Part 28: Close Quarters Wars

Gendo stood looking over some intelligence reports at his desk. As he sat there, Fuyutsuki came in and approached his boss. "You've seen the reports?" asked Fuyutsuki. Gendo nodded.

"End of next week. Begin preparations for the activation test to take place at our satellite facility in Matsushito." Directed Gendo.

"Not here?" asked Kouzo. "Did the scrolls tell you that?"

"No. We only have the passage of infiltrating enemies for this one." Replied Gendo. "And how better to infiltrate than on a new Eva series unit?"

"You have a point. Is the pilot candidate selected?"

"Yes. Akagi will be informing the Fourth next week." Smiled Gendo.

Your smile is like the smile of a sadist, Gendo. Thought Fuyutsuki.

-

Airi walked swiftly down the hall with Kaji. The two were deep in a restricted area of NERV, and were nearing the object of their walk. Silently, the two stopped before a large door. "And here it is, Airi." Said Kaji softly. "Behind this door is the answer to our questions." He bowed dramatically.

"Or more questions." Murmured Airi. Truth is rarely so easy, Kaji. "So?" she prompted.

"So, what?" asked Kaji.

"Open the door and lets see what we came to see." Said Airi, giving him a calculated smile. Kaji gave her a flashy smile.

"Well, I would, but…" he began.

"But you can't." finished Airi.

"No. Not yet, anyway." Confirmed Kaji. "It's got a very different code pass than the rest of NERV."

"Have you tried Mi-chan's?" asked Airi.

Kaji nodded. "As well as a couple of other ones that usually work. I haven't tried the Commander's or Doctor Akagi's yet. It's too risky right now."

Meaning that you don't know the Commander's code yet. Surmised Airi. "You have Akagi's code?"

"I have three of her codes. This one is different from her normal three."

"I see." Said Airi simply. "I take it that the code itself is not all there is to the problem?"

"Indeed. See this?" asked Kaji, pointing to a card reader like all the other card readers in NERV. "It's the only way to enter anything into this locking system. The entire thing is hard isolated from the MAGI main systems, too. Can't hack it. I suspect that a normal card would result in an alarm."

"I see." Repeated Airi. The two were silent for a moment. "What do you think is in there?" she asked, eyeing the kanji on the door. `LCL Plant 1', huh?

"Probably the heart of Project E." replied Kaji.

"That being…?"

"Haven't a clue." Shrugged Kaji. Well, actually I do, but I'm not going to say just yet. "We better get going." He said, glancing at his watch. "We're about out of time." Silently, the two turned and moved back the way they had come. As they entered the elevator to take them back to the main areas of NERV, Kaji glanced at his watch again. "Not going to make it." He muttered.

"You mean your little `safety net'?" asked Airi. Kaji nodded.

"Twelve seconds." He sighed. Suddenly, Airi was in his arms, her lips locked to his. Startled for a moment, he suddenly understood. Wrapping his arms around her, he slid his tounge into her mouth. About the time he thought the short loop program would end, he had managed to get her blouse open and her bra unfastened. Having the reputation for a ladies' man can be handy after all. Thought the spy, feeling Airi's pert breasts up as they continued to make out like a couple of hormone-ridden teenagers. When the elevator door opened, all the two Section 2 guards saw was a nearly-topless Airi engaged in post-sex necking with the resident skirt chaser. Breaking the kiss off when she heard the two men cough, she faked a blush as she turned away and fixed her clothes.

"Oh my!" she gasped as she worked on her clothes. "How embarrassing!" The two goons kind of giggled at that, nearly drooling over the glimpse of her bare breasts. Well, it's not like I haven't had worse love scenes back in the day. Airi told herself as she finished and turned back around, feeling Kaji's arm slide around her waist.

"Look at the time, Airi." He smiled. "My shift is over. What say we finish this at my place?"

"Kaji, I bet you say that to all the girls." She said coyly. The two moved past the two goons, Kaji winking at them suggestively, patting her ass as they went. Remember, Airi, we need to find out what he knows. Airi reminded herself as his hand settled on her ass. She smiled as they went, but her mental teeth were gritted.

-

Hikari slipped her panties off and tossed them into her locker before she reached for her school swimsuit. Beside her, Asuka stood naked as she fished her suit out. Rit-chan was settling her suit and Rei was just pulling off her jumper. "Pool day. Lucky us!" smiled Asuka as she stepped into the unflattering suit. "I can't wait to hit the water."

"Yeah. It's been brutal this week." Agreed Hikari as she stepped into her suit. "Poor Shinji is having field today, though." She added.

"Yeah, I know!" agreed Asuka as she pulled the top of her suit up. "What the fuck?!" she spat, scowling at her suit. Hikari and Rit-chan looked over at her, seeing the problem at once. Her suit's top had a cut going across both cups, which made the suit un-wearable.

"Someone did that deliberately?" asked Hikari softly.

"It would appear so." Came Rei's voice. Looking over to the end of the locker row, they saw that the First Child had her suit in hand, but was otherwise naked. "My suit has been sabotaged as well." She announced, pointing to the crotch of the suit, where a slit had been cut, so if she were to wear it, it would part to reveal her vaginal lips. Hikari stepped back out of her suit and carefully examined it. After a few moments, she spotted the nearly-cut through seams on the straps and at the groin. If she had worn the suit, it would have torn off her with a dive or two. Rit-chan slipped her suit off.

"I'll go see if there are any spare suits in the equipment room." Said Hikari, donning a tee-shirt and her track shorts. "I'll also tell the teacher so we don't get yelled at for being later." Added the Inchou as she made for the door.

"Who would do something like this?" wondered Rit-chan. "Our lockers are locked, so they must have the combinations. And while we have no shortage of admirers, none of them have been acting up lately."

"Who cares?" snorted Asuka. "I'm changing my lock tomorrow." From the pool, they heard some commotion, and a moment later, Aki strolled into the locker room, her towel wrapped around her like she was just leaving the showers. Hanging down from her hips were a few pieces of dark blue swimsuit.

"Failed on you, right?" asked Rit-chan. Aki nodded. "Yeah, someone sabotaged ours too. How bad is it?"

Aki slipped off her towel. Her suit had parted at the seams and peeled down to her waist, leaving her topless. Her groin had been cut as well, flashing glimpses of her wet sex as she moved. "Not too bad." Shrugged Aki. "So, you think it might have been a boy?"

"Maybe. But it looks like only the five of us were hit, so it's unlikely to be something so mundane." Was Rit-chan's take. Hikari slipped back into the room.

"Um, well, good news and bad news, guys." She said.

"Ok, give us the good news." Said Aki, tearing the remains of her suit off.

"There are some spare suits in the equipment room." Replied Hikari.

"And the bad news?" asked Asuka.

"There are only three." Said the rep.

"Could be worse." Offered Aki.

