Part 23: Probe

Of all the things the teacher could have done, this is the worst. Thought Shinji glumly as he paused at a pay phone. Sighing, he glanced at his watch, noting that he had a few minutes before the girls arrived from their short meeting with the faculty. Best get this over with. He thought, checking his cell phone for the number to his father's office. Not seeing it, he selected the main switchboard in NERV HQ and, when the operator answered, identified himself and asked to be connected to the commander. After a few moments, Shinji heard his fathers flat, uninterested tone. After stammering out that the teacher had told him to contact his parent about attending a meeting with the guidance councilor about vocational training, he was cut off curtly by the Commander, telling him that he had assigned all such tasks to Captain Katsuragi and he wasn't to be bothered about such matters again. As the Commander of NERV once more tossed his son to the side, the phone began to break up into static and then went dead.

Hanging up, Shinji felt his shoulders slump. I knew it! He thought angrily. He doesn't care about me at all! Shinji felt himself growing angry. If he wants Mi-chan to take care of these things, then so be it! At least I'm good enough for Mi-chan. Once more, the anger died down, leaving him feeling empty. His descent into depression was cut short by a hand on his shoulder. "Are you feeling well, Shinji?" came a soft, quiet voice. Glancing at the owner of the voice, he found a pair of red eyes carefully assessing him. Depression didn't stand a chance against the presence of his own personal Angel, Rei Ayanami. Shinji broke out into a smile.

"Yeah." He said, touching her hand. "I am now." Rei gave him a smile in return.

"What were you doing on the phone, Baka?" came Asuka's curious voice. "It's not like you don't have a cell phone, you know. Why use a pay phone?"

-

Nightfall found the three pilots sitting on a grassy hilltop, overlooking the still-darkened city, having killed the Angel, which Asuka had dubbed `Long Legs', and gotten their nearly-drained Evas up to street level before their emergency batteries ran out. When the power hit zero, their plugs had been automatically rocketed out of the Evas, parachuting down in the hills near Tokyo 3. Shinji had noticed that they were about half-way between home and the school in terms of where they landed on the perimeter of Tokyo 3. With the entry plugs automatically sending out a homing beacon, the three pilots had exited their plugs and linked up, just as they had been trained to do; not that anything or anyone would have been able to keep the First Child from the side of the Third Child, or the Second Child from being there to keep an eye on her insidious rival. Both Asuka and Rei had taken the pistol from the emergency kit in each plug, tucking the NERV-issue Glock 19s into the included kydex holsters and affixing them to their entry plug suits with the special two-sided tape on the back of the holsters. Shinji had noticed this when Rei approached him, and had jogged back to his plug to retrieve his gun. While he was attaching the pistol, Asuka had appeared and dictated that they should take a break on the grassy knoll.

During their wait for Misato or someone from NERV to come retrieve them, they had discovered that Rei was a philosopher, Shinji was a baka, and Asuka was kind of nice when she was basking in the afterglow of a mission well-done. The stars were indeed beautiful, and the cooler air that steadily came over the hill felt good, and the three Pilots found themselves laying back, side-to-side, hands clasped as they awaited retrieval. Indeed, that was just how Misato found them when she arrived perhaps an hour later, along with the techs that would be recovering the entry plugs. For the first time in a long time, the Captain felt honest-to-god hope for their victory when she saw how her pilots were laying. Choosing not to bring their actions to their attention, she simply smiled at them. "Come on. Let's get you back to NERV so you can shower and clean up. After that, we're going home." She said simply.

-

At the Zoo, Rit-chan and Airi had been on the balcony, waiting for Misato and her charges to get home when they noticed the plane announcing over a bullhorn that an Angel was inbound. As the sun set, they realized that the city below them was dark. Attempts to contact any of their friends by cell phone had failed. As evening was falling, they had gotten their first good look at an Angel as the spider-like monster had made its way into the city, stopping in the center. Silently Rit-chan and Airi had wondered if they were witnessing their own deaths. Abruptly, the angel had been lit up by heavy-caliber auto cannon shells, a full twenty seconds of concentrated fire poured through the angel, which had just collapsed after the shells stopped flying. A few moments later, the angel's carcass was shoved aside and one by one the Evas climbed into view. Rit-chan released a breath she hadn't know she was holding. "Whew!" she exclaimed. "They spider-holed it, it seems."

"Yes. And it doesn't appear that they were injured, either. I guess…" began the actress.

"What's that?!" exclaimed Rit-chan, pointing to the three bright flares that had erupted from the Eva units.

"Rockets?" wondered Airi.

"Can't be missiles; too large and not fast enough." Muttered Rit-chan. Intently, she watched the three units arch, then deploy parachutes, sinking toward the ground. "Of course! They're the entry plugs, Airi!" she suddenly understood.

"Why eject? The Angel seems to be dead, so why eject?" replied Airi.

"I don't know. We'll ask them when they get back." Shrugged Rit-chan.

"Should we go look for them?" wondered Airi. "It seems that NERV is having technical problems right now, and I don't know if their retrieval teams will be able to get to them quick enough." Rit-chan sent her a curious look.

"Do you think that they might need us? Is that it?" wondered the teen.

"Well, someone attempted to gun them down in the streets like common gang-bangers, so maybe they do." Noted Airi.

"You could be right, but we don't know if there is any access to their locations, or even if the plugs are safe to approach. For all we know, the plugs are rigged to stay sealed until NERV personnel access them. Seems a likely bet for that bastard to rig it to kill the pilots rather than let them be captured, what with the way he operates and the stakes involved." Rit-chan paused, remembering something she had been meaning to talk to Airi about when she was sure they wouldn't be overheard. "Hey, Airi." She said softy.

Sensing the change in topics, Airi looked over to her younger companion. "Yes?" she said.

"You think that NERV's ability to monitor this apartment is also off-line right now?"

"Probably. Why?" replied the actress.

Rit-chan turned to look Airi in the eyes. "Did you have your period yet?" she said, cutting through the chitchat. Airi frowned.

"No. Come to think of it, I haven't. You?"

Ritsuko shook her head. "No. We had our periods three weeks before the attempt that landed us here, and it's been a month since we arrived. Even if we missed one because of the jump, we should still have had a period within the last week."

"You're thinking that doctor Akagi or the bastard might have done more to us than take samples, right?" deducted the actress. Rit-chan nodded.

"Much as I hate the very idea, it seems the most logical." The schoolgirl paused. "There is the possibility that the jump altered us so that we won't have periods while we're here, or changed our hormonal balance so that we'll miss a few, but the most likely answer is the most obvious."

"We can't afford to overlook this potential issue." Said Airi, her eyes cold. "Do you have any ideas? I assume you gave this some thought?"

Once more, Rit-chan nodded. "While I was on the school trip, it occurred to me. As I see it, we have two choices for the first part, and three for the second, if necessary."

"Go on." Encouraged Airi. Rit-chan was smart, and practical, so Airi wanted to hear her thoughts on the matter.

"First, we need to find out if we're pregnant or not. We can do it one of two ways. First, we need to get a non-NERV doctor to check us or take our chances with a simpler home test. If necessary, we can then get it aborted, have the child, or see if Celsia can get us back to her world, where magic can hopefully offer another solution. Thoughts?"

"Finding a non-NERV doctor will be all but impossible. We need to get the home tests as soon as possible. We'll worry about the second part when we cross that bridge." Said Airi. "And of course, Junpei will not be included in this matter."

"Of course." Shivered Rit-chan. Airi stepped over to her and hugged the girl.

"You ok, Rit-chan?" asked the actress.

"I guess. But I have to say that I'm scared that the fucker used us like lab rats. I'm…not ready to be a mother." Said Rit-chan quietly. "And the thought of having some stranger's kid in my womb is enough to make me nauseas." Airi felt the girl shiver again, and tightened her hug.

"I'm not happy at the thought, either, but we still don't know if that's what happened or not. As for the potential father, well, there could be good news there." Offered the actress. Rit-chan looked at Airi, her eyes curious.

"How so?"

"Well, let's do a little extrapolative reasoning from what Mi-chan told me. They take samples from the Pilots, Mi-chan and, presumably, the Commander and Vice Commander. Mi-chan, Asuka and Rei are girls, so unless they did some strange gene-merging operation, that leaves Shin-chan, the bastard and the geezer." Rit-chan snickers at her descriptions of the two highest-ranked NERV officers. "Now, since we know that neither the bastard or the geezer are capable of piloting an Eva, that places priority on Shin-chan's samples, wouldn't you say?"

"I guess. Cold comfort, but if we're being used, then I suppose I'd rather have Shinji's kid than anyone else's here." Agreed Rit-chan. "But there is one hole in your reasoning." She continued.

"Oh?"

"Shinji is the bastard's son. That fucking asshole might figure that his sperm would yield him two more children that could pilot an Eva." Pointed out Rit-chan, feeling her stomach lurch at the thought.

"True. But let's try to stay positive, shall we?" rejoined Airi.

"Yeah. We still might be ok." Nodded Rit-chan. The two were silent for a long while, just watching the city below them and saying nothing. As the lights came back on, Rit-chan had a thought for Airi. "You know, Airi, if they wanted us have Shinji's kids, the least the bastard could have done is let us make them the old-fashioned way. At least then, we'd have gotten some enjoyment out of it." Both women shared a laugh at that.

"How do you know that we'd have enjoyed it?" teased Airi. Rit-chan gave her a leering smile.

"I have it on the best authority that he is an e-ticket ride in the sack." Smirked the girl.

"Oooh! Gossip!" enthused Airi. "Gimme!" she ordered.

"Give you what?" asked Rit-chan innocently, smiling at her friend.

"Details, damn it!" laughed Airi. "Who, what, when, why, where and how." Giggling, Rit-chan gave Airi the thumbnail of her knowledge of what was going on with the pilots. By the time that Misato and her charges arrived, the two were in great spirits, though Shinji kept wondering why they were giving him such…intense looks.

-

"So, did you learn what you wanted to know?" asked the man of his superior. The two were once more in the office of the Minister of the Interior, this time without the peanut gallery. Sitting at his desk, the man nodded.

"Yes. It was most informative." He said.

"Good, because it will cost us nearly all of our agents. Already, three have been killed, and the rest that were activated will most likely be dead within twenty four hours." Replied the man in front of the desk.

"That's not our problem. I have been assured that we will have access to the very highest level of NERV policy making though the next several months." Said the minister.

"Assured? By who?" demanded the man in front of the desk.

"That's privileged information." Snapped the minister. "For now, let's just say that we're not the only ones curious about NERV."

-

That elevator scene could have played out more smoothly. Thought Kaji to himself. Still, there is an iron-clad alibi for my whereabouts and activities during this whole thing. And getting to grope Misa-chan is always fun. The spy remembered her angry departure from the car, all but shoving Ritsu and Maya out of her way. The doctor had been smirking at him, and Maya had been simply watching him with a small frown on her face. Picking himself up, he had smiled at Ritsu, asking if she had gotten the power back up. The fake blonde doctor had simply shook her head, telling him that it wasn't her problem, and maintenance was handling it. Kaji knew that it was Section 2 doing the `handling' of the issue. Riding the elevator with Ritsu and Maya, he had made small talk and some suggestive remarks, but both women had been busy, so he had shuffled off to his apartment, to find Junpei doing some stretching exercises. With the power back on, the large fighter had settled back in front of the television, Kaji joining him, accepting the beer from Junpei as he sat on the couch.

-

The next morning, Asuka didn't show up in Shinji's bed. Frowning a bit, Shinji cautiously made his way out into the apartment and toward her room. Pausing, he asked himself one more time if this was a good move or not. Knowing that she was short-tempered in the mornings, he really didn't want to anger her by interrupting whatever it was she did in the mornings, but she hadn't come to his bed that morning, and he was worried that she might not be feeling well. If she gets mad and hits me, well, it won't be the first time. He decided resolutely, softly knocking on the door.

"Yes?" came a voice from inside. Sounds like Rit-chan. Thought the boy.

"Um, is Asuka feeling ok?" he asked. A moment later, Rit-chan slid the door open, smiling at the boy in her panties and bra, her school uniform in one hand, and her shirt in the other. "Sorry!" gasped Shinji, turning away from the scantily-clad older redhead. Rit-chan giggled.

"Don't be." She said, grabbing his shoulder and pulling him into the room. "Asuka's in the bathroom, getting ready. Something I can help you with?" she said tossing her shirt and school uniform to the bed before standing in front of him. She was a bit taller than him, but not by much.

If I say what I'm thinking, she'll kill me! He thought. Still, she's H-O-T in that outfit! "I was just wondering if Asuka is feeling ok. I'll go…make breakfast." He said, forcing his eyes to stay on her smiling face and off her breasts. The elf-hunting girl giggled a bit before pulling him into a hug.

"Asuka-chan might not be going to school today, Shin-chan." Whispered the girl, holding the Third Child to herself. Against her belly, she felt his dick twitch in his shorts.

"W…why not?" he managed, trying to keep his dick under control when all it wanted to do was spring erect and dive into the girl in his arms. IN my arms? When did I…damn. The male pilot realized that he had wrapped his arms around Rit-chan instinctively.

"It's her period, and she seems to be having a rough one." Whispered Rit-chan. Leaning over so her lips were next to his ear, she whispered "I'm really looking forward to our date this weekend, Shin." No sooner had she finished speaking than her lips touched his in a brief, but passionate kiss. Releasing him, she stepped back and reached for her school shirt. "Now if you don't mind, I need to get dressed." She said, winking at him.

