Part 9: Evenings in Utopia…Not!

"Airi!" called Ritsuko as the four teens entered the command bridge. She jogged to the actress and paused at her side. "So, was your day as fun as mine?" she enquired; her tone casual, yet filled with meaning for the Actress.

"Seems like it, Rit-chan. And yours?" replied Airi.

"The usual." She smiled back.

"That bad?" Airi asked, humor in her voice.

"I'll tell you about it some other time. Bump into any friends?" asked Ritsuko. Airi caught her meaning.

"If you can call him that. Junpei will be unleashed on these poor souls within the hour." Said the actress.

"Please god, don't tell me he's going to be staying with us. If he is, I'll go back to that cell." Said Ritsuko, her tone sincere, and yet Airi could hear the undertone of relief in it.

"Fear not, Rit-chan, we're safe for the moment. He managed to annoy Captain Katsuragi and got sent to the apartment of an acquaintance of hers." Assured the older woman.

"Better him than us, I suppose." She said. "Pity for him, though."

"Don't be so considerate; this person could be his brother." Snorted Airi. Ritsuko winced in sympathy.

Misato entered the bridge and smiled at Rei, Asuka and Shinji. "Well, let's get started. The sooner we're done, the sooner we eat." She said happily. "Rei, if you would head down to the lab, Akagi is waiting for you. Shinji and Asuka, head to the locker room and get into your plug suits. Maya has already set up the test battery and the simulation bodies are ready. Airi and Ritsuko will be with me and the crew in the box." Said the Captain. She smiled at the Children. "Let's do this."

Ritsuko and Airi stood next to Misato as she and the three-man bridge crew waited for the pilots to enter the entry plugs. When the two pilots entered their plugs, their video screens opened and the two elf hunters saw the two in their work clothes for the first time. "Interesting." Murmured Airi, noting the tight, sheer piloting suits. A glance at Ritsuko showed that the girl was checking out Shinji in great detail. She hid a smile.

"So, what's the test?" asked Asuka, her tone impatient. "Just the standard point reading?"

"Not exactly. We're going to simulate interference in the A10 and A12 neural pathways. You need to maintain a synch of at least 40% for thirty minutes to pass the test. We stay here until you two pass. Ready?" asked Misato.

"Of course. I'll be done in a half hour." Stated Asuka confidently.

"Shinji? You ready?" asked Misato. Her tone was carefully cheerful and upbeat. Airi, however, heard the concern under her front.

"I guess, Misato." He said. His tone was unenthusiastic, and his eyes looked troubled. Airi stepped closer to where Misato stood, arms folded, watching Shinji and Asuka's vital signs and video feeds. Asuka had a smile on her face - eyes closed - and were tapping her fingers on some sort of control interface. Shinji was staring at his feet, his body slumped forward slightly.

"Begin." Said Misato, and the two teenage pilots winced briefly as they settled into their seats. The three bridge bunnies began to read off meaningless figures to Misato, who stood frowning at the two sets of data. Maya confirmed that the synch rations had stabilized and the simulated interference was fully engaged. She reported that Asuka had crossed the 40% line, and Shinji was nearing it. On the screen labeled Unit 1, Shinji's frown increased.

"Pilot nerve impulses are beginning to destabilize." Called out Maya, "He's stalling out!"

"Where's he at?" asked Misato, an intensity in her voice the others hadn't heard.

"Thirty seven point seven percent, mental status showing synchronization becoming erratic." Said Maya.

"At 37.7%? He held Unit 1 at better than 40% his first time out, and that was against an Angel. Give me audio." Commanded Misato. Maya nodded. "Shinji, you OK? You're stalling out. What's wrong?"

"I'm getting a headache, that's all. I'll try harder." He muttered, his eyes squeezing shut. Misato motioned and Maya cut the audio to Unit 1's simulation body.

"Why is he getting a headache? This is supposed to be a simple interference exercise, not a combat drill. Give me Asuka's audio." Misato ordered. Over the speakers, the people in the Pribnow box could hear faint humming. "Asuka, are you getting a headache?" she asked the pilot of Unit 2.

"Why would I get a headache? There isn't enough synch for mental contamination to occur, and the interference is just an itchy sensation in my mind. Well, that and it feels like I have been hit with Novocain in parts of my body. Is Shinji complaining again? Wuss." Misato killed the audio connection.

"What's going on with Shinji?" she asked Maya, leaning over the woman's shoulder.

"It's hard to say. His nerve impulses are erratic and his waveform pattern keeps cycling from normal to abnormal. The synch is folding in on itself, then expanding, then collapsing. It's like he can't get his head together. Weird."

"Physical conditions? For both children." Was Misato's next order. Two new windows popped up. Ritsuko and Airi saw a multitude of readouts, many of them unknown to the two elf hunters. A few were recognizable.

"Asuka is steady in her biorhythm. Heart rate good, blood pressure good, EEK, EEG, EKG and electrical impulses, all normal. Hormone and chemistry balance are nominal. She's not secreting adrenalin or endorphins like she does in battle, but other than that, she's good." Reported Maya. She turned to Shinji. "Shinji's heart rate and blood pressure are both a little high, and his…he's got significant amounts of endorphins in his system, and his brain activity is unusually high."

"Audio to Unit 1, now." Barked Misato, her voice tense. Maya nodded. "Shinji, we're aborting the test. There seems to be a slight technical problem here. We'll go again as soon as we check on it. OK?" she asked, her tone much calmer than her face.

"I can do it, Misato. Besides, if you abort the test, Asuka will be mad. I just need to get my head together." Said the pilot, his eyes still closed.

"The error appears to in the linkup with your plug, not hers, so she won't be forced to start over. Relax until we check this out, OK, Shin-chan?" replied Misato.

"I guess." He replied, his tone indicating that he was busy elsewhere. Misato nodded to Maya, who hit a switch. The lines on Shinji's screen went flat.

