Part 35: Losing Control

"Asuka, you're down another four points." Said Akagi, dropping her clipboard. Asuka scowled. The four had just finished another synch test, and Asuka was still losing points. Since the mind rape of the fifteenth, she had been having considerable difficulty with getting the Eva to interlock with her. It had been a week since the first dip in her score. Today, Shinji had taken the lead, with Rei only 11 points and 18 percent away from taking second place. Hikari was gaining ground steadily, and if the Second couldn't pull out of this slump, Akagi calculated that Hikari would surpass Asuka within a month.

Baring her teeth, Asuka snarled wordlessly and spun on her heel, stomping toward the locker room. Her fellow pilots watched her leave, then - as one - they turned back to Akagi, gave her a cold look and followed the temperamental pilot to the locker room. Misato sighed. "Well, she's on her period." She said to her friend. Which means I am too. And it's being a bitch this month! She thought angrily.

"Synch scores aren't affected by physical conditions." Dismissed Akagi absently, reviewing numbers from the test. "If she falls too much father, Commander Ikari will have to pull her from duty." She added. Misato glared at her former roomie.

"Gee, Ritsu, don't sound so broken up over it." Snarled the Major.

"It's a simple fact, Misato: if she can't synch with her unit, she can't pilot." Insisted Ritsu.

"She's still well within the parameters." Countered Misato.

"At her current rate of decline, she will be unable to move her Eva within six weeks." Was the clinical reply. "And when that happens, she will be relieved of duty."

"Don't you mean `if' that happens?" gritted the Ops boss. Akagi blinked at her friend's expression.

"Yes. Of course. Slip of the tounge." She deflected. Turning away from the other woman, she moved toward the door. "Well, if you'll excuse me, I have a ton of things to do before this evening." She said in farewell. Misato didn't even bother to make any sort of reply.

If she's relieved of active duty, she won't be the Second Child any more. And if that happens, she'll be packed off to Germany on the next plane going there. Misato scowled as she strode toward the door. If that happens, Asuka will be…no. If that happens, there will be no Asuka. Misato understood - better than most - what would happen to Asuka's psyche if she were stripped of her status as Second Child. I'll be damned if I let that happen. Vowed the Major.

In the locker room, Asuka tossed her plug suit onto the floor and grabbed her shampoo and body wash out of her locker. Slamming the door to her locker, she punched it for good measure, adding another deep dent to the battered steel door. Feeling her hand sting, Asuka hissed in fury. Stupid synch tests! Beside her, Hikari tugged her suit off, covertly watching her friend with great concern. Her arm shaking, Asuka turned and marched to the shower. Shinji caught Hikari's eye and nodded. Rei was already moving past her toward the shower.

Solidarity. Thought Hikari resolutely. We stand as one or hang alone. With a deep breath, she took her own shower supplies and followed Shinji into the shower block. Asuka was already standing under her usual shower nozzle, water streaming over her naked body. One shower nozzle away, Rei was soaking her hair, LCL-tinged water flowing toward the drains. Taking the nozzle next to her friend, Hikari cranked her shower up and ducked her head under the spray. Silently, Shinji took the nozzle between Rei and Asuka.

"Anything I can do to help?" asked Shinji softly, seeing Asuka press a hand to her abdomen. Asuka grimaced.

"No, Baka, there isn't!" she snapped. "So stop with the pity routine! I'll be back to number one as soon as my period is over!"

"You never lost the lead, Asuka." Said Shinji, shampooing his head.

"Fuck you, Shinji!" snarled the German. "You beat me. There! I admit it! Happy now?"

"No."

"Too bad. I'm not going to grovel before you, Shinji the Hero!" Asuka yelled.

"No one expects you to, Asuka." Said Hikari from beside her. Asuka grunted.

"Whatever, Hikari. Now that you have Shinji the Hero, who needs me?" she said bitterly. Beaten again.

"I need you, Asuka." Stated Hikari emphatically. "You're my coach! How am I going to learn what I need to know to survive without you to teach me?"

"You are the most highly-trained pilot, Asuka." Confirmed Rei. "Who better to instruct Hikari on piloting an Eva in combat?"

"Yeah. I learn something every time we go into combat just by watching you, Asuka." Chipped in Shinji. "You're the best we have, Asuka."

"Then why is it that you have killed more Angels than me?!" screamed Asuka, her tone betraying her frustration and fear.

"Major. If the Second's scores do not improve, I will remove her from active duty." Directed Gendo. In front of his desk, Misato stood at attention. The Major had gone to see the Commander about the issue, hoping to get some leeway to help Asuka get her act together, but Gendo seemed hell-bent on shit-canning the Second.

"Sir, she is still well within combat-acceptable parameters. And as her unit is the most current model, it is imperative that she remain on the front line of combat." Objected Misato.

"Because her unit is the most advanced it is necessary that its pilot be in top form. If pilot Sohryu can not perform at the top of her game, she will be replaced." Gendo replied.

"Replaced, sir? We have no other pilots." Misato tried again. I won't let her fall, not like this!

"I have recently been informed that the Fifth Child is within weeks of being deployed here for combat assignment. Should she fail, he will pilot the unit. Dismissed, Major." Misato stiffly saluted and turned to leave the office. "And Major," called Gendo, almost as an after thought, "should she be removed from combat status, she is to be immediately relocated to NERV HQ for testing and evaluation pending her official discharge from NERV." Misato's jaw creaked from the effort it took to not say what she was thinking.

"Sir." She bit out, exiting the room. Misato rode the elevator down in silence. You know what? That's it! I'm going to do as Shinji asked! Fuck the commander and Ritsu! There's no plausible reason for him to act that way unless he has ulterior motives. With her mind made up, Misato exited the elevator. But instead of heading for her office, she turned down a seldom-used hallway.

"What do you want for supper, Asuka?" asked Shinji as he and his roommate entered the Zoo. Asuka dropped her bag with her shoes and moved off toward the bathroom without a word. "Asuka?" called Shinji carefully.

"Nothing." Said Asuka, entering the bathroom and closing the door. Shinji frowned. Asuka not eating was not a good sign. Frowning, Shinji began to consider what he should make for supper. Surveying the cabinets and refridge, he slowly began to lay out food. A half hour later, Shinji finished off the supper preparations and went to check on Asuka. Knocking on the bathroom door, he got no answer, so he risked sliding it open. The bathroom was empty, lights off. After making sure that Asuka wasn't in there, he moved to her room and lightly knocked. No reply. So, he eased the door open and spotted a lump on her bed. Shinji took a step into her room. "Get out." Came a whisper from the girl.

"Asuka, I…" began Shinji.

"Get. Out." She repeated. Shinji tightened his lips.

"Call if you need anything, Asuka." He said quietly, stepping back and closing her door. Moving back to the kitchen, he sat at the table and tried not to think about it. His phone chirped. Pulling it up, he glanced at the screen. "Busy at NERV. See you tomorrow. Mi-chan." He read the message. "Well, hopefully Rit-chan and Airi will be hungry. Shinji sat at the table for another half hour before he got up and began to put the food away. He was just covering the last dish when the door opened and Rit-chan entered.

"Hey, guys." She called, slipping off her shoes.

"Evening, Rit-chan." Said Shinji. "Hungry?" he asked. Rit-chan shook her head.

"Me and Airi had a bite to eat less than an hour ago. Sorry." She apologized. Shinji waved it off.

"No problem. It'll keep. Where is Airi?" he wondered.

"She's locking up the car." Answered Rit-chan, heading for her shared room. Shinji dashed quietly after her and grabbed her arm just before she could slide the door open. Seeing her looking at him, Shinji shook his head.

"Asuka." He silently mouthed. Rit-chan nodded. Together, they retreated from her door. As they settled on the couch, Airi entered the Zoo.

"Evening, guys." She said. Under her arm was a laptop computer. "How is Asuka?" she asked more quietly.

"Resting. Hopefully." Said Shinji.

"I see. Well, I have some things to do, so I'll be busy in my room for the rest of the night. When is Misato due back?" she asked Shinji. Shinji shook his head.

"Not until tomorrow at the earliest." He said. Airi nodded.

"I see." She said, moving toward her room. "Well, good night, Shinji. Rit-chan." Sliding the door shut behind her, the actress disappeared for the night.

