Part 17: On and On

Mmm. Morning. Was the first thought of Ritsuko Inoue as her eyes opened to the sound of her alarm clock beeping. Or rather, Asuka's fucking clock. Thought the teen, irritated at the electronic tormentor. I really don't feel like getting up today. It feels too good in bed. Maybe I should just kill the clock and then crash for a snooze. Continued the teen to herself as she instinctively hugged the warm body pillow to her a bit closer. I'll have to ask Asuka where she got her body pillows from; these are so soft and comfortable. It was about then that the body pillow shifted a bit. Though mostly asleep, Rit-chan thought that it was odd for a pillow to shift itself. Opening her eyes, she assessed the situation. Oh. I see.

Rit-chan's `pillow' turned out to be a brown haired class rep, one Hikari Horaki by name. The younger girl was firmly snuggled into Rit-chan's side, her arm over the older teen's chest and her head on Rit-chan's shoulder. Now more fully awake, Ritsuko felt Hikari's leg thrown over her hip and her own leg was tangled with Hikari's leg. Pressed full-length against Rit-chan's side, Hikari's warm, soft skin felt soothing against her own. Rit-chan took a moment to watch Hikari sleep. She's cute when she's sleeping. Not at all like her normal stern self; I guess she does put on a good front as a Class Rep. Thought the elf hunter. Farther over in bed, Asuka was snuggled firmly against Hikari, back to back with the girl, the Pilot's teddy bear crushed to her chest possessively. Both girls were dead to the world. And the alarm kept sounding. "Guess I'll get that and grab my shower and breakfast before waking them." Decided the teen. "Now, let's see if I can untangle myself without waking them."

As the elf hunting teen slid the door to Asuka's and her room closed softly, she heard the shower running. Wondering who was in there, she decided to peek into Shinji's room and see. Treading softly on the floor in her bare feet, she peeked into Shinji's room and saw that the bed was empty and both the pilot's clothes were on the floor. Rit-chan suppressed a giggle. Showing together, eh? The girl thought. Another possibility crossed her mind and she crossed to the door to Misato and Airi's room, slowly slipping it open enough to peek inside. Though it was still dark in Misato's room, she could see enough to know that Airi and Misato were still both asleep, and more than likely in the same position that she and Hikari had been in, judging from the single lump on the bed with two heads. Rit-chan closed the door silently.

"Good morning, Rit-chan." Said a soft voice behind the girl. Rit-chan jerked with surprise.

"Rei!" gasped the longhaired one softly. "Don't do that so early in the morning! You almost gave me a heart attack, Rei-chan!"

"That is unlikely, given your excellent physical condition." Noted Rei. "Did you sleep well?"

"Yes. And you?" asked Rit-chan, giving the cold-tempered girl a suggestive smile.

"Very well." Replied Rei, still serious. "You may wish to shower now. Once the others are up, there will not be time to enjoy a relaxing morning shower due to time constraints. Shinji will start breakfast as soon as he finishes his shower." Said Rei, turning for Shinji's room. Her towel was draped casually over her shoulders, her hair still dripping a bit, leaving her completely naked.

"Are you saying that I should shower with Shinji?" asked Rit-chan, determined to get Rei to loosen up a bit.

"Yes. It is a most…pleasant experience." Replied Rei as serious as ever, though Rit-chan could have sworn that her lips bent toward a smile as she said that. "And I am sure that Shinji would enjoy your company." Added the girl as the door to Shinji's room closed behind her. Rit-chan considered her words for a moment. Then, a large smile spread over her face, and she stepped toward the bathroom, thinking Well, this is an excellent chance to see his dick! And if Rei finds the experience of showering with him to be noteworthy, then it must be something indeed.

Slipping into the bathroom, Rit-chan saw Shinji's form under the spray as he rested his head against the tile for a moment, letting the warm water cascade over his back. Setting her bathroom necessities conveniently near to the shower, Rit-chan greeted the male pilot. "Morning, Shin-chan." She said cheerfully.

Shinji snapped upright, turning to see Rit-chan there, and then turning his back to her. "Sorry, Rit-chan. I'll just get out of here so you can…"

"No, stay there. I'll just join you. Is that ok with you?" said Rit-chan, slipping off her towel, which she had had wrapped around her body from her breasts to her hips, setting it aside before she stepped into the warm spray. Shinji kept his eyes fixed on the wall of the shower as she let the spray wet her skin. After she was sufficiently soaked, she turned to him. "Shinji. It's ok for you to look at me. After all, I'm the one that joined you, remember?" she said softly, touching his shoulder and gently turning him to face her. Shinji's face was a little red.

"But if I do that, Rit-chan, I'll get a…well, you know." He said.

"Think your dick will embarrass you?" suggested Rit-chan. "Well, it's not a big issue; I know that you don't have conscious control over it. And besides, it's a compliment, after all." Smiled the girl. Shinji looked into her eyes.

"You mean you're not…angry about it?" he asked. For his answer, Rit-chan smiled before leaning into him and kissing him.

"Of course not!" she said. "Now let's get cleaned up." Shinji nodded, watching as Rit-chan began to shampoo her hair. Her body was gorgeous, and the sight of it made his dick harden. A few moments later, Rit-chan turned to him and spoke again. "Hey, Shinji-chan? Wash my back for me?"

"Mmm." Came the indistinct sound from Asuka's room as the two remaining forms in the bed shifted a bit. After the departure of Rit-chan, Hikari - deprived of the older girl's warmth - had instinctively rolled over and snuggled up to Asuka's warm body, her arms closing over her friend's sleek frame and her body pressing itself to the other girl's smooth skin. Asuka had murmured something in German as her friend spooned with her, but remained asleep. Now, a little less than an hour later, the smell of breakfast coupled with the insistent need to pee was rapidly waking the class rep and the pilot of Unit 2. With a few more sighs and some soft exhalations, Asuka's bright blue eyes opened and she stared at the wall, trying to remember why her head hurt so much. With some work, she remembered the party the night before and how much she had drunk. Granted, she had only had a couple of glasses of Champaign and a few sips of beer, but since she wasn't used to drinking like Misato, she felt the effects of a long night of drinking. She also became aware of her best friend snuggled up to her. "Hi-chan?" she said softly, shifting to look at her friend, who was still asleep against her. In doing so, she realized that she was naked. Suspecting what she would find, she pulled the sheets back from their forms and frowned a little to see Hikari naked as well. No way did we do this ourselves. We couldn't have. And why would she be all over me like this? Oh my God, tell me we didn't have sex! I'm not attracted to girls! Why would we have slept together naked? Oh hell, we were both a bit bombed, and Misato gets awfully affectionate with both me and my Shinji when she's drunk, so maybe we did mess around a bit. Still, it was just the alcohol; nothing else. And I don't see Rit-chan. Did she notice? Or maybe join in? Best not to say anything unless she brings it up. Yeah, I'll just pretend that nothing happened.