"Test terminated for Unit 1." Confirmed Hyuga.

"Dump the current settings and reload from a clean set, recheck the data for values through the MAGI and manually confirm the upload status for Unit 1 simulation body. Maya, increase his oxygen ratio in his LCL, and see if his vitals return to nominal values. If not, give him a shot of ADC. And see if there is a hint as to what caused that. This isn't like Shinji at all." She pulled out her cell phone and punched in a preprogrammed number. Walking away from the group, she began to speak with someone on the other end.

Rei floated in her tank, eyes closed, her current memories and experience being encoded into her backup copies. The tank surrounding the tube was filled with her clones. She was concentrating on her promise to Shinji and her actions to fulfill that promise, making sure that the copy was clear and strong. Just in case. She told herself. As usual, Akagi and Commander Ikari watched her. Unknown to them, she could hear their conversation through the LCL that filled her chamber, which acted as a parabolic mike. The Commander was inquiring about the status of various projects, most of which she had no interest in, then he started to ask about the blonde woman. Rei paid closer attention.

Halfway through her report, her cell phone rang. Ritsuko Akagi pulled her phone from her lab coat pocket and answered the call. Rei listened to one half of the conversation with growing concern.

"No, that test shouldn't give Shinji a headache. Did you reload the test data from a backup and re-initiate the test? And? What about Asuka? Did you check to see if…no, that has no effect on this test. Well, I wouldn't be too worried. And your point is? You know why we need this data, Captain. And that is worse than him dying in combat how? No, I am not exaggerating. Fine. Call me if it happens when you re-initialize the test. No. I'm busy with other matters." Akagi terminated the call. Gendo stared at her impassively.

"Problems, Doctor?" he asked levelly.

"No, Shinji just seems to be having some trouble with the synch test. It seems that his neural linkage is off, causing…"

"Pilot Ikari will need to finish that test set before he leaves, Doctor. I am not interested in his problems, only in results." Gendo interrupted. He paused, then ordered her to continue her report on the blonde woman. Rei concentrated on the feel of Unit 1's core. She had not piloted the mech since Shinji arrived, but she was familiar with the feel of its soul. She concentrated on the feel of its core, and the image of Shinji. I need to help him, but this is all I can do for now. Thought Rei. If I can reach Unit 1, she can help calm his mind. And I will be done here soon. I will go to him when I finish here.

In the cage that held Unit 1, the dark eyes of the beast began to glow, and the support/restrain harnesses began to groan as it shifted slightly. A few techs monitoring the giant mech stared at it apprehensively. This Unit had moved without power and without a pilot before, and they didn't want to be near it if it did it again. But the eyes were dimming, and the monster was once more silent.

In the simulation body, sitting in his test plug, Shinji felt something familiar touch his mind. It was almost like a half-forgotten memory. It feels like…mother? He thought. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the feeling.

"Captain!" came Maya's excited call. Misato, standing in the corner of the room silently cursing her friend's indifference to Shinji's pain, whipped around and sprinted to Maya's station.

"What is it, Maya!?" she shouted.

"Look." Was all Maya could say. Misato looked at her Shinji's medical readouts. Everything had dropped to a baseline figure, and he was so relaxed that she was almost sure he was asleep. She checked his video feed and saw him comfortably leaned back in the chair, a faint smile on his face.

"Begin the test. Quickly." Said Misato, all business. Lieutenant Ibuki's fingers flew over the board and the graphs and charts came to life.

"Synchro graph at 47% and climbing. A10 and A12 neural links both showing simulated interference and synch still climbing. Fifty-four percent. Fifty-seven percent. Fifty-nine percent. Holding at 59% ratio. Incredible. No signs that he is even hampered by the interference. Shinji-kun is amazing." Said Maya.

Misato smiled. "Yes, he is. Begin the count. At thirty minutes, get my Shinji out of there." Ordered Misato, her body relaxing. Just then, the door to the box slid open and Rei stepped into the room. She went straight to the window overlooking the test plugs and pressed one hand against the glass. She was in her school uniform, but Misato noticed that her hair seemed wet and as she stepped to the First Child's side, she smelled the coppery smell of LCL. Before she could ask Rei about that, the girl spoke.

"Shinji is well?" she asked.

"Yeah. Shinji is ok now. He just had a little trouble getting started. You know how he is sometimes." Answered Misato. Rei had apparently tuned her out after she said Shinji was well. Her hand stayed on the heavy glass for the next half hour.

As Shinji and Asuka were getting out of the plugs, Rei looked at Misato and said "I think that you should not mention that Shinji got a higher synch score than Pilot Sohryu as she tends to react violently toward him."

"Why the concern, Rei?" teased Misato. Rei stared at her, her expression blank and her eyes cold. Misato found it hard to keep eye contact with her. Eventually she answered Misato's question.

"Because he was concerned for me." Misato blinked. She had never thought that Rei would care that Shinji watched out for her as best he could. She seemed too cold and hard. Rei, apparently believing that her answer had resolved the issue, turned to see Shinji and Asuka enter the room, still in their plug suits and with towels over their shoulders.

"Good job, both of you." Smiled Misato. "You both did very well, and in less time than I thought as well. We were thinking that you two would keep us here for most of the night."

"Well of course we're done early. All Baka had to do was follow my lead." Stated Asuka confidently. "I am the best pilot after all."

"Sure. Whatever. Anyway, why don't you two go get a shower, and we'll head home as soon as the reports are finished. Tomorrow is a big day, isn't it?" Misato shrugged off Asuka's boasts. She turned to Airi and Ritsuko. "Since the next part is boring as hell, why don't you two tag along with Asuka and Shinji. They'll take you to the right room when they're done, and it beats watching us shift numbers and type reports." She offered. Not to mention that the results are secret.

