DISCLAIMER : Neon Genesis Evangelion does not belong to me. The
characters, universe, story, etc. belong to GAINAX and whomever they
may have sold the rights to.

Warning: Well, if you've read the first 2 parts, you should know what
to expect: spoilers, swearing, violence, shamelessly altered scenes,
and some WAFF. There is also a fair degree of lime in this one.

Foreword : Well, here's the third and final installment of "An
Unwilling Angel". This would have been on the end of Part 2, but since
Part 2 turned out to be so friggin' long, I figured I should break it
up. This part is in fact even longer, but I tried to keep it
interesting.

A fair chunk of this takes place during the movie "End of Evangelion",
so I hope you have a passing understanding of what happens in that
movie. I say "passing" because I'm going to be tweaking that movie's
events. Did anyone ELSE think those type 5 Evas were pansies?

" " denotes speech
^ ^ denotes thought
_ _ denotes emphasis (italics)

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

An Unwilling Angel
Author : Ryan Xavier
Part 3 : No Longer Alone

Two techs stood in front of the bay for Evangelion Unit-03. They
stared at the biomechanoid, which had only just recently been dragged
back into the bay. Unit-03 looked as though it had been run under an
Eva-sized steamroller. Its form was mangled almost beyond recognition,
and its right arm had been severed entirely. The amputated appendage
was floating in the shock-resistant fluid the mecha was stored in.

"You know," one tech said to the other, "I really hate to say this, but
it looks better than it did when we first got it."

The other man nodded wordlessly. He'd seen Unit-03 when it had first
been moved up here. It had definitely been in worse shape than it was
now.

Up in his office, Gendo Ikari watched the techs get back to work,
restoring the massive Eva to combat readiness. He sat in his classic
position, with his elbows on his desk and his hands crossed in front of
his face. This time, however, his jaw was clenched in frustration.

He'd just read a report from the team that cleaned out Rei's apartment.
Among other things, they'd found the glasses the girl had picked up
after that first test with Unit-00. Those glasses, which had meant so
much to Rei, had been broken, by her own hand.

Gendo kicked himself for allowing Akagi to put a new soul into Rei III.
Although the soul had been almost the same, it hadn't been the Rei he'd
been raising for years to trust him. With that in mind, he was not
very surprised that Rei III had turned on him like that. But that she
would be so obsessed with starting Third Impact that she would take
Adam for herself, leaving him in the dust...

That wasn't supposed to happen! Third Impact was supposed to reunite
him with Yui!

Gendo sighed, something he did very rarely. Yui. The name was one of
the few things that could evoke emotion in him anymore. He missed her.
So much so, that when he thought about it too hard it would hurt
inside.

But he had no time for sentimentality. He reached over and picked up
another one of the reports on his desk. He'd read it already, but he
still had to get the details down.

Not all was lost, it seemed. After the battle, he'd sent Akagi down to
see what could be recovered. After dragging Rei III's tortured form
out of Heaven's Gate, the coroner had removed an egg-like form that had
been sitting inside of her abdomen. Gendo knew that it was Adam that
had been removed.

Adam was truly amazing. The first Angel had been bonded to Rei III,
but upon her death, it had been able to separate itself from the girl,
waiting calmly within her to be discovered.

He glanced at a few other reports. Even more surprising than the
discovery of Adam was the fact that Rei II was still alive. Somehow,
she had surived the removal of her own core. And somehow, she'd made
it to Central Dogma in time to...motivate the Second Child into
fighting.

He reshuffled the papers on his desk. He'd try to keep an eye on Rei
II, but there were many other things to do, as well. Instrumentality
was coming, and he needed to be prepared for when it was time.

***

"So Nagisa-kun will recover?" Rei asked, quietly, from her position
seated in the chair of the hospital waiting room.

"Yeah," Shinji replied, the guilt seeping into his voice. "I didn't
mean to hit him _that_ hard." He shifted in his seat and looked at the
ceiling.

