin was feeling very hot and tingly. Damn, why can't I get that out of my mind? We've got the challenge tomorrow and I have got to sleep. So, stop it with the hentai daydreaming, Hikari Horaki, and go to SLEEP! She ordered herself in her best class rep voice. Twenty minutes later, she was asleep…sort of. Her restless tossing and turning wasn't very useful for giving her energy for the next day, after all. Beside her, Rei was aware of her movements, but was resting as she usually did, as she never slept very deeply anyway. Her primary attention was on Shinji's well being, and she felt that he was restless as well, but was unsure if he needed her just then. Ultimately, she chose to wait a bit and see what he did as it got later in the night.

Several hours later, Hikari woke up yet again from a decidedly erotic dream about Shinji and his large member. Her nipples were still hard and her groin felt suspiciously wet. Deciding that enough was enough, she carefully slipped out of bed and stepped silently into the bathroom, intent on seeing if she had soaked her pajamas or not. After making sure that the door was closed, she turned on the light and winced as she squinted at the sudden bright light. A few seconds later, she was able to drop her hand from her eyes as she stepped to the toilet, slipping down her bottoms. She was relieved to see that her pajamas weren't wet from her dreams, but her panties were another matter. Grimacing a little, she carefully removed her silk bottoms and then her soaked panties. She stood there naked from the waist down for a moment, deciding what to do with her soaked panties. Eventually she decided that she'd put them in the laundry basket and retrieve them after the challenge, as she couldn't wash them without waking some or all of the other residents, and she didn't really want to leave them drying on the small line ring that currently held some of both Asuka's and Misato's panties for fear of having to explain why they were there. As the lid to the hamper closed, she stepped back to the toilet to take care of the pressure on her bladder, finishing up and flushing before she slipped back into her silk bottoms. This does feel good. She noted, feeling the silk against her skin.

Pausing to let her eyes adjust to the dark again after she killed the light, Hikari carefully opened the door to the bathroom and started back to Shinji's room when she heard a little noise from the living room. Wondering if Shinji was all right, the girl stepped past the door to the room that she was currently sharing with Rei and peeked around the corner to see the couch was empty. After a few moments, she spotted Shinji staring out the window at the city below. A moment after she saw him standing there, the girl was standing beside him. Since he hadn't acknowledged her arrival, she touched his shoulder gently, getting his attention. He flinched and turned to look at her. Raising a finger to her lips, she signaled for him to be quiet. He nodded, then slowly eased the door to the balcony open, careful to make sure it made no noise. When it was open about ten inches, the two slipped out to stand on the balcony, Shinji easing the sliding glass door closed again. Hikari had stopped a short distance from the railing, and was watching Shinji. The pilot crossed to stand next to her.

"Couldn't sleep?" she asked innocently enough.

"Bad dreams." He answered, his tone making it clear he didn't want to talk about it. "How about you?"

"Um, no, I had…good dreams, but I had to use the bathroom." She explained. Silence stretched between them for a bit, as the breeze coming in off the bay cooled them. Several minutes later, Hikari shivered a little. Shinji looked over at her.

"Want to go back in, Hikari?" he asked.

"No, not yet. But I could use a little warmth." She said, feeling her cheeks getting warm.

"Um, sure. What…" Shinji trailed off as she stepped in front of him and pressed her back to his chest as her hands pulled his arms around her waist.

"This will do." She whispered. Shinji carefully hugged her to him, trying not to think about her thin, smooth silk top and pants. His dick had other ideas, though, and stirred in his loose shorts, rapidly hardening as he felt Hikari's firm rear pressed to his hips. Hikari gave no indication that she noticed his reaction to her. "Shinji?" asked Hikari a few minutes later, breaking his attempt to will his penis to turn back to flesh from its current steel impression. The fact that it was throbbing against the cleft of Hikari's shapely ass didn't help.

"Ye…Yes, Hikari?" he answered. Hikari didn't immediately respond, but eventually she continued.

"Did you mean it when you said that you liked my breasts?" she asked, her voice small and a little timid. Shinji's member twitched at the question, and Hikari - who had felt it transform from silk to steel - smiled a little.

"Yes, I do like them." Answered Shinji, his voice only a little unsteady. His experience with Rei and Asuka was rapidly giving him much better control over his impulses.

"Even though they're so small? I'm just an A cup, remember?" pressed Hikari, turning her head to look at him, her cheeks red. She saw that he was looking at her chest, and she knew that her hard nipples were easily visible under her thin top.

"I told you, I like them because they're yours, not because of their size." Said Shinji, moving his eyes to her eyes. It wasn't long before they were back on her chest though. To Shinji's surprise, he heard her give a soft giggle. He was more surprised when she turned to face him without moving away from him. She hugged herself to him, feeling his penis press into her belly. Several minutes later, she leaned back from his chest, leaving her hips pressed to his.

"Shinji? Can I…would you…I mean, if…" she trailed off, her entire face on fire. Just say it! She mentally yelled. Her tongue refused to listen, staying tied in knots. Giving up on speaking for the moment, Hikari leaned up a little and pressed her lips to his, hoping that he wouldn't pull away. He didn't, meeting her kiss instead. Eventually she leaned back down, feeling the heat spread to her neck and chest. Shinji was a little red himself. Hikari steeled her will and stepped back from him a little. Shinji let her slip out of his arms, his expression a little apprehensive.

"I'm sorry, Hikari. I shouldn't have…" he started, but broke off abruptly as she smiled and stared at his tented shorts. He glanced down, gasped and covered his painfully hard dick with his hands, turning his back on her. "Oh God, I'm sorry…" again he froze when he felt her hands on his shoulders.

"It's ok, Shinji." She said softly. He stood frozen. "Will you…wait a second? Please?" she asked, her hands leaving his shoulders. Not that Shinji could have moved just then anyway. It was less than thirty seconds later when Hikari's hands closed on his shoulders again. With steady pressure, she turned him to face her. At first, he couldn't meet her eyes. "Shinji, look at me." She said with a bit of command in her voice, and his eyes slid up to her eyes. Or rather, they would have if they hadn't gotten stuck on her chest, which was revealed by her open top. Hikari reached out and tentatively took his hands, still locked over his erect member and pulled them to her breasts.

"Hikari, are…"

"Just let me, ok? Please?" whispered Hikari, her eyes on his dick, which was attempting to tear through the shorts. Shinji began to carefully massage her breasts, feeling their firmness topped by her hard nipples. The class rep gave off a suppressed moan as he began to mimic what he did with Asuka and Rei with her breasts. Her hands reached for his shorts, but stopped before they got there, one finger gently touching him through the material. Shinji quickened his efforts on her breasts. A moment later, her hand was feeling his length and hardness through the shorts. She kept moving up to the waist of his shorts, but stopping. Her breathing was getting ragged, and she was squirming now. Shinji risked speaking.

"Hikari, if you want to do that, then…" the girl silenced him by lunging up and kissing him clumsily. After a few moments, she broke off.

"Shinji, please, I…I just…you do it, please? For me?" she panted, pulling his hands to her breasts again before her hands once more touched his member. Shinji puzzled over her meaning, as he wasn't sure what she had meant to say. When her hands once more touched his short's waistband, but then withdrew as she moaned softly, he figured he knew what she wanted. Withdrawing his hands from her breasts, he carefully slid his shorts down to his thighs. Hikari gasped, seeing him standing at attention before her. She slowly reached out and closed her hands over his hard, soft member. Shinji reached for her breasts, then decided to see if that was what she wanted, or if she wanted more help. Ever so slowly, his hands slid down her sides to her waist, stopping at her pajama bottoms. Hikari began to slowly stroke his hard member, her soft hands sliding easily over his engorged member. Shinji slowly slipped his hands down over her hips, pushing her bottoms down with it. Once the silk cleared the crest of her hips, it slipped to the floor around her ankles. Shinji easily slid his hands to her bare groin, feeling a sparse bit of hair as he explored her sex. Though not a very experienced lover, he remembered how both Asuka and Rei had responded to certain things, and he mimicked the actions now with Hikari, who, within minutes, had her first non-self-induced orgasm. Shinji watched her tremble and shake, her hands leaving his penis to grab onto his shirt for support. It was almost two minutes before she stopped trembling. When she had come back down to earth, she noticed that Shinji's dick was still hard as a rock. She was seized with mortification, frozen without any idea of what to do about it. It was then that Shinji showed a side of him she had never shown her before.

"Don't worry about that, Hikari. It'll go away on it's own. Why not try sleeping now? We have a big day in a few hours." He suggested, pulling his shorts back up, then squatting to gently pull her bottoms back up.

"But, you're still…I mean, you didn't get to…finish." Stammered Hikari.

"It's no big deal. As long as you enjoyed it, everything is good." He assured her.

I come on to him like a drunken slut, and all he cares about is if I'M satisfied? Heh. Most guys wouldn't have stopped until they had sex with me, but Shinji wouldn't do that. I should return the favor. I know I should, but I just can't! I…I'm sorry Shinji, but I just can't right now! I promise, I'll make it up to you.

"If you're sure, Shinji. I am feeling sleepy now." Accepted Hikari, feeling herself yawn.

"I am. Sleep good, Hikari-chan." Smiled Shinji. Hikari walked to the door, eased it open and slipped inside, headed for his room and a (hopefully) sleeping Rei. Shinji stayed there, feeling his dick throb painfully. Of all the times to be noble! He thought. God, I need some `relief' more than ever! Still, I couldn't have lived with myself if I had taken advantage of her. Looks like I'll be staying here until this thing dies. The boy turned to look over the city again, waiting for the erection to go away. In his room, Hikari slipped into bed with Rei as carefully as she could, yawning as she did so.

Man, I AM wiped out. Is that why I couldn't sleep? Wondered the girl as she laid her head on her pillow. Two and a half minutes later, she was out cold. Beside her, a set of red eyes opened and a pale form rose from the bed. As Ayanami crossed to the door to the room, she glanced back at Hikari's sleeping form. Seeing that the other girl was sound asleep, she turned back to the door, slipping silently out, feeling a smile form on her lips as she headed for the balcony, and the young man she knew was there with an aroused penis.

Perhaps I should thank Hikari for this. Mused the pilot as she slipped through the door without a sound, her arms closing around Shinji's chest from behind. As Shinji turned to look at her, she spotted her reward. Yes, I must thank her for this gift. Concluded the pilot, pressing her lips to his and feeling his penis press against her wet lower lips. After that thought, her mind was elsewhere.

