Part 34: New Ideas

Gendo was having a bad day. Truthfully, he had been having a bad day since the strangers showed up. But today was worse than most. He had been reviewing the reports from his agents who were tasked with keeping an eye on his son. Instead of destabilizing him by forcing him to live with Ibuki for a while, it had had the opposite effect. Shinji had won the girl over. And I could have sworn that she was a lesbian, too. He thought resentfully. He is endangering the scenario by his continued growth. So, I must find a way to crush this new personality, Unfortunately for Gendo, he hadn't the slightest notion of how to do that.

Direct violence was out, as he had seen enough to know that Unit 1 had fully bonded with him, and would likely do anything it had to in order to protect her pilot. Gendo grimaced at the thought. Forcing the memory of his wife's adoration for Shinji when he was a baby from his mind, he tried to find a way to regain some measure of control over the Messiah of Third Impact. Ten years of constant manipulation were not going to be wasted; at least, if he had anything to say about it.

It's almost time for the next angel to appear. He mused, noting some dates from his translation of the Scrolls. Reviewing the roster in his head, he realized that he had more pilots than the scenario required. A cruel smile twisted his lips. As we have more than we need, who should die for my cause? Sohryu would be a nice twist for the Third, but her skills are too good. The Horaki girl has received more training that I thought. Perhaps if I arranged for her to take point against the next Angel? Hmm. No, I suspect that Katsuragi will try to throw her precious Third into the fight, and when that fails, she'll fall back onto Sohryu as point man. Gendo concentrated and plotted. Eventually, he thought he had a workable plan.

-

The lunch bell rang and Horaki and her friends moved onto the grassy area under their tree. Looking around as Hikari and Shinji got out the bentos, Asuka made an observation. "There aren't many left." She said in a slightly thoughtful tone.

"Many what? Students?" asked Aki, frowning. Asuka nodded. "You're right. There are only nine people left in class 2-A. Rin in 3-C says that so many have transferred from the upper classes that the school has shut down the top floor, and five teachers have moved to new schools." All the girl's attention perked up at that tidbit. Hikari bit her lip to keep from smiling a lecherous smile, while Rit-chan just pressed her lips together. Asuka turned her back to the rest, her smile positively lusty.

"Yeah. And did you see that notice on the board this morning?" asked Hikari, setting bentos in front of Rei and Asuka while Shinji put bentos in front of Rit-chan and Aki. He and Hikari had decided to rotate making bentos for their friends, with the others getting a bento from each of them every other day. The others had never eaten so good.

"Aida is approaching." Said Rei softly, before taking a delicate bite of her tofu chow mien. Hikari had discovered that Rei ate tofu, and had been steadily increasing her number of Rei-approved dishes by switching meat for tofu. Shinji looked up and saw his last non-NERV friend approaching the group. Kensuke was walking a bit dejectedly.

"What's wrong, freak show?" demanded Asuka, sneering. "Still moping over Shiori dumping your perverted ass?"

"Asuka." Said Shinji softly, sighing a bit. Asuka just harrumphed! "So, what's with the lack of energy, Kensuke?"

"Shin, you remember how I told you I applied for the UN Military Academy?" he asked his friend, ignoring Asuka's snicker.

"Yeah. Still set on being a soldier?" asked Shinji, eyeing his friend.

"Ha! Bet he got turned down." Sniped Asuka. Hikari sent her a look and she dug into her bento, convinced that she had made her point.

"I got my reply today." Said Kensuke, handing Shinji a slightly-rumpled envelop. Shinji reached out for it, but Asuka snatched it first. Swiftly fishing the letter out of the envelop, she scanned it.

"No fucking way!" she snapped, baring her teeth. She threw the letter to Shinji before resuming her meal, muttering darkly in German between bites. Shinji took the letter and read it, Rei doing likewise. He finished and blinked at his friend.

"Ummm. This is good news, right?" he asked his buddy. "You got in, after all. That's what you wanted, right?"

"Yeah." Said Kensuke, his tone subdued. Rit-chan gently took the letter and scanned it.

"You've been selected for the technical branch. Not bad." Said the girl. "Good branch for promotion; in fact, the last head of the JSDF came up through the technical branch." Kensuke frowned.

"What are you talking about, Inoue? He was an admiral from the Maritime Service."

"Oh. Right." Muttered Rit-chan. "Forget I said anything." Asuka smiled at her fellow redhead.

"So why aren't you happy about this, Kensuke?" asked Shinji, killing the topic of why Rit-chan's history differed from Aida's. "You can pretty much count on being an officer within three years, so why aren't you celebrating?"

"Well, I had requested Special Operations assignment, for one thing." Said Kensuke.

"Fat chance of that, geek." Chortled Asuka. "Touji might have had a shot at making the cut, but you don't stand a chance of it! You have to be really physical to get into the Spec Ops divisions."

"You're sympathy under whelms me, Demoness." Replied Kensuke drolly, before ducking toward Shinji when Asuka swung at him.

"Don't call Asuka that, Kensuke." Reprimanded Shinji. "So, you're down because you didn't get your first choice in programs?"

"No. I kind of thought I wouldn't make prime selection." Admitted Kensuke. "It's the date I'm supposed to report for induction." He said. Shinji frowned a bit, reviewing the letter in his head.

"You are to report for instruction next week." Said Rei softly. Shinji gaped at her.

"Next week?" he wondered. "Man, they move fast, don't they?"

"Wait a minute, NERV allowed this?" asked Asuka, suddenly seeing a larger picture. "Your old man is the head of the public relations branch, right?" Kensuke nodded. "So, under NERV commission contract, section 11, paragraph two, clause 1, all NERV personnel and their immediate dependants require release from NERV prior to enrollment, recruitment, employment or induction into other organizations, private, governmental or military." Said Asuka, Aki and Rit-chan's eyebrows raising a little as she recited the contract verbatim. "Did you get that clearance?" she asked him. Kensuke fished around in his bag and pulled out a folder.

"Dad gave this to me this morning, along with the letter." Said the boy. Shinji took the folder before Asuka could grab it. Opening it, he saw several sheets of paper. Most were sealed or stamped or embossed. There was also a small ID card, not unlike the cards the pilots had, but this one was solid green, with a picture of Kensuke in the corner and his data on the front. Across the front of the card, large black letters clearly stated `NULL AND VOID'. Rit-chan leaned over and pulled a smaller piece of paper from behind the main battery of pages. It was a rail pass and map.

"So." Said Shinji, handing the packet back to Kensuke. "You're going." He said.

"Yeah. Looks that way." He said. He looked up at Shinji. "Sorry to run out on you after what happened with Touji and all, Shin man." He said quietly.

"Don't be. You'll be a lot safer away from here." Said Shinji immediately, his voice certain. "Besides, I'm hardly alone." He added, smiling as he made a small motion to the group around him. Kensuke cracked a smile.

"Think you're James Bond or something?" he joked. Shinji shrugged. "Shinji Ikari, Super Playboy." He chuckled. "Who'd of thought it?"

-

"Ritsu, you know I'm right." Said Misato stubbornly. She had cornered her friend in the bathroom and was currently blocking the exit with her body, arms crossed under her breasts. Ritsuko Akagi sighed, knowing that her old roomie would stay there until she chose a side. And choosing a side she didn't like would not make Misato quit. "So help me convince the Commander."

"Misato, there is no indication that periods of inactivity affect a pilot's ability to synch with their units." Insisted Ritsu. "And there is the possibility that he might be contam…"

"Like fucking hell he is, and you know it!" snapped Misato, leaning forward aggressively. Ritsu eased back a bit. Shit. Hit a nerve with that one.

"Look, it's almost at the end of the observation period, so just wait a bit longer, ok?" soothed Ritsu. Misato growled.

"Observation period, huh? I can observe him better if he's home." She pointed out. Ritsu gritted her teeth a bit. Stubborn bitch! "Come on, we have to know that he is combat ready." Wheedled Misato. "And you know the Angels could attack at any time." She tossed in.

"And we have Rei, Asuka and Hikari ready for them." Defended Ritsu.

"Who, put together, have fewer kills than my Shinji." Reminded Misato. Ritsu gave up.

"Fine. I'll see if I can get him to cut the observation period short, and allow a synch test." She said, sighing. "But," she admonished, brandishing a forefinger in Misato's face, "only when the time is right. Otherwise, it's a waste of my time." She cautioned. Misato smiled.

"I can deal with that." She said, turning and exiting the bathroom. Ritsu muttered a curse and went to find her assistant, who - yet again - was all but dancing on air. God, I hate it when she's like that!

-

Kaji sat in his office, staring at the wall. Are they insane or what? He wondered. Last night, he had gotten a coded message from his primary employer, Seele. He hadn't liked what they were ordering him to do; still, it was the only path he saw to find out the final truth of NERV. Much as you don't like it, you have to see it through, or it's all been for nothing. He pointed out to himself. Sighing, he turned his mind to the planning of the deed. Before he had even decided on a timetable, another issue pulled his entire attention. Swiftly, Kaji grabbed his small briefcase and jogged to the door. First things first, old chap. Said the pseudo-Bond in his mind. There was an issue requiring his immediate and undivided attention and he needed certain gear not in his office.

-

Sitting at his desk, the Minister reviewed the reports before him on the topics to be discussed with the rest of the Cabinet. He glanced at the clock on the wall and noted he had a few minutes to kill before heading for the meeting. Leaning back, he dropped the reports onto his desk top and considered other matters. His musing was interrupted by a soft knock, followed by the door opening and his personal secretary entering. "Pardon the interruption, sir, but you should see this." She said, closing the door and engaging the lock.

Handing him a plain manila envelope, the secretary stood and waited for his orders. Swiftly unfastening the clasp, he shook two pages out of the envelope. Across the top of the pages was the blood-red NERV logo, along with the orange-bordered `TOP SECRET' stamp across the middle of the page. Frowning the minister began to read. Barely half way through the first paragraph, his mouth was hanging open. "Call them all." He said to his silent secretary, his tone urgent. "Right now." He added. His eyes on the page, he fumbled for his phone, which his secretary handed to him. Punching in a pre-set number, he held the phone to his ear. A few moments later, the connection was put through. "Yes. It's me. Something urgent has come up, and I will not be able to attend the meeting this afternoon. No, nothing like that, but I can't ignore this. I'll have my secretary represent me. Of course not; she's perfectly aware of the issues. I see. Thanks. Oh, and hey, next time, I've got the green fees." He finished, handing the phone back to his secretary, who hung it up. The minister slowly switched the first page for the second, intently studying the second page. "My god, is he insane?" he muttered.

"Pardon, sir?" asked the secretary, "Is who insane?"

"Nothing, Machiko." Dismissed the minister. "Is our agent still here? I need to talk to him."

"Sorry, sir. Agent Kaji did not deliver this." Corrected the secretary.

"What? Then who…?" wondered the Minister, grabbing the envelope and examining it. No postage, no address, no creases.

"It was hand delivered by a courier, sir." Clarified the secretary.

"Courier?" asked the Minster incredulously. "Do you have any idea…? No, of course you know. Which courier was it?" he asked.

"Swift Flight." Replied the secretary. "Is there a problem?"

"Might be. But there is no way to find out right now, so forget it for now." Decided the Minister. He went back to perusing the two sheets. "Amazing." He marveled.

"Sir, perhaps you have noticed the page numbers." Interjected the secretary. A look revealed her point.

"We only have pages four and five of ten?" he asked.

"Yes, sir." Confirmed the secretary. The minister frowned for a bit.

"We're going to need the other eight pages." He said, his mind made up.

-

Gendo considered the current state of affairs and didn't like it at all. Shinji was getting more and more stabile, while more and more of his pawns were going over to his son's side. The pilots were more cohesive than ever and showed no signs of the predicted conditions, which was disastrous for the scenario. If his sacrifice refused to break under the pressure, he was fucked.

Then, there was the email on his screen. Minister has copy of pages 4/5 of Project Outline. Orders? Gendo considered ordering his agents to seal the minister's lips; permanently. However, that option would limit his reach severely, so he was obliged to let the minister run free - for now, anyway. Besides, he can't really do anything unless he orders the military in, and that would oust him as a plant. So, for now at least, he's just an impotent bother. Gendo ordered his agent to stay in place and play along. Finished with that, he glanced at his watch. Standing, he made his way to the meeting room for the holographic conference with his so-called bosses, Seele.

Time to blow smoke up their wrinkled old asses.

-

Shinji was just finishing up his preparations for supper when a knock sounded from the door to Maya's apartment. Shinji wiped his hands on the apron and walked toward the door, his hand settling on his USP. Since Maya had her keys, she wouldn't be knocking, and the others were at NERV, with synch tests to attend to, as well as some sort of meeting with Misato. So, who is it at the door? Wondered the Third, peeking though the peep hole. Seeing who was outside the door, Shinji gaped in surprise.

"Kensuke? What are you doing here, man?" he asked, opening the door. Standing outside the door, Kensuke grinned at his friend.

"Hey, how many times have I told you how easy it is to hack NERV's files?" he boasted. "Shit, man, finding an address for a mere tech is child's play to me!"

"And when NERV finds out, you're gonna become a face on a milk carton, Kensuke." Retorted Shinji. "Get in here before Section 2 gets you." He tossed his head toward the apartment. Stepping past Shinji, he noted that his friend's right hand was still locked to the grip of his USP. With Kensuke in the apartment, Shinji took one more look around and closed the door, locking it before turning back to the kitchen. Kensuke was standing in Maya's living room, gawking at the place.

"Man, Shin, this place is girly!" he blurted.

"No shit; it's Maya-chan's place, so that stands to reason, after all." Fired back Shinji. "And speaking of that, don't touch anything." He added, seeing Kensuke reaching for Maya's neatly-organized SDVD movie collection from the corner of his eye. Kensuke sighed and moved toward the couch.

"Maya-chan, is it?" he asked, dropping onto the couch. "You banging her, too?" he asked. Shinji's lips compressed a bit.

"Not your business, `Suke." He warned his friend. "And what do you mean, `her, too'?"

"Well, it's one of the reasons I came over here, Shin." Said Kensuke, rummaging around in his book bag before pulling free an all-too-familiar Kensuke Productions SDVD. "May I?" he asked, motioning to the entertainment system.

"Guess so." Shrugged Shinji, glancing at the clock. "But make it fast; Maya's gonna be home soon, and I don't think she'll be amused by one of your porn movies." Kensuke giggled.

"You never know, Shin, she might be." He countered. "Especially when she hears this." He said, pressing play. Shinji froze as he immediately recognized the panting voice coming from the living room.

"Where did you get that, Kensuke?" he asked, turning around to stare at his friend.

"You know full well where that came from, Shin." Joked Kensuke, Shinji's eyes narrowed and he took a step toward the glasses-wearing otaku. Kensuke raised his hands defensively.

"Easy, man!" he cried. "Calm down!" Shinji stepped past him and ejected the disc, which he immediately snapped in half. "Um, that's not my only copy, you know." Noted Kensuke before cowering under his glare. "Take it easy, Shin!"

"You better not try to sell that, Kensuke." Said Shinji softly. "If you do, A-chan won't get the chance to kill you; I'll do it first!" he snarled.

"I wasn't planning on doing anything with it!" cried Kensuke. "Goddamn it, Shin, what are you on?!"

"Yeah, right." Snorted Shinji. "If not, why show me?" he demanded. Kensuke deflated a bit.

"I came here to…congratulate you." He said quietly. Falling back onto the couch, he looked at his friend's face. "I…figured you'd keep that to yourself, so I just wanted to wish you luck before I left." He added.

"Wish me luck?" questioned Shinji. Kensuke nodded.

"Yeah. I don't want you to end up like me." He confirmed.

"How so like you?" wondered Shinji.

"Dumped." Was the succinct reply. "Shiori left me for some rich guy." He said. Shinji recalled a snippet of conversation he had heard between Rit-chan and Hikari, but had had other things on his mind.

"Um, sorry, Kensuke." He said, genuinely sorry to hear his friend had lost his first-ever (and possibly last-ever) girlfriend. Shinji smelled his food beginning to burn and swiftly crossed to the kitchen and resumed his preparations. Kensuke leaned back on the couch. "Hey, you want to stay for dinner?" asked Shinji, eyeing some extra ingredients. The young guest blinked.

"I am hungry, and nothing's going on at home." He admitted. "Is that going to be ok with your…roommate?" he asked.

"I don't think that Maya will mind." Replied Shinji, adding some more food to the meal. Kensuke laughed.

"I meant, `it won't cramp your style, will it?'." He clarified.

"No, it won't crimp my style." Said Shinji firmly.

"Well, since you insist." Agreed Kensuke. "Hey, where's the bathroom?" he asked.

"On the left, down the hall." Answered Shinji, tossing his head. Kensuke got up and moved down the hall. Shinji made a mental note to check for cameras in there as well as to make sure that Maya's underwear drawer was secure. And on that note… he thought, grabbing his NERV cell phone and hitting a recently-programmed number. A few rings later, his party picked up. "Hey, Maya-chan, it's me. Is it all right with you if Kensuke has dinner with us?" he asked.

-

"Excellent, guys." Said Misato, finishing off her debriefing of the pilots. "You've all made some progress, especially you, Hikari." Added the Major, smiling at her newest Pilot. Hikari nodded.

"Thank you, Major." She said. "Asuka and Rei deserve the credit, though." She demurred. "They have been training me since the start."

"Yeah, I noticed." Grinned Misato. "Those two make Marine Drill Instructors look like cupcakes, don't they?" she joked.

"Ehh heh." Replied Hikari, keenly aware of the Second and First bracketing her.

"Pay the drunk no mind, Hikari." Interjected Asuka grandly. "She gets these mood swings…"

"I'll give you a mood swing, Asuka." Growled Misato, her eyes flashing with anger.

"Are we to engage in further hand to hand instruction?" asked Rei simply. It snapped the tension immediately.

"No, you're done here. Hit the showers." Said Misato, sighing.

"Humph!" declared Asuka, spinning on her heel and exiting the room, Rei a step behind. Hikari hesitated for a bit.

"Um, would you like to come over to our place for dinner, Major?" she asked. "It's not Shinji's cooking, but I haven't gotten complaints from anyone." She smiled. Misato stretched.

"Probably should, since I don't think that I have any groceries handy." She replied. "And Rit-chan has been getting nervous about that." She chuckled. "Is Rei going to be ok with me coming over?" she asked.

"I'll make sure, but I can't see her being bothered by it." Assured Hikari, turning for the door. "Rei's…confident." She muttered, wondering if her roommate would be wearing anything that night. With quick steps, she made her way to the locker room, finding her two teammates in the shower. Swiftly, she stripped and joined them.

"What kept you, Hi-chan?" asked Asuka, lathering up her hair.

"I was inviting Misato to eat with us tonight." She answered. "Is that ok with you, Rei?"

"Hai." Was the reply.

"You don't have to invite her, you know." Pointed out Asuka. "She's been a bitch to be around since…well, you know."

"Yeah. But she said you guys were almost out of groceries." Replied Hikari. Thanks to her, her and Rei's cupboards were overflowing, as was their refrigerator. Asuka winced at her friend's remark.

"Shit. Knew there was something I should have remembered." Muttered the German girl. "Hey, can you help me get groceries tomorrow after school?" she asked her best friend.

"Sure." Agreed Hikari immediately. "What do you want for supper tonight?" she asked.

-

"Shinji, I'm home!" called Maya, slipping off her shoes. "That smells good!" she added, stepping around the corner to see Kensuke on the couch. He was watching her closely.

"Thanks, Maya." Smiled Shinji. "It'll be ready in about five minutes." He added.

"Good. I'm gonna go change." Replied Maya, moving past Kensuke and heading for her room. Closing the door, she stripped and took a moment to consider what to wear. Ultimately, she chose a loose shirt and sweat shorts. Slipping them on, she checked to make sure she was decent before exiting the room. Pausing with the door cracked, she heard Kensuke talking about her.

"Holy shit, Shin!" cried the boy, "She's a fucking babe! Why are you so lucky?! You get Misato, Red Devil, Ayanami, Inoue and now her!"

"Don't call Asuka that." Reprimanded Shinji immediately.

"Tell me, how is she in bed?" pressed Kensuke, almost drooling.

"Why ask me that?" parried Shinji, his attention on the food.

"Oh, come on! You're doing her, aren't you?" pressed Kensuke.

"Just because a woman's beautiful doesn't mean that I'm sleeping with her." Defended Shinji.

"And just where do you sleep?" leered Kensuke.

"On the couch." Deadpanned Shinji. In her room, Maya smirked. God, he's dancing all around the subject. His concern about her reputation was touching, and she felt herself tingle at the thought. Nosily, Maya opened her door and moved into the kitchen.

"Mmm! Is it ready?" she asked Shinji, knowing that Kensuke would catch her innuendo. Shinji nodded.

"Yeah, food's up. Grab a seat." He said. Maya slipped into the chair next to his.

-

"Hey, guys! Food will be up in a few more minutes!" chirped Hikari, opening the door to the apartment she and Rei shared. Asuka simply stepped past her, Rit-chan touching her arm as she followed Asuka into the living room. Misato was last to enter, the door closing behind her.

"Thanks for the invite, Hikari." Said Misato warmly. Hikari smiled.

"No problem, Misato." She replied. "Have a seat while I finish preparing the meal, ok?"

"Sure." Nodded Misato, heading for the living room. The sight before her was surreal. Asuka and Rit-chan - dressed once more in their casual shorts and tee-shirts - were sitting on the couch with Rei, who was wearing a NERV logo shirt like Asuka wore. It was about six sizes too large for her slender frame, and hung off one shoulder to her bicep. She looks almost…annoyed. Thought Misato. Looking closer, she found that Rei's face was as blank as ever. Must have imagined it. Misato debated where to sit, but Rei rose smoothly and glanced at her.

"Please take my place, Misato." Said the First. "I must tend to a small matter." With that said, she silently disappeared into the bedroom. Misato arched an eyebrow at her two roomies.

