Part 20: Aftermath

"Ahh!" sighed Asuka, leaning back in the warm water. Beside her, Misato eased herself into the warm water as well. "This is nice." Noted Asuka, her tone content. Misato made no comment to that statement. The Second Child rolled her eyes to Misato, unused to the woman missing a chance to make editorial remarks. "Hey? Everything all right over there?" questioned the pilot of her commanding officer.

"Huh? Oh, yes! Didn't I tell you: it's awesome here." Said Misato, her tone falsely upbeat and happy. Asuka studied her.

"It's Shinji, isn't it?" said the girl quietly. Misato said nothing for moment. "You had to do it, Misato. He disobeyed a direct order." Said Asuka softly. Misato's head snapped to face her, the Captain's eyes afire with anger.

"That's a strange attitude coming from the girl whose life he saved!" she snapped angrily. Asuka blinked at the sudden venom in Misato's voice.

"I never said I liked it, you know!" growled Asuka in response. "I just said you had to chew him out for it! What's got you so worked up, anyway?!" Misato's gaze softened a bit.

"That's right; you were still in medical when it happened." She muttered. Asuka came alert.

"What happened while I was being checked over?" she demanded, her tone belying her attention. "Where is Baka, anyway?" she added suspiciously.

"It's nothing, really." Said Misato, trying to turn the topic away.

"Like hell. What happened to my Shinji-baka?" demanded the German girl, standing and moving in front of Misato, her eyes burning with intensity.

Misato eyed the naked girl in front of her. "Trying to seduce me, Asuka-chan?" asked the Captain of her roomie, hoping to derail the current topic.

"Answer the question, Misato." Was the clipped reply from Asuka, her hands on her hips.

So much for not telling her. She would have heard about it sooner or later, anyway. Thought the purple-haired woman. "Commander Ikari reviewed the reports from Ritsu while you and Shin-chan were being checked out. He call up and…well, Shinji's going to be in the brig until further notice."

"He threw Shinji into the brig?" asked Asuka, her tone more than a little puzzled. "We won, Misato. The angel's dead, both units were recovered more or less intact, and we didn't have to use the N2 mines. Why the hell did the fucker toss Baka into the brig?!"

"You said it yourself, Asuka: he disobeyed direct orders from me and dove in after you. I had to chew him out; it's a matter of the chain of command. But Commander Ikari…" she didn't bother completing the sentence. Neither one said anything for a bit, steam rising silently from the water as they stood frozen. Eventually, Misato spoke again. "I couldn't even thank him for saving you without being a hypocrite." Said the woman softly.

"Well, we'll do it when we get back. All we can do now is enjoy this hot spring." Said Asuka reasonably. Her eyes slipped down Misato's face and fell to her chest, which were something of a source of envy for the girl, as Kaji had practically composed epic poems about them. Large, shapely and resilient, they were the kind of breasts that Asuka wished she had. Abruptly, she noticed the scar running between them. Misato noted her attention.

"Oh, you've never seen that, have you, Asuka." She said, her tone conversational. "It happened in Second Impact, at the site of the Katsuragi Expedition. I got hit by shrapnel, and nearly died. This scar is a reminder."

Asuka was silent for moment. Then, she spoke. "You know my history, right, Misato? About…everything, right?" she said quietly.

"Well, yes. It's part of my job." Confirmed Misato.

"Then you know…" Asuka trailed off, her hand unconsciously touching Misato's jagged scar absently.

"It's in the past, Asuka." Said Misato softly, looking Asuka in the eyes. "Let's just leave it there, ok?"

-

Celsia was bored to death, as she had been often since her involuntary rest period. Still, at least she wasn't in the blonde bitch's lab. It had been four days since her last visit, a visit that marked the first time that the elf hadn't been wired up like a Christmas tree and made to work like dog at some inane task like running on a treadmill or lifting heavier and heavier weights. No, this last visit had been a somewhat pleasant three-hour long conversation with the young dark-haired assistant of the doctor, who had identified herself as Maya. Oddly enough, Maya had apologized for not being able to give her any clothes or unlock her super alloy chains because of Celsia's history of violence. Celsia had been forced to laugh at that one. For the next three hours, she and the girl had talked and talked, all the while, Maya was writing on several sheets of paper, some sort of log to Celsia's estimation. Once that was done, she had been herded back to her cell and locked up again. Once the guards had given her their customary gropes, they departed.

Now, days later, she heard the sound of multiple footsteps, and guessed it was time for another visit from the human asswipes. Rolling over, she waited for them to appear. Now, will it be the normal apes, or will it be the ape King again? She asked herself. The footsteps grew closer. I bet it's not the king this time; there are too few of them for his presence. Noted the elf. And the answer is… The footsteps stopped one cell short of her cell. What? Wondered the elf. The door to the cell next to her cell opened.

"Get in there, Third." Said the guard, his tone snide. She heard a single set of feet enter the cell, the door clanging shut. "Enjoy your stay, hear?" taunted the guard, moving toward her cell. Celsia rolled over so her back was to the bars. "And how is my favorite guest doing?" she heard him say. "What's this? No warm welcome for your master, elf?" Celsia deigned to raise her hand and flip him off as she had seen Ritsuko and Junpei do numerous times. He laughed. "Soon, elf. Soon." He promised, his voice low and dangerous.

"When's dinner?" came a young voice from the next cell. Celsia concentrated on the voice.

"When I'm good and ready to let you eat, that's when, Third!" shouted the man. "And I have a feeling that your dinner will be very late indeed!"

"Just asking." Came the voice again. Celsia made more mental notes. So, he's male. Young, maybe about Rit-chan's age. His voice sounds a bit tense, but then, I guess it'd be hard to be comfortable here. Is `Third' his name, designation, or duty? Airi and Rit-chan said they were staying with some NERV people. I need to ask them if they know more about this person. Several minutes passed. From the next cell, she heard a soft sigh. What was that line that Junpei used when we were locked up by the Dark Judge? Ah, yes.

"What are you in for?" she asked casually. Her sharp ears heard him suck in a breath and twitch in surprise.

"He…Hello?" he said. Celsia giggled a bit.

"Next cage over, kid. My name is Celsia Marie Claire. What's yours?" asked the elf. This could be fun.

"Shinji. Did you say your name was Celsia?" he asked, him tone having gone from despondent to somewhat excited.

"Yes, Shinji. Why ask?" replied Celsia. Didn't Airi say one of her roomies was named Shinji?

"Well, I have this friend who said she had a friend locked up in here that was named Celsia." He said. "She said her friend was an elf."

"Shinji Ikari, correct?" said Celsia, sitting up on her cot. "You're talking about Rit-chan or Airi, right?"

"So you know them?" he gaped. Celsia gave a short laugh.

"Oh, you could say that. You're supposed to be someone important, or so they said. What are you doing locked up with me?" she asked, curious. Rit-chan made it sound like he and the other two were vital to the survival of the planet. Why lock him up if that's the case?

"I…made a choice." He said softly.

"Oh? Must have been a really bad choice, then, to get locked up here." Said the elf.

"No." came the instant and serious reply. "It was the only choice to be made. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat." Well, that's a change from his previous tone.

"So, what was the choice you made?" she asked.

"I chose the life of a l…friend over my orders. So, I got chewed out by my guardian and tossed in here by my…father." He said, his tone turning dark and angry at last word. Celsia heard his jaw clench when he said `father'.

"Are you in the military of this place?" wondered the priestess.

"Well, not exactly. I pilot for them." He said, his tone guarded.

"Pilot what?" asked Celsia.

"Doesn't matter." He said dismissively. "I don't enjoy it anyway."

"I see." Silence lengthened. Then, Celsia spoke again. "Did the person you saved at least say `thank you' for your sacrifice?"

"No, but it doesn't matter. She never says things like that anyway." Said the boy.

"If you had saved my life, I would at least have had the decency to thank you. Did anyone at least do that for you?" pressed the elf. Oddly enough, she heard him chuckle.

"You're looking at my thanks right now, Miss Celsia." His tone held a slight bit of humor.

"You're young to be so cynical." Replied Celsia. "Are you naked and chained to the wall like me?" Her ears detected his increase in breath and his involuntary movement.

"No, I'm not." He said, his tone a bit unsteady. Celsia smiled. Hearing him move, she tracked his movements to the corner of his cell, next to the wall that separated her cell from his. A moment later, she saw his hand reach around the corner. "Can you reach me?" he asked.

"Sorry. My chains end about two feet from the bars." Answered Celsia. "Why ask?" Silence.

"I just wanted to…nothing. It was stupid." He said, his hand disappearing.

"Tell me." Celsia's tone was soothing.

"I just wanted to see what it was like to touch an elf, that's all. Told you it was stupid." He muttered softly.

"Tell you what, Shinji. When I'm able to, I'll let you find out what it's like to touch an elf. Good enough?" promised Celsia. Can't hurt to get him on my side.

"Ok! Thanks, Miss Celsia." He said excitedly. Celsia had to ask him a question, though.

"Rit-chan lives with you, right?" she asked.

"So does Airi." Confirmed Shinji. "They have told us some stories of what you all did before…arriving here." He elaborated.

That's what I'm afraid of, Shinji! She moaned to herself. "Oh? What kind of stories?" she asked, bracing for the worst. Shinji began to recount the stories. Supper was indeed late that night, but neither of them noticed.

-

In his office, Gendo Ikari, Commander of NERV, sat watching and listening to the two talk. Beside him as ever was his second in command, Fuyutsuki. In front of his desk, Doctor Akagi, recently returned from the volcano site, waited for him to say something. Eventually, he spoke to her.

"Damage to Unit 1?" he said.

"Surprisingly minimal, considering that Shinji jumped into the volcano without a Type D suit for his unit. The armor was pretty well slagged, but the Eva itself will only be in regeneration for about 12 hours. While the unit regenerates the damaged tissue, we can refit the armor with reserve sets. Overall, the damage to Unit 2 is more severe." Reported the doctor.