An alarm clock sounded, but was nearly instantly silenced by a shadowy form. Rit-chan had woken up three minutes early, and had gotten out of bed a half-minute before the alarm went off, so she was able to kill it quickly. She had decided to do a little prep before she woke the others. Heading into the bathroom, she tended to that first, then stepped to the kitchen and pulled out some coffee grinds and started a pot of coffee, knowing that the others would be slower to get going; and she wanted some extra kick that morning as well. For maybe five minutes, she sorted out her plans and options again, then sighed and headed back to her and Asuka's room to start the process of waking the others and prepping for the day. That thought prompted her to remember that Shinji was on the couch, so she veered over to wake him. Seeing him sleeping peacefully, she paused to study him. He looked so peaceful and cute, she couldn't resist the urge to be evil. Settling next to the couch, she got in position, then locked her lips to his, feeling him slowly return the kiss as he woke. Rit-chan fought the urge to smile as she kept the kiss going as he finally came fully awake. His small jerk of surprise told her when he was fully conscious. It was another ten seconds before she released him, smiling wickedly as she did so.

"Rit-chan?" he said, stunned by her kiss, his mind still tangled.

"Of course. I told you I'd help you learn some things. Unless you prefer Asuka or Rei? How about Hikari or Misato?" teased Rit-chan, her smile warm. "Yeah, I think I'll tell Misato you want a good morning kiss." Her smile turned into a very disturbing copy of Asuka's when the German had some mayhem planned. "Stay there." Commanded the elf hunter, standing and heading for Misato's room.

"Wait!" called Shinji. Rit-chan laughed.

"I was kidding, Shinji. Of course, she would lay one on you if I told her you wanted one."

"Or more." Muttered Shinji, standing and heading for the bathroom.

"Hey, are you complaining, Shinji?" teased the girl, stepping into the room she shared with Asuka. "Wake up Hikari and Rei-chan when you get done, ok?"

"Ok." He yawned, closing the door and turning on the light.

In her room, Ritsuko did likewise, turning on the lights before the door was closed. After a moment, there was a bit of sound from a lump that might have been Asuka. "Come on, time to go, Asuka." Called the other redhead, being mindful not to be too loud as Airi and Misato didn't have to be up for several more hours. Rit-chan dumped her sleep clothes and pulled out her spandex shorts and top, which she wiggled into pausing between the shorts and the top to push on the lump and, getting no response, pulling the sheets off and poking Asuka directly. Once the young German was sitting up and rubbing her eyes, Rit-chan slipped into the top, adjusting it for comfort once it was on. Asuka yawned as she slid out of bed.

"Morn." Mumbled the pilot as she stepped past the older girl; or something that sort of sounded like that anyway. Rit-chan suppressed a yawn as Asuka moved to the bathroom.

"Shinji is in there." Observed Rit-chan.

"Not for long." Mumbled Asuka, opening the door and entering. Rit-chan blinked, then shook her head. This could be messy. She picked up her USP from where it had rested under her pillow, dropped the mag, checking to make sure it was full, then cracked the slide back a bit to make sure that the round in the chamber was still there. Seeing the shiny brass, she let the slide snap forward, then inserted the mag and drove it home with a solid whack from her palm. She frowned. Still no noise from the bathroom. I had expected for Shinji to come running out or be thrown out by now. Asuka wouldn't…nah. Then again… Rit-chan crossed to the bathroom door and listened. She heard the shower. She heard two voices. She went back to getting ready.

Eight minutes later, the smell of coffee was permeating the apartment and Shinji stepped out of the bathroom, his hair still wet and his towel wrapped around his waist. Rit-chan glanced over from the open door to her and Asuka's room and gave him a wink. "I like the new look, Shin-chan. How about you take that towel off for a 500 yen note?" she teased.

Shinji surprised her by replying. "For you, Rit-chan, I'd do it for free."

"Careful, I might hold you to that, studly." She laughed happily. Shinji gave her a bow, then reached for the door to his room. He didn't get to open it as Rei beat him to it, standing there naked, her eyes on his wet hair and smile.

"Good morning, Shinji." Said the pilot calmly. "I trust you slept well?"

"Of course, Rei-chan. And you?"

"No problems. Excuse me, please." She replied. Shinji stepped aside and Rei, naked still, walked to the bathroom, ignoring Rit-chan's raided eyebrow. The blue-haired pilot disappeared inside as Shinji entered his room, seeing a still sleeping Hikari on his bed. His penis twitched, but behaved itself this time. Noticing that her hair was caught in the corner of her mouth, he squatted down and gently brushed it back. Hikari sighed, but slept on. Shinji smiled and stood, retrieving his bike shorts and dark tee shirt, wiggling into them. Properly dressed now, he sat next to his bed and leaned over, kissing Hikari softly. The girl stirred, but didn't wake. So much for that plan. Thought the pilot, smiling a wry smile. He took her shoulder in his hand and shook her carefully.

"Wake up, Hikari. It's a quarter to four, and we've got things to do. Wake up, now." Hikari's eyes flickered and she stared at Shinji blankly.

"Shinji? Wha…"

"You need to get up and get ready. It's a half hour till we need to be out of here. Sleep well?" said Shinji, his tone gentle and reassuring.

"Yeah. Like a rock." She said, stretching.

"Me too. See you in the kitchen once you've showered." He rose, having finished his task. At the door, Hikari's whispered call paused him. He turned to look at her. She was kneeling in his bed, facing him, her cheeks on fire.

"Than…thanks. For being…you know." She whispered.

"No problem, Hikari. It was my pleasure." He assured her, his voice so soft it barely reached her.

"I…I'll make it up to you." She promised, standing. He gave her a smile warm enough to melt her heart and make her legs wobble.

"Get ready, Hikari. We've got a big day ahead of us." With that said, he was gone, closing the door behind him.

As that door closed, the bathroom door opened and Asuka marched out, her lips pressed together. Her hair was wet, but wrapped in a towel and another towel covered her from her hips to just above her breasts. She was muttering in German as she entered her room and slid the door closed. Rit-chan gave her a meaningful look. "Problems with your shower?" she asked innocently. Asuka just growled, stripping off her towel and reaching for her spandex shorts and top. Rit-chan smirked and picked up an ace bandage, some medical tape and her USP, which she began to bandage to her lower abdomen, working in two back up magazines as she went. Asuka watched her quizzically. "Just a little trick I picked up in my travels." Explained Ritsuko. With the gun secure, she slipped into her loose heavyweight sweat pants and sleeveless sweatshirt. Now dressed, she exited the room for the kitchen, leaving Asuka to dress herself.

As she passed Shinji's room, Hikari exited for the bathroom. Rit-chan gave her a nod in passing, seeing her disappear into the bathroom. Hearing the shower, she guessed that Rei was still in there. Seems the bathroom is a busy place this morning. She mused, entering the kitchen as Shinji was setting out cups for the coffee.

"I take it we're drinking coffee this morning, Rit-chan?" he asked.

"We'll need it. Got your pack ready?" she affirmed.

"Yes. It's by the door already. Yours?"

"In the room; I'll get it just before we go. Same for Asuka and the others." Replied Rit-chan, taking a cup of fresh coffee and sipping at it. "Not bad, but then, I'm not normally a coffee drinker." She noted.

"Try this." Said Shinji, offering her his cup. She looked at the coffee, noticing a lighter, richer color and a bit of a citrus smell. A cautious sip rewarded her with a pleasant, if sharp, taste.

"What did you do to this, Shinji?" she asked, approval in her voice.

"Added a little milk, some sugar and a touch of lemon juice." He said.

"Lemon juice? In coffee?" asked a skeptical Rit-chan.

"It's all in the balance. Or so Maya says. She likes her coffee with chocolate, though, so maybe it's more personal taste." He explained.

"And when were you drinking coffee with Maya?" came a grumpy voice from the door to the kitchen. Asuka stood there, clad in sweats like Ritsuko, but unlike her, she held a USP, two magazines, an ace bandage and a roll of medical tape. "Show me that trick, Rit-chan." She said.

"What trick?" asked Shinji. Asuka ignored him.

"I'll show you all when the others arrive. Have a cup of coffee as we wait. Shinji, make me a cup of that stuff, please." Said Rit-chan, hearing the shower shut off as Rei, her towel over her shoulders, left the bathroom and entered Shinji's room. Five minutes later, Hikari exited the bathroom, entering Shinji's room as Rei, dressed now in spandex, exited for the kitchen. Shinji turned to the counter and produced a cup of tea, which he handed to Rei. She nodded her thanks, sipping it carefully.

"How sweet. Too good to drink coffee like the rest of us, Wondergirl?" sniped Asuka. Rei ignored her.

"Asuka, try this stuff." Interjected Rit-chan, handing her cup to Asuka. The German girl sipped, then smiled.

"That's good. Make me some too, Baka." She ordered, handing Rit-chan her cup back and then handing her cup to Shinji, who turned to the counter and dutifully made her a cup of the special brew.

The sun was halfway to risen when the door to Misato's room slid open and the Operations Director shambled out. Her feet led her to the kitchen, where she retrieved her first morning beer. As she drained it in one shot, she heard some sounds that indicated that Airi was up and in the bathroom. Sighing with satisfaction, Misato tossed the empty can in the trash and reached for another before making her way to the couch, which she found empty. So far, so good. Thought the woman, hoping that the kids had gotten off on schedule and that she wouldn't find them still asleep. After all, it was twenty past seven, and they should have been finishing their set up right about now. She paused at the door to Shinji's room, taking a steadying breath. Moment of truth, Misato. She thought to herself. Remember, if he's in there with one or more girls, you're not going to get mad. If they're having sex, well, it's ok as long as they're using condoms, right, Captain Katsuragi? Right, Misato. She slid the door open to find the room and bed empty. Of course; this is Shinji we're talking about. But still, I can't help but feel a little disappointed that he wasn't with Rei or one of the other girls. God knows the kid could stand to get laid with the pressure and responsibilities he has on his shoulders. Misato felt herself beginning to grin as her imagination began to get out of control. Hmm. He'd probably start with Rei, since she's the least violent and most receptive to his advances. Now after Rei, would it be Hikari or Rit-chan? Maybe both? Lord knows there's enough of him to go around! I can't see Rei caring if he wanted a three-some or more. Asuka's reaction would be positively priceless. I think I'll need to make sure that I have a camera handy if she ever catches him in bed with one of the other girls or if she ever decides to ride his baloney pony. No doubt she'd pay handsomely for that picture!