"Yes you did," Rei replied, looking over at him and trying to meet his
eyes. "If you hadn't meant to, you wouldn't have hit him that hard."

"Yeah. Maybe." Shinji quite obviously wasn't sure. "But now, he's in
here getting scanned for skull fractures."

"He will be fine," Rei said, confidently. "Remember how quickly he
heals."

"Yeah..." Shinji replied, slipping into full 'depressed' mode.

Rei's brow furrowed and she moved over to sit next to him. "What's
wrong?" she asked, softly.

"It's just...he betrayed my trust, Rei. Just like my father did. I
don't know what to think about him, now."

Rei took a breath and then leaned against him. "He is still your
friend, right?"

Shinji hesitated before responding. "Yes," he said. "Yes, he is,
through it all. He might be an Angel, but...that doesn't make him a
different person."

"I'm glad you feel that way, Shinji-kun," said a voice that was _not_
Rei's.

Both teens turned quickly to see the new arrival, who had walked in
while they'd been talking. "Kaoru-kun!" Shinji exclaimed, standing up
quickly. Rei, who had still been leaning on him, would have fallen
over, had she not gotten up at the same time.

"Are you all right, Kaoru-kun?" Shinji asked.

Kaoru nodded, still smiling that happy smile of his. "You needn't
worry about me."

Shinji looked quite relieved. Kaoru, meanwhile, looked over to Rei.
Two sets of red eyes met, a silent exchange going between them. Rei
resisted the urge to draw back at the intensity she saw in his eyes.
That smile could be so deceiving...

"Kaoru-kun...I'm sor - " Shinji tried to say.

"Please do not apologize, Shinji-kun," Kaoru cut in, holding up one
hand. "If anyone needs to apologize, it is me."

Shinji smiled. "It's okay," he said, slowly. An uneasy silence fell,
during which none of the three Children knew what to do or say.

"Well...let's go back to Misato-san's," Shinji finally suggested.
"She's getting all the pilots together to celebrate, tonight."

"Because the Seventeenth Angel is finally destroyed?" Kaoru asked,
cocking an eyebrow.

"Yeah, I...uh, no offense, Kaoru-kun. But would you like to come?"

"Of course I would, Shinji-kun. But...may I speak with Ayanami for a
few minutes?"

Shinji paused, then looked at Rei. Rei, for her part, looked at Kaoru,
studying him for a moment. Finally, she nodded. "It's all right,
Shinji," she replied.

Shinji looked between them, then shrugged and turned towards the door.
"I'll be waiting outside," he said. The other two both acknowledged
this, then went silent, waiting for him to leave.

Silence reigned for several moments after the door had closed. Kaoru,
still smiling, walked over to a chair and sat down. Rei remained
standing.

"When I said that I should be the one to apologize, I was speaking to
both of you," Kaoru said. "Ayanami, I'm sorry for what I did to you.
I can sense what you two feel for each other. I would only be hurting
Shinji-kun if I tried to take you away from him."

Rei blinked at this, then nodded slowly.

"But..." Kaoru said, meeting her eyes again, "I also have to tell you
that I have the advantage. Shinji-kun knows the truth about me. What
does he know about _you_?"

Rei stayed silent. She couldn't help remembering what Akagi had shown
her the other day. It was still enough to make her cringe.

"He knows that there were two of you, and that the one he killed was an
Angel. But there's more, isn't there? Perhaps even _you_ don't know
how much more. But I'll tell you this. I learned the hard way that a
relationship is based on trust. If you try to keep a secret from him,
it will only hurt both of you in the end."

"But..." Rei tried to say. "But...I'm afraid he might...hate me."

"Which would you rather have?" Kaoru asked, keeping his voice calm.
"When you have a secret, you always feel guilty. Every time he looks
at you, talks to you, touches you, you think, 'I'm not worthy of this
kind of trust.' Would you rather live like that, hoping that he
doesn't find out, or would you rather know _exactly_ how he feels?"

Rei remained passive, thinking it over. She didn't know which she
preferred. Either choice had its drawbacks.