"So, what are Rei and Hikari doing?" wondered Rit-chan.

"Hikari is reading a manual Rei gave her and Rei is…eating supper." Grimaced Shinji. He understood why Rei was dining with the commander, but he still didn't like it. Rit-chan stood up and began to pull her shirt off. "What are you doing?" wondered Shinji, feeling his dick stir at the sight of her lacy bra, which swiftly landed on her shirt at her feet. The elf hunter unzipped her skirt and let it slide off her as well, revealing a dark blue cotton thong.

"Well, since Asuka needs some space right now, can I crash in your room?" asked Rit-chan smiling at him. Shinji nodded.

"Sure. But wouldn't you rather be with Airi?" he asked. Rit-chan shook her head.

"Nope." She smiled. Bending down, she scooped up her clothes and headed for the bathroom and the laundry hampers. "Be right back, Shin." She called quietly. Shinji didn't respond, his mind on Asuka. In short order, Rit-chan was back, sitting beside him on the couch, still wearing just her panties. "Want to watch some TV?" she asked. Listlessly, Shinji handed her the remote. Rit-chan turned the TV on and began to surf channels. "You're worried about her, aren't you." Stated the girl.

"Of course. If she doesn't pull out of this slump…" began Shinji. Rit-chan pressed a finger to his lips.

"I know. But have you ever thought about why she is having trouble all the sudden?" she asked him.

Shinji nodded. "Unfortunately. Ever since the fifteenth, she's been off." He murmured. Rit-chan nodded.

"Maybe the angel really won that fight." She proposed. Shinji's eyes went hard and mean.

"Like hell it did." Growled the young man. "I won't let her fail. I won't." Rit-chan turned to study him. You might not be given the chance to help her, Shin. Until she lets us, she's on her own with this one. Thought the girl. Still, you're hot when you're like this. She leaned over and pressed her lips to his. Startled at first, Shinji swiftly began to return the kiss. Rit-chan moved closer to him. This is probably not the best thing to do right now, but its all I can think of to try to help them. Reflected the teen, feeling Shinji's hands slide to her breasts.

"Let's go to bed, Shin." She panted, fumbling for the remote and killing the TV. The two moved to his room. As soon as they were in his room, the pair resumed kissing, their making out gaining passion and heat. Shinji slid his hands to her hips and snagged her panties with his fingers, tugging them down her thighs as Rit-chan worked on getting his pants off. For a moment, it looked like they would trip as they tried to step free of their clothes without breaking off the heavy tonsil tagging, but just before they both fell, they broke their lip lock and caught their balance. Both teens swiftly rid themselves of their clothes, Rit-chan - being nearly naked before they moved to his room - helping him as soon as her panties hit the floor. Seconds later, she was guiding him onto his bed, their lips and hands busy again. Laying back, Rit-chan pulled Shinji on top of her, her hands easing down to caress his erection. For his part, the Third was busy with her breasts and pussy, one hand on each, his mouth splitting its time between her lips and her nipples.

Touching her sex, Shinji found her to be soaking wet and hotter than a frying pan. The older teen giggled a bit as she felt him touch her soaked groin. "Mmm. Think I'm horny?" she asked breathlessly. Shinji carefully eased a finger into her, then another.

"Better make sure." He panted, beginning to massage her clit and inner passage as he locked his lips to a nipple and gently but insistently suckled on it. Rit-chan shuddered as she felt her first minor orgasm pass through her. Shinji felt for the odd spot on her vaginal wall, and after a moment, found it. Delicately stroking it, he felt her body twitch and spasm as she moaned.

"God, right there, Shin." She panted. Shinji switched nipples and kept up his careful ministrations. The elf hunter felt a large orgasm build. An inarticulate groan from her prompted Shinji to push a bit deeper into her, his fingertips touching her cervix. That was enough to send her over the edge, her ride to heaven accompanied by several mini-orgasms. Easing his hand free of her tight pussy, Shinji studied her eyes as she held him to her. Several minutes passed before her eyes focused on him. "That was unbelievable, Shin." She panted. Her hands closed on his erection a bit tighter. "Now, let's do something about this, shall we?"

"If you want to, but you don't have to." Managed Shinji, feeling his dick begin to leak precum. Rit-chan ran her fingertips around his tip a few times.

"Yeah, I've heard that before, Shin." She giggled softly. "But I want to, so what do you want to do?" she paused. "Or more accurately, how do you want to do it?" Shinji moaned a little.

"Ho…however you want to, Rit-chan." He managed. Ritsuko Inoue considered that. Should I…?

"Tell me, Shin, is there anything you want to try? Maybe something you heard about or read about?" she asked. Shinji blinked at her. "Anything at all?" prompted Rit-chan. Hopefully, he isn't some latent freak. Still, I can't think of a safer guy to risk this with. Shinji managed a rough chuckle.

"Sorry, Rit-chan, I don't watch a lot of porn." He husked. Rit-chan laughed with him.

"I know. Still, is there anything you want to try?" she pressed. Her friends had tried several of the more exotic ways and she had to admit that since she started sleeping with Shinji, she was a bit curious about them. "Maybe something like a tit fuck?" she suggested. Shinji frowned.

"Um, what is that?" he asked. Rit-chan leered at him.

"Let me show you." She purred. Good a place as any to start. Her hands began to stroke him a bit faster, swiftly covering his tool with his precum. Taking one hand off his rod, she worked it down to her nearly-dripping pussy and gently began to gather some of her own lubricant. Once her hand was completely soaked, she brought it back up and lewdly covered her breasts with it. Before Shinji could ask, she tugged him up so he was straddling her waist. "Now, put that between my tits, Shin." She said, smiling at him.

Doing as she asked, Shinji marveled at the feel of her soft, slick skin. Rit-chan gently pushed her breasts together and began to stroke his dick with her breasts. Seeing Shinji close his eyes, she smiled. "You can help me if you want." She said. "Just pretend that my tits are my pussy." Shinji began to thrust his hips a bit, his erection leaking more and more precum. Looking down, Rit-chan realized that she could easily lick and suck his sensitive head as he reached the top of his stroke. Doing so, she felt his entire dick twitch at the touch of her tongue.

"R…Rit-chan!" whined Shinji, feeling his balls begin to tighten. "If you keep that up, I'm going to…" he tried to say.

"Which is the entire point, lover." Chuckled Rit-chan. "Don't worry; I'm fine with it." She added encouragingly. Shinji tried to hold out, but within four minutes, he felt his sack tighten and knew that he was going to blow.

"Rit-chan!" he gasped. Rit-chan pushed her head forward a bit more and sealed her lips to his tip as the first spurt erupted from his member. Instantly flooding her mouth, she gulped it down, trying to stay ahead of his loads, but not quite making it, as a small trickle of cum leaked from the corners of her mouth. Still, she got most of it. Carefully, she sucked on his softening member before letting it escape her mouth with a wet pop! Sound. The pilot barely had the strength to roll off her before collapsing beside her. "Wow." He managed, panting. "That was…" he began.

"New to me, too, Shin." Finished Rit-chan for him. "Glad you liked it." She added honestly. Shinji noticed the wet gleam of her breasts.

"Did you…like it?" he asked her. "I mean, it can't have been as good for you, since…well, you know." He finished. Rit-chan nodded.

"Actually, it was good for me. Not as good as that orgasm you gave me, but still good." She disagreed with him. Shinji reached over and touched her wet breasts. Rit-chan shivered at the sensation.

"Um, you want to try something?" asked Shinji, considering the girls chest. "You might not like it." He warned her. Rit-chan considered that. So, he's going to ask me for anal?

"It you want." She said, holding her breath. Shinji pushed himself up on his elbow and leaned over her.

"You sure?" he asked her. Rit-chan considered it again. Well, I can always say no later and know that he'll listen. She nodded. "Ok. Let me know if you don't like this." He said, leaning over to run his tongue over her breast. Rit-chan gasped, her nipples springing erect again.

Shinji, misreading her gasp, pulled back. "Sorry, guess it isn't…" he began before Rit-chan pressed a finger to his lips.

"No, I loved it." She said. Taking his hand, she ran his fingertips over her erect nipples. "See? They wouldn't be hard if I didn't like it." Shinji skillfully toyed with her nipples.