"What are you smiling about, Mi-chan? You have a certain demented look on your face." Interrupted Airi, coming out of the bathroom. "Where are the kids?"

"It was nothing, Airi. It looks like they got off on time or close to it." Answered Misato, sipping her beer. "Or they're all in Asuka's bed, sleeping off an orgy." Airi gave a mirthful snort of laughter.

"And if they are? Would you be upset about it?" asked the Actress. Misato blinked, wondering if the actress was serious or not.

"Well, yeah. They could have at least asked if we wanted in on it." She answered calmly, watching Airi for any reaction. Airi was giving nothing away.

"They did, but you were passed out. I could have sworn that you would wake up from the moans and yells and screams, but you were as good as dead. I barely got any sleep last night because of them." Said the older elf hunter, her tone conversational.

"You're not serious, Airi." Stated Misato, her tone less certain than her words.

"See for yourself. They should still be in there judging from the number of times the girls yelled they were going to cum." Offered Airi, her entire being radiating seriousness. Misato gave a small noise and bolted for the door to Asuka's room, which she practically tore off the track. She saw the bed, sheets tossed to the floor and pillows scattered around, totally empty. Behind her, Airi's quiet laugh told her she had been had.

"That's not funny, Airi." Said Misato, her tone conveying massive dignity.

"It was to me, Mi-chan." Retorted Airi, heading for the kitchen.

Five people sat on the roof of the building at the rear corner of the playing field, sipping some soft drinks and watching the last of the sun clear the horizon. The work was done, the weapons and ammo and booby traps set and armed, and all seventeen minutes ahead of the schedule Rit-chan kept in her head. So, the group took a break on the roof to watch the sun rise. And to rest; the set-up had been more difficult than expected, and they were tired already. Still, Rit-chan had to admit that she was impressed with the skill and attention to detail demonstrated by the pilots and Hikari. Virtual blood would run in rivers this day. "Gorgeous sunrise, right guys?" said the older redhead.

"Yes. It is beautiful." Agreed Rei. She sat beside Shinji, close enough that he could feel her warmth on his bare arm. Asuka was reclined against the edge of roof duct, Hikari next to her, and Rit-chan on Shinji's other side from Rei. Rit-chan checked her watch again.

"Eight minutes till we call and tell them where we are." She noted. "An hour later, it's game time."

"I can't wait to see them in my sights." Said Asuka excitedly.

"I wonder if miss Misato will get here before they do?" wondered Hikari.

"We might want to call. Without me or Asuka there to toss in her beer, she might still be passed out." Said Shinji, smiling a little at the thought of Misato.

"Airi's there." Suggested Hikari.

"True, but she has no clue how to do the morning beer roll." Disagreed Asuka. "You see, if you do it wrong, Misato doesn't wake up. You have to do it just right."

"I don't see how you two can be so casual about her drinking habits." Said Hikari, shaking her head.

Asuka shrugged. "You get used to it." She said dismissively. "And I have to admit that she does her job excellently in spite of her drinking."

"She has a lot on her mind. Drinking is her way of trying to cope with what she's seen and done." Murmured Shinji, his mind seeing Misato as he had seen her the day that he had decided not to run from NERV.

"Yeah, and that's supposed to make her unique?" harrumphed Asuka. "Like we pilots got it so easy, slugging it out with Angels, feeling the Evas in our minds and seeing our past…" Asuka stopped suddenly as she seemed to suddenly be aware of what she was saying. "Of course, that doesn't bother me; I'm the best pilot and nothing can beat me!" she finished, her tone arrogant and prideful, but sounding desperately hollow to her. Seeing mother hanging there with that damned DOLL…I wish I didn't have see that again and again. If Shinji could share that weight with me, I know it wouldn't hurt any more. But I can't let him see me like that. Weak. Alone. Nothing. NO!! Asuka Langley Sohryu doesn't need Baka or Wondergirl or Misato or Hikari or anyone! Kaji is the only one who understands me. Not Shinji; Kaji. Even to herself, she sounded pitifully weak and scared. Her conditioned response was to get angry and violent, the better to keep everyone too far away from her to see her weakness and pain. "And I'm going to kill those little hentai losers, too!" she snarled, her eyes on fire with rage.

I wonder what go into her just now? Wondered Hikari. Rit-chan's watch beeped.

"Time to make that call, Asuka." Said the older teen calmly, looking over at the now leering pilot of Unit 2.

Touji hung up the phone at his house and reached down to grab his gym bag. Inside was a paintball gun, a pair of tanks of CO2, three tubs of ammo and a set of clothes for afterwards. The handles of the bag looped through the armor for his chest, legs, head and throat. Straightening, he made sure that the note he had written the night before was still pinned to the top of his bag. Not much of one for fancy words or reminders, he had written three words on a piece of paper and safety pinned it to the cloth bag. Instinctively, he glanced at the somewhat-sloppy kanji. Reminder: ask Shinji. "If we're still on speaking terms after this morning." Muttered the athlete, slipping out the door, leaving his house totally devoid of life.

Rit-chan and her fellow defenders stood near a light pole at the edge of the park adjacent to the playing field, waiting for the others to arrive. As planned, they had nothing with them, and appeared to be completely unprepared for the challenge. Rit-chan, Asuka and Rei had their USPs and back-up mags concealed on their lower bellies, and Shinji and Hikari had chosen to stash their USPs with their gear at their assigned starting positions. Rit-chan had - in addition to the belly gun - her trusty sheath knife, taped to her left calf. Rei had seen her settle the knife, but saw no need to comment on it, making a mental note to remember that Rit-chan was resourceful as well as decidedly underhanded when necessary.

"Um, guys?" started Hikari, her tone a little apprehensive.

"Yes, Hi-chan?" answered Rit-chan, her tone calm and confident.

"We never decided what we'd do when we won." Pointed out Hikari. Asuka gave a nasty little chuckle.

"Maybe you haven't, Hikari, but I've had some ideas in the last few days." The eager tone in her voice made Shinji's neck hairs stand up straight. Almost immediately, he felt the cool touch of Rei's hand on his neck, and his short hairs settled down. He acknowledged her concern by briefly pressing his head and neck back into her hand. Rei withdrew her hand a few moments later, unnoticed by anyone else in their group. "What about you, Rit-chan?" continued Asuka.

"I'll worry about that when it's done." Answered Rit-chan. "We need to stay frosty until then."

"Agreed." Confirmed Rei. Asuka shot her a dark look.

"When it comes to ice, you're the expert, Wondergirl." She muttered.

"So something did happen this morning." Opinioned Ritsuko, her tone hinting at teasing.

"It was nothing." Said both Rei and Asuka in perfect synchronization. Both girls locked gazes for a moment before Asuka turned away with a snort. Shinji looked between them, then a moment longer at Rei. She slid him a glance that was somewhat reassuring before she turned her eyes to the trees, sparkling from the morning dew. About then, a familiar sound reached the ears of the small group: the sounds of insurance company stockholders committing suicide en masse. Asuka and Shinji knew that this sound preceded the arrival of a certain one-woman natural disaster known occasionally as Misato. Sure enough, with a screech of skidding tires, the blue compact car dug around the corner, much like a leopard chasing an impala. Moments after that, it slid to a stop and settled back onto all four tires. Misato popped out of the car like a teenager at an amusement park ride.

"Morning, guys!" she chirped brightly. Airi took much longer to get out, having to calm her heart rate and unfasten the double-layered seatbelts. But eventually, the actress stood before the five teens, outwardly calm and cool, but betrayed by the single hair standing strait up, stiff as a board, from the center of her head. Rit-chan snickered at that.

"Rough morning, Airi?" she asked her older partner. Airi absently patted her hair back into place, having some trouble with the lone standout.

"Well, I don't know that I'd go that far, Rit-chan." Demurred the dark haired elf stripper. "But, I won't need coffee any time soon."

"I know what you mean, Airi." Agreed Rit-chan, remembering the few times she had been forced to ride with Kamikaze Katsuragi. "Makes you miss riding Mike full-throttle cross country with an angry mob of spell-casting elves on our ass, doesn't it?" smiled the teen. Airi nodded.

"Indeed. I never thought that I would miss the quality of the ride of a tank."

"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?" demanded Misato. For some reason, she never seemed to understand why her driving scared people so badly. "I'm a very safe driver!"

"If this were pre-Second Impact Beirut or Sareavjo, maybe." Commented Asuka.

"Where did you learn to drive like that, anyway? NERV training again?" asked Rit-chan. Misato grinned.

"Nah. NERV wouldn't let me into the combat driving course after that inci…accident with the course cars and the bar…" she noted the looks of unsurprised interest on the faces of her two Children and shrugged off the rest of the story. "But anyway, I learned to drive from Kaji!" she finished, her tone bright and cheerful. Asuka's jaw nearly hit the ground.

"Kaji!? You've got to be shitting me! He doesn't drive like that!" screamed the Second. "You drive like a lunatic with a death wish in a demolition derby!"

Misato harrumphed, turning her head a little before answering Asuka's challenge. "Ask him who taught me to drive, then. And I doubt that you've ridden with him when he's had a few and was…avoiding a bar tab." Her tone told the group that it was clearly a fond memory for the purple-haired woman. "I think that ride still gives Ritsu nightmares." She added to herself. She sounded happy about that notion.

"It's a wonder Germany hasn't outlawed her yet." Growled Asuka, recovering from the mental image of a drunk Misato, Kaji and Ritsuko Akagi tearing around her lovely German towns with the kind of abandon that Misato showed in her driving here in Tokyo 3.

"Oh, they did, but NERV made them take it back." Shared Misato, still re-living her memories of her college days. Airi and Rit-chan sweat dropped, while the others just sighed in resignation.

"My, my what a lovely gathering of admirers." Observed Airi, seeing the nearly full roster of the school as well as maybe two dozen more that were friends or family. Even with the city nearly deserted, there were at least a hundred people there, most of them students at the school that the Pilots attended. "Your Asuka seems to have a knack for making friends, Mi-chan." Added the actress, seeing the overly confident Pilot standing next to her friends, taunting and haranguing the boys in front of the group. Her attention was concentrated on two particular boys, who Airi came to understand were Shinji's two friends of questionable sexual preference.

"Yeah, she has some amazing people skills." Rejoined Misato, watching as Rit-chan, Hikari and Shinji took turns holding her back from attacking the two on the spot. Misato and Airi had withdrawn to a bench several yards back in the less-than-well maintained park, letting them watch with relative secrecy. Some of the students had seen them sitting there, but so far, none of her fan club had noticed her; a fact for which Misato was grateful. But then, they have other things on their minds. Like how they might get to get in Asuka's panties. Mused the purple haired woman.