"Don't know, don't care." Shrugged Asuka. Her eyes fell to the entertainment center. "Oh! Where did Wondergirl get a copy of Internal Hemorrhaging IV Uncut Limited Edition?! That title was only on sale for less than one day before the lawsuit made the stores pull it!" The Second dove in front of the entertainment system and snatched the small jewel case up, intently studying it. "This is one of the first burns of it, too!"

"I take it you like that game?" asked Misato sarcastically. Asuka ignored the sarcasm.

"Like it? It is to fighting games what my Unit 2 is to Evas: the pinnacle of perfection!" she replied haughtily.

"You realize that perfection has no pinnacle, as it is an absolute value by it's very definition, right?" teased Rit-chan.

"Talk once you've played this game, Rit-chan." Insisted Asuka, smiling a very disturbing smile. "Ohh, Baka, I'm gonna teach you whole new meanings of defeat!" she purred.

"But for now, you'll eat." Interrupted Hikari firmly from the entrance to the kitchen. "Rei! Food's up!" she called in her get-your-sisters-to-the-table voice she had become accustomed to over the years. The group meekly entered the kitchen and took their seats, having to squeeze a bit to get everyone a spot at the table. Once the others were settled, Hikari noted that Rei still hadn't come. "Be back in a second." She said, heading for the bedroom. Just as she opened the door, Rei did likewise, putting them face-to-face. "Umm. Ready?" asked Hikari.

"Yes." Said Rei, moving past her roommate. Hikari shook her head and followed the girl into the kitchen. For the sake of peace, she had set Rei up between her and Rit-chan and as far from Asuka as possible; not that that was all that far, as the table was small. With everyone in place, she swiftly dished up the food and the group fell to eating.

-

With a final wave, Kensuke took off for home and Shinji closed the door to his temporary home. Behind him, Maya giggled. Turning to her, Shinji shook his head. "I wouldn't have figured you for a tease, Maya-chan." He said. Maya slid her arms around him and hugged him to herself.

"Sorry, Shin, I just couldn't resist!" she giggled before kissing him. Shinji caressed her as she softly kissed him. Eventually, they came up for air.

"You know that he spent all dinner trying to look down your top or at your shorts, right?" he asked her. She nodded. "And the way you were acting was only encouraging him to do so." He added. She nodded once more.

"At least this way, he has happy memories of his time in Tokyo 3, right?" she defended.

"True." Allowed Shinji. Maya eased back and took the hem of her shirt, swiftly pulling it off, leaving her bare-chested. Shinji felt his dick - already semi-aroused - turn to steel at the sight of her hard nipples and soft breasts. Maya noticed the jump in his pants.

"Want to hit the sack?" she asked, her tone a bit husky. Shinji nodded. Taking his hand, she led him to the bedroom.

-

Airi sat silently beside Celsia on a log in the woods outside NERV HQ in the Geofront. She and the elf had been talking about the next step in the plan to escape this place, and Celsia had broached the topic of Rit-chan's mental state. The actress was all too aware of the war currently raging in the youngest elf hunter's head and heart. It can't be helped, really. She thought. She's been on this little quest for more than a year now, with none of her friends around, and for as close as we've become to her, there is always that little gap in age and outlook. Here, she's found friends her age, who she sees as her peers, and has even given her virginity to Shinji. She also sees them as being a life-and-death struggle, and Rit-chan is loyal to a fault. Airi smiled at the thought; the teen had proven time and again that there was nothing she wouldn't do or endure for a friend. Indeed, she had the scars to prove it.

"Um, Airi?" interrupted Celsia softly.

"Hmm? What is it?" asked Airi, turning her mind from Rit-chan to the elf at her side.

"Do you think that she'll go with us? Back to my world, I mean." Asked the elf. Airi frowned.

"I honestly don't know, Celsia. You know her well enough to know that if she chooses to stay and fight, she'll do just that, no matter the cost." Replied the actress. Even if she knows she'll die.

"Do…we have a plan, in case she doesn't?" asked Celsia carefully.

"You mean, kidnap her against her will?" challenged Airi. Celsia nodded.

"Absolutely not, Celsia." Answered Airi immediately.

"But if she…!" began Celsia.

"If she chooses to stay, we have no right to force her to come with us." Disagreed Airi. "Even if we managed to get her through the portal, do you honestly think that she'll forgive us? Any of us?" pressed Airi.

"We could…" began Celsia.

"Celsia, I know her type all too well." Interrupted Airi. "If you think she's hunted elves before now, you have no fucking idea what she's capable of. Betray her trust, and you're nothing more than target practice to her. All this time, she has been working extra hard on being as non-lethal as she can be, and all because that was the way we chose to deal with the situation. She trusts you to have her back, as she has yours. Betray that battlefield law, and she'll kill you." Airi saw the doubt in Celsia's eyes.

"In your world, there aren't any humans like Ritsuko, Celsia. All the humans we've seen have been more or less pacificists, which is rare. In the world we come from, it's drastically different. This world is far closer to our own than I like to admit. Here, people tend to settle disagreements with a favorite pass-time called war. And Rit-chan is a Type A personality with a gift for war. Consider how well she fits in with the Pilots, and what the Pilots do day in and day out." She let that sink in.

"Do you think she's killed before?" wondered Celsia.

"Before, I had doubts, but since we came here, her…darker side has been surfacing, and I would be lying if I said I thought she hadn't killed." Replied Airi. That would also answer some of the mysterious things that happed a time or two in Celsia's world. Like those boys in that village that simple vanished…

"I can't just leave her here, Airi." Said Celsia softly.

"Feeling guilty?" asked Airi. Celsia sighed.

"A little. I got you all into this, and now, I've done it again. I won't be right with you guys until you're all back in your own world. I…owe Rit-chan that much, at least." Said the elf softly. Airi understood her meaning. The scar on Rit-chan's side really got to Celsia whenever she saw it. "But, if she stays here, I can't make it right with her."

"I understand your point, Celsia." Commiserated Airi. "But if you force her, you will do the worst thing you can imagine to her, and she will answer in kind." Warned the actress. "We can only hope she chooses to come with us."

"Not too likely, since she spends so much time with Sh…!" Celsia gasped. "That's it!" she said excitedly.

"What's it?" asked Airi.

"It's so simple!" bubbled Celsia. "We just need to talk Shinji and the others into convincing her to leave this place with us!" Airi shook her head.

"Not a good idea; at least, on the surface." Airi said. "If we tell the Pilots we're going to find a way out of here, Commander Ikari will find out what we're up to, and I have little doubt as to what he would do."

"Surely they wouldn't betray us to him, of all people!" scoffed Celsia.

"Not intentionally, perhaps, but it's too much of a risk. And then, there is the possibility that they won't want her to leave." That sobered Celsia right up.

"Well, we won't know until we ask, right?" Celsia countered stubbornly.

"There is that." Allowed Airi. "But, don't ask any of them except Shinji, got it?" directed Airi.

"I like him more than the others anyway." Agreed Celsia. "But, why him?"

Airi smiled. "Because he hates his father the most, and has the most to lose."

-

Misato eyed the stack of reports and fought the urge to throw them into the trash instead of read them. Successfully fending off the urge, she took the first report in hand and began to scan through it, her other hand seeking her coffee cup. Finding it, she took a sip and nearly spit it back out. "Agk!" she retched.

"Oh! Sorry, Major!" cried Maya, holding out a cup to her commanding officer. "You got mine by mistake." She explained.

"How can you possibly drink it like that?" wondered Misato. I think I need an insulin shot!

"I always liked my coffee sweet, I guess." Shrugged Maya. She and Misato were the only ones on the bridge right then, and had just come back from the small coffee stand down the hall. Misato sipped her own straight black and smiled.

"So you like your coffee like you like your men?" she asked innocently. Maya began to nod before catching herself. Misato laughed evilly.

"You must be eating Shinji alive." She gloated. Maya bit her lip to keep from smiling in reply. "Does my Shinji do a good job?" whispered Misato, draping her arm over the smaller woman's shoulders; it was more to prevent an escape than a gesture of friendship - a fact that Asuka could attest to. "I always told him to make sure his girl cums. So, does he?" pressed Misato.

"I…if I say yes, will you let me go?" begged Maya. She knows! I don't know how, but she has to know! Misato blinked.

"Is that the truth, or are you just trying to get away?" she asked. She can't mean what she said; must be a ploy. Maya debated her options.

"It…might be?" She offered. Misato eyed her intently.

"Might be? What kind of answer is that, Maya? Either you cum or you don't." pressed Misato. Maya decided to cop to the charge.

"I…" she began, but was saved by the door opening and Hyuga and Aoba entering the bridge. Misato glanced at the two men before whispering to Maya.

"We'll continue this later, Maya." With that threat, she released Maya and moved off to push her work load off onto Hyuga. Maya took her seat and began her daily routine, making a mental note to avoid Misato like the plague.

-

Rit-chan stretched as she and her three friends saw Shinji off, the sun setting as he boarded the train for Maya's place. They had gone from school to the park, to the arcade, to see a movie, and then to the station. Asuka watched his train fade from view, then turned to her three friends. "Well, what now?" she asked.

"We have that grocery shopping to do, remember?" reminded Hikari. "And after that, we have to go to NERV for that test."

"Ugh! Don't remind me!" muttered Asuka. "So, where do you usually get your groceries?" she asked her best friend. Hikari smiled.

"Actually, Shinji and I both shop at the same shops. Come on, I'll show you." Said the Sixth, tossing her head toward a train that was just arriving. The group dutifully followed her lead. A short couple of stops later, they exited the train and moved down a street toward a strip of shops. Rei considered the area.

"This is not too far from our home." She noted. Hikari nodded.

"Yeah. Makes it easy to grab anything I need on the way home." Rei said nothing. Entering a shop, Hikari moved toward the meats. Seeing her, the man behind the counter smiled.

"Hikari-chan!" he called. "I just got in some prime beef today!" Hikari smiled as she stopped in front of the counter.

"Prime, is it?" she taunted. "I think the only thing prime is the price, Bunta."

"If you weren't a girl, I'd sock you in the nose for saying something like that!" threatened the large man. Hikari was unconcerned. "I don't know which of you is worse, you or that Shinji boy!" he complained.

"Probably me." Offered Hikari. "After all, I'm a girl, so I always get my way." She said sweetly. The man grunted.

"Manipulative wench." He muttered just loud enough for her to hear. Hikari smiled a bit wider.

"Give me four of those so-called prime steaks, along with a platter of ground beef and two of those tuna fillets." She directed him. The man blinked.

"What? No haggling?" he asked suspiciously.

"Sorry, I'm on a tight schedule." Apologized Hikari. The man looked over head and studied the three girls behind her.

"Those aren't your sisters, are they?" he asked.

"Oh, no, they're my friends and co-workers." Said Hikari.

"You have a job already? At your age?" was her incredulous reply. Hikari paused for a moment.

"Yeah, something like that." She evaded. The butcher swiftly pulled together her order and wrapped it all up neatly.

"You know, Shinji was in here a while back with a real looker." He said idly. "Yeah, she was something else. Short brown hair, a little taller than him. Shinji told me she was one of his superior officers! Ha! I may be old, but even I know that cooks don't have superior officers! Even in NERV." He said, putting her order into a bag for her.

"Cook?" asked Asuka and Rit-chan simultaneously. Bunta looked up, nodding.

"Yeah. He's a cook at NERV, right?" he asked. The girls exchanged looks before they began to giggle a bit.

"Um, sure, cook." Agreed Hikari, struggling to keep a straight face. Bunta studied the girls, who obviously found something funny in his remarks.

"Something wrong, girls?" he asked.

"No. Nothing is wrong." Said Rei, her tone icy and distant as it always was with strangers. Asuka couldn't take it.

"Do you know who I am?" she asked, stepping forward. Bunta studied her.

"Nope. Who are you?" he asked her. Asuka bared her teeth.

"I'm Asuka Langley Sohryu!" she announced grandly. "Designated Pilot of Unit 2!"

"What kind of plane is a 'Unit 2'?" asked Bunta curiously.

"It's not a plane, idiot!" snapped Asuka, infuriated and insulted. "It's the best Eva Unit in the world!"

"Eva unit. Hmm. Aren't those the big robots that fight the angels?" asked the older man casually. Asuka growled.

"Have you been living under a rock, idiot?" she asked caustically. "We're the ones slugging it out with the Angels, and you don't even know what an Eva is?!"

"Not my scene, girl." Agreed Bunta urbanely. "So, do you control the purple one? The one with the horn? You seem a bit young for that." He wondered. Asuka opened her mouth to scream some more, but Rit-chan clamped her hand over Asuka's mouth.

"As entertaining as this is, we should be going." She said to her friends. Hikari glanced at her watch.

"You're right. We have more stops to make before the test." She said, taking the bag from the man. Next stop was the produce section.

-

"Shinji, I'm back!" called out Maya as she entered her home. The tech had had some success with evading Misato, and had managed to escape before the Major could catch her. Hearing some movement from the kitchen, she began to undress as she moved deeper into her home. "Shin? Is that you?" she asked.

"Yeah, sorry, I was busy with something." Answered Shinji as she rounded the corner. The Third was at the refridge, apparently having been rearranging things. "How was work?" he asked her as she paused to kiss him.

"Interesting." Sighed Maya. Shinji picked up on her tone. Seeing his concerned look, she decided to tell him. "Misato knows, Shinji. About us having sex, I mean." She said.

"I didn't tell her." Observed Shinji.

"Yeah, I don't know how, but she has to know. She's been on me constantly about rather or not you make me cum." Said Maya, blushing a bit.

"So, how do you want to handle this?" asked Shinji. Maya shook her head.

"Haven't a clue, Shin." She said. Reaching behind her, Shinji unhooked her bra before skinning her skirt and hose off. He blinked when he noticed that she wasn't wearing panties. The young bridge crew member noticed his attention. Giggling she stroked his cheek. "Like this pair?" she asked, her tone teasing.

"They're very nice." Replied Shinji, trailing his fingertips along her hip. "Was this…?" he began.

Maya nodded. "Uh huh. I…thought I try it and see how it went. You…want me to do it more?" she asked. Her eyes noticed a tent forming in his pants. I think that's a `yes'. She silently gloated.

"Only if you want to, Maya-chan." Said Shinji, reluctantly taking his eyes off her neat pussy. "So, what's on for this evening, Maya-chan?" he asked her. Maya considered that.

"Do you…want to go on that date?" she asked him hopefully.

"Sure." Smiled Shinji. Maya smiled in return.

"Good. I'm gonna grab a bath, then get dressed. Say, about an hour?" she offered.

"I'll be ready, Maya." Promised Shinji. Kissing him again, the tech turned toward her bedroom.

"It'll be worth it, believe me!" assured Maya.

-

Silently, the four girls rode the elevator the floor they lived on. It had been a pointless test for the most part, and Asuka had not been shy about pointing that out to the good doctor. Not that Akagi had paid her bitching any attention. Hikari had managed to get another point in her score, and Rei's results were an exact match for her last test. Asuka had dropped a point and a half from her last score. When this was pointed out to her, she had simply sniffed disdainfully and tossed her head.

Like it fucking matters what the test synch scores are anyway! she fumed. I'm still the best pilot they have, and with Shinji out of action for the moment, I'll be their lead fighter. The doors opened and the three Children and their friend exited the elevator. Moving toward their apartments, Hikari had a question for her best friend. "What are you planning on having tonight, Asuka?"

"Dunno. Probably Chinese." Said Asuka.

"You going to try making Chinese food?" asked Hikari, knowing that Asuka's cooking skills - while showing vast improvement from before - was nowhere developed enough for her to be making Chinese dishes. Now Shinji, on the other hand… thought the girl.

"Yeah, right!" scoffed Asuka. "Take out tonight; it's Misato's turn to cook."

"Oh." Said Hikari blankly. Misato in a kitchen could justifiably be called an act of war.

"What are you guys having?" asked the Second of the Sixth.

"Mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes with gravy, steak and vegi-steaks, rolls and orange sweet rolls." Replied Hikari. Asuka smiled.

"Mind of Rit-chan and I join you two?" she asked.

"No problem." Assured Hikari. Rei was silent, as usual. "I take it you like American food?" she asked.

"Yeah." Agreed Asuka. "I was born in America, and spent a fair amount of time there during my training." She noted. "But Germany is still my homeland!" she added aggressively. Hikari sighed.

"It would be great to see the world. Maybe when we finish fighting…" began the newest pilot.

"Worry about that later, Hikari." Said Asuka, her tone low and solid. "Keep you mind on your job or you won't live to see the end of the fighting." Hikari blinked at her.

"R…right." She agreed. I had forgotten that none of them ever talk about the future. She glanced at Rit-chan and frowned a bit at seeing her distant expression. "You've been quiet all night, Rit-chan." She observed. "Something bothering you?" There was no response from the elf hunter. "Rit-chan?" prodded the Sixth.

"Wha…? Oh, no, I'm fine." Said Rit-chan, pulled from her thoughts. "Just thinking." She said.

"Must have been some deep thoughts, Rit-chan; you were zoned out the whole way back." Noted Asuka. "Was it something Celsia said?" she guessed.

"No." said Rit-chan. It was what she didn't say that has me worried. The elf hunter had spent an hour worth of the test in the woods with her elf friend. For the longest time, Celsia had been on her about getting back to the elf world and then home, but tonight, she had only wanted to talk about Rit-chan's relationship with the pilots. She's trying a new approach. I can't see her giving up on an idea once she gets going on it. Thought the girl. Feeling eyes on her, she glanced back at Rei, and found the First's crimson eyes on her, studying her carefully. Shit. I keep forgetting how good Rei is at staying under the radar, so to speak. I better see what she might do if she thinks I'm having trouble. "So, how long until supper?" she asked the group at-large.

"I should have it up in about an hour." Replied Hikari, the group stopping in front of her and Rei's apartment. "Come on in and hang out until then." She offered.

"Sounds good." Said Rit-chan. "Rei-chan, can I have a moment of your time?" asked the elf hunter. Rei nodded silently. "Be right back." She said as Rei followed her down the hall a bit. Shrugging, Asuka and Hikari entered her apartment.

Rit-chan led Rei past the Zoo and to the stairwell several doors down. Glancing around, Rit-chan decided that this would do. Impassively, Rei watched her, waiting for her to speak. Finally, Rit-chan was ready. "Rei-chan, I need to know something, and I'm just going to come right on out with it." She said, looking into Rei's eyes. The pilot was silent and motionless. "If it came down to choosing between NERV and Shinji, what would you choose?" whispered Rit-chan. The First knew what she would choose, but considered the possible reasons Rit-chan might have for asking her that question.

"You know what my choice would be." Said Rei with careful ambiguity. "Yet, you ask me as if you do not know. Why?"

"No real reason, it's just…" Rit-chan trailed off. How can I explain to Rei what is going on in my mind, when she can barely understand the emotions of friendship and love?

"You are forced to choose between two things that hold equal significance in your heart." Stated Rei, her mind having reached a possible solution. Rit-chan's sharp look told her she had hit the target. "I am sorry, but I can not help you in your choice. It must be made by you." Added Rei. Rit-chan sighed.

"I know, Rei, it's just…" she shrugged. "Complicated." She finished.

"So I observed." Replied Rei. Neither spoke for a few minutes. Then, Rei had another thought. "Perhaps Shinji can assist you in your choice."

-

"So, how do I look?" asked Maya, catching Shinji by surprise; as was her intention. Shinji gaped at Maya, blinking a time or two as he tried to form words. Maya giggled to herself at his reaction. Guess I was right to choose this outfit! His reaction was just what she had been aiming for when she chose the clichéd `little black number' dress she currently wore.

"Wow, Maya-chan." Breathed Shinji, drinking in her current outfit. She's beautiful. He thought, taking in the short skirt, close-fitting, sleeveless top and thin straps. Maya had put on some makeup and lipstick for the first time in more than five years, along with some thin silver drop bar earrings and a thin woven-gold-and-silver bracelet on her right wrist. Glancing at her legs, he noticed a sheen on them that indicated hose, while her left hand held a pair of dark, understated heels.

"Thanks, Shinji." Blushed Maya. "I haven't dressed up in a while, and I was worried that I had lost my touch." Shinji shook his head.

"You haven't, Maya-chan." He assured her. "But I don't have any dress clothes to match yours." He said, frowning.

"You'll do fine in your slacks and shirt, Shinji." Maya reassured him. "Oh, and maybe this, too." Added the tech, holding out a thin length of material. Shinji studied it.

"A tie?" he guessed. Maya nodded.

"Yeah. I think the restaurant requires them." She explained. Of course, this is a girl's tie… She pushed her mental musing aside. Not that there is any noticeable difference. Shinji was frowning.

"Um, Maya, I've only worn a tie once in my life, and I don't know how to tie one." He said apologetically. Maya smiled.

"No problem, Shinji. It's easy." She said, stepping over to him and swiftly settling the tie in place. "See, all you do is loop it like this, bring it around and over, then give it a gentle tug. See? Now, just pull the lower end to bring it up. Done. Nothing to it." Finished Maya, stepping back to study her efforts. She liked what she saw.

"It seems simple when you do it, Maya." Chuckled Shinji. Maya gave him one more head-to-toe check, then smiled at him.

"Ready to go?" she asked. Shinji nodded. Grabbing her purse, she and Shinji exited the apartment together.

-

Having chowed down on one of Hikari's scrumptious meals, the foursome was now deeply embroiled in a tournament of IH IV, with Asuka and Rit-chan tag-teaming Rei and Hikari. Asuka was doing well, but was having a rough go whenever she got hit with Rei for an opponent. Rit-chan was pretty good at the game, and Hikari was learning very fast. So far, the score was tied, and Rei was working on Asuka with two of the most bloody characters in the game. Rei's character was an assassin, with unmatched evasive skills, but relatively weak attacks, while Asuka's character was a powerful hitter, but lost out on evasive capabilities. So, Asuka chased Rei, and Rei dodged Asuka. Slowly but steadily, Rei was carving off parts of Asuka's character, starting with her fingers and toes. Asuka had been looking for the opening she needed to pull off her one-hit-kill move.

"Quit dodging and fight, Wondergirl!" snarled the Second.