"I'll get breakfast ready." The boy said. Rit-chan noted the semi-erect state of his penis as he turned to leave. If Asuka has started, then that means that Misato will be too. I better get her some medicine when I take her her morning beer. And I need to make sure that breakfast has some more substantial food than normal, as well. Uh oh. I think that Misato forgot to get more tampons last month. Shinji felt himself blush a bit at that thought. If she did, then that means… he didn't get to finish that thought as the bathroom door slammed open and Asuka exited, one hand pressed to her lower belly. Her icy eyes fell to Shinji.

"G…good morning, Asuka." He managed.

"Morning." She growled. "When's breakfast?"

"I'm going to make it right now." He said, seeing her wince a bit, her hand pressing harder on her belly. "Can I…do anything to help, Asuka-chan?" he asked, feeling sympathy for the German girl, who was obviously in pain.

"No, there's…" she trailed off, her face contorting into a gleefully wicked smile. "Yes," she said, smiling at him. "Yes, there is something you can do, Shinji." She said sweetly.

This will hurt; I just know it will. Thought the boy.

-

"Shinji!" bellowed Touji, seeing the pilot enter the school gate with Rei and Rit-chan at his sides. Hikari waved to them from the window of their second-story classroom as Touji and Kensuke ran up to him. "What? No Red Devil today?" wondered the athlete.

"There is a god!" rejoiced Kensuke. "Did she get stepped on by Unit 0? Or caught in an N2 explosion?" he asked eagerly. Shinji stared at his two friends coldly.

"I told you not to call her that." He said flatly. The two boys blinked. "In answer to your question, she has other things to attend to this morning."

"Hey, if Unit 0 stepped on her, we won't tell anyone!" whispered Kensuke, "We're on your side, Shinji!"

"Why do you believe that I am so clumsy with my unit as to step on a fellow pilot?" came Rei's dead voice.

"Uh…we don't think that! It's just that there was that Angel last night, and mistakes do happen, right?" came Kensuke's thin answer.

"Crushing Asuka with my unit would not be a mistake, Aida." Replied Rei, her tone as lifeless as ever.

"Exactly!" smiled Touji, nodding at Rei and winking.

"That was the bell, guys." Interrupted Rit-chan, seeing that Rei was going to have a reply for that as well. The five hurried inside, bracing for another day of tedious lectures about pre-Second Impact life from a teacher old enough to remember First Impact.

-

"Arcade time!" sang Touji as the final bell rung. "Come on, let's book, Shinji!" he said.

"Sorry, but I can't today. I've got to take care of something for Misato." Said the boy, picking up his bag as Rit-chan did the same. Rei appeared beside him like magic.

"For Misato?" said both boys in unison. "Tell you what, Shinji." Said Touji magnanimously, "we'll help you; since it's Misato and all!"

"That's ok, I got it." Said Shinji, thinking of what he had to do. "You don't need to cut into your arcade time on my account."

"No, no! Anything for Misato is fine with us!" Kensuke brushed Shinji's words aside. "Hey! I know! Touji! We can give her that gift we got her last month!"

"Hey! That's right! We didn't give that to her yet, did we?" grinned Touji, his eyes glazed.

"It's not lingerie again is it?" asked Shinji, his tone resigned.

"It's better than that." Giggled Kensuke, almost vibrating with excitement.

"I was afraid of that." Muttered Shinji. What the hell passes for brains in these two's heads?!

-

Shinji stopped off at a drug store, entering with his group. Kensuke and Touji had been animatedly talking about the `gift' they had to give to Misato, and Shinji had a feeling that he should try to warn them, but then, why bother? "What are we to get here, Shinji?" came Rei's quiet voice from his right elbow, where the red-eyed girl walked, so close to him that her arm maintained constant contact with his arm.

"These." He said quietly, showing her a bit of cardboard he had surreptitiously pulled from his bag. Rei glanced at it.

"I see." She said simply, showing no further interest in the trip. Rit-chan caught a glance of a familiar box top logo. She smiled.

"Hey, Shinji." She said innocently, loudly enough to draw the attention of the two stooges with them.

"Yes, Rit-chan?" he said, looking away from Rei.

"I'm thirsty. Buy me and Rei-chan a soda while Touji and Kensuke get Misato's item?" she smiled at him. Shinji blinked, then understood.

"Well, she asked me to get it, so…" he began, only to be interrupted by Kensuke.

"We'll get it! We'll get it!" he yelled eagerly, like a kid wanting to get ice cream.

You have no idea how much you'll `get it', believe me. Thought Shinji, pretending to think it over. "Well, I guess you can handle it. But be sure you get the right kind, or Misato will be upset." He said, handing the taller boy the box-top, face down.

"No problem! We're on it!" said the boy as Rit-chan all but dragged Shinji and Rei to the cold drinks.

"What are you planning, Rit-chan?" asked Rei softly.

"Hold that thought, Rei-chan." Said the teen, who swiftly dashed to the cashier and whispered to the older woman briefly before nodding her thanks and returning to the group. "Come on, let's grab our drinks and get outside, fast." She chuckled.

"Sure. Why not?" smiled Shinji, grabbing a drink for himself. Rei selected a soda as well, and the three headed for the cashier. Shinji began to pull out his NERV card, but Rit-chan shook her head, tossing a bill to the counter and waving to the woman, who smiled back. Just outside the door, the three stood, sipping their drinks.

"This should teach them not to volunteer." Gloated Rit-chan. Rei sipped her soda, waiting to see what her new friend had done to the two hapless boys. From inside the store, the woman yelled for a price check on tampons for the two nice young men.

"Is that Satusomi and Tsunoki?" came Rei's quiet voice, pointing across the street.

"Tomo and Shiori?" asked Rit-chan intently. "Hey! Tomo! Shiori! Over here!" she called, waving. From inside the store, the woman at the checkout yelled out for her stock boy to check if the tampons were on sale or not. Tomo and Shiori stepped over to join them.

"Hey, what are you doing here, Ritsuko?" asked Tomo.

"We were heading home, and Suzahara and Aida had to stop to get something here. They said it was a gift for some girl. Mean anything to you two?" asked Rit-chan innocently. Just then, the two boy, red as Asuka's Eva exited the store, a bag held at arms length as if it were a bottle of nitroglycerin. Following them was the voice of the woman at the counter, telling them that the two-for-one sale on that brand of tampons went through the end of the week.

"Hey, guys, what did you buy?" asked Rit-chan innocently. "Looks like tampons. What do you need them for?"

"Bu…we…it's not…!" sputtered the two.

"Here!" cried Touji, shoving the bag into Shinji's hands. "We gotta go!" he said, turning away from the group.

"Go where?" asked Rei, sipping her soda.

"A…arcade!" managed Kensuke.

"The arcade? Cool! We'll come with you!" said Shiori, grabbing the two boys' arms. Tomo swiftly collected Touji and the four started for the arcade, the two girls waving to Shinji and his group. As the walked away, Tomo's voice floated back to them.

"So, what did you buy tampons for anyway, Touji-chan?"

-

Shinji had silently placed the two boxes of tampons in the drawer of the vanity in the bathroom, discarding the empty box before heading for the kitchen to prepare dinner. Rei sat silently watching him work, while Rit-chan ducked into Misato's room to talk to Airi for a moment. Finished, she came back out and sat at the table next to Rei. "Where's Asuka and Misato?" she asked Shinji.

"I don't know. Maybe NERV?" he offered.

"The light is blinking on the answering machine." Noted Rei in her normal, soft voice. "Perhaps your answer is there."

"Probably. Thanks, Rei-chan." Smiled Shinji, stepping over to the machine and pressing the button. Immediately, Misato's voice issued forth, telling him that she had taken Asuka to HQ for a checkup, but that they should be back by dinner. Shinji frowned as he erased the message. "Asuka went to get looked at?" he thought out loud. "Something's wrong; she hates to let Doctor Akagi examine her." Shinji started for the door.

"Shinji." Came Rei's voice. The male pilot stopped, turning to look at his lover. Rei was still seated at the table, though Rit-chan was halfway to standing. "There is nothing wrong with Asuka. This is a precautionary measure initiated by Commander Ikari and Doctor Akagi to insure that the female pilots can satisfactorily perform their duties. This will be a recurring issue for the duration of the war. Please, do not be concerned."

"So, each month, she'll have to go in for an additional physical?" Shinji confirmed.

"Yes. It is mostly a simple check to make sure that she has not developed or sustained any incapacitating injuries or…complications." Said Rei, glancing at Rit-chan as she finished her sentence.

"Like pregnancy?" muttered Rit-chan, her suspicions still in place.

"Pregnancy can not currently occur in Asuka due to LCL saturation of her cellular structure." Stated Rei as confidently as if she were announcing the sun would be rising in the east.

"So, you can't get pregnant either, Rei-chan?" came Airi's voice from behind them.

"In my case, it is not caused by LCL saturation." Said Rei.

"Then why?" asked Airi.

"That is classified." Said Rei softly, her eyes on Shinji. I need to tell him. She thought to herself.

"So, if LCL saturation causes sterility, then that means that Shinji…" began Rit-chan.

"Is not currently capable of impregnating a woman." Finished Rei.

"How long does LCL saturation take?" asked Airi, thinking that it might be an easier way to deal with the potential problem Ritsuko had brought to light.

"It varies by subject, but averages a few weeks of sustained, prolonged exposure to LCL." Replied Rei. Shinji had moved back to the kitchen and returned to work on the meal.

"So, I'm…?" he began.

"Yes. You reached saturation two months ago." Said Rei, watching him closely for a reaction. She saw signs of disappointment, but it was far outweighed by relief.

"How do you know that?" asked Airi, sitting by Rit-chan.

"It is in his medical files." Replied Rei simply.

"You can access his medical file?" asked Rit-chan, surprised. Rei said nothing. Sensing that the strange First Child was done talking about that subject, Rit-chan moved on to other topics.

-

"So? What's the verdict?" asked Misato of her old friend and college roomie, Ritsuko Akagi. The bleach blonde woman was making notes on her clipboard, which was more of a MAGI power-tablet, and didn't immediately answer. "Ritsu?" prompted Misato a few moments later.

"Oh, she's healthy as a horse. Synch ratios aren't affected by periods, you know." Replied Akagi, not even looking up from her notes. Misato's eyes narrowed a bit. If that's the case, then why have these damned tests when she's on her period? Thought the Captain. "To insure that her synch ratio continues to be unaffected." Said the doctor.

"Huh?" blinked Misato.

"You were wondering why the tests if synch ratios weren't affected, right?" smirked Ritsuko, seeing her friend's face.

"I never said that." Shot back Misato.

"No, but you thought it, Misato." Agreed Akagi. The head of Project E decided to needle her former roomie a bit. "You're not that hard to read, you know. Why do you think you kept loosing to me at poker?"

"Bite me." Said Misato. "Any idea about her cramps?"

"Admittedly, they're fairly severe this month, but not dangerously so. I'll send some medicine with you to lessen the pain if it gets any worse, though it should clear up within a day." Replied Akagi. Pressing a few icons, she closed Asuka's medical files, and brought up Misato's. "Speaking of that," she said, looking at her colleague, "You're due for your check-up as well."

"Ah-ha. Well, I've got a foot-high stack of reports on my desk, so we'll have to catch this later." Began Misato, heading for the door.

"Missing a required physical results in docked pay." Reminded Ritsuko over her shoulder. Misato stopped, her shoulders slumping.

"Damn it, that's dirty pool, Ritsu!" she protested, turning back to the waiting doctor, irritably pulling off her jacket before reaching for the zipper on her tight, short dress. "Make it fast; Shinji will be getting dinner ready about now." She said, sitting down on the examination table as Ritsuko adjusted her gloves.

-

The group at the apartment waited as long as they could for Misato and Asuka, but then gave up and ate. As they were finishing up their desserts, the door opened and Misato entered, followed by Asuka, who was definitely in a foul mood. Seeing Rei at the table didn't help her much, but the smell of the food did make her civil. Misato handed her a small pill when Shinji handed her a glass of soda. Glancing at Misato, she downed the pill and fell to eating, as did Misato. Rit-chan and Airi stretched, then announced that they would be going for a short walk to get their energy back. Shinji wished them a pleasant walk, and Rit-chan had patted her hip, winking at him. The boy knew she was packing her USP, and it made him feel a lot better. Ever since the drive-by, he had been a bit paranoid.

After she finished eating, Asuka announced that she was going to take a long, hot bath and departed. Misato picked at her food a bit, her mind obviously busy with some matter. Shinji collected the plates and dishes, and with Rei's assistance, washed and dried them. The two teens then retreated to the living room, flipping on the TV, but not really watching anything, just sitting on the couch, their hands touching. Misato finally rose, glancing at the two on the couch before heading for her room. It was maybe a half hour later when Airi and Rit-chan returned from their walk, a small bag in Rit-chan's hand. "What did you get?" asked Shinji, seeing the teen headed for the kitchen.

"A little lifesaver." Laughed Rit-chan, putting the bag in the freezer before joining them on the couch. Airi came over as well, Shinji giving her his seat on the couch, opting for sitting with his back against Rei's legs. Rei was content enough with that level of contact. "So, what's on?" asked the younger elf hunter.

-

In the small church at the outskirts of Tokyo 3, a small group of men and women met in the basement. The local Father intently studied them. "You were sent here from the Vatican?" he asked.

"Yes. The Holy himself dispatched us to assist with the Crusade against the infidels." Answered the leader of the small group.

"I see. You are paladins?" asked the Father.

"We are the knights of knights, sworn to the service of God and Church." Affirmed the group as one.

"Excellent. Here is where we stand in the crusade." Said the Father, beginning to outline his current strategy and position. The meeting ran late into the night.