"I must say, I'm surprised that Commander Ikari risked the pilots like this. I mean, it's risky to let the only pilots you have be in an unsecured location packed with people, isn't it?" asked the actress.

"I made some arrangements." Said Misato, her tone suddenly very business-like. "There are three complete Section 2 teams here, as well as a squadron of gun ships on alert that can be here in less than two minutes, fully armed. Also, I gave the kids their guns yesterday, even Hikari. They were gone this morning, and I bet that Rit-chan is packing her USP and maybe even her G36, right?"

"Her USP is like her American Express card: she never goes anywhere without it. Willingly, at least." Confirmed Airi.

"So, it's no different than when they walk to school or NERV, right?" concluded Misato.

"Sure. That's why you're here with your gun as well, correct?" replied Airi.

"It's my job to protect them." Said Misato. If it were anyone else but Airi, they might believe her act of cool indifference as her just being `on the job', but Airi could read people like a book, and Misato was about as hard to read just then as a children's book. Be truthful, Mi-chan; you'd be here even if you were ordered not to come. You care for them too much to miss this. Misato's watch beeped. It was time.

"Listen up!" yelled Rit-chan, her voice pitched to carry rather than shouting. "It's nine o'clock and it's time to get this show on the road. Whoever is facing us, step up!" The milling mass of youths shifted a little as a couple of boys stepped forward, then a few more, then more and more. Rit-chan scanned the crowd and kept her informal count. Well, we did plan for mass attack. She thought idly. In only a couple of minutes, the group had split into two separate groups, with about twenty five boys and - surprising to Hikari - four girls standing in the challenge group, the rest finding their way across the street to watch from the shade of the trees. The pilots and their two friends had formed a rough line facing the group. Rit-chan was in the center of the line with Hikari and Asuka on one wing, and Shinji and Rei on the other.

"Nice. Now, by my count, there are twenty-nine challengers. To keep things fair, we're going to close the entry portion of this right now. Last call, people: if you want in on the execution, step up now. No takers? Good. Teams are set. On to the next step: rules of engagement.

"These are the rules: when you are hit in the torso or head, you are dead. Period. Arm or leg hits means you do not move - not even an inch, but you can still fire until you are killed, quit or run out of ammo. When you are dead, you are just that: dead. No talking, no moving, no nothing. There are two ways to kill an enemy: one is to shoot them, the other is to knife them. You will notice that we are carrying rubber knives with red chalk on the edges. If we sneak up behind you and run the edge across you throat, the chalk will leave a mark, which will be the same as a paintball to the identical area. Other than that, there are no rules.

"I can see from the looks in several of your eyes that you are already planning out ways to cheat. Listen up, numb nuts: if we see any of you breaking the rules, we will switch to live ammo, shoot that person and the two closest to them. And we will get away with capping your asses too. If you choose to cheat, then you accept that it is worth your life and the lives of the two closest to you to do so. Choose well.

"Finally, there is the challenge format. Because there are less of you than we had expected, we will make things more interesting so as not to get bored. The challenge can only be won when both goals are successfully met. Goal one is to take the flag of the other team and deposit it in that circle on the street over there." Rit-chan motioned to a spray-painted circle in the center of the street at the edge of the play area that bordered the park. "Goal two is to kill every single member of the other team. With a six-to-one advantage for the attackers, this makes us about even. Questions?"

"Yeah! Why do you get to make the rules?" said a boy from the second year class.

"Because we are the defenders, and you are the attackers. And bear in mind that the challenge made no mention of allowing anyone but us to make the rules. Be glad we're so sporting; Asuka and I wanted to do this entire exercise with real guns and live ammo." Replied Rit-chan. A couple of the boys began to sweat as Asuka muttered to her fellow redhead

"It's still not to late to make changes to our plans, Rit-chan."

"Yeah, that sounds like you, Demoness." Sneered Touji. "Where's our flag?"

"Right here, asswipe." Snapped Asuka, throwing the three-foot by two-foot bright orange flag in the boy's face with such contempt that it should have withered away to nothing from the sheer malevolence leveled at it. "Try not to lose it."

"Don't worry, Red, we won't lose." Assured a boy standing near Touji. Ah, the infamous Shodo. Thought Asuka. I've got to make sure that I'm the one to kill him.

"You will be starting from that end of the block." Said Rit-chan, pointing to the far end of the block. "We will be starting from this end. Presumably, we'll meet somewhere in the middle. If you guys don't turn turtle."

"No problem, babe." Piped up a boy next to Shodo.

"Not for us, anyway." Replied Asuka.

"Anything else?" asked Ritsuko.

"Just one more thing. Just to make sure that everyone is aware of the stakes, the bet was that the losers had to do anything the winners told them to. Agreed?" said Shodo.

"That was the bet. And we have plans for you losers." Smirked Asuka.

"Right back at you, Red Devil." Smiled the boy.

"Well, let's get this show on the road." Said Rit-chan. "In ten minutes, the war is on. No one leaves until one side is victorious." Her group began to walk toward the buildings at their end of the war zone, as planned. As the other group started to walk toward their end, she called out over her shoulder. "And before I forget, don't try to infiltrate the center ground before the opening shot. If you do, I'll put a bullet in your head. Have a nice day!" From the looks on the faces of several boys, that had indeed been their plan.

"Come on, guys! Move it! We've got some work to do." Ordered Shodo, jogging toward the other end of the block. As he did, the others joined him. Touji settled next to him as they jogged.

"So, what's the big secrete, Shodo?" asked the jock.

Shodo smiled. "Tell me, are you familiar with chemical warfare?"

Ten minutes later, a single shot from a high-power rifle echoed over the block, and the war was on. At the far end of the block, the group of students made final checks to their arms and armor, then began to work their way toward the other end of the block in groups of twos, fours and sixes. Touji anchored the flag to the wall of a room on the ground floor of an abandoned shop, then turned to where Shodo and Kodo were standing with Kensuke. The military otaku was fully geared out, and was practically vibrating with eagerness. Must be a dream come true for him, the freak. Thought Touji. Seeing Kensuke clutching a pair of large binoculars and three different walkie-talkies, he guessed that Kensuke was their `eyes on' guy. Stepping over to stand with the three others as the rest of the cannon fodder left, he asked Kensuke if he was their observer.

"Of course, Touji. And I know the perfect spot, too! There's an access door to the roof of the building next door, and it gives me a full view of the field from above, since it's one story taller. With these babies, I can spot any movement of the enemy and radio the moves to our fire teams!" said Kensuke excitedly, waving a pair of binoculars.

"So, you're gonna be a six eyed freak?" asked Touji, frowning at the glasses.

"More like eight, actually. These are Steiner, of course!" responded Kensuke, waiting for Touji to be impressed. Touji looked baffled.

"Don't the Germans drink beer out of those?" he asked.

"Moron." Sighed Kensuke, his shoulders sagging. "You're thinking of beer steins, genius. These are military spotting binoculars. The best made! This pair cost me a year's income to get."

"And you call me a moron?" retorted Touji, smacking Kensuke's head lightly. Shodo began to chuckle. "What's so funny, bro?" asked Touji of his teammate.

"Beer stein, Einstein. Get it?" laughed Shodo. The twin eye blinks told him not. "Forget it." He laughed, waving it off. "Stray thought." Kensuke was checking over the three walkie-talkies, two of which were beginning to sound off as various groups, each using a separate channel, began to report some problems. "You better go get in position, Aida." Said Shodo, motioning to the door. "Sounds like the enemy have prepared a few surprises."

"Yes, sir!" snapped Kensuke, enjoying this chance to play soldier. His exit stage right was swift. Touji thought he was giggling as he went.

"And you know what they say." Joined Kodo after the other kid was gone. "One good turn deserves another. Got it, Shodo?" he asked the nominal ringleader.

"Of course. You got your end of this?" smiled Shodo.

"Naturally. Here." Answered Kodo, removing a small pouch from his bag, which he carefully untied and handed to Shodo. Touji leaned over to see what the pouch held. Inside the padded pouch lay two medium-sized vials of some kind of chemical.

"And that is?" asked Touji, suspicious of the hints Shodo had been dropping all day.

"Love potion number 69." Smirked Shodo. "Guaranteed to work on stuck-up German pilots, hot-headed gun nuts, ice bitches, wicked class reps and wimpy house males."

"Indeed? And what is the common name of this elixir?" pressed Touji.

"Chloroform." Answered Shodo.

"How'd you get that stuff?" asked Touji.

"Don't tell me you don't know that Kodo's old man is in the pharmaceutical supply business. It's ironic, but this was supposed to go to NERV's medical station in the geo-front, the one that the pilots seem to spend so much time in. Anyway, we kind of borrowed it."

"You stole from NERV? Bro, Commander Ikari is worse than Vlad the Impaler! He makes Hitler look like the poster child for the Peace Corp! Hell, even Red Devil is scared of him!"

"Don't sweat it, man. We're gonna return it. Right, bro?"

"Most definitely." Affirmed Kodo.

"Contact. Six tangos. Position 02 of 11, inbound by path 3." Radioed Rit-chan from her concealed perch atop the air conditioning units of the building in the corner of the grounds. Nestled there with her were some powerful binoculars, her PSG-1 with Simunition loaded and a pair of backup magazines loaded with some 168 grain .30 caliber hollow point death in one, and some 162 grain steel-jacketed, Teflon-coated, hot-loaded armor piercing rounds in the other. Ritsuko Inoue liked to be prepared, after all. Her USP and back-up mags were now in a thigh holster and magazine carrier and her knife was on her belt. A full-auto paintball gun was situated beside her, fed from a five-pound high-pressure air tank. Eight tubes of ammo were carefully prepped if she needed them. Right now, her job was tactical coordinator. And coordinating she was.

"Acknowledged. Eyes-on. Engaging in fifteen seconds." Came Asuka's clipped voice. Rit-chan waited, listening for the sounds of her friend's guns as she continued to sweep for targets. Sixteen seconds later, she heard the soft sound of the bunkered gun positions that were currently manned by the Second Child and supported by Hikari and Shinji. From the alley below came the screams and cries as a veritable wall of paintballs raked the hapless fodder, coating them better than a painter could. "Target clear. Next." Reported Asuka. Before Rit-chan could answer, there was another burst from her gun.