"Mmm. Yes, again. Kiss me, lover…" murmured Hikari, sleeping and dreaming. Her hands, resting on Asuka's chest and belly, began to caress her friend's smooth, soft skin a little in disjointed, uncoordinated movements, one finding her breast and cupping it. Asuka wasn't sure how to react to this. Hikari was definitely asleep, but her actions made a strong case for some recent intimate history between the two. And she looked cute asleep like that. Hesitantly, Asuka brought her head closer and closer to her friend's lips, eventually pressing her lips to Hikari's. "Mmph!" was Hikari's reply as she parted her lips and her tongue slipped out, seeking Asuka's mouth. Caught off guard, Asuka opened her mouth in surprise, and that was all the opening Hikari needed, her tongue slipping into Asuka's mouth as their lips sealed. I can't believe I'm kissing my best friend! Thought Asuka. Still, she has soft lips; different from Shinji's lips. And she is more aggressive than Shinji is, at least normally. Lately he's been getting more assertive than before. Each morning, he's more sure of himself, and he keeps getting better at making me cum. Oh shit! I need to go wake him before Wondergirl does! If she goes in to wake him and he thinks it's me, she might be the first one to fuck him! Gently but insistently, Asuka broke the kiss with Hikari and started to move out of bed, her groin tingling a bit with anticipation. As she stood, she smelled breakfast and knew she was too late.

"Damn." She growled. "Nothing for it now, but to shower and see if I can make it up later today." With a final look at Hikari's still resting - but rapidly awakening - form, Asuka grabbed her towel, wrapped it around her body, snagged her bathroom basket and headed for the bathroom, noticing that it was nearly time to go to school. As the door closed behind her, Hikari's warm brown eyes opened. Slowly she lifted her fingers to her lips.

"That was one realistic dream." She mused. Looking around, she spotted the alarm clock and gasped. "Oh shit!" she hissed, vaulting out of bed, feeling her head pound. "Oh, that's doesn't feel good." She muttered. After a moment spent gaining her balance, she retrieved her borrowed towel and headed for the bathroom, hoping that she could grab a quick shower before she had to dress and go to school. "Maybe Shinji-chan will be in the shower." She hoped. Feeling her groin tingle and her nipples stiffen, she mentally scolded herself. Down, girl! Stop thinking perverted things and get ready for school! Even if he were in the shower, what would you do? Have sex with him with everyone here in the apartment? Yeah, sure. You couldn't even help him finish the other night! Stepping into the bathroom, she forced her mind away from that memory, as it had made her nipples go from stiff to hard as rocks and her groin was now not just tingling, but feeling damp. In the shower, she spotted shoulder length red hair. Asuka seemed to be a little preoccupied with her own thoughts, so Hikari set her towel on top of Asuka's and added her basket to Asuka's before she spoke. "Asuka, can I grab a shower with you? We're almost late as it is."

"Oh, Hikari. Um, sure, plenty of room." Said Asuka, rousted from her thoughts of when and how she could regain the missed wake-up call with Shinji. Hikari slipped into the shower with her friend and began to scrub herself clean, her mind on how she could and would make it up to Shinji for leaving him hanging, so to speak. After all, Hikari always kept her promises.

Breakfast was rice and vegetables with fish strips, accompanied by milk and orange juice. When Asuka and Hikari arrived, Shinji, Rei and Rit-chan were just finishing up, lingering over last cups of drink before the dash to school. Sitting at the table before the two full plates, Asuka and Hikari dug in as Shinji poured them their drinks and made final checks on their lunches. As the girls cleared their plates and drained their glasses, Shinji handed each of them three pills and refilled their glasses. "What's this?" asked Hikari, indicating the pills.

"Misato's pre-work tune-up for when she drinks more than she thinks she did and still needs to be able to function." Shrugged Shinji.

"What are the pills, baka?" Repeated Asuka, though her tone was curious rather than angry.

"Two aspirins and one B-complex. Swallow the aspirin and tuck the complex under the tongue, so it is absorbed slowly as we walk to school. Misato swears that within a half hour, you're good to go."

"And she would be the expert on hangovers, wouldn't she?" chimed in Hikari, a short giggle accompanying her remark. Tossing the two aspirins to the back of her mouth, she knocked back the glass of juice in one shot, then slipped the smaller B-complex pill under her tongue. Her glass and Asuka's hit the tabletop at the same time. "Good breakfast!" they both said in unison, bowing to each other.

"Let's book!" commanded Asuka, moving toward the door even as she said it. The others were right behind her. As the door closed behind the Children and their friends, Pen Pen's door opened and the warm water penguin stepped out, an empty beer can in his flippers and a towel around his neck. As he passed the trashcan, he tossed the empty can in without looking, paused to raid Misato's beer fridge for another round, then entered the bathroom for a leisurely soak.

"Wark!" he said as the tub filled, cracking open the tab on his fresh beer and taking a sip. Had there been a translator (or Shinji) there, they would have observed that Pen Pen's comment was not nice. If Misato had been drunk enough, she could have translated the remark as well. As neither was there, Pen Pen felt the need to repeat himself. "Wark! Wark!" Roughly translated, the avian was saying: weak humans! Everyone knows that penguins don't get hangovers! Good thing too, or I'd never be able to survive the hangovers that Beer Provider gets whenever we do shots for penalties. With the tub filled to his liking with water his preferred temperature, the penguin carefully adjusted his beer close to hand and dove into the warm water, settling on his back so he could sip from the beer as he relaxed. Being an artificially enhanced penguin of extreme intelligence, Pen Pen used his bath times to reflect on deep, philosophical questions, theological issues and planning sessions. This morning, he felt kind of religious, so he composed a prayer to the priestess of his god, the Alcohol-Giving One. Yes, that means that his god is Alcohol in all its myriad forms, and his High Priestess is Misato Katsuragi. Not satisfied with merely composing a prayer to the Provider, which any penguin worthy of the name could do, he decided that as he was superior to them, his prayer must be superior as well. Therefore, he would compose the prayer in classic haiku form, using only the kana sets for the entire process. Taking a sip of beer, the penguin closed his eyes, floating serenely in the tub, and began to compose his prayer. Half way through the first verse, he had to stop long enough to go to the beer fridge and grab a few more beers. Composing great literary and religious works was thirsty work, after all.

Airi was the first one of the women to wake, and she was a bit surprised to find herself cuddling with a very naked Misato. Still, it was immediately clear that Misato was not trying to put the moves on her or molest her, as the captain was still soundly asleep. And, as much as she wanted to deny it, being snuggled up to Misato felt kind of…good. Misato didn't act her age, which meant that it was almost like having a more developed Rit-chan pressed full-body against her; a situation that had occurred more than a few times in the last year of elf hunting. Granted, Rit-chan had hardly ever been naked while they were in such close proximity, but it had happened a time or three. Firmly attracted to men, Airi nonetheless had experimented a time or two herself, and from discussions with Misato, she was sure that Misato had experimented as well, especially with some of the stories of herself, Kaji and Ritsuko Akagi that the purple haired Captain had told of their college days.

After carefully untangling herself, she made her way to the bathroom to relieve the pressure on her bladder, and on her way into the bathroom, she had encountered Pen Pen on his way out, giving her a friendly "Wark!" and a wave of his flipper.

"Weird." Muttered Airi, headed for the toilet. Just before she finished, the door to the bathroom slid open again and Pen Pen returned with the fruits of his hunting expedition: a six-pack of beer. Airi stared at the bird, her pit stop forgotten, as he carefully worked the six-pack of beer up onto the edge of the tub, removed the plastic can holder, and arranged the beers in a nice, neat line along the edge of the water before cracking the seal on the first one.

"Wark!" he announced, taking a long pull from the can before he drove cleanly back into the tub. A few moments later, Airi thought she heard him humming. Floating there with his eyes closed, he was indeed humming, the vibrations from his throat making small ripples in the water. Airi finished her morning pit stop and stood, watching Pen Pen for another few moments before departing to put on some coffee. Pausing to look back from the open door, she saw the flightless bird fish the open can off the edge, take another long pull from it, then place it back on the ledge, still humming. The door slid closed behind Airi as she said

"Weird bird."