"Doing so would only aid you in your attempt to destroy me." Noted Rei calmly.

"You're going to die anyway, Wondergirl." Gritted Asuka, launching a combo at Rei, who simply skipped out of the way and stabbed her with her blade. The life meter of Asuka's character lost another unit as blood sprayed from the cut. The Second growled.

"Didn't you tell me the most important skill was running away?" teased Hikari. Asuka growled.

"For a beginner, yes. But, I'm no beginner!" spat the Second, throwing a combo at Rei's character, who dodged, only to run into a follow-up blow that took two thirds of her character's life points. Rei got her character out of the way before Asuka could move in and finish the job.

"This is going to be close." Noted Rit-chan, seeing that the life meters were nearly gone for both players.

"Don't worry, I'll beat her." Promised Asuka, deciding to go with the risky sacrifice play and hope Rei didn't have enough time to hit her more than a time or five. Several seconds later, she saw her chance and attacked Rei with her most powerful move. Caught off guard, Rei got in four hits before Asuka's character snapped her character's spine in half. Looking at her life bar, Asuka saw the tiniest bit of green left. Far too close!

"Tag." Said Hikari, her character leaping at Asuka's depleted one and killing it before Asuka could even move.

"It's up to you, Rit-chan." Said Asuka as her partner tag-teamed in. Hikari and Rit-chan began to feel each other out as they moved around. Silently, Rei stood and moved to the bathroom. Asuka likewise stood and moved into the kitchen, where she got herself a drink. On an impulse, she grabbed three more sodas and moved back to the living room. A few minutes later, Rei returned. Silently, Asuka handed Rei one of the cold sodas.

-

Shinji was dancing with Maya in the small club she had taken him to. Not that he was a dance god or anything, but he just followed her lead and the two were doing ok. And the amount of contact between them was good, too. Finally, Maya tossed her head to their booth and the two abandoned the dance floor for their table. Sitting down with Maya, Shinji reached for his drink and took a sip of the cola he and Maya were drinking. Shinji chuckled at the thought. "What's so funny, Shin?" asked Maya curiously.

"Just thinking that we must be the only two people in here that are drinking soda." Smiled Shinji. Maya giggled.

"Yeah." She smiled. "Hey, you didn't want something else, did you?" she asked him. Shinji shook his head.

"No. I don't drink." He said. "But you can get whatever you want; it won't bother me." He assured her.

"I…don't drink; at least, not more than a beer or a glass of Champaign or wine." Confessed Maya. "I did some drinking in college - but only enough to realize that I wasn't cut out to be a drinker."

"I understand." Replied Shinji.

"But, I would have thought that you would be a drinker. Living with Misato and all." Elaborated Maya. Shinji chuckled.

"You would think, but in all truth, it doesn't make me want to drink." He confided. "And I honestly don't think that Misa-chan drinks because she wants to."

"Hmm? How do you mean?" wondered Maya.

"I think drinking is like…a crutch for her. You know, something to get through the day with." Shinji frowned, remembering what his mother had told him about his Misa-chan. "I think she's trying to forget what hurt her. But it doesn't work that way." He muttered. Maya blinked.

"You sound like you know what she's going through." She observed.

"Yeah. I used to run from all my problems, after all, and it's the same kind of thing with her and beer." Shinji said softly, all but inaudible over the booming music. Maya was studying him.

"You know, Shinji," she said, "you've changed a lot recently." Shinji looked at her.

"I have?" he asked. Maya nodded emphatically.

"Oh yes! You're a lot more…I dunno…stable?" she said. Shinji blinked.

"Puberty?" he offered. Maya almost missed the soft smile. Leaning over, she kissed him passionately. When she finally broke the kiss, she leaned back and gave him a little leer.

"How about we test that theory, Shin?" she panted.

-

Misato awoke and looked around, finally seeing her clock. Groaning, she made her way to her feet and stumbled toward the bathroom. Opening her door, she saw Rit-chan exiting the bathroom, towel around her long hair, basket in hand. "Morning, Rit-chan." Mumbled the Operations Director. The naked teen glanced at the equally naked woman.

"Don't you mean afternoon?" prompted Rit-chan.

"Whatever." Misato waved away the minor detail. Looking past the older redhead, Misato caught the flash of another redhead in the shower. "You going to be long in there, Asuka?" asked Misato of her pilot.

"Why?" called back Asuka. Rit-chan touched Misato's shoulder in passing and entered her and Asuka's room.

"Because I want a hot soak, that's why!" gritted Misato, entering the bathroom.

"Hung over again?" asked Asuka sweetly.

"No." muttered Misato. Wish it were that simple.

"Well, too bad! I was here first." Said Asuka. Misato detoured to the toilet.

"What does that have to do with anything, Asuka?" wondered Misato. Finishing up, she moved over to the shower and climbed in with Asuka.

"What are you doing in here, Misato?" asked the teen.

"Getting ready for work, what else?" replied Misato, reaching past the girl for some shampoo.

"You couldn't wait, could you?" asked Asuka irritably.

"I don't have the time." Shrugged Misato. "Besides, we're both girls." She added. Although I would much prefer a certain boy in here with me!

"Suite yourself." Muttered Asuka, turning away from the well-endowed woman so she wouldn't see her blush. If Shinji were in here with me, I'd be so much happier! The two were silent as they worked within the relatively small shower area. Asuka kept catching herself studying Misato's chest, and kept telling herself that she wasn't jealous of the woman.

"You keep looking at my tits like that and I'll think you have a thing for me." Observed Misato casually as she lathered up her legs.

"Why would I look at your tits, Misato?" demanded Asuka angrily, hands on hips. "Mine are nicer!" she added.

"Whatever." Dismissed Misato. The two were silent for a bit. Then, Misato had something else to say. "Are you still a virgin, Asuka?"

"WHAT?!?" screeched Asuka.

-

Maya was happily typing away at her station, oblivious to the attention she was getting from her two co-workers. Hyuga and Aoba were studying her, a bit miffed at her happy demeanor. Since Shinji had been temporarily moved to her place, she had been all but floating around on a cloud. It was irritating the two men.

Their irritation was interrupted by the alarms ringing as the MAGI confirmed an Angel detection. Maya felt a lump form in her throat as the call went out for the pilots to report for combat. Her screen noted response from all the pilots. Shinji is coming here to fight. She thought, before shaking herself and returning to her mission tasks. Within twenty minutes, the pilots were all assembled and suited up, with the Evas prepped and ready. Misato was going over the data to try and formulate a strategy. "Ok, listen up." She said to her pilots.

"What are we dealing with this time?" wondered Asuka, standing next to Shinji. Rei was on his other side.

"The angel is in orbit at an altitude of eighty miles. So far, it hasn't show any inclination to come down and fight." Continued Misato.

"Eighty miles?" asked Hikari. "How can we fight it from here?"

"Well, we don't have a lot of choice. We're going to try the particle acceleration cannon on it, but the odds of penetrating it's AT Field at this distance is estimated at one in four hundred and some change." Explained Misato.

"What about that positron cannon we used on the fifth?" suggested Shinji. Misato shook her head.

"Remember the trouble with the gravity and magnetic fields?" she asked. Shinji nodded, shivering as he recalled the agonizing wait for the gun to recharge as Rei was slowly melted by the Angel's beam weapon. "Well, with the significantly increased range, the beam will be next to impossible to control, and that's not even mentioning the electrical supply necessary and the fuses and…well, it's just not an option." Finished Misato.

"So, what happens when the cannon fire bounces off the AT Field?" asked Asuka.

"We think that the Angel will descend in the event of an attack, which will allow you to close with it and destroy it in close combat." Interjected Akagi. Misato grimaced.

"Exactly." She said. "Any questions?" asked Misato.

"No." said Rei softly. No one else seemed to have any either.

"Well, good." Said Misato after a moment of silence. "I'm assigning Shinji to…"

"Unit 1 is to remain in cryostasis, Major." Interrupted the cold voice of Gendo from his perch above the bridge. "Pilot Ikari has not been cleared to resume combat duty." Added Gendo. Shinji turned a glare on the man mean enough to break a lesser man.

"Sir, Shinji is our most…" began Misato.

"You have your orders, Major." Interrupted the Commander. Shinji opened his mouth to tell the fucker to stay the fuck out of Misato's way when he felt a soft touch on his hand. Rei was looking at him, her eyes conveying her message. Shinji grimaced and upped the hate in his glare at his former father.

"I'll take point." Said Asuka flatly. "Wondergirl can back me up." She added. Turning away from the bridge, she glanced at Rei, who simply nodded. "Let's get this show on the road." She said.

"Rei is to remain in reserve. Pilot Horaki will serve as backup." Countermanded Gendo. Shinji's hand clenched into a fist.

"Sir, Hikari has never been in combat before." Pointed out Misato.

"There is a first time for everything." Replied Gendo. "Begin the operation." He directed.

"Yes, sir." Muttered Misato. The pilots were already leaving.

-

"Asuka, what…?" began Hikari as the lift went up to the entry gantry.

"Look, I've got this. All you need to do is wait for orders at the route exit, ok?" said Asuka, her tone distracted. She glanced at her friend. "Hikari." She said levelly. Hikari blinked and looked into Asuka's blue eyes.

"Y…yes?" squeaked the girl.

"Calm down. It's under control." Said Asuka, squeezing Hikari's shoulder.

"I won't let anyone hurt you; any of you." Said Shinji, his tone dark.

"With your unit in cryo, there's not much you can do, Shinji." Pointed out Asuka. Shinji's smile scared her.

"That's what Rokubungi thinks, anyway." He said mirthlessly. Asuka frowned at her coworker. What's happened to him? She wondered. Her thoughts were pushed aside as the elevator reached the gantry.

"Let's go, people." Said Asuka, striding to her waiting Unit 2, while Rei calmly boarded her Unit 0. Hikari climbed into her plug and was loaded into her silver Unit 4. Shinji watched them intently before boarding his own unit, which was silent for the moment. Closing his eyes, Shinji felt for the Eva's familiar feeling, and quickly located it. Satisfied that he could do what he needed to do if necessary, he turned his attention to the comms and video from the Units in action.

-

Positioned in the pouring rain, Asuka activated her aiming hood and began to zero in on the angel. Hikari was four blocks away, waiting for orders. Shinji could hear her rapid breathing over the tac channel. Almost nostalgically, he remembered his own first combat mission. Talk about right out of the gate! The boy thought. His thoughts were interrupted by Asuka announcing that the angel was in range and she was commencing her attack.

"Energy reading within target!" yelled Hyuga. "Attack imminent!"

"Asuka! Raise your AT Field!" ordered Misato.

"Shots deflected! AT Field raised!" Asuka snapped back. An instant later, her unit was lit up from above, the light punching though the heavy clouds.

"Major! No radiation, no energy, no mass, no nothing in that beam!" reported a confused Hyuga.

"You mean it's just a ray of light?" wondered Misato. Asuka's groan alerted them that it wasn't a beam of light. "Asuka! You ok?" demanded Misato.

"No…I don't…get out of my head!" groaned Asuka.

"Major! Pilot waveform becoming erratic! Feedback is locked into a loop! Bios going critical!" reported Maya.

"Asuka, get the fuck out of there!" roared Misato. On the massive view screen, Misato saw Asuka holding her head in her hands, shaking it desperately. "Asuka!" yelled Misato again.

"No…don't make me remember!" begged Asuka. To the shock of everyone, she began to sob.

"Emergency inject stabilizer! Increase the O2 content in her plug!" ordered Akagi, studying the readouts on Maya's station. Unit 2, mimicking Asuka's situation, writhed under the beam of light, the cannon in her grip. Suddenly, she began to randomly fire into the city, sky and hills.

"Hikari! Look out! Evade!" yelled Shinji as a round from the heavy artillery nearly hit Hikari's motionless Eva. His scream broke her free from her stunned state and the silver Eva dove out of the line of fire.

"It's attacking the mind of the pilot." Discovered Akagi. "So, they know our psychology that well, do they?" she muttered. Shinji growled.

"Asuka, hold on! I'm coming!" he yelled, reaching for his Eva. A moment later, he felt the Eva respond.

"Machen Sie nein, nicht mich mich erinnere an! Ich will mich an nicht erinnern! Shinji, helfen Sie mir!" sobbed Asuka, huddled into a ball in her entry plug.

"Unit 1 activating!" sang out Aoba. "Overloading cryostasis! Activation in forty seconds!"

"Rei." Said Gendo tightly. "Use the lance."

"Hai." Said Rei, her unit sprinting into the bowels of Terminal Dogma. Misato filed that topic away for later. Right now, she had bigger concerns.

"Asuka! Help is on the way! Hold on!" she yelled at the Second. Sobbing and broken German, English and Japanese were her only reply.

"Misato, I think I can get her out of there!" came Hikari's tense voice. "If I tackle her unit, I might be able to…"

"Maintain your position, Pilot Horaki." Commanded Gendo.

"Sir! We're losing a pilot!" roared Misato.

"I have already directed Rei to destroy the Angel." Said Gendo coldly. Turing to Aoba, he had another order. "Initiate emergency containment protocol for Unit 1." He directed. He will not make a fool of me. Snarled the Commander silently. Fuyutsuki leaned closer to his boss.

"The old men aren't going to tolerate this, Gendo." He murmured.

"By the time they learn of it, it will be beyond their control." Murmured the man.

"Unit 0 has the Lance and is heading for the surface via Route 11." Said Akagi in an unusually calm voice.

"Unit 1, ten seconds to full activation! Containment protocol in place!" sang out Aoba.

"Unit 0 has reached surface. Preparing to throw!" announced Maya.

"Rei, wait for the targeting feed." Interrupted Gendo. Rei made no response, hefting the twin-pronged spear and staging her Eva for a throw. Just a bit longer and she'll be broken. Thought Gendo. He saw Rei shift in preparation for her throw. "Rei, wait for targeting feed." He repeated.

"Hikari, clear her path!" ordered Misato. Hikari leapt her unit clear as Rei willed her unit forward. One, two, three strides and Rei unwound the throw, putting everything she had into it. The twin point twisted together as she threw it, streaking away as if it were a missile.

Penetrating the cloud cover, the Spear peeled the clouds back, turning into a glowing streak as it burned toward it's target. Hitting the AT Field, the spear slammed through it like a bullet through paper, slicing into the angel's core before exiting the far side of the body. Immediately, the light disappeared and Asuka's unit fell limply to the ground. Hikari and Rei ran to her unit.

"Spear has exceeded escape velocity, sir!" gaped Aoba.

"Trajectory puts it on a collision course for the moon." Mumbled Hyuga. What kind of monster can throw a multi-ton spear to the moon?!

"Angel is confirmed destroyed." Announced Maya.

"Get the recovery teams to Asuka's unit now!" purred Misato. "Shinji? Did you hear that?" she asked.

"Yes." Came the clipped reply. "I'm heading there now." He said, severing the link.

"Unit 1 is returning to rest, sir." Said Aoba.

"Hikari, Rei, get Asuka's plug out of her unit, then get the unit to cage 7! Once you do that, park you units and report to me!" She said, exiting the bridge at a run.

-

Shinji exited the lift and sprinted toward the spot where Asuka's plug lay. Already, there were some recovery teams there, spreading yellow tape around it. Reaching them, he tore the tape in half and shoved one of the team members aside when he tried to stop him from approaching the plug. Grabbing the emergency hatch dogs, he muscled them open, frantically shoving the hatch open, LCL drenching him as it opened. "Asuka!" he yelled, pulling himself into her plug.

Asuka was crumpled into a ball in her seat, limply floating in her LCL bath. Reaching her, he swiftly extracted her and hugged her to him. "Asuka! Asuka!" he called to her, shaking her. "Come on, wake up!" he begged her. No response from the Second. Shinji pulled them both toward the exit. As he neared it, his head broke the LCL surface and he saw a purple head pop into view. "Misato!" he called desperately, "Help me! We gotta get her to the emergency room!" Maneuvering the girl up so Misato could grab her, he handed her off to the Major, who slung her over her shoulder and jogged for the retrieval point as fast as she could with the slippery form of Asuka. Shinji tumbled out of her plug and gave chase.

-

"How is she?" demanded a very tense Shinji of Doctor Akagi as she exited the room where Asuka lay unconscious. Beside him were the other pilots and Rit-chan, Misato and Airi. Akagi fished for a cigarette. Finding one, she tucked it in her lips as she searched for her lighter. "Akagi, how is Asuka?" repeated Shinji, his tone telling her clearly that he wasn't going to wait for her smoke break.

"Physically, she's fine." Said Akagi, finding her lighter. "Scans show plenty of brain activity, so she is probably ok there, too." Added the doctor. Gendo must hate that. Wonder what he plans to do about Rei's little mutiny? She frowned as she couldn't get her lighter to light. Damn it, must be out of fuel.

"So, what was that beam?" interrupted Misato. "What did that angel do to her?"

"I haven't finished the analysis yet, but I believe that the Angel was attacking the weakest point." Replied the fake blonde cryptically.

"Weak point?" wondered Misato.

"Her mind." Said Airi softly. "It attacked her mind, Mi-chan." Misato's face went grim. Seeing another outburst about to crash over her, Akagi made to head off the explosion.

"Calm down, Misato." She said, her tone a bit peeved. "She shows no signs of contamination, and the MAGI don't believe that the duration of the attack has crippled her intellect any." She paused, debating rather or not to bring up the other issue.

"What aren't you saying, Akagi?" demanded Rit-chan, knowing the look on the doctor's face. The elf hunter still carried a large grudge against the woman for the examination she had suffered when she first arrived. Any chance to call the woman on the carpet was good with her.

"There is the possibility that the point of the attack was not to kill her or destroy her mind." Replied Akagi, trying to keep things as vague as possible.

"Stop talking like a fucking mystic and make some goddamn sense, Ritsu!" snapped Misato.

"Her ability to pilot might have been compromised." Said Ritsuko flatly.

"What? How would that work?" asked Misato.

"A pilot's ability to synch with an Eva unit is largely based on the pilot's mental focus. If this attack has compromised her confidence, it is possible that the resulting mental instability will prevent her from synching with her unit." Answered Ritsu. The group was silent, thinking. "Well, she should be waking up soon. You can go on home." She said, turning away for her office and a new lighter.

"And Asuka?" asked Hikari. Akagi shrugged.

"She'll be up and around when she's up and around." Said the woman. Shinji turned and entered the hospital room, Rei right behind him. After a second of confusion, the rest followed him. Laying on the bed, Asuka was motionless. Her plug suit had been removed, so she was naked save for the thin sheet and the drying LCL residue in her hair and coating her body. Shinji touched her forehead, and was rewarded with a twitch of her arm. He and Rei shared a glance before he slid his hands under her body and carefully lifted her off the bed.

"Shinji, what are…?" began Misato.

"She doesn't need to lay there covered in drying LCL, Misato." Said Shinji. "And besides, if all she needs is some sleep, she can get that in her own bed." Added Shinji, moving for the door. Hikari caught on.

"I'll help you, Shinji." She said, wrinkling her nose a bit. "I could use a shower, too."

"Tell you what, Mi-chan, I'll get them home." Offered Airi. "You finish up the paperwork and hurry home too, ok?" Misato nodded.

"Thanks, Ai-chan." She said softly, turning to leave. Rit-chan glanced at Airi as the pilots left. Airi glanced at her and touched her shoulder, squeezing it softly. Silently, the two moved out of the abandoned room, Rit-chan following her friends, and Airi moving off for the parking garage.

-

Celsia smiled to herself, the device called a TV turned on and the volume up. During this last attack, she had managed to get a few spells placed and to finish work on her Instant Casting Circle spell. One more of these Angels, and I can test it. If it works, we are so out of here it's not even funny! Thought the elf. She sobered a bit at the thought of what happened when an Angel attacked. The tall blonde myth frowned as she realized that Airi hadn't been by after the sirens sounded. Hope that's not bad news.

Her attention was disrupted by the door to her room opening and an all-too-familiar form entering her room. Gods, what is Lord Idiot Junpei doing here? She thought sourly. Junpei smiled when he saw her sitting there in her elven gown. "Celsia, what's up?" he said, tossing her a bag of beef jerky strips. He flopped down on her bed. Celsia frowned at him, sniffing the air delicately.

"You smell like weak ale, Junpei." She said. "You've been drinking again, haven't you?" she accused him.

"Naw. Me and Kaji went out for dinner, that's all." Denied Junpei. "Have you seen Airi recently?" he asked her.

"No. And it's not like I'd tell you even if I had, jackass!" snapped the elf. Junpei ignored her, laying back on her bed.

"Bummer." He said. Celsia opened the bag and took a strip of the jerky, biting into it, her attention back on the TV. "Hear about the fight?" he asked a moment later.

"What fight? With the angels?" asked Celsia. Junpei nodded.

"One of the kids got hit bad." He said. Celsia spun to face him.

"Which one?" she demanded. Junpei eyed her.

"What do you care, Celsia?" he asked her. Celsia scowled at him. "It was that girl that looks like Rit-chan." He answered, unconcerned.

Celsia heaved a soft sigh of relief. It was that Asuka girl, then. Not a fan of the abrasive girl, she knew that her injury would hurt Shinji as well. "What happened to her?"

"Whatever those things are scrambled her brain." Shrugged Junpei. He had run into Rit-chan earlier and she had told him that Asuka was down and she didn't have time for his shit. Knowing that she was in a foul mood, he chalked it up to PMS and moved off to find something else to do in NERV HQ while his roomie was doing whatever it was he did. "She's been ragging pretty often since we got here." He mused aloud.

"Well, maybe we won't be here that much longer." Muttered Celsia under her breath, biting into another strip of jerky.

-

Asuka awoke clean and naked in her bed, Rit-chan cuddled up to her. Sitting up, she tried to remember what had happened. I was shooting at the Angel, then that beam hit me and… Asuka clenched her teeth as she remembered what had happened next. Hugging herself tightly, she began to tremble. No! I won't remember that! I can't remember that day! I'm the best Eva pilot! I don't need anyone! Her mental mantra was disrupted when she felt another pair of arms slide around her, a warm, soft body cradling her against themselves. Rit-chan. Asuka realized.