"How is that possible, doctor?" stated Gendo.

"We're not entirely sure, sir." Came her professional reply. "The heat and pressure of the volcano should have burned the unit to ash, but it didn't even seriously damage it. Theoretically, the unit could have folded it's AT around its body like a suit, protecting it from the worst, but with the damage to the telemetry data cables and Unit 1's lack of a monitoring array, we can't say for certain. The AT field generated by the 8th Angel was weak compared to the other Angel's, but it was strong enough to mask any use of Unit 1's AT field. Unit 2 did exhibit activity that signifies the use of that unit's AT field, but we can't verify that due to the corruption of the data from the damage incurred in the fighting. The Second Child claims she didn't remember if the AT field was up or not. With the loss of the left leg of Unit 2, we will need the rest of the week to repair the limb and re-armor the unit."

"Have the pilot scheduled for a synch test as soon as the repairs are completed on Unit 2." Ordered Gendo.

"And Unit 1?" asked Ritsuko.

"Prioritize repair for Unit 1." Ordered Gendo, frowning to himself.

"Synch test upon completion?" prompted Akagi.

"That has yet to be decided." Said the commander. On his screen, a small dialog box flashed for attention. Gendo opened the box, then glanced at Fuyutsuki. "Take care of that for me, old friend." Said the bearded asshole. Fuyutsuki moved off without a word. Once he was out of the office, Gendo rose from his seat and moved in front of Ritsuko. Immediately, he began to peel her clothes off. Ritsuko knew what he was after and sighed to herself, setting aside her questions as she unzipped his pants and freed his semi-hard dick. Slipping to her knees, she inhaled his member, expertly bringing it to full hardness in moments. At least he still wants me. She consoled herself as she felt him pull out of her mouth and position her over his desk, the tip of his penis pushing insistently into her unprepared sheath. Hiding a wince, she waited for herself to become properly lubricated as Gendo casually thrust in and out of her pussy. In his mind's eye, though, Gendo was seeing another woman.

-

"Miss Inoue." Called the hotel worker at the receptionist desk as Rit-chan and her group entered the lobby. Rit-chan altered her course to approach the desk. "While you were out, a party called your room phone, and, when they did not get an answer, they chose to be redirected to this desk, where they left you a message." Explained the man, reaching under the counter and withdrawing a sealed envelope on a polished aluminum tray, which he set carefully in front of the teen.

"Who was it that called?" asked Rit-chan, studying the sealed envelope.

"They did not leave their name, Miss Inoue." He said, his head dipping into a bow. "Our apologies."

"It's nothing." Dismissed Rit-chan, carefully picking up the envelope, holding it up to the overhead lights, intently studying the contents of the white paper envelope. Aki and Hi-chan watched, curious as to why Rit-chan was so damned cautious.

"Is everything alright, Miss Inoue?" asked the clerk, frowning a bit at her caution. Rit-chan waved the question aside and carefully tore the envelope open, extracting a single piece of hotel stationary from within the torn package, scanning the message briefly. Slowly, her lips smiled.

"Do you have a lighter?" she asked calmly, her smile getting larger.

"Of course, Miss Inoue." Replied the clerk, reaching under the counter again, reappearing with a fancy lighter and an ash tray, as well as a small box of cigarettes and cigars, giving her a small head-bow as he set the three items on the counter. Selecting the lighter, Rit-chan set fire to the corner of the paper, watching it burn up toward her fingers before setting it in the ash tray to finish burning. Once it was completely consumed, she dusted her hands off.

"Thanks." She said happily.

"You are very welcome, Miss Inoue. Will there be anything else, Miss?" said the clerk, swiftly clearing the counter again. Rit-chan considered for a moment.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do require some assistance with a minor matter." Said the girl.

"How may we serve you, Miss Inoue?" asked the clerk respectfully.

"My trip here was a last-minute thing, so I have very little hard currency with me. I surmise that few shops here will be equipped to use my NERV card at, so I need a cash outlay of currency for use here, to be billed along with my room. Is that a problem?" said Rit-chan.

"No, it is no problem at all Miss Inoue." Said the clerk, his tone urbane and smooth. "How much cash do you require and is there a particular way you wish it billed to your account?" asked the employee, his hands moving under the counter. Rit-chan considered the question. Her smile turned wicked.

"Yes. Cover the cash outlay as `entertaining and comfort expenses', please." She directed calmly. The man hesitated for a moment. His eyes never left whatever he was doing under the counter.

"And the amount you would like?" he asked, his tone very professional. Rit-chan held up her hand, her forefinger and thumb about two inches apart.

"Give me a stack of bills this thick. Mix it two-to-one in favor of smaller notes, but with several large-denomination notes as well. No coinage, if you please." The man glanced at her hand, blinking twice rapidly. Rit-chan grinned lazily and leaned on the table. "Is something wrong?" she asked innocently.

"No, nothing is wrong. Are you sure that you wish to have that amount billed under `entertainment and comfort expenses'?" he asked, a bit strained.

"Yeah, I'm sure. How long will it take to prepare my money?" asked Ritsuko cheerfully.

"We will have it ready within ten minutes, Miss Inoue." He replied, his hands busy again.

"Excellent. I'll stop by later tonight to collect it. Please have it ready for me here."

"As you wish, Miss Inoue." He bowed to her. Turning away, Rit-chan paused long enough to add one more instruction for the man. "Oh, and take any two bills as your tip, sir." She said happily, moving off to the elevator to her suite. Aki and Hi-chan followed her. As the elevator rose, Aki and Hi-chan noticed that Rit-chan was humming to herself.

"Good news?" asked Aki.

"Mmm." Agreed Rit-chan, still humming. The elevator opened and she let the group into her penthouse suit. "Feel free to shower first, guys. I'm going to tend to my baby here." She smiled, pulling her USP free and rummaging in her pack before extracting a worn cleaning kit. Exiting the bedroom, she sat down on the couch and spread out a hotel towel on the coffee table before she began to efficiently strip the gun down to it's basic components, cleaning and oiling as she went. Aki wandered into the bathroom, Hikari close behind. Rit-chan kept humming. Within ten minutes, her USP was clean, dry and properly oiled, magazines and all. Rit-chan was wiping and reloading each round of ammo as she finished up. Finished, she slapped the magazine home, cycled the slide and dropped the magazine to top it off, decocking the gun as she reseated the full magazine. Restowing her kit, she dropped it in her pack and entered the bathroom, her cleaned and oiled handgun in her hand.

Seeing the huge shower with multiple showerheads deluging her friends with warm water, she slipped out of her swimsuit, putting it in the sink of clean water with Aki's and Hikari's to free it of the salt crystals before she slipped into the shower with the other girls. Immediately, she saw Aki hold out a bottle of shampoo. Taking it, she began to wash her hair out. "Man, this shower is bigger than the locker room at school." Said Hikari, lathering herself up.

"Yeah, but it's a lot nicer." Agreed Aki. "Did you notice that the tub is also a Jacuzzi?"

"Yeah, and I will give it a good workout before I leave." Said Rit-chan, working the shampoo through her hair.

"Hey, I was going to ask what the deal was with that expense account you gave the man. What does `entertainment and comfort' mean anyway?" asked Hikari.

"Well, it's the traditional way for Japanese business men to write off…questionable expenses in their accounting reports. It's more commonly known as the `Beer and Hookers Account'." Answered Rit-chan with a smile.

"Rit-chan!" gasped Hikari. "What are they going to think when they see how much money you spent under that heading?"

"I don't care what they think." Shrugged Ritsuko. "My message is that I don't take orders from them without cost."

-

"I've died and gone to heaven!" exclaimed Junpei, his eyes misting with reverence at the scene before him. Beside him, Kaji smiled as well.

"I thought you might feel that way." Said the spy calmly, carefully leading the young man into the club.

"May I take your jacket, sirs?" asked a woman wearing a bunny suit, complete with ears. Junpei dumbly nodded, slipping off his white leather jacket as Kaji handed over his own dress jacket. The woman took them, bowing as she did so, giving them a generous view of her cleavage. "How many in your party sir?" asked the woman, handing the jacket to another woman, who disappeared into an adjoining room to hand them up.

"Two, cute thing." Smiled Kaji.

"Sitting or standing, sir?" smiled the woman.

"Sitting, please." Replied Kaji.

"Smoking or non-smoking?" continued the woman, her smile easy and natural.

"Smoking, dear." Said Kaji. "Is there a back booth available?" he added.

"Let me check, sir." She said, looking down at her palm terminal. "Yes, there is. Have you been here before, sir?" asked the woman.

"A couple of times, yes. But somehow, I missed seeing you here. I would have remembered so beautiful a creature as yourself." He said, smiling his best lady killer smile. The woman giggled cutely.

"Thank you, sir!" she chirped. "Can you find the Willow room yourself?" she asked.

"I think I can manage. How long is the wait tonight?" he asked, winking.

"About twenty minutes." She answered after consulting her screen again. "If there is a hold up, I could take care of you myself, sir." She suggested.

"Then I hope there is a delay, so I can enjoy your presence more fully." Smiled Kaji. Taking candy from a baby. He thought, seeing the hint of color on her cheeks. "This way, Junpei." He called, grabbing his friend's arm and pulling him along as the woman once more bowed, showing off her not-inconsiderable rack. Still, Misa-chan has you beat in the chest department, deary. Thought the spy. Soon the two were seated at a booth with a wide, padded table, sipping beer.

"Weird table." Noted Junpei, eyeing the padding. "Won't that make the food spill?"

Kaji laughed. "I don't think so, Junpei."

"What does that mean?" asked the fighter, sipping his beer.