"You don't _know_ that he'll hate you," Kaoru said, getting up. "At
least, not now. But try to keep a secret from him, and I guarantee you
he will hate you when he finds out. If not for the secret itself, then
for keeping it from him." He paused. "I'll see you at the apartment,
Ayanami." With that, he turned and left.

Rei swallowed, thinking. After a moment, she stood up, and, looking
kind of dazed, headed for the door.

***

Later that day, the Children were all gathered at Misato's apartment,
taking a well-deserved break, now that it was finally over with.

Shinji and Rei were sitting on the couch together, watching one of
Misato's tapes. Asuka and Kaoru were doing their best to make an
edible dinner, while Misato stayed back and made sure everything stayed
calm.

The Major kept looking back and forth between the two pairs. Shinji
and Rei were actually behaving themselves very nicely. Even as she
watched, Shinji put his arm around Rei, and the girl leaned her head on
his shoulder. ^Looks like all it took was a little outside action,^
Misato thought, grinning.

Asuka and Kaoru were a different story altogether. Kaoru had obviously
never even been in a kitchen before, but he was still trying his best.
Asuka was no master chef herself, and she wasn't concentrating fully on
making dinner, either.

"You better stay out of _my_ Unit-02, rookie," the German girl was
saying.

"Of course," Kaoru replied, calmly. "I've been assigned to Unit-03,
now, that it is functional again. And isn't that oven turned up too
high, Sohryuu?"

"I don't know. Stop acting all perfect and stuff! Geez, you're worse
than Wondergirl!"

"I am just being who I am."

Asuka muttered something untelligible to herself in German, but went
back to working.

"So...what are the sleeping arrangements, currently?" Kaoru asked,
after a few moments of silence.

"Why do you care, you hentai?"

"I'm just making conversation."

Asuka looked at him suspiciously, but replied anyway. "I've got my old
room back, and Wondergirl and Shinji stay in his room."

"It must be noisy at night."

"What?! No, they don't do that. I know, I check on them all the time
just to make sure."

"Yes, I suppose Shinji-kun would wait before getting physical."

"Aaarrgh. You're just as bad as that jerk Suzuhara."

"Who?"

"The Fourth Child," Asuka said, as she checked on the pork she was
trying to cook. "I'm sure ol' Wondergirl will want a nice _big_
helping of this," she said to herself. She stood back up.

"That baka was always trying to show he was the manliest man there
was," Asuka said, strutting around in a parody of Touji. "We'd only
just met, and he dropped his _pants_ right in front of me!"

Kaoru looked at her skeptically. "What did you do?"

"I slapped him, of course!"

"No, no. What did you do that made him flash you in the first place?"

"Nothing! I hadn't had _time_ to do anything, 'cause we'd only just
met!"

"Your cheeks are red, Sohryuu."

"Shut up!"

Misato groaned and walked into the living room, in an effort to get
away from the noise. She could see dinner was going to
be...interesting, but it would be no worse than if _she'd_ tried to
make it. And she doubted she could pull Shinji away from where he was,
either.

"Aren't _you_ two cute," she said, plopping down in one of the chairs.
Rei glanced over at her, then immediately went back to watching the
movie. Shinji just smiled.

After some considerable time, Asuka and Kaoru came back from the
kitchen. They deposited the edibles on the floor, then took up seats
of their own.

"What became of the Fourth Child?" Kaoru asked. He didn't touch any of
the food. He also didn't notice Shinji shudder at the name.

Asuka _did_ notice, however. She glanced over at the pair on the
couch, then leaned down and whispered into Kaoru's ear. The boy nodded
as Asuka recounted Touji's short-lived time as an Eva pilot.

"I see," he said, sitting up straight again. "Shinji-kun must've been
hurt, learning his friend was keeping a secret like that from him." He
kept his eyes on Rei as he said this. Sure enough, the girl stiffened
as he finished.

Rei stood up suddenly, pulling away from Shinji, who looked up at her.