"Sounds good. Asuka and I need to talk anyway." Said Ritsuko, seeing Airi's look. The actress smiled and followed Asuka as she and Shinji headed for the locker room, Rei falling into step with Shinji. Behind the First and Third child, Airi walked along and began to construct her information into a useable format. In front of them, Asuka and Ritsuko were talking about the synch test and what it meant. Asuka was doing most of the talking, and every other line was about how good she was. Shinji and Rei said nothing, feeling comfortable in their silence. The group stopped in front of a door. Asuka and Shinji stepped into the room without comment. A sheet hung from a bar near the ceiling to about a foot from the floor, separating the room into two halves. Asuka and Shinji went to separate sides.

"This is the girl's side, Ritsuko." Said Asuka, stopping by a locker and opening it to reveal her school clothes and some toiletries. She grabbed a towel from a stack of them, glanced at the curtain to make sure that Shinji's silhouette was far enough away, then swiftly stripped off her suit, tossed it into a basket on the end of a bench and stepped into a shower room. "Do me a favor and make sure that Baka Shinji doesn't peek, will you Rit-chan?" asked the pilot. "Can you believe that before I got here, Shinji and Wondergirl shared a locker room without any divisions? Talk about heaven for that pervert." Ritsuko glanced at the sheet and saw Shinji step into the shower room at his end of the lockers. To her surprise, Airi immediately stepped around the sheet and over to the lockers. Rei watched her impassively. Ritsuko, confused by Airi's sudden interest in trespassing, stepped to the other side as well and saw that Airi was examining Shinji's locker. She didn't have much ground to cover. The locker was nearly empty. However, she seemed to have found what she sought, as she looked at a picture on the top shelf of his locker. Ritsuko looked over her shoulder and saw that it was a somewhat grainy picture of Rei. Airi replaced the picture, quickly rifled his locker, and stepped back around the curtain, Ritsuko following her.

"Did you find what you sought in Shinji's locker, miss Komiyama?" came Rei's cold, dead voice.

"Unfortunately, yes, I did, Rei." Answered Airi. She sounded sad about something. Ritsuko gave her a questioning look, but Airi just gave her a slight headshake and the girl knew to let it go for now.

"What did you need to talk to me about, Rit-chan?" asked the actress. Ritsuko snapped out of her introspection and looked to the other woman.

"You did some modeling work before you went into the movies, right, Airi?" asked the teen. Airi nodded. "Well, here's the deal. There are some boys at school making loads of money off selling pictures of the hot girls to the other boys, and since we can't stop them, I figured we should get modeling fees from them instead. I decided on 80% of the take, but I would like to hear any thoughts on how to enforce that modeling fee. I was thinking that we should first…" Rei tuned them out and waited for Shinji.

Airi had indeed had some ideas for the younger girl and the two had quickly worked the plan over until they were both satisfied. Ritsuko's piece of paper now had another set of notes and reminders on the backside of the sheet. The front was filled with her notes from class on Asuka's challenge. Asuka came out of the shower and saw that Ritsuko and Airi were waiting for her, the two still talking, but their voices had gone soft and their body language indicated that it was a private conversation. She made sure her towel was securely wrapped around her chest and covering her hips as she glanced over at the dividing sheet. She didn't see a trace of Shinji's form.

"Where's Baka and Wondergirl?" she asked Ritsuko, taking out her other clothes and beginning to get dressed.

"He and Rei went on ahead. It seems that Rei wanted to speak with him about something before Misato arrived. And we need to talk about this `plan' you keep saying you have. I have some concerns, and I want to see what you have planned before I address them." Said Ritsuko.

"Plans for what, Rit-chan?" asked Airi, intrigued.

"It's just a paintball game." Interjected Asuka, slipping the shoulder straps of her school jumper into place. "Nothing serious."

"Except for the stakes." Muttered Ritsuko.

"What are the stakes, Rit-chan?" pressed Airi.

"Winners get to have the losers do anything they want." Said Ritsuko.

"Anything?" asked Airi, her eyebrow rising.

"Yes, anything. Hentai." Smiled Ritsuko, knowing how Airi's mind worked. "You think like the boys do sometimes, you know that?"

"Who's going up against who?" continued the actress.

"It's pilots and friends against all comers." Announced Asuka happily. She heard a pair of snickers from the other two women at her unintentional pun.

"Let's hope it doesn't `cum' to that." Chortled Ritsuko, unable to keep the Junpei humor in. Airi was trying unsuccessfully to stifle her laughter with a hand over her mouth.

"You're right, Rit-chan, prolonged exposure to Junpei is bad for one's intelligence." She managed at last.

"Or at the least, one's sophistication." Seconded Ritsuko.

"What's so funny, you two?" asked Asuka, stepping into her shoes. The other teen just waved away the question.

"Inside joke. So let's get to the meeting so you can tell me about this plan of yours." She said.

Rei and Shinji sat in two chairs, side by side, waiting for the others to appear. Rei had been silent on the walk to the conference room from the lockers, which was normal for her, and Shinji had been busy contemplating the strange feeling he had gotten just before the test resumed. It felt like mother, but I can barely remember her. Why would I automatically associate that feeling with her? Wondered the pilot. His contemplation was interrupted by Rei's hand on his arm. "Yes, Rei?" he said, looking over at her.

"Are you unharmed, Shinji? The test seemed to be difficult for you." She stated.

"It was, at first. Then they reset the interface, and I felt something that felt like…mother. After that, it wasn't hard. Misato said it was just an equipment glitch. But I'm fine, Rei. Thanks for…you know, caring."

"I am simply responding in kind to the way you treat me." Answered Rei, though there was a faint bit of color on her cheeks. "I also want to know if you would care for some relief this evening. Unless Captain Katsuragi has already made provisions for your needs, I would like to assist you tonight." Rei's tone remained level, but Shinji could swear her heard a touch of excitement in her voice. Unbidden, the memory of her mouth on his dick jumped into his head, and he felt himself twitch in his pants.