"Wait and see. I assure you, this is just the beginning, my friend." Assured the spy. Several minutes later, a shapely young woman slipped into their semi-secluded booth and asked if they were ready to order. Dressed in a thin, sheer, small silk robe, she left no doubt that she was naked under her single covering garment. Junpei gaped at her. Since the younger man was incapable of speech just then, Kaji took the lead again. "Good evening, sexy. Yes, I believe we are ready to order. I'll have the tuna sushi, and my friend here will have the curry with stir-fried vegetables. Oh, and another round of beer, please." He said confidently, smiling another Kaji-brand lady-killing smile. The girl bowed and blushed a bit.

"Of course, sir. Do you have a preference of serving dishes?" she asked, smiling sweetly.

"That depends. Are you booked?" asked Kaji.

"Regretfully, yes. Do you have a preference other than me, sir?" she asked sweetly. "We have a new blonde serving dish, if you're interested, sir." She offered.

"What kind of wait are we looking at for her?" asked Kaji. The girl shrugged, making her shapely chest wiggle tantalizingly.

"As you can guess, she is a very popular serving dish, so probably about an hour." Answered the young woman.

"I hate to say, but I'm hungry now, so we'll pass on the new dish. The door girl offered to serve us if we had to wait more than twenty minutes. Would you see if she is able to serve us?" asked Kaji. The girl smiled again.

"I'm pretty sure that she'll be happy to do so, sir. Maki is a nice girl, too."

"Then it's settled." Agreed Kaji. "We'll be awaiting her arrival hungrily."

"I'll bring you your beer while you wait, sir. Please enjoy your meal!" she chirped happily, disappearing down the room, her silk robe flashing them a peek at her bare bottom.

"What was that all about, Kaji?" asked Junpei, frowning as he swallowed some more beer.

"Just picking out the dinnerware, Junpei." Laughed Kaji. Junpei simply grunted a bit, sipping beer as he waited. The girl reappeared briefly, her hands full of large beer pitchers, which she deposited on the table before disappearing again. It wasn't long after that that the girl from the entrance appeared, dressed in an identical robe as the beer girl wore, another girl behind here with a small food cart.

"So, we meet again, sirs." Smiled the woman, seeing the two sitting there with their beer. "Are you ready to be served?"

"Yes, indeed." Smiled Kaji.

"Excellent. I will do all I can to make sure you enjoy your meal, then." Said the girl. Junpei's jaw dropped as she slipped off her robe, revealing her naked body. Gracefully, she slipped up onto the table, face up, settling onto the padded top easily. As soon as she was situated, the second girl began to load her naked form up with the food the two had ordered. Since the curry and stir-fried vegetables were hot, the girl loading her up with food placed a thick, heavy pad under those dishes, while the sushi was laid out on her bare belly. Once the food was properly situated, the second girl disappeared with the stealth of a ghost.

"Well? You gonna eat or sit there with your mouth open, kid?" teased Kaji. Junpei shut his mouth and grabbed his chopsticks.

"There is a god." He said reverently.

-

"Good evening, Celsia." Came the soft voice of Airi Komiyama. Celsia opened her eyes and rolled over to see her fellow elf hunter standing outside the bars of her cage. The actress was dressed in dark slacks and a tan blouse, her feet in dark colored running shoes. A faint smile was on her face.

"Airi!" exclaimed Celsia, her voice low so as not to disturb the sleeping Shinji next door. "What are you doing here?"

"Just passing by and thought I'd say hello, Celsia." Said the actress. Her expression turned a bit more serious. "Are you ok, Celsia?" she asked, her voice so soft it wouldn't have been heard from five feet away. Fortunately, Celsia's ears were very sharp. From the next cell, she heard Shinji shift in his sleep.

"Other than being chained to a wall naked in the laboratory of a maniac and being groped by barely-human apes, I'm great!" she whispered back sarcastically. "But you need to look next door."

"Oh?" inquired Airi, stepping over far enough to see Shinji twitching on his cot. She stepped back around the corner, her eyes meeting Celsia's blue orbs. "Do you know who he is, Celsia?" mouthed the actress. Celsia nodded, about to speak. Airi gave her a minute head-shake, touching her eye, then her ear before making a vague motion toward the ceiling. Celsia answered with a small nod.

"We talked before he fell asleep." Was all she said. Airi nodded.

"I hope this goes better than when we encountered Emi. Don't you?" whispered the actress.

"Yes. I don't like giving out free peep shows." Said Celsia. From the next cell, she heard Shinji made an odd sound, followed by more pronounced movements. "Is he…ok?" wondered Celsia.

"Probably nightmares. All the pilots suffer from them. He's woken up screaming three times since I moved in. Once, Misa-chan went to check on him. I need to take care of this, Celsia. I'll be back when I can. Ok?" said the actress.

"I'm not going anywhere." Replied the elf casually. Airi turned and strode back the way she had come. From the next cell, the sounds of Shinji's tossing and turning got steadily worse, until Celsia heard him cry out, followed by a thump, then the sound of his scrambling across the floor on his hands and knees. Silence, save for his heavy panting, marked his location in the far corner of his cell. A moan came from his cell.

"It was just a dream, Shinji." Called out Celsia. "You're awake now, so it's going to be ok."

"Sorry I woke you." He managed, the faint sounds of his movements headed back toward the cot in his cell. "I have bad dreams sometimes."

"I know." Dismissed Celsia.

"How do you…" began Shinji.

"Because I do, ok?" Celsia cut him off. "Do you…want to talk some?"

-

Airi rode the elevator to the top, her arms crossed under her breasts, her face set in a cold mask. When the elevator chimed, she stepped out briskly and marched toward Commander Ikari's office. Reaching the door, she hit the intercom button. "Commander Ikari, we need to discuss an important matter." She said, her tone cold and professional. There was no response from the room. She tried the door, but it was locked. Not one to be discouraged by so minor a matter, she fished her NERV cell phone out, scanned the numbers, then dialed the appropriate one.

"NERV Bridge, Lieutenant Hyuga." Came the answer on the first ring.

"Hyuga, it's Airi Komiyama." Said the actress, her voice sweet and cute. "I need to know where Commander Ikari is, dear. Can you find out for me?"

"Uh, sure, Miss Komiyama. One moment, please." He said. She heard keys being tapped. Then, a moment later, he came back on line.

"He is not in HQ, and his system inbox is set to away, so I think he went home for the day or is in a meeting somewhere other than here. Is there a problem?" he asked, his tone concerned.

Not if you don't count locking Shinji up like an animal, no. thought the actress. That wasn't what she said, however. "Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what I find out. Tell me, who's in charge right now?"

"Well, Vice Commander Fuyutsuki was here a little while ago. Would you like me to see if he's in?" replied Hyuga.

"Don't bother. I'm down the hall from his office right now. Oh, one last thing, Makoto." Said the actress, already halfway to the door to the Vice Commander's office. "Do you know the location of Rei-chan?"

"You mean Ayanami?" asked Hyuga, a bit puzzled. "She was assigned back-up duty when the other two went to the volcano, so she should be here somewhere. Let me see if I…got her. She's doing laps in the pool on level 6. Do you…" he began.

"No, thank you. I'll take it from here, Makoto. Good bye." She said sexily, ending the call as her other hand pushed the intercom button by the Vice Commander's office door. "Vice Commander Fuyutsuki? Are you there?" she called out. Taking her hand off the button, she waited. A few moments later, he responded.

"Who is this?" asked the gray-haired man.

"It's Airi Komiyama. We need to discuss an important matter immediately." She said, cutting though the formalities. She heard the door click open, so she entered the office of the Vice Commander. It looked a lot like a professor's office, with bookshelves loaded with books, a wide, warm oak desk with reading lamps, a couple of overstuffed chairs in front of the desk and a bonsai tree on the corner of the desk. Vice Commander Fuyutsuki was seated in a tall-backed leather executive chair, a file on his desk in front of him. He looked up over his reading glasses as Airi entered the room and strode toward him like an Eva.

Oh, crap. I bet she's here about Shinji. Wonder how she found out so fast? Thought the old man. "Please, take a seat, miss Komiyama. What can I do for you?" he said smoothly. Airi gracefully sat in one of the chairs and crossed her legs, her eyes locked on him.

"Release Shinji to my custody, for starters. I'm not even going to ask why you have him locked up down there, and truthfully, I don't care. He needs to be at home when Misato and Asuka arrive tomorrow morning, not having nightmares down in Gendo's little chamber of horrors." Said the actress, her tone controlled but angry.

"There's nothing I can do about that, miss Komiyama. Commander Ikari personally ordered the Third Child locked up until further notice. He is senior to me, so his orders override mine. Believe me, if it were up to me, Shinji wouldn't be down there; neither would your other friend for that matter. Was there anything else?" he asked, conspicuously looking back to his open file. Airi didn't budge from her chair.

"I will not leave him alone in that cell. Do you understand me, Fuyutsuki?" she said evenly, her eyes hard. And I'm not leaving this office until I get my way, either. You'll have to drag me out with a bulldozer to get me to move. Fuyutsuki studied her eyes for a long moment, then closed the file on his desk and leaned back in his chair.

"I see." He said at length. "You remind me of Yui Ikari, back when she was a student of mine." He mused. Airi's ears perked up.

"Yui? Do you mean Shinji's mother?" asked the actress, keeping her excitement carefully concealed. "You knew her?"

The old man chuckled. "Oh, yes. I knew her a long time before Gendo came into the picture. I was a senior professor at Tokyo University back then, before Second Impact. She was a prodigy, even then. At only 20 years old, she already had two doctors degrees, you know. But, even more important, was her pet theory. It was incredible, how she saw a system at work in the human soul. Very few people could even grasp her conceptual explanation, but everyone wanted it. She had just finished a very controversial lecture series at the University, and we were talking in my office. I asked her what she planned to do, as there were innumerable Universities the world over offering her anything to come on board as an instructor, and several of the most powerful multinational conglomerates wanted to hire her at any price. I suppose you could say she was the ultimate head-hunting prize for everyone. Still, when I asked her if she was going to go into the private sector or teach, she told me that there was a third option for her. She said she might choose to become a mother, if she found the right man."