"I wasn't done." Sighed Hikari. "Those three are the older design. They're also small and have been in storage for a while."

"So?" pressed Asuka.

"I don't think that Aki, Rit-chan or you could squeeze into them, Asuka. Hell, I'm not even sure I can get into one." Interpreted Hikari. Silence reigned for a bit.

"So, we skip class today." Decided Asuka.

"Well, there's a problem with that, Asuka." Said Hikari apologetically. "Today's the mid-semester test for PE, remember? It's worth half our grade."

"Well, we can't swim without suits!" exploded Asuka, snarling. "I don't give free shows to hentai loser boys!"

"We should wear our field shorts with tee shirts." Decided Hikari, nodding to herself. "It'll slow us down a bit in the water, but they wick well and dry fast, plus they're comfortable."

"Yeah, guess we better. Let's get going." Agreed Aki, stepping to her locker.

-

Shinji sighed as he tugged the lock on his locker open and began to pull off his shirt for PE class. Three lockers down, Touji and Kensuke were doing likewise. And complaining as usual, naturally. "Man, of all the days to have track!" muttered Kensuke morosely. "It's got to be like a million degrees out there."

"Aw, what's the matter, pale boy? Afraid of a little sun?" needled Touji, nudging Kensuke's shoulder with his elbow. The nudge pushed Kensuke a step over.

"No, but I'm not too keen on sunstroke, Touji." Retorted the otaku. "After all, those of us with brain cells aren't keen on losing them. Right, Shin-man?"

"What ever." Dismissed Shinji, folding his pants before setting them in his locker. "Still, I hope they have the faucets fixed; it is kinda hot out."

"Didn't they have them repaired yesterday?" asked Touji, grabbing his field shorts and pulling them on.

"No, those were the water taps in the science lab, moron. You remember, the ones that weren't working because someone had to flush a cherry bomb down the third floor bathroom to see if it would burst the pipes in the girl's bathroom on the floor below?" prompted Kensuke.

"I told you, it wasn't me!" protested Touji. "Shit, man, I was with you in student guidance room, remember?"

"Guidance room? What did you do now, Touji?" wondered Shinji.

"Hey, I didn't do nothing, Shin-man! Someone hacked my laptop and sent the principal some hard porn from my IP address! That's why I was in there!" explained Suzahara.

"Me too! It's kind of annoying that someone was so good at hacking that I didn't catch it." Commiserated Kensuke. "Still, I was able to prove it wasn't us."

"Hey! He believed me when I told him it wasn't me." Sulked Touji. Kensuke sighed.

"I know, Touji. Since you obviously barely know how to turn on the computer, he had no trouble believing that you didn't route it to him. God, how can anyone not know that computers identify each other by IP addresses?" wondered Kensuke.

"Well excuse me for reading the screen, freak boy! It has the names of each student by their link, so it made sense to me that that was how they identified each other!" was Touji's answer.

"It's probably for the best that you're a jock, Touji." Sighed Kensuke. "I'd hate to see you be brain dead for no reason."

"How'd you like an atomic wedgie about half way around the track, `Suke?" threatened Touji as he pulled in his PE shirt. "Hey, ready to go, Shin-man?" he asked, turning to see the Eva pilot frowning at his track shorts. "Hey, what's wrong?" asked Touji stepping over to Shinji's side.

"I think there was a problem in the laundry room." Said Shinji, handing the shorts to Touji. Touji frowned as he looked the shorts over.

"These seem a bit small." He said. He noticed something else. "Damn, Shin. Planning on flashing the ladies?" he asked, seeing a long, clean cut from the front of the suit to the back. "If you wore these, your dick would be hanging out."

"I noticed." Replied Shinji succinctly.

"You'd scare the girls, man!" laughed Kensuke.

"Shut up." Replied Shinji. If I wore those, the girls would probably drag me into the equipment shed and fuck me senseless! For some reason, he found himself having to fight the huge smile that wanted to plaster itself across his face. Damn, I am a hentai! "I'll just wear my swimsuit instead." He said, grabbing his swim trunks and inspecting them before pulling off his boxers and slipping into his PE clothes. Tossing on his shirt, he headed for the door.

"Um, Shin, you better not wear that out there." Came Kensuke's voice. Shinji turned to his friend.

"What do you mean? I checked to make sure my swimsuit was ok."

"No. It's your shirt." Pointed Kensuke. Shinji pulled off his shirt, turning it over so he could see the back. Someone had neatly written `will suck cock for sperm' over his shirt back. Touji grabbed the shirt and threw it on the floor.

"I'm gonna kill whoever did this!" spat the boy.

"Hey! Move it!" yelled the coach from the doorway. "If you're not out there in ten seconds, I'm marking you absent!"

"Shit!" swore Touji. "Hey! Teach! We got a small problem with our outfit! Be there in a moment!" he yelled back. Turning back to his locker, he rummaged around for a moment before tossing Shinji a tee shirt. "Here. It's a spare I keep for emergencies." Kensuke and Touji jogged out the door. "Hurry it up!" called Touji. Shinji pulled the shirt on, finding to be loose on his smaller frame. Still, it beat getting sunburn running without a shirt. Shinji closed his locker, made sure the lock was set, and ran out to join his class on the burning fields.

-

With a soft grunt, Asuka pulled herself smoothly out of the water as Aki did the same on the lane next to her, with Rei already out of the water beyond Aki and Hikari just reaching the wall beyond Rei. The last two lanes had Shiori and Keiko still swimming for the wall. Rit-chan and Tomoko were in the next group, waiting to swim. Asuka stepped away from the pool as did her three friends. The girls had decided that their jog tops would be better than the shirts because they were thicker and had better support, which left them in the equivalents of bikinis. "I see that Shinji was sabotaged as well." Came Rei's soft voice from beside Asuka. The German girl's deep blue eyes snapped to the boys running track below the school pool.

"What are you talking about, Wondergirl?" asked Asuka petulantly. "He's wearing the track outfit like always."

"No, he is not." Corrected Rei. "Those are his swim trunks and his shirt seems overly large on him. It seems likely that he is wearing Suzahara's shirt." Asuka's brow knit as she intently studied the boy below her on the track. Hmm. Wondergirl's right. So, it is about us. Wolf whistles from below drifted up to her, and her mouth sneered as her eyes went cold.

"Shut up you loser hentai freaks!" she roared, shaking her fist at the boys watching the girls. "Humph!" she snorted, turning away from the fence. "Losers." She said haughtily. Her blue eyes slid over to Rei, who was still studying Shinji. The First was ignoring the whistles from below, as well as a few suggestions from the same boys. "If you keep staring at Baka like that, you'll burn a hole in him."

"Unlikely." Was all Rei said. A moment later, she turned away from the fence and stepped toward the exit.

"Hey! Where are you going, Wondergirl?" demanded Asuka.