It was another hour before Misato stirred. Airi had put on some coffee, gotten the paper from outside the main entrance to the apartment complex, fixed herself a batch of toast and watched the mid-morning weather and news programs. She had also completed her basic morning exercise routine. Hearing a groan from the room she shared with Misato, she fished a beer out of the fridge and waited. Sure enough, a few moments later, Misato stumbled into the kitchen, her eyes barely open, working her way toward the beer fridge. Airi cracked the tab on the beer, gaining Misato's instant attention.

"Morning, Mi-chan." Said the actress, handing the Captain the beer. Misato chugged it in one shot.

"Ah! Much better." Said Misato, sitting across from Airi.

"What, no beer cheer?" asked the actress mockingly.

"So, you've heard Asuka's spiel, then?" laughed Misato. Airi nodded. "I only do that when Shinji or Asuka is here to hear it."

"I see." Murmured Airi. "So, what's on the docket for today, Mi-chan?"

"I've got evening duty at Nerve, Ritsu wants you and Rit-chan down there later for some tests…is something wrong, Ai-chan?" asked Misato, seeing the sudden tension in Airi's posture.

"I'm not found of any `test' doctor Akagi might want to administer. And Rit-chan might kill the woman if she tries to do any more `tests' on her; the last time we were `tested' by your friend left us a bit…hostile to the woman." Said Airi, not padding her dislike of her previous experience with Akagi. "Has she ever given you one of her `exams', Mi-chan?"

"Matter of fact, yes. She's the head doctor for E-project, and with the sensitive nature of my job, she is the chief medical provider for myself, the Children, and the bridge crew. Come to think of it, I don't think anyone but her and the med staff at the base infirmary are even allowed to give us care. The Children and I are required to have a complete physical every six months. Of course, the Children spend so much time in the hospital that they might as well be getting physicals every few weeks." Misato frowned at that thought, the forced herself to change topics a bit. "I'll admit that her bedside manner is lacking, but she is one of the most brilliant doctors on the planet. Even though she only minored in medicine, she took the certification course for medical doctor and passed on the first try with only two months to prepare for the exam. In college, she had double majors and double minors. Even with four times the course load as Kaji and I, she was still nearly always partying with us."

Airi sensed an opportunity. "What all does she look for when she gives you and the pilots physicals?"

Misato took a swallow of beer before she answered. "The usual. Blood work, physical examination for signs of disease or cancers, health check for signs of injuries or biological problems, cellular samples for encoding DNA locks and growing transfusion blood, the normal."

"Cellular samples? What kind of cellular samples are we dealing with?" pressed Airi.

"She takes small samples of muscle tissue, some blood, a bone marrow sample - that hurts like hell, but she only does it every couple of years - and she takes ovum samples, too. Well, from the girls, anyway. I guess it would be sperm samples from Shinji." Answered Misato. She grinned naughtily. "Must be fun for her to get those samples." Airi shared a laugh with her, but her mind was busy.

So, she took ovum from myself and Rit-chan. Probably from Celsia as well. Shit. That woman is not to be trusted, and letting her have an ovum from an elf is the last thing I want. I have got to get wider access to NERV and figure out what Gendo's real objective is. I can smell a lie from a mile away, and his speech about defending humanity is pure bullshit. Which brings up another question for the captain. "Mi-chan, what do you know about Shinji's mother?"

During the afternoon class period, while the teacher rambled on about physics and most of the class was either spaced out or sleeping, Rit-chan's NERV-issued cell phone rang. Rit-chan quietly answered the call. Oblivious to the interruption once he saw whose phone had rung, the teacher went right on with his lesson as Rit-chan spoke softly into the phone. From his seat directly behind her, Shinji heard her growl in anger as her body went stiff. A few moments later, she ended the call and tossed her phone back into her bag with a show of tightly controlled anger.

"You ok, Rit-chan?" he asked softly.

"Not really. But there's nothing I can do about it right now." Said Rit-chan quietly.

"Can we help in any way?" asked the male pilot, referring to the Pilots as a whole.

"Probably not. It's NERV, after all." Muttered Rit-chan, her tone one of weary distrust.

"Do you, um, want to talk about it?" asked Shinji.

"Maybe later. Just give me a little bit of room for now, ok, Shinji-chan?" said the elf hunter, turning to give him a smile.

"Ok, if that's what you want, Rit-chan. We'll be here if you need us."

"You're sweet, Shin-chan. Remind me to thank you." Said Rit-chan, turning up the power of her smile. Shinji's laptop messaging program beeped at him. A glance showed it to be a message from Asuka. Opening the window, he read her message.

"Hey, Shinji!" yelled Kensuke, running after the departing group. Shinji turned to look at the bespectacled boy as his group paused. He noticed that Rei managed to stop between him and Kensuke, almost as if it was chance. The younger Aida stopped a few feet from Rei, seeing Asuka and Rit-chan in flanking positions and Hikari standing on the far side of Shinji.

"What did you need, Kensuke?" asked Shinji, his tone friendly, but cool.

"I was just wondering if you knew where Touji is." Said the teen. Rei was staring at him like he was a bug under her raised foot. "He didn't show up today, and he was gone when I came to yesterday."

"Did you call his house, Kensuke?" asked Shinji.

"I tried, but no one picked up." Said Kensuke.

"Then I don't know where he is, Kensuke." Replied Shinji, his tone level and a bit distant. Kensuke frowned.

"Shinji, can I talk to you alone for a minute?"

"No, you may not." Said Rei quietly, but with deadly threat.

"Take a hike, stooge. You're not welcome here." Said Asuka, her tone meaner than usual. Rit-chan and Hikari stayed silent.

"Hey, Shinji. It's me, Kensuke! Come on, we're friends, remember?" pressed the young man.

"Are we?" asked Shinji, his tone oddly cold. "Yesterday has me wondering about that." The puzzled look on Kensuke's face was unexpected.

"Yesterday? What happened yesterday? After I got hit, the next thing I remember is waking up on the roof that afternoon. Everyone was gone, and I couldn't find Touji. What happened?" asked Kensuke, puzzled.

"Aida! You're on bulletin duty, so move it!" yelled Hikari from beyond Shinji.

"Hikari, I was just going to ask him…" began Kensuke, but Hikari cut him off.

"If you aren't gone in five seconds, you're going to be spending a lot of quality time with cleaning supplies, got it?!" roared Hikari.

"Ye…yes, I got it. I'm…gonna go now. Talk to you later, Shinji?" he asked, his tone both hopeful and confused.

"We'll see, Kensuke." Said Shinji, turning away from the school with the girls still in a loose box formation around him. Aida stood there, wondering what had happened while he was unconscious that had changed his and Touji's relationship with Shinji so drastically. Abruptly, the scrawny kid turned and jogged off toward the one place he might find answers: the Suzahara residence.

"So, you have to go to NERV tonight, Rit-chan?" asked Hikari of her older friend. The five of them were walking toward the apartment of the Pilots, as a kind of launching point for whatever the evening might bring. Hikari had invited the group over for dinner sometime that week so they could meet her sisters, but the date was flexible. It had been the thought of Asuka to have Hikari and Rit-chan help her with the never-ending task of organizing and tending to her wardrobe. In order to maintain a fashionable wardrobe, one had to discard the items that had fallen out of fashion, and how better to know when that had happened than a best friend and a trusted second opinion?