"Report." Snapped Rit-chan, not seeing what had prompted the extra fire.

"Asuka is strafing the survivors. Apparently, one of them shifted a little too much."

"Understood. New target. Four tangos. Position 15 of 04, inbound path 4. Rei, take them out."

"Understood." Came the soft voice of the First child. Her position was supported by only Shinji. Still, Rei had volunteered to take that position. Several seconds passed, then four short bursts were heard by the ops boss, and moments later, Rei's voice came again. "All clear."

"Nice job. New target. Two tangos. Position 16 of 11. Attempting to force entrance to building. Nest 2, nest 3, do you have a shot?"

"Nest 2. Negative. Shot blocked by building. Will engage if target enters kill zone at 3 o'clock relative." Reported Hikari.

"Nest three. No shot." Came Shinji's report.

"Understood. OP will take targets. Hold one." Replied Ritsuko, settling behind her PSG1 and sighting in the scope. Well, let's see how close the ballistic table is for this round. Thought the elf hunter, matching up her reticule with the proper BDC line. The cross hairs stabilized on the chest of one of the young men, Ritsuko took a breath, let it half out, and gently caressed the 3 pound trigger. The Simunition round slammed into the hard plastic breastplate the paintballer wore with enough force to knock him over, and before his startled companion could do more than gape stupidly, another report was heard and he too keeled over, a bright red spot of marking compound in the center of the plastic armor covering his back. Not bad. With that much punch, I should be able to make kill shots all the way to their buildings. "Targets terminated. Your idea with the anchor stays is working good, Rei." She reported to the others. A moment later, she spoke again. "New target. Six tangos. Position 10 of 09. Inbound, path 1."

"Nest 3. Ready." Replied Shinji. He sighted in on the position the group should come into his kill zone and felt to make sure he had plenty of ammo in his hopper. It felt nearly full, so he risked a peek at his air gauge. His machinegun, like the heavy machineguns in the other three nests, was fed from 6,000 ci air tanks, which should provide more than ample continuous firing time. The Third child awaited the arrival of the next group of enemy.

"Hold one, Shinji. Target stopped. Target is splitting into three, two-person groups. One group is retreating to the intersection of paths 1 and 3. Second group is holding position. Third group preparing to rush home plate. Fire when the target clears the corner, Shinji. OP will target pair at the intersection. Nests 2 and 4, see if you can get an angle on the campers."

A moment later, the nests were reporting. "No go, OP. No shot. Hikari?" asked Asuka.

"No good here, either. I might get them with saturation fire, but I doubt it. Sorry." Replied the Class Rep from behind her machinegun.

"Not your fault, Hi-chan. If they show up, waste them. Engaging the pair at the crossing." Answered Rit-chan, her PSG1 back to her shoulder. Hmm. That one has her head turned away from me. Should I risk a headshot? No, better not. If she turns to face my position while the bullet is in flight, it might kill her. Heart shot it is. Sorry, girl, but you're gonna be sore for a few days. Ritsuko caressed the trigger, shifted a bit and touched off another round. I could get to like this.

"So, who's winning?" asked Airi of the Captain beside her, who had an earpiece in her ear and was listening to the encrypted chatter of her Pilots and friends.

"So far, we are. They've nailed sixteen and should have two more in a moment, if they break into Shinji's kill zone. Rit-chan is using her PSG1 and the Simunition pretty freely. I'm a little concerned that she might use it at close range and kill someone." Answered Misato, a look of concentration on her face.

"She won't." assured Airi.

"Shit." Interrupted Misato. "Things just got more complicated. Someone on the other team is figuring out the defense pattern." Before Airi could ask farther, the sounds of conversation from the gathered crowd called her attention to the battleground, where thick white smoke was beginning to obscure the alleyway leading between two rows of buildings.

Kensuke smiled and giggled to himself, his whole body tingling with excitement. Taking a moment to compose himself, he selected the correct walkie and pressed the transmit button. "Good job. Keep it coming, guys. As soon as the building is covered, run across in pairs. Once you get under their guns, they can't shoot you. Got it?" he heard a confirming voice, then went back to glassing the windows of the building. Come on, I know you're there somewhere. Show me where your nests are. Though the military nut, watching for any sign of the positions of the heavy guns. Well, fine. When you fire into the smoke, the muzzle blast will create a depression pointing back to your position. And then, it's my turn to send you another surprise. I wonder if they know that those are my smoke grenades?

"I bet that this is that little fuck Aida's doing." Muttered Asuka, watching as more and more of her kill zone was obscured by the opaque white smoke. "OP, kill zone for nest 2 obscured. Ideas?" she radioed to Rit-chan.

"Roger that, I see the problem. They must have a spotter as well. Once sight is completely lost, fall back to staging area bravo. If they can get in, mop them up. I'm going for the spotter. Want to bet that it's your buddy Aida?" replied Ritsuko.

"No bet." Replied Shinji. Then, a moment later. "Anyone seen Touji or his two buddies?"

"Negative sighting. I bet they are camped out, guarding their flag. We'll have to dig them out later. For now, it's all about evening the odds." Was the reply. "OP to all nests: if your kill zone folds, fall back to staging area bravo to support Asuka. We have thirteen more targets, maybe we can make it into only three."

"Hai." Replied Rei. Shinji rogered her, and Hikari affirmed her directions. Rit-chan smiled as she began to search for the spotter with her riflescope. Here, pervert, pervert, pervert. Come get some of Rit-chan's loving.

"Where could their spotter be?" wondered Kensuke, looking over the grounds again. "And who is being their eyes? If it were Asuka, she'd more than likely be standing on the roof of their building, yelling to her teammates. If it were Shinji, he'd be…I guess I don't know. Rei would be watching from some window, and Hikari can't have the skills to be a good spotter. So, it must be Ritsuko. Now, where would an elf hunter be?" He glassed over the rooftops of the buildings again.

A single glint of sun off glass signed his death warrant. Rit-chan caught the split second glint, and soon had spotted his lair. "Not bad, Aida. But you got sloppy in not fixing the light source problem. Now, if you'll just raise your head about six inches, I'll cure all your ills." The girl began her breathing and heartbeat exercises to stabilize the sight picture, waiting patiently for the other spotter to move. From below, he heard a long burst from one or more nests, and the sounds of paintballs splattering all over the place, mixed with a few curses and one scream. Her target rose up to get a better look at where the fire came from, giving her a perfect head shot. Amateur. Now you die. Thought Rit-chan, touching off a round.

"I got you now, suckers!" laughed Kensuke to himself, seeing the smoke eddy around two windows. "Looks like…" he never finished that thought as it felt like someone had just punched him in the side of the head. In spite of the radio headset and polarized goggles he wore, it snapped his head to the side like a right hook from a heavyweight boxer, leaving him flat on his back, seeing stars and feeling like someone had used his head for a drum. Distantly, through the ringing in his ears, he heard the faint `crack' of Ritsuko's PSG1. "Or not." He muttered, then passed out.

"And then there were twelve." Came Rit-chan's voice over the radio. "Aida's in his heaven now, all's right with my world." She added, the mirth in her tone unmistakable.

"Are you implying that Aida is god?" asked Rei, her tone level and perhaps a bit curious.

"No. But if I were serious, he'd be a head shorter right now." Replied Rit-chan.

"And for the record, Aida would be in hell, not heaven, if you killed him." Added Asuka.

"You do have a point. Very well. Aida's in his hell, all's right with my world. Better, Asuka?" amended Ritsuko Inoue.

"Much better." Affirmed Asuka.

Misato snickered evilly from her park bench. Airi glanced at her. "Rit-chan is a comedian sometimes, isn't she?" asked Misato of her roommate.

"More like a smart-ass at times, but yes." Smiled Airi. "She has a healthy sense of humor; most times anyway. Was she shooting off her mouth just then?"

"Yeah. She head-shot Aida, then radioed the others that `Aida's in his hell, all's right with my world.' I ought to try that out on Ritsu and the bridge crew sometime."

"But only if Gendo isn't there, correct?" asked Airi.

"Yeah. He's got no sense of humor. Fucking asshole." Said Misato.

"Damn, how many smoke grenades do those fuckers have, anyway?" complained Asuka. She had fallen back to her assigned staging area, a room with easy access to the back door, and was watching the white smoke continue to swirl around the building. Sitting on the floor next to the door to the short hallway that led upstairs to the gun positions on the second and third stories, her paintball submachine gun held gently with the barrel pointed at the door, her twinned tanks of CO2 strapped to her lower back. Like Rit-chan, her USP and spare magazines rode in a thigh holster, her hair was braided and tucked under a camouflage do-rag in urban camo, she wore a BDU field uniform in urban camo and dull-finished combat boots. Whereas Ritsuko had her knife on her belt, Asuka had her knife on her right calf, tied there with parachute cord. Her fake knife was taped to her left bicep, handle down. The pilot's face was covered in camo paint in flat black, dark green and medium charcoal, applied to make the face seem two dimensional and to blend in with the man-made environment around them. The next-gen urban camo was comprised of the same colors as her face paint, and unlike older urban camo, it didn't have many curved lines in the patters. Instead, it favored more straight lines, as buildings were rarely made with curved lines. Nature didn't use many straight lines, and man didn't use many curved lines, so the older camo had been far less effective than the newer stuff. And the colors were made to mimic concrete, tinted glass and asphalt, rather than the older colors of black, white and gray. Her earpiece came alive.

"Asuka, someone got past me in the smoke. They might be coming your way now. I'm headed for staging area alpha just in case they try the fire escape ladder. Ok?" Shinji asked.

"Roger that. Good job, Baka. What's your next trick gonna be, opening the front door for them?" answered the German girl sarcastically.

"Sorry, Asuka." Shinji apologized.

"Never mind. Hikari, Rei, you got any visible targets down there?"

"No. Too much smoke, but I can hear someone moving around down there. It could just be some of the ones we hit earlier." Answered Hikari.

"Hose down the area you hear movement at, then get down here. And remember to set your gun like we discussed. Did you set yours, Baka?"

"Yes. It's rigged." Answered Shinji. "On station at staging point alpha, Rit-chan."

"Copy all. Hikari, when you're done hosing the area down, get to staging point bravo. Rei, back up Shinji at Alpha. We'll hold position and see if the smoke clears. If they're smart, they'll try to work in as many fighters while we're blinded as they can, so stay sharp. If your staging area is getting over-run, sing out and we'll break contact and go to plan Delta. Copy?"