"To speak with Shinji." Said the pilot of Unit 0 calmly.

"Rei-chan! We're in class!" protested Hikari.

"Immaterial. This is more important." Said Rei, sounding nearly exactly like Commander Ikari. Asuka scowled as she gave chase to Rei.

"Rei-chan." Came Rit-chan's voice. The red-eyed girl turned to look at Rit-chan. "Can this wait until after class?" asked the elf hunter softly, inclining her head toward the girls watching the three. Rei considered for a moment.

"Perhaps." Allowed Rei, looking into Ritsuko's eyes. But if I believe he needs me or is in any danger, nothing will keep me from his side. Rit-chan nodded.

Fair enough, Rei. She thought back. The whistle blew and the teacher called out the names for the next heat.

-

"Airi! I'm home!" called out Rit-chan as she slipped her shoes off and entered the main hall of the Zoo. She had just gotten back from a trip to NERV with the pilots, who were still there. After school, the whole group had gone to NERV, since the pilots had more of the endless tests to do and Rit-chan wanted to see Celsia and Mike. At NERV, she had also bumped into Junpei, who was busily arguing with Celsia when she arrived. With extensive experience in such matters, she had immediately broken up the argument and ten minutes later, Junpei was off in search of Airi and she and Celsia had had a nice hour-long talk in the woods near the black pyramid.

"Welcome back, Rit-chan." Called Airi. Rit-chan stepped into her shared room and quickly lost the school uniform in favor of her casual house clothes. Exiting the room, she saw Airi just stepping out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around her. "Where are the others?"

"Still at NERV." Shrugged Rit-chan. "Misato said they'd be late and to get food delivered."

"Ah. I see." Said Airi.

"I could cook something if you want." Offered Rit-chan. Airi stepped into her and Misato's room, tossing her head to indicate that Rit-chan should join her. Rit-chan stepped in behind her.

"No point in working that hard if we don't have to." Demurred Airi, dropping the towel and reaching for her silk shorts and shirt that she favored for house wear. Rit-chan gave her naked friend a cursory visual inspection.

"Airi." She said levelly, "Is that what I think it is?" she asked, pointing to a mark on the actress's shoulder. Airi paused for a moment.

"Yes. It is." She said simply. Rit-chan gave her a steady look. "Don't worry." Smiled Airi. "I know what I'm doing."

"I trust you, it's just…" Rit-chan trailed off. Airi let the smooth, cool silk top drop in to place before stepping over to her young friend and wrapping her up in an embrace. Rit-chan returned the embrace habitually.

"I know. But believe me, it's worth it." She murmured into Rit-chan ear.

"How so?" asked Rit-chan. Airi eased back from the embrace. Pulling her teammate to the futon, she motioned for her to sit as she grabbed a laptop from Misato's desk before joining her friend on the bed. Sitting next to her, Airi opened the laptop and booted up a program as she settled it on their joined legs.

"Read." Was all the actress said, settling her arm around Rit-chan's shoulders.

-

Gendo grunted as he made one final thrust into Akagi's pussy before blowing his load into her. After a moment of spurting into her, he pulled out of her, allowing her to push herself up from where she had been bent over his desk. As she turned, he took her head and pushed her to her knees, his semi-erect, dripping tool hitting her on the nose before slipping into her open mouth. Dutifully she began to lick and suck his member clean of their combined juice. Wet slurping and sucking noises filled the office. "You are to recruit the Fourth Child next Wednesday." He directed as she sucked and licked. "Unit 3 will be arriving from America that Friday. Activation will be at Matsuhiro Friday afternoon. You will be using the back-up bridge personnel for the activation. Minimum support staff for the test are awaiting your arrival. Understood?" he asked her. Ritsu nodded, still busy with his tool.

"Major Katsuragi will be there as well." Added Gendo. Akagi wanted to ask why he was sending her to the test activation, but when she tried to pull her lips off his dick, he had pushed her face back into his groin. Sighing, she returned to the task at hand. Well, if nothing else, I'm getting to be good at oral sex. Thought the doctor to herself, her tongue running along the underside of his tip before she took him into her throat again. The phone on his desk rang, and once more she tried to pull back from his member, but he held her to him tightly as he connected the call. Akagi went back to work, feeling his member begin to stiffen in her mouth from her oral ministrations. "Good evening, Minister. No, I have a few moments to speak with you." Said Gendo calmly as he sat back into his large chair, pulling Akagi with him so her lips never left his tool.

-

"We're home." Said Misato as she and her two charges entered the Zoo.

"Welcome back, guys." Said Rit-chan, leaning her head out of the kitchen. "The food arrived about ten minutes ago. Come on before it gets cold!" she said as her head disappeared into the kitchen. Asuka sniffed the air.

"Chinese?" she guessed.

"Yep!" came the reply. "Hurry before I eat it all!"

Asuka swiftly stepped into her room to change as Shinji put his school bag in his room before entering the kitchen. Rit-chan motioned to the four large containers of food on the table. "Help yourself." She said, munching on an egg roll. Shinji swiftly dished up portions for himself and Asuka as the redheaded pilot entered the kitchen, her house shorts on and a thin, short tank top. Misato was just behind her with her tiny cut-off shorts and tight top. The Major's hair was in a ponytail that night.

"Mmm. Smells good." Said Misato grabbing a beer or three from the fridge as she took her seat next to Shinji. Asuka was devouring an egg roll as Rit-chan and Shinji tucked into some chicken chow mien on a thick bed of steamed rice. Airi was finishing up some won tons and beef stir fry. As Misato happily set to eating, she silently scanned the group, noting the smiles and happy feel to the room. Almost like a real family. she thought.

-

"Coming!" called Touji as he made his way to the door to his apartment. "Wonder who it is at this time of night?" he muttered. Glancing through the eyehole, he smiled and unlocked his door. Tomo stood there, smiling at him, decked out in a short skirt and tight top. "Tomo-chan!" said Touji excitedly. "Come in!" he invited, stepping aside so she could enter.

"Can I bring a friend?" asked Tomo teasingly. Another girl jumped into view from beside Tomo.

"Hi ya, stud!" chirped Naoko, waving at him. She was in spandex shorts and a halter top, both very small. Giggling the two entered the apartment. Naoko frenched him as she entered, as did Tomo. "So, this your pad?" asked Naoko, moving into the apartment's interior. "Not too bad." She said.

"So, you home alone?" asked Tomo as Touji closed and locked the door behind her.

"Yeah. Dad's at work again, so I'm baching it right now." He confirmed.

"Sorry to show up out of the blue like this, but we were in the area, so we thought we'd come by." Explained Tomo. "We tried to call, but you weren't here."

"Yeah. I was visiting Maki. She's stopped responding to the treatments, Tomo." He said, his tone unhappy and worried.