"So, I can…?" he began.

"Most definitely." She pronounced. Shinji's head moved back to her chest, which he proceeded to lick clean, much to her delight.

Misato, tired and sore, entered the Zoo in the early morning, having hit a dead end on her first try. Still, it had been useful. Yawning, she headed for the bathroom, noting that Shinji would be up soon. Entering the bathroom, she swiftly stripped and turned on the shower, planning to get a fast shower, then hit the sack for a few hours sleep.

Stepping under the spray, she began to scrub herself down. Man, this project is going to be harder than I thought. She thought to herself. At times like this - much as I hate to admit it - Kaji would be a welcome help. Sighing, she knew that he wouldn't be helping her with this. Or anything else. Ever again. She felt a deep sense of sadness that he had been terminated, but more than that, she just felt tired.

Her mental issues were interrupted by the bathroom door opening. Turning to look at the entering person, she saw a very bedraggled Asuka enter the bathroom. "Morning, Asuka." She offered. Asuka gave her a look she had come to expect from the First: a dead eyed stare. Moving to the toilet, she sat, a hand pressed hard to her abdomen. "Is it being difficult?" asked Misato softly, knowing that her own period was being uncooperative. Asuka didn't reply. Misato bit her lip, wondering if she should just shut up or not.

"What did he say?" came the Second's quiet voice. Misato blinked.

"What did who say?" asked the Major.

"The commander." Clarified Asuka, her tone empty. "How long do I have to get this straightened out?"

"Who said…?" began Misato.

"I heard you get paged there, and the witch doctor hasn't been exactly subtle about her stand on this issue." Interrupted Asuka. "So, how long?" she repeated. Misato was silent.

"Until you drop below the twenty percent bracket." She said quietly. "If you do that, you'll be pulled from active duty and sent to NERV for evaluation and testing prior to discharge." She saw Asuka nod to herself. "But that won't happen, Asuka." Said Misato as firmly as she could. "You won't fail." Asuka was silent.

"What's Hikari's synch at?" asked the Second. Misato considered not telling her, but chose to go ahead, as not telling her would just make her ask Hikari.

"Forty three percent steady, with a high spike of fifty flat." Answered Misato.

"Combat capable." Muttered Asuka, reaching for the drawer that held the hygiene supplies for the female members of the Zoo. Seeing the redhead withdraw a tampon, Misato risked another remark.

"She's not going into combat as long as you're available for duty, Asuka. She isn't trained well enough for that." Silence was her only answer. Once Asuka was set, she flushed the toilet and exited the bathroom without a word.

"Good afternoon, Misato." Came Airi's voice as a cold beer landed in Misato's hand. Cracking the top, Misato took a pull. Exhaling, she sat up. Looking around, she saw that the actress was in her silk top and shorts, obviously not having gone anywhere that day. Draining the last of her beer, she tossed the can at the trashcan, getting a luck rim shot.

"Afternoon. Where are the others?" she asked, struggling up from the bed.

"The group left on time, but I'm not sure they went to school." Said Airi. Misato shrugged.

"Like it matters at this point?" she said sourly. "Truthfully, I've been giving some thought to pulling them until the end of this mess." Airi nodded.

"Not a bad plan." She agreed. The two were silent for a while. Finally, Airi spoke again. "Want to come get some late lunch with me?" asked the woman.

"Didn't Shinji make something?" wondered Misato. He usually takes good care of me, after all. Airi shrugged.

"Do you have to ask? Of course he did, but I was thinking of this little place I found a few weeks ago that has killer chicken strips. And the beers cold, too." She added, knowing Misato's weaknesses. Misato smiled.

"Yeah, it'd probably be good for me to get out of the house from time to time." She agreed. Finding a pair of jeans, she pulled them on, sucking in her breath a bit to fasten the button. Reaching into her drawer for a bra, she found a neatly-folded stack of panties and bras waiting for her. "Shinji did laundry last night." It wasn't a question.

"Yes." Agreed Airi, settling a thin, short dress into place. Misato slipped into a comfortable bra and grabbed a tee-shirt. Tossing it on, she snagged a scrunchie and put her hair up in a pony tail.

"Let's motor." She said to Airi.

"I'm driving." Said the actress, seeing Misato tuck her USP into her waistband, followed by the twin magazine carriers. There was no room in her tight jeans for her keys, but her NERV card and some money fit into her back pocket. Following the younger woman out of the Zoo, she paused to listen at Rei's door.

"Sounds like they're not home." She reported as she and Airi entered the elevator.

"You could always call them and ask." Pointed out Airi, motioning to the cell phone in Misato's hand.

"Maybe later." Said the Major. The two entered Airi's car and drove for maybe a half hour until they arrived at the nondescript bar. Parking wasn't a problem, since the city was nearly deserted. Entering the bar, they found three of the stools and one of the booths occupied, leaving the rest empty. Tossing her head, Airi indicated a booth far away from the rest.

"I'll grab our meal, Misa." She said. "You wait here." Misato wordlessly sank into the booth. A few minutes later, Airi returned with a bowl of chicken strips, two large pitchers of beer, a basket of fries and a salad. Setting it all down, Airi watched as Misato began to dig into the food. Several minutes passed as the two ate. Finally, Misato took a long drink of her beer, set the pitcher down and stared at Airi.

"So, what did you want to talk about?" asked the Major, her tone all business. Briefly, Airi considered evading, but discarded that option.

"This." Said the actress, sliding the small pill-shaped memory unit to Misato. "Kaji told me to give this to you." Misato touched it carefully.

"When?" she asked. Airi sighed.

"Just before." She said. "I haven't had a good chance until today. Sorry." She said. Misato examined the item. "He said it was encrypted, but that you would know the code to unlock it." She added. Misato toyed with it. Silence fell for several more moments.

"Airi." Said Misato, looking at her companion. Airi gazed back levelly. "I need your help." She said.

Asuka scrubbed herself down in the pilot shower room. Beside her, Hikari and Rei did likewise. Shinji had been excluded from this test for reasons the Doctor didn't go into, but the pilot had been watching them from the Pribnow box, and was with them as soon as they exited the simulation bodies. Right now, he was waiting for them in the locker room. Another two points gone. Thought Asuka. I don't know what the hell is causing this, but I have to put an end to it before I go any lower! She mentally screamed. Beside her, Rei was silently shampooing her hair.

"Asuka?" came Hikari's voice, sounding a bit tentative.

"What is it, Hikari?" replied Asuka distractedly.

"Do you want to come over for supper tonight?" asked the Sixth. "We're having beef bowls and ice cream floats." She added enticingly. Asuka shook her head.

"Thanks, but no." she said.

"Why not?" asked Hikari. Asuka dipped her head under the spray.

"I'm…tired. That's all - just tired. I'm gonna catch up on my sleep." Said the teen, rising off and turning her shower head off. Stepping to her towel, she carelessly dried herself off and walked into the locker room, where Shinji was waiting for her. Nodding to him, she opened her locker and dropped her towel, leaving her somewhat wet and totally naked. Shinji frowned at her as she pulled out her school uniform. Silently, he picked up her towel and began to dry her off more thoroughly. Asuka twitched at his first touch, but then stood silently while he got her dried off. Once he was done save for her hair, she resumed dressing, stepping into her skirt/jumper and tugging on her shirt. Swiftly fastening her shirt, she ignored her missing bra, pulling the jumper straps into place and grabbing her purse, which contained her phone, gun, back-up magazines and cards, pushing her locker closed as she turned to leave.

"Asuka," began Shinji softly, concern in his eyes. Asuka pressed a fingertip against his lips.

"Not now, Baka." She said quietly. "I need to be alone for a bit." She added, leaning over to him, pressing her lips to his briefly. "Thanks for the help." She said, easing back from the kiss. Without another word, Asuka exited the locker room. Shinji sighed.

"It is not your fault, Shinji." Came the voice of the First. Turning, he saw Rei and Hikari standing in the doorway that lead to the showers. "She is having difficulty due to the memories the attack of the fifteenth brought back to her mind." Shinji knew what she was talking about because of his mother's talk with him while he was in the Sea of Dirac.

"What can we do to help her, Rei-chan?" he asked, profoundly unhappy at her suffering.