"I'll see…if Misato has any…plans for me tonight, and let you know." He managed. Rei nodded once.

"Very well. I wish to know why you were angered by the comments the boys made about me. Why would their plans for me make you angry?"

Shinji blushed as he answered. "Because they shouldn't treat you that…way. It's not…right. You're not some sex toy, Rei." He managed. "And neither are the other girls." He added softly.

"Why not? Females are made to be sexually compatible with males." Stated the First. Shinji blushed more.

"It's not the…sex. It's the attitude they have toward you and the other girls." He said. Rei considered this for a long moment.

"So it is the motivation for their desire for sexual intercourse with us that angered you?" she questioned.

"Yeah, kind of." Muttered Shinji. Be honest, it was the thought of them having sex with those you consider to be yours that pissed you off, Shinji. Thought part of the male pilot's brain to the rest of his mind. You're not much different from them, you know. You want to fuck Rei's brains out; especially since she started to see to your `relief'. And Asuka and Misato are two of the hottest girls around. You know you love it when Misato is prancing around in a wet tank top, her nipples hard and her shorts showing off that ass of hers. Shinji's blush grew as mental images of Misato's normal house wear danced in his head. And you know Asuka wears some mighty skimpy panties since you do her wash. Come to think of it, you got hard seeing Ritsuko for the first time. And Hikari is a nice girl, if not so hot as Asuka or Rei. Shinji forcibly choked that voice down. Rei had been watching him as he had his mental fight.

"What would you consider to be a good reason for desiring sexual intercourse?" asked the blue haired one.

"Well, you need to care for them. It should be because you love them." He said quietly. Rei once more considered his answer.

"I see. Do you love me?" she asked.

"I…I…yes." He answered truthfully. He saw a fleeting, soft smile slide across her face, but she continued her train of thought and question.

"Do you love Captain Katsuragi?"

"Yes, but not in the same way."

"And Pilot Sohryu?" continued Rei, her eyes on his face.

Shinji just nodded.

"Class Representative Horaki?"

"I might." He answered, "I do like her." He wasn't sure if he loved her or just liked her.

"Ritsuko Inoue?"

"She seems nice." Shrugged Shinji. And she's hot. Came the voice from that small part of his brain again.

"Miss Komiyama?"

Shrug again. "I don't really know her very well." Rei paused, reviewing information and integrating new facts. Two more names appeared on her list of potential `loved ones' for Shinji.

"Lieutenant Ibuki?" She enquired. Shinji considered the question, seeing the shorthaired woman in his mind's eye.

"In a big sister way, I suppose." Still, she's no dog in the looks department.

"Doctor Akagi?" asked Rei, her tone cooler than before.

"I…don't think so. I mean, I respect her, and she seems OK, but I don't…love her." For some reason, he got the strange impression that Rei was relieved about that. "Why are you asking?"

"I wanted to know who your loved ones are." She said simply.

Why would she want to know that? What is she planning? Wondered Shinji, but his thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of the Second and her two guests. "What? Misato still isn't here? Oh well, it'll give me time to tell you all what you need to do in the game next weekend." Said the Second easily, plopping down next to Shinji. Ritsuko sat across the table from him and Airi joined her colleague. The older teen set her sheet of paper down on the table, and Rei glanced at it, seeing a set of linear notes and a cluster shaped logic group. Ritsuko noticed her attention and slid the paper over to the First Child, who looked it over before sliding it back to Ritsuko. Asuka began to explain her `plan'.

"It's simple, as all the best plans are. First, we need to cover both defense and offense. Since we get to choose the ground, I've selected the area that sits next to the park in Area 17, grid Echo. With the number of opponents unknown, we'll naturally have to set up a parallel challenge set, something similar to force-on-force and capture the flag. As you recall, the terms were `last team alive', which means that to win, we must eliminate all of the opposing forces and capture their flag. To that end, the defense team will be in static ambush positions to pick off any enemy that attempts to take our flag, and the offense team will sweep the grounds, neutralizing the enemy forces as we go. A simple sweep and clear with a protected flank." Stated Asuka. As she had been talking, Ritsuko had been marking off some of her notes, circling others, and adding a few short notes to various lines and clusters. "Any questions?" she asked the group, her tone self-satisfied.

"Could you repeat that, without the military terms?" asked Shinji.

"Baka! It's this simple: Ritsuko and Hikari guard our flag from concealment, while you, Wondergirl and I get to do a little search and destroy. Emphasis on destroy." Replied Asuka, obviously disdainful of his lack of understanding things military. "Understood?"

"Yeah, whatever." Acceded Shinji.

"Questions? Ritsuko?" she noticed her roommate was reviewing her notes with a look of concentration on her face.

"Not as such, but there are some issues I need to bring up." Said the older red head.

"Shoot." Responded Asuka, smiling.

"Oh, I intend to, but first, let's get this plan tuned up." Answered the older teen. "First set: battle field location. How did you spot this location? How big is it? Urban, natural, or other terrain? Have you scouted the location on foot? Are you familiar with the lines of sight, the fields of fire and possible cover locations? Are there tunnels or connected rooftops? Is the area of operations inhabited, and if so, by what people or factions? Will there be sensitive areas, hazardous areas or booby traps already in place? Is collateral damage acceptable?" she stopped reading her notes, and looked up at Asuka.

"Wow, you really are a military Otaku." Marveled the Pilot of Unit 2. "To answer your questions, I spotted the location from my Eva, it's about two city blocks overall, built-up urban but with trees and shrubbery interspersed throughout, scouting will be done later this week on foot with all our team present, lines of sight and fire will be tuned at that time, there are no tunnels or existing links between buildings, there are no inhabitants because the buildings were damaged in the third angel's attack," Ritsuko noticed Shinji's wince, "none of the areas are sensitive to damage, hazardous to humans or booby trapped, and any damage inflicted will not matter. Next?" she answered, noticing that Ritsuko had been checking off items on her sheet.