"God! I'm sorry." Said Tomo. "So, are they going to try another treatment?"

Touji shook his head. "There are no other treatments." He sighed. "They think she'll stay the way she is now unless a miracle happens." Touji felt himself tremble a bit at the memory of the news the doctors had given him. Tomo hugged him.

"Do you want us to leave you…?" Touji shook his head.

"No. I…could use some company, truthfully."

"Hey, guys! What's wrong?" asked Naoko, returning from her swift exploration of the apartment and finding the two clenched together.

"His sister isn't getting any better." Said Tomo to her friend.

"Oh. Sorry, stud." Said Naoko, her tone serious.

"Thanks, you two." Said Touji, taking a deep breath. "But, I'm sure she'll be fine! She's a Suzahara, after all!" He smiled a fake smile. "Hey, you two want to check out the latest project Kensuke is selling?"

"Sure, though I'm almost afraid to see it." Agreed Tomo, knowing that he was trying to change the subject. Touji went to his room and retrieved the disc Kensuke had burned him, returning to see the two had settled down in the living room with a place for him in the middle. Popping the disc in, he hit play and leaned back, his arms coming to rest over the two girl's shoulders.

-

Having wished the last of the pitifully few faithful well, the priest closed the doors to the church and headed for his office. With Sunday mass out of the way, he could concentrate on his most urgent duty. Waiting for him in his office was his head Paladin and one of the two young Judases the Church had recruited. Silently, the Father smirked at the thought. Ever more eager to help, the heretic doesn't even realize that his Judgment is drawing nigh. The thought of what would befall the boy lead his thoughts to the fate of the young girl who was in their service. Perhaps I should see if she could be of further use to our Holy Mother Church. She might be worthy of becoming a Paladin with some training and conditioning. The conditioning she has so far received has proven that she is particularly suited to conditioning. The sneer turned to a thoughtful frown. Yes. I will pass along a recommendation to the Order that she be considered for Salvation. If Rome agrees, then she might not have to die for her sins. The thought of the nubile young girl not having to die made his dick stir. Yes, I will do whatever I can to bring her into the fold. Pushing open his office door, he smiled at the kid sitting in front of his desk.

"Good afternoon, my son. What have you learned for us?" he asked the boy. Behind the boy, the head Paladin stood silently, hands casually resting on his belt. The priest knew that his casual pose hid a firm grip on a razor-sharp combat dagger tucked back along his arm. If anything went wrong, the Judas would die first.

-

Kaji reviewed his mental notes as he silently dressed and slipped out of the bedroom of the secretary to the editor-in-chief of the Tokyo 3 Times, the largest (and incidentally only) newspaper in the city. Some indistinct noises from the bed warned him that she was about to awake and he had best be going. Glancing back at her naked form one more time, he slipped out of her apartment and jogged to his car. Pity; she was adventurous in bed; even more than Misato was! That thought made him chuckle. And that's saying a lot, too! With happy thoughts in his head, Agent Ryouji pumped the gas and dumped the clutch, patching out for a moment as his silver convertible sports car departed the apartment's parking garage.

Zooming through the early-morning streets of Tokyo 3, the spy mulled over what he had learned from the friendly woman the night before. As secretary to the editor-in-chief, she heard or read all the incoming news threads, and that often proved to be valuable intel for the over-employed agent. The reason he was in such a hurry to leave the adventurous woman's apartment was that she had mentioned that one of their top reporters had come into the office of the boss the afternoon before and told him that he had come across a hot tip about a world-wide news story and would be gone for the next few days investigating it.

The boss had thrown a fit for appearances, then granted him some expense funds to help him out. While that wasn't so big a story to Kaji, the secretary had later mentioned that the reporter had immediately driven to Tokyo 2, where he met with the Japanese Minister of the Interior. Three hours later, he had emailed her a draft to give to the chief. Looking at the draft, she learned that the man was on the red-eye for New York. Kaji had continued to fuck her senseless like it didn't mean anything to him, but his mind began to pull together odd threads, and he soon suspected that he would need to go to America before too much longer.

But, first things first. Kaji veered over to catch the off-ramp he needed and put on a bit more throttle as he slid through the corner onto a smaller road. There was an actress he needed to visit, and a juvenile delinquent street fighter to assign to a new task to. Humming, Kaji blew through an intersection, ignoring the angry horn of a car that barely missed him. Glancing in his rearview mirror, he saw the angry waving of the drivers arm as his silver car ripped into another turn. He surprised himself to discover that he was laughing. How long has it been since I enjoyed a drive this much? He wondered. Man, it's been a while. Not since…yeah, since just before Misato and went our separate ways in Germany. Heh! I still can't believe that the German government had her banned, no matter how temporarily! Lost in memory, he didn't notice the police car tucked into the small alley he shot past.

Three intersections later, he glanced in the mirror and noticed the flashing lights and siren. Frowning a bit, he considered his options. Normally, he would have just pulled over and showed them his NERV ID, but for some reason, his good mood and fond reminiscence of the good old days with Misato led him to choose the other option. Reaching up to give his seatbelt a good tug, he smiled broadly. Ah, what the hell. Let's see if I still have it. His right foot hit the floorboard and the silver car dug in, tearing off down the road. Kaji had to fight the urge to yell `hi ho Silver! Away!!' Glancing back, he saw the police car beginning to catch up. "Bring it on, then." He muttered, heel-toeing a gear shift as he snatched the wheel hard to port, sending his speedy steed into an inertia drift through the intersection. Even as the nose of his car returned to the lead, Kaji red-line shifted again, his foot never leaving the floor. With the roar of the motor in his ears, he glanced back to see the cop car was skidding around the corner as well, but was too far into the corner to clear the angle in a drift.

"So sorry." He laughed as the car slammed sideways into the curb, tipping up on its side briefly before settling back onto four wheels again. "Better luck next time, I suppose!" he yelled, easing back on the throttle a bit as his tach crept into the middle of the red zone. Full out, Kaji vanished into Tokyo 3's road system.

-

Misato read her morning reports at her desk, coffee cup at her elbow as she read. Along with the miscellaneous and irrelevant information, she spotted the timetable for the delivery of Unit 3. With the date set for that Friday, she didn't have much time to prepare. Further reading revealed to her that the activation would be done at the remote lab at Matsuhira. Shaking her dark purple hair, Misato dropped the reports to her desk and rose, draining the coffee as she did so. It was time to visit Ritsu about the matter of pilot selection.

-

"Man, I can't believe that Touji got called to the principal's office!" marveled Kensuke. "He didn't even do anything this time!"

"It's just his past sins coming back to haunt him." Sniffed Asuka disdainfully. "Personally, I'm just disappointed that you weren't called as well!"

"Whatever, Red." Said Kensuke before ducking behind Shinji as Asuka took a step toward him.

"Better watch out, Shinji." Said Asuka, smiling demonically. "He's acting like a little bitch. He's probably sweet on you or something."