"Copy all. Moving now." Answered Hikari, grabbing her submachine gun and strapping her tanks to her lower back like Asuka had shown her. Just as she stood to move to the door, she heard some splat sounds and saw some red, blue and green spots appear on the ceiling in front of the window she had been firing through. "Shit!" she yelled, diving through the doorway. The four machinegun positions had been bunkered back into the room from the windows, in the same manner that professional snipers used to conceal their positions, so nothing was visible from the outside. Hikari rolled off her shoulder, slamming into the wall of the hallway on the second floor. "Ow! Fuck, that hurt!" The class rep had forgotten the lip mike with voice-activated transmission.

"What did you just say, Hikari?" asked a stunned Shinji. "Did you just…"

"What's wrong, Hikari!?" called Asuka, cutting Shinji off. "Are you hit?"

"No, I'm good. Someone just sprayed the room I was in with fire, that's all." Answered the brown-haired girl, blushing as she realized that the others had heard her cursing and swearing like a sailor; well, for her it was swearing like a sailor - for Asuka, it was just a normal greeting.

"My position as well. I believe that the enemy is spraying all windows from the street below, either to keep us from shooting or in the hopes of a lucky hit. From the angle of the impacts, I would say that they are at the outer wall of the base right now. Moving to back up Shinji at Alpha. Hikari, move to Bravo to support Asuka. It will not be long before they try to enter our base. Rit-chan, are you going to stay there for now?" asked the First Child.

"Do you need me down there?" asked the elf hunter. "If so, I'll be right down."

"The four of us should be able to hold the base perimeter. You should be able to concentrate on getting us information on the movements of the enemy and neutralizing any targets of opportunity. Agreed?" replied the azure-haired teen pilot of Unit 0.

"If you're sure. But call me if the situation changes for the worst. And under no circumstances are you all to play Rambo, understood?" agreed Rit-chan.

"Understood. No Ramboing. May we, however, re-enact the charge of the light brigade?" asked Rei.

"Or the taking of San Juan hill?" chimed in Asuka.

"Can we be the Visigoths sacking Rome?" asked Hikari.

"What about Pickett's Charge? Is that ok?" added Shinji.

"Sure! Just remember what happened to Pickett's units." Replied Rit-chan happily, a sweat drop on her temple. "Bunch of damned comedians." She added, hearing her teammates laugh.

On the park bench, Misato was rolling with laughter, enough so to attract the attention of some of the students who were watching the fight. Airi waited for her to regain some control, and when she had, Misato told her the by-play she had overheard. "Your pilots are very well versed on history." Said the actress when Misato had finished.

"More like well-versed in myth. All those battles have the status of legendary feats, while in reality they were much less dramatic." Noted Misato.

"I'm not sure that you're correct on this one, Mi-chan." Disagreed Airi. "I live - lived - in America for years and have come to understand much of their mind-set when it comes to myth-making. The battles mentioned were in fact dramatic events, and I doubt that you would argue their effect on history."

"Not dramatic in that sense, Airi. They were not the dramatic military genius most portray them as. Each one of the listed battles were simply units acting as best they could, and not always with the best military tactics. Pickett's charge in particular was a blood bath, and while it was a very loud statement of the commitment of the troops to their cause, it was a failure tactically. A fact that Rit-chan seems to be all too aware of."

"True. But it was a sound tactic at the time, was it not?" countered Airi.

"I guess. Warfare doctrine is written in blood, after all." Mused Misato. Her earpiece snatched her attention. "Speaking of that, I think the next stage of this war just started."

Hikari was crouched next to Asuka, listening for anything on the radio or for sounds of forced entry into their position. The class rep had reported to her friend for duty and Asuka had positioned her to cover her open flank, checking the other girl's gear as she settled in. After a couple of terse reminders, the two had gone silent. Earlier that day, the group had smashed glass all around the base of the building they were occupying, making it nearly impossible to sneak around without making a racket. All windows were locked closed and the two doors that led to the outside were anchor bolted shut, just like the other doors to the various buildings. Rit-chan had also had the group staple heavy black plastic sheeting over the ground level windows big enough for someone to crawl through, and spray paint the glass of the smaller ones, making only a couple of narrow slits to peek though if necessary. This way, they could move swiftly within the building, while no one outside could see them move, and couldn't enter with enough speed to get a charge going. It had been about four minutes since the brown-haired girl had arrived at her position when Asuka heard the sound of broken glass under foot from just outside the door. Bravo is about to open for business. Thought the hot-tempered girl gleefully, nudging Hikari and motioning to the door. The other girl nodded, her breath quickening a little as her gun came up, lined up on the door.

Rei sat calmly beside Shinji, her body pressed gently against his, her eyes and ears alert for any sounds of activity from outside their assigned area. This is enjoyable, feeling Shinji next to me. Thought the girl. Shinji was thinking much the same thought. Once this is done, I will ask if he will have sex with me tonight. Rei smiled at the memory of their latest sexual encounter. I wish to feel those emotions again, and for longer. Maybe he will spend the entire night with me this time. Shinji was wondering what the surviving members of their enemies were planning. The fact that Touji and the two with him hadn't put in an appearance was bothering him some.

Touji isn't much of one for subtle planning. I had thought that he would be one of the first to assault our position. Why is he hanging back? His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the broken glass littering the alleyway outside the door he and Rei were guarding being stepped on. A single touch told him Rei was aware of the situation, and both pilots raised their guns and settled in to wait for the nearly inevitable entry attempt.

On the roof, Rit-chan was busy searching the buildings and alleys for more enemy. The smoke was thinning visibly now, so the other side must have run out of smoke grenades; a fact she appreciated, but did not trust to be true. There should be between ten and twelve of them left. So, where are those targets, and where did they put their flag? We left them a building totally unlocked for them to camp in, but that doesn't mean that they used it. So, once we get at least seven more kills, it will be time to go proactive. We'll have to sweep each house and each alley as we go, checking for broken windows, forced doors or other signs of entry, and we'll have to search each house that shows signs of entry from top to bottom. Please, god, don't let there be too many to search. House-to-house could easily kill us all, and we can't afford to do more than a couple before we find their flag. Thought the sniper to herself, concentrating on any signs of movement or for elements not congruent with the surrounding elements. She switched from watching through her scope to scanning with her eyes to using a pair of compact binoculars. Having completed her third scan of the roofs and facing rooms of the killing field, she began to work her way through the streets and alleys she could see from her perch. This scan revealed that most of the people they had shot - in violation of her instructions - were sitting where they had fallen, their guns on the ground beside them, looking around. I ought to shoot them, but that probably would be overkill. It's not like their moving around or shooting at us, but they could still be signaling someone about our movements. Rit-chan reconsidered that thought. On second thought, that might be good for me. If they are signaling someone, then there must be someone watching them. And if they can see them, then I should be able to see the watcher as well. Ritsuko Inoue went back to her window watching, bearing in mind the position of the `corpses' below her, paying extra attention to the windows with the best view of the causalities. It was barely a minute later when she heard the sound of windows being smashed, followed by the cough of air-powered paintballs from outside the building. Her radio told her that both entry ports were under attack, but she should remain in position. She kept one ear on her radio, and both eyes on her window search. It wasn't more than fifteen seconds later that she saw a hint of movement from a window on the second floor of the building they had left open. Rit-chan began to watch for other signs of movement from that location.

The window beside the bolted door was shattered by a padded elbow, and the plastic sheeting was torn enough to allow the attackers to shove a burning smoke grenade into the room. Asuka hosed the window with her gun, hitting the hand with one or more shots, eliciting a scream of pain from the person attached to the hand, but the objective was fulfilled, as the high-volume smoke grenade swiftly filled the room with opaque smoke. "Out into the hallway, quick!" snapped Asuka, pushing her friend out the door, which she slammed with one kick. "Move to the foot of the stairs, and get a bead on that door! Now!" she ordered. Hikari ran for the stairs. Just then, Asuka heard someone kicking the bolted door repeatedly. After a dozen kicks, the sound of the door splintering off its hinges told her they were coming in. Swiftly, she snatched the inner door open and hosed the room down, then slammed the door and locked it. Her only miscalculation was the amount of smoke that entered the hallway in the second or two the door had been open. Already, it was nearly impossible to see the foot of the stairs where Hikari was supposed to be. "Why do Japanese houses have to be so fucking small?!" growled Asuka, moving toward the foot of the stairs. "Hikari, I'm coming to you." She called.

"Come ahead." Answered the class rep. Just as she could make out the form of Hikari, crouched on the lowest steps, gun up and covering the hall, she heard the door behind her crack from a kick. "Drop!" called Hikari, pouring rounds down the hall indiscriminately. "Move it! Move it!" yelled Hikari, her hopper rapidly emptying from the full-auto barrage.

"Shinji, Rei, Bravo has folded! Repeat, Bravo has folded! Rally point is Delta! Repeat, Delta!"

"Acknowledged. Breaking contact in five seconds." Answered Rei. From the front of the store, she heard the sounds of two paintball guns firing long bursts.

Shinji and Rei had spotted the movement from a painted over ventilation window a split second before the already-lit smoke grenade smashed through it like a brick, filling the room in less than two seconds with thick, heavy smoke. Both he and Rei began to cough a little. A moment later, something heavy hit the door, cracking it down the middle. So much for the two anchor stays. Thought Shinji as he shoved his body against Rei, throwing them to the side as whoever was outside began to fire wildly into the smoke-filled room. That morning, the group had set up a barricaded position inside the primary entrance for just such an occasion, and he and Rei piled behind it as it and the entire room was pelted by paintballs. Quickly the two wiggled around until they were situated. When the firing stopped from outside, they popped up and began to hose the room and door with long, steady bursts. In his ear, he heard Asuka announce the breach of their perimeter, and Rei's acknowledgement of the warning to fall back to Delta on the floor above. He heard a scream and some cursing, and repeated his last sweep, eliciting another scream and more curses. Rei's hand grabbed his shoulder and the slender girl easily snatched him out the door, which she kicked closed and locked with a twist. They were ten feet from the foot of the stairs leading to the second floor, and Rei had just taken a step toward it when something whizzed past her ear in the smoky hallway. Her immediate response was to tackle Shinji and fire down the smoky hallway to where she knew the door to Bravo was. Her burst elicited some swearing and the sound of someone knocking into the wall. Rei hit the area again and a painful gasp told her she had scored. With her zero set, she emptied her hopper into the area the opponent should have been and was rewarded with a muffled voice screaming.