"Second set: weapons. How many types of paintball guns are commonly available? Propellant type and capacity? Are you and your other teammates checked out on the air guns? Are you and your team members checked out on marksmanship? What type of ammunition and capacity of selected ammunition? Protective gear? Access to appropriate camouflage for team members? Close quarters weapons?" Ritsuko finished and looked up, her pencil paused over her next group, waiting for Asuka's answers.

"I saw advertisements for two different paintball shops which indicates that most of the more popular types will be available, air and CO2 in both standard and back-pack type should be commonly available, we pilots are trained for gunnery and Hikari is a fast learner so that shouldn't be an issue, standard ammunition in both type and capacity, protective gear will be vests with face and throat protection, camouflage is not an issue since NERV has a tactical gear supply station for it's security forces and Misato can access it, close quarters will be hand to hand and rubber training knives." Answered Asuka. Ritsuko was busy marking her paper. Shinji spoke up while she was organizing the new data.

"Um, actually, I've never held a gun of any type, let alone fired one. I don't think that Hikari has either. Have you, Rei?"

"I am sniper qualified with service pistol, tactical rife, tactical shotgun, precision rifle, submachine gun and machinegun." Stated Rei. "I have also done familiarization fire with grenade launchers, rocket launchers and anti-armor weapon systems."

"For the love of god, WHY?!" cried Asuka. "Who the hell thinks you're Rambo?"

"Commander Ikari ordered it." Answered Rei simply.

"Let me guess, you can fly fighter jets and drive tanks too, right Wondergirl?" muttered Asuka.

"I have not tried to do so, Pilot Sohryu, but I have read the current military course books for flight and fire controls of the attack planes and heavy armor units. Also, I have read the current infantry tactics course material for the JSSDF infantry." Asuka was muttering to herself about dolls with military fetishes.

"Well, things are looking up." Said Ritsuko happily, giving Rei a wide, friendly smile. "I guess that you Pilots are heavily trained. But why hasn't Shinji had this training?" she wondered.

"Because Baka here is a `special case'. He just jumped into Unit 1 and got lucky." Growled Asuka. Shinji's eyes dropped to his lap at her tone.

"Not a problem. I'll have him and Hikari shooting endless strings of 10s in no time." Replied Ritsuko. She gave Shinji a smile warm enough to melt an iceberg. "You'll love it once you try it, Shinji. Trust me."

"I will help him as well." Stated Rei. Asuka muttered some more curses aimed at Shinji and his `doll'.

"Moving on to group three: personnel." Broke in Ritsuko. "There is really only one issue here, Asuka, and that is insuring that each member of our group is positioned for maximum use of his or her abilities. Once I can get us down to a firing range, I'll know more about who needs to be where. But I do wonder why you seem so hot to run offense with your two fellow pilots.

"Because Shinji and I are synchronized and Rei can synch to Shinji nearly instantly. That makes us a single person with three bodies."

"I prefer to remain behind with Class Representative Horaki to guard the base. Inoue can work with Shinji just as well in this regards as I can, and I am the best shot with the precision rifle."

"Says who, Wondergirl?!" snapped Asuka, glaring past Shinji at Rei. Rei ignored her as she answered.

"I looked up your scores. I am significantly better with long distance marksmanship than you, be it tactical or precision rifle."

"Let's not argue this until we get to a range. Rather Rei or I run with you and Shinji is not a major issue at this junction. Besides, personnel issues can be changed right up until the last instant. Final group: rules of engagement. There is also only one issue here, and that is do we plan to take any prisoners? This is relevant to using them as bait or for shielding an attack." Airi stared at Ritsuko with a mildly shocked expression on her face.

"You would use human shields, Rit-chan?"

"In a heart beat, although I confess that my first impulse is to gag `em and booby trap them so when their buddies come calling, I can get them with an area weapon, like a fragmentation grenade, claymore or concussion grenade."

"Cold isn't the right word to describe what you just said, Rit-chan." Observed Airi, still looking at her young comrade.

"When you're fighting superior numbers, you need to level the playing field, and that means playing for keeps. If you aren't there to win, don't be there at all." Replied Ritsuko.

"I wish baka here had that kind of killer instinct." Approved Asuka. Ritsuko turned to stare at Asuka for a long moment, then spoke, her eyes locked onto Asuka's.

"Don't mistake this for excitement about fighting in this challenge of yours, Asuka. You should have asked us before pulling that stunt. And you certainly should have - at the very least - warned us you were going to offer unrestricted terms for the winners." Asuka opened her mouth to speak, but Ritsuko held up a finger, silencing her. "But, you don't always get to choose what you do. No one asked me if I wanted to spent a year of my life hunting elves, and yet here I am, one year later and still no closer to home." Airi put her hand on Ritsuko's, giving it a gentle, reassuring squeeze. Ritsuko glanced at her and smiled a little. "Don't worry, Airi. I'm good; just a little tired of finding myself in fights I didn't get to pick." Once more, Asuka started to open her mouth, but Ritsuko shook her head. "Not yet, Asuka. In the final analysis, however, I happen to like challenges and I think that those boys could use a lesson. So, what the fuck? Let's kill `em all, and let the God I don't believe in sort them out."

The group was surprised at the sound of applause from the door. They turned to see Misato, Hyuga and Maya standing in the doorway. "Rit-chan, that was absolutely amazing." Said Misato, crossing to the table. "I got the highest marks in my military courses, and I have never heard a more concise or well-planned battle revision session in my life. Asuka's plan was sound, but vague on details. You cleaned and polished the plan, laid out clear objectives and still allowed for flex and improvisation. You are something else. I could use your skills, Rit-chan. Want to be the AOD around here? I'm sure I can get you a good salary and excellent benefits." Offered Misato.