"Like you'd know anything, Demoness!" retorted Kensuke from behind Shinji. "I'm no bitch! Matter of fact, I'm the definition of `stud'!"

"Stop calling her that, Kensuke." Said Shinji. Kensuke felt someone push him out of his hiding place and blinked to see that it was Rei. Silently, the First settled into her place at Shinji's side.

"Sure you are. I'm sure the program tells that every little hentai monkey-spanking loser who buys it." Retorted Asuka.

"Hey! I've scored with a lot of chicks!" he cried angrily.

"Virtual girls don't count, freak." Needled Asuka.

"Well at least I've gotten laid!" he seethed angrily. "Unlike some I could mention."

"Oh? And just what do you mean by that?" joined Rit-chan.

"I mean…you know!" faltered Kensuke. "It's not like anyone would want Devil Girl here, and Shinji's well…sorry, man, but the truth's the truth: you're just too meek to get any chicks!"

He didn't understand why the girls giggled at that comment. Shinji just sighed and shook his head.

-

"Are you sure you don't want to pilot?" asked Ritsuko Akagi, studying Touji intently.

"I've seen what one of those things does to Shinji, remember?" he replied. "No way in hell am I gonna do it!"

"I see." Was all Ritsu said.

"Are we done? Can I go?" he asked, his tone tired. It had been two hours of this so far, and he was fed up with it. Besides, he wanted to go see Maki.

"How's your sister doing?" asked Ritsu, sitting back and flipping through some papers on her clipboard. Touji's head snapped up at that, his eyes narrowing.

"What's it matter to you?" he asked aggressively. He still held a grudge against NERV, even though he had apologized to Shinji.

"Looking over her charts, I can see that she won't be getting any better." Said Akagi. "The damage to her nervous system and body are very extensive. The procedures and techniques currently available to the hospitals are insufficient to return her to a normal life." She paused, maintaining steady eye contact with Touji. The silence went on for a few heartbeats. Then she spoke again. "However, NERV has approximately fifteen years lead on the current medical science."

"Meaning?" demanded Touji, hope in his heart. He unconsciously leaned forward as he waited for the answer.

"Meaning that we have the knowledge, materials and expertise to return your sister to perfect form." Said Ritsu softly. Got you, Suzahara.

"Even the damage to her nervous system?" prompted Touji.

Akagi nodded. "As an outgrowth of the Evangelion Project, we have perfected a neural repair procedure that regenerates the nerve tissue and allows the subject to regain complete use of a damaged area." Another small pause. "However, the cost is astronomical, and the materials and equipment exist only in NERV's primary neurological ward."

"So, you're saying that my piloting will grant my sister her life back, right?" said Touji, closing his eyes.

Akagi blinked. Didn't think he was smart enough to catch that the first time around. "Correct."

"Even if something happens to me?" prompted Touji, eyes still closed.

"Your benefits will transfer to her in the event that you are killed in action against the angels." Confirmed Ritsu. Which you are sure to be. She didn't add. Touji's survival, as well as the survival of the other candidate, was not in Gendo's scenario.

"I'll do it." Whispered Touji. He opened his eyes and fixed them on Akagi. "But I want her in NERV's cranial ward by the end of the day."

"Not a problem." Nodded Ritsu, fishing out a small stack of papers, which she placed in front of him. "Now, let's get this going." She said. "Just so you know, from here on out, you can't talk about this to anyone not in NERV. Once we finish up here, you will need to read the FAQ sheets for new recruits. Tomorrow morning at six, you are to report to me at NERV for your physical, then we need to get you started on the Eva initialization procedures."

"Hey, Doctor Akagi?" asked Touji as he signed, initialized and stamped his life away.

"Yes?"

"Does…have you told any of the pilots about this?" he asked.

"Not yet." She answered, "But there will be an announcement when they come in for they synch tests tomorrow night."

"Could you not tell them?" he asked. "I…want to tell them myself."

Akagi shrugged. "Suit yourself." She said, unconcerned. The rest of the day passed swiftly. Each stroke of his pen, each stamp of his seal, he reminded himself why he was throwing himself into hell: This is for Maki! This is for Maki! This is for Maki!

-

Asuka paused outside Kaji's office door, taking a deep breath to steady herself. Once more, she checked her appearance. Still in her school uniform, she had taken the time to loosen her top and shorten her skirt before paying a visit to her would-be love interest. This time, we get him! She mentally vowed. Ready? Let's go, Asuka! With her mental cheering done, she opened the door and entered, smiling sweetly. Kaji was working at his computer, his back to her.

"Hello, Kaji!" she said, stopping behind his chair.

"Oh. Hello, Asuka." He said, turning to face her. Asuka caught a glimpse of a picture on the screen as he did so. Ducking her head around his, she scanned the screen. Her face went red.

"Nien! Dies ist geschieht nicht!" she roared. "How can he be a Pilot!?"

-

"Rei." Came Commander Ikari's voice.

"Yes, sir?" she replied. The two were having a private dinner at a small restaurant.

"Do you know about the Fourth?" he asked her. She nodded. "Very well. You are not to inform Pilot Ikari of this. Understand?" he asked her. She nodded.

"Hai."

"Good. How is your soup?" he asked.

"It is acceptable." She answered, sipping some more delicately. Unlike your orders.

-

Kaji broke the kiss with Airi and leaned back, offering her a smile. "So, I'll see you in a few days, then." He said.

"Is this trip really necessary?" she asked, her tone sweet.

"Afraid so." Smiled the spy. "Keep an out for Misato for me, would you?"

"She hardly needs a babysitter, you know." Noted Airi. "She can take care of herself."

"Force of habit." Shrugged the spy. Glancing at his watch, he shook his head. "Gotta go." Patting her ass one more time, he jogged off. Behind him, Airi's smile dropped off her face. Turning the opposite direction, she headed for Celsia's cell. Maybe there would be some good news there.

-

"Misato?" began Touji, glancing at the woman beside him. "Can I ask you something?"

"At NERV, it's Major Katsuragi, Touji." Said Misato absently. "Or sir, whichever you prefer."

"Sorry. I'm still new to this." He muttered. "Um, Major Katsuragi?" he tried again.

"Yes?" she replied, looking over at him.

"Does…Shinji know? About me, I mean?"

Misato was quiet for a long moment. "No." she said simply.

"Good." He exhaled. Seeing Misato's quizzical look, he elaborated. "I mean, I want to tell him about my joining myself."

"Well, let's wait to tell him until we have something to tell him." Nodded Misato, knowing that he wouldn't take the news well. I won't make him suffer more than I have to.

"O…ok." Gulped Touji. The two were silent as they rode through the maze of NERV.

"Tomorrow we move to Matsuhiro. I'll pick you up at seven in the morning. We'll be gone until the middle of next week. Be ready." Said Misato after several minutes of silence.