"Bad dream, Asuka?" asked Rit-chan softly, holding Asuka's trembling form. Asuka fought to control her voice.

"Nothing I can't handle." She lied. Rit-chan held her close.

"I'm sure you can." She agreed. "Just remember, if you need to talk, we're all here for you." Said the older girl softly. Asuka tried to say something hateful, but couldn't get her anger going.

"How did I get here?" was all she managed. Rit-chan understood her need to change topics.

"Well, once you were checked out, Shinji and the others got you showered, dressed and home. Hikari and I got you in bed, and you've been here for a day and a half." Replied Rit-chan. Asuka blinked.

"A day and a half?" she wondered. "What about school?"

"Fuck it. We all skipped; you're more important that school, Asuka." Said Rit-chan, hugging her a bit closer. From outside their room, the two heard the apartment door open. Rit-chan glanced at the alarm clock. "That should be Hikari with food." She noted.

Her door slid open a moment later, and Hikari looked in to see Asuka held in Rit-chan's arms. "God, you're up!" gasped Hikari, throwing herself at her friend. Asuka barely got her arms up to catch the smaller girl before Hikari collided with her. "I was worried, because you were asleep for so long…" sniffled Hikari, fighting tears. Asuka slowly hugged her best friend to herself.

"Hey, you should know it takes more than some Angel to get rid of me." She said. Hikari smiled up at her, tears in her eyes.

"What do you want for dinner?" she asked her friend. Asuka quirked her lips at that.

"Whatever you cook." Said Asuka. Hikari eased back from her tight embrace.

"You got it, Asuka." Assured the brown-haired Pilot. As she was exiting the room, Rei appeared in the doorway.

"You are awake, Asuka." Noted the First. "I am relieved." She said, slipping into the room. Crossing to Asuka, she stunned the two other girls by leaning into Asuka, hugging her former nemesis, touching her lips to Asuka's as she did so. Stunned, Asuka had no reaction to this mind-breaking act. Pulling back, Rei silently exited the room, pausing to look once more at the two girls in the bed before moving off.

Asuka's stomach rumbled, breaking the frozen silence. It also brought Asuka's attention back to other issues. I have to pee! She thought, feeling an immense pressure on her bladder. Tapping Rit-chan's arms, she asked the girl to release her. Rit-chan did so slowly. Getting out of the bed, Asuka headed to the bathroom to take care of business. Rit-chan followed her out of bed, going to the kitchen instead of the bathroom. At the stove, Hikari was fixing food and humming to herself. Sitting at the table, Rei was silently watching the Sixth fix the meal. Sitting beside Rei, Rit-chan glanced at the First. Rei's eyes slid to hers for a moment. Turning away from the stove, Hikari glanced at Rit-chan as she moved to the refridge and grabbed two sodas for the girls.

"You're a bad influence, Rei-chan." Said Hikari, smiling at her roommate. Rei said nothing. Rit-chan didn't understand what Hikari was talking about until Asuka walked in, naked as Rit-chan. Rit-chan chuckled with Hikari.

"What's so funny?" asked Asuka, sounding peeved.

"Nothing, Asuka." Assured Hikari, tending to the food. Walking to the refridge, Asuka grabbed a soda and sat across from Rit-chan, cracking the top and sipping the drink. "Where's Baka at?" she frowned.

-

Shinji was doing some dishes when his NERV cell phone rang. Snatching it up, he glanced at the screen and connected the call. "How is she, Rit-chan?" he said, getting directly to the point.

"Well, she's awake and seems fine." Said the elf hunter.

"The Bastard lucked out, then." Muttered Shinji darkly. Silence was his only reply. A few moments later, the elf hunter spoke again.

"Are you really that eager to kill him?" asked the girl softly. Shinji considered her question.

"If he harms those I love, I will make it my mission in life to heap suffering on him until he has been punished. Then - and only then - will I kill him." He said simply.

"I see." Said Rit-chan. Time to change the topic, girl. "How long are you going to stay at Maya's place?" asked Rit-chan.

"Until he realizes that I'm not going to cower in his presence like I used to." Said the Third calmly.

"And that's how long?" repeated Rit-chan.

"Probably not more than a couple more days." Shrugged Shinji.

"Are you going to miss her place?" wondered Rit-chan softly.

"I'd be lying if I said no, Rit-chan." Answered Shinji truthfully, "But my home is with Mi-chan and the others at the Zoo." He added, his tone calm and honest. Glancing at the clock, Shinji nodded to himself. "I'm coming over." He said, putting the last dish in the drying rack and wiping his hands on the apron.

"Right now?" asked Rit-chan, surprised.

"Yes. I want to see Asuka for myself." He said, grabbing his bag as he tossed the apron over the back of the chair on his way to the door. He heard Rit-chan giggle. "What's so funny?" he asked her.

"Oh, you'll see Asuka, all right!" said the teen, her voice silky. "But hey, what about the orders about not coming near here?"

"I already told you, Rit-chan: he can go fuck himself." Gritted Shinji, ending the call. And god help any Section 2 asshole who tries to keep me from seeing them!

-

"Lieutenant Ibuki, it's the Commander for you." Said Hyuga, handing her the phone near his station. Maya blinked and took the receiver.

"Lieutenant Ibuki, sir." She said.

"Lieutenant, you guardianship of Pilot Ikari is terminated, effective immediately. You are to ensure that he is safely transported back to Major Katsuragi's residence by 0800 hours tomorrow. That is all." The line went dead. Maya blinked. Numbly, she handed the phone back to Hyuga. I'm…not his guardian anymore. She thought, dazed. He won't be living with me any more. For some reason, she fought the irrational urge to beat the shit out of her commanding officer.

"You ok, Maya?" asked Hyuga, seeing Maya drop into her station seat, her expression confused and a bit distant. Getting no response, he tapped her shoulder. "Earth to Maya!" he called. The young woman blinked and turned to her co-worker.

"Oh…um, yes?" she asked.

"I asked if you were ok, but I kind of doubt it from the way you're acting." Said Hyuga.

"No, I'm ok." Said Maya. Lying bitch. "He's pulled Shinji." Muttered the woman. May be burn in hell for it. "It's no big deal; it was just temporary, anyway." Yeah, keep telling yourself that and maybe you can make it sound convincing enough to fool a kid. Trying to focus on her work, she looked at her station terminal. "What the fuck was I doing?" she wondered. She didn't realize that she had spoken aloud until Hyuga answered her.

"You had just completed the new patch for the telemetry logs and were about to start work on find the bug that has been glitching the MAGI analysis links during full-sim linkups." He supplied helpfully.

"Right." Nodded Maya, her hands flying over the keyboard.

-

"Major Katsuragi." Barked Misato into her phone.

"Major. The Third is being returned to your care. That is all." Said the Commander flatly before ending the call. Misato carefully set her phone down before jumping to her feet and pumping her fist in celebration.

"Yyeess!" she hissed gleefully. "My Shinji's coming home!" Seeing the amount of paperwork on her desk, she scowled. Well now, I can't be wasting time here! I've got a celebration to plan! She thought, swiftly beginning to toss papers into the trash, sign others and add to the pile that she was planning on pushing off on Hyuga. In less than thirty minutes, she was done and went in search of her favorite fool. Spotting her prey, she moved in for the kill.

Two minutes later, she was humming to herself as she rode the sliding walkway toward the garage. In her head, she was planning out the celebration that night. I need to get some junk food, some beer, maybe some good takeout. Oh yeah, gotta get something for Rei without meat; Shinji will want her there. Hmm. I should also get some ice cream and cake. And beer. I wonder if Airi has any Champaign around? Fishing her phone up, she hit a auto-dial number and waited, phone at her ear. A moment later, it connected. "Hey, Airi. It's me." She said.

-

Shinji rode the train to his home, smiling to himself as he waited for the station to arrive. There were few people on the train, and he had an entire car to himself. As he neared the station, he saw a man at the door to the next car. Frowning, Shinji watched him from the corner of his eye. Seeing the station approach, he glanced back, but the man was gone. Scanning the car, he didn't see him. Shrugging, he moved toward the door.

It was a blur in his periphery vision that saved him; that, and living with Asuka for so long. His Second Child-tuned reflexes made him duck down and back from the barely-sensed threat. As he did so, he heard the bang! Bang! Bang! Of gunfire and the whine of ricocheting rounds. Falling to the floor, he clawed his USP free and rolled enough to line his gun up on the door to the next car. He pulled the trigger as fast as he could, not even hearing his shots as shell casings bounced all over from the empties hitting the aluminum floor of the train and tumbling everywhere. It took him a second to realize that his slide was locked back, gun empty. "Fuck!" he snarled, his hand diving into the bag for his spare. It felt like hours before he found the magazine and pulled it free, dumping the empty magazine as he struggled for a moment to line the fresh one up properly. Finding the proper alignment, he slammed it home and raked his thumb over the slide release, the slide snapping forward. The entire time, his eyes had never left the doorway.

Getting carefully to his feet, he locked his support hand into position and settled the front sight on the shot-out glass of the door. A lurch and the train was in the station, the doors sliding open. His automatic glance at the opening doors almost got him killed, as a round snapped by his ear. "Goddamn!" he muttered, pulling off a pair of double taps at the blur exiting the train. His shots were answered by a spray of bullets through the thin skin of the train. "Shit!" yelled Shinji as he dove out the far doors. Scrambling around, he got behind a cement pillar and took a breath before scanning for the target like Rit-chan had taught. The entire station was empty. With a hiss, the doors to the train closed and train exited the station. Shinji kept his sights on the far platform, waiting to see if his attacker was there or not. When the last car cleared the station, he could see that the man was long gone.

Tucking back behind the pillar, he clumsily fished his cell phone out with his left hand, hitting the first speed dial and putting the phone to his left ear, his right shoulder pressed tight to the pillar, keeping his gun steady. Scan, breathe, scan breathe. He mentally chanted to himself, remembering Rit-chan's mantra. A click, then the call was connected. "Misato! It's Shinji! Some asshole just tried to shoot me!" he snapped. "I got off the train, but lost him somewhere! I'm at the station nearest the Zoo! I need help here!"

"Get to cover and sit tight!" Misato's voice came back immediately. "I've scrambled Section 2 and I'm six minutes away! Make that four!" she said. Over the phone, he heard screeching tires, breaking things and what might have been a scream of terror.

"Got it." He said, ending the call and putting his phone back in his pocket before beginning to look for better cover. While scanning the area, he saw a shadow in the stairwell leading down to the street. Snapping his gun around, he drew a rough front-sight-only bead on the stairwell and double tapped the spot he figured the person would appear. Cursing and the sound of someone falling rewarded his shots. "Stay back!" he yelled. Shit! If he got behind me…! Thought Shinji, disappointed that he hadn't immediately caught that possibility. I know that Rit-chan or Asuka would have known that he'd try that!

"We're Section 2, asshole!" yelled someone from the stairwell. Shinji kept his gun zeroed on the landing.

"Sure you are!" he called back sarcastically. "Show me a piece and I'll blow it off, shit head!" Risking a glance around the station, he saw some movement at the far end. If that's not Section 2, I'm fucked! Spying a heavy cement bench, he dashed to it and vaulted over it, crouching behind the more secure cover. Seeing more movement near the other platform's stairwell, he sighted in on it and was about to put a couple of rounds downrange when it occurred to him that he had already spent one of the fifteen-round mags in the train, as well as six of the rounds in the current magazine. One more remained in his bag. Better not. He decided. The figures got closer and he saw that they wore the dark suits of the Section 2 goons. He kept his gun trained on them.

"Stay back!" he repeated, seeing some of them coming nearer to him.

"We're here to help, Pilot." Said one of them, a submachine gun in his hands.

"Help somewhere away from me! I don't know any of you!" he yelled back, remembering the words of Asuka when the drive-by had gone down. His sights were settled on the head of the man nearest to him. Come on, Misato! He silently begged.

"Easy, Pilot." The man said, taking a step back form the hard eyes staring at him over the sights of his pistol. "What does the assailant look like?" he asked the Third.

"I didn't get a good look at him." Muttered Shinji. "About a foot taller than me, large build, dark clothes and a gun! He went that way!" he snapped, jerking his head toward the far platform. The agent was talking into a small mike around his throat. With one hand, he made some motions toward the other men, who fanned out and began to move toward the far landing. Shinji stayed put.

It felt like hours before he heard the sound of skidding tires, followed shortly by the sounds of someone running up the cement stairs in heels. "Shinji!" yelled Misato.

"Here, Misato!" he called back, slowly standing, his eyes on the men near him. Misato flew around the corner and engulfed him in a bear hug. Pinned to her, he managed to get his finger on the decocker and safed his gun. Misato tugged him with her as she moved back to the stairs. Glancing at the man with the submachine gun, she paused to give him some orders.

"Find the fucker and kill him." She snarled. "I'll be expecting your report by the time I get home." She added before jogging down to her car, Shinji kept firmly against her.

-

In the bushes in a small park half-way across the city, a man was crouched, tending a wound to his upper arm. A ricochet had torn the flesh on the back of his arm, but other than some blood lost, it meant little. Tying off the strip of cloth he had used for a dressing, he checked the wound one more time before laying down on his overcoat and checking his weapons. These spawns of hell are tougher than expected. He thought, remembering the fiasco at the train. Still, they can't be lucky forever. Satisfied that his remaining weapons were in good shape, the man closed his eyes for a few hours sleep.

-

Misato slid her car to a stop at the Zoo's parking garage and escorted Shinji into the elevator. As the car went up, she put her phone to her ear and checked up on the Section 2 reports. As the doors pinged at their floor, Misato ended her calls and turned to see Rei standing in front of the elevator. In her hand was her USP and tucked into her skirt's waistband were three back-up magazines. Seeing Shinji alive and well, Rei wrapped him in a hug and kissed him soundly, ignoring Misato's slack-jawed look. "You are unharmed." Breathed Rei, easing back from the kiss.

"Yeah. I got lucky." Agreed Shinji, unable to resist the smile on his face at Rei's presence. "How's Asuka?" he asked, remembering why he was there.

"She appears to be fine, Shinji." Said Rei softly as the threesome exited the elevator. "Your presence will doubtlessly please her." She added. Misato frowned a bit at the conversation. What has he been doing lately? She wondered.

"Misato, has Section 2 determined who the assailant was?" asked Rei of her commanding officer. Misato blinked her thoughts away.

"They found some blood. We will know more tomorrow morning." She replied. Rei passed her door, ducking in swiftly to return her gun to it's resting place on her beside table. Shinji paused to wait for her to return. Within moments, Rei was back at his side, her hand seeming to accidentially grasp his. Shinji gently squeezed her hand in acknowledgement.

Arriving at the Zoo, he swiped his card and entered, slipping off his shoes. "Asuka? Are you ok?" he called. He heard the soft sounds of bare feet running and a moment later, a red-haired form was on him, hugging him to herself. Shinji hugged back, realizing as he did so that she was naked. "A-chan?" he murmured against her neck.

"Baka!" snapped the Second, leaning back from the hug. "Where have you been?! Make me supper!" she snapped. Shinji opened his mouth, then seemed to think better of it and closed it. Asuka frowned. "Well?" she demanded.

"I was just wondering…" he began, considering what the consequences of his words might be.

"Spit it out, Baka!" demanded Asuka, hands on hips in the Asuka Positiontm.

"Why are you naked?" he asked her. Asuka frowned, glancing down at her naked body. Her cheeks flushed a bit.

"You need to do the laundry!" she snapped. Turning away from him, she smacked him on the head, though it was almost a caress. "Pervert!" she muttered, marching to her room and closing the door. Shinji blinked, then shook his head.

"I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't of seen it." Said Misato conversationally. Shinji was distracted by another naked redhead.

"Welcome home, Shinji." Smiled Rit-chan, leaning down to kiss him before sauntering to her and Asuka's room. Shinji smiled. He felt Rei's hand give his a soft squeeze.

"While I'm not naked, I do want to welcome you home." Came a voice from the kitchen.

"Hikari!" greeted Shinji, seeing the girl emerge and hug him. "How are you doing? At NERV, I mean?" he qualified. Hikari smiled.

"Real good, thanks to Rei and Asuka." She replied.

"I can't wait to see how you've progressed." Enthused Shinji.

"That reminds me!" exclaimed Misato. She grabbed Shinji into a warm hug. "I forgot to tell you, Shinji, but your back home!" she gushed.

"Back home?" blinked the boy. "You mean…?" he didn't get to finish.

"Yep! It's official. Commander Ikari called to personally tell me you were back with me!" gloated Misato. Shinji sighed in contentment. It feels good to be home. Still, I'm kind of sad to just up and leave Maya-chan…Shit! Maya-chan!

"Fuck!" growled Shinji, pulling free of Misato's embrace. Seeing Misato's confused look, Shinji desperately fished his phone out as he explained. "That asshole shot at me on the train from Maya-chan's place! What if he goes there looking for me and gets Maya instead? She's not armed and…!" Glancing at his phone, he hit the speed dial for his newest lover. "Come on! Pick up!" a moment later, the call connected.

-

"Sign here." Said the man in the NERV weapons depot, shoving a clipboard toward the tired Maya Ibuki. Glancing at the sheets, she sighed.

"What are these for, again?" asked the tech.

"You're drawing a sidearm, right, Lieutenant?" came the almost exasperated reply. Maya nodded. "Well, sir, each weapon drawn from the arsenal must be logged out to the drawing party. These form do that."

"Oh." Was all Maya said, signing the first sheet and seeing a place to initial on the second. Doing so, she slid the clipboard back to the man. The man slid the papers off the board and into a small In Box on the edge of his desk. Turning away from her, he walked deeper into the small arms magazine, leaving Maya to cool her heels in front of the security gate. The young lieutenant glanced at her watch. Not that Shinji'll be there when I get back. She thought miserably to herself. The man reappeared and approached the woman. Setting down a tray, he slid it under the bars to her.

"One NERV-issue H&K USP Variant 2, night sighted with rails. Four, fifteen round magazines. Cleaning kit. NERV-issue kydex slide holster. NERV-issue kydex double magazine carrier. Two hundred and fifty rounds of NERV 9X19 jacketed hollow point plus P ammo. Two hundred and fifty rounds of practice ammo." The man said, setting each piece of gear down as he named it. Maya gingerly took the pistol in hand, feeling it's weight. The armory man frowned a bit.

"You are checked out on this equipment, right, sir?" he asked suspiciously. Maya blinked.

"Y…yeah. I qualified in basic training." She said. The man grimaced.

"Did you now?" he managed. Reaching over to a phone on the wall near his work desk, he plucked the receiver from the cradle and punched in a number. Stepping back from the bridge bunny, he had a quiet conversation with someone before hanging the phone back up. Holding out his hand, he asked "May I, sir?"

Maya numbly handed him the USP. Taking it, he swiftly checked it over before looking Maya in the eye. "What?" she asked. The man sighed as if the burdens of the world were his alone.

"Please pay attention, sir." He said, his voice carefully bland. "This is the slide release. This is the decocker. When you put a loaded magazine in the gun and release the slide, you need to use the decocker lever to safely lower the hammer and put the gun into the rest position unless you intend to fire immediately. Now, when…" Maya found her irritation rising, but forced it back; marksmanship had been a real problem for her, as she had no real talent with guns. Still, after her talk with Shinji, and at Misato's insistence, she had gone to draw a gun and gear from the armory. The man finished his once-over. "Do you have that all, sir?" he asked her. Maya nodded tightly.

"Yes. Thank you." She said, her tone bland.

"Uh huh." He grunted. Reaching into a small file cabinet, he retrieved a small booklet. "Here. Read this before using the gun." He said, putting the booklet on the table next to her new gun. Maya wanted to smack him when she saw the cover.

"Thank you. I always wanted a copy of `Usagi and the USP' for my Manga collection." Her tone was poorly concealed sarcasm. The man shrugged.

"Better you read a manga user's guide than shoot yourself, but, hey, you're the officer." He said, picking up his paper and opening it to the page he had been reading before she arrived. Maya collected her gear, fuming to herself as she did so.

"Have a good day, Sergeant." She gritted out as she left. The man didn't even look up. Reaching her car, she put the gear in her passenger seat. A thought occurred to her, and she smiled. Why read some stupid manga made for someone with an IQ of 2 when my Shinji-kun can show me all I need to know about this thing? Humming to herself, she jumped into her car and cranked up, heading for the Zoo.

-

Shinji was humming to himself as he did the dishes with Hikari's help. The gathering had turned into a party of Misato-grade fun. Asuka and Rit-chan had emerged from their bedroom in sleeping shirts, and it would have been hard to miss their erect nipples. A few flashes during the party told him that neither had bothered with anything under the over-sized shirts. Airi had arrived home a bit later, and had produced a bottle of Champaign with a flourish. That bottle was now empty and in the trash, along with a collection of beer cans from Misato. The Major was currently resting in her bed.

The two cooks were making short work of their dishes when Shinji felt Hikari press her hip to his. Glancing at her, he saw her smile and glance around before leaning up to kiss him deeply. "I'm glad you're back, Shin." She whispered.

"As am I." Came Rei's soft voice from just behind them. Both teens flinched.

"Don't do that, Rei!" begged Hikari. Shinji thought he saw a fleeting smile on Rei's lips.

"I would like to ask you for a favor, Shinji." Continued the First.

"Sure, Rei-chan." Agreed Shinji immediately.

"I would like for you to come to my apartment once Asuka is asleep." Said Rei so softly that Shinji could barely hear her.

"Wha…?" he started to ask.

"Asuka will need you tonight, Shinji." Preempted Rei. "However, she will most likely fall asleep once she feels safe in your arms. When that happens, please come to us" directed the pilot, pressing a keycard into Shinji's hand. Shinji glanced at it.

"Ok, Rei." He said. "But not until she's asleep."

"That is agreed." Confirmed Rei. She will not remain conscious for long once she has orgasmed as hard as she does with you. Thought Rei to herself. Their little talk was interrupted by a knock on the door. Shinji frowned.