She sounds serious. Thought Ritsuko. But I would never be able to risk the lives of those I love like you do. Thanks, but I'll pass. "Let's see if we win this battle first. If we don't, you may not want to associate with us, considering what the other side wants to do." Deflected Ritsuko.

"It'd just make our reputation the same as hers." whispered Asuka to Shinji. The male pilot suppressed a laugh.

"I heard that, Asuka." Said Misato, her tone menacing.

"Don't get bent out of shape, Misato, it's just the truth." Said the redheaded pilot calmly. "And we still love you in spite of your flaws." Misato growled.

They are annoying. Thought Rei. I have more pressing issues to attend to than this. "What are the test results, Captain Katsuragi?" asked Rei, her soft, low voice cutting through the verbal skirmish between her fellow pilot and her commanding officer.

"Oh. Yes. It's good. Both of you successful maintained a combat synch level in spite of interference on both primary channels. The data should help Ritsu improve the Eva series. As for the details, well, do you really care?" she asked the pilots.

"Not especially." Said Asuka and Shinji in perfect synch.

"Besides, everyone already knows the most important fact." Added Asuka confidently.

"And that is?" asked Maya.

"That I'm the best pilot here. Everything else isn't important. Right, Baka?"

"Sure. You're the best, Asuka. Can we go now?" he asked, his tone plaintative.

"Sure. Besides, I'm getting hungry. What's for supper?" asked Misato, smiling at Shinji's modesty.

"Well, we could have stir-fry and rice. I've got the ingredients, and it wouldn't take long to fix." Said Shinji.

"Or we can do pizza and breadsticks. Hikari told me that there is this Italian restaurant that makes killer pizza." Stated Asuka, her phone in hand, already dialing a number.

"Is pizza that good?" asked Rei of Shinji.

"You've never had it before?" he asked, surprised.

"No. I have not eaten pizza before." She stated.

"Then you've got to have some. It's incredible." Chimed in Ritsuko, crossing to the three pilot's side of the table as Airi approached Misato.

"Asuka, you heard, right? Make part of it veggie." Called Misato. Asuka rolled her eyes, and adjusted her order. She paused, putting her hand over the lower half of her phone and asking

"Two larges enough or should it be three?"

"Make it four, with one half veggie and half anchovies and sardines. Pen Pen loves pizza." Ordered Misato, "The other three make whatever you want."

"Your penguin eats pizza?" asked Airi, stunned.

"Yeah. He loves pizza with his beer." Said Misato, finishing her part of the report and handing it to Maya. The two bridge bunnies left, and Misato heard Asuka end her call.

"It'll be ready when we get there. Let's book." Said the red one.

"Captain Katsuragi, I do not think that we will all fit in your car." Observed Rei. "Might I suggest that Shinji, Inoue and myself ask Lieutenant Ibuki for a ride home, as her shift ends in five minutes? Her route home takes her very close to your apartment, and I am sure she would be happy to drop us off in exchange for a slice of pizza."

"True. Ritsu mentioned she loved pizza. And since we can't all fit in my car, sure, let's do it." Smiled Misato.

"Hey, why do I have to ride with Misato?" whined Asuka.

"Because you are the best, Pilot Sohryu." Stated Rei.

Maya was happy to drop them off for a slice or three of pizza and Rei had to agree that the pizza was excellent. She easily finished off her half of the veggie pizza, and Pen Pen polished off his fish special, along with two beers. Rei wondered how the penguin survived that much alcohol. Ritsuko had happily packed away half a pizza, and Asuka had finished the other half. Airi, Misato and Shinji had polished off the last two pizzas between them, Shinji having more than the two women. Misato had her normal six beers, and Airi had one, switching to soda after the first. Rei sat by Shinji and watched everything. After the food and drinks were done, and the group had shifted to the living room to watch TV and play games, Rei stood and excused herself, citing the need to return to her apartment to sleep.

"You're coming with us tomorrow to go shopping, right, Rei?" asked Ritsuko of the quiet girl.

"I had no plans for shopping tomorrow." Answered Rei. "I had planned to speak with Shinji about some matters pertaining to NERV and Unit 1." Shinji shot her a glance, but she kept her eyes on Ritsuko.

"Well, you can still come, right?" pressed the elf huntress. "You won't be talking all day, after all."

"Besides, Shinji isn't free tomorrow." Said Asuka.

"I'm not?" asked a surprised Shinji.

"Of course not, Baka! You're coming with us to carry our bags. You got a problem with that, Third?" she challenged.

"Guess not." He sighed. "I'll talk to you afterwards, unless you want to come with me?" he asked the pilot of Unit 0.

"Do you wish me to come with you, Shinji?" asked Rei.

"Well, yes." Said Shinji.

"Then I will accompany you and the others while you shop." Agreed Rei. "When and where should I meet you all?"

After agreeing on where to meet, she started for the door. Misato looked up from her beer and said

"Well? Get going, Shinji."

"Huh?" was his intelligent answer.

"A young, attractive lady does not walk home alone at night, especially in her neighborhood." Stated Misato.

"Isn't that what Section 2 is for?" asked Asuka.

"What's the matter, Asuka? Don't want your precious Shinji alone with such a cute girl? Afraid Rei'll steal him from you?" teased Misato, her smile languid and lascivious.

"Like I care what Baka Shinji does?" denied Asuka. "He can fuck the little doll for all I care."

"I hear the sounds of a jealous girl." Pressed Misato, twisting the knife. "Admit it, you want to ride his entry plug."

"Eew! You are a hentai freak, Misato!" yelled the red head, her face as red as her hair. "Ever think of laying off the booze, you tramp?! Besides, Kaji is the only one for me!" She stormed off to her room, Misato toasting her with her beer can, giggling like a drunken monkey. Shinji and Ritsuko had sweat drops on their heads.