"Yeah. Airi told me that bitch Akagi wants to do more tests on us. I can't imagine what kind of test hasn't been done on us already. I mean, damn! It was two hours of hell the first time, and now she wants to test us more?" replied Ritsuko. "Besides, I don't like the way she acts when she's experimenting on me."

"I know! She'd give doc Frankenstein a run for his money, wouldn't she?" seconded Asuka eagerly, glad to know that another shared her dislike of Akagi.

"She's just doing her job, Asuka." Said Shinji.

"But which job is she doing? Giving us medical care or furthering the plans of the Bastard King?" pressed Asuka. "Don't tell me you think that all these tests and physicals are really necessary to pilot Eva."

"Evas take a heavy toll on their pilots. Careful attention must be used to insure the continued ability to utilize the Evas against the Angels." Stated Rei quietly.

"Figures that you'd be a fan of the bleach-blond bitch." Snapped Asuka.

"I am not a fan of Doctor Akagi." Said Rei simply.

"What kind of test do they plan to do on you and miss Airi?" asked Hikari, wanting to avoid a fight between the two female pilots if possible.

"Well, Misato didn't know for sure, but she told Airi we would be tested for something called a EWC index, and some other test called a TPA assessment. Mean anything to you guys?" she asked, seeing Asuka frown and Shinji sigh.

"Yeah. Those are tests I had back when I was six and selected to be Unit 2's pilot. The EWC test is basically a mapping of your neural signature for uploading into the core interface of the Eva series, and the other is a Thought Process Analysis; basically, they are going to give you a series of questions and possible outcomes, and you have to string them together. Depending on how you react to each set, they can create a profile of how your thought process goes." Answered Asuka.

"Why would they do that?" asked Hikari.

"Eva pilots tend to have non-linear thought processes; but at the same time, they usually employ a very linear type of reactive actions." Said Asuka. Seeing Hikari's lost look, the German simplified. "Creative thinkers who act swiftly."

"What do you make of this, Rei-chan?" asked Rit-chan of the blue haired girl.

"It is likely that they will schedule a live interface test with one or more Units within this week, depending on the results of the initial tests." Said Rei.

"What?! Rit-chan isn't a Pilot, Wondergirl, and I doubt that Airi is either!" yelled Asuka.

"Great. How do I fail these tests, Rei-chan?" asked Rit-chan.

"It is not possible to fail or pass these tests, Rit-chan." Said Rei, her tone even. "The EWC index is no different than being given a physical, except that it deals solely with the brain and brain stem. The TPA assessment is designed to test the way your brain works, which is not subject to conscious control. Depending on what is learned, the decision to put you and Airi into an Eva will be made based solely on the Eppenheim theory."

"The who theory?" asked Asuka and Rit-chan simultaneously.

"It is the primary tool of the Marduke Institute, which is the body that designates the pilots for the Evas. As for the exacts, I am not able to say, as it is top secret." Responded Rei.

"Um, Rei, I never took these tests. How did I end up being the Third Child?" asked Shinji, understandably confused.

"You did in fact take them, and the other five tests as well. Your records indicate that you took the TPA test two weeks before you came here, the EWC test was listed as being done seven years ago, and the other five tests were administered within the last four years. The Marduke Institute named you the Third Child the day you arrived here. Commander Ikari had your assignment to Unit 1 made while you were unconscious after the fight against the Third Angel. Did you not know this?" Rei seemed intrigued.

"Rei, I have never had any of those kind of tests. Ever. All the tests I have had have been since I came here. You were there for most of them." Asserted Shinji. Rei considered this.

"True. But if that is the case, then there is an error somewhere." She conceded.

"And when did they have time to input the EWC data into Unit 1? Kaji told me that you just jumped into the plug and Unit 1 kicked ass." Complained Asuka. "They had to work on my indexes for three days before the linkup went smoothly."

"Why are you asking me, Asuka? I don't know!" defended Shinji. Asuka just sniffed dismissively.

"Whatever. So, did they say when these tests are supposed to be?" asked the German of the older teen.

"No. Not really. Airi said she'd let me know, but I haven't heard yet. Tell me, do these tests involve having to be poked and prodded by that woman?" As she and Asuka traded war stories, Rei slipped a sideways glance at Shinji.

Someone has altered or falsified his records. It must be Commander Ikari. Why would he do so? What is it that the records are hiding? I must know what is the truth in order to protect him.

The group found a note on the kitchen table, telling them that the tests were on for eight that night, and that the entire group was to come, as Shinji had the test that Asuka had had the previous week, and Rei was due for another round of tests in the medical lab. Having a few hours to kill, the group broke up a bit as Shinji prepared some snacks for them. Rei stayed with him as Rit-chan, Hikari and Asuka retreated to her room to talk and evaluate her wardrobe. As Asuka walked down the hall to her room and Hikari stepped into the bathroom, Rit-chan took the opportunity to slip back into the kitchen. Seeing Rei sitting at the table, watching Shinji work, she stepped behind the boy and turned him to face her. "Thanks, Shinji, for caring." She said softly, kissing him on the lips. After a good ten seconds, she broke the kiss, smiled and turned back toward Asuka's room. She locked gazes with Rei, who had seen the entire thing. "Rei." She acknowledged. Rei nodded to her.

"Did you enjoy showering with Shinji this morning?" asked the red-eyed girl of the red-haired girl.

Rit-chan's smile was naughty. "Did I ever, Rei-chan. Thanks for suggesting it."

"You will enjoy sex with him even more. At least, I find it so." Said Rei, giving the older teen a small smile.

"That hasn't been decided yet, but thanks for the input." Laughed Rit-chan as she headed to Asuka's room, leaving the two alone for the moment. As she passed the bathroom, she heard the toilet flush. "We'll be in the room, Hi-chan." She called, entering Asuka's room to see the other redhead finish removing the last of her uniform in preparation to don some comfortable clothes. Pulling her own bow loose, she followed suit.

After drying her hands, Hikari studied herself in the mirror. She saw what she always saw: a girl of slightly less than average height, freckles, dark brown hair in twin tails, a modest chest and waist, dressed in a sensible - but unflattering - school uniform. "Ok, Hikari. You're going to do it. Right now. Got it?" she ordered herself.

"What is it you plan to do?" asked a soft voice from the door. Hikari gave a jerk of surprise, along with a `eep!' for good measure.

"Rei!" she gasped. "I was um…going to…see Asuka." She finished weakly. "What are you doing in here?"

"I need to relieve myself, and this is the room for such activities, is it not?" asked the cold girl.

"Oh! I'll just go see Asuka, then." Said Hikari, knowing that her cheeks were red. Rei stepped aside so she could pass, but spoke as she did.

"Shinji would like to see you for a moment, if you would."

"Really? Ok." Said Hikari, wondering why she was so pleased about the news. Rei closed the door behind her. Heading to the kitchen, Hikari felt a giddy sense of excitement. Entering the kitchen area, she saw Shinji was just finishing the snacks. "Hey, Shinji." Said the girl, stopping in front of him, almost close enough to touch him. "Rei said you wanted me?" Seeing Shinji blink in surprise, she realized what she had said. Opening her mouth to correct her statement, she reconsidered the impulse and decided to let it stand as stated. If he wants me, then I guess I'm ok with that.

"I was going to ask you if you had tried making double chocolate cake before, but with that offer, who cares about food?" joked Shinji, waiting for her to laugh and call him a pervert or tell him to dream on. Instead, she just smiled and stepped into him, her arms going around his neck, and her lips locking onto his. Shinji, stunned for a moment by getting kissed by two of the hottest girls around in a row, quickly recovered and wrapped his arms around Hikari gently, kissing her back. Almost a minute went by before they surfaced. Hikari didn't remove her arms from his neck, though. "What was that for, Hi-chan?" asked Shinji.