"What's wrong?" the boy asked.

"I...need to call someone," Rei said. She walked towards the kitchen,
but not before throwing Kaoru a look that could have melted steel.
Kaoru just smiled innocently.

Rei went into Misato's room, where she'd have some privacy. She picked
up the phone and dialed a number. After a few rings, someone picked
up.

"Hello, Dr. Akagi? Yes. Is it...possible for you to bring Shinji-kun
down to show him what you showed me?...Yes, I'm sure...very well."

She hung up, and then rested her head against the wall, swallowing as
she looked at her feet.

"Scared, Ayanami?" came a familar voice. Rei tried not to scowl, and
was only partially successful. She looked up, at Kaoru, who was
standing in the entrance to the bedroom.

"People know I had a twin," Rei said to him. "But if they knew
everything, some people...might hate me outright." From the tone of
her voice, it was obvious she was afraid 'some people' could include
Shinji.

"Yet you'll show him, anyway."

"...yes. You were right, Nagisa-kun. It's worse keeping a secret than
revealing it, no matter what the secret is."

"Isn't it, though? When will he see?"

"It's not your business, but tomorrow."

"Well, then. I guess I'll go back to the others. And what will you be
up to? Will you try to make the most of the last night your Shinji is
in ignorance?"

Rei closed her eyes. "Why are you doing this, Nagisa-kun?" she asked.
"I never harmed you."

"I suppose so," Kaoru said, turning and leaning his back against the
doorframe. "But you were able to cross over, Ayanami. You are human
now, while I will never be anything but an Angel. And...I can see
where Shinji-kun's true feelings lie."

Rei didn't respond to this. ^He's...jealous?^

Kaoru apparently didn't expect an answer. "Well, then, good luck on
tomorrow," he said, turning around and walking back to the living room.

Rei paused, making sure she was mentally collected before following him
back. She sat down next to Shinji again and let him put his arm around
her, as she resumed her former position. ^I _will_ make the most of
this last night,^ she thought. ^And tomorrow...we'll see.^

***

The afternoon of the next day, Misato and Shinji got dressed and
prepared to leave for NERV. Ritsuko had called them that morning,
telling them that Rei had asked that they see something. She'd also
arranged to have Asuka put through a harmonics test, so that the girl
would be out of the way for a while.

"Coming, Rei?" Misato asked, walking up to the doorway to Shinji's
room. She looked at the blue-haired girl, who was sitting placidly on
Shinji's bed.

Rei shook her head, without making eye contact. "I've been down there
already. I don't want to see them again."

"Them?" Shinji asked, from his position next to Misato.

"You'll understand soon," Rei replied.

Misato could tell something was up, but she didn't know what. She did
her best to look encouraging. "We'll be back in an hour or two," she
said, turning to go.

Rei nodded in response. "I just..."

"Yes?" Misato asked, turning back around.

"I just...want you to know the truth. That's all."

Misato thought about that, then nodded. "All right," she said. "Come
on, Shinji."

Shinji didn't follow immediately. With a worried look on his face, he
walked up to Rei. He took her hand in his, and tried to meet her eyes.
But she looked away.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"You'll find out," Rei answered. "And you'd better get going."

Unable to understand Rei's cold manner, Shinji turned and walked out.
"It'll be all right," he said, once he was at the doorway. Rei didn't
say anything back, so he just shrugged and followed Misato out.

"I can only _hope_ it will be all right," Rei whispered to herself.
She leaned against the wall and stared at the ceiling. There was no
turning back, now.

"So you actually did it?" came a voice from the dark hallway. "I'm
impressed, Ayanami. You had me worried."

The speaker, Kaoru, stepped into the light. Rei glanced at him, but
then went back to staring the ceiling. She wasn't at all bothered by
his sudden appearance; that particular ability of his was the main
reason why she'd been able to get to NERV in time to talk to Asuka.

"Not much to say, eh? Do you mind if I join you, Ayanami?" he asked,
sitting down at the foot of the opposite wall.