"Please tell me she didn't think that Gendo Ikari was the right man." Begged Airi.

"You already know the answer, so why ask the impossible. Shortly after that, she and her friends from University all joined a small outfit called Gehirn, in Germany. She was the head of a most extraordinary group. Kyoko, Naoko, her and that crazy adventurer Kaeda. Now, they're all gone, save for their life's work and their children, to whom the burden of fate falls." The old man stared blindly at the ceiling. Airi gambled.

"So, when did it all go to hell, Kouzo?" she asked calmly. The old man shook himself out of his revelry, his eyes assessing her carefully.

"Who said it had gone to hell?" he asked shrewdly.

Oh, no you don't, old man. "A fourteen year old boy under lock and key by order of his father says so. Three Children whose psych profiles read like an encyclopedia of abnormal psychology say so. Need I go on?" shot back the actress. Kouzo tilted his head, acknowledging her point. Just then, his phone rang. Picking it up, he listened for a few moments, then reached over to get a pad and a pencil, taking notes for another few moments before hanging up.

"I can't order Shinji's release, miss Komiyama. But, I can make arrangements for you, his fellow pilots or Misato to see him in his cell. Now, I must attend to another matter. Good evening, miss Komiyama."

"Good evening, Vice Commander." Said Airi, a new plan in her head already. "I would like to hear more about Yui Ikari sometime."

"Perhaps." He allowed, opening a laptop computer and booting up a program. Airi exited the office and marched toward the elevator. She had some web surfing to do. But, before that, a more important issue needed her attention.

-

Rit-chan slipped out of the conference room, bored to death. After forty minutes of lectures on the history of Okinawa, nearly all the students were comatose. Still, Rit-chan planned a quick trip to the bathroom and some fresh air before returning; she wouldn't leave her friends to suffer alone. She walked quietly down the hallway toward the bathrooms. Slipping into the ladies' room, she selected an open stall and tended to her needs. Before she finished, she heard the door open and someone enter the bathroom. Hearing the sink run, she finished and adjusted her clothes before exiting the stall.

At the sink, she saw Tomoko splashing water on her face. Spotting the red-headed teen in the mirror, Tomoko turned and stared at her. Unbidden, Touji's words came back to her. Rit-chan stepped to a sink one down from here and began to wash her hands. "Hey, Inoue." Said Tomoko.

"Yes?" replied Ritsuko, turning to look at the other girl.

"Suzahara said you're in the penthouse suite. Can I come up there tonight?" asked Tomoko, her voice steady.

"What's on your mind, Tomo? I know you don't like me or the others in the challenge, so why the sudden interest in seeing where I'm staying?" said Ritsuko, deciding to get right to the point.

"I have something I need to talk to you about, and I'd rather not have an audience. So? What do you say?" replied Tomoko. Ritsuko studied her.

"Follow me." Said Ritsuko, exiting the bathroom. Blinking in surprise, Tomo followed her. Rit-chan went right to the elevator and keyed the button for the presidential suite. The ride was silent. Getting off at the penthouse, Rit-chan opened the door and motioned Tomo inside. Tomo gawked at the place. "Let's talk at the outdoor table, ok?" said Rit-chan, sliding open the door. Tomoko walked outside to the veranda. Ritsuko settled into one chair and motioned to the other. Tomoko sat without comment, looking over the pool and hot tub. "So, let's talk." Said Ritsuko.

Tomoko studied her for a moment, then took a deep breath. "I hate you, Inoue. You, Sohryu, Horaki, Ayanami and Wakirihara. You're all so fucking arrogant and better-than-you to everyone around you. What makes you so god-damned special, Inoue? Is it because you work for NERV? Or is it because you're so fucking sexy? What makes you so worthy of attention? Huh?" spat the girl.

Ritsuko studied the girl. "Is that how you see us? As arrogant and snobby?" she asked, her tone calm and curious.

"Yes! Every fucking day, all you ever talk about it how good you all are, unlike us poor losers you're forced to associate with." Tomoko growled.

"I see. Tell me, how often I have put you down? How many times has Rei-chan said more than two words to anyone but Shinji? How often does Hikari brag about her chest size? When does Aki bully anyone?" asked the older teen.

"All the time! You're always…" began Tomoko.

"Specific examples, please, as well as when they occurred." Interrupted Rit-chan. Tomoko paused, seeking to find a good example for the other girl. Oddly, she couldn't find a clear example. "Tomoko, none of us are out to get you, or beat you, or harass you. Frankly, I just want a way back home. The pilots just want to survive this war, and Aki just wants to be happy. You seem to have some issues with Horaki and Sohryu, and that has spilled over onto me, Rei and Aki. Knowing Asuka, she probably gave you good reason for being mad at her. But the rest of us don't want to be your enemies. Hell, Asuka probably doesn't either; she's just a hard case. So, tell me why you hate her and Horaki so much."

"Horaki became the inchou two years ago, and no matter how hard I try, I keep losing to her. My parents think that I just started slacking off, so they always yell at me to regain the lead, but I can't. I thought I could forget it when I started dating Shodo, but then Sohryu arrived and all he wants to do is fuck her. I tried to compete, but she's too far ahead of me. The last time he had sex with me, he called me by her name. She's taking my boyfriend without even trying, and I can't do anything about it." Sighed Tomo.

"Sounds like he's a cheating asshole to me, Tomo. Why do you put up with him?" replied Rit-chan.

"He's two years ahead of me, he's a star athlete and he's good in bed." Explained Tomo.

"He fucks around on you, treats you like shit and wants to rape other girls. I don't know, Tomo, but he doesn't seem to be worth the hassle. And you know that Asuka doesn't want him in any way, shape or form, don't you?" Rit-chan noted.

"He doesn't cheat on me; he just likes to try new things, that's all." Defended Tomo. Rit-chan looked her over.

"Tomo, I'm not going to judge you about this, but I will see if I can get some information that has been going around. I wish you would reconsider your position on this matter. None of us want you to get hurt because you think you have to beat us or we hate you. We don't. Good enough?" said Rit-chan leaning back.

"We'll see." Muttered Tomo.

"What do you have planned for tonight?" asked Rit-chan after a moment.

"Well, I was going to go with some friends to a couple of clubs. Why?" asked Tomo.

"Just wondered if you wanted to join us, that's all." Said Rit-chan.

"You're going clubbing?" asked Tomo, skeptically.

"Yeah. Aki heard of a really good seafood place, too. Why? Did you think I didn't like clubbing?"

"It seemed out of character somehow." Admitted Tomo. "I guess Touji was right about you."

"Touji, huh?" mused Rit-chan. "Well, me and friends from back home were known for being a little wild at times. Anyway, the invite's open, if you want to come. Now, we better get back to the lecture before some well-meaning fucker or brown-noser asshole points out that we're missing." So saying, she stood and watched as Tomo did likewise. The two returned to the lecture hall in silence.

-

The sound of footsteps interrupted the quiet, slow conversation between Shinji and Celsia. Both waited to see who had come this time. As they got closer, the footsteps got swifter. Soon, Celsia saw a girl with blue hair, dressed in a bathing suit, step rapidly past her cell, barely giving her a glance before stopping in front of Shinji's cell.

"Rei-chan!" exclaimed the boy, excitedly.

"Shin-chan." Sighed the girl, busy with a key. The door opened and Rei leapt into Shinji's embrace, her lips sealing to his as she grasped him firmly in an embrace. It was a while before the two separated. "Are you well, Shinji-chan?" asked the girl, studying him while her arms remained locked around him.

"I'm fine, Rei-chan." He assured her, feeling her warmth in his arms.

"Why are you in here, Shinji? Did something happen?" asked Rei, leading him to his cot, where she gently pushed him to sit, immediately taking a seat on his lap.

"I disobeyed orders, and the Commander had me locked up for it." Explained Shinji. Rei's expression did not change.

"Why did you disobey orders, Shinji?" she asked.

"Because Asuka would have died if I hadn't." he said quietly. Rei was silent for a moment.

"I understand." Was all Rei said before she buried her head in his chest, knocking him back onto the cot. Shinji cradled her in his arms, aware that her near-naked body was making his dick stir.

"Uh, Rei-chan, they monitor these cells, you know." He managed.

"Not right now, they do not. I re-routed the feeds, and erased the files from the MAGI systems." Said Rei, slipping her top down as she pulled his shirt open, pressing her bare chest to his bare chest. "I was told that permission has been given by the Vice Commander for myself, Asuka, Misato, Airi or Rit-chan to be in here with you. I will be with you tonight, Shinji-chan. There will be no more nightmares." She promised. Shinji felt a large weight roll off his shoulders at her promise. And he was tired as hell after the day's events. Within minutes, the two were asleep, leaving Celsia to ponder what she had heard.

-

Hikari and Aki followed Rit-chan up to the penthouse, talking about what they were going to do now that they were in free time. Most of the students were at the hotel pool, the beach, or haunting the rooms of their friends, depending on their personalities. Aki presumed that Hikari was going clubbing with them, and her attitude gave the class rep no room to maneuver. Arriving in the suite, the three girls began to work out what they would wear. It was understood immediately that the general classification would be `as little as possible', both by preference and by necessity; the eternal summer of post-Second Impact Earth mandated cool clothes.

Hikari was looking over her clothes, wondering what to wear while Aki rooted around in her pack, apparently already sure what she was wearing. Rit-chan slipped out onto the patio, her NERV cell phone in hand. Selecting the number she wanted for her phone book, she hit the connect button. As soon as the phone connected, she pressed the scramble button, encrypting the call. Over all, her talk was short, but it made her feel a lot better. Before the other two could notice she was gone, she slipped back into the bedroom. Hikari was holding up a short skirt and a tight tee-shirt for Aki's consideration, while the tall girl had a bikini and a pair of shorts in her hands. On the foot of the huge bed lay a loose-fitting button down denim shirt that the hopeful model apparently planned to use as a jacket.