"I am not sure there is anything to be done." Replied Rei truthfully, crossing to stand in front of him, her hand on his cheek. "She will not allow us to help her in any meaningful way."

"But…!" began Shinji, only to be silenced by Rei's fingers on his lips.

"Until she allows us to help her, we have few options." Repeated the First. "For the time being, all she will allow us to do is to be there for her." Shinji knew she was right, but still hated it.

"So, there is nothing we can do beyond watcher her crash?" he asked morosely. Rei considered that. Her psychological profile suggests that she might be able to benefit from some indirect help. Maybe I should attempt to give her such indirect assistance. Dumping her towel, she swiftly pulled on her own clothes before moving to intercept the Second before she could leave the Geofront. Shinji and Hikari watched her swift departure.

"Think she thought of something to help her?" asked Hikari of Shinji, who absently picked up Rei's discarded towel and put it in the clothes bin to be washed.

"I hope so, Hi-chan." He said, looking Hikari in the eyes. "We can't afford to lose her." Hikari nodded.

"No kidding. I'm still not combat ready, and she's the best trained of all of us." Hikari slipped her towel off and began to pull her clothes out of her locker. Shinji sat on the bench in front of his locker, watching the door, deep in thought. A few feet away, Hikari watched him out of the corner of her eye. This is hard on Asuka, but it is almost worse on Shin. She thought. Seeing her bra in her hand, she pursed her lips. Deliberately, she put it back in the locker. Stepping into her panties, she reached for her skirt.

The two were surprised to heard the door open, and Misato entered the locker room. Seeing a topless Hikari changing, with Shinji sitting a few feet away as if she weren't there, Misato realized that Shinji was developing far faster than she had thought. "Hey, guys!" she said happily. Even if you're dying inside, don't let them see it. "Where are the others?"

"Asuka said she was going home to sleep, Rei left to do something, Rit-chan and Airi are dining with Celsia tonight and we're here." Replied Shinji, a bit of a smile on his face. Misato smiled back, her own smile a bit forced.

"I see. Well? Ready to go?" she asked her two remaining pilots. Both nodded, Hikari picking up her book bag as she closed her locker. Together, the three exited the room.

Asuka resolutely stared at the changing floor numbers, ignoring the First, who stood behind her, watching her. Eventually, Rei spoke. "You are blocking yourself." She said softly. Asuka spun to face her rival.

"What was that, Wondergirl?!" she snapped. "You think I'm doing this to myself?" Rei nodded slightly.

"Yes."

"What do you know?! It's just a stupid toy!" she snapped.

"No, it is not. If you do not open your mind to her, she can not help you." Said the First softly.

"Who are you talking about?!" demanded Asuka, her temper up. "Eva's don't have a mind or soul! They're barely even alive!"

"That is untrue." Countered Rei.

"No, it's not! They're just toys!" insisted Asuka hotly. Rei felt it best not to get into the matter just then. "Well, you must find this gratifying, First! Now that I'm having trouble, you're free to play second string to Shinji the Hero!" Her tone was poisonous, but not toward Shinji, as it had always been before. Now, it was more directed at herself. "Don't worry, though! We girls won't have to fight anymore! Shinji the Hero will kill the rest of the Angels, so what does it matter if I can't pilot my Eva?" Rei was silent, examining what Asuka had said.

"Do you no longer wish to pilot?" asked the other girl after a few moments of silence. Asuka's jaw dropped.

"Of course I want to pilot, Wondergirl!" she roared, stepping closer. "I'm the best pilot, after all!" she tacked on. Rei studied her.

"Then open your mind to her." Said the blue haired girl. Asuka's lips twisted into a snarl.

"You're just a doll yourself!" she hissed. "The Goatfucker's toy!"

"I am not a doll." Returned Rei softly. "And I am not Commander Ikari's toy."

"Liar! You'd kill yourself if he ordered you to, wouldn't you?!" fired back the German girl.

"If defeating the Angels requires me to die, then so be it." Was the reply. I have already died once. Furious, Asuka whipped her hand out and slapped Rei as hard as she could. Rei could have dodge it, or simply caught her hand, but instead she did nothing, her head snapping to the side from the blow, tasting blood from a split lip. Emotionlessly, she turned her head back to look into Asuka's eyes. It was too much for the Second.

"Sie sind eine Puppe!" hissed Asuka, storming out of the elevator car at the next stop, even though it wasn't the one she wanted. Rei silently watched the doors close again, not moving.

Misato put the high-density chip into the reader and plugged it up to her laptop. It was late, and the rest of the Zoo was asleep. Right now, the Operations Director was on the balcony with her laptop, judging that to be the least-covered location in the Zoo in regards to the surveillance. She would have liked to do this somewhere else entirely, but that was not really an option, as work would be even more dangerous and she would have no excuse to take her NERV laptop into say, a love motel. Here or nowhere. She thought, bringing up the data on the screen. Immediately, the security program kicked in, demanding a password. Hmm. There are several things it could be. Kaji seemed positive that I could find the right one.

After several seconds of thought, she slowly typed in his pillow name for her. The program rejected it, warning her that she only had two more tries before the program erased all the data. "Shit." She murmured. Reconsidering her options, she finally chose to try the name of the hotel where the two had spent the week-long sex-a-thon in college. That wasn't it either, and the program warned her that she had only one try left. Damn it! There's so much it could be! She thought angrily. She was tempted to shut it down and try later, but knew that that would be pointless as the program would only allow her one more try no matter how long she left it. And it's not like Kaji can tell me what the password is, now is it? I warned him that his…! No way. He couldn't be that grandiose, could he? Misato shook her head, trying to disperse the crazy idea that had taken root in her head. It refused to leave. What kind of idiot would make the password to his black ops data so obvious?

Unwillingly, she typed in `TRUTH'. Taking a breath, she pressed the enter key. For a moment, she though she had been wrong, as the screen went blank. But a moment later, it came back up, displaying a simple text document. Misato began to read. Dear Misa-chan, if you are reading this, then your prediction has come true and I've been eliminated by one of my bosses. I'm sorry for the pain I doubtlessly caused you with this, Misato. And please tell Ritsu I'm sorry as well. "Fat chance of that, lover boy." Muttered Misato. But I want you to know that even though I'm likely gone for good, my work is not. I'm entrusting this information to you, Misa, in the hopes that you can use it to protect the Children and yourself. I've always been selfish, as you said, but I like to think that I'm not a complete bastard like Gendo Ikari. So, I'm not going to force this on you. If you want to know what I've learned over the last three years, press `enter'. If not, pressing `delete' will erase all the data, and you can wash your hands of this entire thing. I hope you can forgive me for all of this. Oh, and before I forget: can you water my plants for me? I've been growing…well, watermelons. Misato found herself almost smiling at that bit of news. They always reminded me of you, you know. Anyway, Shinji knows where they are. Misato was surprised to find herself laughing softly. Love, Kaji.

Taking in a deep breath, Misato leaned her head back to look at the stars over Tokyo 3. Mentally, she weighed the options before her, trying to find the right answer. But it was just a self-deceiving step; she already knew what her choice would be. Her finger touched the `enter' key. No one will hurt my Pilots. She vowed. And certainly not my Shinji! The text screen disappeared and a menu came up, not unlike the MAGI data systems menus. Misato began to study the nodes, seeing that Kaji had set it up a lot like a line chart, with a node for each of the three primary employers he had, which was a surprise to Misato, who had only know that he worked for NERV and the JMI. To see Seele listed was a severe blow to her confidence in her ability to read someone. Still, like the forbidden fruit, she just had to know. "Start at the top, after all." She muttered.

Twenty minutes later, she wished she hadn't.

Shinji, Rit-chan, Hikari and Rei entered the classroom, seeing only Tomo there to greet them. It had been two days since the last synch test, and Asuka had dipped another two points. Angry didn't even begin to cover it. She had vowed to stay and work at it until she was back up where she belonged, and - true to her word - she had been spending nearly eighteen hours a day at NERV. The others pilots had stayed as long as they could, giving her what support she allowed them to give her, but eventually, they were ordered to return to school. Asuka was still at NERV, fighting her Eva.

"Well, look who showed up." Said Tomo drolly. "Where's Sohryu?"