"You may as well call me Rei," Rei said, not looking at him. "You are
Shinji's friend, so we should at least be on familiar terms."

Kaoru smiled in response. "Then you can call me Kaoru," he said.
"What are you thinking about, Rei-chan?" he asked, looking at the
ceiling with her.

Rei's eyes narrowed slightly at the "-chan", but she otherwise betrayed
no reaction. ^I need to get used to him,^ she thought. ^Shinji would
want me to.^

"I'm just wondering what Shinji's doing," she said. "And if he'll be
able to handle what he sees."

"Hm," Kaoru said, turning his gaze to look out the window.

For a long while, they stayed like that, neither of them saying
anything. Kaoru kept looking out the window, while Rei finally got up
and started paging through a book she'd read twice already.

"I suppose...Shinji will be reaching the room, now," Rei said, finally.

"Which room, Rei-chan?"

"The one I'm most afraid of him seeing."

Kaoru smiled again, and went back to waiting. But his curiosity had
been piqued by that statement; he wondered what Shinji was seeing.

It registered at the edge of Rei's consciousness that Kaoru had gone,
just as suddenly as he'd come. But that wasn't particularly important
to her, right now. She wondered what Shinji was thinking.

***

Shinji was wondering if he was still sane.

He had already seen quite a lot. He'd seen an Eva graveyard, been told
quite a bit about the actual nature of what Eva was, and he'd learned
that Rei had been born down here. The most disturbing bit by far had
been learning that his mother had been absorbed into Unit-01. He
hadn't really been surprised; he'd guessed as much, after his
experience with the Fourteenth Angel. But it was still quite
unsettling to know for a fact what had happened. And to know that his
mother might in fact be staying in it by _choice_.

But all that had not prepared him for this.

"Jesus..." Misato mumbled, looking around. She'd had her gun out, just
in case something went wrong. But she was so shocked that now her gun
arm just hung limply at her side. Shinji, for his part, said nothing
at all. He just looked around, dumbstruck.

They were in a huge room, dominated by a tangle of metal tubes in the
middle. Ritsuko had identified it as the computer responsible for the
Dummy Plug system. But that was not what held their attention. It was
the walls.

The walls, previously black, had proven to be clear glass, once Ritsuko
had hit a button on the remote control she was carrying. And behind
that glass, floating in a sea of LCL, were...Reis. At least a hundred
of them. Physically, they were identical to the Rei that was standing
guard at the entrace to the elevator. But...something was missing, in
their eyes. Yet they were all laughing, and smiling the same eerie
smile.

"These are the failures," Ritsuko said. "Candidates for the Eighteenth
Angel."

"Eighteenth?" Misato asked.

"Yes. Humankind is the Eighteenth Angel. Rei was built for two
purposes. One, to act as a catalyst for bringing Adam and Lillith
together and starting Third Impact. Two, to gather the souls of humans
once Third Impact is in progress, joining them together." She glanced
at the other two, to see what their response was. Both of the other
faces were unreadable.

"But we couldn't make Rei on the first try," Ritsuko continued. She
gestured broadly at the tank surrounding them. "Every one of these is
a little different, a slightly altered mix of human and Angel DNA."
Ritsuko paused, taking a breath and choosing her next words. "And not
a one of them has a soul," she continued. "Currently, they're just
dolls. We use them in the Dummy plugs, and as spare parts for Rei."

"You mean replacements," Shinji said, anger creeping into his voice.

"If that's what you want to call it, then fine. These were all
discarded while following that...that damn _scenario_ of his," she
said. No one had any doubt who the "he" was that Ritsuko was talking
about.

"Ritsu..." Misato said. "You said they don't have souls. Where are you
getting souls for them?"

"Rei was only supposed to have one soul, which would just switch bodies
when necessary," Ritsuko replied. "As for where we got her soul in the
first place, we built it," she added, offhandedly. "We do the same
thing for most of the Evas. Artificial souls aren't that difficult to
make, once you get the hang of it."