-

The next morning, Asuka was once more in Shinji's bed, though she kept her shorts on. Shinji sensed that she was still feeling the effects of her period, so he opted for some cuddling and massaging her shoulders and calves, which oddly enough made her feel better. After an hour in his bed, she rose to get ready for school, and Shinji went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast and their lunches. He had gotten some deli meats earlier that week and opted for heavily-layered cold cut sandwiches for their lunches, doubling the amount of meat on Asuka's sandwich. Hearing Rit-chan clear the bathroom, he finished tucking the lunches away and grabbed a beer for Misato on his way to get ready for school.

Within the hour, the three were gone, and Airi was sipping coffee at the kitchen table, reading the paper as she lingered over breakfast. She had a pad of paper and a pen, and was jotting down different ideas and approaches to her quest for information as she thought of them. She took the time to write them in English, and in no particular order, as she would remember the right sequence when she needed to review the notes. Misato spoke and read English, as well as German and Japanese, but for the moment, the older adult was still only about a quarter of the way to awake. Finished with the notes, she tucked them into her pocket and gave her full attention to the newspaper.

Since her talk with Kaji, she had learned how to truly read the papers, and she found that once you knew what to look for, the truth of the matter was fairly evident for anyone who actively thought about what they were reading. A steady pattern of lies, half-truths and misdirection was NERV's daily diet to the world. And more and more, she was seeing that it wasn't just Gendo doing the twisting; no, it was whoever was behind Gendo's meteoric rise to his current position. Still, she had the feeling that Gendo was playing his own game, ignoring the wishes of the powers that had placed him where he was. And Airi always trusted her hunches and intuition. It all leads back to Yui Ikari. She thought to herself. A woman who, overnight, it seems, became a ghost! And with no less than three groups seeking to erase her past, it's a wonder even the scraps I found are left. Her musing was interrupted by Misato's appearance.

-

"This is your recommendation?" asked Gendo of his Sub-Commander, tapping one finger on the file.

"Yes, it is." Said the old man. "She has come up for it before, but this time, I think her accomplishments warrant it."

"Indeed? And just what has she accomplished?" retorted Gendo.

"Seven Angels are destroyed, and she has been in command of each engagement thus far."

"And yet, there are seven more to go, Fuyutsuki." Countered Gendo. "And her ever-growing attachment to the Third Child is cause for concern."

"As is her increasing bond with the Second Child." Noted Fuyutsuki.

"The Second is of no importance. Only Rei and the Third matter." Said Gendo decisively. "Approved." He said, handing the folder to his subordinate. "Inform her when she arrives."

And that, was that.

-

Asuka, Shinji and Rit-chan had extra baggage in the form of Kensuke and Touji when they dashed into the lobby of the apartment complex that housed the Zoo. Just as the group had been heading out of the school, a thunderstorm had blown up, drenching everyone. Hikari had had to stay for an inchou-faculty meeting, and Rei had been called to the Geofront, so the three had decided to head for home. Kensuke and Touji had invited themselves in the hopes of seeing Misato.

Now, drenched, they followed Shinji into the Zoo, Asuka having gone to the bathroom to change, threatening them with death if they peeked, and Rit-chan had gone to their shared bedroom to change. Shinji thoughtfully got his two friends towels to dry off. Not seeing Misato, they gleefully told Shinji not to wake her. Just then, the door to her room opened, revealing Misato in her work clothes, apparently heading out for work. As the woman passed them, she reminded them of their impending synch test later that night. Kensuke surprised them all by stammering a congratulations on her promotion.

"Promotion?" came Asuka's surprised voice, her head poking out of the bathroom.

"Misato?" asked Shinji, just as puzzled. "Are you sure?" he asked.

"Am I sure? Who are you talking to, Shinji?" demanded Kensuke, his tone indignant. "She has two bars on her collar tabs! That means she's a Major now!" Asuka and Shinji exchanged looks.

"Did you know?" they asked each other in perfect synch. Damn training! they thought, also in perfect synch. Asuka shook her head.

"She sure didn't make a big deal out of it." Said the German girl.

"Big deal out of what?" came Rit-chan's voice. She was in cut-off shorts and a close-fitting white tee-shirt, the sleeves rolled up to her shoulders. In her hand, she carried her USP and a cleaning kit. Seeing Kensuke's glazed look, and the bit of drool at the corner of Touji's mouth, the older teen frowned. "Don't." she said simply, sitting on the couch and beginning to break her gun down for cleaning and maintenance.

"Don't what?" asked Touji.

"Don't do whatever you're thinking of doing or saying, or I'll toss you two off the balcony." Said the older girl.

"Hentai freaks!" roared Asuka, her face darkening with anger.

"Let's not fight, guys, Ok? I'm not up for it right now." Pleaded Shinji.

"Saved by the Baka, stooges." Muttered Asuka, ducking back into the bathroom. Rit-chan smothered a giggle.

"So, like I was saying, we need to have a party to celebrate her promotion!" Kensuke exclaimed fervently, his eyes alight with anticipation.

"If it's like the last party you threw, I think I'll pass." Said Touji.

"Hey, this is for Major Katsuragi! I'll make it perfect!" said Kensuke.

"Is it too late to tell you `no thanks'?" asked Shinji. He was totally ignored.

-

The next evening was the celebration party. By seven o'clock, the Zoo was at near capacity. The full list of inhabitants were supplemented by Hikari, Touji and Kensuke, with three more supposedly coming. Gathered around an electric grill, the group was working on dinner, with Misato the guest of honor, sporting a cheesy banner over her chest, proclaiming her to be Major Katsuragi. That little touch had given Asuka endless amounts of ammunition for snide, pithy, mean and brutal verbal jabs, snipes, artillery barrages and hit-and-run attacks on both Misato and Kensuke.

Misato was a full ten beers toward drunk, and was feeling pretty good. Airi and Rit-chan were enjoying the noisy verbal war, occasionally tossing in odd bits of leverage for both sides. Hikari was acting as Asuka's second, guarding her friend from sneak attack on her blind sides. Touji and Kensuke were actively probing for weaknesses in the girl's defenses, and had found a few. Each hit resulted in a very loud eruption of screamed exchanges until the gap was sealed or the defenders fell back to a fresh line of defensive position. Misato noted that Shinji, seated beside her, was quiet and seemed to be thinking of something else.

"Hey, Shinji." Said the woman quietly, to avoid drawing the attention of the fighting factions or the spectators. "Are you all right? Is it still hard for you to be in these kind of situations?" asked the woman, putting her hand on his leg. Shinji turned to look at her, giving his guardian a weak smile.

"Sort of, I guess. It's just they're so loud." He said quietly. Misato squeezed his leg, smiling at him.

"Do you want to step out onto the balcony with me for a bit?" she asked. Before he could answer, the war was forced to cease-fire by the doorbell.

"Kaji?!" hoped Asuka.

Please let that be Rei-chan. Thought Shinji, missing the comforting presence of the First Child. Not that he was unhappy with Misato, Asuka, Rit-chan, Hikari and Airi, but there had always been a deep bond between him and Rei, and it had gotten deeper since they had become lovers. Just as the bond between him and Asuka had strengthened when they had become lovers as well.

The door opened to reveal Asuka's hoped-for guest, but she was frowning because he was with a woman already. "Doctor Akagi." Said Asuka tightly.

"Asuka. Everyone." Said the doctor. She handed Misato a paper bag. "Here's a little something from your college days, Misato." Smiled the doctor.

"Why Ritsu," began Kaji. "What a way to describe me!" he pandered.

"The term `little something' from my `college days' is a perfect description for you." Shot back Misato, her tone hostile. "You're late."

"Sorry. I had a hard time getting off of work." Smiled the spy.

"Hard to believe since you never do anything." Muttered Misato. Ritsuko Akagi and Kaji entered the fray. A few moments passed before Shinji found his opening and asked Kaji if he knew where Rei was.

"She was finishing up a test when we left, and the Commander invited her to dine with him." Interjected Akagi. "She regrets to inform you that she won't be attending; she'll be out quite late with the Commander." Airi noted a sense of spite in the doctor's words. Shinji's face remained passive.

"Oh. Ok." He said, turning back to the meat on the grill. A few minutes later, the war was in full swing again and a third faction was muscling in on the action, much to Rit-chan and Airi's delight. The decibel rating was somewhere between a jet engine and locomotive. Unnoticed, Shinji slipped away from the group and out of the apartment, seeking peace and quiet. Unnoticed, save for one other, who, when Shinji didn't return within a few minutes, slipped out herself to find him.

By the time Misato had located him, he was on the roof of the building, staring at the city light below them. Spotting her Shinji, Misato silently stepped behind him and hugged him, feeling him tense for a moment, then relax back into her arms and chest. "Sorry for slipping out like that, Misato." Said the boy. "I just needed some air."

"I know." Said Misato simply.

"I'm really happy about your promotion and all." Said the boy, thinking that she might be upset at his lack of enthusiasm.

"I'm not." Said Misato.

"You're…not?" asked Shinji. He was not expecting that answer.

"It really doesn't mean that much to me." Explained Misato. "I don't do this for the rank, you know." She said.

"Do what? NERV?" questioned Shinji. Misato eased back and stepped in front of Shinji, leaning back against the safety rail on the edge of the roof as she did so. Keeping her hands on his shoulders, she drew him back to her, hugging him face to face this time. Shinji slowly eased his arms around her.

"Fight Angels." Clarified Misato.

"Then why do you fight?" wondered Shinji. Misato told him her story of Second Impact, seen first hand when she was only a year older than he was now. Still, she left out several pieces of the after-story, opting to jump to where she joined NERV to avenge her father so she could be rid of him. Shinji listened in silence, feeling her pain and emotions as she spoke to him, her voice soft and warm.

"I'm not saying that what I chose to do is right, or noble, Shinji." Said the woman. "But it was the only thing I could do then. And it's all I know now." Shinji looked her in the eyes, his own telling her that he knew exactly how she felt. Misato took his hand in hers gently and pulled it down to her waist, under her shirt and back up to her chest. Shinji blinked, realizing where their joined hands were going. But before he could say anything, he felt smooth, hard tissue under his fingertips instead of the expected soft, compliant breasts. Blinking, he stared at her shirt, where his fingers brushed against some foreign tissue on Misato's chest. With her free hand, Misato pulled the shirt up, revealing her bare breasts, as well as the intended sight: the thick, wide crescent scar on her chest. "It's a reminder of my reason for doing this job, Shinji. And a commitment to finish it. Do you…understand?" she asked softly. Shinji was tracing each detail of the scar with his fingertips, totally oblivious to her bare breasts.

So much pain. He thought. I understand, Misato. "Misa-chan?" said the boy absently, still tracing the scar. "Thanks. For sharing this with me." He said. Misato smiled, pulling him back into a warm hug, her shirt still bunched up around her shoulders.

"I hope it can help you figure out why you pilot." Said the woman. When he called me `Misa-chan', it made me wet. Better watch myself. "So, are you ready to go back?" she asked.

"Yeah. I think I am." Smiled Shinji. Separating, the two headed for the stair access door, Misato draping her arm over his shoulder, her shirt settled again.

"Hey, Shin?" began Misato, her tone a bit hesitant. "Let's not mention this to anyone, ok?"

"Sure." Said Shinji, feeling that this was something for him and Misato to share alone.

-

Gendo re-read the report. Rei had departed for her apartment less than ten minutes ago. A glance at his clock showed him that it was nearly midnight. Still, this would not wait. Swiftly, he dialed a number on his phone. A few moments later, the other party picked up. "What is it?" asked the voice on the other end. "It's nearly midnight."

"Prepare a suitcase, old friend. We're going to Antarctica to witness history." Said Gendo. Silence. Then, a reply.

"They found it?"

"Yes. We leave for the flagship of the UN Taskforce assigned for our recovery mission in one hour. Dress warmly." Said Gendo. A few short messages later, and he rose from his desk, pausing to look at a small picture on his screen. One step closer, my Yui. He thought to the woman who's life he was seeking to restore. We will be together again, I swear it. With the details handled, he departed his office, taking a suitcase with him that he had packed over a year before.

-

"Please?" begged Hikari, bowing before her friend. "For me?"

"But why me?" complained Asuka. The two girls were standing outside the door to the class room, which was currently having some repairs done to it. While the minor repairs were being done, the class had been instructed to clean the room and hallway. Shinji, Rei and Touji were inside the room, Asuka, Rit-chan and Hikari were in the hallway. Kensuke was god-only-knew where, and Aki was busy in the teacher's lounge, filing paperwork for their sensei, with the aid of Tomo and Reiko. Shiori was absent that day, and Keiko was meeting with the principal due to her attitude of late.

"Because Kodama said he had a thing for red-heads, Asuka. With only two of you to choose from, it's not like I have a lot of choices." Wheedled Hikari, giving Asuka her best help-your-friend-out look.

"So ask Rit-chan." Grumbled Asuka.

"She already has plans this weekend, and besides, she's not a Pilot, is she?" offered Hikari, playing on her pride.

"No, she isn't." agreed Asuka. "But why are you and your sister pimping for this guy?" she demanded suspiciously.

"It's not like that, Asuka." Sighed Hikari. "Kodama met him at the university interview, and he helped her with her interview. In passing, he asked her if she knew any cute girls who were single."

"So your psycho sister tossed me to the wolves, huh?" snorted Asuka. In truth, she liked Kodama just fine, but there was the principal of the matter. "You honestly expect me to go on a date with some stuffy old university teacher just because he gave your sister some pointers for the interview?"

"He's not that old, Asuka. Kodama said he's only 30. Besides, you have a thing for older men, right?" pressed Hikari.

"I what?!" questioned Asuka.

"Isn't Kaji that age?" asked Hikari innocently.

"No! He's only 29!" Asuka corrected her grossly-misinformed friend angrily. How could she think he was old?!