"She's busy." Said Shinji simply. "Where is everyone?"

"You're looking at us." Said Tomo, sitting on her desk. "I was thinking that I was the only one left, but then you all showed up again."

"You're kidding, right?" gasped Hikari. "You're the only one left? What about the other classes?" Tomo shrugged.

"Came in this morning, and only Kobunigi in 4-A and Haku in 1-E were here. Also, the Vice Principal's desk was cleaned out." Reported Tomo.

"Excuse me? Cleaned out, how?" asked Hikari, frowning. Tomo maintained eye contact.

"There was a letter of resignation on top. There's been whispers about him going to work for a multi-national company's training department for months now, but no one expected him to really do it."

"I see." Said Hikari. "It's too bad, really; he was the only real teacher in Administration." Tomo nodded.

"So, we're down to the soldiers and the fools, then." Muttered Rit-chan. "Where's the teacher?" Tomo shrugged.

"Don't know, Rit-chan." She supplied unhelpfully. Shinji was sitting in his chair, leaning back a bit, eyes hooded, his mind on Asuka and her situation. Beside and a bit behind him, Rei was in her chair as well, but instead of looking out the window, she was watching Shinji intently. Sighing, Rit-chan sank into her chair, Hikari doing likewise. Tomo stayed on her desk. Several minutes went by, the chime sounding for the start of class, and still no teacher. Just before Hikari decided to go find the wayward teacher, the door opened and the remaining students in the school filed in. Tomo jumped off her desk. "Rise." She said. The others did as asked, but there was no urgency in the pilots.

"Good morning, class." Said the female gym teacher. Motioning to the empty desks, she continued. "Find a seat." She directed the other students. The dozen-odd students began to look for seats. One made to put his bag on Asuka's desk.

"That one belongs to Asuka." Said Shinji flatly, his tone slightly dark. The student blinked at him.

"Find another seat, ok?" interrupted Rit-chan, her eyes on his. Slowly, he moved a few seats away. Oddly enough, all the newly-arrived students chose to stay at least one seat away from the small core of pilots and Rit-chan.

"Well, I'm sure you're curious, so I'll just tell you flat: you're all that's left, and you've been made into one class." Said the teacher. There were several gasps and murmuring. "Myself and the principal are all the staff left here, so we don't have much of a choice." She paused. "Even with all of you in one class, you don't even fill all the seats. More like two thirds."

"Ma'am, what about the situation with Class Representatives? We have three Inchous, but only one class." asked a senior. The other seniors made supportive sounds. "We would like our Inchou, Kobunigi, to be the Inchou."

"We have an Inchou for this class already, and it's Tomo." Said Hikari sharply. "Since you all are joining our class, she has seniority."

"But we're seniors." Pointed out the spokesman for the upperclassmen. "And tradition gives us the right to choose class positions when joining a class of underclassmen."

"Only when you're the majority!" shot back Hikari. "And you're not. There are more underclassmen than upperclassmen."

The student looked around. "I see a tie, Horaki." He stated. "And the teacher traditionally sides with the upperclassmen in the event of a tie, so we do have majority." He smiled.

"Like hell!" snapped Hikari. "Asuka gives us majority!"

"Sohryu? Where is she? I don't see that psycho here." Challenged the boy. The room went dead silent as four giga-watt glares homed in on him. From the hate emanating from Pilots and Rit-chan, it was a wonder the boy didn't burst into flames.

"Asuka is engaged in testing at NERV." Said Shinji flatly, his eyes stabbing deeper into the hapless boy.

"Further discussion of this topic is pointless." Stated Rei, her dead stare giving him goose bumps on the inside of his body.

"We're keeping our Inchou." Said Hikari with great finality.

"You don't have a problem with that, do you?" warned Rit-chan. The boy sat down.

"Well, now that we've cleared the first hurdle, let's move on to the next one, shall we?" asked the teacher into the silence that fell on the class. "The course curriculum is very different, but the Principal has an idea on that." Shinji tuned the teacher out, his mind back on Asuka.

Panting from the effort, Asuka hauled herself out of her entry plug after more than twelve hours straight. Verdammen Sie es! Still kein Fortschritt! She thought angrily. Hunger, thirst and the need to use the bathroom had finally driven her out of her plug. Taking a deep breath of air as the last of the LCL cleared her lungs, she steadied herself and made her way toward the locker room. Watching from the monitoring station, Maya felt her heart go out to the young woman.

She puts all she has into it, and her scores are still dropping! What is wrong here? Her eyes checked the diagnostic readout again, but once more, there was no errors anywhere. Asuka's scores were still slipping. It has to be due to that last angel attack. It must have done more damage to her psyche than we thought. Decided the tech. Shaking her head, she rose and made her way toward the nearest bathroom. Asuka will probably be back before too long, and I better take this chance to relieve my bladder. Who knows when she'll take another break?

"Pilot Sohryu, report to Commander Ikari's office immediately." Announced the PA system. Maya winced.

"This can't be good." She muttered. On an impulse, she pulled her phone out and dialed a speed-dial number.

"Pilot Sohryu." Came Gendo's deep voice. "Your synch scores have been falling at an unacceptable rate." The commander watched the plug suited pilot squirm.

"I know, Sir!" she said desperately. "But I'll get them back up before the next Angel, I swear it!" she promised, feeling her body tremble with fatigue, stress and the painful need to pee.

"A pilot who can not maintain their synch is of no use to this organization." Stated Gendo. Asuka's lips pressed together tightly. "If they fall any further, you will be replaced." Said the Commander. Asuka's shoulders twitched as she fought the urge to sob. Without my Eva, I'm…!

"No! Please, Sir, I'll get my scores back up to the lead spot! I promise!" begged the girl. Gendo studied her.

"The Fifth Child will be ready for combat assignment within three weeks." He said. "If you have not improved by then, you will be replaced as the designated pilot of Unit 2."

"Re…replaced?" she breathed, her voice unstable. "Sir! I could still be a backup pilot! Or a training officer! I…"

"A pilot who can not pilot is of no use to me." Stated Gendo coldly. "Do you not agree?" Mutely, Asuka shook her head. "Then what use could you be to me?" he asked her. A little more pressure and she should collapse. He mentally gloated.

"I…I could…" began Asuka, but trailed off. Gendo considered her.

"You could what, Pilot Sohryu?" he prompted her. "What would you do if you couldn't pilot?" Asuka took a shuddering breath.

"I could…help." She said, not looking at him. Gendo hid his smile.

"What could you help me with, Pilot?" he asked her, anticipating her reply. He was quite sure what she would offer, given the reports of her activities with former Agent Kaji and the doctor. And I will most definitely accept, as claiming you would give me new means of controlling the Third. He mentally calculated. Raising her head, she looked him in the face.

"I could help kill angels." She said, her tone resolute. Her bearing changed as she pulled herself together, fighting off the panic attack. "I could help Misato plan and execute battles. I could support the other pilots even if I am replaced." Her tone turned dark. "But I won't be replaced." She said, all but snarling.

"That has yet to be seen, Pilot Sohryu." Demurred the Commander. "Dismissed."

Shinji swiftly moved deeper into NERV. Behind him, Rei and Rit-chan were also moving deeper, but in different directions. Hikari was following Shinji in his search for Asuka, while the others were going to look into some matters. Unerringly, Shinji made his way to the dummy plugs, where he found Maya and Asuka, still at it. Glancing at Shinji as he entered, Hikari in tow, she nodded. "Hey, Shinji." Said the tech tiredly.

"Hey, Maya-chan." Said Shinji softly. "How long?" he asked, looking at Asuka's face via her video feed. Maya glanced at her watch.

"Sixteen hours." She answered. Pausing, she debated telling him, but finally decided that he would ask anyway, so why not just tell him. "There…hasn't been any improvement." She said quietly. Shinji nodded.

"She's probably exhausted, and that can't be helping her any." He murmured. Reaching out, he touched the stud to open an audio link to her. "Hey, Asuka." He said, trying to sound cheerful. "What do you want for supper tonight?" he asked her. Asuka's lips tightened into a grimace.

"I'm busy right now, Baka." She said, her brow furrowed. "Go away." She added. Her synch score fluctuated a bit. Shinji tried again.