"Yes, Mis…I mean, Major."

-

Class wasn't the same without Touji, thought Kensuke. He sat there, idly surfing the net. Glancing at the others, he noticed that they were all seemingly absorbed in deep thought. Even Asuka had just told him to drop dead when she saw him this morning. Not like her at all.

No one had seen Touji since the day he had been called into the Principal's office. Rumors were that he was expelled, or transferred to a safer school or that he had to skip town because he got a girl pregnant. Shinji had no idea what was going on, and he didn't even bother to ask the other pilots. The droning of the lecture was cut short by three cell phones going off at once. By now, everyone knew that that meant Angel Attack. Rit-chan ran off with the pilots as well.

-

Shinji studied the dark form approaching. It seemed awfully familiar to him for some reason. "Is that…the Angel?" he asked over the comms circuits.

"Yes." Came Gendo's voice. Shinji blinked at the reminder that Misato wasn't there to command them in this engagement. He had come to be comfortable with her presence, even if it was only over the comms circuits.

"It looks like an Eva." Noted Shinji skeptically.

"It was Unit 3, Pilot." Came the cold voice of the Commander. "It is now the thirteenth Angel. You are to destroy it before it reaches the city limits. Is that clear?"

A grunt of resentment was all the answer the Commander got. Shinji focused on the Angel. It was roughly like his Eva, but it's arms were longer, and it had a menacing soot black paintjob. Glancing to his side, he was calmed somewhat by the comforting presence of the medium blue and white Unit 0 and the crimson and black Unit 2. Asuka-chan and Rei-chan are here with me. He thought. We'll be ok. The dark Eva drew closer.

"Looks like the plug didn't eject." Came Asuka's uncharacteristically quiet voice. Shinji studied the back of the Eva and saw the tip of an entry plug, jammed into the socket with some sort of grayish-white tissue. The armor hatch that usually sealed the plug into the socket had been blown off by the ejection system, but the plug hadn't made it clear even with the rocket motors crafted into the plug.

Wait a fucking minute!! If there's a plug, then…! "You mean there is a pilot aboard that Unit?!" he gasped.

"Of course there is, Baka!" snapped back Asuka. "It went crazy during activation, remember?" Unit 2 began to move off to the side.

"We have to save…!" began Shinji, but was interrupted by his father's voice.

"You are to destroy the Angel, Pilot. That is your mission."

"But, the pilot is still in there!" protested Shinji.

"Immaterial. The pilot is already contaminated by the Angel, and therefore of no further use to us. Destroy the target."

"I won't let you make me a killer, father!" shouted Shinji hotly.

"Rei." Said Gendo as if Shinji hadn't said a word.

"Yes, Commander?" said the girl, her tone empty.

"Pilot Ikari is useless. Engage the target." Ordered Gendo.

"Hai." Was her answer, though her eyes were on Shinji's over the video link between the units. Forgive me, love. But I will destroy your friend rather than have you hurt. Unit 0 swiftly moved behind a small hill, a heavy-gauge hybrid cannon in her Unit's grasp. Shinji just stood there, not believing that his father would dismiss a pilot's life so casually.

"Shinji!" came Asuka's voice. Blinking, he looked over to her unit. Unit 2 was cradling the Progressive Axe in its hands.

"Ye…yes, Asuka?" he answered her.

"Baka! Grab that rifle and cover me!"

"I won't…" he began, only to be interrupted by Asuka.

"What are you, stupid?" she snarled, Unit 2 shaking it's fist at Unit 1. "We can save him! IF you stop sniveling and give me a fucking hand!!!!"

"Right." Said Shinji determinedly. If anyone can think of a way to save the pilot, it's Asuka! Unit 1 grabbed one of the pallet rifles and jogged over to where Unit 2 was crouch behind a small rise. "What's the plan?"

"You get out in front of it, spread your AT Field and draw it in. Once it passes me, I'll cut the socket out with my axe, while you keep it busy from the front. Be sure to get between me and Wondergirl so we have a safety." Explained Asuka.

"Got it, A-chan!" nodded Shinji, moving into the middle of the slight valley, with Unit 2 closest to the approaching Angel, Unit 1 in plain sight dead ahead, and Unit 0 crouch behind a hill slightly farther back from Unit 1's position. Shinji settled the rifle onto his Unit's shoulder and brought up the targeting reticule on his displays. "Center target, pull switch." He muttered. This might work. He thought.

-

"Asuka's plan should work." Mused the Vice Commander to the Commander, perched above the bridge crew. Gendo sneered.

"I will not allow her to interfere with the scenario." He said. Pressing his mic stud, he spoke to the crew below him. "Lieutenant Ibuki, prepare the Dummy Plug System for activation." He ordered.

"Is that really necessary, sir?" asked the brown-haired tech. "Asuka's plan should…"

"You have your orders." Interrupted the devil of NERV.

"Yes, sir. Which unit?" asked Maya, her fingers paused over her keyboard.

"Unit 1 on my command."

-

Asuka watched the figure approaching the three Evas. Come on, a little closer you bastard. She thought. This will be so good! That Stooge will owe me his life, and I will make his a living hell! She gloated mentally. "Shinji? You ready?" she asked her decoy.

"Yes. I'm ready." He replied. The two watched the unit come within rage. "Hey, Asuka." Said Shinji.

"Yeah, what is it?"

"You said `him' earlier. Do you know who the pilot is?" asked the Third of the Second.

"WHAT?!" cried Asuka, her unit turning to stare at Unit 1. "You mean you don't know?!" Her diverted attention was her undoing. Unit 3 suddenly leaped into the air, landing on Unit 2's turned back, the arms grasping and twisting as the new unit drove the crouched Unit 2 to the ground with a thunderous impact. With a groan of armor plating, Unit 2's right shoulder was dislocated. The axe was knocked out of her unit's hands, and Asuka felt the impact of Unit 3's fists on her armored entry socket. Shiest! Gotta get him off me! "Shinji! Hose his ass down!" she screamed into the comms unit.

"Asuka! It's got the axe! Get out of there!" was the yelled reply as Unit 1 held the trigger down on the pallet rifle, shells thundering toward the black unit, only to be shattered by the possessed Eva's AT Field. Unit 2 got it's head turned to see the unnaturally long arm of Unit 3 raise the axe up, preparing to slam it into her entry plug. Without the leverage to get the enemy unit off her, she did the only thing she could do.

His rifle empty, Shinji grabbed it by the smoking barrel and charged toward his besieged love, rifle cocked back over his Unit's shoulder like a club. "Get off her you stinking shit!" he yelled, swinging the rifle toward the enemy unit's head. Just as the black Eva unit brought the axe down, Asuka's entry plug tore out of her unit, ejecting the pilot as Shinji's pallet rifle shattered against Unit 3's head, the progressive axe being knocked off target, sinking into the shoulder of Unit 2 instead of the entry socket. Unit 3 rolled with the blow, releasing the axe as it grabbed Unit 1's throat with it's long arm and tossing Shinji over the crest of the hill before rolling to it's feet and looking around. Rei stayed silent and still behind her mountain, AT Field powered down, waiting.