"What, didn't enjoy it?" she mocked.

"I loved it, but I can't think of why you would kiss me." He said, his voice low and quiet.

"Because I owe you from the other night. And I will return the favor; this was a freebie for being so sweet." She said, feeling him stiffen against her belly. She smiled.

"Hi-chan, you don't owe me for that. If anything, I owe you for letting me touch you." He said. Hikari touched his lips with her finger, pressing her belly to him tighter, feeling him grow harder. Hikari felt her cheeks flush as she twisted her body a bit, the feeling of his member pressing into her belly making her feel hotter and hotter. Just then, Asuka was heard yelling her name and telling her to hurry up.

"You should probably go; she'll get mad if you don't, and I don't really want to get beat up for being a pervert and groping her best friend." Shinji said, smiling a bit.

"You aren't groping me." Said Hikari, sliding her hands down his arms to where his hands rested at the small of her back. Taking his hands in hers, she guided them to her chest. "This is groping me." She said, pressing his hands to her small but shapely breasts and kneading them a bit. "So is this." She said, sliding their joined hands down to her school skirt, then moving them back up until they pressed against her panties. Asuka repeated her call. "I'm on the way, Asuka!" she yelled back. Turning back to Shinji, she held his hands to her panties for another moment, then pulled away, whispering to him "You can grope me whenever you like, Shin-chan."

It was late that night, and the pilots and their friends were long since in bed. Commander Ikari sat reviewing the results on Ritsuko Inoue and Airi Komiyama's test battery. Ritsuko Akagi stood in front of his desk, waiting for him to comment. Or fuck her, whichever one he cared to do. While she had been overseeing the tests of the two elf hunters, Shinji and Asuka had been given a surprise psychological profile update, Rei had been called to the Commander's office and Misato had been handed a stack of reports to process. With the Captain cursing like a sailor at her desk, Ritsu busy with tests and Commander Ikari and Vice Commander Fuyutsuki busy in their offices, no one had noticed that Kaji and Junpei had wandered into NERV, looked around the bridge for a bit, then disappeared into the labyrinth lower sections of the facility. Asuka and Shinji had been called to the Vice Commander's office as soon as the shrinks were done with them, where they had spent the next hour. Rei had emerged from the Commander's office while the two were with the Vice Commander and taken a seat while waiting for the two to emerge. When they had finished in the Vice Commander's office, the Pilots had regrouped, moved to Misato's office to tell her they were going to wait in the cafeteria's lounge while the rest finished up, and departed as quickly as they could, having learned many new, useful words from Misato's ranting. Shortly after, the two elf hunters had finished up and Misato tossed the rest of the reports into the trash can, the entire party leaving NERV for their beds. Rei had only reluctantly turned to go to her apartment.

"Doctor." Said Gendo, closing the reports. "Schedule the live synch tests with Units 1 and 2 for sometime this week. I want Inoue in Unit 1, and Komiyama in Unit 2 for now. Initially, have the two pilots in the plug with the test subjects. If they succeed in synching with the Units, retry the tests with only the test subjects in the plugs. Understood?"

"Yes. But I don't think that…" began Ritsuko.

"It is immaterial if they succeed or fail in the attempt." Interrupted Gendo. "Do as you are told, Doctor."

"Yes, sir." Said Ritsuko. "Anything else?"

"I want you to give Rei a physical tomorrow. I have told her to come here instead of school. After the physical, back up her collective." Ordered Gendo.

"Is there a problem with her?" asked Ritsuko, frowning.

"Her well-being is your responsibility, Doctor. You should know if there are…problems." Replied Gendo icily.

"She hasn't said anything to me about something being wrong, sir. Am I looking for any particular thing?" Akagi waited while Gendo stared at her.

"No." he eventually said. Ritsuko knew he had chosen not to tell her what he was thinking.

"If that's all, I have some work to do…" she said leadingly.

"Dismissed." He said. After Akagi had left, Gendo opened another file and re-read the information. Pilot Ikari is developing an unhealthy amount of free will. Before the strangers appeared, he was in the ideal state to fulfill his role; but now, he is entirely too hopeful and self-assured. He must be getting this newfound confidence from someone. And the only changes have been the introduction of Komiyama and Inoue. Hmm. This could hamper my scenario. Pilot Ikari must not be allowed to slip from my control. I believe that some…personal attention will bring him back in line.

The rest of the week passed swiftly, Shinji missing Rei at school the next day, but getting a message on his cell phone from her that promised to make it up to him. Asuka had woken him up as usual all that week, and Rit-chan and Hikari had been warm and friendly to him. Rei had made it up to him, giving him a swift but thorough blowjob in the library between classes. It had been a narrow miss with Asuka finding them only minutes after they had finished. Fortunately, Rei was as impossible to read as always, and Asuka hadn't figured it out; at least, Shinji didn't think she had as she hadn't said anything then or later.

Missing all week were both Kensuke and Touji. Shinji was largely glad that they weren't there, but part of him was worried. After all, they had been his first real friends. Maybe I overreacted last weekend. Thought the pilot, frowning a bit. True, they were on the same team as those guys, and he was in the room with Rei-chan and Hi-chan, but he also left the warning note. If we hadn't of known about the chloroform, we might all have been knocked out, and then they would have been able to…well, anyway. Touji is right about one thing, though. He wouldn't have raped Hikari; he isn't the type for that. And in Asuka's case, he would want the satisfaction of her having to knowingly allow him to fuck her to enjoy it. Shinji gave a soft sigh. I guess that means that I need to talk to them and see what will become of our friendship.

The news that synch tests were scheduled for the following Friday was dropped on the group Thursday morning by Misato, who told them that there were to report to NERV at noon, the afternoon classes being excused for them. Asuka and Shinji had immediately asked which Units were to be used and who was going in with them, but Misato told them she didn't know. Rit-chan had found the concern the two showed a little scary. From what they had told her, she wasn't looking forward to being in the machines. Airi was even less enthused, as she had seen some footage of the battles against the Angels during her research, and she knew that whatever happened in the machines' entry plugs could mentally and physically hurt the occupant. As for why that was the case, all records were sealed, classified or deleted.

Friday morning was unusual in that when the pilots and Rit-chan arrived, they saw Touji and Kensuke waiting for them at Shinji's desk; across from them stood an irritated-looking Class Representative. Rei had immediately moved in front of Shinji as Asuka took the left flank and Rit-chan took the right. Moving toward the two boys, the four looked like a bulldozer bearing down on a condemned building. "Your desks are elsewhere." Stated Rei, her told colder than usual.

"Yeah, but we got to talk to Shinji." Said Touji standing. Kensuke did likewise. Rei regarded them with her dead eyes.

"There is nothing for you to say to him." Said the pilot of Unit 0.

"Rei-chan." Said Shinji quietly. She gave him a short peek, then was silent.

"Class starts soon, you two. Spit it out!" barked Hikari. There were three or four other students in the room, watching and listening. Sensing their reluctance to air their matters in front of everyone, Asuka turned to give the other students a glare.

"Haven't you got something else to be doing in some other part of the school, loser?!" she yelled, waving her fist for emphasis. Five seconds later, the room was empty except for them. "Well? Speak, stooges!" commanded Asuka.