"You've been here nearly all day, Asuka." He said. "I'm sure you're improving, but aren't you hungry? And tired?" he pressed.

"Doesn't matter." She replied. Hikari touched Shinji's arm.

"Asuka, can you help me with the material for the N2 mine deployment? I could really use someone to explain that manual to me." She asked hopefully.

"You've already done the sim for that, Hikari." Said Asuka stubbornly. "You passed. What more is there to know?"

"I still don't know how to rig them up for delayed detonation, or how to adjust them for air-burst or the steps to rig them as part of a chain." Hikari wheedled. Asuka's stomach rumbled a bit. "I'll cook you those dumplings you love so much." She added deviously.

"Fine!" snapped Asuka, sighing LCL. "One more hour!" she added. Maya rolled her shoulders, surpassing a groan. Shinji frowned.

"You look worn out, Maya-chan." He said, releasing the mic stud. Maya blinked and looked at her former room mate.

"Well, I pulled an entire shift today, plus all this with Asuka." She said. Her hand covered her mouth as she yawned. "I'm beat, and tomorrow I've got a double shift." Shinji considered the Lieutenant.

"Show me how to do what you're doing." Came Hikari's unanticipated request. Maya and Shinji both blinked at her.

"What? Show you how to operate the MAGI interface? Hikari, that took me more than a year to learn…" began Maya.

"No, not that, Lieutenant. Show me what I need to do to monitor Asuka's synch. It doesn't seem to be too hard, and that way, you can go home and get some rest. I'll stay here with Asuka until we go." Offered the newest pilot.

"I don't know, the…" began Maya, her tone a bit wistful.

"Show her the buttons to push, Maya-chan, and then I'll take you home and make some supper for you. Deal?" smiled Shinji. Maya smiled.

"You talked me into it." She said, her eyes warm on Shinji. Motioning Hikari over, she showed her the right commands to process the data. Indeed, it wasn't hard to monitor the process - it was the setup that was difficult. And since the setup was done, all Hikari had to do was monitor the values, and keep an eye on Asuka. Rising from the chair, Maya felt and heard her joints and back pop. Groaning, she massaged her lower back. "All yours, Hikari." Said the tech, stretching her hands over her head. "We better go while I can still drive, Shin." Said the young woman, yawning again. Shinji nodded.

"Be right with you, Maya-chan." He said, seeing the tech heading for the door. Leaning over to Hikari, Shinji touched his lips to hers briefly. "Thanks, Hi-chan." He said, touching her cheek. "You've got my number, so call me if you run into a problem and need Maya-chan's expertise, ok?"

Hikari nodded. "No problem." She paused. "Are you…coming home tonight?" she asked, her cheeks coloring a bit as she said it. Shinji nodded.

"Yes, Hikari, I am. If Asuka asks, well…" he began.

"Got you covered, Shinji. You're just talking to someone at NERV, but will be back soon." Confirmed Hikari. Shinji touched her cheek again before turning to the door to catch up to Maya-chan.

Deep in the dimly-lit and ice-cold innards of the main I/O hub for the MAGI, Misato was wedged into a narrow maintenance access crawlspace. In her hands was a portable keyboard/holo display, and wrapped around her neck, arms, waist and thighs were various cables, all labeled with numbers and of various types, lengths, and uses. In Misato's teeth was a hand-written note with the number sequences she needed, along with a rough diagram of her current location's hookups and patch inputs. It had taken her fifteen minutes to get the wires set and to log on to the hidden network Kaji had built. Crude was a bit kind to describe it, but if it worked, it was perfect to her.

Misato was currently rummaging around in the personal files Akagi. Kaji had not finished his research, but he had made a lot of progress. And his conjecture and extrapolation of the information he had uncovered led him to believe that Akagi knew far more than she was saying. He also had a suspicion that she was working for the sole benefit of Gendo. Misato hadn't wanted to believe it, but more and more, she realized that her friend was playing her friendship against her. I swear to you, Ritsu, if you harm my Pilots, you will answer to me! She vowed. Her fingers moved over the keys, moving deeper into the files.

She had been in that cold hellhole for more than two hours when she finally wiggled free, shivering and cramped, but also smarter than when she went in. Swiftly stashing her illicit gear, she made sure that no sign remained that the access panel had ever been moved, she moved off toward the lift to go back to her office. Turning the corner, she jerked in surprise as she came face-to-face with Airi. "Airi!" she breathed in relief.

To her surprise, the other woman wrapped her hands around Misato and glued her lips to hers. Stunned, Misato's jaw started to drop, only to feel Airi's tongue slip into her mouth. What the fuck is she doing?! Wondered the Major. I mean, yeah, it's not the first time a girl's kissed me, but where did this come from? Almost thirty seconds, later, Airi eased back from the deep kiss. "Mi-chan, I've been looking for you!" she purred a bit loudly. "Section 2." She breathed so softly that Misato almost missed it. "I hope you're done for today." She added, her tone sultry and sexy. "I can't wait any longer." She added, locking her lips to Misato's again. Misato kissed her back. When they broke the second kiss, Misato leaned back from the actress's embrace.

"Yeah, I'm done. Wanna continue this at home?" she asked, her tone pitched to carry more than usual. Airi's hand slipped into her hand, fingers intertwining.

"But what about the Children?" she asked. "How about somewhere more discreet?" she hinted. Misato smiled.

"I know a good hotel near here." She said. Hand in hand, the two moved off toward Airi's car, Misato's sharp eyes catching a bit of movement deep in the shadows. Getting into Airi's car, the two drove directly to a discreet love hotel and got a room key, immediately entering the room and closing the door. Stepping swiftly to the small window, Misato scanned the street and saw a car drift to a stop near Airi's car. Behind her, Airi flipped on the TV, selecting a channel showing some lesbian hot-and-heavy, turning the volume up. Moving back to the bed, Misato sat down next to Airi. "What's going on, Airi?" she asked.

"Sorry, Mi-chan, but Section 2 has been keeping a tight watch on you since…well, you know. This way, there is no real way for them to effective monitor us, and it provides us a perfect cover, as well." Said the younger woman. Misato shook her head.

"This should do wonders for my reputation." She muttered tiredly. Airi shrugged.

"Sorry, Mi-chan, but there wasn't a lot of choices. Besides, it's not like men mind if a woman's bisexual." Misato shrugged. "And this gives us a good excuse for future meetings." Added the actress.

"True. And it's not that I really mind." Agreed Misato reluctantly. "It's not like I haven't done some experimenting in my college days." Airi smiled at the Major.

"I remember the stories, Mi-chan. It's what gave me this idea, in fact." She confessed. Misato's eyes opened a bit wider for a second.

"Shit." She muttered, getting up and taking off her jacket, revealing several lengths of the wire still tucked around her waist, neck and chest. Rummaging in her pocket, she fished out her cell phone and dialed a number. Once it connected, she told the other party that she was going to be out drinking for a bit and to please tell the others. Ending the call, the Major switched her phone to low-ringer before setting it on the bedside table. Dropping her jacket into the chair by the dresser, Misato began to swiftly pull off her clothes. Airi watched Misato curiously. Seeing the look as she unclipped her bra, she explained to the actress. "Thermal imaging units in each Section 2 support unit can see our body heat, even though the walls. We have to make them believe we're here for sex, right?" she explained. Airi nodded.

"Good thinking." Said the actress, standing and undressing as well. Misato kicked her hose off and moved to the bed, tossing the sheets back before climbing in. The actress was shortly naked and did likewise, climbing in next to Misato. Taking a deep breath, Misato wrapped her arms around Airi and pulled the woman tighter to her.

"Nervous?" she asked. Airi shook her head. "No? Are you really bi?" she asked curiously. Airi smirked at her.

"Does it matter?" she asked impishly. "As an actress, I can sell any performance." She assured the purple-haired woman holding her. Seeing Misato frown, she needled her back. "Disappointed?" she asked.

"No. What did you learn?" she asked, knowing that Airi had gone to mine some information from a source she had developed in the Section 5 hierocracy. For the next hour, the two compared notes and matched up information, keeping up the pretense of being busy with each other.