"I don't know, Hi-chan. Skirts and tee shirts don't usually go too good with each other." Noted a skeptical Aki. "And remember, we're going to clubs to dance."

"Well, I don't really have the right kind of dress for that, so I'm having to use what I have." Defended Hikari. "Is that what you're wearing?" She pointed to the bikini and the shorts.

"Yep. You wear the bikini under the shorts and loose shirt. If you get hot, it's easy to shed down to the suit; if you need to, you can close the shirt and look more or less dressed. Besides, it drives guys crazy when they see that much skin." Smiled Aki.

"Maybe for you and Rit-chan, but I'm not really built for that kind of outfit." Demurred Hikari.

"Oh, for God's sake! This shit again?" cried an exasperated Aki. Storming over to Hikari, she tossed the skirt and tee shirt to the chair her bag was in and started to rummage in the girl's bag, swiftly fishing out the other two bathing suits the girl had. "No, this won't do. Same for this one. Hmm. Ok, I'll let you borrow my other bikini." Decided Aki.

"You have another bikini in there?" asked Rit-chan, a bit surprised. She had already seen five bathing suits in the girl's bag. Aki shrugged.

"I'm going to a photo shoot, right? Having my own suits there means I know that I'll have some decent clothes to wear." She explained. She extracted the bikini and tossed it to Hikari, who sorted the suit out and held it up.

"This isn't going to work." Said Hikari. She was looking at the top, a strapless number with minimal coverage. Rit-chan spotted the problem. Hikari was much smaller in the chest and cup size than Aki, who was nearly two feet taller than Hikari, with the accompanying mass. The top had a stretch band with a simple hook fastener in the back, but even when it was fully contracted, it was too loose on Hikari to stay in place.

"Ok, then, plan two." Announced Aki, tossing the girl the top of the suit she was planning to wear. Being a tie-on style, it would fit the smaller girl. Hikari considered it, then sighed and began to tie the top on. Rit-chan had stripped off her one-piece suit and put on a thong bikini bottom with a matching criss-cross top, followed by a short skirt and a thin over-shirt. Before Aki could comment, she saw Ritsuko slip on a belt and her holstered USP, which was hidden by the loose shirt. In the front pocket of the oversized shirt, she situated two back-up magazines for her pistol. Sitting to put on a pair of socks, she added two of her thin knives, one in each sock top, which would be held in place by her shoes. Aki shook her head. "Going to war, are we, Rit-chan?"

"It's a dangerous world, Aki. A girl has to be ready." Said Rit-chan dismissively. Hikari was finished dressing, and was looking for her purse.

"No need for that, Hi-chan. All you need tonight is cash." Said Aki, tucking a small wad of folded bills into the breast pocket of her loose shirt. Rit-chan clipped her NERV cell phone to her belt on the opposite side from her USP, and her NERV card and room keycard went into her top.

"Let's motor, you two." Said Rit-chan, heading for the door. When the group reached the lobby, Rit-chan stepped to the desk, where the same young man was still on duty. "I'm here for my money." She said, a small smile on her lips.

"Of course, Miss Inoue." He said, reaching under the counter and withdrawing a sealed manila envelope and a receipt form. "Please sign here." He said courteously, indicating the bottom of the receipt. Scanning it quickly, she noted the amount and made sure it was nothing more than a simple receipt before she signed it. He bowed, slipping the signed receipt under the counter. Rit-chan collected the envelope and peeked inside. "Did you remember to take two bills from here as a tip?" she asked.

"I was not able to do so before you signed the receipt, miss Inoue." He said. Rit-chan selected two of the largest denomination bills and slid them over to him.

"Here's for your trouble. Have a good evening. Oh, yes. If anyone from the group comes looking for me, tell them that I am not available, and do not wish to be disturbed."

"Yes, miss Inoue." He bowed. "Enjoy your evening, miss."

"I will." Smiled Rit-chan, heading for the door, her envelope of cash tucked into the pocket of her over shirt. As the group neared the entrance, she heard someone call their names. Turning, she saw Touji and Kensuke jogging toward them.

"Hey, where are you three off to?" asked Kensuke, camera in hand.

"It's not your business, Aida." Said Aki.

"Come on, don't be that way." Pleaded the glasses-wearing otaku. Rit-chan considered something.

"We're going to a few places around town, you two. You can come on one condition." She decided.

"Anything." They agreed fervently.

"You have to bring your own girls." She finished. The two blinked.

"What do you mean?" wondered Touji.

"It means that I will not have you two hovering over us three, trying your lame pick-up lines on us. Find two or more girls to go with you, or you stay here. Got it?" explained Rit-chan, her tone clipped and business-like. "You have five minutes." She said, glancing at the clock over the front desk.

"How are we…" began Kensuke.

"Like I care. Be back here with your own girls, or we leave without you. You now have four minutes, forty seven seconds." After staring at each other in confusion for several seconds, the two ran off at top speed for the rooms assigned to the school.

"What are you doing, Rit-chan?" asked Hikari, unsure if she wanted the two around or not.

"I have a plan, ok, Hi-chan?" assured Ritsuko. The three leaned against the cool stone pillars by the door and watched the clock. A minute or so later, Aki spoke.

"Do you think that they can find two girls, get changed and get back here in time?" she wondered. Rit-chan smiled.

"Perhaps. Perhaps not. Either way will work." Her two friends looked at her strangely. Time passed. With seven seconds on the clock, they heard the sound of running feet, and at two seconds past, Touji and Kensuke slid to a stop by the three as they stood from where they had been leaning against the pillars. Behind the two came Tomoko and a girl Rit-chan didn't immediately recognize.

"What is Shiori doing here?" whispered Aki.

"I don't know. But I can't understand how these two losers got her to come with them. And doesn't Tomo hate us for what happened in the challenge?" whispered Hikari back.

"Let it go." Murmured Ritsuko. Tomo and Shiori jogged up and stood panting behind Touji and Kensuke. "I see you made it; and only two seconds past five minutes too." The two boys gaped. "I suppose I'll let it slide this time." Said Rit-chan. She glanced at Tomo, then turned to Aki. "Lead us to your clubs, mistress of the night." She said, a smile on her lips. Without delay, Aki turned and headed out the front entrance. As they reached the drive, the bellboy saw them and motioned to someone down the way. By the time that Rit-chan reached the foot of the steps, a large four-door sedan pulled up in front of her, the driver stepping out and opening the door with a bow.

"For you and your guests, miss Inoue." Said the bellboy.

"I don't recall ordering a chauffer." Frowned Rit-chan.

"It is part of the service for the Presidential Suite, miss." Clarified the driver. "If you prefer, we also have a larger limo as well as a convertible if you wish to travel alone." Rit-chan glanced inside the car, saw that the back seat was actually two sets of seats facing each other. Six regular seats, and seven people; close enough.

"This'll do. Come on, let's get moving." She said, slipping into the back seat of the car. Aki and Hikari followed her, then Touji, Tomoko, Kensuke and Shiori. Rit-chan, Aki and Hikari were on the seat facing forward, with Touji opposite Hikari, Tomoko opposite Aki and Kensuke opposite Rit-chan, leaving Shiori to find a place to sit. As the others situated themselves, Rit-chan stared at Kensuke, her face impassive.

"What?" he asked, sensing her attention.

"Get up, Kensuke." She said flatly.

"What?" he asked. Rit-chan sighed.

"A gentleman offers a lady her choice of seats, moron. Give your seat to Shiori." Directed Rit-chan, her voice patient and somewhat patronizing.

"Or she could sit in your lap, Kensuke." Offered Touji. Hikari sent him a cold stare, but said nothing. He turned to look at Shiori.

"Lady's choice it is, then." He said, a weak smile on his face. Shiori shrugged, then say half on his lap, half on Tomo's. Now settled, the driver closed the door and got behind the wheel.

"Where to, miss?" he asked. Aki gave him the name of the club. With a nod, he shifted the car into drive and they were off.

-

Airi sat in front of the computer in a small resource room in NERV, sifting though the data she had gathered in the last hour or so. Except for a short detour to the pool where Rei was swimming, she had spent all her time since leaving the Vice Commander's office doing wild card searches for any mention of Yui Ikari, Gehirn or Shinji Ikari. She avoided doing any searches for NERV, as it would be a very large red flag. Figuring that the terminal she was using was monitored by the MAGI system, she chose topics and search structures that were easily explained away. After she sorted the data into factual records and opinions, she reviewed the factual data on Shinji's shadowy mother.

This is odd. Thought Airi. Her early life is documented clearly enough. Born in Kyoto in 1980, schooled in Kyoto, then Tokyo, graduated Tokyo University 1998 with doctorate degrees in metapyschology and metaphysics. Masters degrees in cybernetic theory and nuclear biology. Quite the overachiever, I see. Top of her class, too. Seems she was a guest lecturer at Tokyo U. for a year, in which time she managed to nearly split the school in half with her pet theory. Then, she submits a request for leave-of-absence, goes to Germany, and…as far as the records go, vanishes off the face of the earth. Airi mentally reviewed her new information, then cleared the current searches before typing in a new search criteria. It was a short search.

"Ah, much better." Murmured the actress, scanning the results. Ok, Yui Ikari graduated in '98 from Tokyo U., and the old man said that she and her friends joined Gehirn together, so, they should be somewhere near here in her University days. He mentioned Kyoko, Naoko and Kaeda. So, what were their full names? If I check for all the students or faculty of the school in the year before and after her graduation date, I should have at least an idea of where to go next. Her fingers skipped over the keys as her search engine ran through the Tokyo University's main archives. Shortly, a list appeared on the screen. Well, there's a familiar name. Sohryu Kyoko, class of '98, doctorate biomechanics, masters in psychology. She must be Asuka's mom, but I need to confirm that. And there's another familiar name: Katsuragi Kaeda, professor of archeology and electrical engineering. Nothing looks right with the Naoko search results. Well, two out of three isn't bad, as they say. Now, let's see what they have in their folders. Her fingers danced over the keys, occasionally pausing to manipulate the mouse. Over the next hour, she learned much.