"Who could that be?" he wondered, moving toward the door. Rei followed him a step behind, just in case. Glancing out the peep hole, Shinji smiled. "Maya-chan!" He greeted her warmly as he opened the door.

"Good evening, Shinji." Smiled the tech. "And Rei." She added, seeing the red eyes of the first just behind Shinji.

"Good evening, Maya." Responded Rei. Shinji took the woman's hand and tugged her inside.

"Come on in, Maya." He invited. Maya did as requested, looking around.

"Oh, Misato's asleep, Airi is working on something in their room, Asuka is in the bath and Rit-chan is writing in her journal." Supplied Shinji, seeing what the tech was going to ask him.

"And I'm on kitchen duty, it seems." Chimed in Hikari. "Hey, Maya." She greeted the tech.

"Hi, Hikari." Replied the tech. "Smells good." She added. Hikari smiled a bit more.

"We have a bit of left-overs." She offered. "Care for some?" Maya opened her mouth to answer, but her stomach rumbled instead. "I'll take that as a `yes'." Giggled Hikari, grabbing a dish and beginning to load it up with the remains of the meal. Within minutes, Maya was digging into a scrumptious meal. Rei glanced at Hikari.

"We will return to our home now, Shinji." She said softly. "Tomorrow is a school day." She noted.

"Oh! Um, see you later, Shinji!" replied Hikari, a bit nervously. The two exited the Zoo. Shinji sat across from Maya as the hungry tech finished off her food.

"So, what brings you by, Maya-chan?" he asked her. Maya pushed her empty plate back and sighed contentedly.

"Much better." She said happily. "But, to answer your question, Shinji, I came here to ask you for some help." She said.

"What kind of help?" wondered Shinji. Maya pulled her newly-issued USP from her waistband.

"I need you to show me how to work this thing and take care of it." She said, a bit of color on her cheeks. Seeing Shinji smile at her, she tried to explain. "It's…been a while since basic, and I was never very good with guns…"

Shinji touched her hand gently. "It's fine, Maya-chan." He assured her. "Though I have to say in all honesty that everything I know is thanks to Rit-chan." He added. Taking the gun, he quickly checked to make sure it was empty before he began his lesson. Half way through, Asuka emerged from the bath, a towel draped over her shoulders a la Rei. Seeing Maya there, Asuka scowled.

"What brings you here at this time of night, Maya?" asked the girl suspiciously.

"Oh, hi, Asuka." Said Maya, glancing at her. Shinji saw her eyes got a bit bigger when she saw the girl's uncharacteristic nakedness. "I just came by to ask Shinji to refresh my memory of how to make a gun work." She said honestly. Asuka studied the woman.

"I see." She said, moving to the refridge and grabbing a soda. On her way back, she casually brushed her hip against Shinji's back. "I'm going to talk to Rit-chan for a bit." She said to her fellow pilot.

"Ok, Asuka." Replied Shinji.

"Come get me when you're done showing Maya how to use that." Added the girl, moving off down the short hall. Shinji glanced at her retreating form.

"Will do." He replied. He got back to the issue at hand. Ten minutes later, Maya was as set as she was going to get. "So, tomorrow, I'll come get you after the synch test and we'll visit the range. Deal?" he asked her, smiling at his temporary guardian. Maya smiled.

"Of course, Shinji." She said, standing. Shinji did likewise.

"Hold on for a sec, Maya. I'm going to walk you to your car." Said the teen, jogging to Asuka's door. Scratching lightly, he heard Rit-chan tell him to come on in. Sticking his head into her room, he saw Rit-chan laying on the bed, journal in hand, her shirt pushed up around her waist. Asuka was at her desk, flipping pages in a notebook. "I'm going to walk Maya to her car, Asuka." He said.

"If you have to, then you have to." Sighed the girl. "But hurry back!" she ordered.

"Of course I will, Asuka." Shinji agreed. The Second just tossed her hair and went back to flipping pages. Closing the door, Shinji returned to see Maya just getting her shoes on. Slipping his own on, he and tech exited the Zoo. Back in her room, Asuka sighed and closed her notebook, leaning back in her chair.

"You know he's nice, Asuka." Observed Rit-chan without looking up. "He said he'll be right back, and he will be."

"Of course he will be!" Snapped Asuka. "I'm here, aren't I?" she boasted. Rit-chan chuckled.

"Indeed." She murmured. Asuka frowned. I'd feel a lot better if Maya weren't so cute, though!

-

It had started in the elevator to the parking garage when Shinji had absently taken Maya's hand in his. By the time the elevator had arrived at the parking garage, Maya had been feeling around for Shinji's tonsils with her prehensile tounge; Shinji was returning the favor. With considerable effort, the two managed to break off their make-out session and move toward the small car of the tech, parked a few spots past Misato's battered blue bullet of doom. As they moved toward her car, Maya and Shinji found their arms around each other's waists.

When they reached her small silver car, Maya leaned against the door, pulling Shinji into a deep kiss. The Third returned the kiss wholeheartedly, snaking one hand up to run his fingers through her short, soft hair, the other arm wrapping around her hips and pulling her into him. Moaning into his mouth, Maya spread her legs and pulled him to her, feeling his erection press against her own hot, wet groin. Moments later, Maya was humping against him, still deeply involved in the kiss. Shinji finally broke the kiss. "Maya-chan," he panted as the young woman ground herself against him, "if you keep ah! Doing that…" he tried to warn her.

"Can I?" asked the tech, feeling wet and horny. "Will you?" she asked, panting as well.

"Here?" asked Shinji. Maya considered that for a split second.

"Car?" she suggested.

"I've never done that before." Shinji noted, concentrating on mastering his burning need for what Maya clearly wanted him to have.

"Me either." She replied, giggling a bit, her face red. "Want to try?" she asked, kissing him again. Shinji slid his hands down to her breasts, gently massaging them, noting the hard nipples. Maya moaned softly.

"If you're game." He said hoarsely. "But I don't know if I can do a good job in there." He warned.

"Have to see." Panted Maya, fumbling for her keys. As horny as I am right now, I'll probably cum the instant you enter me! She thought to herself, finding her keys and hitting the button to unlock her doors. "Get in." she said.

"First?" asked Shinji, doubting that he could do much from the bottom position in her cramped car. Maya swiftly saw his point.

"Ok." She agreed. "Just a second." She added, impatiently pulling her skirt up and shoving her panties down to her ankles. Sitting back into her car, she slipped her panties off as she swung her feet in, her hands going to her uniform top, all but tearing it open before unfastening the front-fastening bra she had on. Shinji saw her lean the seat back and felt her hand grab his pant's pocket and tug. He swiftly joined her in the car. Leaning forward to kiss her, he felt her hand push him back a bit. Confused, he wondered what she was up to until he felt her hand wrestling with his belt. Chuckling, he reached down to help her out. Within seconds, she was feverously pushing his pants and boxers down enough to free his drooling erection. As soon as his nut sack cleared the waistband of his boxers, she stopped holding him up, pulling him to her, one hand guiding him into her sheath as the other held him in a deep kiss. Maya felt his thick tip split her slippery mons and moaned as a small orgasm swept through her. Knew it! Fleeting ran through her mind as her body shivered and lightening ran through her blood, branching from her quivering pussy all through her body.

Shinji settled himself and eased deeper into a very happy Maya. You know, this isn't as easy as the guys think it is. he mused in a small part of his mind. It's hard to get a steady stroke like this, but still… Shinji felt a thrill knowing that anyone coming close could see him shagging one of his support staff; not to mention, one of his commanding officers. His thoughts went on vacation as he felt Maya's nest tighten around his rampant erection. Focusing on the task at hand, he vowed to make Maya come as many times as he could in the limited amount of time available.

-

Rei sat at her desk, the NERV laptop booted up and running, a MAGI primary access window open and Rei was working. Of course, no one knew she was there, as she was running on a fake log-on via a backdoor access though a hidden terminal relay. Observing Akagi has proven to be more useful than I had thought it would be. Thought the First, her fingers dancing over the keys so fast they were blurred. Not even the Doctor could match her more-than-human speed. Rei was on a mission.

At the moment, she was stealthily moving thought the surveillance net on and around the Zoo, covering her lover's activities. Patching feeds and altering logs, she electronically masked him and Maya from any attention as they relieved their stress. Rei's own groin tingled at the thought of relieving some of her tension with her Shinji. Pushing that aside, Rei concentrated on her task. There were no Section 2 personnel within visual range of the two, and Rei made sure that they would not wander closer to her lover.

"Rei-chan? What are you doing?" came Hikari's voice from the door. Rei didn't even glance at her roommate and teammate.

"A necessary task." Was all she said, fingers dancing on the keyboard. Curious, Hikari wandered closer to her friend.

"What is that?" she asked, seeing a small window with footage of the parking garage. Misato's Chariot of the Damned slouched in it's skid-mark wreathed home, while a few spots down, a small silver car sat. "Isn't that Maya's car?" asked Hikari.

"Hai." Was her only reply. Rei's fingers paused, her eyes scanning some data in another window.

"Why are you…?" she started. Rei turned to her and studied her intently. Hikari fought the urge to shiver under the heavy gaze of Rei. A moment went by.

"Do you truly wish to know, Hikari?" asked Rei quietly. Hikari thought it over. She does a lot of classified things, so maybe I should mind my own business.

"Yes." She said. Damn it, when are you going to think before speaking, bitch?! She berated herself.

"Shinji is having sex with Maya in her car. I am preventing this from becoming common knowledge at NERV." Said the First flatly. "Does this knowledge disturb you?" she asked, seeing Hikari blink a time or two.

"He's…with Maya…in her car?!" she asked, not believing what Rei had said.

"Yes. He and Maya have become lovers as well during his stay at her residence. It is not unexpected, as they are both attracted to each other and formed a bond during his time here." Noted Rei, her tone unconcerned. Hikari tried to bend her mind to the concept.

"But he…I mean, we're…lovers." She protested, whispering the last word.

"Correct. As he is also my lover, as well as Asuka's and Rit-chan's lover." Agreed Rei. Hikari blinked a few times. "Does his loving more than one bother you, Hikari?" pressed Rei, leaning closer to her.

"I…don't know." She murmured. Rei checked her screen once more before returning her attention to the Sixth.

"You proposed to have a three-some with myself and Shinji. Why is this information causing you distress?" wondered Rei. Hikari opened her mouth, but slowly closed it, her mind busy. Several minutes passed in perfect silence.

"I…don't know." She said for the second time. "Maybe because he'll like her more." She whispered a moment later.

"He will not." Said Rei as if it were the most documented fact in the world. "Shinji loves with his heart and mind, not his penis and libido."

-

Shinji swiped his card though the reader and entered the Zoo quietly. He was kind of hoping that Asuka was asleep, but didn't really expect her to be. Silently, he entered the bathroom and stripped off his clothes, turning the shower on. As soon as it was warm, he ducked under to clean up a bit. He was barely done rinsing off the body shampoo when the door opened and Asuka marched in. "Well! Took you long enough!" she huffed.

"I was exchanging recipes with Maya." Shinji shrugged, knowing she wouldn't believe him. Asuka sat to relieve her bladder, sending him a knowing smirk.

"More like body fluids." She muttered. "Whatever." She added, dismissing the matter. Shinji swiftly finished up and grabbed a towel, turning off the shower and stepping out to dry off. Asuka finished up and flushed. Seeing Shinji drying off his chest, she took his hand in hers and pulled him out of the bathroom and to his room. Once in his room, she pushed him onto his bed and climbed in next to him, snuggling into him. "Shinji?" she said softly.

"Yes, A-chan?" said the Third, gently folding his arms around her naked form.

"Hold me?" she asked quietly, her tone completely alien to the confident, arrogant, abrasive Second he knew so well.

"Of course, Asuka." He agreed immediately. Asuka's cool, silky hair tickled his chest as she laid her hand on his chest. Time passed. Asuka yawned, her eyes closing slowly. Slowly, Shinji caressed her back with his hands. This is good. He thought to himself. And if it weren't for Rei-chan, I'd have spent a miserable life never knowing how good life can be. That thought stirred a memory. He had an appointment once Asuka was asleep.

Asuka, however, seemed to have different ideas. Her lips touched his neck, and her hands wandered down his belly toward his stiffening member. Moment by moment, her kisses and caresses grew more and more heated. Shinji didn't have any objections to her attention, and returned her affection as best he could. In short order, Asuka was straddling his hips, burying his dick in her pussy as she bit her lip to keep from screaming in pleasure. Shinji fondled her breasts and gently tugged on her hard nipples. Asuka came like a freight train, collapsing on top of him when she finally came back down to earth. Kissing her deeply, Shinji eased her onto the bed next to him and lay there panting, his dick still hard. Less than two minutes later, Asuka was dead to the world. Shinji waited another ten minutes before easing himself free of her embrace and slipping on his boxers and a shirt. Snagging his USP and access card, he silently moved out of his room.

"She sleeping, Shinji?" came a whisper next to his ear. Flinching, he snapped his hear around to see Rit-chan standing next to his door, her shirt in her hand. Shinji nodded. "That's good." Murmured Rit-chan. "Going somewhere?" asked the other red-head. Shinji once more nodded.

"Rei asked me to come see her after Asuka was asleep; she seems to have something on her mind." Explained the young man. Rit-chan giggled softly.

"I'm sure she does; the same thing we all do." Snickered Rit-chan wickedly. "Oh, well." She said, shrugging - which produced some very interesting movement on her chest - and turned back to her temporary room. "Catch you tomorrow, I hope?" she asked teasingly, winking at him. She didn't bother to close the door.

-

The door to Rei's apartment slid open as Shinji raised his hand to knock. Rei was standing in the doorway, her entire apartment dark behind her. Taking his hand, she tugged him into her apartment, the door closing behind them. Silently, Rei guided him to the apartment's balcony, closing the door behind them. Once they were there, she pulled him into a close embrace, her lips seeking his. Shinji gladly returned her kiss.

"So, what did you want to see me about, Rei-chan?" he asked once she let his lips slip free of her own. Rei eased back enough to study his face, but kept her arms around his waist. A small smile tugged at her mouth as she saw his own smile. "Or, was that kiss the first part?" he teased.

"I desire to be one with you very much." Agreed Rei. "It is not, however, the reason I asked you to come over here." She continued. Shinji studied her face intently.

"Then, why?" he wondered. Rei locked her eyes to his.

"I must ask you to come with me tomorrow night. To NERV. There are…things you must know." She said, her eyes troubling Shinji a bit.

"Things? What things?" Shinji wanted to know.

"I…I can not tell you, Shinji. You must see to understand." Said Rei. Shinji felt her tremble.

"Rei-chan, you're trembling." He said, his tone tight with worry. "What's wrong, Rei?"

"You will know." Said Rei, hugging him to herself again. "Tomorrow night, you will know." She repeated. Shinji was getting very worried. This wasn't like Rei at all.

"Rei-chan, whatever it is, I'll do anything to help, you know that, right?" he urgently assured her. Rei looked up from where she had her head buried against his chest. "I'll never leave you, Rei-chan." He promised.

"You…should not make promises you might regret making later, Shinji." She said quietly.

"I could never regret anything I did for you." Shinji stubbornly insisted. Rei was silent. Time passed. Neither teen moved.

"Shinji, did you achieve release with Asuka?" asked Rei at length. Shinji, his mind elsewhere, was caught off guard.

"Uh, no." was the clever reply. Rei's soft hand snaked into his boxers, caressing his member.

"May I be one with you?" she asked hopefully.

"Sure, Rei-chan." Agreed Shinji immediately. "But, what about Hikari?" he asked, not seeing her roommate. Rei favored him with a full smile.

"I do not think she will have any objections." Promised Rei, leading him into her bedroom by his dick.

-

Shinji and company jogged around the corner and into the classroom a step ahead of the sensei, as usual. Looking around as they made their way to their seats, Shinji noticed that there were only four other students in the class besides his group. Tomo was at her place, studying her screen, making some notes on a small notebook. Aki was reading a magazine at her desk, but rose to intercept Rit-chan and Asuka as they approached their desks. Reika was listening to headphones as she typed on her laptop, and in the far corner, Tetsuo was sleeping on his desk.

"Morning, guys." Greeted Aki, nodding to the group at large.

"Morning, Aki-chan." Replied Rit-chan. "What's up with that?" she asked, motioning to the magazine Aki held. The model held it up. It was a city guide to New Kyoto.

"Well, I got this the other day." Said Aki, handing the older teen a letter. Flipping it open, Rit-chan scanned it briefly.

"Congratulations, Aki." Said the elf hunter, smiling at the taller girl. "I wish you the best."

"What is it?" demanded the Second. Rit-chan handed the letter to Asuka.

"You've got a modeling contract with NFY?! Go, Aki!" celebrated Asuka.

"When are you moving?" asked Hikari softly, looking at Aki. The taller girl sighed.

"Three days." She said.

"So, what school are you transferring to?" Hikari wanted to know.

"Well, none actually." Apologized the young woman. "I'm going to take a year or so off and see if this modeling gig can make any money." Seeing Hikari look, she raised her hands defensively. "Hey, it's not like I'm gonna drop out for good, Hi-chan!" she protested.

"Unless you find that modeling suits you." Interjected Rit-chan. "Good money if it agrees with you; at least, that's what Airi says."

"Speaking of that, Rit-chan." Aki turned the topic smoothly. "Toshi and Mai have been talking to me about you. They want to know if you'll change your mind and enter into a contract to model with me." Rit-chan's eyes narrowed a bit.

"No." was all she said. Aki nodded.

"I thought as much." She agreed. "Still, I promised to give you the details, so here goes:" she took a breath. "They want you to do a series for the next issue of the trade pub. Modeling fee is negotiable, as are the terms of the contract. Toshi offered to personally double whatever fee you agreed to if you do this. Mai mentioned an eight-figure fee as a starting point, and added that any nudity would double that amount. Here's their card." Said Aki, handing her a small business card with a handwritten number on it. "That's Mai's personal cell phone number, and the other number is Toshi's cell phone. If you change your mind, call them - day or night."

"I won't." said Rit-chan, dropping the card into her bag. Aki sighed. "What's wrong, Aki?" asked Rit-chan of her friend.

"I…was hoping you might come with me, Rit-chan." Said Aki softly.

"Hey, I'm not that good company, Aki." Said Rit-chan, her lips twitching into a small smile as she said it. "Besides, I'm needed here." Aki furrowed her brow at that, but Rit-chan didn't elaborate.

"At any rate, we have to plan a party for you!" interrupted Hikari. The conversation turned to planning a party.

-

The group walked to NERV, school over for the day. Today was Shinji's first time seeing Hikari in action, as he was scheduled to observe her and the other two pilots run through a training sim. The order banning him from access to Unit 1 was still in place, a concept that Shinji found laughable. If I need her, Mother will come. He mentally smiled.

He also remembered that he had a date with Maya on the shooting range, as well as a trip with Rei late that night. Man, this is a busy day for me. He thought. It had been a night of little sleep, as after Rei and he had finished, she had pointed out that Asuka would be looking for him in the morning, and he should return to her before she awoke. Kissing her and Hikari, he had reluctantly left her place and returned to his own. He had gotten four hours of sleep, but felt perfectly rested. During the first afternoon period, Rit-chan had kidnapped him and the two had gone to the closed-down top floor, where Rit-chan had taken liberal advantage of him; much to his delight. I wonder why I don't feel sleepy after all the sex and with so little sleep? he wondered. Eh. Not important. he decided. It had surprised him that Rit-chan had a copy of Rei's master janitor key.

Arriving at NERV, the pilots went to the locker room and the girls changed into their plug suits. Shinji went to his locker and found that his small picture of Rei was gone, replaced with a five by seven of the girls in a group. Seeing his frown, Asuka explained. "That picture of Wondergirl you had in there was shit, Shinji." She said, dismissing the missing picture as meaningless. "That one's better." She added, sealing her suit. Hikari was just pulling her suit on, and Rei was already finished, sitting silently on the small bench.

"Um, thanks, guys." Said Shinji, a little at a loss for words. He had never thought that the girls would do something like this, especially since Asuka wasn't exactly a fan of Rei. Still, the picture was indeed better, and it had Rit-chan in it, the girls in a tight diamond, with Asuka and Rei on either side of Misato, Hikari kneeling just in front of Misato, and Rit-chan standing behind the Major. All the women were smiling warmly. You know, I think this is a better picture. He decided. Now, all I have to do is get one of Maya-chan. Closing his locker, he followed his teammates and lovers to the sim bodies.

-

"That was pretty good, Maya-chan." Encouraged Shinji as the young tech buttoned out the spent magazine from her USP and reached for a loaded one on the small desk near her station. "Just remember to keep your front sight on the target and squeeze the trigger." The Lieutenant's shooting had improved greatly in the last hour, from barely able to cut paper, to a respectable 8-ring grouping. On the lane next to the two, Rit-chan was happily blowing away targets with her beloved G36, a mountain of spent casings piling up as she tended to burn ten rounds in a burst. Behind Shinji and Maya was Rei, silent and calm as always, watching Shinji work with Maya on her shooting.

Seating the fresh magazine, Maya took up her stance again, settling the sights on the orange ring in the center of the silhouette fifteen meters away from her. Swiping her thumb over the slide release, she took a breath and squeezed the trigger, the gun tripping off a single-action shot that hit low left on the nine ring. "Shit." She muttered, preparing to fire again.

"You're heeling it a bit." Interrupted a familiar voice. Maya slid her finger off the trigger and turned to see Rit-chan standing next to Shinji, a spent magazine for her assault rifle in hand, feeding fresh ammo into it by feel, the girl's eyes on Maya. "Don't try to squeeze the gun as hard as you can, Maya. Just maintain a firm, even grip. It's not like that gun has enough kick to need a bone-breaker grip."

"Oh." Answered Maya a bit blankly. "Is that what's wrong with me?" she asked the teenager. Rit-chan pushed the last round into her magazine and flipped it tip-up before slamming it spine-first against her opposite hand.

"Well, that's what made that round go low and left, Maya." Rit-chan saw Maya's shoulders slump a bit. "Hey, don't get depressed; it just takes some practice, that's all." She assured the tech.