Shinji slid his card through the reader at Maya's apartment and entered, Maya a step behind him. As the door closed and locked, Shinji turned to Maya, who was struggling with her uniform. With the experience he had from his last stay here, Shinji smoothly helped her out of her clothes, getting a smile from her. "Still eager to strip me, eh, Shin-kun?" she giggled. Shinji smiled back.

"Of course." He answered easily. "What guy wouldn't want to see you naked?" he teased, taking the last of her clothes off. "Now that you're naked," he began, drawing breath to continue, only to be interrupted by Maya.

"We can go to the bedroom?" she asked hopefully. Shinji dipped his head in acquiesce.

"I was going to say, `let's get you in a nice warm bath while I fix supper', but if you really want to go straight to bed, well, I won't argue." Maya's stomach rumbled a bit. Grinning, Shinji touched her taunt stomach muscles with his fingertips. "Sure I can't feed that first?" he asked her teasingly. Maya giggled as he lightly stroked her abdomen.

"Fine! You talked me into it." She agreed, allowing him to steer her toward the bathroom. Starting a tub, Shinji checked to make sure it was to her liking, then stepped out to get her bath basket. He also got her an extra towel and tossed her clothes into the hamper as he went by. Once the tub was full enough, he handed Maya into the tub and told her to relax until he called her for supper. Maya nodded, leaning back as the tub finished filling. Shinji excused himself to the kitchen, leaving the bathroom door open. Sighing in contentment, Maya leaned back and closed her eyes for a bit, feeling the hot water ease her stiff muscles.

She awoke to find Shinji gently shaking her shoulders. Blinking, she realized that she had fallen asleep and that she could smell wonderful smells from the kitchen. "Umm. How long was I asleep?" she asked, accepting his help getting out of the tub. Shinji took a towel and began to dry her off.

"Not long. Forty five minutes, tops." He said. Maya luxuriated in the feel of him drying her off, making her pussy tingle. Shinji had her completely dry within four minutes. "Ready to eat?" he asked her. Maya nodded, following him to the kitchen. Set out was a scrumptious meal, centered around a bowl of rice and chicken, with seasoned vegetables and noodles ready to be added. There was also a basket of small bread rolls and some sweet plums. "It's not much, but it's good." He said apologetically.

"It's perfect, Shinji." Assured Maya, seeing him dishing up a bowl for her. Handing her the bowl, he dished one up for himself. Sitting across from each other, the two ate. It was only fifteen minutes later that the food was consumed and Shinji was doing dishes. Maya yawned as she watched Shinji swiftly dispatch the dirty dishes. Turning to her, he smiled.

"Now, for the next step." He grinned. Maya blinked. "Let's go to your room, shall we?" he asked her. Maya smiled in reply.

"Of course, Shinji." She purred. Shinji smiled at her as he followed her to her room. Entering the room, he took her elbow and guided her to her bed, guiding her down to a towel spread out over her cover. "Wha…?" she began.

"Trust me." Assured Shinji. "Lay down." He directed her. The tech began to turn around to lay down on her back, but the Third touched her arm, stopping her. "On your face, Maya-chan." He directed her. Maya blinked at him, but did as he asked. "Comfortable?" he asked her.

"I guess." Said Maya, her tone curious. "Aren't you going to join me?" she asked.

"In a sec; I gotta get something first." He said, moving out of the room for a moment. Maya frowned. Get something? Like toys, maybe? Or maybe some handcuffs and chains? She felt herself shiver a bit. I can't see him as the S&M type though, so what could he be getting? Hearing Shinji return, she turned her head to see him slipping out of his clothes. He didn't appear to be carrying anything. A moment later, Shinji climbed onto her bed and straddled her hips. Maya heard a plastic bottle top snap open, and a moment later, she felt something drip onto her upper back. A tremor ran down her spine.

"Shinji, what is…?" she began. Shinji's hands landed on her shoulder blades and began to rub. His hands felt soft and slick over her skin, as if they were lubed.

"It's your baby oil, Maya-chan." He explained. "I thought I'd give you a massage since you were so stiff from those hours and hours with Asuka." His hands began to steadily rub her neck and shoulders with steady, firm motions. Maya felt herself relaxing more and more. "Is that…ok with you?" he asked her. Maya nodded.

"Mmm. Feels great." She murmured. Shinji spent the next hour working his way from her neck to the soles of her feet, frequently reaching for the bottle of baby oil. Once that was done, the nearly asleep Maya managed to rouse herself enough to roll over on the towel. "Gonna do the front too?" she asked languidly. Shinji felt his dick harden at the sight of her naked body.

"Do you want me to?" he asked her. Maya nodded. Moving back up, he straddled her waist, feeling his dick grow to full size from the sensation of her naked skin. Maya noticed and smiled. Dripping some oil on her throat and collarbone, he began to carefully rub her, Maya closing her eyes again and moaning happily. Working his way down, he paused, considering her small, shapely breasts. Mentally shrugging, he dribbled some oil on each one and took one in each and, carefully caressing them, her nipples springing erect and her areolas becoming puffy from her arousal. After several minutes, he moved farther down her body, taking extra time on her belly button. Maya giggled a bit as he played with it. Steeling himself, he moved down to her hips.

As he did so, she eased her legs open to give him unobstructed access to her. Smiling, he began to work his way around her sex, finding it to be wet already. Deciding to finish one project before moving to another, he continued down her legs to her feet. As he was finishing her feet, he looked up at her face. Her eyes were open and she was watching him, a smile on her face. "You like that, Maya-chan?" he asked her, closing the bottle of oil and setting it aside. Maya nodded.

"Yes. But now it's my turn." She said, sitting up and taking his hand. Laying back, she pulled him on top of her. Shinji's dick slipped easily over her soft, slick skin as she settled him between her spread legs. Snaking a hand down to his erect member, she began to stroke it, her other hand urging his lips to her lips. With no reason to hesitate, Shinji dipped his head and slipped his tounge into her mouth as he worked his arms around her. Maya's hand sped up a bit, then stopped, slowly slipping off his member. Sliding her arm around his waist, Maya pressed on his lower back, urging him down on her.

Lowering himself to her, he felt the tip of his turgid member press into her wet, slick nest, the tip immediately beginning to sink into her. Maya moaned into his mouth, her arms locking around his chest just under his arms, while her legs wrapped themselves around his waist. Shinji pushed himself deeper into Maya, eased back a bit, then pushed forward again. Within moments, he was buried in her, his tip tucked firmly into her cervix. Now fully coated in her juice, he began to pump her in a steady, deep rhythm. Breaking her lip lock, Maya panted against his neck. "Ahh! Just like that!" she managed, moving her legs up a bit on his back, allowing him better depth. Shinji obliged her request. Gradually, his pace picked up.

Maya cried out in ecstasy as her first orgasm rippled though her. Both of the lovers were panting, and covered in a thin sheen of sweat. Shinji felt her pussy clamp down and heard her cry of achievement, holding himself still within her. A few minutes later, she came back to him. Feeling him throbbing in her groin, she smiled at him. "Do you want to try another position, Shin?" she panted. Shinji gave her a slow stroke in answer.

"If you want. Any one in particular?" he asked her. Maya nodded. Easing out of her, Shinji saw her roll over and raise her shapely ass to him. Shaking his head at her fondly, he moved back to her, his member nestling into her soaked groin, slipping easily into her soaked channel. Maya moaned happily as he bottomed out in her happy sex. Taking a firm grip on her hips, Shinji began a more vigorous pace, feeling himself build toward his own orgasm. Maya didn't take long to achieve her next orgasm, which was accompanied by several smaller ones. Once more, Shinji paused to let her ride the pleasure wave. Once she returned, she turned to smile at him.

"New position, Shin?" she invited. Shinji smiled back.

"This one is good for me, but go for it." He replied. Maya's cheeks flushed a bit.

"Are you sure?" she asked him. Shinji nodded.

"Any position you want is good with me." He assured her. Maya turned her face back into the towel. Can I really do this? She asked herself. Easing her hips forward, she felt Shinji lean back, his tool slipping out of her warm channel. Taking a breath, she reached back, searching for his slick, hard member. Finding it, she stroked it a time or two, then slowly moved it up to her new position. Feeling his sensitive tip touch her warm flesh again, Shinji glanced down and gasped at what he saw.