-

"Wakey, wakey, my little problem causers!" yelled the guard as he entered the cell block that housed Celsia and Shinji. He was looking forward to groping Celsia again that morning. It had become a habit with him to let his hands roam over her body as he did his morning check. She used to fight about it, but now she simply ignored him, which made it a lot less fun for him. Still, he had decided that she might fight if he were to go farther this morning and actually put something of his inside her. He snickered to himself as he thought of the possibilities. Abruptly, he realized that the cell door for the Third Child's room was wide open. With a startled gasp, he sprinted over to the cell. Inside, Rei and Shinji were curled up together, apparently sleeping. "What the fuck?!" he yelled, slamming the door closed. "What are you doing in there, First?" he demanded. Rei's red eyes opened.

She had heard the guard approach, and - remembering Shinji's reluctance to make their status know - had slipped her top back up before snuggling back into Shinji's warm body. The loud outbursts from the guard was annoying her. When she heard the guard run to the cell and slam the door, she realized that the guard would have to be dealt with immediately, before he could disturb Shinji's rest. Turning to him, she pinned him to the far wall with a gaze so full of malice that he felt like Eva Unit 0 was standing on his chest. "Be silent." She commanded in her normal lifeless voice. "You will not disturb us." She directed, turning back to Shinji and tightening her grip on him. Shinji stirred.

"Get out of there, First." Demanded the guard, now released from her deadly gaze. "You aren't authorized to be down here." He said aggressively. Rei ignored him completely. He banged on the bars. "You listening to me, First?" he screamed. Shinji's eyes opened.

"Good morning, Shinji-chan." Said Rei softly. Behind her, the guard was still trying to get her attention. Shinji stifled a yawn.

"Morning, Rei-chan. What time is it?" he wondered.

"It is a few minutes past eight, Shinji-chan." Rei informed him calmly. The guard had gotten a key and unlocked the door. Storming into the room, he reached for Rei, who's back was to him. Over her shoulder, Shinji saw him reaching for one of the girls he loved.

As the guard's hand extended, Shinji's hand shot out and knocked his hand away from her shoulder. "Don't touch her." Hissed Shinji. The guard leered at his protective instincts.

"Oh, you're in a pile of trouble now, kid." He sneered. "Attacking a guard like that."

"He did not attack you." Stated Rei, shifting so she was sitting on the edge of Shinji's cot. "You attempted to assault me, and Shinji prevented you from doing so." She said calmly.

"It's your word against mine, First." He bluffed.

"Who do you think Commander Ikari will believe?" asked Shinji innocently. "You, or the First?" The guard hesitated. Scuttlebutt knew that there was something going on between the Commander and the First Child. He dined with her regularly, he always called her by her name instead of her designation, and anything she wanted, she tended to get. Those that crossed her, tended to have accidents. Unbidden, the thought came to the guard that he had helped with a couple of `accidents' that befell some techs that were planning to sell stories about the First to some tabloids.

"Get out." Said Rei flatly, her hand in Shinji's. To Shinji, she asked "Do you desire some breakfast, Shinji-chan?"

"Uh, sure, Rei-chan. I am a bit hungry." Answered Shinji. Rei gave him one of her stealthy smiles.

"I will go to the cafeteria and get you some breakfast. What is it you desire for breakfast?" she inquired.

"Well, whatever they have is fine." He said. Rei rose gracefully from her seat.

"I will return shortly." She said calmly before moving past the guard and exiting the cell. The guard muttered darkly under his breath before exiting the cell and taking exaggerated care to insure that the cell was locked behind him.

-

Aki cracked open her eyes, her vision a bit blurry. After a few moments spent regaining the use of her eyes, she noted that she was once more in Rit-chan's bed, as was Hikari, who was still sound asleep, her body curled around one of the large pillows. Vague sounds indicated that the brown-haired girl was dreaming. Feeling the distinct need to visit the bathroom, Aki worked her way out of the large bed and into the bathroom. As she relieved the pressure on her bladder, she noted that the shower was still wet, and that there was a damp towel hanging up. Must mean that our host is up already. Thought the tall girl. What time is it, anyway? Finishing her pit stop, she yawned as she moved from the master bathroom to the living room/kitchen area. No sign of her yet. Mused the girl, not seeing the red-headed elf hunter. She glanced at the clock on the entertainment center. Goddamn! What am I doing up this early after the night we had last night?! She mentally exclaimed. Her feet bore her toward the glass doors to the patio and pool. Still, that guy was kind of cute; and even Hikari was flirting back with his buddy. The door slid open quietly and she stepped out to see the sun was just cracking the horizon, leaving the roof area oddly dark and shadowy. "Rit-chan?" called Aki, her voice only a little louder than her normal speaking voice. There was no answer, so the tall girl walked around the pool, hot tub and golf green, searching for her friend. Not seeing her, she headed back toward the living room. "Did she go running again?" wonder the girl.

"Looking for someone, Aki?" came a soft voice from the door to the suite. Jerking in surprise, Aki spun to see Rit-chan in the doorway, dressed in a pair of cut-offs and a tight tee shirt emblazoned with the deep orange logo of her preferred gun maker. Over the tee-shirt, she wore a thin, breathable jacket. In one hand was a pair of sandals, and the other held her room card. As usual, her hair was fastened back in an arched pony tail, held in place by her familiar dark blue ribbon.

"Where were you?" asked Aki, altering her course to take her to the kitchen/bar area. Cracking the refridge, she selected a bottle of water, shaking it in Rit-chan's direction before tossing it to the older girl when she nodded. Snagging the bottle out of the air with ease, Rit-chan twisted the cap off and drained half the bottle in one pull.

"Tying up loose ends." Replied Rit-chan when she lowered the bottle from her lips. "Hikari?" she questioned.

"Still asleep. Come to mention it, we should hit the sack; we have a full two hours before we have to start getting ready for the day's diving." Suggested Aki, taking a bottle of mango-pineapple fruit juice for herself before closing the refridge.

"Think I'll pass, Aki-chan." Said Rit-chan, settling on the couch, her legs folding under her. Aki frowned.

"What's eating you, Rit-chan?" asked the girl, settling next to her friend, her body turned to watch Rit-chan intently.

"Nothing, really. I'm just not used to being away from the others. I got used to Airi being next to me in the mornings, and Celsia fighting with Junpei while they got ready to move out for the day." She saw the strange look on Aki face, prompting a small quirk of her lips. "And I haven't heard Mike in weeks."

"Mike?" asked Aki.

"My T-74 tank." Said Rit-chan, her quirked lips now in a real smile. "Never mind; I'll be fine in no time."

"If you say so. Come on. We're not losing those two hours of rack time." Stated Aki, rising to her feet, her empty bottle of juice arching into the trashcan as she extended her hand to Ritsuko.

"Thanks, but…" began Rit-chan, only to have Aki seize her wrist and pull her to her feet, leading her back to the bedroom.

"That wasn't a request, Rit-chan." Mentioned Aki, firmly leading the other girl back to where Hikari slept on, oblivious to her friend's absence. Pausing at the side of the bed, Aki turned to Rit-chan. "Lose the outer wear and get in." she ordered.

"I suppose it will be less trouble to do as you ask." Mumbled Rit-chan, shrugging off her outer jacket, revealing that her USP and cell phone were once more riding on her waist, along with two back up magazines. Swiftly, Rit-chan pulled the gun and cell phone free before slipping off her shorts, revealing a pair of minimal panties. Her tee shirt landed neatly on top of her shorts, revealing a matching bra. Starting to move onto the bed, she felt Aki's hand on the fastener of her bra, which suddenly slipped off her frame.

"Didn't anyone tell you not to sleep in tight clothes, Rit-chan?" asked Aki in a friendly tone. Rit-chan made a sound in her throat, but otherwise gave no reply, instead crawling over toward Hikari before she settled under the sheets and set her USP and cell phone next to her pillow. An instant later, she felt Aki settle beside her. A moment passed, then Aki's hand landed gently on Rit-chan's bare shoulder. "We're here for you, Rit-chan." Said the girl quietly. "We may not be as close to you as Airi and your other friends, but Hi-chan and I will be here, so don't try to mask it, ok?"

-

"Good morning, guys!" called out Maya cheerfully as she entered the control room. Her two male co-workers turned to greet her.

"Morning." Said Aoba, nodding at her before turning back to his perusal of the diagnostic readouts for his station.

"Good morning, Maya." Said Hyuga, adjusting his glasses a bit as he greeted her. On the small area of desktop in front of his control station lay a manga book, partially covered by a stack of reports. Maya noticed that most of the reports were for the Operations Director.

"Anything I need to know today?" she asked, sitting at her station next to Hyuga, who had turned back to the stack of reports. Misato has him doing her work load again, I see. Thought the young woman as she warmed up her station and began the daily diagnostic run. Of course, this time, she has a legitimate excuse. Scanning her screens, she noted that - once more - her station was in perfect order.

"Did you hear yet?" came a whisper from her left. Hyuga was still shuffling reports, his eyes locked to his handful of paper.

"Hear what?" asked Maya, her tone soft and quiet, sensing that whatever Hyuga was going to tell her wasn't for general discussion.

"About what happened yesterday." Whispered back the tech.

"I don't get what you're saying." Said Maya, whispering herself.

"About the incident." Prompted Hyuga.

"Incident? Oh, you mean the Angel in the volcano. No problem! We got it, and no one was hurt." Assured the girl. She had gone up there to help Ritsuko set up, but then returned before they began the operation, leaving the two pilots in the care of the reserve bridge crew and Doctor Akagi. Other than the news that both units and their pilots were fine, Maya hadn't heard anything that warranted whispering about.