"We'll be going now, Misato." Called Shinji, halfway out the door with Rei.

"Call if you're going to be all night." Yelled back Misato, laughing as she heard his footsteps rapidly departing. She took a slug of beer. "That was fun."

"You are truly diabolical, Misato." Said Airi, but she couldn't keep the smile off her face. Ritsuko was studying the Captain intently.

"Yes, Rit-chan?" asked Misato.

Rei and Shinji arrived at Rei's apartment perhaps a half hour after then left Misato's. Rei entered, her door still unlocked, and Shinji started to turn back. "Please come inside, Shinji." Invited Rei, putting her hand on his wrist and all but pulling him inside. Shinji was surprised at her strength. Once inside, she closed the door and headed for the bathroom, shedding clothes as she went. "I will return in a moment, Shinji. Wait for me here, please." She said, releasing his arm near her bed. She walked into the bathroom, tossing aside her bra as she entered, leaving her in just her panties. She left the door open as she slipped her panties down and stepped out of them, headed for the toilet. Shinji felt his cheeks heat up and turned away, surveying the room. It was the same as the last time he had been here and fallen on Rei. The memory of that made him start to harden. He tried to will it down. He was not successful, as he remembered her `relief' from the night before and that morning. He heard the toilet flush and the sink run for a moment. Then silence. He started to turn toward her when he felt her hands, still damp from the sink and a little cold from the water, slide around his waist.

"Wha…What are you doing, Rei?" he asked, feeling his dick spring totally erect as she pressed herself to his back.

"I believe it is called a hug." Stated Rei, her tone serious. "You are the only one I have ever hugged." Shinji remained frozen, but he could feel the strain in his pants as his member tried to break free. Rei eased her grip and moved around to face him. The blue haired pilot was still totally naked. She pressed herself to him, and he saw her smile when she felt his hard penis press against her belly. Taking his hand, she led him to her bed. She paused just in front of the bed and began to unfasten his belt, then his pants, which she pulled down, followed by his underwear. She paused to study his member in great detail, then straightened, pulling his shirt and undershirt up, struggling to get them over his head, but succeeding in removing them. With that done, she gently but firmly pressed him back onto her bed. After he had fallen back onto the bed, she finished removing his pants and underwear from around his ankle, then she slipped onto the bed with him. Her hand settled on his rock hard member and her head rested on his chest.

"Wha…what are you d…doing?" he asked, barely able to speak. She was silent for a moment, her fingers gently dancing over his member.

"I told you I wish to give you relief. Since the Captain asked you to escort me here, and hinted that you did not have to return if you chose not to, I presumed that she was not planning to give you relief. So I will."

There wasn't much that Shinji could say to that statement. Besides, he didn't really want to argue. For the first time in his life, he wanted to do something other than run. Rei spoke again.

"Shinji, I wish to try something else I have never done before, but before I do, I want to make sure that you have as much enjoyment as possible. Please do not hesitate to touch me as you wish. I do not mind. In fact, I enjoyed it when your penis stimulated my clitoris the other night. I want you to do as you wish. Please." She finished, feeling his shaking hands hesitantly close on her breasts. She leaned back so he could feel both of her breasts, her hand never leaving his member. Shinji leaned over onto his side and studied the pale girl beside him, resting calmly on her back, her whole body naked. He marveled at the feel of her breasts, so soft yet firm, her nipples hard and erect. He stroked them with his fingertip, and then remembered something he had seen in a porno movie that Touji and Kensuke had made him watch. Leaning over, he took one of her nipples in his mouth and began to carefully suck it. Rei moaned, her hand not stroking him coming over to hold his head against her breast. Shinji spent the next several minutes going back and forth from nipple to nipple. Rei felt herself grow wet between her legs.

Remembering something else he had seen, he gently removed her hand from his dick and slid down to her hips, carefully spreading her legs and pausing to study her sex. It had a sparse patch of blue hair above it and the lips glistened wetly. Taking a breath, Shinji carefully touched her, his fingers gently spreading her lips to reveal her inner lips. He slowly pressed his head forward, his tongue touching her wet organ. This tastes pretty good. Thought Shinji, running his tongue in small circles, tasting Rei, who had started to moan again. His tongue felt a nub of flesh harden as he ran over it, and he remembered her saying that she liked it when her clit was stimulated. So he began to carefully lick the nub. After only a few minutes, Rei grabbed his head, holding his tongue to her and her whole body shook. Shinji felt moisture on his face and realized that Rei had just come. After a few moments, Rei released his head and lay there panting.

"I wish to pleasure you, Shinji." She managed at last, "Would you like me to use my mouth, my hand or would you like to have sexual intercourse with me?"

"S…Sex?" gasped Shinji. Rei felt herself smile.

"As you wish." She said, pulling him up from between her legs, ignoring his attempts at speech. She situated herself so she was directly under him and paused when she felt his hard member touch her wet lower lips. She looked up at his excited, scared face. The instructor said that the first few times hurt, due to the tearing of the hymen and the stretching of muscles. I will not mind, for Shinji. She leaned her head up and pressed her lips to his in a kiss, her hands snaking down, one taking a gentle hold on his member, positioning it to enter her, and the other delicately spreading herself to ease his entry. She gently pulled forward on his penis, indicating that he should begin to thrust into her. Shinji got the idea, his thinking mind knocked unconscious by the wet, warm slickness touching the head of his penis. He wanted more of that sensation, and began to push forward.