Shinji was dazed from the feedback of his unit's ungraceful head-plant into the other side of the mountain. "Ugh." He said, trying to get his senses back. "That wasn't so good." He muttered. Shaking his head once more and taking a deep lungful of LCL fluid, he began to bring Unit 1 back to it's feet. "Now, where did it go?" he wondered, looking around for the hulking black form of the enemy.

Unit 3 walked past Rei's hiding place, headed straight for Tokyo 3, NERV and the First Angel. Silently, Rei steadied her super cannon on the back of the unit's chest, knowing that she would have to hit the core in the Eva to shut it down permanently. It also happened that the shot would atomize whatever remained of Touji, as the pilot's seat was tight against the core's interface area. Would he understand why I must do this? She wondered fleetingly. Better to kill him cleanly than for him to become one with the Angel in his unit. Suzahara, I thank you for giving your life in place of my Shinji's. she silently thought to the Unit's pilot as she caressed the trigger.

Just as Unit 1's head cleared the hilltop, he heard and saw the shot of Rei's super cannon. Jumping over the crest, he slid down the backside, searching for any sign of Unit 0 or Unit 3. Over his comms unit, he heard Rei gasp, then groan in pain. "Rei-chan!" he yelled, sprinting to her last known location. Skidding around the edge of her cover, he saw Unit 0 pinned beneath Unit 3, holding the cannon between the two like a spear shaft, keeping Unit 3 as far back as possible. Unit 3's small, ugly head was extended toward her Unit's head, and was drooling. Shinji looked down to where the drool was hitting her left arm at the shoulder, and saw the armor and tissue spasming and twitching.

-

"Unit 0 shows signs of contamination from the angel's drool!" sang out Maya. "Tissue fusion five percent! Eight percent! Climbing!"

"Emergency detach Unit 0's left arm at the shoulder." Grated out Gendo.

"But Ayanami's still synched to it!" protested Hyuga.

"Cut. It. Off." Bit out Gendo.

"Yes, sir." Gasped Maya, hitting some controls.

-

Rei screamed as her arm was blown off. In the plug, her entire left arm went dead. Had I been at a higher synch, my real arm would have been destroyed. She thought, pushing past the pain. Pain and her were old acquaintances, after all. The Angel pushed her cannon aside and reached for her throat. Before the black hand could close on her Unit's throat, a green and purple arm snaked around the black neck and a moment later, the black unit was torn off her Unit.

Using a move he had learned from Asuka, Shinji twisted the black enemy around as he pulled it off Rei by the neck, shoving his Unit's foot under the feet of the black unit and levering the unit around to pin it to the ground face down. "Ok, now let's get you out of there." He said tensely, grabbing the armored entry socket cover with one hand as his other hand and both legs were busy pinning the enemy down. It took him several moments to get a firm grip on the armor due to the thrashing of the opponent, but he finally got a good grip and tore the cover off the entire length of the plug, revealing the interlocks and the white-silver of the hyper-alloy plug. Shinji reached down to pull the entire plug free, but before he could, all his controls went down, leaving only the flashing message `Dummy Plug Activated' on his main display. In a small corner of the screen, it read `control source: Rei-c'. Suddenly, his Eva unit shuddered, then reared back and punched it's fist through Unit 3's head, showering the area with blood and viscera.

-

"Dummy plug activated." Said Maya faintly.

"Good." Acknowledged Gendo, smiling under his folded hands as Unit 1 began to savagely dismember the Angel. Unnoticed below them, Rit-chan and Airi watched silently from the door to the bridge as Unit 1 was unleashed.

-

Desperately, Shinji fought for control in the plug, twisting his butterfly controls, pushing petals and hitting switches. No effect on anything was the only result. In his mind, he no longer felt the presence of the Eva, pressing against his mind, probing his consciousness, laying on his soul like a sweetly sticky layer of honey. "Stop it!" he cried out, seeing the Unit tearing the last of the black Eva apart. "Stop it, damn you!" he shrieked. "Father! Stop this now!" There was no answer; but then, he didn't really expect an answer from his father. A flash of white caught his attention, and he saw Unit 1 lift the plug of the enemy unit in its hand, fingers tightening on the alloy tube. It's going to crush it! He thought, panicking. "Stop it! Mother!" he yelled, trying to focus on the feel of the Eva's core on his mind. For a split second, he felt something very familiar. "Don't!" he screamed as loudly as he could. His Eva went silent, save for a single pulse of a blue flame deep inside the darkness.

-

Alarms were sounding all over the bridge, and warnings were flashing like Christmas lights on the massive display in front of the bridge. Gendo was on his feet, and Kouzo was speechless, his mouth hanging open in shock. "Report!" yelled Gendo at the furiously working bridge crew below him.

"Sir! All signals from Unit 1 lost! Telemetry, health status, power levels - it's all gone!" sang out Hyuga.

"Complete shutdown! Nothing is happening!" added Shigeru.

"Dummy Plug is…destroyed." Said Maya, her voice faint.

"What?" growled Gendo. "Impossible."

"No, sir!" maintained Maya, "readings confirmed! The Dummy Plug is completely inert!"

"Telemetry to Unit 1 re-established! Pilot status confirmed!" called out Hyuga.

"Communications restored to Unit, sir." Added Shigeru. "All systems nominal." Airi and Rit-chan heaved a sigh of relief at that news.

"Gendo." Came a eerily hollow, empty voice. The bridge crew blinked and stared for a moment before realizing that it was coming from Unit 1's plug. "Gendo." Came the voice again. Commander Ikari sat down, his hands returning the Gendo Positiontm before he replied.

"Report, Pilot." He said.

"Gendo." The voice didn't sound like Shinji at all. In fact, it sounded like a ghost.

"Pilot Ikari, you will give your report. Now." Ordered the Commander.

"Gendo Rokubungi." Then the feed went dead. Airi turned to look at Rit-chan.

"That wasn't Shinji's voice, Airi." Whispered the teen.

"What is the status of the Angel?" asked Gendo.

"Sir! The Angel is utterly destroyed. Unit 1 is still activated, but the Pilot is unconscious. Unit 2 is inactive, Asuka is alive and well in her plug and awaiting recovery. Unit 0 is heavily damaged, and Ayanami shows signs of feedback injuries." Replied Maya.

"Order the recovery team in. Also, order the disposal teams in to clean up the mess." Directed Gendo, standing. "Any further news from Matsuhiro?"