Shinji's eyes widened at the thought of _creating_ souls. That sounded
like something Man had never been meant to do.

"Why...why were these rejected?" Misato asked.

"Well, some of them, like that one," Ritsuko began, pointing to one of
the Reis, "couldn't survive for more than five minutes out of the tank.
But those," she said, gesturing to another group, "were actually
viable. But none of them were accepted."

"Why?" Misato asked, quietly. Her gun hung uselessly by her side.

"Because only the three Reis we've released could contain an S2
engine."

"An S...2..." Shinji mumbled. He continued looking around, thinking
that one over.

"Yes, the S2 organ all the Angels have," Ritsuko said. "We made a
hundred Reis, and only three, _three_ could bear to have an S2 inside
them. What a waste..."

"You're telling me," Misato said.

Ritsuko snickered a little. The snickering quickly turned into a
continuous set of small laughs. Misato's grip tensed on her gun,
raising it back up. "Get a grip, Ritsu," she said.

"It's okay," Ritsuko said, still giggling like a little girl.
"But...you know what the funny thing is?"

"What?" Shinji and Misato asked at once.

"It's that _nothing_ can contain an S2. From the tests I did on that
last Rei, I could tell. An S2 lets you manipulate an AT field to an
amazing extent. But it also slowly weakens the projection of the
field. Not a very smart thing, considering that's what holds you
together."

"Huh?" Misato asked.

"It means..." - Ritsuko stopped to giggle a little more - "That for all
our hard work, we can't stop _this_ from happening." At this, she
pushed another button on her remote control.

The other three all looked around as they heard machinery powering up.
Inside the huge LCL tank was a truly sickening sight. The Reis...were
falling apart. Breaking up, like china. And all the time, they
continued to laugh. The yellow-orange LCL was quickly stained red with
the blood. The blood of a hundred children, who had never known what
it meant to have a soul, or even to live.

"Do you know what you're doing?" Misato asked, aiming her gun at
Ritsuko's head.

Ritsuko had managed to get control over herself and stop laughing.
"Yes, I do," she said, in an even tone. "I'm taking away his toys.
His dolls, that he _needs_ so much, just to see his Yui again. Look at
them," she said, gesturing to the tank of gore. "Now they're just
broken dolls."

Misato and Shinji turned as they heard someone let out a thoughtful
"Hm".

"Kaoru-kun?" Shinji asked, seeing the pale boy standing by the wall.
"How long have you been there?"

"Long enough," he said, keeping his hands in his pockets. His usual
carefree manner was nowhere to be seen. He looked to Akagi. "I can
hear their screams in my mind," he said. "They might not have souls,
but they're still aware. They want you to die, too, Akagi-san. You,
me, and especially the Rei who's waiting back at the apartment."

Ritsuko laughed again. "I've known that for a while," she said.

"Ritsu, turn that damn thing _off_!" Misato said, unable to keep
watching what was happening to the clones.

Ritsuko looked over at her long-time friend, sighed, and then nodded.
She hit a button on her remote, and the walls again went black. As
they did so, the laughing of the destroyed clones died off.

Kaoru shrugged and turned to face Akagi. "So you say nothing at all
can carry an Angel core without...adverse effects?"

Shinji looked up at these words. His eyes locked with Ritsuko's as the
doctor replied.

"What I just showed you is an accelerated version, since none of those
clones were able to carry the engine. Something that _can_ carry it,
like Rei III or you, Nagisa-san, could last for a longer time, but..."
she trailed off.

"...but eventually, that will happen to me, too," Kaoru finished. He
shrugged. "Ah, well," he said. "I've always said that life and death
are the same for me."

"Kaoru..." Shinji whispered to himself.

Kaoru appeared struck by a sudden thought. "And what about...the last
one?" he asked.

"She's fine," Ritsuko said. "That last Rei had a core, but it was
removed from her. Though I can't understand how she lived through it."