"Ma…Maya!" he gasped. "What are…are you sure that's…have you…done that before?" he managed at last. Maya held his dick in place.

"N…no, but I've…thought about it a time or two." She replied. Well, dreaming is thought, after all! "Don't you…want to try it?" she wondered, worried that she might have made a mistake. He might not want to.

"Y…yeah, but it's supposed to hurt, isn't it?" he asked. "I'd never hurt you, Maya-chan." He told her, touching her back comfortingly. Maya smiled at his concern.

"I know, Shinji. That's why I…wanted to try this with you. I've never…I mean, my ex-boyfriend always asked for it, but I never let him." She paused for an instant. "I guess I never trusted him not to hurt me." She whispered to her current lover. Shinji felt her press her hips back a bit, his tip pushing against her virgin hole. Shinji stifled a moan, his hands caressing her slick hips. Maya slowly stroked his wet member. "Want to try?" she whispered. Shinji pushed forward just a bit.

"Only if you think you'll like it." He said, determined not to be some greedy bastard. "If you don't, then we'll skip it." He said. Maya paused to consider that. "It's supposed to feel really good." She said quietly. "Well, that's what I overheard, anyway." She qualified. Shinji carefully pushed forward again, feeling her body resist. Maya squealed softly. Shinji considered the situation.

"Maybe we should go easy here." He muttered, gently moving Maya's hand off his dick before rubbing her erect clit for a few moments. Feeling her tremble, Shinji dipped his fingers into her soaked channel before withdrawing them and moving his dick down to plunge into her, earning him a happy squeal from her. Resuming his pumping, he trailed his soaked fingers to her other hole and began to stroke and toy with it. This was new to both of them, and Maya found the added sensations unbearable, suffering a major multiple orgasm that left her unconscious on her bed. Shinji likewise found the situation exciting enough that when her orgasms crashed over her, he had cum too, filling her entire pussy with his goo. Panting, he sat back and just stared at her for a long while.

Sufficiently rested, he went to her bathroom and cleaned himself up before returning to her with a warm, damp cloth and cleaning her up as best he could before tucking her under her sheets. Plumping a pillow under her head, he smiled at her relaxed countenance. "Sleep well, Maya-chan." He murmured, kissing her cheek before straightening and reaching for his clothes. Glancing at the clock, he figured that he would make it home before Asuka went to bed.

Entering the Zoo, he glanced around and spotted Rit-chan sitting on the couch, a book open on her lap, pencil in hand, writing in the book. Glancing up, she smiled at Shinji. "Welcome home, Shin." She said softly. Shinji smiled back.

"Glad to be back, Rit-chan. Where is everyone?" he asked her, approaching the older teen. As he did so, he noticed that her USP was resting on her thigh, at the juncture with her hip, hammer back in single-action mode.

"Airi and Misato are in a hotel, Rei and Hikari are asleep by now, and Asuka is in bed." Replied Rit-chan, twirling her pencil in her hand. Tossing her head to the couch next to her, she invited him to sit. He sank down next to her. Leaning over, she kissed him briefly.

"Is that your journal?" he asked her, noting the wear and tear on the thick, heavy notebook. Rit-chan chuckled.

"Yeah. I've been thinking of naming it my `War Journal'." She smiled, touching the nicked, dented and worn cover material fondly. Shinji missed the reference. He did notice that she was nearing the end of the book.

"May I?" he asked, motioning to the book. Rit-chan nodded and handed it to him. Shinji took the book and began at the beginning, slowly turning each page, seeing the writing, the hand drawings of various thing and places, the caricatures of people and the odd picture. He read some of the notes in that were in Japanese, but mostly he just scanned the pages, trying to get a feel for her experiences. Rit-chan leaned over so she was leaning against him, watching him turn pages. "This is incredible, Rit-chan." He said, reaching the end of the filled pages. "What are you going to do with all this?" he asked her.

Rit-chan shrugged. "Nothing really. I just decided to do this so that in years to come, I will always remember the feelings and emotions I had when I was here." She said softly. "And so I can show my parents." She added, smiling.

"Your parents?" he asked her. She nodded. "Are they…how are they?" he asked, not really knowing how to ask her about her parents. Like all the pilots, he didn't really have a family. Hikari did in the form of her sisters and father, but it wasn't a true family. Shinji, Asuka and Rei had nothing. Asuka's father was somewhere in Germany, but she and he weren't on speaking terms. Her mother hung herself in the hospital after an accident with Unit 2. Shinji had only recently found his mother - well, ok, her soul, for lack of a better term - alive in his Eva, but that wasn't really having a mother, as she had physically died when he was four. And I have no father; not any more. He thought darkly. So, it was hard for him to understand how a real family worked.

"Well, they're my parents, you know?" she said, her tone happy. "Mom's always there, but never hanging all over me, which is so cool. Dad's always there when I need him, but he follows mom's lead and gives me the space I need." Rit-chan giggled. "I can't wait to see them again. It's been more than a year since I…disappeared. I…wonder how they're holding up." Her tone had gone from happy to very tired and worried.

"You love them a lot, don't you, Rit-chan?" asked Shinji softly, wondering how it would be to have a mom and dad handy like Rit-chan had. Must be nice. Maybe things wouldn't have turned out this way if Mom had… he shook that thought away. Could have been, should have been, might have been - it's all moot. I have to deal with this situation as it sits. Besides, Mom's with me now. Rit-chan's eyes were shiny with tears.

"Of course I do, Shin." She said quietly. "they're my parents." Shinji wasn't sure what to do, so he simply put his arm around her and hugged her. For several minutes, the two didn't move. Finally, Rit-chan moved back a bit. Turning to look at her, Shinji made his choice.

"You'll see them again, Rit-chan. I know you will." He said softly. Rit-chan looked at him, her eyes troubled.

"Why do you say that, Shinji?" she asked him.

"Because its true." Said Shinji simply, sounding a lot like Rei. Once more, silence descended on the two. Eventually, Shinji spoke again. "If you ever have to choose, Rit-chan," he said softly, touching her shoulder, "choose them, ok?" Rit-chan's eyes showed she didn't understand, but Shinji just repeated himself. "Choose them, Rit-chan." He said, sliding her journal back over to her. "Are you waiting up for Misato and Airi?" he asked her. Rit-chan blinked a time or two.

"No, not really." She said. "Pretty pointless to worry about those two, you know?" She rose and stretched. "Guess I'll turn in as well." The two moved down the hall toward the bedroom. Sliding his door open, he spotted a form in his bed. A tuft of red hair told him who it was. Glancing at Rit-chan, he saw her eyes on him. He nodded once and entered his room.

In his room, he slipped off his clothes and got into bed with Asuka. "Took you long enough." Came her soft voice. Shinji felt her arms close around him, and found himself hugged to her. He also discovered that she was naked.

"Sorry, I had to take care of some things." He said simply. "How are…?" Her fingers pressed against his lips. After a few heartbeats, she slid her fingers off his lips and tucked her face against his throat. Shinji situated her in his arms and got comfortable, his dick stirring, but remaining mostly docile. Several minutes later, he realized that Asuka was asleep. "I won't let you down, A-chan." He promised her before slipping off to sleep.

Airi, Celsia and Rit-chan were walking in the woods near NERV, talking quietly with each other. The elf had been in high spirits lately, and the two were finally getting an idea of why. "So, you have the spell worked out?" asked Airi softly. The high elf nodded vigorously.

"Oh, yes!" she confirmed. "And since I'm using a new approach to proven spells, I guarantee it will work flawlessly." Seeing the twin looks from both her team mates, she sought to reassure them. "Look, it's nothing complicated like the Serat! I just got the idea to combine the smaller spells into a larger one that builds on itself so the Casting Circle will form automatically and in record time! Really, these spells are no more difficult that the ones I use daily!"

"Just don't fuck it up, ok?" replied Rit-chan. "That's all I ask, Celsia."

"Sure, sure! I got it! Now, all we need is an Angel." Said the elf, wondering if her companions would ever trust her spell work again. The two were silent about the Angel issue. Topic change time. Thought the elf. "So, what have you two been up to lately?" she asked them.

"Holding my friends together." Muttered Rit-chan.

"Learning the secrets of the Commander." Smiled Airi. Her smile was cold.