Instead of speaking, both Kensuke and Touji sank to their knees and bowed to Shinji. "We ask your forgiveness, Shinji." They said in unison. "It wasn't our intent to dishonor those you care for. We did as we did with the honest intent of warning you of the plans of the other two. Will you accept our apology for the way things turned out?" Rei watched Shinji's eyes, and knew that her lover would forgive them. Asuka got the feeling that Shinji Baka would let it go, and it didn't really bother her, as it hadn't been her neck on the block. Rit-chan had never felt that they deserved to be blamed for their actions, so she hoped that Shinji would let it go. Hikari watched the whole thing in silence.

"You should ask Rei and Hikari if they forgive you; it was their honor at stake." Said Shinji, his voice even, but not cold as it had been earlier that week.

"Ayanami?" they asked, looking into her eyes.

"If Shinji accepts your apology, I do as well." She said simply, dismissing the matter from her mind.

"Horaki?" appealed the two, giving her their best puppy dog eyes. She considered them for a moment.

"Yes, I accept the apology." She said after a few heartbeats. "But don't let it happen again!" she ordered.

"Yes, Class Representative." They said meekly, rising to their feet.

"Pathetic worms." Sniped Asuka. "All that and you still couldn't win."

"Just so you know, I still HATE you, Red Devil." Snarled Touji. Asuka smiled.

"Right back at you, pencil dick!" she retorted as the bell rang. Finding the room filling with their fellow students, the group moved to their assigned seats, Asuka and Touji still trading insults.

It's good to have things back to normal. Thought Shinji. His messaging program popped up, with a message from Touji.

BestMan5: Mari-chan says thank you for the visit and the dolls. The nurses say she can't keep from smiling now, and she won't let go of them without a major argument. Could you visit her again, sometime? It would mean a lot to her. And me.

"Ah, you're here." Said Akagi, her tone preoccupied. "We're almost ready to start the test, so if you will follow Asuka and Shinji to the pilot's locker room, we can get you ready and get this under way."

"What am I to do?" asked Rei simply.

"You are to stand by in Unit 0. Just in case there are problems." Said Akagi, not looking up from her readouts. Maya spared the group a glance and a minor shrug before turning her attention back to the test parameters she and Akagi were double-checking for the fifth time.

"Hai." Was all Rei said, turning to the other pilots and the two elf hunters. "We should go." She said.

"No point putting it off, I guess." Muttered Shinji.

"Just so you know, this is a bad idea." Said Asuka with an annoyed toss of her hair.

"This is straight from Commander Ikari, Asuka." Said Akagi, not bothering to look at the Second Child. "And yes, it is an order."

"I hear you." She grumbled. "Let's beat feet." So saying, she was out the door, Rei and Shinji herding Rit-chan and Airi along.

"I wonder if they remembered to get plug suits for you two?" questioned Shinji.

"Ha! The Bastard King probably will just toss them in naked!" sneered Asuka.

"I hope you're kidding." Observed Rit-chan. "I really don't feel too comfortable with all these people seeing me naked."

"Don't worry, Rit-chan. One of my plug suits should fit you; Airi, I don't know, but I can't do anything about that. Sorry, Airi." Said Asuka, giving the older woman a sympathetic look.

"Umm, your suits seem a bit…close fitting for me to wear." Hesitated Rit-chan. Asuka giggled.

"Watch and learn, Rit-chan. You'll love this one." That comment didn't reassure the schoolgirl any. Soon, they reached the locker room. Shinji stepped over toward his side, heading for his locker as the girls did the same on their side.

Odd, Asuka hasn't threatened me yet. I hope she's feeling OK. Thought Shinji, undressing and folding his clothes into his locker before removing his folded and bagged plug suit. He felt the touch of eyes on his skin and turned to see Rei's eyes watching from near the door. He gave her a smile. A moment later, her head disappeared to her side and Shinji finished wiggling into his suit, hearing the girls finishing up undressing.

"Hey, Baka!" called Asuka.

"Uh, yes, Asuka?" replied Shinji. What does she want now?

"Don't seal your suit yet. Come over here so Airi and Rit-chan can see what happens." Commanded Asuka.

"I don't think that's such a good idea, Asuka. Won't they see when you change?" hedged Shinji. This has got to be some kind of trap; I know it.

"Stop cowering and get over here!" yelled Asuka.

"But aren't you all naked?" protested Shinji, slowly moving farther and farther from the curtain. She's going to use this as an excuse to be violent again, I know it.

"What, don't want to see us naked? Is that it?" taunted Asuka, her silhouette growing on the curtain. "Well too bad!" she snarled, grabbing the dividing curtain and tearing it down. Shinji's eyes snapped shut and he turned his head away. "Oh, grow up, Baka!" came Asuka's voice. "We're not naked, OK? So come over here!" Before Shinji could protest, Asuka had grabbed his arms and was dragging him toward the center of the lockers. Involuntarily, he opened his eyes.

Indeed, the women were not naked. Well, not completely. Asuka and Rit-chan were wearing panties and bras, and Airi had on a one-piece outfit that Touji had informed him was called a teddy. It didn't look like a stuffed toy bear then, and it certainly doesn't on Airi! Thought the pilot absently. His dick began to rapidly harden. Not now, damn it! He thought desperately. Behind the three, Rei calmly unfastened her bra and tossed it aside, then slipped out of her panties before reaching into her locker for her plug suit. As she unfolded the suit, she glanced to Shinji and smiled a small smile. Instantly, Shinji was a lot calmer. He was also a lot harder.

Asuka began her lecture on plug suits by holding up her folded suit, explaining the way the process was supposed to go. When she heard the hiss of Rei's suit sealing, she rolled her eyes. "Giving free shows now, Wondergirl?" she asked sarcastically.

"He has seen me naked before, Asuka. Before you reported for duty, there was no need of a divider. Perhaps it is you who is uncomfortable with herself." Returned Rei.

"Not likely!" growled Asuka, falling for the challenge like a ton of bricks. "If you don't feel embarrassed to be seen naked by Shinji, then I certainly don't!" Bitch! I'll show you yet!

"You were saying?" prompted Airi diplomatically. I can't believe that these two girls are so hostile to each other! Don't they understand that they hold each other's lives in their hands? Asuka grumbled, but returned to her lecture as Rei crossed to sit on the edge of the bench closest to Shinji. Having reached the end of her sermon, Asuka held up Shinji's left wrist control and demonstrated the activation of the suit, which went from a somewhat baggy garment vaguely resembling a pair of cover-alls to the second-skin impersonating piloting outfit. Shinji knew that his boner, while covered to some degree by the codpiece of his suit, was still very visible to the females. In fact, it seemed to him that both Rit-chan and Airi were staring at his dick.

"So, let's get changed. Airi, I think that that suit is supposed to be yours." Said Asuka, pointing to a folded and poly-bagged suit laying on the end of the bench. It was an emerald green and silver color, and seemed to be closer to Rei's suit design that Asuka's. Reaching into her locker, she pulled out a spare red suit and tossed it to Rit-chan. Without hesitation, Asuka reached back and unhooked her bra, tossing it into her locker and reaching for the waist of her panties. Shinji made for the door. "Park it!" snapped Asuka. "You're walking with us, Baka." She decreed. Her panties slid off her body and joined the rest of her clothes in the locker as Shinji turned his back and stared at the opposite wall. Rei watched him silently. Quickly pulling her suit on, Asuka saw Rit-chan was carefully slipping into her suit, making sure it was going on properly. Airi had discarded her teddy and was similarly working her way into the suit. With a hiss, Asuka's suit sealed. She stepped over to Airi and made a small adjustment to the fit, then checked over Rit-chan's fit. Finding it all to her satisfaction, she told them to seal the suits. Twin hisses confirmed that they were sealed into their suits.