"Oh. Twenty nine. My mistake." Soothed Hikari sarcastically. "But, he's not an instructor." She added.

"Then what's he doing at the university?" asked Asuka.

"Post-graduate studies." Replied Hikari. "Medical post-grad studies."

"He's a doctor?" asked Asuka, surprised. Hikari detected her interest.

"Youngest partner of the primary medical association that services Tokyo 2 central hospital." Affirmed Hikari. Got you, Asuka. She thought gleefully.

"Well…" began Asuka nonchalantly, "I guess I could go on one date with him. Just for your sister's sake, understood?"

"That's all I was asking." Smiled Hikari.

"And he's going to have to stay within the city limits, you know." Reminded Asuka. Can't let us pilots out of our cage, after all. She thought resentfully.

"Not a problem!" assured Hikari. "He's here for some meetings with the NERV branch Hospital staff about treatments and procedures."

"Very well." Agreed Asuka. "Dinner and a movie is all I'm going to agree to. Tell your sister, and let me know the time and place to meet up with this guy."

"Tomorrow evening at my place. Say, about eight o'clock?" grinned Hikari. Asuka frowned at her.

"I see." Was all she said. Down the hall, another red-head smiled.

Perfect timing. Gloated Rit-chan.

-

"I'm going out." Called Asuka, stepping out of her and Rit-chan's room, a mid-thigh length skirt and a sheer top adorning her. In her hands, she held a pair of low-heeled shoes. Shinji, watching TV with Pen Pen, looked over the back of the couch. Noting a shiny, smooth gleam on her legs, he realized that she was wearing pantyhose. Rare, for her.

"Oh. Ok." Said Shinji as Asuka made a few last-minute checks on her outfit.

"So, how do I look?" she asked her roommate and fellow pilot.

"Beautiful." Said Shinji honestly. "Are you and Hikari going out somewhere?" he asked.

"Well, sort of. Hi-chan's sister set me up with some doctor, so I think I'll check it out." Said Asuka absently. "Don't wait up for me, either. I plan to crash at Hi-chan's tonight." Added Asuka.

"Well, have a good time." Said Shinji, feeling a certain anger toward this nameless, faceless asshole who was depriving him of the chance to be with her. It wasn't jealously, exactly; he was more worried that this guy might hurt her in someway, or treat her like a piece of meat. He loved her, and it worried him that she might get hurt by some asshole. His thoughts were sidetracked by her arms around his neck, and her lips on his.

"Don't sound so disappointed, Shinji." She murmured "I'll be back tomorrow evening, after all." She giggled, straightening from where she had leaned over the back of the couch to hug and kiss him. "See you later, Baka." She grinned, slipping on her shoes and exiting the door. Shinji sighed and turned his attention back to the TV, which was once more on a station that was showing a documentary on penguins.

-

"Mi-chan, are you going to be going home soon?" asked Airi, entering Misato's office at NERV headquarters. Seeing Misato angrily processing paperwork, the actress knew that Misato would be there for a while. "What is all this stuff?" she asked, looking over the paperwork.

"Claims for damage sustained in the last angel attack." Growled Misato. "As Director of Operations, I have to sign off on each claim. Stupid, really, as the damage is done and NERV will pay anyway. I swear, this is just an excuse for the Commander to keep me here all hours of the night!"

"But the last angel was destroyed swiftly from below. What was damaged?" asked Airi, sitting delicately on the edge of Misato's desk.

"The Children did great." Agreed Misato, leaning back and sighing. "But Asuka's plan had one small error in it." Seeing the quizzical look on Airi's face, Misato giggled. "Ever hear of a guy named Newton?" she hinted. Airi considered it for a moment.

"Oh." She said, realizing what Misato was saying. "They were firing vertically from that shaft, we're they?"

"Uh huh." Nodded Misato. She stretched her arms up over her head, taking a deep breath as she did so. "Good news is only half the shells landed in the city proper. Bad news is they directly hit the main switching yard for the trains, as well as the largest station in the city, and two hit the mayor's house."

"I see. Those seemed to be fairly heavy-caliber shells, too." Mused Airi.

"Rei's weapon for the fight was a pallet rifle." Agreed Misato. "Each shell packs the power of one of those old howitzers, the eight inch guns. My Shinji emptied the magazine, which means nearly one hundred shells went up. The repairs to the switching yard, station and mayor's house will take about two weeks, and cost a few hundred million yen." The two sat there, silent, as they considered the stack of claims.

"Tell you what, Mi-chan." Said Airi at last, picking up a stack of claims. "Show me how to process these, and I'll give you a hand with them."

-

"Busy, Shinji?" asked Rit-chan, emerging from the room she shared with Asuka. Her younger roommate had been gone about an hour and half, and right now, she and Shinji were the only ones home in the apartment. Rit-chan had plans to change that shortly.

"No, not really. Why ask, Rit-chan?" replied the boy, looking away from the TV.

"I'm getting hungry." Said Rit-chan leadingly.

"Oh, sorry. I'll start making something." He said, rising from the couch.

"Don't bother. We're going out for dinner." Laughed Rit-chan.

"We…are?" blinked Shinji.

"Yes. We have a date, remember?" smiled Rit-chan. "Now hurry up and get ready, ok?" With one more smile, she headed for the bathroom. Shinji blinked once more, then jogged to his room. Rit-chan was out of the bathroom by the time he was ready, and he just stared at her for several seconds. Skirt and blouse were not all that different from Asuka, except that her shirt was sheerer and her skirt a bit shorter. Her feet were shod in socks, and her backpack-purse was over a shoulder. Shinji noted that she didn't seem to be wearing pantyhose, and she had a small amount of lip gloss on her lips. "Like what you see, I take it?" laughed Rit-chan, twirling a couple of time for him.

"A lot." Agreed Shinji. He was in his slacks, undershirt and button-down shirt, not much different from his regular school uniform. "I don't have a lot of clothes." He said, making a gesture at his outfit. "Sorry." He added.

"No problem." Assured Rit-chan warmly. "You look good." She added.

"So, um…" began Shinji. "What now?" he finished.

Rit-chan giggled. "Now, we go on our date, of course." She replied.

"I've never…been on a date before." He admitted to her.

"Fortunately for you, I have been on many dates before. You should pay attention to what happens tonight, so you can take Rei-chan on a good date sometime soon." She noted, stepping over to him and linking her arm though his.

"I will." He promised earnestly.

"One thing, though." Admonished Rit-chan seriously.

"Yes?" said Shinji, his tone serious.

"You have to relax and have fun, understood?" smiled Rit-chan.

"Sure." Agreed Shinji, feeling himself return her smile.

"Now that that is settled, we need to go find a nice restaurant. Any suggestions?" asked Rit-chan of her date.

"Well, I heard Kaji and Hyuga saying that there is a very nice Italian place out by the northern express line." Offered Shinji. "Is…that good?"

"We'll soon see, Shinji-chan." Smiled Rit-chan. The two left the apartment arm-in-arm.

-

Mike the tank rolled full throttle through the woods, intent on catching himself the small rodent he had spotted. It would have been easier to catch it if NERV hadn't taken all his ammo away, but still, being a cat, he was content with the pursuit alone. Trees weren't much of a hindrance, and he had a lot of practice maneuvering in them thanks to Rit-chan and the practice he got when they were hunting elves.

Getting free had been rather anti-climatic. When the power had gone out, the Evas had been forced to make an emergency launch. To free the Evas for combat, the support crews had cut the primary hydraulic interlock line, which allowed the powerful bio-mech monsters to push their restrains away and exit the cages. As the three massive units had moved past him, he had simply shoved the barrier open and followed them. Once free of the base, he had chosen to go searching for small things to chase, rather than mix it up with an Angel. Now, he was living the kind of life that no cat should: the life of a super-grade predator chasing a helpless little fur-bearing critter. Mike was in heaven.

Meanwhile, back in NERV, a crew of maintenance personnel were scratching their heads at the open armored partition on cage 5. "Do you suppose the Evas brushed against this when they went out last time?" asked one of the rank-and-file of his boss.

"Hey, stupid," interjected his fellow peon, "if the units brushed against it, then it would be pushed in, not out. And those don't look like Eva prints to me." Said the woman, motioning to the scratches and scrapes on the supercrete floor.

"You're both wrong." Said the third wage-slave. "This cage was last used during the activation of Unit Alpha, about six years ago. These are scrapes from that little adventure. As for the partition, it looks like it swung open from the sudden loss of hydraulic pressure on the forward actuator mechanism. Right, boss?"

"All of you shut up. No one cares how this happened, they just want it fixed. So get busy!" ordered the head tech of the team. Sighing, the three got to work on repairing the line, re-pressurizing it and testing the heavy partition. In short order, the cause was forgotten. As his three underlings worked, the head tech made a report entry into his MAGI hand-terminal. Malfunctioning partition on Cage 5 located and repaired. Partition opened due to lack of pressure on forward actuators. Note: signs of damage from activation of Unit Alpha on floor, as well as possible damage to partition surface from contact with Eva Units 0, 1 and 2 on last combat sortie. Recommend repair of cage as time and resources allow. Signing the report, he filed it with the MAGI and glanced at his watch.

"Move it, guys. Lunch in twenty!" he yelled to his crew. Managing idiots is hard work. Maybe I better go get a good seat in the cafeteria. With that thought, he wandered off, leaving his three lackeys to curse him under his breath.

-

Asuka sipped her wine, and surreptitiously checked her watch. Gott en Himmel, it's been an hour already? Across from her sat her date, the old doctor. The two were in one of the best, most exclusive restaurants in Tokyo 3, a small place off the normal main drag that sported only about a dozen tables, and two booths. The tables were smaller than Misato's table, and at best could only handle four people. The couple were two of only about fifteen people in the joint, which was dimly lit with small, indirect lights and candles at each table. Setting her wine glass back down, she took another bite of her dish, a very professionally done Swiss steak with braised vegetables. Bet Wondergirl'd like these greens. She thought absently, savoring the taste of her steak. I need to ask the chef to write down the preparation instructions for this steak; that way, Shin-chan can make it for me later. She failed to notice that she had thought of him as `her' Shin-chan, or that she hadn't taken a shot at Rei.

Across from her, the doctor was doing his best to woo her, with clever jokes and stories, a polite, crisp manner and plenty of attention to her ego. The two had met at Hikari's place a little better than an hour before, and Asuka had determined that he was acceptable to be seen in public with and joined him in his car. From there, the two had driving to this eatery and talked over dinner. It had amused Asuka when he had asked her if his choice of wine was to her liking. Wine was not one of her normal drinks, and the years and types meant little to her. So, she had just smiled at him sweetly and told him that she was sure his choice was acceptable. She was half-way through her second glass, and determined to hold it there, as she didn't want to get drunk.

Still, the doctor hadn't given her any signs of being a pervert, and he treated her as an adult, which automatically made her like him. If only Kaji would treat me like this. She mentally bemoaned. But that thought was discarded as he asked her about her travels in Germany. For the next half-hour, she talked about her beloved Germany, and all the places she had been to in Europe and America. As she finished up, the waiter discreetly cleared the table, and the two stood. Asuka downed the last of her wine with a swift gulp and took the offered arm as the doctor led her toward his car and the next stop on their date.

-

"Man, I'm stuffed!" smiled Rit-chan as she and Shinji exited the warm, snug little Italian mom-and-pop grub shop. "That lasagna was heavenly."

"I know!" laughed Shinji, feeling very full and happy. "I can't believe she gave me the recipe for it! I can't wait to try it; I bet Misato, Asuka, Rei-chan and Airi will love it."

"If it turns out half as good as what we had, they'll riot if you don't make it." Agreed Rit-chan, looping her arm through his as they moved toward the rail station. "What time it is?" she asked.

"Let's see, it's about half past eight." Answered Shinji.

"Excellent." Grinned Rit-chan, tugging his arm to hurry him up. "We can just make it."

"Make what?" asked Shinji, feeling a bit too full to be moving fast right then. Rit-chan effortlessly guided them to the right platform.

"The next showing of Mist Valley, of course." Giggled Rit-chan. Here's to hoping the theater is as vacant as Asuka said it was when the three of them went to see that other flick. She thought to herself, crossing her fingers behind her back.

-

Misato stood and stretched her arms. "Let's get the fuck out of here, Ai-chan." Groaned the woman, glanced at Airi, who had stood and was gathering the small articles the two women carried.

"Ready when you are." Agreed the actress. Exiting her office, Misato headed for the command-level parking garage, Airi at her side.

"I wonder what Shinji has for supper?" asked Misato absently.

"Don't you mean `had'?" questioned Airi. "It's nearly eleven at night."

Misato blinked. "Well, shit." She muttered. "I'm hungry and I missed dinner."

Airi giggled. "Tell you what," she consoled her friend, "I'll buy you dinner tonight."

"Really?" asked Misato, perking up. "What did you have in mind?" she asked her younger roommate.

"There's a nice little bar with the best wings I've had in more than a year not too far from here." Said the actress. At the mention of `bar', Misato positively beamed.

"Lead on, Ai-chan." Grinned the OD.

-

"What's wrong, Kaji?" asked Junpei of his friend, who had stopped dead and leaned back to stare across the street. Junpei looked as well, but didn't see Miss Airi anywhere.

"I thought I saw Asuka for a second, but I guess I was wrong." Shrugged the man. "Come on, let's get going." He said, moving back toward the night's destination. Junpei grinned like an idiot and followed him.

"You think that the blonde service will be booked tonight?" he asked his bosom buddy.

"Fear not, I have planned ahead for any contingencies." Assured Kaji. Seeing Junpei give him an odd look, he asked him about it. "What's with the expression, Junpei?"

"I don't know why you're quoting Gabrielle of the Dark Elf tribe, that's all." He shrugged.