"No, not that." Said Hyuga. "After the battle."

"They went to a hot spring, right?" replied a confused Maya. An idea suddenly hit her. "Did Shinji peek at Asuka and Misato while they were in the hot spring?" she gasped out. Hyuga turned to look her full in the face. His expression was dead serious.

"Nothing so good, Maya." He said, his eyes telling her that she wouldn't like what she was about to hear.

"Wha…what happened?" she managed, her chest feeling tight and her breathing a bit uneven, dread filling her.

"Shinji disobeyed direct orders and jumped into the volcano to save Asuka. Misato chewed him out, of course, but was going to let it go at that. But the Commander ordered him dragged back here and tossed in the brig until further notice." He said, covertly peeking up at Vulture Row, as they called the elevated perch where the Commander and Vice Commander sat. It appeared empty, but Makoto wasn't taking any chances. "I suggest you be careful around Misato when she gets in this morning. I'm betting she'll be royally pissed." Maya was shocked.

Shinji jumped into the volcano? But Unit 1 didn't have a Type D protective suit! And why would the Commander lock him up for saving Asuka? Maya was very confused. Swiftly, however, she had decided on a method of learning what had gone wrong. Closing the diagnostics, she opened a window to the MAGI central core, and began to hammer the keys like a dot matrix printer head, commands and code flying across the screen at a rate that only her sempai could beat. Somewhere in here will be Sempai's report, and maybe a copy of Commander Ikari's orders as well. All I need is a bit of finesse and…got it! As the report from her nominal boss scrolled across her screen, Maya was struck by the realization that her Sempai, Doctor Ritsuko Akagi, had made no attempt to explain the reason that Shinji jumped into the volcano, that reason being that Unit 2's lift line was failing and the unit - and it's pilot - would have been lost for sure if Shinji hadn't jumped in and grabbed Asuka before she could fall to her death. Sempai's report makes it sound like he did it just for kicks. The report ended and another report scrolled past, this one from Misato. It was short. One page short, in fact. It simply said that the Angel was destroyed by Unit 2, but in the battle, Unit 2's lift line was severely damaged and was failing. Unit 1, against orders, jumped in, managing to save both Unit 2 and it's pilot from certain death. As the Operations Director, she had disciplined the Pilot of Unit 1, and the matter was concluded to her satisfaction. Even though she was satisfied, Shinji is still under lock and key? What is the Commander thinking?!

"Good morning, everyone." Came a voice from the door to the control bridge. All three turned to see Airi Komiyama walking toward their stations. "Hyuga, dear, have you seen the reports for Commander Ikari around here somewhere?" she asked, her tone sweet and light.

"I have them right here, Miss Komiyama." He said, a bit of color on his cheeks at her friendly greeting. Airi stopped in front of his station, reaching over his shoulder to take the stack of papers from him. "Wait, Miss Komiyama!" cried Hyuga, turning his chair so he could stand to chase the actress, who had turned away from his station and was walking toward the spot that Misato usually occupied. "Those are for the Operations Director!"

"Commander Ikari ordered me to assume Misa-chan's duties until she returned from her assignment, did he not?" asked Airi innocently, flipping papers. "So, I'm just doing as he directed. Right?" her tone was still innocent, but a dangerous edge had crept into it at the last word. Hyuga froze, realizing that there was a bit of truth to her argument. "My, my. Such a lot of useless information." Murmured Airi. "I wonder how Misa-chan would handle this?" she mused out loud. "Oh! Of course!" she exclaimed, her face breaking out in smiles. Her eyes, however, scared Maya a bit. "I know!"

She wouldn't!! thought Maya, seeing the dark-haired Actress take the stack of paper in hand. Alas, she would indeed. With a small grunt of exertion, Airi Komiyama tore the reports in half, then tossed the torn halves into the shredder stationed near the terminals for destroying sensitive documents. With an electronic whirr the reports were destroyed. All three bridge bunnies' jaws were hanging open. Airi dusted her hands off, a very happy smile on her face. Just then, a voice from above was heard.

"Lieutenant Hyuga, where are the reports for this morning?" came the voice of the Vice Commander.

"Oh, I filed them already, Kouzo." Called out Airi, tilting her head back and staring at him. The shredder fell silent as the two stared at each other. Eventually the gray-haired man spoke.

"I see." Silence fell again. Airi's eyes were still locked into his. "Lieutenant Ibuki, when is Captain Katsuragi due in?"

Shaken from her shock, the young woman spun back to her station, her fingers flying over the keypad. Within a few seconds, the data was on her screen. "Sir! Captain Katsuragi and Pilot Sohryu are due to land in two hours, Sir!"

"Very well. Carry on, Lieutenants." Said the Vice Commander, turning away from Airi, who was still staring a hole into his head. He vanished through the door at his level. Airi turned away from the now-empty position. All three techs were staring at her in an odd mix of fear, respect and jealousy.

"Well, now that the boring stuff is out of the way, I'll be off to tend to more pressing matters." Said the actress. Turning for the door, she paused long enough to look back at Maya Ibuki. "Oh, yes. Would you join me for lunch today, miss Ibuki? I want to ask your professional advice about a certain matter I'm working on. See you then?" she asked.

"S…sure." Managed Maya, still stunned by the woman's casual destruction of Commander Ikari's reports. The door closed behind the actress, leaving the room silent except for the hum of the electronics. Hyuga finally broke the silence.

"So, are you two going to go with me to greet Misato this morning?"

-

Hikari opened her eyes to see Rit-chan's bare breasts barely past the tip of her nose. The older girl was sleeping, her arms wrapped around Hikari's smaller form, which was snuggled up to her. Hikari's arm was wrapped comfortably around Rit-chan's waist. Pulling back a bit, Hikari felt a hard, sharp edge at her back. Turning a bit, she saw that Rit-chan had her USP in hand, finger off the trigger. Carefully, the brown-haired girl eased Rit-chan's arm off her, settling it by the girl's side. No wonder I slept so good. Thought Hikari, blushing a bit. But why is Rit-chan naked? I know we didn't drink last night, so why would she be sleeping naked? Hikari assured herself that she was in her normal silk pajamas. Looking closer at Rit-chan, she noted the skimpy panties. She must have been up earlier, and just gone back to bed later.

Rising, the inchou stepped to the bathroom. Tending to her needs, she yawned and glanced over to see the three one-piece swimsuits hanging by the shower wall. All day today will be on the water. Did I bring enough sunscreen? Hopefully; I really don't want to get a sun burn this early in the festivities. Rising from her pit stop, she slipped off her pajamas, moved her towel from it's rack to the hook by the huge shower, then climbed into the glass enclosure and opened the valves to the shower heads, causing a deluge of water to spew forth from the six showerheads. Within moments, the water was to her liking and she stepped under the spray pattern, sighing happily as she began to lather up her skin. Asuka must be bored. I'll have to call her before we leave this morning. Thought the girl, making a mental note to get her phone card out of her pack. Washing the body wash off her, she reached for the shampoo, deciding that starting with clean hair was preferable to limit the build-up of sea water residue. Hearing the door to the shower click open, she glanced over to see Aki step into the shower.

"Morning, Hi-chan." Said the tall girl, moving into the spray pattern next to her friend. "Sleep good?" she asked, stepping under the warm spray.

"Why ask?" asked Hikari guardedly. Is she going to snipe at me about where I was when I woke up? "Do I look like I had a rough night?"

"No, you look positively bright-eyed and bushy tailed." Grinned Aki.

"Not much of a bush yet." Muttered Hikari under her breath. God, my mind is in the gutter this morning. I guess dreaming of Shinji had some side effects. Not that she minded the thought, remembering how it had felt when he was with her that night before they left. And I WILL finish what I started! She vowed fervently.

"What was that?" interrupted Aki, breaking the shorter girl's hentai thought train. "Something about your bush?"

"You're hearing things, Aki." Said Hikari sweetly, sneaking a stealthy peek at Aki's neatly trimmed patch. Not like you're likely to be mistaken for a kid with that figure and development. "Is Rit-chan up?" she asked, switching tracks.

"I was up before you, Hi-chan." Came the voice of the girl in question. Entering her bathroom, she slipped off her panties and into her swimsuit before stepping to the sink and splashing water over her face. "What do you two want for breakfast?"

-

Asuka was staring out the window of the NERV transport, watching the land flash by below her. Misato sat opposite her, watching her second charge stare out the window.

"Yes, Misato?" asked the red-head without looking away from the window.

"What? Oh, nothing. Just thinking." Said Misato.

"Whatever." Dismissed Asuka, her tone distracted. Minutes slid by. "How long do you think the Prick will keep Baka locked up?" she asked quietly.

Misato sighed. She had been trying not to think about that. "I don't know, Asuka. He shouldn't be in there to start with, but…"

"So it depends on rather or not he does whatever the bastard wants him to do." Mused Asuka. I think I like this new Shinji better; the one with the beginnings of a backbone. Asuka thought, then smirked. But Commander Ikari doesn't seem too thrilled with the new Shinji. Hell, I'll encourage him to stick it out and not give that bastard the satisfaction of caving in for no other reason that to piss in the Bastard's pool! Her smirk turned into a demonic smile as thoughts of pure defiance filled her mind. Yeah, I like that idea! If Shinji can defy the Commander, it'll be almost as satisfying as kicking the Bastard King in the balls.

"So, have you decided how to thank him yet?" came Misato's voice. Asuka froze, her evil smile turning to a frown.

"I have some ideas, Misato. And you?" evaded the teen.

"The same as you, I suppose." Replied the older woman.

Asuka reviewed some of her options. I hope not, Misato. She thought to herself. Just then, her cell phone rang. Pulling the phone out of her bag, she saw the name on the screen. Pushing the button to connect the call, she answered the phone.