"I was never that good with guns; even in basic." Admitted Maya. "Unlike you." She added. Rit-chan tucked the loaded rifle magazine into her waistband and shrugged.

"I just have a knack for shooting. Here, let me see that pistol for a minute." Requested the teen. Maya engaged the decocker and handed the gun to Rit-chan, who studied the slide intently. "Excuse me for a sec." She murmured, easing past Maya and bringing her gun up. Rapidly, the teen double-tapped the magazine empty and nodded to herself. "Yeah, that's another issue." She muttered, dumping the empty magazine and turning for the small range shop behind the firing lines.

"What is it, Rit-chan?" asked Shinji.

"Sights aren't zeroed correctly." Said Rit-chan, pulling her own USP free and handing it to Maya. "Try this one." She smiled. Silently, Maya took the offered gun, and after a glance at Shinji, took up her stance again. Settling the front sight on the orange, she squeezed the trigger double-action and got a ring shot, right on the edge of the X ring. Maya blinked. Turning to her lover, she saw him grinning at her.

"See? You can do this." He said. Behind them, they heard cursing. Rit-chan was not happy with what she was seeing.

"Damn it all to hell!" she snarled, dropping the gun to the wooden surface disdainfully. "What kind of stupid assholes work for NERV, anyway?!"

"Oh, just your run-of-the-mill bakas, Rit-chan." Rejoined Shinji smoothly. Rit-chan grunted.

"Well, whoever was supposed to check this gun messed up. The sights are off, but the locking screw for the rear sight is dimpled in place. I don't have the tools to adjust them with me." She sighed; an improperly cared-for gun really pissed her off. "Maya-chan, you're going to have to draw a new weapon." She said. Seeing the young woman wince, Shinji had another idea.

"How about we just switch this one for the one I had when I was staying at her place?" he suggested. Rit-chan considered that.

"Hey, good thinking, Shin." She approved. "You've got your NERV-issue back now, right?" Shinji nodded. "Excellent." Smiled the elf hunter, swiping the gun up and moving to Shinji, who had pulled out a USP from his book bag. Maya exchanged guns with Shinji, who handed Rit-chan's non-NERV USP back to her, tucking the troubled USP into his bag. Maya began to reload her magazines.

It was another hour before Maya felt she had enough practice in for one day. Rit-chan ran her through the cleaning process, praised her work and told her that she would help her any time she wanted her to. Once all the guns were clean and reloaded with the potent combat loads, the three of them went in search of the missing two members of their tribe. As they hiked back to the black pyramid, Rit-chan asked if NERV had any heavier calibers in their handgun arsenal. Rei answered that they only carried the 9mm version of the USP.

"Man, that's a pity." Mourned Rit-chan.

"Why is that?" asked Maya, curious.

"I was hoping to add a more potent round to my collection." Grinned Rit-chan.

"Such as?" inquired Rei.

"I wouldn't mind a good .45 ACP." Admitted the girl. "Either the Mark 23 or the USP would be fine in that caliber, but what I really want is a true 1911 single action." She sighed wistfully.

"Single action?" wondered Maya. "You mean, those cowboy guns from the wild west?" Rit-chan giggled.

"No, Maya, that's a Colt Single Action Army. I was talking about the semi-automatic pistol, model of 1911. You've seen World War 2 films, right?" Maya nodded. "Well, it's the pistol that the American service men carried."

"I see. Aren't those hard to shoot?" wondered the tech. Rit-chan nodded.

"Yes and no. I got the chance to shoot a real Colt a while back, and it was an experience, let me tell you. That big-bore cannon makes a nine look and sound like a water pistol. It just projects this aura of overwhelming firepower when you shoot one."

"And yet, you carry a nine millimeter USP." Noted Rei.

"Well, the .45 was a handful, no doubt." Noted Rit-chan. "But my current sidearm is the result of chance, not necessarily choice, Rei-chan."

"How so?" asked Rei in reply.

"Well, this was the first gun I got when I arrived in the elf world. It's been with me since." Her tone was soft and distant as she absently stroked the holstered USP.

"Well, at least the nine has more bullets." Offered Maya.

"Yeah, but it doesn't hit as hard, either." Replied Rit-chan. "The first time I hit a old pot with the .45, it looked like someone had hit it with a sledgehammer - all caved in and torn where the bullet went through. The nine just makes small holes in the target and hardly moves it at all. Not quite the drop-them-in-their-tracks powerhouse the .45 is."

"Thanks, but I think I'll stick with the gun I have; I'm having a hard enough time hitting with this one." Demurred Maya. Rit-chan nodded.

"And that's the bottom line, Maya." She said, patting the woman's shoulder. "You use what you can hit with. Period."

-

Kaji paused to light his cigarette, leaning against his car as he did so. Exhaling, he studied the night sky. Tomorrow night. He thought. He had just completed the last of his preparations for his last mission. Within thirty six hours, it would all be settled, one way or the other. Still, Mi-chan will reap the rewards if I can't. he consoled himself. Taking one more drag, he flicked the half-finished smoke away as he climbed into his silver steed. "Hi ho, Silver, away." He muttered, turning the engine over and shifting into first.

-

Shinji was laying in bed with Asuka in his arms, wondering what Rei had meant to show him at NERV. The quiet First had slipped up next to him and informed him that she would be unable to show him what she had wanted to due to an unexpected dinner invitation from the Commander. The Third had grimaced at the mention of his father, but told Rei he understood. The girl touched his hand before vanishing from his side.

Still, it was impossible to feel too depressed, since Asuka was in his bed and Rit-chan and Hikari were close to him. Asuka was clinging to his side as she slept, a behavior he found a bit disconcerting. Asuka was not usually a clingy sleeper, but since the last angel, she had been holding him almost desperately when she slept in his bed. Not that an armful of Asuka is such a bad thing! He thought happily, feeling her pressed to him full length, her silky skin warm against his.

In Asuka's room, Rit-chan slipped out of bed and reached for some clothes she had tucked away earlier. Lot easier to do this when Asuka's in Shin's bed. She thought, slipping on the black BDU pants. Still, I'd rather be in his bed than going for an illegal stroll in NERV. But Airi assured me it's important. So, back your team mate, Rit-chan. She directed herself, pulling on the black tee-shirt, followed by her gear belt. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she pulled on her socks, then her combat boots. Tying her hair back with her ribbon, she proceeded to fasten a do-rag over her strawberry blonde mane. Satisfied, she eased back the slide of her USP, verified the chamber was loaded, touched the hilt of her sheath knife and snagged her NERV ID and cell phone on the way out the door.

Before she exited the Zoo, she paused to listen at Shinji's door. After several seconds of silence, she moved on, hoping they were both asleep. Glancing through the small gap between Misato's door and the frame, she saw the dark-haired Major sprawled out on her bed, her top askew, revealing her left breast, her cover rumpled around her waist, her panties haphazardly clinging to her upper thighs. Misato was asleep, no doubt there. Rit-chan moved out of the Zoo. Riding the elevator up a couple of floors, she exited the car and quickly moved to an apartment on the corner of the building. It was the work of a moment for her to force the lock and enter.

Like all but two apartments in the building this one was empty. The elf hunter didn't pause as she moved to the balcony and stepped to the edge. Pulling a night-vision monocular from her cargo pocket, she scanned the area around the base of the building for the Section 2 agents she knew were there somewhere. Once she had located the agent tasked with perimeter security, she mapped out his movements and frowned. Slack-ass bastard. An army could march through the gaps in his patrol. She thought. Still, that's probably for the best, seeing as what I'm about to do. Tucking the night vision gear into her pocket, she unclipped a length of rappelling line and tied it off. Copious practice in the elf world allowed her to make her descent rig in seconds. Rolling over the rail, she took a moment to steady herself, then kicked off and slid ground ward.

The instant her boots touched grass, she stepped into the shadow of a bush and tucked the rope up against the building. Once more, she scanned the area with her night vision, spotting the Section 2 agent taking a leak at the far corner of the complex. Smiling, she jogged into the night. Airi was waiting for her at NERV, after all, and she didn't want to keep her waiting.

-

The entrance into NERV's holiest chambers was surprisingly easy. Airi had confidently led her through a daunting maze of passages, halls and unmarked doorways, using four different ID cards and at least a dozen access codes. When Rit-chan approached her outside a secluded entrance to NERV, the actress had told her to follow her and keep her mouth shut and eyes open. A year of doing just that had made an answer unnecessary. Rit-chan silently stepped into a small, hidden elevator behind her teammate, who pressed one of the few buttons on the control panel.

"You ok, Rit-chan?" asked Airi softly of her younger teammate. Rit-chan nodded.

"Yeah." She murmured. "How did you find out about all this?" she asked, motioning to the elevator. "And do I even want to know about the collection of cards?" she added, smiling ever so faintly.

"I told you, Rit-chan," replied Airi, touching the woman's hand, "the payoff is worth the inconvience." Rit-chan had no comment on that issue. Silence fell for several minutes. Then, Airi spoke again. "Rit-chan?"

"Mmm?"

"Some of what you will see might prove…disturbing." Warned the older woman.

"Everything about this place is disturbing." Grimaced Rit-chan. Airi put her hands on the teen's shoulders and looked her in the eyes.

"I'm serious, Rit-chan." Repeated Airi. "You might not be able to see them the same way ever again." Rit-chan's brow knit.

"You mean the pilots." She stated. Airi nodded.

"Yes, though it has more to do with one than the others, it will affect all of them." Explained Airi. Rit-chan considered that. "It's not my intention to force you to see this, Rit-chan, and you can certainly live happily not ever knowing this, but I felt it only fair to give you the choice."

Do I really need to know? wondered the teen. Airi had always been upfront with me, and she never treats me like a kid, so if she's making a point of telling me this, maybe I should take her up on the offer…Rit-chan's face tightened into a determined expression. To hell with it. I've come this far, why stop now? I'll just deal with the consequences! "I'm going." She said simply.

"I thought you would." Sighed Airi. This will probably make her more determined to stay that ever, but if I hadn't of shown her, I don't think I could look her in the eyes and ask her to blindly trust me ever again. A conscious was a hell of thing to come down with at a time like this. And I thought my time in Hollywood had rid me of my conscious forever, too.

The elevator opened and the duo walked purposefully down the foreboding hall. Eventually, they came to an Eva-sized door marked Heaven's Gate. Stepping to a small lock interface box, Airi raised a card and turned her eyes to Rit-chan. "Last chance." She said.

"Open the door, Airi." Said the teen evenly. Swiping the card, Airi punched in an access code and the door opened. Grabbing Rit-chan's hand, she tugged the girl into the massive Primary LCL plant. Knowing what the teens reaction would be, she paused.

"What the fuck is that?!" gasped Rit-chan, her eyes on the huge white being nailed to the cross at the head of a lake of LCL. Airi turned to giant, motioning like a game show hostess revealing a prize.

"This is the second Angel." She said calmly. Her eyes narrowed a bit. "And it's changed since last I saw it." She muttered, intently studying the mountainous figure. Rit-chan glanced at her friend.

"How exactly?" she wondered.

"The spear that was pinning it to the cross through the chest is gone, and the legs are nearly formed now." Mused Airi.

"Spear? As in the one that Rei-chan threw to the moon?"

"Most likely." Agreed Airi. Her companion's sharp eyes noted something else.

"Hey, Airi, is it just me, or does that tissue that should be legs look like deformed bodies?" asked Rit-chan, swallowing a bit roughly.

"Yes, it does look that way. Kind of like a real-life Doom monster." Agreed the actress. Rit-chan pushed her eyes off the sight, choosing to study the face instead.

"What's with the mask? Someone doing an off-Broadway of Man in the Iron Mask?" quipped Rit-chan.

"That I can't tell you, Rit-chan." Replied the actress. "I've never seen that symbol before."

"I…think it's from Judaism." Offered Rit-chan. "Something about the seven eyes of Yahweh." Seeing Airi's look, she shrugged. "I suck at religious theory, but I think that's the Jewish version of God. They seem to have a fixation on seven."

"That would fit with the whole religious theme they have going." Nodded Airi. More research, I guess. "Come on, there's more."

-

"First an Angel nailed to a cross, then an Eva bone yard, now this." Said Rit-chan resignedly. "Looks like Rei's old place." She added. The room was bare, drab and lifeless, with a bed in the center and a small chest of drawers with a beaker of water and some pills on it.

"Yes. It is Rei's place." Said Airi softly. Pre-empting the question from her younger partner, she held up her hand. "The next room will answer your first question." She said, turning for the second door. "And raise all sorts of new ones." She added. Rit-chan set her jaw and marked after her leader. What she saw next threatened her grip on sanity.

"They're…all…Reis." She breathed at the dozens of naked Reis floating in LCL. She felt Airi take her arm and steady her.

"Yes and no." clarified Airi. "They are clones, Rit-chan. These are…spares. And while they are spares, they are not Rei." Airi carefully assessed the teen's reactions. "There is only one Rei, Rit-chan. When she is killed, her soul is transferred to a new body." Which is what she meant when she told Misato that if she died in combat against the Fourteenth, she could be `replaced'.

"You...said `when' she is killed…?" managed Rit-chan, her mind in a hurricane of emotions and thoughts. Airi nodded.

"Rei has died once already that I know of, and who knows how many more times besides that." Confirmed Airi. A sound half-way between a sob and a laugh came from Rit-chan as her arms slid around Airi for support and comfort. "I'm so sorry, Rit-chan." Murmured the actress. "I hope you can handle this." Several minutes passed while Rit-chan imposed order on her mind. Once she had settled down, Airi had a question. "Can you ever look at her like you did before you knew her secret?" asked the actress.

"I…don't know." Whispered Rit-chan. "I don't blame her or anything, and I still care about her, but…" she shook her head.

"Unexpected, right?" guessed Airi. Oddly, Rit-chan giggled.

"Actually, Ai-chan, it makes a sick kind of sense." Disagreed Rit-chan. "The way she used to be makes sense now." Airi drew her into a close hug, mentally sighing in relief. She's going to be ok.

"I'm…glad you're going to be ok with this." She murmured against Rit-chan's neck. Rit-chan's reply brought her up short.

"But I can't help but wonder, Airi: how will Shinji handle this?"

-

"You!" declared Asuka imperiously, pointing a commanding finger at Aki as soon as the girl set foot in the classroom, causing the tall girl to blink. "This address. Eight o'clock tonight. No excuses." Ordered the Second, all but shoving a slip of paper at her friend. Aki took, blinking at Asuka's antics.

"Um…ok?" she offered. Asuka sniffed disdainfully.

"Of course it's ok, Aki!" she snapped. "I offered, didn't I?"

"Uh huh." Breathed the model. Tomo saw the teacher enter the room.

"Class, take your places." She called. "Bow. Be seated." She commanded. All eight students did as instructed. The sensei took his seat and opened the class register.

"Ayanami." He called.

"Hai."

"Inoue."

"Here." Answered the teen.

"Satusami."

"Present." The class rep responded.

"Sohryu."

"Yeah." The pilot huffed.

"Ikari."

"Correct." Joked Shinji, earning a smile from his tribe.

"Kumishi."

"Maybe." Came the reply from the boy sitting nearest the door.

"Horaki."

"Sir." Confirmed the Sixth.

"Wakirihara."

"Live." Came the retort. The teacher closed the book.

"Now that roll call is complete, let's pick up where we left off. In the months leading up to Second Impact, there was a power struggle between the member nations of the UN and the UN governing council as to who had the right to decide national laws. It was the United States that…" before the third word was out, the class had tuned him out entirely.

-

"Another two?" asked Hikari, shaking her head. "That leaves only four teachers, including the principal. Why not just shut the school down and relocate the students?"

"Don't know." Shrugged Aki. "But look on the bright side: we're all in one PE class now." She grinned.

"How is that good?" carped Asuka. "I detest those dirty perverts being in the same pool as me."

"Even Shinji?" baited Aki, leering at the Second. Asuka froze. "Thought so, Asuka." Gloated Aki. Asuka growled and savagely bit her sandwich. "But, hey, at least it was the guy's gym teacher that transferred. How would you like to smell that sweaty old jock each day?"

"Eww! I'm trying to eat here!" protested Hikari. Aki chuckled. Shinji found himself bracketed by Rei and Asuka, with Rit-chan directly in front of him. Here gray-green eyes kept looking into his, her gaze a bit troubled.

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

"Uh, fine!" she lied. "Got some more tea?" she asked. Shinji silently handed her the thermos.

"Did you sleep good last night?" Aki asked. "You look tired."

"I thought I did." Deflected Rit-chan, knocking back another cup of iced tea.

"So anyway, what's up with this shindig tonight?" asked Aki, seeing her friends smile.

"Not telling." Denied Asuka. "Be there on time and find out."

"Come on, you have to give me a hint, Asuka." Pleaded Aki. "I mean, what should I wear? Is it formal? Should I bring a swimsuit? Or condoms?"

"Can if you want." Giggled Hikari. "But we're not telling!"

"Just a hint, Hi-chan! One little hint!" begged Aki.

"No." said Hikari firmly.

"You're no fun." Pouted Aki.

-

"Shinji!" called a voice as Shinji and his group exited the school. Looking over to the street, he saw Kaji leaning against his silver bullet, a cigarette in his mouth and a cocky smile on his lips. "Got a minute?" he asked.

"Maybe." Said Shinji, stepping closer to the spy. "Why ask?"

"I wanted to talk to you for a minute; maybe buy you a drink." Replied the older man.

"Um, Kaji, I'm a boy." He replied warily.

"Agent Kaji," said Rei from Shinji's side, "do you not have duties to attend to?" asked the First.

"Matter of fact, no, Rei-chan." Disarmed the spy.

"Do not address me that way, Agent Kaji." Said the First flatly. Shinji glanced at her, his dark blue eyes meeting her red eyes. Rei let it go at that.

"What did you want to talk about, anyway?" asked Shinji.

"Oh, just some man-to-man things, Shin." Smiled the spy. Shinji considered that.

"Kaji!" came Asuka's voice as the Second exited the gate, having paused to visit the bathroom before leaving. "What are you doing here?" she asked. "I haven't seen you much lately." Of course, I've been kind of busy with my Shin! She thought lasciviously.

"Oh, I've just been running errands for my employer, Asuka." Replied the spy calmly.

"Have you now?" joined Rit-chan sardonically. "Which one, spy boy?" Asuka frowned at Rit-chan's words.

"What are you talking about, Rit-chan?" asked the Second.

"Ah, the famous Inoue charm Junpei told me about." Deflected the man.

"Want to see me really crank it up?" asked the elf hunter sweetly.

"Much as I'd love to, Rit-chan, I need to speak with Shinji." Declined the man, tossing his head at his car. "Ok, Shinji?" A glance at his lovers preceded him stepping over to Kaji's car and opening the passenger door.

"Ok, but make it fast; I have plans." Said the pilot, sliding into the leather seat.

"No problem, Shin." Agreed the spy. Cranking the car, he winked at the girls before patching out with near-Misato panache. His driving style didn't even elevate Shinji's heart rate; compared to Misato's driving, his was as mild as a grandma going to church. Rit-chan was frowning at the departing man.

"Something wrong, Rit-chan?" wondered Hikari.

"Don't know, Hi-chan." Admitted the teen. "I just can't trust that man." Offered the teen. Mostly because Airi doesn't trust him, but still, it's like he's Junpei part Two.

"Kaji's perfectly trustworthy." Defended Asuka, resuming her trek to the Zoo.

"I wouldn't bet my life on that, Asuka." Muttered Rit-chan, following her friends. Behind her, Rei shared that analysis.

-

Aki glanced at her slip of paper and checked the address again. "Looks right." She noted, frowning at the unmarked door before her. She had never been to this part of town, and wasn't that familiar with it. Entering the building, she had noticed that there seemed to be no one around. Shrugging, she pushed the button to ring the chime.

Instead of answering, the door clicked open. Hesitating, the tall girl entered the dark apartment. "Hello? Anyone here?" she called. Glancing down, she saw a pair of shoes on the mat, and slipped off her own. "Asuka? Hikari? Guys?" Stepping forward carefully, she felt for a light switch. Suddenly, the lights came on.

"Surprise!" chorused several voices. Blinking, Aki saw her friends standing in a double rank in front of her. Asuka, Hikari and Rit-chan were in the front rank, with Rei and Shinji behind them. Aki looked around.

"Wow. Who's home is this?" she asked.

"It is my residence, as well as Hikari's residence." Supplied Rei.

"Yeah, make yourself at home, Aki!" chirped Hikari. The model looked the group over. Rei was in an oversize tee-shirt that came to mid-thigh, while Shinji was in shorts and a tee-shirt. Hikari was in a simple pair of loose shorts and a tee-shirt, as was Asuka, though the Second's shirt was larger on her frame, closer to Rei's style. Rit-chan was in a pair of cut-off jean shorts and a tight tee-shirt.

"Shinji and I are going to go finish the preparation for supper, so get comfortable and relax." Said Hikari as she and the Third headed to the kitchen. Aki found herself being led to the couch. Looking around, she saw that there was a bag of games by the gaming console, a meter-high stack of SDVDs next to it and a karaoke machine. A drink was pushed into her hands.

"In honor of our friend's modeling contract, and to see her off in good spirits, the pilots of NERV and their charge are hereby declaring this an all-night party!" declared Asuka.

"All night?" asked Aki, sipping her drink. Recognizing the taste, she glanced down. "And is this…?"

"Like you care?" challenged Rit-chan. "You wanted one so much in Okinawa, after all."

"Yeah, but if they aren't loaded, then it's no different that a snow cone." Pointed out Aki.

"For all you know, Aki, Misato loaded it." Laughed Hikari. Aki had heard enough stories from the pilots to know the Operations Director's reputation.

"So, am I about to fall out drunk?" she asked, taking another sip. Rit-chan smiled and shrugged.

"Guess you'll have to find out." Teased the elf hunter.

"Food will be on in about ten minutes!" came Hikari's voice from behind them.

"Good. Who wants a piece of me?" smirked Asuka, waggling a controller. Aki took another sip.