-

Asuka swayed smoothly with the doctor, the two having gone from the live theater performance to a small club, though not the kind of club Asuka frequented. This club was almost a cocktail lounge, with a wide, wooden dance floor and a five piece live band, which played an eclectic list of songs from classical, to smooth jazz, to deep blues to jumping band sets from the twenties. Unlike the heavy techno, rock, metal and instrumental she usually danced to, she was dancing more of a ballroom style here. She was glad she had taken some dance lessons in this kind of dancing.

Right now, her arms were around his neck, and his arms crossed over her back, holding on to her sides lightly as they danced belly-to-belly to some jazz fusion. Asuka was feeling pretty relaxed and open. The three glasses of wine she had had at dinner was affecting her now. So, when the doctor touched his lips to her lips, she had simply returned the kiss, feeling his hands slowly slide down to her hips. Pressing against him, she felt his semi-aroused member pressing into her belly. He's not as good a kisser as my Shin-chan. She thought to herself, feeling his tongue slip into her mouth. While she wrestled with his tongue, the two moved off the floor and over to their table. Slowly, the older man broke the kiss. Silently, he grabbed their stuff and took her arm, leading her toward the door. Asuka followed along, still feeling relaxed and calm.

Once in the car, the doctor had resumed the kiss, Asuka numbly responding in kind. As the two grew more passionate, the doctor eased her top off, revealing her sheer, thin bra. Asuka moaned a bit, feeling the man's hands caress her sensitive nipples through the material of her bra. With practiced ease, her bra came off, falling to her waist. Asuka felt the doctor guide her hand to his groin, where she fumbled a bit before finding his zipper tab and pulling it down before snaking her hand inside his pants. Hmm. Smaller than Shinji. Noted Asuka, her hand closing around his member.

As she began to stroke him and work him free of his fly, his hand dipped to her skirt, pushing it up to reveal her panties and pantyhose. Trailing a finger along her panties, it was obvious that she was aroused, her crotch already damp. A few strokes later, and Asuka felt his hand slip up to grasp her pantyhose and pull them down. Obligingly, she lifted her ass off the car seat to allow him to pull them down to her knees. Once they were down that far, he slid his hand back to her panties, once more stroking her through the thin material before reaching for their waistband.

As he had been undressing her, she had been busy as well, his manhood now fully erect and free of his clothes. With one hand, she stroked and teased him, the other hand steadying her position. She felt him tug her panties down to her knees before returning to her wet sex. As he semi-skillfully manipulated her, she felt herself grow warmer. Suddenly, she felt him reach over her, and a moment later, her seat was laid back, and he was moving on top of her.

-

Rit-chan stood as the credits for Mist Valley began to roll, stretching as she did so. Smiling down at Shinji, she mentally giggled at his rampant erection. That was fun. She thought. Even though we spent a lot of time making out, we still managed to watch the movie. That's odd, too; most of my dates couldn't make out and watch the movie at the same time. As Shinji stood, Rit-chan ambushed him in a full-body hug and tried to reach his tonsils with her tongue. Not that Shinji minded in the least.

When they parted, Shinji knew he was smiling at her stupidly. "What now, Rit-chan?" he asked, trying to keep from reaching for her breasts or lower. God, I am a hentai! He thought to himself despairingly. Oh, sure you are! She started it! Came the retort from that other part of him. Ritsuko Inoue had indeed started it, since she knew that he would never make any aggressive advances on her if it were left to him. So, she didn't leave it to him.

"Now, we should go for a walk to get our blood flowing again." Smiled Rit-chan innocently. Oh, I definitely want your blood flowing! She mentally leered at him. "Come on, let's beat feet out of here." So saying, she lead the way out of the theater, making a side trip to the bathroom before the two exited into the warm night air.

-

Asuka walked up the steps to Hikari's front door at a little past midnight. Not seeing any lights on, she quietly fished out the key Hikari had given her and unlocked the door, slipping inside and closing the door behind her. Releasing her breath quietly, she massaged her growing headache and silently worked her way to the bathroom on the second floor, closing the door before turning on the light. In the mirror, she studied herself carefully.

The girl looking back at her from the mirror was not much different from the girl who had first been there before the date began. The differences were small enough; a button missed on her blouse, her skirt crooked on her hips, her hair a little messy, her subtle shade of lipstick smudged, as well as her modest amount of makeup. In addition, her pantyhose were torn and ruined and her bra was missing. Probably on the floorboard of the car. She thought absently. Her head throbbed at the thought. Pushing that thought away, Asuka turned on the sink and splashed some cold water on her face.

Feeling better, she began to carefully undress, wanting a bath before she hit the sack. As she tossed her destroyed pantyhose into the trash, she noticed the condition of her panties, which were more crooked than her skirt had been. In addition to the soaked groin, she spotted some small spots of dried semen near her left hip, and some on her skin. Fuck. This pair is done for. She thought irritably, gingerly peeling them off and tossing them into the trash with her pantyhose. Asuka assessed herself once more, then sighed. Her head hurt, and she was too tired for a bath. "Shower it is." She decided, starting the shower. As the water warmed up, she shook her head at the way the date turned out. At least he's happy with the way it played out! She growled to herself, stepping into the shower and reaching for some of Hikari's body shampoo. Fifteen minutes later, she slipped on her oversized tee-shirt and killed the lights in the bathroom before opening the door and heading for Hikari's bedroom.

Yawning, she slipped into the bed with her best friend, settling carefully to avoid waking her sleeping friend, and nearly instantly falling asleep. Within a few minutes of falling asleep, she was re-situating herself so she was cuddled up to Hikari's sleeping form. "mmm…Shin-chan." She mumbled, her arms and legs intertwining with Hikari's arms and legs. With her conscious brain off-line, she was incapable of recognizing that Hikari was not wearing her normal silk pajamas. Nor did either of them know that Kodama peeked in and checked on them about an hour after Asuka had returned.

-

Misato and Airi returned to a dark, silent apartment. Dropping their shoes, the two women made their way to the bedrooms to check on their wards. "Airi! Shin-chan's missing!" screamed Misato, upon easing his door open and spotting his empty bed.

"Calm down, Mi-chan." Soothed Airi, sensing how distraught that possibility made Misato. Lie all you want to yourself, Mi-chan, but you love him. She said to herself. "Asuka and my Rit-chan are also missing. Let's see if Rit-chan or the Pilots left a message before we panic, agreed?" she said reasonably.

"Uh, yeah. Sure." Said Misato weakly. In the kitchen, the two found a note from Asuka, telling them that she was at Hikari's place for the night, and her cell phone was on if an Angel attacked.

"One down, two to go." Assured Airi, knowing that Rit-chan would have left her some sort of note or message. My Rit-chan is too methodical not to have left me message of some sort or another. The actress thought, checking the couch before moving back to the room the two teenage girls shared. Not seeing a note on the bed, she scanned the dresser, but didn't see any note there. Hope this isn't a bad sign. She thought, before hearing Misato begin to laugh hysterically.

"Mi-chan?" she called, swiftly moving to the room the two women shared. "What's wrong?" she asked seeing Misato helplessly laughing on the bed, a piece of paper in her hand. Unable to stop laughing, she tossed the paper to Airi, who picked it up and read it.

"'Took Shinji on a date. Hope to be out all night. Call if there's trouble. Rit-chan.'" Read the actress aloud, immediately identifying Ritsuko's crisp handwriting. A sense of relief washed over her, along with a trace of envy. Misato had managed to get herself a little more under control. "So, what got you all giddy, Mi-chan?" she asked her friend smoothly, beginning to fold the paper note in preparation to destroy it.

"Just imagining the look on Asuka's face if she knew that Rit-chan took Shinji on a date after she left. Can't you just see it?" said Misato, a bit breathlessly. That thought made her began to laugh again, though not so hard as she had been. "Asuka-chan better figure out what she really feels for him fast, or Rit-chan will take him away from her right under her nose." She added once she had managed to stifle the laughter again.

But not from under Rei-chan's nose. That girl doesn't miss a thing. "True." She said aloud. "Tell me, what was with the reaction just now when you found his room empty? You seemed a bit panicky." That question sobered the Major right up.

"It's just that it was like when he ran away all over again." She said, sitting up, her chin coming to rest on her knees. "After the fourth Angel, I chewed him out, and he ran away. At first, I just thought he was sulking in his room, but three days later, I looked in, and he was gone. I…thought he might have done that again." Said Misato softly.

"I don't think you have to worry about him running anymore." Said Airi, sitting next to her on the bed. Misato gave her a sharp look.

"Oh? Why's that?" she asked intently.

"Because he's found what he was looking for here, and he won't willingly give it up for anything." Or anyone, you bastard of a father! She added silently, her mental tone venomous.

"What did he find here?" asked Misato breathlessly. Airi considered her for a long time before answering.

"He found his family." She said at last, standing. "Dibs on the tub." She said as she stepped out the door, leaving Misato with a thoughtful look on her face. Minutes later, Misato flopped back on the bed, staring at the ceiling.

"Dysfunctional family." She muttered.

-

Shinji and Rit-chan were busily making out on a park bench when his cell phone rang. Reluctantly, he and his date stopped trying to strangle each other with their tongues, allowing him to answer the phone. Once glance at the screen told him all he needed to know. "Rei-chan?" he said, phone to ear. Rit-chan watched him calmly, a smile on her face. "Everything ok there?" he asked her.

"Shinji-chan." Replied Rei, her tone as calm and cool as always. "Please come to my apartment." She said, Shinji hearing an odd tone of pleading in her voice.

"Right now?" he asked stupidly. Of course `right now', brain-donor! he mentally smacked himself. Everything with Rei-chan is `right now'!

"Please, Shinji." Whispered Rei.

"I'm on my way." He said, not wanting to hear the pleading tone so alien to the Rei he knew and loved.

"I will await your arrival." Said his lover, her relief evident. He was just starting to stand when it occurred to him that Rit-chan was watching him, the small smile still on her lips.

"Um, Rei-chan?" he said in to the phone, hoping she hadn't hung up yet.

"Yes, Shinji?" came her immediate reply.

"I'm with Rit-chan right now, so…" he began, wanting to tell her that he would be a little later as he wanted to make sure she was home safely before going to his lover's place.

"Bring her as well." Said Rei. "I have spoken to you about this matter before, and I have not changed my mind in the time between then and now." She added.

"Ok." Agreed Shinji, feeling oddly relieved. "We'll be there in about twenty minutes."

"I will be here." Said Rei. Shinji could almost feel her smile. Ending the call, he turned to Rit-chan. The older girl was already standing.

"So, it's good night, I guess." She said, sounding disappointed. Damn it, I'm sooo horny!

"No!" assured Shinji. "Rei asked me to bring you with me." He explained. "If you want to come, that is." He hastily added.

"I've got nothing else planned for tonight." Replied Rit-chan, taking his arm as they moved toward the nearest train station to head for Rei's run-down apartment block. Unless you count losing my cherry and fucking your brains out. She thought, feeling deliciously slutty.

-

I will tell him tonight. Rei promised herself as she awaited his arrival. I can not keep this from him; he wishes to be one with me, and that means he must know what I truly am. Rei felt herself shiver. I am…scared that he will be revolted by the truth. And yet, I can not keep this from him without lying to him. Sitting on her bed, the blue-haired First Child awaited the arrival of her lover and his `date'. A word that is unfamiliar to me. I must ask Rit-chan about it. She mentally noted. Turning to her window, she noted the stars and moon were fairly bright that night, visible through one of the many tears in her curtains. Silently, she watched the moon until she was interrupted by a knock on her door.

Rising from her bed, she padded over to the door and eased it open to reveal Shinji and Rit-chan standing there, hands intertwined. Rei felt herself smile as she stepped back, opening the door for them. "Shinji. Rit-chan." She said softly as the two entered her apartment. Once they were inside, she closed the door and followed the dim shapes of her fellow pilot and her new friend.

"Dark enough in here for you, Rei-chan?" came Rit-chan's voice, her tone light and humorous.

"I do not require light to navigate in my apartment." Replied Rei softly, stopping behind Shinji and carefully hugging him. I may not get the chance to feel his warmth again after I tell him my secrets. She thought, feeling a tight sensation in her chest.

"Rei-chan?" questioned Shinji. He turned toward her, Rei allowing him to move within her arms. "What's wrong? Why did you need us to come over here?" he asked. "And can we turn on a lamp or something?" he added.

"Rit-chan, there should be a lamp to your right, by the head of my bed. The switch is half-way down the cord." Said the quiet girl, loathe to release Shinji from her embrace. Shinji felt his first lover's naked flesh in his arms, and his dick gave a painful spasm. During the ride over, his erection had softened a bit, leaving him with a powerful need to relieve his bladder. Before he could speak, he heard a `click', and then a ball of light exploded in the room, throwing their shadows onto the walls.

Seeing a naked Rei locked in an embrace with Shinji, Rit-chan said the only thing she could. "You weren't kidding about being naked in your house, were you, Rei-chan?" Given her nature and background, she wasn't too surprised by the nudity. Shinji winced when he shifted toward the other girl.

"I believe you should take this opportunity to use the bathroom, Shinji." Said Rei, determining the nature of the problem. "I wish to speak to Rit-chan for a moment, as well." Shinji had to agree that he really needed to pee. As the male pilot moved off to her bathroom, Rei turned to Rit-chan.

"Rit-chan, I wish to know what you intend to do with regards to Shinji." She said softly. I will not burden her with my secrets, so I will have to choose another time to reveal myself to Shinji.

"What do you mean, my intensions regarding Shinji?" asked Rit-chan, eyeing the girl. It's obvious that you have plans for him, so I guess I'll bow out.