"Salvage teams there have found a few survivors, sir. There is still a lot of ground to cover though." Answered Shigeru. "Still no sign of Doctor Akagi or Major Katsuragi, sir."

"I see. If there is no sign of them within the next twelve hours, they are to be listed as MIA. Twelve hours after that, they are to be listed as KIA. Lieutenant Ibuki will assume Akagi's duties, and Lieutenant Hyuga will assume Major Katsuragi's duties until further notice. That is all." The concealed elevator closed behind the commander.

-

Two and a half hours later, Units 0 and 2 were being positioned in their cages for repair, while their Pilots were in the infirmary, being checked out. Unit 1 was still kneeling over the remains of the Angel, with the mostly-crushed and mangled plug in it's massive hand. Recovery crews had tried to open the hatch to get the pilot out, but nothing was working. When they had tried to force the armor open, the silent Eva had twitched it's shoulders, spilling the crew to the ground. Since then, no one had approached it, and the decision was made to wait for the pilot to wake up and eject his plug himself. The recovery team turned their attention to the plug in the Eva's hand.

-

"Hey! Found some survivors!" yelled a safety suited man to his fellow workers. Immediately, several men ran over and began to help the first extract the bodies. From a badly crushed concrete room, the workers pulled two breathing women and four dead men. "Get them to the medics immediately!" ordered the boss. The two were swiftly carried to the modest medical tent set up to deal with the injured. Before the two were even set down on the tables, medics were already treating them and searching for injuries.

As they cut off the tattered and dirty clothes, they found the ID's the women carried. "Holy shit! These are the Operations Director and the Head of Project E!" exclaimed a nurse, eyeing the NERV cards. "Better contact NERV HQ immediately!"

"Let someone else bother with that!" came the crisp voice of the head medic. "These two need medical treatment first." He tossed his head at the blonde. "Get back to work. She needs those cuts cleaned, stitched and bandaged, and she also needs to be checked for broken bones and internal bleeding, so stop yakking like a couple of fish wives and do your job."

"Yes, sir." Came the reply as the nurse grabbed a suture tray and got back to work. The chief medic continued his examination of Misato.

As the medics were working on the two women, a NERV helicopter landed and a crew of techs and engineers hopped out and began to move into the smashed remains of the auxiliary NERV base. One woman, dressed in blue jeans and a tee-shirt walked swiftly toward the tent with the red cross on a white field on it. "Good evening, gentlemen; and ladies." She said, nodding to the medics and nurses. Glancing at the two occupants of the tables, she sighed in relief. "Well, that answers that question." She murmured to herself. "Are they going to survive?" she asked.

"Barring a catastrophe in the next hour or so, they should." Answered the doctor, glancing up at the dark-haired woman. "And you might be?" he asked leadingly.

"Sorry, where are my manners?" smiled the woman, pulling a NERV card from her jeans pocket. "I'm Airi Komiyama, tasked out of the Vice Commander's office. I was sent here to gather data on any survivors, but I see that there won't be much to gather."

"Other than these two, there are five others, so far. We do have a lot of bodies, though." Said the man, returning to his work on Misato's body. "She's got some internal bleeding, a lot of fractures to her right arm and will be sporting a very impressive collection of bruises and cuts, but she should be fine in a few weeks. I'd bet on a mild concussion as well." He glanced at the blonde being stitched by a nurse. "That one's in better condition. A couple of days, and she'll be back to work.

On the table, Misato stirred as the doctor began to stitch a gash on her right thigh, near her hip. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open and she tried to sit up, but Airi swiftly grabbed her shoulders and eased her back down. "Easy, Misato!" she urged the OD. "You're going to be ok, but you're pretty banged up. Let them treat you."

"Airi?" she said, trying to focus on the other woman. "Didn't tell me you had a twin."

"Sorry, I don't. You've got a concussion." Apologized Airi.

"Oh. I was hoping you had a twin." Muttered Misato. "Oh shit! Unit 3 is…!"

"Unit 3 has been…dealt with." Said Airi softly, pressing her palm to Misato's forehead. Now for the hard part.

"How?" asked Misato.

"It was intercepted on the outskirts of Tokyo 3 by the Evas. During the battle, Units 0 and 2 were heavily damaged, but the pilots are going to be fine according to Maya." Said Airi, mentally bracing herself for the bad news.

"What about my Shinji? And what happened to Unit 3?" demanded Misato.

"Unit 3 was destroyed as an Angel by Unit 1." She saw the question in Misato's slightly unfocused eyes. "Pilot and all; though there was a plan to save the pilot."

"Oh God." Moaned Misato. "Airi, the pilot is…"

"Was, Misato. The pilot was Touji Suzahara."

"I have to tell Shinji." Said Misato, a tear running down her cheek. "I should have told him before, but…" she trailed off.

"Well, that's part of the reason I'm here, Misato." Said Airi softly. Misato turned to stare at her.

"Go on." Said Misato.

"For two hours, Unit 1 was silent, and Shinji was unconscious. His plug suit showed that a lot of brain activity was going on, but he was nearly in a physical coma. The bridge crew tried to wake him up, but nothing was working. Once Asuka and Rei were released from the infirmary, they heard that he was out, and made the decision to try to wake him up over the comms links. They got Rit-chan to help, and they managed to yell at him enough to bring him around." Airi paused, remembering the joy Asuka took in the yelling.

"So, he's fine." Sighed Misato.

"I guess." Airi reluctantly continued. "Misato, he came to, looked at the crushed entry plug in Unit 1's hands and saw the recovery teams pulling what was left of Touji out of there. He…" she paused, asserting more control over herself. "He went nuts, Misato. He called his father every name in the book, disowned him and swore to kill him before marching Unit 1 toward NERV."

"Shinji." Breathed Misato, tears coming down her cheeks faster.

"They cut the power to his unit, but he had a full charge in the batteries, so he kept coming like a freight train. The bridge crew tried to talk him down, but he wouldn't listen. That bastard ordered the crew to open fire on Unit 1 with the anti-angel guns, but it made about as much difference to Shinji as rain does to a duck. When he got to the first recovery route, he began to force it open, telling his father he better take that time to clean his neck." Airi paused once more, wishing she didn't have to tell Misato this while she was laid up like this.

"And?" prompted Misato, her voice wavering.

"Commander Ikari ordered them to pressurize the LCL, but Unit 1 refused all outside commands. The commander left, and Rit-chan ordered the bridge crew out at gunpoint, except for me and your two. Misato, the three of them talked him into standing down, but now he's in high-security lockdown and no one - not even you or his friends - is allowed to see him. The Goatfucker was talking about court marshaling him or some other such bullshit when I left."

"Oh, Shinji." Cried Misato. "I'm sorry."

"Misato," said Airi, leaning closer to the woman. "there's more to the story, but not here, and not now. Get me?" Misato gave a tiny nod, but the tears kept falling.