"This feels better than I thought it would." Commented Rit-chan, moving a bit and feeling the suit. "It's kind of like spandex, but it feels cooler. What is it made of?"

"Beats me. It's comfortable for long periods of time, and can help maintain the pilot's biostatus, either shedding heat or retaining it, as well as reading the physical condition of the pilot for relay to NERV control." Shrugged Asuka.

"It seems thinner than Spandex." Observed Airi. She smiled. "I should wear this to my next Academy Awards presentation. I can just hear the spiteful barbs of my rivals." Rit-chan laughed.

"It would create a stir, that's for sure. I'd like to see that." Said the teen.

"I'll be sure that you have a reserved seat at my table, Rit-chan. Maybe we should both wear these, kind of like matching designer gowns?" promised the actress.

"Well, I'm game, Airi, but I don't think I have the body to keep up with you and the other actresses." Said the teen. "And don't forget, manners aren't my strong point."

"Rit-chan, you've got more potential than most of my fellow movie stars, and as for manners, well, celebrities aren't exactly known for their courtesy." Disagreed Airi.

"So you've told me, Airi. I think you called it the `feasting of the egos', right?" acknowledged the teen.

"Yes. Those who can't, pretend, after all. And I know that you have the body to keep pace with the best of the models, dear Rit-chan. Just ask Shinji." Rit-chan turned to consider Shinji, taking time to notice his semi-concealed erection.

"Like what you see, Shin-chan?" she asked, striking an exaggerated sensual pose. Airi mimicked her on the other side. Shinji blushed and nodded.

"You're beautiful." He murmured. Rit-chan smiled. And you are as big as they say, Shinji. I have to enjoy this chance as much as possible.

"Thank you, Shin-chan." She said sweetly. "But I think we better get going. I want to get this over with as soon as possible." The others agreed and headed for the Eva cages.

"Sorry about the awkward accommodations, but this is the best we can do for now." Said Misato over the comms unit. She was with Ritsu and the bridge crew on the central bridge, chosen over the Pribnow box because the real Evas were being used. "Shinji, you and Rit-chan are up first. Ready?" she asked.

"Yes." Replied Shinji unenthusiastically. Misato gave him a sympathetic smile.

"Insert entry plug." Said the Captain, the plug lifting and locking into the plug socket of Unit 1. "Fill entry plug." Came the command from the bridge.

"Oh, yeah. This is kind of nasty, Rit-chan." Said Shinji, seeing the LCL flow up from the bottom of the plug.

"Eew! What is that stuff?" said Rit-chan, instinctively moving up a bit in the plug, where she was crouched behind Shinji's pilot seat.

"It's called LCL. It tastes like blood, so don't drink it, just breathe it." Said Shinji, the yellowish liquid covering his chest and head as he forced himself to breath it into his lungs. I still hate this stuff. From behind him, he heard some coughing, then Rit-chan's faint voice.

"I think I'm gonna be sick." Misato couldn't help but laugh.

"That's exactly how Shinji reacted the first time." She said over the link. "Don't worry; the LCL is going to oxygenate your blood directly, as well as cushion any impacts and minimize any physical injuries. You'll get used to the stuff soon enough."

"It's still gross." Grimaced Rit-chan. Shinji turned to look at her.

"Are you going to be all right, Rit-chan?" he asked, muting the audio momentarily. Rit-chan nodded.

"I've got my stomach under control, so let's move on." She answered.

"Ready to being synch." Reported Shinji.

"Roger, Unit 1." Acknowledged Misato. "Rit-chan, this is the important part. Just relax and try to remain calm. Shinji will be synching with Unit 1, and you may felt some odd sensations. If it starts to hurt or your meds go past the safety line, we'll cut the test, understood?"

"Got it." Replied the teen, her tone clipped and odd sounding to her. I wonder how this stuff lets me speak at all. With no air to vibrate the vocal cords, I shouldn't be able to speak at all, but I can, almost like this is some kind of solid air.

"Activate Unit 1." Commanded Misato.

"It was so freaky, Airi." Said Rit-chan, standing under the warm spray of the shower, washing her hair for the third time as Airi and the others did likewise. Well, except for Shinji, who had been ordered to the Commander's office as soon as the test was complete. The four girls were scrubbing the LCL residue off themselves, Rei silent and seemingly thinking about something, Asuka also silent except for odd comments every so often or answers to direct questions. "When we synched, it was like someone was pressing against my brain, but without any physical pressure. After a while, it was like…well, a bit like astral projection. It felt like I was, I don't know, expanded? What about you?"

"That sounds about right. That pressure…it was like someone was trying to get into my head." Muttered the Actress. "When I tried to synch with Unit 2 without Asuka in there, the pressure got worse, then better, then the Eva shut down. I think my brain is still itching."

"Yeah. When I tried to synch with Unit 1 without Shinji, the pressure wasn't as bad, but I got confused a bit, and next thing I knew, they were pulling me out of the plug." Said the teen. "Was it just me, or did that bitch look disappointed when they pulled me out of the plug?"

"Something was bothering her, that's for sure. And why would she grill you over rather or not you could remember anything? Something is wrong with this picture." Agreed Airi.

"What do you think, Asuka?" asked Rit-chan, looking over to Asuka.

"What? Oh, yeah, the link felt a bit off, but I could still fight if I had to. Baka didn't seem too hampered either. Wonder why Beelzebub wanted to see him?" said the German girl absently.

"Were all those questions normal?" asked Rit-chan. "I mean, do they do that checklist each time you come back from a mission?"

"It depends. If our synch rate exceeds a certain threshold or we're injured in battle, or if they think that we've been contaminated, then yes. If it's just a milk run, then no." replied the girl.

"What is the point of the questions? I know what my name is, as well as basic math, recent events, and the names of my friends. Why ask?" pressed the teen.

"If you've been contaminated or mentally damaged, you won't pass the tests. If it's just mental damage, then you might be able to recover. If they think it's a case of contamination, well…" she trailed off.

"What then?" asked Airi, sensing that Asuka didn't even want to think about the topic.

"Then the pilot will be terminated." Answered Rei when Asuka remained silent.

"You mean fired?" asked Rit-chan, refusing to believe that the word meant what she thought it meant.

"No. The pilot will be executed on the spot, and possibly the Eva they were piloting as well." Replied the girl.

"You did know that there were two armed guards outside the door to the room you were being questioned in, waiting for the signal to kill you, right?" added Asuka.

"No, we didn't. Do they always have…that arrangement?" said Airi.

"Not always. With pilots, it is usually a full squad, and the rooms are usually rigged for nerve gas as added insurance."

"For the love of god, WHY?!" exploded Rit-chan.

"You need to understand, if one of us becomes contaminated, then we will become a pawn of the Angels, with the only goal of instigating Third Impact. NERV won't chance that, no matter what." Said Asuka, her voice small.

Further talk was interrupted by the sound of a fist hitting a locker in the outer room. "Shinji." Said Rei, running out of her shower and around the corner, still naked. Asuka was only an instant behind the blue-haired girl. Sensing the concern of the two pilots, and with the conversation still echoing in their minds, Airi and Rit-chan moved toward the locker room as well. Turning the corner, they saw Rei crouched next to Shinji, who was slumped at the base of his locker, his hand still resting in the shallow dent he had made. Rei's hands were on Shinji's shoulders and Asuka was on the other side, looking torn between comforting him, and mocking him. Shinji was saying something softly under his breath, over and over.