-

"Well, we'll see you when we get back, all right, Asuka?" said Hikari as the maid cleared the remains of the breakfast from the room. Hikari was standing at the glass door leading to the patio, Rit-chan's phone to her ear. "And don't worry; I'll bring you all back something nice as a souvenir, ok? Asuka! Don't say that! Fine, fine! Whatever you say, Second Child! Bye!" Hikari ended the call. Walking back to where Aki nursed a cup of coffee and Rit-chan was checking her small pack one more time, she handed the phone back to Rit-chan. "Thanks for letting me use your phone; it saved me the trouble of finding a phone that would take my phone card."

"It's nothing. Besides, I'm not footing the bill. Ready for a day on the water, girls?" asked Rit-chan, slipping the phone into her small shoulder pack.

"That reminds me!" exclaimed Hikari, dashing into the bedroom. "I need to get my stuff ready!"

"Relax, Hikari." Called Aki. "We have another half hour before we need to go to the lobby."

"Are you packed?" asked Rit-chan, zipping the pack shut.

"Packed and ready. Are you going to go diving with your gun again?" asked Aki, noticing that the USP was once more riding Rit-chan's hip, held in place and concealed by a light sun shirt tied around her waist.

"Of course." Answered Rit-chan with a smile. "I'd rather dive naked than go without my USP."

"I know better than to ask if you've ever dove naked before, so I'll skip to the next question: are you going to have to clean the gun again tonight?"

"Probably not. I got what I needed this morning while I was out." Answered Rit-chan, holding up a heavy-duty Ziploc bag. "Gun and back up magazines go in here, the air gets pressed out, and the whole thing gets Velcroed into the waist pocket of the BC. If nothing happens, when I get back tonight, the bag gets opened and my baby is dry and ready to rock. If not, well, cleaning my USP is second nature to me." Smiled the girl, lovingly caressing her gun through the thin cloth covering it.

"Anyone ever tell you you're a gun nut, Rit-chan?" asked Aki rhetorically. "I'd hate to run into you in some dark alley." Rit-chan just gave a little giggle of laughter.

"Yes, you would." She agreed.

-

"Good morning, Captain Katsuragi!" saluted Hyuga as his purple-haired boss and love-interest swiftly descended the stairs, Asuka right behind her. Maya also saluted as Misato gave them a might-have-been-a-return-salute gesture. Behind the two, Airi stood waiting silently. "How was…"

"Which cell is Shinji in?" Misato cut him off impatiently. It was blatantly obvious where her attention was. "And where is Ritsu, Maya?"

"He's in the maximum security wing, right next to Celsia." Interjected Airi. "I checked on him last night; he was having a nightmare, so Rei-chan spent the night with him. You headed there now?" asked the actress.

"What?!" snarled Asuka. "Wondergirl spent the night in his cell?! What the fuck for?! Any why did Lord Asswipe allow his precious doll to be locked up with Baka?!"

"Jealous, Asuka?" Misato harassed her.

"Why would I be jealous of Wondergirl spending a night in a cage?" replied the teen haughtily. Misato sent her a knowing smirk.

"Why indeed, Asuka? Yes, I'm headed there now. Did you…" she began, then trailed off, sending Airi a significant look.

"Commander Ikari made himself scarce since late yesterday afternoon. In fact, he seems to have disappeared minutes after giving the order to lock Shinji up. Vice Commander Fuyutsuki made an allowance for you, me, Asuka, Rei or Rit-chan to see him, though. Best I could do at the time." Answered Airi calmly. Misato gave a relieved sigh.

"Thanks. Maya, where is Ritsu at?" Misato asked again.

"She's in the lab, analyzing the data from the latest mission, ma'am." Replied Maya. Misato's eyes narrowed. Nodding, she strode off toward the elevators that would take her toward the security wing. Airi and Asuka followed her closely.

"Bitch." Spat Misato as the doors slid closed. Maya and Hyuga exhaled in relief.

"Better post a storm warning, Maya." Observed Hyuga as he and his fellow tech headed back to the bridge. "She seems a bit upset."

-

"Why did your son risk the loss of Unit 1, Ikari?" demanded the icon for Seele 4. "He jeopardized our scenario with his foolish act."

"Pilot Ikari is being dealt with. And as for endangering our scenario, there was never a doubt that Unit 1 would be unharmed."

"Oh, is that a fact, Ikari?" sneered another monolithic icon. "How is it that you seem to possess data which we do not?"

"Because I know the soul within Unit 1." Answered Ikari calmly. "Unit 1 will survive to fulfill it's destiny. On that, you have my word." The Commander's tone was cold.

"What concerns me more is the matter of that Unit's pilot, your son. He is beginning to act in a most unforeseen manner. Are you equally sure that you can maintain the leash on him that you claim to hold?" interrupted Seele 1.

"Pilot Ikari will do as he is told." Was all Gendo said.

"Careful, Ikari." Cautioned Seele 1. "Your pride is dangerous to us all. I would remind you that he was told not to jump into the volcano, and yet he did so without a second thought. Once more, I ask you if you can control your son." Under Gendo's folded hands, his lips curled in a silent snarl.

"Pilot Ikari's disobedience has been punished, and he will be made to understand what will happen if he disobeys again." Promised Ikari coldly.

"See that it is so." Ordered Seele 1 as he and the others faded away, leaving Gendo in his empty room. Slowly the commander of NERV got to his feet and moved to the door. As he stepped through it and into his study at his home outside of Tokyo 2, he indulged in a single act of irritation: he slammed the door to the secrete room behind him. You would do well to remember you own advice, Lorenz Kiel. He mentally warned. Sitting at his large desk, he reviewed the reports before him. Everything was going as planned, with the exception of Pilot Ikari. For some reason, his Vice Commander had allowed the Pilot some visitors. A swift check of his office tags revealed that Airi Komiyama had been by to see him. So, she managed to bend him to her will. I hadn't thought that I needed to tell him not to allow the Pilot any visitors, but I see I was mistaken. Well, nothing for it now, I suppose, but to see if it has had any adverse affects on him. I can always keep him in there until the next angel, if necessary. With his attention on the matter of breaking his son, he missed the small footnote that told him that Rei Ayanami, his very necessary tool, had spent the night with his son.

-

When the elevator chimed, the guard looked up from his desk just in time to see Misato - flanked by Airi and Asuka - march toward the door to the holding cells. The Section 2 goon stood up and started to move into their path. "What…" he began.

"You know damn well what we're doing here, G2." Snapped Misato. "Get out of my fucking way." She added, seeing that he was trying to get between her and the door that would lead her to her Shinji.

"You need to sign in, ma'am." Insisted the goon.

"Yeah, right." Snorted Misato. The guard blocked the door.

"I got orders, ma'am." He insisted. How dare she treat me like some lackey? He seethed silently. Operations Director or not, she better show me the proper respect or I'll teach her her place!

"If you don't get out of my way this instant, I will kill you where you stand." Said Misato, her tone almost casual. Her hand had settled on her USP, which was half-way out of her holster. Her eyes blazed with rage.

"Oh, come now, Misato-chan." Came a voice from behind the group. "There's no need to be so unfriendly. I'm sure we can solve this little communication problem peacefully." Misato's gun edged out a bit more.

"What are you doing here, Kaji?" she snarled. Behind her stood Kaji, his new best buddy in tow.

"Hey, Miss Airi!" called out Junpei excitedly. "When did you get back, Rit-chan?" he asked, slapping Asuka's but. Asuka gave a started gasp before spinning around, aiming a side kick at his nuts. Years of martial arts served him well as he instinctively blocked her kick. "What's you problem, Rit…hey, you're not Ritsuko." He frowned.

"Of course I'm not her, fucking moron!" yelled Asuka. "I'm Asuka Langley Sohryu, the Second Child! What do you think gives you the right to slap my ass like that!?!" she ranted angrily. "If you ever do that again, I'll tap dance on your head with my Eva Unit 2, got it smart ass?!"

"Hey, sorry kid." Said Junpei calmly. "I thought you were someone else."

"No shit." She snarled, turning her attention to Kaji.

"Kaji, what are you doing here?" she asked sweetly. Not for the first time, Kaji wondered if his former ward was schizophrenic or just nuts.

"Oh, I just heard that you and Misa-chan had returned and had to come greet you myself, Asuka." He replied in a warm tone. Misato grimaced.

"Aren't we the lucky ones." She groused. "Either get this ape out of my way or you'll have to hind the body, playboy." She demanded. Kaji sighed tragically.

"Is that all you have to say to your devoted lover, my dear?" he asked.

"Your devotion's as short as your instrument, Kaji." Smirked Misato. Airi mentally shrugged; it looked like a nasty fight was brewing between the two ex-lovers.

"Junpei, dear." She said sweetly. "Could you do me a tiny little favor?"

"Of course!" he agreed instantly, his eyes glazed with thoughtless worship. I wonder if I told him to cut his dick off if he'd do it? Wondered Airi to herself. I might try that sometime; just to see if he's that stupid. Hmm. Better wait for Rit-chan and Celsia before I do that - Rit-chan would kill me if she wasn't there to see the results.

"Would you move this guy out of the doorway?" she asked, using her puppy-dog eyes.

"Of course!" he replied with a maniacal grin. Before the goon could react, Junpei had slugged him in the jaw, grabbed the hapless guard's jacket lapels and tossed him head first into his workstation. "There you go, Miss Airi!" he exclaimed happily.

"Thank you, Junpei." She smiled as Misato moved through the door. Asuka was giggling as she followed her guardian and commanding officer. Airi followed them, sparing a smile for the downed guard. Kaji shook his head.

"You have to stop solving your problems with violence, Misa-chan." He admonished. Seeing the goon moving feebly, he paused long enough to chop the guard in the neck, putting him back to sleep. Moving to catch up to the group, he shrugged to himself. "So I'm a hypocrite." He muttered.