"Sure, why not?" she said, taking another controller for herself.

-

Airi eased out of the bed and made her way to the bathroom, turning on a warm shower. Glancing back, she saw that Kaji was still asleep. Sighing, Airi stepped into the shower and reached for some soap. Not much of a lover, Spy Boy. I'm not surprised that Mi-chan dumped you. Lathering herself up, the actress began to clean herself before heading back to NERV for some research. Still, he seemed distracted tonight. Noted the woman, frowning. And what is in that capsule he gave me to give to Mi-chan tomorrow night? The spy had silently handed her the tiny capsule, then told her to give it to Misato tomorrow night. He had added that it was encoded and only she knew the pass code to unlock it. Her question about why he wasn't giving it to her in person had been deflected.

-

"Oh man, I'm stuffed!" sighed Aki, settling onto the couch. "That was incredible, guys!" she complimented the chefs. From the kitchen, Shinji and Hikari graciously accepted her compliment as they washed dishes.

"Thanks, Aki." Replied Hikari. "We decided to try some new stuff."

"Glad it worked out good." Added Shinji, handing a pot to Hikari, who swiftly dried it and put it away as Shinji scrubbed the next dish. Rei sat at the table, silently watching the two. Asuka emerged from the bathroom and joined Aki and Rit-chan on the couch.

"Since you're too full to move right now," smiled the Second, "how about we watch a movie to two as you digest that banquet you consumed?"

"Hey, I didn't eat that much and you know it, Asuka!" protested Aki amicably.

"Yeah. Right." Came the sarcastic reply. "The only one who could out eat you is that Stooge Touji the Stomach." Sniped Asuka, kneeling in front of the entertainment center and rummaging for a movie in the massive stack. "What's your pleasure, Supermodel Aki?" she asked.

"A naked Shinji in my bed." Replied Aki easily. From the kitchen, she heard a cough.

"That's not on the menu." Replied Asuka without missing a beat. "At least, not yet." She added teasingly. "So, action, drama, romance, sci-fi, western, comedy, historical, we got it all." Asuka casually rifled the stack, scanning the names. Fortunately for her, most had English or Romanji in the titles or she couldn't read it. Her and Japanese kanji were still not on reading terms.

"How about some porn?" smiled Aki. "Remember that one in Okinawa, guys?" she chuckled.

"You're a worse hentai than Baka." Groused Asuka, shuffling through the stacks. "But, you're shit out of luck, pervert. No porn here." She announced.

"Um, if you're serious, there…might be some." Offered Hikari hesitantly. Everyone but Rei looked at her. "Never mind." She said, drying the dish off and stacking it back into the cupboard.

"Now I'm really serious. You have porn here?" asked Aki suspiciously.

"Well…" hedged the Sixth.

"Why do you have porn here, Hikari?" wondered Asuka.

"It's not…!" began the flustered Horaki girl, but Rei spoke up.

"It is research material." She said simply. "The movies are stacked in the right-hand storage shelf." Added the girl, completely calm and unruffled. Swiftly, Asuka had located the movies in question.

"Fucking hell, Wondergirl, got enough here?!" she asked in awe at the tightly packed SDVD discs.

"No. There are still subjects to be researched." Answered the girl calmly. Aki had pried herself off the couch and joined Asuka in surveying the titles.

"Pretty good spread here, Rei-chan." Approved the model. "You watch these?" she asked, seeking confirmation.

"I have studied them all." Confirmed Rei. "They contain some useful data."

"Is she serious, Hikari?" asked Aki.

"Yes." Replied the dark haired roommate. "It's almost freaky. She sits there and watched them like she does the briefings for our missions. I keep expecting her to make notes or something." Rei had nothing to say on the matter.

Asuka was thinking. Well, that answers a lot of questions. This might be harder than I thought. Looking over at the impassive Rei, she wondered what went through the strange girl's mind. "So, you want to see one or not, Aki?" she said out loud. Aki glanced at the porn.

"Well, I've seen most of these already." She noted, making Hikari blink and Rit-chan smile. "Although…" she started to reach for a movie. "This one looks good." She said. Asuka glanced at the cover illustration and felt her cheeks get a bit warm.

"You're not serious, are you?" she asked, almost fearfully. Before Aki could reply, a knock came from the door and every eye turned to toward it, three hands coming to rest on pistols.

"Expecting someone, Rei-chan?" asked Rit-chan, moving into position near the end of the short entry way.

"No, although Misato, Airi and Maya were invited." Noted the First. "All three were scheduled for duty this evening."

"Who is it?" called Rit-chan, her USP sliding clear of her holster. Behind her, Asuka had moved to a position at the end of the couch, giving flanking support to the elf hunter. In the kitchen, Shinji's hand was on his USP and his eyes were on the balcony. Rei sat calmly, but her mind was ready to cover her lover with an AT Field at the first hint of danger. Hikari moved closer to Shinji, acutely aware of her USP resting on the bedside table next to Rei's.

"Um, it's me, Tomo." Came the voice from outside the door. "Can I…come in?" she asked a bit hesitantly. Rit-chan moved silently closer to the door. Looking out through the peephole, she saw the girl standing in front of the door, a bag in her hand. Glancing behind her, she caught Asuka's eye and nodded. Asuka settled her arms on the end of the sofa and thumbed the hammer back to single stand before nodding back. Rit-chan touched the button and door slid open.

Tomo instinctively took a step back as Rit-chan all but leaped into the new space, eyes sweeping, her hand at her side, her USP visible. Seeing no one, she focused on Tomo again. "Hey, Tomo. What brings you here?" she asked, easing her USP back into her holster.

"Well, I heard you earlier; about Aki transferring out tomorrow." Explained the girl, a bit uncomfortable with the situation. "With everyone else gone already, you guys are all the class there is now, so I figured that I should come by and tell her goodbye." She explained.

"I see." Nodded Rit-chan. "What's in the bag?" she asked. Tomo held it up higher and pulled the top open. Inside was a carton of mixed drinks.

"Is it…ok if I come in?" she asked Rit-chan softly. "I know that I'm not the most popular person with the Pilots, but…"

"Hey, Rei-chan, is it ok if Tomo joins us?" asked Aki of her host. Rei considered it for a moment.

"It is acceptable." Said the First a moment later, seeing no signs of Shinji objecting. Rit-chan tossed her head and stepped aside, Tomo passing her as she entered. Closing the door, she paused long enough to let Tomo remove her shoes before following the girl into the apartment.

"Wow. This is a nice place you have, Ayanami." She said, impressed with the apartment. "Didn't know you lived this good."

"I have only recently relocated to this location." Said Rei simply.

"Oh? From where?" wondered Tomo.

"The dumpster out back." Muttered Asuka. "So what are we watching, Aki?" she repeated, having hidden the porn again. Aki smiled as a though occurred to her.

"Hey, Hi-chan," she called, seeing Hikari dry her hands as she and Shinji exited the kitchen, Rei at his side. "Remember in Okinawa when I told you that I would kidnap you and make you watch classic western films?" she asked. Hikari nodded. "Well, consider your cute ass kidnapped!" she laughed. "Asuka, toss in one with the Duke!" she ordered grandly.

"The Duke? What Duke?" asked Asuka blankly. Aki groaned.

"Not you too, Asuka!" she complained. Rit-chan giggled.

"Put in a western with John Wayne in it." Hinted the elf hunter. Asuka muttered under her breath, shifting though the titles. In short order, she plucked one from the stack and held it up.

"This guy?" she asked Aki. The tall girl nodded.

"Excellent choice." She approved. Patting the seat next to her she crooked her finger at Hikari. "Come, pupil, sit with the master." She said, her voice deeper than usual and hollow-sounding. Asuka was about to complain, then smiled instead. Tossing the disc into the player, she grabbed the remote and nearly danced back to the fully loaded couch. Shinji was sitting at the end nearest to the kitchen, with Rei sitting at his feet, leaning against his legs. Next to him, Aki was sitting in the center seat, Hikari to her side and Rit-chan leaning against her legs while Tomo took the seat in front of Hikari.

"Oh, sorry, Asuka. I'll get…" began Hikari, seeing that Asuka was without a seat.

"Don't bother. I've got my seat." Announced the German girl, smiling like the Cheshire cat. She made a bee line for Shinji and swiftly climbed into his lap. Like that, Wondergirl? she mentally gloated, settling her legs over Rei's shoulders. The First had no comment; indeed, she didn't even seem to notice. Asuka grimaced at the lack of attention from her rival. Hitting play, she leaned back, reaching to her side, searching for Shinji's other arm. Finding it, she surreptitiously wrapped it around her waist. Shinji's other arm was behind Aki's back, and when the Second tried to claim that one too, Aki sent her a look that told her to forget it. Deciding that she could live with that, Asuka turned her eyes to the screen as the movie opened.

-

Maya sighed as she leaned back in her chair at her station. This sucks. She silently whined. No Shinji, no Angels, no work, no nothing! Just sitting here wasting my time! Glancing to her sides, she saw that her fellow techs were as bored as she, but Hyuga had a thick manga volume in his hands, chuckling as he read, while on her other side, Aoba was strumming air guitar as he listened to his digital media player. The greatly removed descendant from the MP3 player of yore, the device was the size of a single stick of gum, and could hold enough music for sixty hours of non-stop play; or it could hold nearly thirty hours of video. The size was more for the interface than for the storage, which was about the size of the core chip in the old CPUs.

And here I am without anything to do. She complained, scanning her MAGI terminal again, hoping for something to do. Nothing was out of place or misbehaving. The tech was shit out of luck. This time, she sighed aloud.

"Bored, Maya?" came Misato's voice from behind her station. The younger tech flinched.

"Ma'am!" she gasped. "Sorry. Didn't hear you come onto the bridge." She offered weakly.

"Not surprised." Shrugged Misato. "Wanna get some coffee?" she asked the younger woman.

"Well, I should…" began Maya, searching for an excuse not to be alone with the Major, remembering her interrupted quest to find out if she had slept with the woman's beloved Shinji.

"We'll cover for you, Maya." Offered Hyuga without looking up. "Seeing as nothing is happening and all."

"Yeah, get on out of here." Seconded Aoba. Shit. Just what I needed. Good Samaritans.

"You sure? I mean…" Maya almost begged.

"Eh, it'll give us time to make crude remarks about you behind your back." Grinned Aoba.

"Yeah, guy talk and all that." Hyuga said, grinning too. Misato grabbed her arm and tugged her out of her chair.

"Sure as hell don't want to be here for that." She said as she led the tech away. "Besides, Maya and I can talk freely without you two near us." She added, smirking at the two, who had stopped grinning and were frowning at the departing girls. "You know, girl talk and all." She added sinisterly. The door closed behind them and Misato made her way toward the nearest cafeteria. Maya silently followed her boss; not that she had a lot of choice, as Misato's hand was still gripping her elbow.

Entering the café, she steered Maya to a remote booth in the deserted room and instructed her to stay there. Walking to the nearly-asleep worker, she got her two coffees and small bag of snacks and returned to the nervously-waiting tech. Dropping into her own seat across from the younger woman, Misato slid a cup of coffee to her subordinate. "Drink up." She said, sipping her own cup.

Taking a careful grip on the cup, Maya sipped it as well. Straight black coffee greeted her sip. She winced. Shinji would have had this fixed like I like it. She thought resentfully. "Not to your liking either?" came Misato's voice. "Yeah, mine either. It's times like this that I want my Shinji here. He always makes stuff just the way I like it." She continued without waiting for the tech to respond. Setting her cup down, Misato studied the woman in front of her.

"So, how did you and Shinji pass the time while he was at your place?" asked Misato, her eyes on Maya's.

"We…watched movies, talked, ate…you know, regular stuff." Said Maya carefully. Misato didn't blink.

"That all you did?" she challenged. Maya closed her eyes for a moment.

"No." she said flatly. Misato nodded, though her eyes never left Maya's face.

"What else did you do?" pressed Misato.

"Why do you want to know?" challenged the tech. "It's all in the Section 2 reports, I'm sure." She added.

Misato was silent for a long few seconds. "Actually, there are no reports." She said softly. Maya blinked.

"What?"

"I said, there are no reports about him or you while he stayed with you. Not one." Said Misato softly.

"Section 2 must be slacking." Offered Maya.

"Or someone with excellent skills and access to the MAGI core functions…took care of them." Suggested Misato. Maya's eyes narrowed a bit.

"What are you getting at, Major?" she asked icily. "What's with the Inquisition?" Misato studied her for a long moment.

"Shinji has asked me to…he needs me to do something for him." Misato tiptoed around the question. "He wouldn't have even thought of asking what he did five months ago, and I don't imagine he would have before he stayed at your place. I want to know what happened to him." Maya wondered what she was saying.

"Is it…bad? What he wants you to do, I mean?" she asked. He wouldn't have asked her to sleep with him, would he? No, not Shi…wait, he did say how much he loves her. Maya watched Misato's face carefully as the woman considered her question. Maybe he feels confident enough to ask her, now that he and I…since he's been with an older woman. The tech nearly grimaced at that last part.

"It…could be." Said Misato at last. "It's not really bad, but his guardian probably shouldn't do something like ha…he wants me to." She allowed.

"Do you want to do it…what he asked you to, I should say." Wondered Maya. It has to be sex. She's being all nervous about it.

"A little." Said Misato. Maya quirked an eyebrow at her. "Ok, more than a little." Admitted the Major. Maya nodded.

"Then maybe you should do it." She said quietly. She saw Misato blink. Got you, Major. "Who knows? You might be surprised to find you like it more than you think you would." She added, taking a last sip of coffee and rising from the table. Misato watched her go before draining her own coffee and standing, heading for her office.

What did she mean I might like it more than I think I would? I've never tried to hack a restricted file set before, after all! I still can't believe that my Shin wants me to hack into the source file for Project E! If only he had asked me to have sex with him instead! That, I would do in a heartbeat! Grinning, the beautiful Operations Director made her way to her office, daydreaming of her Shinji.

-

Kaji took one last look at the sprawled, snoring form of Junpei on his couch before he exited the apartment he had called home for months now. Probably for the last time, too, Kaji my boy. Said the faux Bond in his head. The spy pushed the thought away; too late to turn back, there was no point in worrying now. As he entered the small elevator to take him to the garage, he found his hand once more checking his body armor and verifying that all his equipment was in order. In addition to the NERV-issue USP in the slide holster at his right side and the two back-up magazines in their horizontal carrier, he had his threaded PPK tucked into a chamois shoulder holster, silencer already fitted. Just in case, chap, just in case. Another `just in case' piece of gear was the wire garrote tucked under his jacket collar, the lock pick stitched to the back of his tie, the short, thin razor-sharp knives in the laces of his shoes, the four mini-grenades - each the size of a golf ball - in his pockets, the small spray vial of sleeping agent rubber-banded to his forearm just behind his watch, the small chunk of plastic explosive and micro-detonator that took up nearly all the room in his pack of smokes, the encoded burst transmitter taped to his left calf and the two Ziploc bags with two separate identities taped to his right calf.

Slipping into his car, Kaji paused for a moment to fondly remember the good times he had had while at NERV headquarters. After today, it would be highly unlikely that he's be enjoying much of anything. Done reminiscening, he cranked up and pulled out of the garage, forgoing the tire-shredding high-speed drift he usually did in favor of a less conspicuous departure. Driving toward NERV and his final mission for Seele, he reviewed his plans and contingency plans. He also reviewed his pre-mission checklist. First and foremost was to completely destroy all data on his computer, as well as double check that all paper trails were destroyed. No going back, after all. Not to NERV, and certainly not to the lovely Misato Katsuragi. He though, grimacing. His right foot sank farther down.

-

Airi slipped into Kaji's office and headed straight for his computer. Under her arm was an item she had been coveting for a long time now: one of the laptops that Akagi used. Some skillful talking and some good timing had allowed her to take the laptop from a tech before it had been erased or destroyed, switched for the laptop she had stolen a week ago from supply. Switching on the spy's computer, she was confronted with a password. Fingers dancing, she entered the password and disarmed the auto-destroy subroutine that Kaji had carefully crafted for his sensitive data. Connecting a patch cord from her pocket to the hi-speed data port, Airi booted up her liberated laptop and began to copy the data to her unit.

Searching for every scrap of data Kaji had took her some time. It was nearly an hour later when she closed out the last program on his computer and unhooked her own, checking to make sure that no sign of her presence was left. Satisfied, she exited his cubbyhole office and moved for the exit. At the Zoo, her newer laptop was about to be fed some more pieces of the puzzle. As she entered one of the primary corridors of NERV, she saw Kaji approaching. Shit. Ok, action! "Kaji? What brings you here at this time of night?" she asked her earst-while partner.

"Airi. Oh, I was just coming to check up on things. You know this place never sleeps, right?" he smiled.

"Tell me about it." Returned Airi. "I was just finishing up some work for the Vice Commander. What time is it getting to be, anyway?" He's nervous about something. He must be about to pull a job for one of his other `employers'.

Kaji glanced at his watch. "It's about one in the morning, Airi." Supplied the spy.

"Hmm. Rit-chan must be asleep by now. I better get back to the Zoo." Excused Airi, moving past the spy. "Have a good night, Kaji." She said, moving on.

"Airi," called Kaji, his tone serious. She paused and glanced back. "Why not take the day off? Rit-chan too. Nothing much happening here." He said, looking into her eyes.

"Sounds good." Replied the actress, turning back to her escape route. "Good bye, Kaji."

-

"So, what's next guys?" asked Aki, stretching. The tall girl was in a tee-shirt and shorts - courtesy of Asuka - and the group had just finished yet another movie. Tomo worked her way to her feet and yawned. Glancing at the clock on the SDVD player, she sighed.

"Well, love to stay and all, but tomorrow is a school day. Gotta get at least a couple hours sleep." Said the girl. After an initial period of hostility, the group had accepted her, and for the last couple of movies, she had been a part of the group. Moving to the door, she glanced back at the group. "Hey, Aki," she said. The tall girl rolled her head to look at the new inchou. "I…hope you do good." She said, stepping into her shoes.

"Thanks, Tomo." Said the model.

"Be careful on your way home." Added Hikari, rising and heading for the bathroom. Tomo nodded and exited the apartment, Rit-chan's eyes on the door until it relocked behind the girl. Asuka managed to get off Shinji's lap and made her way to the kitchen.

"Another round?" she asked the group at large. Drink orders poured in from the group. Asuka took a soda for herself, Hikari wanted some more juice, Aki wanted the last cooler, Shinji wanted some tea, Rit-chan chose to have a cup of coffee and Rei wanted some water. Asuka recharged the glasses and mugs as Aki took a bathroom break and Rit-chan checked her phone. Asuka rejoined the group, frowning when she saw that Shinji was standing.

"So, what is next?" asked Hikari.

"How about some real entertainment?" suggested Aki, giggling. Rit-chan turned to study her friend.

"So, this is how you get when you're buzzed." She observed. Aki smiled at her.

"Consider this payback for not letting me drink when we were in Okinawa." Said the girl, sticking her tounge out.

"What did you have in mind for `real entertainment'?" asked Hikari. Aki giggled again.

"Ever play truth or dare?" she asked. Asuka, Rit-chan and Hikari had - of course - played before. Shinji and Rei exchanged blank looks.

"Should have known." Sighed Asuka. "Never played, have you two?" she accused. Shinji shook his head.

"I have never played this truth or dare game." Confirmed the First. "How is it played?"

"It's simple, Rei-chan." Interrupted Hikari. "Someone asks you `truth or dare?' and you choose one or the other. If you choose truth, you have to answer the person's question truthfully. If you can't or won't, then you have to do what the person tells you. If you choose dare to prevent them from asking you a question, then you have to do what they tell you to do or forfeit the game."

"Simple enough for you?" asked Asuka sarcastically.

"Hai." Was her reply. Shinji got a tickly feeling in his spine at the unholy glee in the girl's eyes.

"Um, guys?" asked, feeling considerably outnumbered. Rei's hand slipped into his, unnoticed by the group. The wonders of her touch was as apparent as ever, as Shinji felt considerably better. "What…kind of things can be asked?" he wondered. The girls held a brief eye council.

"Anything." Answered Asuka for the females. "Anything at all, Baka." She leered. Shinji closed his eyes.

"That's what I thought." He muttered.

"Who is to begin?" asked Rei softly. A brief debate started, but it was ultimately settled by a fast round of paper-scissors-rock. Hikari was the lead.

"Um, Rit-chan." She decided. "Truth or dare?" The elf hunter considered the girl.

"Truth." She said a few moments later.

"Ok, what do you really think of Aida?" asked Hikari, smirking.

"Poser wanna-be." Came the immediate reply. "What brought that question on, Hi-chan?" Hikari smiled.

"Tell you later. Maybe." She baited. "Your turn." She added.

"Asuka. Truth or dare?" said Rit-chan, eyes on the German pilot. Asuka studied the girl carefully. "Any day now, Asuka." Needled Rit-chan.

"Fine! Truth!" snapped the Second. She knew that Rit-chan's killer instinct was second to none.

"Do you love Shinji?" asked Rit-chan immediately. Asuka gritted her teeth. "No answer?" guessed Rit-chan. Asuka growled.

"What do you want me to do?" she snarled. Rit-chan laughed.

"Oh, it's more a question of what don't I want you to do." Taunted the elf hunter. "But, for now, you're to go to the Zoo, go to Misato's room and hide all her underwear." Asuka blinked.

"Wha…?" she began. Rit-chan smiled demonically.

"Oh, this is but the first step in my evil plans, Asuka. Now stop hesitating and do as I command, my minion!" she declared grandly. Asuka sniffed.

"Not like the slob will notice." She said, marching to the door. "Be back in a moment." She added.

-

Misato stretched and looked at the clock. Seven am greeted her gaze. "Finally!" sniffed the Major. "I'm gone, guys!" she called over her shoulder, exiting the bridge. Maya stood and moved off after her.

"Me, too. See you guys tomorrow." Said the tech. Hyuga waved at her.

"Yeah, yeah, rub it in." he said dismissively. Aoba stretched and stood.

"Want some joe?" he asked his fellow swing-shifter.