"Have you decided to have sex with him?" asked Rei bluntly. Rit-chan caught her breath.

"Um…" she began. Rei studied her intently.

"I suggest you do so, Rit-chan, as becoming one with him is indescribably pleasurable. I have told you before that he loves you, and it would appear that you return some measure of that love." Said the strange Pilot of Unit 0.

"But he's your boyfriend, Rei." Objected Rit-chan, though she felt it was a weak objection.

"We have spoken of this before, Rit-chan." Said Rei patiently. "I wish only to share his love with the ones he loves." The two heard the toilet flush. "Please, Rit-chan, do not pass this up because of my presence. I will give you two privacy if that is what you desire. Shinji would greatly treasure having sex with you, and I can promise you that he will be the most considerate lover you can have."

"How about we let him decide?" answered Rit-chan as Shinji exited the bathroom.

"Now, what did you want to talk to me about, Rei-chan?" he asked his first lover, seeing the two girls eyeing him.

"I believe it would be safer for you and Rit-chan to conclude your `date' here, rather than at Misato's place, as there is no surveillance here, and you have requested that such matters not be brought to NERV's attention." Said Rei without preamble.

"There's surveillance at the apartment?" gaped Shinji. Rei nodded.

I knew it. Rit-chan mentally grimaced. "What kind of surveillance?" she asked.

"Audio and visual monitoring circuits are in place, as well as some thermal and mass-sensitive sensors." Replied Rei.

"Why…" began Shinji. Rei pre-empted him.

"There are several high-value targets there, so the added security is excused under those conditions." She explained. "That, however, is another matter." She added. She sat on the edge of her bed. "Will you stay here?" she asked the two, watching them for their reactions.

Do I care if she's here? Wondered Rit-chan silently, considering Shinji, who was looking a bit flushed. Her eyes slipped down to his groin, where she noted the easily-detected semi-aroused member. Her groin was still very hot and nearly wet enough to drip. Fuck it! I'm too horny to care! She thought recklessly, stepping over to her date and locking her lips to his. Besides, modesty isn't my strong suit. A moment of hesitation, then Shinji was kissing her back. Within five minutes, the two were back to the point they had been at in the park. Rei silently watched them for a moment, before reaching over and clicking off the light. The two hardly noticed.

In fairly short order, the two were sitting on Rei's new bed, working the clothes off each other. Rit-chan felt him work her tee shirt off, leaving her in a thin, lacy bra as she tossed his shirt to the floor. Having learned some things from his experiences with Rei, Asuka and Hikari, Shinji took the time to gently explore her chest, feeling her nipples harden until they were like diamonds against his palms. Carefully, he stroked, pinched, tugged and rolled them, hearing her moans and sighs getting more and more passionate. Deciding that he better move on before she got impatient, he let his hands roam down to her skirt, seeking her zipper.

Rit-chan had the same thing in mind, and she - being more experienced in this particular area - found his pants zipper easily. Almost as if it weren't there, her hand snaked inside and began to caress his member. Feeling Shinji working on her skirt's zipper, she slid her free hand down to help him out. After all, the sooner they were naked, the better. With her assistance, her skirt hit the floor in moments. Returning her free hand to his waist, she swiftly unbuckled his belt, unfastened his pants and insistently pushed them and his boxers off him. Pressing a hand to his chest, she pushed him back on to the bed as she tugged his pants off. Dropping the pants and boxers on the floor, she crawled onto the bed, straddling his body with her own.

As Rit-chan settled on top of him, Shinji reached out and felt her torso for her bra, swiftly finding it and running his hands around to her back, searching for her fastener. Locating it, he began to work on it. Still relatively inexperienced, he was finding it difficult to unsnap. Not that Rit-chan was making it any easier, her lips busy with his. Getting more frustrated, he began to tug at the bra, hoping that he could get it off without damaging it too badly. Abruptly, he felt a soft hand touch his, and an instant later, the latch was undone, dropping the bra to the short distance to his chest, freeing her proud breasts. Rei-chan. Thought Shinji before he got distracted again. He ran his palms all over her sides and back, unable to get enough of the silky feel of her warm, soft body.

Rit-chan decided to move along, as she felt herself beginning to drip with anticipation. Sliding down his body, she let her tongue trail down his throat, chest and belly, stopping just short of his rampant erection. Feeling his body tremble, she giggled before pressing a kiss to the head of his member, which was slick with pre-cum. He's as ready as I am. She thought, running her tongue over the tip, tasting the salty taste of his slick fluid. That thought brought another: Am I ready? Once I do this, there is no way to undo it. Is this what I really want? That thought gave her a momentary pause. Swiftly, she analyzed the questions, looked at the situation and person involved, and determined that she had no reason not to give up her virginity. And Rei promised that it would be worth it, too. She reminded herself. With that thought in mind, she opened her mouth and took as much of him in her mouth as she could. This is bigger than it looks. I've never tried this with someone his size. The elf hunter thought, remembering her `experimentation' with blowjobs with a couple of her boyfriends. The experience was not particularly gratifying, but she hadn't had real high hopes for success, looking more for data than results.

Shinji gasped when he felt her engulf the tip of his dick. For several seconds, he just lay there panting as she worked on his member. Almost unbidden, Misato's teasing voice surfaced in his mind. Be sure she's happy, Shin-chan! Inspiration struck, and he felt himself smile as he carefully pulled her off his dick. Guiding her onto her back, he pressed a finger against her lips when she started to ask him something, silencing her. Slicking his hands down her sides, he felt the soft, thin material of her panties, and eased them down her legs and off, feeling how wet they were. Dropping them somewhere he hoped was off the bed, he touched her knees, slowly pressing them apart. Rit-chan eased her legs open, feeling him slid between them.

Already? Well, we have been petting each other for a while. Judging by how wet I am, I think we can go right to the main…AH! Her thoughts crashed as she felt him graze her erect clit with his fingertip. Having located her sensitive nub, he leaned in and kissed it, his tongue touching it briefly before kissing it again. Rit-chan felt like lightening was running in her veins, and if she hadn't been soaked before, she knew she was now, feeling her vagina flood with lubricant to a sufficient degree that it was dripping from her lower lips. Shinji kept on enjoying her clit and soaked mons. Rit-chan realized that she was going to cum, and cum hard. Giving up any attempt to control it, she rode the orgasm out.

As the older teen slowly came back from somewhere beyond the backside of gone, Shinji continued to nosh on her sex, finding that he liked the reactions he got from her and the way she tasted. Different than Asuka, Rei or Hikari, but still good. He thought, teasing her opening with his tongue tip before swiping it across her clit. He felt her whole body tremble as the bumpy surface of his oral member dragged across her hyper-sensitive nub. Her hands closed on his shoulders, squeezing them for a moment before she pulled him up from her drenched groin. He never got to speak as she locked her lips to his, ignoring his completely soaked face as she pushed her tongue into his mouth, where it began to wrestle with his tongue. Several minutes passed before Rit-chan broke the kiss.

"Holy fucking shit, Shinji-chan!" she panted. "Where did you learn to do that?"

"I…just try to do what seems to make you happy." He said reasonably and meekly. "I'm just lucky, I guess. Did you…like it?" he asked. Wordlessly, she nodded her head, Shinji feeling her head move against his shoulder. "Good." He smiled, relieved that she was enjoying herself.

"My turn." Giggled Rit-chan, reaching down and taking his throbbing member in hand. Wiggling under him, she got into a better position and pressed his drooling tip to her dripping vaginal lips. "Let's see if I can make you go where you sent me." She said huskily. His dick twitched at her tone and words. Still, Shinji was Shinji, after all.

"Are you sure you want to…do it?" he asked, trying to see if he could see her face in the dim light. "We don't have to, you know." He added swiftly.

"I want to, so stop stalling and let's get busy, Shin-chan." Chuckled Rit-chan, feeling a thrill pass through her at her certain tone. And I am ready. She realized. No matter the outcome, I have no problems giving my virginity to Shinji. I trust him. What she trusted him to do, she left unexplored.

"Um, it will…hurt, the first time or two." Shinji said, his tone a bit nervous.

"Yeah, yeah. So what? I know you will be as gentle as possible." She encouraged him, feeling him press against her. "Mmm. That feels good, Shin-chan." She purred, feeling herself stretch to accommodate his tip. Satisfied that she was sure she wanted to do this, Shinji slowly pressed forward a bit harder before easing back and repeating the process. Her copious fluid made it easier to penetrate her.

She's tight, but it doesn't feel like it did with Rei-chan or Asuka-chan. He marveled, feeling his tip fully enter her. A soft moan came from his lover. He paused for a moment to see if she was ok with his progress before resuming his efforts, the tight, velvety grasp of her hot inner passage urging him on. A few strokes later, he felt his tip touch a barrier. This is the point of no return. He thought to himself, stopping to touch his lips to her lips, feeling them enthusiastically return the kiss. With no indication that she wanted him to stop, he moved back a bit, pausing once more. Please don't let this hurt her too bad. He begged whoever was listening. A moment later, he thrust forward in a short, powerful stroke, feeling her hymen tear as he did so. Beneath him, Rit-chan gasped, then hissed in pain as she felt her maidenhead tear. Shinji stopped dead cold, waiting for her to give him some sign of what she wanted him to do.

Moments passed, both lovers holding still. God damn, that stung! Thought Rit-chan to herself, feeling some tears at the corner of her eyes. Still, it doesn't hurt as much now, and the feeling of him throbbing in me is very nice! A few more moments passed, then she tentatively rocked her hips a bit, making his member move in her. Ouch! Tender! Still… She rocked a little more, the heat in her groin melting the pain away rapidly, the pleasure growing with each bit of increased movement she felt from his member. "Shin?" she panted quietly.

"Y..yes, Rit-chan?" he replied.

"Keep going." She gasped. "But slowly!"

"Ok, Rit-chan. If it hurts you too much, we'll quit, ok?" he said, beginning to slowly ease himself in and out of her even-tighter sheath. Five minutes later, she spoke again.

"Faster." She panted raggedly, feeling another orgasm about to break. Shinji obliged her, and just as the wave broke over her, she felt a warm spurting sensation against her cervix and knew that he had come as well. "Shin-chan!" she wailed as she lost all semblance of coherent thought.

-

"Morning, Asuka." Said a voice just beyond her ear. The German girl opened her eyes a bit and struggled upright in Hikari's bed. Her head hurt, and her eyes weren't focusing too well, so she blinked a few times before the owner of the voice came into focus. Kneeling next to the edge of the bed, the raven-haired eldest Horaki sister watched Asuka gather her wits.

"Kodama?" muttered the pilot. "What are you doing in here?" she managed, touching her head.

"I just wanted to know how the date went." Said Kodama easily, moving from her kneeling position to sitting next to Asuka on the bed. The Second Child glanced at the bed, but it was empty except for her.

"Where's Hi-chan?" she asked the older teen.

"Downstairs, cooking breakfast." Said Kodama. "Now, how was the date?"

"It was ok. Why the concern?" answered Asuka, frowning.

"So, you want to go on another date with him tonight?" hinted Kodama.

"What?" asked Asuka plaintively.

"He called here about twenty minutes ago and asked if you wanted to go out with him again tonight. He said something about home cooking. What do I tell him?" asked Kodama. Asuka was dead silent, her memories of the night before untangling and coming back to her.

"No." she said quietly, moving off the bed.

"No, what? No date tonight? No home cooking? No need wait for tonight?" led Kodama.

"Just no!" snapped Asuka, glaring at the older girl from the doorway. Kodama was unimpressed with her anger.

"Sure, Asuka." Smirked the oldest sister, standing. Asuka stepped toward the bathroom. Kodama exited her middle sister's room and turned for the stairs to the kitchen. Pausing, she had one more comment for her guest. "Oh, by the way, next time, please be sure that your ruined underwear doesn't get caught on the edge of the trashcan." She said, just loud enough for Asuka to hear.

-

Dozens of tanks clashed on the open fields of the Russian steppes, their cannons belching fire and shells as the lines closed with each other. German Panzer and Tiger tanks clashed with Russian T34 tanks and heavy artillery, the rhythmic boom of their turret guns sounding like music to Rit-chan's ears. Surveying the field from a few hundred feet in the air, she noted that while the Tigers and Panzers were destroying Russian tanks one after the other, the Russian tanks were pushing the German units back, with two tanks taking the place of each destroyed tank. The German lines slowed, then stopped, then began to collapse from the sheer number of the enemy. Seeing a set of Panzers erupt in flame from a lucky artillery hit, Rit-chan couldn't take it anymore. "There! The lines are broken! Break through by platoon! Four abreast! Charge!"

Rit-chan's eyes snapped open, seeing a bare concrete ceiling instead of the ranks of charging Ruskie tanks from more than seventy years before. Sitting up, she heard a deep, heavy boom from outside the room. She frowned for a moment, still somewhat asleep. Ah, that's right! She thought, her memory clearing swiftly. This is Rei-chan's bed. Shinji and I came here last night… she blushed a bit at the memory of the night before. Anyway, what was with that dream? I mean, yeah, I like tanks and military stuff, but damn! From outside, the heavy boom came again. Rit-chan considered the sound for a moment. Probably a subconscious reaction to that sound. Another thought occurred to her. And the situation with Asuka is probably why I was seeing German tanks. She thought wryly. Still, she hasn't staked a claim on him. Only Rei-chan has, and she has no problem with me sharing him. The thought of her first lover caused her to look over the large bed. There was another lump near her, tucked under the sheets and covers perhaps an arm length away from her.

Leaning over, she hugged the lump and pulled the cover back a bit, pressing her lips to the exposed flesh of a shoulder. "Morning, lover." She said softly.