"God damnit, you got me! So stop shooting already, motherfuckers!" Rei didn't answer, simply pulling Shinji up and rapidly ascending the stairs.

"Alpha team inbound. Repeat, Alpha team inbound. Alpha folded. Repeat, Alpha folded." She said into her mike, her voice as calm as always.

"What's happened, Mi-chan?" asked Airi, excitement in her voice.

"The enemy forces have used smoke grenades to route the team from their primary staging areas, and they have fallen back to their next line of defense. Let's hope the enemy gets impatient and charges up after them; that would be the best way to kill them at the bottleneck."

"How many are left?" asked the actress.

"No more than eleven by my count. Maybe less." Replied Misato, listening to the radio and scanning the building with her compact binoculars. "Come on, guys. Wipe them out." She muttered. Airi smiled at her friend's bloodthirsty tone.

Delta was another improvised bunker, and Asuka and Hikari were already in it, guns loaded and prepped when Rei came out of the door leading to the ground floor, her hand still locked on Shinji's shoulder. The male pilot was trying to walk on his own, but Rei was holding him too tightly. At the top of the stairs, she released him gently, and he settled back onto his feet. Her eyes on him, the red-eyed pilot swiftly and economically reloaded her empty hopper as she walked toward the bunker. "What's the score?" asked Asuka, watching as Shinji reloaded as well.

"One confirmed killed, another two probable. You?" replied Rei.

"One wounded. Maybe one killed. Any idea how many hit your position?" responded Asuka.

"The rate of cover fire indicated at least three shooting, which means four hit us, as someone had to breach the entrance while the others provided cover fire." Was Rei's assessment.

"It sounded like there were three people out there. Could have been more." Was Asuka's guess.

"Rit-chan, do you copy that?" asked Hikari into her mike.

"Copy all. I have located their base, and it looks like we only have about a half dozen left to kill. Be sharp. They'll probably rush in, especially if they have another smoke grenade." Advised Rit-chan.

"Hai." Answered Rei, settling in beside Hikari and readying her gun. Shinji was frowning a bit.

"I have an idea, guys. Hold on a second while I get something." He said, jogging for the room where they had stashed their gear.

"What is he doing now, the Baka." Complained Asuka. From the foot of the stairs came a soft thump, followed by a muffled hiss of pain. Asuka caught the eyes of Hikari and Rei, who both nodded, tucking into cover more deeply as they waited to see who would emerge from the stairwell. From behind them, they heard Shinji approach. Before Asuka could say anything, he stepped past the bunker, his hands holding a mass of cloth, his paintball gun held in his off hand. Just then, there was a familiar hiss as a fresh smoke grenade sailed up from the stairwell. Bouncing off the wall, it dropped to the floor, spewing smoke. Before it even stopped spinning, Shinji had leaped at it, the cloth in his hands landing on it with a sodden splat that told them the cloth was soaked in something, probably water. From the foot of the stairwell, someone fired a burst at him, but it went high, and Shinji scrambled back toward the bunker, leaving the covered smoke grenade where it was. There was the sound of feet on the stairs and as Shinji skidded past the front of the improvised bunker, two forms exploded from the stairwell, firing as they went.

To say that they got a warm reception was an understatement. From the three guns on them, they got a detailed application of paintball rounds from their kneecaps to their forehead, and it seemed that at least one of the girls concentrated on their groins. Both immediately turtled and began to sob, holding their bruised testicles. Asuka jumped over the bunker lip and dashed to the stairwell, slamming her back to the wall just beside it and poking her gun around the corner, spraying the remaining rounds down the stairwell. Her attack produced screams.

"The siege is lifted." Noted Misato, seeing signs of movement and hearing the cross talk on the radio. It had been fifteen minutes since the news that the forward staging areas had been over run. "They have routed the seven attackers, and that leaves four unaccounted for. They believe that three have camped out to guard the flag and the other is probably wounded somewhere. Apparently, they are preparing for a sweep to the enemy fort." She stood. "Let's get a better view." Airi stood as well.

"It won't be long now. Maybe another hour at the most." Noted the Captain.

Ten minutes later, five forms appeared from the still-smoking building, moving steadily, but cautiously as they moved toward the other end of the block. The mass of the students and spectators murmured in surprise at the camouflaged forms, nearly impossible to identify even at the close range of barely a street width away. Rit-chan was immediately obvious to Airi and Misato because she was taller than the younger teens and her PSG1 was slung across her back. Misato picked out the identities of the others by their body language and the peculiar quirks of the pilots, who she knew well enough to spot in a crowd of hundreds.

About halfway to the other building, as the group passed a dented, battered garbage can, a figure sprang up from behind it, yelling at the top of their lungs and spraying paintballs everywhere. Misato watched in awe as the group reacted seamlessly, wheeling and dropping, the enemy fire arching over their heads to land among the packed spectators, the guns of her pilots and their cohorts vomiting forth rounds on full auto, the ambusher staggering back from the close-range fullisade, his paintball gun dropping as he tried to protect himself from the barrage he was receiving. While three of the team continued to pour it on, Asuka took three swift steps toward him, kicking the trashcan and his paintball gun away before leveling her gun at his writhing form. The others lifted fire, reloading their hoppers. Asuka could be heard barking questions at him. Unsatisfied with his answers, she pumped a round into his groin. His scream rose a few octaves. Impatient with his stubborn refusal to answer her, she planted her boot in his chest armor, pressing him against the wall, repeating the question. Getting a sort-of answer, she sniffed dismissively and put a round into his face protector, right over his forehead. With her job done, she turned away and twirled her fingers, motioning the team to form up. After a moment huddled in conversation, they jogged toward the enemy building.

Airi winced as Asuka nut-shot the hapless boy. So did most of the spectators; especially the males. Misato saw her wince in sympathy. When Asuka gave the suffering kid a symbolic third eye, the actress glanced over at her. Misato shrugged. "She plays to win, after all."

"Well, here they come. I thought we'd have to wait longer than this." Observed Shodo from his position by the window on the third floor. Kodo and Touji stood from where they were sitting and moved to the door as Shodo picked up his half of the plan: an aerosol applicator for the chloroform. "Everyone remember your jobs?" Touji and Kodo nodded. "Well, let's get ready." The three surviving challengers moved out, to await the arrival of the five executioners.

It had taken eleven minutes to secure the ground floor. Another eighteen minutes had been taken to secure the second floor. The third floor was deemed secured twenty-five minutes later. One floor left, and it had to contain the flag and the surviving three enemy sappers. Ritsuko motioned for her team to form up for an intel dump. With their guards up, they quietly discussed the situation, and Rit-chan decided that the best course would be to leave a bottling force here and move three of the shooters to the roof by rope, then to take the final floor from above, driving any of the three who tried to bolt into the waiting ambush of the two remaining shooters. A moment of discussion picked Hikari and Rei to be the ambushers, and Rit-chan, Asuka and Shinji would be the flushers.

As Rei and Hikari settled into their dug-in positions, the three climbers retreated to a room with a window that gave them access to the railing around the edge of the roof. Quietly opening the window and leaning out, Rit-chan verified that there was no window in the climb path, or even on that side of the floor above them. She smiled as she uncoiled a twenty-foot length of rope and made a loop in the end, the better to grab the inward-curving top of the chain link fence around the rooftop. It took her only two tries to get a secure purchase on the support beams, and after several checks to make sure it would support the weight, the climbers were ready. Asuka went up. Then Shinji. Then Ritsuko. After making sure that there wasn't an ambush on the roof, the three climbed over the fence and carefully scouted the entire roof, finding Kensuke still semi-conscious with a lump on the side of his head. "Beautiful work, Rit-chan." Smiled Asuka evilly.

"Thanks. I liked the shot." Answered the elf hunter. She noted the walkie-talkies and the binoculars. Too bad for you, kid. You were just out-classed. She thought to the unconscious boy. With the roof secure, the three headed for the access well, stacked and cracked the door open, beginning the final stage of the assault.

Below them, the crowd had come to stand in front of the building, waiting for something to happen. It had been fifteen minutes since the three had climbed the walls to the roof, and several students were placing bets with other students and spectators about what may be happening in there. Misato and Airi stood near the rear of the pack, Misato listening intently to the occasional message from her team. The victims of the assault on the other headquarters had come over to see what was happening, and they were all very sore from the pasting they had received. Twenty-five were there, and that left four. The newly revived corpses reported that Aida had been on the roof, but had gone silent a while back. Ritsuko was suspected. Airi hid a smile. As for the plans of the three that hadn't ventured out, they had no clue. That worried Misato a little, as the two who were with Touji had a pretty bad reputation. And there was the question of rather or not Touji was a threat to Shinji, considering his questionable sexual preference. I'll give them another half-hour. Then I order Section 2 in. decided the Operations Director.

Rit-chan and her two fellow strikers had cleared half the floor. No sign of the three holdouts. And that was making Rit-chan nervous. Her sixth sense told her there was something wrong with this picture, and she was listening to it. With only half a floor left, she was being extra cautious, and was making sure that her two fellow gunners were being extra cautious as well. As the three cleared another room and moved to the next one, she thought she heard some sounds from inside the room. The three went silent, listening. No sounds. Two minutes went by with equal silence. Rit-chan cautiously moved forward and slowly turned the doorknob, finding the door unlocked. A few hand signals told her teammates the plan, and then, on the count of three, the team made entry.

Rei was watching the door to the hallway above her, waiting for any movement. It had been a quarter of an hour, and no message from the others since they entered the roof access door. Rei glanced at Hikari and saw the brown-haired girl was half asleep. Reaching over to her, she shook the other girl's shoulder. Hikari woke up a bit, but still seemed out of it. Rei felt herself getting sleepy just watching Hikari's eyes droop. As Hikari slumped forward, Rei realized that she could hear a very soft hiss from the door above her. It is a trap. She thought, struggling to warn the others via radio, but falling unconscious before she could. A few moments later, the door opened quietly and three figures peeked out to see the two unconscious fighters on the landing below. Quickly, they slipped down and retrieved the two unconscious girls and carried them to the room they had set up earlier.

"Rei, Hikari. Report." Said Rit-chan softly into the radio. There was no response. The three stood in a room, the enemy flag in Asuka's hand, only three rooms and a partial hall remaining. "Come in, Rei. Hikari?" No answer. Shinji had a bad feeling.

"Something's wrong." He said quietly. Asuka looked over at him.