It was a few minutes before Rei, with the help of Asuka, had Shinji on his feet. With a single powerful pull, Rei tore his plug suit off him and led him toward the showers, saying "You need to get the residue off, Shinji. I will assist you."

"Oh, no you don't!" snapped Asuka, taking his other arm. "I'm let leaving you two alone together!" Airi and Rit-chan looked at each other, both knowing that they needed to talk somewhere other than here. With that understanding, they retrieved their towels and dried off, redressing. As Rit-chan was slipping on her socks, the door opened and Misato entered, her face serious. Hearing the pilots in the shower, she glanced at Airi and Rit-chan's expectant faces. With a single shake of her head, the Operations Director told them that it would have to wait. The three women sat and waited. It was nearly a half hour before the three reappeared, Shinji walking on his own, Rei and Asuka following him with identical looks on their faces. Shinji dressed as if there weren't five women watching, as Asuka and Rei hurriedly tossed on their clothes.

"Ready to go home, Shinji?" asked Misato, her tone caring and worried.

"Yes, Misato. I need to get out of here." He said, his tone strained.

"I know. Let's get something delivered for dinner. Sound good?"

"Yes." He said, closing his locker after a moment spent staring into it. The rest followed them out, Misato's arm falling over her Shinji's shoulders as she walked beside him. Rit-chan was thinking the situation over, and she was pretty sure she had heard what Shinji was saying. I could have sworn that he was chanting `kill you, kill you' over and over. But that doesn't sound like Shinji at all. What happened to him in that office?

Dinner had been quiet and a little tense as Shinji had eaten in silence, not responding to Asuka's baiting or Misato's teasing. After he had eaten a little less than half of his share of the food, he had quietly announced that he was tired and needed to sleep, retreating to his room. Asuka had watched him go, listening to his door close before she turned to stare at her guardian and commanding officer. "What gives, Misato?" she demanded.

"I don't know, Asuka. Commander Ikari spoke with him privately. When he came out, well…you saw." Replied Misato, taking a pull from her beer.

"Knowing that bastard, he probably told him that he was going to be replaced by Rit-chan." Snarled Asuka, seething with anger at the Commander. If he keeps this up, I'll have to start from scratch! She thought to herself. And he was doing so well! Why does the fucking commander have to pick on my Shinji? That thought brought the girl up short. When did he become my Shinji? He's just a learning tool, right? Just a tool.

"I don't know. I doubt it was good news that made him that way." Disagreed Misato. Rit-chan was silent, as was Airi. Asuka wolfed down the last of her steak-burger and drained her glass of soda.

"Dibs on the shower." She said, moving off to the bathroom. Rit-chan and Airi slowly finished off their own meals, Misato staring at the wall opposite her, her eyes clouded with thought.

"The meal was good." Said Airi politely as she stood, glancing at Rit-chan. "It's a nice night outside, and I feel the need to stretch my legs after that testing. Care to join me, Rit-chan?" asked the actress. Ritsuko Inoue knew it wasn't an offer.

"Sure. Let me get changed first, OK, Airi?" she said, standing and clearing the remains of the meal away. Misato blinked, coming out of her mental contemplation.

"Oh, I guess I'll do those reports now." She said carelessly, heading for her room, her demeanor serious and contemplative. Her door closed and was soon followed by the sounds of keys clicking as her laptop was booted up and put to use. Finishing her self-appointed task of clearing the kitchen table, Rit-chan turned to see Airi was watching her.

"Be right back, Airi." Said the teen, moving off to her and Asuka's room to change into shorts and a tee shirt for her walk with Airi. It went without saying that her USP and a couple of magazines went with her. The two departed the apartment, bound for no particular place. They had a lot to talk about, and they didn't want to let their watchdogs know how much they knew.

Shinji lay in bed, clad in his boxers, listening to his SDAT, unable to get to sleep. His mind was filled with anger and despair. Can he not even say my name now? Thought the boy. Am I asking too much to try to earn his notice? He threw me away years ago, as if I were nothing but a useless impediment, and yet, I can't help but want to earn his approval. I really am as pathetic as Asuka claims. A soft scratching at his door interrupted his thoughts. Shinji made no move to acknowledge the sounds, figuring it was Misato again. Not that he had minded her words of encouragement after the third angel, but right now, he didn't have the strength to deal with her. His door slid open. "Shinji?" came a voice from the door to his room. It wasn't Misato.

"A…Asuka?" he managed, rolling to look at the door. It was indeed the red-maned Demoness, Asuka Langley Sohryu. She was dressed in her normal sleeping attire of an extremely over-sized shirt, and - presumably - shorts or panties. The girl crossed to his bed, sinking to her knees next to him.

"Keep your voice down, Third Child." She said, her own voice soft. "Misato is resting and Airi and Rit-chan are out walking. I just wanted to know if you're…all right." Said Asuka, keeping her eyes on her knees.

"I…guess. It's just I…don't want to think about it right now." Said Shinji.

"Can't sleep?" guessed Asuka after a few minutes of silence.

"No." said Shinji. Asuka seemed to be debating something, then raised her eyes to look at him.

"Move over." She said simply. Shinji hesitated, puzzled. "Move over." Repeated Asuka, her tone a bit cross. Shinji did so, making room for her in his bed. Silently, the Second Child settled next to the Third on his bed, pulling his sheet up to her waist before hesitantly snuggling up to him, wrapping her arms around him. Shinji reciprocated, gently holding her to him, his hands on her back and hips. I hope he doesn't think this means we're going to…please each other; Misato isn't passed out yet, and Airi and Rit-chan could come back at any time. Worried Asuka. But Shinji just held her. This is…nice. Thought the German girl. Soon, Shinji was asleep, and Asuka was drowsy. Before long, Asuka and Shinji were both asleep in each other's arms. Misato looked in on them around midnight on her way back from the kitchen for her last beer of the night, but couldn't bring herself to wake them. Silently, the door to his room slid shut, and a few minutes later, Misato joined her two charges in sleep. It was past two in the morning when Airi and Rit-chan came back to the apartment from their walk, heading silently for their respective rooms. Rit-chan noticed that Asuka wasn't in bed and reasoned that she must be in the bathroom or Shinji's room. Seeing the bathroom door open, she eased Shinji's door open, to see him sleeping alone in his bed.

"Looking for me?" asked a near-silent voice from behind her. Asuka had been found.

"Yeah. Everything good?" asked Rit-chan, turning to face Asuka. The Pilot nodded.

"Let's hit the sack." Said Asuka, her tone level and empty.

"Sure you don't want to say goodnight to Shinji first?" pressed Rit-chan. Asuka shook her head.

"It might wake him up. Let's go."

"In a minute." Said Rit-chan, giving Shinji another long look before slipping his door closed again and entering the bathroom. Minutes later, she was undressing in Asuka's darkened room, hearing Asuka shift in their bed. As her sleeping shirt settled over her shoulders, Rit-chan slipped gracefully under the covers and settled herself, finding that Asuka was situated face to face with her. "Yes?" she asked the younger girl.

"Don't say anything about what happened, Rit-chan. OK?" said the pilot, her tone half commanding, and half begging. Rit-chan considered her for a moment.

"On one condition." Said the elf hunter.

"Which is?" countered the other teen.

"Tell me how you really feel about him." Said Rit-chan.

"I…well, it's more…" Asuka trailed off.

"Yes?" repeated Rit-chan.

"I don't know." Said Asuka, rolling over. "See you tomorrow morning, Rit-chan."