"Good morning, Rit-chan." Came the answer, soft and calm. Rit-chan's eyes snapped open. Shinji's voice isn't that high! Her eyes caught sight of the cyan-blue hair.

Rei sat up in bed, took Rit-chan's shoulder in a firm, soft grip and touched her lips to the older girl's lips. It was a brief kiss, not passionate, but loving. Releasing her, Rei leaned back and studied the girl. Silence reigned for a few minutes. Rit-chan finally spoke. "Where's Shin-chan?"

"He awoke before you and it was decided that he should return to your home to fix breakfast for Misato and Airi, to help keep things quiet. Also, there is the unknown return time for Asuka." Said Rei softly. "He wanted to stay to greet you himself, but you were resting peacefully, and we decided that it would be best not to disturb your rest, as I have heard that you did not sleep well on the trip."

Rit-chan stretched, sitting up as well. She winced a bit as her groin reminded her that she had had sex for the first time the night before. "Not very romantic." She muttered, "But a sound call, considering the…circumstances." She agreed. Rei studied her silently. "What? Is there something on my face, Rei-chan?"

"No." came Rei's reply. "You appear very relaxed and happy, that is all. I feel the same when Shinji and I become one, but this is my first chance to study the difference in appearance first-hand."

"I see." Said Rit-chan, her tone a bit puzzled. Moving to the side of the bed, she stepped out of bed, feeling her groin protest the movement. Tender and a little sore, but damn! Was it worth it! It surprised the teen to find that she was mentally gloating over her first time having sex. Rei's soft voice interrupted her mental preening.

"A warm soak in a tub will help you feel better. We should go meet Shinji at your home so you can take a long soak." Said the First Child, slipping out of bed and reaching for her black sundress. Rit-chan noted that - much like Asuka - the sundress was becoming something of a favorite for the pilot.

"Maybe I better shower here first. I'm a little…damp." She said to Rei.

"If you feel you should. But I must caution you that there is no warm water in this building, and a cold shower will not do much to soothe your vaginal and thigh muscles." Said Rei, settling the dress in place.

"No warm water?" asked the elf hunter, shocked. "But, you live here! Why hasn't NERV fixed the water heater?"

"Commander Ikari has not ordered them to do so." Replied Rei calmly. "It is unnecessary, in any event, as much of my time is spent at NERV or school. Cold water does not bother me." She added. Rit-chan remembered that she usually took a cold shower after gym at school, whereas most of the girls, herself included, took warm showers to scrub off the sweat. That sack of shit is going too far this time! She mentally growled. Reaching for her skirt and shirt, she began to dress as well.

"Come on, Rei-chan. We're going to get a long, warm bath!" she said decisively.

-

"Good morning, Asuka!" Hikari called out cheerfully as her red-headed best friend entered the kitchen. Sitting at the table, Kodama just nodded, sipping some coffee. Asuka, dressed in a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt, sat across from the oldest sister. Kodama, she noticed, was dressed in a pair of blue jeans and a loose-fitting shirt, her medium-length hair tied back in a pony tail. Hikari set some food in front of her friend before sitting beside the pilot. "So, how was the date?" asked the inchou.

"Not bad, but not good either." Answered Asuka casually.

"Like so many others." Murmured Kodama, shooting Asuka a look. Asuka grimaced a bit.

"Come on! Tell me all about it!" begged Hikari, digging into her food. "And hurry up; we have to finish before Nozumi comes down for breakfast." She added.

"Yeah, it's not the kind of talk a ten year old girls needs to hear." Sniped Kodama. Asuka's hand clenched on her fork, which bent a bit.

"Oh, it was nothing that great." She said, full of fake modesty. Bitch! She mentally screamed at Kodama. Bad enough when Misato does that, but now her?! "After we left here, we went to this nice restaurant for dinner…" as her tale unfolded, Kodama just watched her, a small smile on her face, and her eyes steady and sharp.

-

Shinji worked on breakfast, humming to himself a bit as he listened for any signs of activity from Misato's room. A smile persistently decorated his face and memories of his night with Rit-chan kept dancing in his head. Hope Misato doesn't catch on. He thought absently. For some reason, that thought just didn't bother him in the least. As he tended to the fish, he heard a knock at the door.

As he moved to answer it, he frowned a bit. Rit-chan had her access card, Rei never knocked and Asuka would have simply marched in like a conquering band of Viking raiders. Who could this be at this hour? He wondered. Another thought occurred to him, freezing him in mid-stride. Could it be more of those guys who shot at my girlfriends? He wondered, suddenly too keenly aware that his USP was laying on his dresser. Quickly, he double-timed it back to his room, snatching the gun up and checking the chamber as Rit-chan had shown him as he jogged back to the door, the gun settling into a steady, low-ready, two-hand grip on instinct. "Yes? Who is it?" he said, standing a bit back from the door, pressing himself to the wall.

"Shinji? That you?" came a somewhat familiar voice. "It's me, Kaji. Can we come in?" asked the spy. Shinji considered that question for a bit. If Misa-chan sees him here before her first beer, she'll probably kill him. On second thought, that might not be so bad…Oh, stop that, Shinji! He mentally chided himself.

"Sorry, Misato is still asleep, Kaji. Is this about NERV?" he asked, wondering why the spy would be there at that hour unless it was work related.

"Not as such." Came the smooth reply. "I actually came here to talk to Airi, Shinji." He explained.

"She's still asleep, too." Replied Shinji, glancing though the peephole to verify the identity of the party outside the door. Or, rather, parties, as it turned out to be. Next to the suave spy stood the white leather-clad form her had come to know was called Junpei.

"That's fine; we'll wait for them to wake up." Assured the spy. Shinji sighed.

"Just a moment." He said, preparing to unlock the door. Technically, he is a superior office, like Mi-chan. He reluctantly conceded. Prepared, he touched the button that opened the door. "You can wait in the living room." He said, turning back for the kitchen.

"Sure. Is that coffee I smell?" asked Kaji, noting the USP in the boy's hand. There's a side of him I wouldn't have believed on the carrier. Thought the spy. Looks like his hormones are beginning to kick in; that, or he's going crazy like the shrinks project he will.

"Yeah. I'm making breakfast. I'll get you two some." Said the boy as the door closed behind the large figure of Junpei.

"This kid's Shinji?" asked Junpei, surveying the slim form of the Third Child. "You're right, Kaji. He's no threat to us." Said the fighter. Shinji opened his mouth to ask what the man meant, but then just closed it and walked off, deciding that he didn't really care. From Misato's room, he heard movement. Detouring, he grabbed a beer from the refridge and headed for Misato's room. His peripheral vision caught movement, and he glanced back to see Kaji following him, with Junpei in tow.

"Don't." said the boy, stopping and turning to stare at Kaji.

"I was just going to…" began Kaji.

"Kaji. Wait for them on the couch." Said Shinji, his tone serious and dead calm. Kaji considered the change in the boy.

When he does that, he reminds me of his father, Commander Ikari. Thought the spy. "Um, sure. Come on, Junpei. We better let him handle this part of the job." Said the unshaven man.

"But, Miss Airi is in there…" began the protest of the fighter.

"So is a hung-over Misato Katsuragi, who - like your Ritsuko - sleeps with her gun in her hand." Said the spy. "She wouldn't shoot Shinji, but I can't say the same for us." Grumbling, the fighter followed the spy back to the couch. Satisfied that the man was temporarily secured, Shinji turned back to Misato's door, and slid it open a bit, peeking in. Misato was feeling around for her beer, and Airi was sleeping comfortably next to his guardian. Making a choice, Shinji stepped into the room and crouched next to Misato. Taking her hand, he closed her fingers around her beer, but held her hand still for a moment.

"Shin?" came her voice. "What's wrong? I need beer." She said.

"Mi-chan, Kaji is here." Said the boy, sighing.

"What?" came a dangerously soft reply, followed by Misato sitting up in bed, her shirt askew and her short-shorts halfway to her thighs. Beside her, Airi's eyes opened.

"He came by about five minutes ago with that Junpei guy. He said he was here to talk to you, Airi." Said the Pilot, standing and turning for the door. "Just thought you'd like a little warning, that's all. Breakfast will be ready shortly." He said, exiting the room. Airi saw the scowl on Misato's face.

I know the feeling, Misa-chan. Thought the actress to herself.

-

"What is this place, Rit-chan?" asked Rei, surveying the interior of the health spa. Rit-chan had made an executive decision and led the First to a spa she and Airi had noted on an earlier expedition. Since breakfast was waiting, she had simply swiped her NERV card and bought herself and Rei a short visit, with hot showers, saunas and a massage each. Right now, the two were in the locker room, finding their rented locker numbers. Rit-chan had requested adjoining lockers, since both girls were packing guns.

"This is a spa, Rei-chan." Answered Rit-chan as she stripped off her clothes and carefully stacked them in the locker. Before leaving Rei's place, she had done some remedial hygienic work so her clothes wouldn't get ruined. Beside her, Rei was already naked, her sundress and panties her only clothes, other than the small hand-purse that carried her USP and backup magazines.

"Yes. I am aware of the name on the door." Said Rei, taking a towel from Rit-chan, who had taken two from the stack of fresh, clean towels by the row of lockers. "I had, however, thought that this kind of place was commonly called a sento." Said the pilot, referring to a bathhouse.

"This is kind of like that, but it has more than baths. It's…well, how about I just show you?" laughed Rit-chan, leading the quiet girl to the showers before heading to the sauna.

-

"We're off!" called out Hikari over her shoulder. Nozumi waved at her middle sister, her mouth full of food, and Kodama toasted her with her coffee cup.

"Have fun, kiddo." Said the oldest sister. Hikari closed the door and joined Asuka as she marched down the steps.

"Hey, Asuka?" said Hikari, noting the tension in her friend. "Kodama is just teasing you, you know that, right?" said the middle Horaki girl. Asuka glowered at her friend. "Come on! It's not like you really slept with him or anything!" giggled Hikari.

"Yeah." Said Asuka, her tone oddly worried. Hikari frowned at her friend.

"You didn't, did you?" she asked.

"No! Of course not!" snapped Asuka instantly. "Are we going shopping or what?" With that, the German girl increased her stride so the inchou had to practically jog to keep up. I wonder what's up with her this morning? Thought the girl as they two made their way to the train. If I didn't know better, I'd say she really had slept with that guy and was just trying to cover it up. But this is Asuka we're talking about! She'd never do that! Unless it was that Kaji guy! Or maybe Shinji? Hikari felt her cheeks warm up at that thought. Speaking of that, I still have to give him my `present'! How can I make sure that we're alone when I give it to him? Maybe if… her thoughts turned to her future plans, which meant that she failed to notice how uncharacteristically quiet her friend was being on the ride to the mall.

-

"Rei-chan?" said Rit-chan softly.

"Yes, Rit-chan?" came the soft reply. Both girls were laying on massage tables, face down, as two female masseuses worked on them. They had the choice of having male masseuses, but had chosen female, feeling more at ease with same-gender masseuses.

"Why did you kiss me this morning?" asked Rit-chan curiously. "I know you're into men, so why kiss me?"

"You kissed me first, Rit-chan. I was simply returning the greeting. Was that incorrect?" replied Rei.

"No, I suppose not. I just wasn't expecting you to kiss me, that's all." Rit-chan answered dismissively. A few moments passed. "Rei, what are your feelings on what happened last night? With Shinji and me, I mean?"

"Good morning, Shinji." Came Airi's smooth, cultured voice from the door to the kitchen. "Breakfast smells wonderful." Smiled the actress.

"Miss Airi! Good morning! We came to see you!" bellowed Junpei, practically jumping up and down in excitement. Shinji glanced at Airi and noted that she was wearing more than she usually did, having put on a loose tee-shirt and a pair of shorts. Shinji found he missed the sheer silk top she usually slept in.

"Yes, I see that, Junpei." Said Airi, smiling at the younger man kindly, but mentally gritting her teeth. It wasn't that she disliked him; a year of constant exposure had caused his simple, devoted nature to grow on her, in fact. It was just that he was so devoted it made him act stupider than he was and more clumsily than one would believe. "You have been keeping busy since we last talked, I hope?" she asked as she sat at the table. Shinji began to dish up some food for the woman.

"Yes! Of course, Miss Airi!" bubbled Junpei, which made Shinji shudder.

"Something wrong, Shinji?" interjected Kaji, seeing the boy's shudder. "Get a chill or something?"

"No, I was…" Shinji broke off as he caught a flash of purple hair flying around the corner. He barely got a chance to brace before Misato glommed onto him.

"Are you feeling ok, Shinji?" she asked, pressing a hand to his forehead. "What's this about a chill?"

"I'm fine, Misato." Insisted Shinji, knowing that trying to struggle free would only make her cling to him tighter. Not that I want to get free just now. I'm doing more than fine at the moment. He thought, face buried in her chest. Misato was still in her tight crop top tee-shirt and barely-there shorts, Shinji crushed to her in a protective manner as she intently checked him over.

"Well, if you're sure…" she reluctantly let him go and took her seat opposite Airi.

"Hot mamma." Said Junpei reverently, eyeing Misato's scanty outfit. "You're a lucky man, Kaji. She's got to be the hottest girl on earth. After Miss Airi, of course!" he quickly qualified. Misato's lips twisted into an angry grimace.

"I can hear you, you know." She snarled, slamming her fist down on the table.

"Junpei, behave yourself. You're embarrassing me and Rit-chan." Said Airi.

"Sorry, Miss Airi." He said contritely.

"And where might the charming Miss Inoue be this morning, my dear Misa-chan?" asked Kaji. Shinji set a beer in front of Misato, which was the only reason her hand wasn't on her USP.

"I'm not your ANYTHING, Kaji!" she said though locked teeth. "As for where Rit-chan is, that's none of your business."