"What do you mean, something's wrong? There hasn't been any firing, and we can't find the stooge or his two buddies, which just means that they are hiding somewhere. Maybe Rei and Hikari just turned their radios off for some reason." She said, motioning with the flag. A flash of white caught Shinji's eye.

"What's that?" he asked, pointing to the flag.

"Their flag, of course. Baka!" she snapped.

"No, that bit of paper there." Asuka looked and saw a small piece of paper pinned to the flag. Asuka looked at it and shrugged. Looking at it, he spotted the words. Reminder: ask Shinji.

"That looks like Touji's handwriting." He said.

"Why would he pin a note to the flag?" asked Rit-chan, frowning. Shinji saw a bit of writing on the other side of the small bit of paper. He grabbed the flag and studied the paper, ignoring Asuka's growl of annoyance. His face went cold and hard.

"We have to find the others, now." He snarled, his voice mean enough to frighten even Asuka. He dropped the flag, unfastened his air tank, dropping it and the paintball gun to the floor before pulling his USP out and checking to make sure a round was chambered. Rit-chan saw the anger in his eyes, and snatched the flag up as Shinji strode out the door, a low, mean growl coming from his throat as he stalked toward the stairwell. Reading the message, she dropped her air gun as well, pulling her USP, and running after Shinji. Seeing this, Asuka dropped her air gun and followed her two teammates, her USP now in her fists.

Misato was listening to the missed radio check-ins and was getting more worried as she listened. When she heard the growl from Shinji, she knew it was time to go. "Fuck!" she snarled, her hand diving under her jacket and pulling her own USP from the holster at her waist as she plowed through the crowd in front of her, Airi a step behind. Without pausing, she kicked the door down and charged up the stairs. I have to get there in time. She told herself grimly. The growl she had heard from her Shinji was the same growl Unit 1 had made when it went berserk on the third angel.

"Man, this is a real gun!" exclaimed Shodo, examining the USP from Hikari's thigh holster. The two unconscious girls were tied up and lay on the floor of the room the two had prepared for when the five came after them. Shodo and Kodo had been searching the two sleeping girls, and had relieved them of most of their gear, along with the BDUs, leaving them in their spandex tops and bottoms. The two had thoroughly groped the two before beginning to check their gear.

"Ayanami's is real too!" cried Kodo. "Damn! How lucky can you get?"

"I know! Man, this is like Christmas and my birthday all at once!" agreed Shodo. "Check it out, Touji."

"You better not mess with that, Bro. It's NERV issue." Replied Touji.

"You worry too much, you know that?" said Shodo. "Just like that Tomoko slut."

"Hey, if these two have real guns, then the other three have real ones too. Right?" asked Kodo.

"Seems likely." Shrugged Shodo.

"And one of those others is Asuka. We were supposed to get her first. What if she finds us before we can put her to sleep?" asked Kodo.

"Then we'll just force her hand. We've got her best friend here, after all." Shodo replied confidently.

"Not for long." Came an enraged voice from just outside the door. An instant later, the door was literally torn from it's frame by an extremely enraged Third Child, his own USP coming up to eye level and locking onto Shodo's forehead, his finger tightening on the trigger. Shodo was frozen by the raw anger in the boy's eyes, and he knew that he was about to die.

"Shinji! No!" yelled Rit-chan, pushing his arm to the side as the round fired. The bullet missed Shodo by an inch, whistling past his ear before burying itself in the wall behind the boy. Asuka dashed past Shinji as he roared in anger and struggled to bring the USP to bear again. Two steps took Asuka close enough to the boy to put her boot into his gut, knocking him unconscious as he flew back into the wall. Turning on her foot, she brought her leg around and smashed it into the other boy's knee, knocking him to the ground. Her boot landed on his chest, and her USP locked onto his right eye. Behind her, Rit-chan had her hands busy trying to keep Shinji from killing them. Just then, Misato and Airi cleared the stairs and took in the scene. Holstering her gun, Misato grabbed Shinji, and together, she and Rit-chan managed to get him under control. Asuka didn't look up from where she was pinning the boy to the floor.

"Misato, they did something to Rei and Hikari." She said. "Shinji read some note Stooge over there left and flipped out. He nearly killed that one in cold blood."

"Suzahara! What the hell did you do?" barked Misato, glaring at Touji hard enough to make his heart skip a beat.

"Nothing! Shodo and Kodo, they stole some chloroform from Kodo's dad's business and were planning to gas the others to win. I put the note there to warn Shinji about it!" protested Touji.

"Liar! You wanted to fuck us more than anyone else, stooge!" roared Asuka, her finger tightening on the trigger a little.

"Actually not, Devil!" he shouted back.

"And why not? You're always talking about fucking one of us, why wouldn't you do it now? It certainly looks like you were about to rape Hikari and Rei!" yelled back Asuka.

"I wouldn't rape any of you!" he yelled back. "Shinji wouldn't like it if I did, and I may be a hentai like you say, but I don't go for rape! Besides, Hikari is one of my oldest friends, how could I do that to her?"

"He is correct, you know." Came the voice of Rei. The others looked down to see that her eyes were open. "He is many things, but he is not the kind to do that."

"Rei-chan, are you all right?" asked Shinji, the rage disappearing nearly instantly. Misato and Rit-chan released their grip on him. Shinji holstered his gun and sank to his knees next to her, cutting her bonds with his sheath knife.

"I am unharmed, Shinji. I believe that Hikari is unhurt as well." Confirmed Rei. Hikari began to stir. A few minutes later, she was awake as well.

"What happened?" she asked groggily. Everyone was silent, looking at Touji and Shinji.

"Maki, you have some visitors." Said the nurse, opening the door to the younger Suzahara's room.

"Is it my brother?" asked Maki, her tone cheerful.

"No, it's not. It's someone from NERV, I think."

"NERV? To see me?" asked Maki, her tone a little confused. "Who is it?" she asked.

"May we come in, miss Suzahara?" came a voice from outside the door.

"Yes, of course." Answered the young girl, wondering who was there. A brown-haired boy stepped into the room, followed by a girl with ice-blue hair and red eyes, then a girl with blue eyes and red hair. Finally came an older woman with dark purple hair, closing the door behind her.

"He…hello. I'm Shinji Ikari. Your brother told me you wanted to see me?" Maki squealed with delight.

"Mister Ikari-san!" she cried out, her tone happier than he had thought possible. "Brother kept his promise! I'm so glad to meet you! I want to thank you for saving my life, and to apologize for my stupid big brother's hitting you. He did apologize, right?"

"Uh, yeah. He did." Answered Shinji, embarrassed by her enthusiastic greeting.

"I saw you on television, when you and the orange Eva fought the floating angel. You know, the one that they had to turn the lights off to kill? Brother told me the other Eva got melted, but that it's all repaired now. Do you know the pilot of that one? And the red one that was with you last time. Big brother told me that you are all in the same class! He's lucky, getting to be near pilots like you and the other two. What are the other pilots like? Brother told me that one's very distant and cold, and that the other one is a violent show-off. But brother is sometimes a little quick to judge." Shinji couldn't help thinking that Touji was probably pretty close on in this case, at least when all he had to go on was the outward appearance.

"Why not let me introduce you to my friends, Maki. This is Rei Ayanami. She pilots the orange one that was with me when we destroyed the floating angel. The one with red hair is Asuka Langley Sohryu, the pilot of the red Eva. And the woman by the door is Captain Misato Katsuragi, the one that directs us in battle." Said Shinji, feeling a bit nervous. Maki's eyes were wide open and her mouth gaped.

"Hello, Maki Suzahara. It is a pleasure to meet you." Said Rei in her quiet voice.

"At least that idiot Touji has a cute kid sister. Pleased to meet you." Said Asuka, smiling at the open look of worship on the girl's face.

"Hi, Maki. I hope you're feeling better." Said Misato.

"Big brother got you all to come?" gaped Maki. "Big brother is the best!" Asuka and Misato exchanged glances, but said nothing.

"We have something for you, Maki." Said Shinji, holding out a simple brown bag. Maki took it with only a bit of difficulty and carefully opened it. Inside was a plush toy made to look like a teddy bear coated Unit 1. Shinji thought that the toy looked much better than the real item. Spotting a piece of paper in the bag, Maki withdrew a four by six photo of Shinji against a background of Eva Unit 1. Shinji had signed the photo to her.

"Thank you, mister Ikari-san." She said solemnly. "I will treasure this forever."

"And here are some company for Baka's Unit 1." Said Asuka, handing the girl another bag, which she discovered contained a plushy of Unit 2, along with another signed four by six. Asuka smiled at the girl's thanks. Rei handed her bag to the girl, who was nearly crying in joy as she opened it to reveal the plushy of Unit 0 and the signed photo of Rei. Misato stepped forward and handed the girl a smaller envelop, which contained a NERV visitor pass and a snapshot of her with all the pilots.

"Come see us when you get out of here." Said Misato, smiling at the girl warmly.

"Yeah, and I'll give you a ride on my Unit 2." Added Asuka.

"Promise?" asked Maki, her eyes shining.

"Yes, I promise. I'll even make Baka here make you dinner too." Asuka confirmed. "So, hurry up and get well, ok?"

"I will!" she happily agreed. "Can you tell me, miss San-san, what it's like to work with mister Ikari-san and miss Ayanami-san? I wish I could spend time with you like brother does. He's so lucky! Is piloting an Eva very hard? They look so big, and brother says it's very hard on the pilots. What's it like?"

"Well, it's a little hard to explain, but I'll try." Said Asuka. Two hours later, she was still talking with a nearly asleep Maki. When the four left, Maki Suzahara was asleep, the three plushy toys clutched to her protectively. Outside the door, they linked up with Hikari and Rit-chan, who had waited for them, listening through the door.

"How did a loser like him end up with a cute, sweet sister like her, anyway?" wondered Asuka. She giggled a bit at Shinji's expression. "You didn't tell me you had such an avid fan, Baka. Tell me, do you like having a worshipper?"

"She only worships me because she thinks I'm some hero who saved everyone. I'm no hero, and I nearly got her killed." Said Shinji.

"You find it hard to hear her praise you while she lies in the hospital with injuries you feel you caused, do you not, Shinji?" asked Rei.

"Yeah." Said the pilot.

"You did, in fact, save her." Stated Rei. "And you did not cause her injuries, so you must not feel guilty about it."

"That's easier said than done, Rei-chan." Said Shinji softly.

"Well, we'll have to help you then, Shinji." Said Hikari. "After all, we have to celebrate our win today, right? Come on, the party's going to start in about an hour and a half, and we have to get ready."