"Sure. Black with two sugars."

"Two? Taking after Maya are you?" ribbed Aoba. Hyuga shuddered.

"Ugh! She puts a stick of chocolate in hers, man! It's so thick and sweet it could choke a mule!" he retorted. "And don't forget the lemon she adds, either." He muttered. Aoba chuckled as he exited the bridge.

"Not likely as I can still taste the cup she gave me a year ago."

In the garage, Misato was just fishing for her keys when she became aware of Section 2 personnel surrounding her. "Yes?" she asked them, her tone petulant. Damn it all! It's Shinji time!

"You're to come with us, Major." Said the lead agent. "Now." He added. Misato grimaced.

"What's this about?" she demanded, reaching for her keys in her jacket pocket. Suddenly, the goons had their guns trained on her. "Easy, guys." She said, slowly pulling her hand out of her pocket.

"You are to accompany us, Major. Keep your hands in plain sight." Barked the man. "That way. March." He added. Misato turned and moved toward the access doors to NERV, keeping her hands partially raised. As the group reached the entrance, Maya exited, blinking as she saw Misato surrounded by Section 2 agents, guns drawn.

"What's going on here?" she blurted.

"Stay out of it, tech." Warned the lead agent. Misato glanced at Maya.

"It's ok, Maya." She said quietly.

"No talking." Snapped the man behind her. The group moved deeper into NERV. Maya watched, slack jawed, as the Major was escorted into NERV. Several seconds passed before Maya turned and marched back into NERV for answers.

-

Shinji awoke to feel comfortable warmth all around him. Opening his eyes, he found himself slouched on Rei's couch, covered in females. Rit-chan was tucked into the corner, Shinji resting against her chest, with Aki hugging herself to Shinji's chest. Sprawled across Aki was Asuka. Carefully, Shinji began to shift around, seeking a way to get to the bathroom without disturbing the others. While he moved, he noticed that Aki's shirt had ridden up to her collarbone, and Asuka's A10 Neural Interface clips were gone, leaving her hair tumbled around her head and shoulders - a sight he rarely saw. Aki's got a nice set. He thought, feeling her bare chest pressed to his tee-shirt. The thought caused his semi-erect dick to spring to full stand.

He finally succeeded in freeing himself and moved to the bathroom. Entering, he found Rei in the shower. "Morning, Rei-chan." He managed. The First turned to him and smiled.

"Good morning, Shinji." She said. "Will you join me?" she asked hopefully. Shinji's dick twitched at the sight of her naked.

"Uh, yeah, just gotta take piss first." He said, moving to the toilet. Rei began to work shampoo into her hair. It took a lot of concentration to get his dick soft enough to piss with, but he finally managed it and happily slipped into the shower with his first lover. Rei immediately glommed onto him, her lips sealed to his, her tounge teasing his as she hugged him to her slick body full length. That, of course, resulted in his renewed erection pressing into her warm nest. Rei moaned into the kiss, shifting her legs so his tip pressed into her wet slit. Snaking a hand down, she gently spread her lower lips.

Carefully breaking the kiss, Shinji pushed her back a bit to look into her eyes. "What about the others?" he asked her.

"I do not care if they see us becoming one." Said Rei evenly. "They are, however, all asleep for the moment. Will you join with me? Please?" she begged. Shinji couldn't say no; and truthfully didn't even want to. Maneuvering Rei back against the shower wall, he pressed forward into her slick sheath, finding her to be as tight as ever, and while she was sufficiently lubricated, she was getting more and more so as her kisses gained passion and urgency. Unwilling to treat her roughly, Shinji concentrated on steadily pressing into her, easing back, then pressing forward again, rather than simply bulling his way into her. It was a full dozen tries before he was fully inside her. By that time, he was finding it hard to control his urge to thrust deeply. As his speed picked up, Rei moaned softly.

"Rei-chan?" panted Shinji, worried that she might be in discomfort. Rei's arms locked behind his neck and pulled herself tight to him, her legs locking behind his waist one by one, leaving her suspended from him by her arms and hips. Shinji stifled an elated groan as he discovered that this allowed him particularly deep penetration, but at the cost of length of stroke. Still, Rei seemed to like it.

"Do not stop, Shinji." She whispered against his lips. "I am enjoying this new position." She added, her inner muscles squeezing his member like a silk vise. Shinji didn't waste the breath to verbally reply to her. He was closer to cumming than he wished, and need to concentrate if he wanted Rei to come before him.

Had Rei know of his thoughts, she would have happily told him that it was not an issue, as she was on the brink of a large-class orgasm already. When Shinji leaned her shoulders against the wall so he could get a more steady rhythm going, she knew she would cum very soon. Within a minute, her body shuddered as she departed the shower for cloud nine or better. Her pussy clamped down on Shinji's member with an almost-painful grasp, which was all it took for him to join her in an orgasm. For more than a minute, neither moved or spoke, both just softly panting. Gradually, Rei's legs slipped from his waist to the shower floor, though her head stayed tucked against his neck. Shinji moved his hands from the wall to cradle his lover in his arms. It was another four minutes before either actually spoke.

"God, Rei-chan, that was incredible." Confessed Shinji. Rei hummed. "Did you enjoy it?" he asked her, a bit worried that she hadn't enjoyed it enough.

"It was highly pleasurable." Answered Rei, her head coming back to let her look into his eyes. "I wish to repeat it we may." She added, leaning forward to kiss him again. Their lip lock was interrupted by the bathroom door opening.

"Morning, Rei-cha…" the voice froze, taking in the scene before her. "So, can I go next?" she managed at last.

-

"In." directed the goon, indicating a door to a holding cell. Misato did as directed. In the room, there was a simple folding metal chair and a heavy table. Seeing nothing else to do, Misato crossed to the chair, sat down and crossed her legs. Two of the goons remained on either side of the door, guns in hand. What in the hell is going on here? If this is some fuck up in Section 2, I will have the head of the asshole who initiated this! Seethed the woman. As a Major and the Director of Operations, she outranked the entirety of Section 2. In fact, she was the third highest ranked, and fourth most powerful in all of NERV.

A few moments later, two men entered, one of which she recognized as the chief of Section 2. "Major Katsuragi." The man said coolly.

"What is the meaning of this?" she bit back crisply. "You are aware that such actions as these are prohibited." She reminded him.

"Vice Commander Fuyutsuki is missing. He was abducted this morning by Agent Kaji." Said the man, stepping forward. Misato grimaced.

"I see. Given my past with Kaji, you hauled me in." she said, understanding clearly. Damn you, Kaji! If my Children get hurt because of you…!

"Major." Said the Section 2 head. Misato reached back and eased her gun free of it's holster with her right hand, while her left pulled her NERV card and cell phone from her jacket pocket. With great deliberateness, she placed all three on the table in front of her. "Thank you." He said, taking all the items. "You understand that…"

"Save it." Snapped Misato, in a very foul mood, folding her arms under her breasts. The two men left, accompanied by the two guards. The door locked behind them. And now, the waiting game. Hope Shinji and the others are ok.

-

Shinji and his group entered the classroom to see Tomo waiting. "Well, at least we're all here." Said the new inchou. The pilots looked around. All the seats were empty.

"You mean, we're all that's left?" asked Hikari. Tomo nodded.

"Yeah. And after today, Aki's gone as well." She reminded them. Everyone looked at the tall girl.

"Where's the sensei?" asked Hikari, trying to take their minds off Aki's departure. Tomo shrugged.

"Haven't seen him. There was a note on the class rep notice board this morning, though." Said the dark-haired girl, pulling a sheet of paper from her class notebook. Handing it to the former inchou and now Sixth Child, she waited while the Horaki girl read. Hikari finished and looked up at her.

"I didn't think that they'd do this with everything that's going on now." Commented the girl. Tomo shrugged.

"Don't know, Hikari. I'm still new to this gig. Is there something significant about this?" replied the former party girl.

"Well, when a school reassigns a teacher, it's usually because there are too many student, not too few. And why would they reassign the old fossil to a larger class?" explained the former inchou. Tomo shrugged.

"Again, not a clue, Hikari. Of course, the other class is only larger by two people." She reminded the other girl.

"So, you're saying that the relic is gone?" interrupted Asuka. "Sounds good to me." She offered.

"Yeah, I think everyone could recite all his lectures ten words ahead of him." Added Aki.

"Who's taking his place?" wondered Shinji. Tomo glanced at her notes.

"No answer. All it says is a temporary teacher will be here to cover until the issue is resolved."

"Great. It'll probably be that creepy math teacher, what's-his-name." Groused Asuka.

"Transferred to another school last week." Supplied Tomo, her eyes on her notes.

"So, maybe misses Hazuki from 3-A?" guessed Aki.

"Leave of absence since week before last." Was the answer.

"Well, that only leaves the principal, the girl's gym teacher, and the chemistry guy." Noted Hikari.

"Chemistry teacher ran off with the wife of one of the grounds keepers." Replied Tomo.

"WHAT? When did this happen?!" demanded Hikari.

"Last Friday." Said Tomo blandly. Asuka sighed.

"Why not just pull the plug now? Not like we don't have our hands full with the Angels and training Hikari or anything." She muttered.

"Because your education is important, miss Sohryu." Came a voice from the door. The class turned as one to see the principal standing there with the girl's gym teacher. Silently, they took their places as Tomo did the morning routine. Once they were seated, the principal continued. "We can't just abandon your education simply because of Angel attacks. After all, without an education, what will you do after the Angels are gone?"

"I've got a college degree already." Replied Asuka. "And who says we'll all survive this? You've never…"

"Asuka." Said Tomo. The Second sent the inchou a look she could have felt through the wall, but her eyes caught Hikari's, who clearly wanted her to shut up. Sniffing disdainfully, Asuka left her rant unfinished.

"As I was saying, your education is our priority here." Repeated the Principal, sending Asuka a hard look. "So, to that ends, for the time being your teacher will be Miss Aokuba. She has reviewed the notes left by your former teacher, and will continue his lesson plan. Study hard, children." With that, the Principal turned and left. The girl's gym teacher surveyed the class.

"Well." She said, sighing. "Where were you at in the lesson plan?"

"Somewhere between 1998 and 1999." Replied Asuka sardonically.

"Yeah, right about where we've been all year." Supplied Aki.

"If you want, we can recite his lectures verbatim." Offered Tomo. The woman shook her head.

"Forget it." She muttered. "I don't know much about his course curriculum, so let's just scrap it all." The class greatly approved of her decision. "Since I really only did good at athletics and home ec, let's talk about good dishes for athletes." The seven students stifled a groan. While infinitely better than the musty lecture of their last teacher, this was not exactly what they wanted to spend the day doing.

-

The group moved out of the school grounds slowly. With the number of students and faculty so drastically reduced, it was no longer a rush deal. Tomo and Aki had stayed to do chores. The others had volunteered to stay as well, but the two had waved it off. There wasn't much to do, and Aki wouldn't be doing that kind of thing for a while, so she didn't mind one more run. The group meandered toward the Zoo.

"This feels strange." Said Hikari. "To not have to rush to NERV, I mean." She elaborated.

"Yeah. Still, it's nice to have a little time off now and then." Said Shinji. "Do you guys want to do something?" he asked. All the girls looked at him, clearly having chosen to interpret his remark as an invitation to have sex with him. "Like, see a movie or something?" he qualified. The girls sighed.

"We might as well finish off that stack from last night." Said Rit-chan. "Unless you have something else you want to do?" she asked.

"We could go to the park." Suggested Hikari. "You know, get a bit of fresh air and some sunshine." She suggested. That suggestion met with approval from all involved. Altering course, they moved toward one of the more comfortable parks near the edge of the city close to the apartment complex where they lived.

-

Misato woke from her doze when the door opened. Blinking her eyes, she focused on the two men who entered her cell. It was the head of Section 2 and the same guy from before. Reaching out, he placed her gun, phone and card on the table in front of her. "The matter has been concluded." He said simply. Misato took her phone and card, tucking them into her jacket pocket before reaching for her gun.

"Is he…" she trailed off. "No, I suppose not." She said, tucking her gun into it's holster. But not before smelling the scent of burnt powder. She was sure than when she checked the magazine, there would be one or more rounds missing.

"I have no way of knowing." Said the chief. "This was handled through the Commander's office." He added. Misato almost nodded, but didn't.

As I thought. I warned you, Kaji. "I'm going home." She said simply, stepping past them. It was a long ride home. When she finally pulled into her spot, she saw that Airi's car was there. Guess I can crash in comfort. She thought. Entering the elevator, she rubbed her eyes.

Exiting the elevator, she headed to the Zoo, pulling her card out and swiping it. The door clicked, then slid open. Stepping into her home, she kicked her shoes off and moved into the living room, tossing her jacket onto the back of the couch and tugging her top off. I don't care who's home. She thought truculently, dropping the top and reaching for the clasp on her bra, which slid off her chest a moment later as she stepped into the kitchen and grabbed a beer. Opening it with one hand, her other sought and found the zipper on her skirt. As her first empty hit the trash can, her skirt slipped to the kitchen floor. She was rummaging for another round when she heard someone behind her.

"Welcome home, Mi-chan." Said Airi softly.

"Yeah." Said Misato tiredly. "Look, Ai-chan, it's been a hell of a day at work…" began the Major, but broke off as Airi's hand touched her shoulder.

"I know." Said the Actress softly. "I'm…sorry." She added even more quietly. Misato took a deep breath.

"Just don't tell Asuka, huh?" she said, taking another beer out. "I think I'm going to…"

"The tub should be full by now." Said Airi, anticipating the Major's thought process.

"Thanks." Said Misato quietly, stepping past the other woman. She paused. "Um, where are the kids?" she asked.

"They were at the park, but Akagi called them into NERV for a test." Supplied the actress. Misato scowled.

"Really. When?" she gritted out. Damn you, Ritsu!

"They left a half hour ago." Said Airi. Misato nodded.

"See you later, Ai-chan." She said, entering the bathroom as soon as she had managed to kick off her hose and panties. Airi pursed her lips, then plucked her cell phone from her belt. Swiftly, she scrolled to the number she wanted and put in the call.

-

Asuka scowled as she pulled her suit off. "The nerve of that woman!" she growled, punching her locker savagely. "It's just an off day." She muttered. Beside her, the other pilots stripped off and headed for the showers. Grabbing her towel, the Second followed them. With the spray cascading over her shoulders, she sighed.

"Don't let it bother you, Asuka. You're still in the lead." Assured Hikari.

"Yeah." Chimed in Shinji. "Your synch score is still tops." He agreed. Rei said nothing.

"Of course I'm still the top rated pilot!" agreed Asuka. "I'm the best trained of all of us." Still, that was the worst score I've had in more than four years. And Shinji was only two points and five percent behind me. She began the first of several shampooing of her hair.

"I won't let them take my place." She muttered to herself. Beside her, Shinji heard her, but wasn't sure what to say. From outside the shower block, they heard someone enter the locker room.

"Shinji? You in there?" came the voice of Maya.

"Maya? Yeah, we're here!" called back Shinji. A moment later, the brown-haired tech poked her head around the corner of the shower block. Shinji grinned at her and winked. Maya pulled her head back a bit.

"You got a call, Shinji." Said the tech.

"Really? I didn't hear my phone." He said.

"Yeah, you didn't answer, so Airi called me and asked me to ask you to call her before going home." Said the tech.

"Sure. No problem." Agreed Shinji. "Is everything ok, Maya?" he asked.

"Why ask?" replied the tech.

"This is kind of odd, you know?" he replied.

"Well…I'm sure she'll have an answer for you when you get home." Said Maya evasively. "Look, I've pulled a double shift today, so I'm gonna go home now, ok, Shin?" she called, heading for the exit.

"Be careful, Maya-chan!" he called after her. The tech grinned to herself.

"Sure! Good night, Shinji!" she called back. As the tech exited the locker room, she heard Shinji's fellow pilots discussing this exchange.

"So! It's Maya-chan now is it?" asked Asuka sharply.

"I didn't think you were into older women." Hikari laughed. Maya gritted her teeth. I'm not old!

"You shouldn't be surprised, Hikari, what with the way he carries on with Misato." Pointed out Asuka.

"Hey, she's not much older than us!" protested Shinji.

"Uh huh. What did you do while you were at her place, Shin?" accused Asuka.

"And don't say you swapped recipes with her, either!" admonished Hikari, her tone a bit playful.

"Well, we did swap recipes, Hi-chan." Said the boy defensively. Maya covered her mouth to keep from giggling. Man, I'd love to exchange more recepies with him!

"Must have been some kind of recipe." Muttered Asuka. Maya slipped away before she could be discovered. She found herself humming as she made her way to the garage. It's nice to know that someone will take up for your honor. She mused. Even if you're guilty as sin of what the say you did. For some reason, Maya couldn't bring herself to be bothered by the accusations; nor by the fact that they were absolutely true. She had discovered that she enjoyed being loved by Shinji, and she wanted to keep things that way as long as she possibly could.

-

"Mi-chan?" came a voice from the door to the bathroom. Blinking rapidly, Misato brought her mind back to the here-and-now. Turning to the door, she saw Airi looking in with a concerned expression on her face. Misato also realized that the water in the tub had gone cold, and the beer in her hand was empty.

"Oh, sorry. How long have I been in here?" she asked, standing with only a bit of trouble. Airi handed her a towel as the Operations Director stepped out of the cool water.

"About two hours. That's why your skin is pruny." Noted Airi, inclining her head to Misato's wrinkled form. "Lost in thought?" she guessed. Misato paused for a fraction of a second.

"Yeah, you could call it that." She muttered. More or less dry, she draped the towel over her shoulders. "Can you do me a favor and wait up for my Children? I'm gonna crash now." She said, her tone dull. Airi nodded.

"Sure. Rit-chan and I were going to take a walk anyway." She said. Misato moved out of the bathroom and into her room. A moment later, Airi heard the muffled thud of her dropping onto her futon. Two minutes later, Misato was asleep. Releasing a deep breath, Airi moved out of the bathroom and began to gather up Misato's discarded clothes. It was the work of minute to toss them into the hamper, and with that done, Airi moved to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. Sipping it delicately, she waited for her partner and her friends to arrive back at the Zoo. This is harder than I thought it would be. I'm not as callus as I thought I was - his death is very real and it will impact all of them. She remembered the tiny pill-shaped data capsule Kaji had given her. Hopefully, whatever is on that thing will be worth his life to Mi-chan.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the door opening. Airi looked up a she heard the group enter the Zoo. "We're home, guy!" called Rit-chan happily. "Airi? Misato?" she asked, moving into the living room. Seeing Airi at the kitchen with a glass of wine in front of her, she immediately knew that something was on the actress's mind. Asuka moved past the older red head and entered her room without a sound. Shinji paused to look between Airi and Rit-chan.

"Everything ok?" he asked them. Rit-chan glanced at him, forcing a smile.

"Yeah, I think so." She said. "Shinji, I'm going to take a walk with Airi now, so tell the others, ok?"

"Well, ok." Said Shinji. His eyes moved between them once more. "Where's Mi-chan?" he asked.

"She's asleep, Shinji." Interjected Airi calmly. "She…had a bad day at work, so please don't disturb her unless it's an absolute emergency, ok?"

"Of course. Is Mi-chan ok?" asked Shinji, concern clearly heard in his tone.

"She just needs some rest, Shinji. She'll be fine." Assured Airi. "But, why do you think something is wrong with her?" she wondered. Shinji chuckled.

"Beer cans." He said cryptically. Rit-chan frowned.

"Beer cans?"

"Yes. I see three empties. Misato usually downs three before she makes it to her room. If she's already asleep and only had three, then something isn't right." He explained. Airi smiled.

"Now I know she'll be fine." Was her relieved reply. It was Shinji's turn to frown.

"What makes you say that?" he asked her. Airi rose and moved around the table to where he stood next to Rit-chan. Giving him a bright smile, she hugged him.

"Because she has someone who cares enough about her to count beer cans." Murmured the actress. Rit-chan nodded. Releasing Shinji, Airi glanced at her gunner. "Ready, Rit-chan?" she asked. Rit-chan nodded.

"Be right with you." She said, tipping her head down to kiss Shinji briefly but deeply. "We'll be back later, Shin. Don't feel you need to wait up for us." Shinji nodded, his hand moving along her waist until it felt her warm USP tucked securely into her leather holster and the two back-up mags on her opposite hip. Rit-chan giggled.

"Don't play it off so lightly, Rit-chan." Cautioned Shinji. "Some asshole is shooting at us, and he might mistake you for Asuka or Airi for Misato. If you get into trouble, hit the emergency Section 2 number, ok?"

"Yes, daddy." Said the teen mischievously. Shinji frowned at her. Rit-chan sighed. "Shin, I promise I'll be careful. And if someone shoots at me, they better kill with the first round, or I'll do unto them like they've never seen." She promised. "Stop worrying so much." She assured him.

"I know, Rit-chan, but I've lost all I'm prepared to lose." He said, his tone dark.

-

Rei looked up from her book, catching Hikari's eye. "What is it, Rei-chan?" asked the Horaki girl. Rei silently stood and moved to the door. Setting the bowl of popcorn down, Hikari got up from the couch and followed her naked roommate to the door.

"Shinji is here." Said Rei, opening the door even as Shinji raised his hand to knock. "Please come in, Shinji." Said Rei, her eyes flickering to Shinji's side. "And Asuka." She added. The Second, once more in her sleeping shirt, moved past Rei, followed by Shinji, who gave Rei a steady look. Rei nodded silently, closing and locking her door with a touch. Asuka was on the couch, pulling a game controller toward her. She had chosen an odd game for her. It was a stacking game, where putting the pieces in the proper sequence by color, shape and number of cubes allowed one to collapse the base. Asuka usually preferred the fighting or action games to this kind of fare.

"You want a match?" asked Hikari, a bit uncertainly. She knew that Asuka had been acting a bit off since the fifteenth Angel. Asuka shook her head.

"Not right now." Said the German, hitting the button to start the game. Shinji silently took the seat on the other side of the girl, and Rei slipped into his lap. For the next two hours, not one word was spoken in the apartment.