"Ah, still playing at the offended girlfriend, I see." Smiled Kaji. "You know my heart belongs only to you, Misa-chan."

"Remind me to throw it out with the rest of the useless crap, Shinji-chan." Replied Misato sweetly, hooking her arm around Shinji's waist. Shinji just nodded.

"Man, you weren't kidding about her being a bitch when she's ragging." Muttered Junpei to his foster brother. Too bad for him his notion of whisper could use some work.

"WHAT DID YOU SAY?!" exploded Misato, shooting to her feet and moving for the two. Shinji grabbed her around the waist and braced himself against her. "Fucking assholes! Get the hell out of my fucking house before I goddamn KILL you shit-licking assboys!" she thundered, throwing her half-full beer can at her ex-boyfriend and his newly-discovered brother.

"Misato!" yelled Shinji. His guardian's eyes snapped to his, and for a moment, they flashed dangerously. Then, they cleared a bit. "Breakfast is getting cold, Misa-chan." He said softly, pushing her toward her chair again. Airi sipped her coffee. With some minor difficulties, he got her seated again.

"Perhaps you should tell me what it is you came to see me about." Was the diplomatic suggestion that followed the minor blowup. Shinji sent the two a look that would have made Gendo proud, but said nothing, most of his attention on keeping Misato under control.

"We, um…what was it again, Kaji?" faltered Junpei.

"Oh. We just came to tell you that I have managed to get authorization to allow Celsia to be outside HQ as long as she is supervised. I thought you'd like to go show her around the Geofront woods." Supplied Kaji.

"And who, exactly, authorized this? Commander Ikari would never stand for that." Noted Misato suspiciously.

"It was from the office of the head of Project E." smiled Kaji, proud of his persuasive skills.

Misato snorted derisively. "Ritsu isn't that stupid, Kaji. The Commander will toss her in the brig when he hears about this. He has some kind of vendetta against the elf. She'll be in a cage by lunch."

"I wouldn't bet on it." Countered Kaji modestly. "The Commander isn't here to find out about it just now."

"What? What are you talking about?" demanded Misato.

"I found out that he and the Vice Commander left Tokyo 3 for parts unknown two days ago. So, as the most senior of the Inner Circle still at HQ, it was her call to make. And she made it. You should really thank Ritsu, you know." Revealed Kaji, as if he were some great maestro of espionage.

"Maybe. We'll see how this plays out first, though." Muttered Misato. Shinji heard the door slide open.

Is that…? He hoped. His prayers were answered as Rei materialized beside him, Rit-chan not a step behind.

"Good morning, Shinji." Said the girl quietly, touching her hand to his back fondly.

"Good morning, Rei-chan. Hungry?" he asked, motioning to the stove, where some non-meat food stuffs simmered. Rei smiled at him.

"Yes." She said, gracefully slipping in to a chair beside Misato as Shinji began to dish up the rice and seasoned vegetable dish.

"Morning, Shinji!" greeted the older red-head cheerfully, touching his shoulder briefly on her way to a chair by Airi. "I'm starving! Hope you have a lot!"

"Don't worry, Rit-chan. Plenty here for you, and Asuka if she shows." Laughed Shinji, setting Rei's plate in front of her and reaching for a new plate for Rit-chan.

"Morning, Tank Girl." Came Junpei's sardonic greeting. "New outfit?"

"And morning to you, muscle-headed jerk." Said the teen amicably to her teammate. "Did they run out of cells at the police station or what?" she sniped.

-

Asuka and Hikari were currently debating over rather or not to buy matching skirts and tops or to go with contrasting outfits. From where it hung on her purse-backpack, Asuka's cell phone rang. Reaching back under her arm, Asuka easily freed it and picked up the call. Hikari waited, dreading the possibility that an Angel was inbound. She was relieved when Asuka told Shinji that she wouldn't be back until that night. After a few comments from him that drew simple one-word answers from the German girl, she ended the call and returned her cell phone to it's position on her bag.

"So, you think we should go with contrasting outfits, Hi-chan?" said the German girl, eyeing the items the two had placed on the racks, an unconvinced tone in her voice.

"Well, it's just that I'm not as developed as you, so matching outfits won't give the right effect. Now, if you and Rit-chan were to wear matching dresses…" said the inchou leadingly.

"The boys would die of nosebleeds." Snorted Asuka. She sighed as Hikari giggled with her. "Well, if you're sure, then let's grab them and move on to other stores to plunder." Smiled the Pilot.

"Sure." Agreed Hikari, gathering her items and following Asuka to the checkout. "Hey, what was Shinji saying after you said you wouldn't be back until tonight?" she wanted to know.

"Oh. Kaji got permission for Celsia to go into the woods near HQ, so he, Rit-chan, Airi and Misato were going to be going into NERV today for that." Said Asuka.

"What about Rei? Is she going?" asked Hikari as Asuka swiped her card.

"Wondergirl? She'd probably grafted to Shinji-chan's side." Gritted the Second Child, taking the bag with her new skirt and top in it as Hikari fished out her money.

-

Celsia looked up from where she was resting on the bed when the door to her room slid open. "Morning, Celsia!" chirped Rit-chan, stepping through the door, a cheerful smile on her face. Behind her came Airi, then Shinji and Rei.

"Rit-chan! Airi! What are you doing here?" asked the elf, rising from her bed.

"Just came by to see if you wanted to go for a walk." Said Airi, also smiling.

"I've already been to the room with the food, but if you want to walk, that's about the only place I can go." Said Celsia resentfully.

"Well, we have some good news and some bad news, Celsia." Said Rit-chan. "Which do you want first?"

"Does it matter?" asked Celsia, still plainly miffed at her restricted freedom. "Give me the bad first, I guess."

"Doctor Akagi is in charge of this place just now." Said Rit-chan deadpan.

"What!? Gods damn that bitch to the lowest hells!" screamed Celsia, shaking her fist at the ceiling. "When I get my hands on her, I'll show her what suffering is truly about!"

"Do you want to hear the good news or not?" interrupted Rit-chan, grinning at her inhuman companion. Celsia broke off her rant to study her two human teammates.

"Why are you smiling like that?" she asked suspiciously.

"Because of the good news." Answered Airi. "Sure you don't want to hear it?" she baited.

"What good news?" asked Celsia.

"We got permission for you to have access to the Geofront woods, that's all." Said Rit-chan innocently.

"Woods? You mean, like outdoors?" asked Celsia excitedly.

"Yes." Replied Airi. "Care to come take a walk with us?"

-

The woods outside the pyramid-shaped Headquarters of NERV was thick and dense, but totally enclosed within the Geofront. It never ceased to amaze Shinji that the massive NERV complex was entirely enclosed within the gigantic sphere buried under the city of Tokyo 3, but looking up, you could see the entire arch of the inside of the sphere, lit with both artificial and natural light. The natural light was channeled in from the surface by means of mirrors and fiber-optical routing systems, so there appeared to be a set of five small suns around a fifth, much larger, sun. Needless to say, there was enough natural sunlight available to grow the trees and underbrush. There was also a very large lake not far from the outer perimeter of Central Dogma, the central shaft that sat adjacent to the black pyramid of NERV, which was adorned on all four sides by the half-fig leaf emblem of NERV in blood-red paint.

Asides from the tracking for the Eva deployment routes and the three primary auto routes to the linear auto carrier systems, there was no real encroachment from mankind in the sphere. All the cages, labs and facilities were under ground beneath the pyramid and Central Dogma, in the center third of the globe. Shinji had read that only the top third of the Geofront was empty, with the other two thirds full of soil. The bottom third of the oddity was completely untouched, or so they all said.

So it was that the group found themselves moving through a semi-untouched wilderness, thick with trees. Rei stayed at Shinji's side as they moved through the area, following Celsia, who was nearly dancing through the trees, obviously deliriously happy to be free of the pyramid. Rit-chan and Airi stayed fairly close to her, though Rit-chan kept looking back to make eye contact with Shinji and Rei. Eventually, they reached the edge of the woods where it met the lake. Celsia sighed happily, sitting on the grass by the edge of the lake. Airi elegantly sank to the ground next to her, and Rit-chan tossed her head at the two Pilots, inviting them to sit as well. Shinji and Rei accepted, sitting next to Rit-chan, with Shinji between the two girls. "Um, is it me, or are these trees kind of old to be growing in here?" asked Shinji.

"The trees were transplanted here during the construction of NERV to help facilitate environmental control." Said Rei softly. "As you know, if humans are in a sealed environment like the Geofront, they will deplete the oxygen rapidly. Therefore, it is necessary to insure that the oxygen is replenished. Trees and plants consume hydrogen dioxide, and release oxygen, where as humans breathe oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. This forest is to help maintain the breathable atmosphere." She explained.

"Makes sense. If you can't breath, then you die. Not a bad idea." Approved Rit-chan.

"And the lake is here because?" asked Airi.

"Again, it must be for environmental control. With a large body of water, you get moisture for the humidity to make micro-weather patterns to stir the air. And let's not forget that trees and grass need water to live, as well as sunlight for photosynthesis." Supplied Rit-chan.

"There are other reasons, in addition to those." Offered Rei.

"Oh?" asked Airi.

"Rainwater run off from the fortifications of Tokyo 3 has to go somewhere, and here is as good a place as any. Additionally, trees and grass alone do not provide sufficient oxygen regeneration on their own for self-sustained operations. So, the lake has been encouraged to support large algae colonies, as well as some fish and other small aquatic life forms." Said the First.

"How deep is it?" asked Rit-chan, eyeing the destroyer anchored in the center of the massive body of water.

"At places, it is over three hundred feet deep." Said the red-eyed pilot. "Though it averages just under two hundred feet."

"Thinking of going for a swim, Celsia?" teased Rit-chan.

"I would not advise that, Celsia." Interjected Rei softly.

"Why? Is it booby trapped?" asked Rit-chan.

"Not as such. However, the water is deep, and while there is sunlight, it is not of sufficient strength or duration to heat such a large volume of water. The average temperature of the lake is in the mid fifties to mid sixties." Said the girl, her hand in Shinji's.

"About like a high-altitude mountain lake." Mused Rit-chan.

"Yes." Agreed Rei. The group fell silent.

-

Airi considered her youngest teammate as the two followed the pilots back toward the ominous black pyramid that was NERV HQ. She must have succeeded in her attempt to get laid. She's all but glowing, and that smile is distinctly smug. Rit-chan was walking along, almost dancing as she went, a few feet in front of Airi, who was at the end of the procession. Smiling to herself, the actress lengthened her stride a bit, and when she came in to contact distance with Rit-chan a few moments later, she touched the girl's arm. Turning to look at the actress, the schoolgirl immediately knew that she wanted to talk with her. The two slowed their pace so the rest of the group passed farther in front of them. When the rest were sufficiently far away, Rit-chan looked over at Airi. "What's up, Airi?" asked the otaku.

"I just wanted to congratulate you, that's all." Said Airi, smiling at her friend.

"Wha…?" began Rit-chan, not following the actress's thoughts.

"So, was he good?" hinted Airi. Immediate enlightenment dawned on the teenager. For some reason, her smile grew sharp.

"Heh. Good doesn't describe it, Airi!" she said, her tone husky. "I came so hard, I almost passed out!" Airi's eyebrows rose a bit.

"Truly?" murmured the actress.

An emphatic nod confirmed it. "He may be young and inexperienced, but hot damn, he's good! If I knew it felt this good, I would have done this years ago!"

Should I or shouldn't I? Wondered Airi to herself. Ah, to hell with it. "You know, that is not the norm for sex, right?" asked the actress.

"I've heard that." Agreed Rit-chan. "But even if it's only half as good from here on out, then I'll be happy." She said

"No regrets?" asked Airi, studying the teen. Rit-chan just gave her a bright smile.

"Perhaps one day, but right now, right here, in these circumstances, it was - and is - the right choice for me. So don't worry, Airi! You won't have to listen to me whine about the loss of my virginity." Giggled the teen.

"You know, I never thought I would have to." Said Airi, folding the teen into a hug. "You've proven yourself time and time again to me, Rit-chan." She felt Rit-chan return her hug. "I trust you, Rit-chan. With everything." She added.

"Everything?" questioned Rit-chan. "I don't know what to say, Airi, except that I trust you, too."

"Well, that's a relief." Grinned Airi. Rit-chan pulled back a bit from the hug.

"What do you mean?" asked the girl.

"I was wondering how to get the details without sounding like a busy body." Laughed the woman. "Since you trust me, give me all the details!"

"Sure you can handle it, Airi?" chuckled Rit-chan, feeling closer to her teammate than she had for a while. As she began the recounting of the date, she had a stray thought: I wonder how mom will react to my choice?

-

True to her word, Asuka was back for supper, which she devoured in her usual manner before flopping down to watch some television with Shinji and Rit-chan. Airi was still at NERV and Misato was working on some sort of report in her room, leaving the pilots to their own devices. Before long, the three were sitting on the couch, Shinji in the middle, with a red-head on either side. Misato peeked in on them, seeing that Shinji had his arms around both girl's shoulders, lightly stroking their upper arms with his hands. The girls were leaning into him a bit. Misato was shocked to find that she felt left out and a bit jealous of the two. Returning to her room, she tried to concentrate on her reports, but found herself distracted by repeated daydreams of snuggling with Shinji on the couch. God, Misa-chan! Cut that out! You're his commanding officer, for God's sake! Not to mention his guardian! And twice his age, too! None of those arguments had any effect on her daydreams of her and Shinji curled up together on the couch. Or in her bed, naked and…Aargh! That's it! I've got to get some relief! With that angry thought, she closed her laptop and made for the bathroom and a warm soak.