Rei sucked in a breath as she felt him press into her. She felt herself stretching to accommodate his member, and it soon began to hurt as he drove deeper and deeper, but not as much as she had thought it would. When the head of member popped in she felt a jolt of pleasure race up her spine. Shinji felt like he was in heaven. He pressed deeper into her, the head of his shaft working deeper and deeper into her sheath, until he had fully entered her. This is less painful than I had thought it would be. And the look on Shinji's face is worth it. Thought Rei, as Shinji began to pump into her tight passage. Rei felt herself getting wetter and wetter as her body reacted to his actions. Mmm. This is feeling better with each stroke. I will enjoy sexual intercourse with Shinji very much. Determined the girl. Shinji was out of his mind with the sensations he was feeling from Rei's body. He couldn't have spoken or thought to save his life just then. His conscious mind was totally out of order; all that mattered was the rapidly growing excitement where their bodies joined. Instinctively, he thrust faster and faster, his animal mind knowing exactly what it wanted.

For her part, Rei had locked her legs around his hips and was hugging herself to him as she felt a massive wave of euphoria building in her groin and spreading like lightening through her abdomen and spine. She was moaning and gasping for breath, the wave cresting and hanging just out of reach. Rei desired that wave of release, so she clamped her legs tight, locking Shinji deep inside her, the wave crashing over her, her conscious mind also going out to lunch as a massive orgasm roared through her. She was vaguely aware of her lover's penis spasming and wave after wave of semen flooding her tight passage. Shinji's orgasm was intense enough to make him fall asleep as soon as it had faded, his body resting on top of Rei's, who was still riding the aftershock of her own orgasm. Incredible. The pleasure overrode the pain at the end. I wonder why the instructor never discussed this feeling? Is this what the girls call an orgasm? I must find out. Thought Rei, panting from both the orgasm and from Shinji's weight on her chest. Examining his face, she saw a peaceful smile on it, one of the few times he had smiled. I believe that Shinji liked this form of relief more than oral or manual relief. Still, I will offer him his choice from now on. She closed her eyes, leaving them joined and began planning what she would need to continue her research into sex. Five minutes later, she was asleep, her legs still locked around Shinji's waist and her arms locked around his chest. His face was pressed gently against her neck. Rei had not slept so deeply in her life.

Shinji's eyes opened, and he looked around. Where am I? And why am I so hot? He wondered. He felt soft, smooth flesh under him and looked down to see a mop of blue hair and a pale skinned face, wearing a small but visible smile. Rei!! Wha…? Thought Shinji. Then it all came back to him. He blushed as he remembered his first time. Why am I awake, though? Wondered one part of his mind. Aren't I supposed to sleep after sex? He wondered, remembering the locker room talk and the health class gossip. Then he realized that his penis was semi-erect, but not with lust, this time. Shit! I have to pee, bad! He began to carefully disentangle himself from his blue haired lover. Rei made some soft sounds, but did not awaken. Shinji carefully made his way to the bathroom, where he took care of business, as well as cleaned himself off. Looking at his watch, he saw that he had been asleep for a little better than an hour. Better get back home, or there will be trouble. Thought the pilot. He was torn between going back to avoid trouble with Asuka and perhaps Misato as well, and staying with Rei, whom he had just had sex with. Eventually, he decided that safer was better, so he took a sheet of paper from Rei's school bag, wrote her a note, dressed himself, then carefully tucked her into her bed and put the note under her head, where she would see it. He pauses, seeing the way that the moonlight caressed her pale skin and the faint glow it gave her blue hair, and couldn't help but lean down to kiss her once more. Then, he carefully and quietly slipped out the door. She really needs a lock on this thing. He thought as he headed for home, his mood damned near jovial.

"Where is he?" fretted Misato, sitting on the couch with Airi. Ritsuko had gone to bed about a half hour ago and the two older women had been talking idly while waiting for Shinji. "I hope nothing happened to them."

"Maybe he thought you were serious about staying at Rei's place?" suggested Airi.

"I told him to call if he was staying at her place overnight." Pointed out Misato. "And Shinji would have called. Besides, he's too shy to stay at a girl's place. Especially Rei." Laughed Misato.

"Strange, I got the impression that you hoped he would stay there overnight." Countered Airi. Misato took a sip of her beer.

"In part. I know he wouldn't do anything with Rei, but maybe if he spent some time with her without Asuka around to belittle him, he might be more relaxed and happy. Rei is cold and odd at times, but she seems to genuinely care for him, and he piloted to save her, so I'm sure he at least cares for her; maybe even loves her." Noted Misato.

"What would you do if he and Rei happened to get…close to each other?" wondered Airi. Misato gave a cynical bark of laughter.

"Give her a medal. He needs something to break him out of this depression and low self-esteem. Fooling around with a girl would be a sign he was on the road to being normal. Hell, I bet if he tried some heavy petting, he'd be a happier boy. I just can't see that with Rei though. Asuka either, I hate to say. Rei's too distant and Asuka's too violent. But I am sure that nothing would boost his confidence like a little attention from a pretty girl."

"Does it have to be a fellow pilot?" wondered Airi. "That Hikari girl seemed to be a happy medium between Rei and Asuka."

"She likes his best friend. Besides, if he dates a fellow pilot, then there is no security risk." Responded Misato.

"But what about an operational risk?" asked Airi. "If you have two pilots who love each other, then in battle, they might…"

"I happen to think that with Shinji, it would make him much more effective. He fights best when protecting someone he loves." Countered Misato. "Besides…" she started, only to stop as the door opened and Shinji entered.

"What took you so long? Hmm? Did you and Rei go at it like weasels?" teased Misato, looking at the boy, whose smile had faded to be replaced by a blush that spread down his neck.

"Wha…What makes you think that?" he managed.

"Oh! So you did! Tell me, did you make sure she got to orgasm? Remember, it's important to make your girl happy!" chirped Misato, her tone one of smug amusement.

"Um. Yeah, sure. Whatever you say, Misato." He muttered. "What a letch." He added sotto voice.

"What was that, Shinji-stud? Will Rei even be able to walk tomorrow?"

"Misato!" he cried, headed for his room at full speed. Her laugh followed him.