"That's good," Kaoru said. "I wouldn't want Shinji-kun to get hurt by
losing two friends." As he finished, his voice quavered. The other
three of the room's occupants could see a single, glistening tear fall
from his eye. Kaoru's eyes widened as he felt the droplet slide down
his face.

"What..." he said, wiping the tear away and rubbing his wet fingers
together. "I didn't know I could..."

Shinji slowly approached his friend. "Kaoru-kun..." he said,
hesitantly, "It's okay to be afraid."

Kaoru moved fowards and hugged Shinji, remaining silent but not letting
the boy go. Shinji grew nervous at the proximity, but let Kaoru stay
close. He could guess what his friend was feeling. Angel or not,
everyone had some fear of death.

Ritsuko checked her watch. "Asuka's test will be ending soon," she
said. "And the MAGI will be scanning this area as soon as she's done.
Let's get out of here while we can."

"I agree," Misato replied, coldly. "Come on, you two."

Kaoru stepped back, having composed himself. He smiled a weak smile
and gestured towards the exit. Shinji, seeing right through the fake
cheerfulness, followed him to where Misato and Ritsuko were waiting
back at the elevator.

They rode up in silence most of the way. Ritsuko took that time to
compose herself, clearing her mind. But one thing remained on her
conscience, no matter how hard she tried to get rid of it.

"Misato..." she said, turning to face the other woman. "Could you do
me a favor?"

"Yes?"

"The next time you see Rei, tell her...tell her I said I'm s..." she
trailed off, changing her mind.

"What is it, Ritsu?"

"Forget it," Ritsuko said, shaking her head. "I'll tell her myself the
next time I see her."

***

Rei was still lying on Shinji's bed when the door to the apartment
finally opened. Everyone slowly walked in, with somber looks on their
faces. Misato immediately went to go get a beer. Shinji hesitated,
waiting in the living room.

"Well?" Kaoru asked.

"Well what?" Shinji replied.

"Aren't you going to go talk with Rei-chan?"

^Rei-chan?^ "I...I mean..."

Shinji _did_ want to go see Rei; he finally understood why he'd been
getting the cold shoulder back before he'd left. She'd been scared of
what he'd find. He wanted to go and see how she was doing, but he
didn't want to leave Kaoru alone, either. He could see the pale boy
was still a little shaken.

"I'll be fine," Kaoru said, noticing Shinji's indecisiveness. "Get
going. Or she might get the wrong idea."

That was enough to motivate Shinji. "I...I guess so," he said,
hesitantly starting towards his room.

Kaoru grabbed Shinji's shoulders, holding him in place. "Take all the
time you need," he said. "I'll personally guarantee your privacy,
Shinji-kun."

"Th...thank you, Kaoru-kun."

Kaoru smiled again, then removed his hands from Shinji's shoulders and
took a seat on the couch. "Good luck, Shinji-kun."

Shinji nodded and turned down the hallway. He successfully made it to
his room without hesitating. He carefully slid the door open and
looked in at Rei. The girl sat up as the door opened, looking to see
who was coming in.

Rei looked scared. Shinji could almost see sweat on her face, as she
looked back at him. The sight melted him. But it also disabled his
speech patterns; a heavy silence fell on them.

"H...how'd you do, Rei?" Shinji asked, breaking the silence.

Rei paused, then nodded once. She kept her eyes on Shinji, her face
still scared.

Shinji knew what he wanted to say. But he found the words weren't
coming. His throat had locked up, unable to say such things when other
people were in the apartment. As Shinji sat there indecisive, Rei
turned her back on him, closing her eyes as she did so.

Shinji was startled as a hand shoved him from behind. He stumbled
forwards, into the room. Shinji glanced over his back, to see Kaoru
smiling again. "You needed a little push, Shinji-kun," he said.
Shaking his head and rolling his eyes, he slid the door shut behind
Shinji.

Shinji walked up to Rei and gently took her by the shoulders.
"Rei..." he began, fighting the girl's efforts to pull free.

Rei swallowed and turned around, opening her eyes. Shinji looked into
them, as they brimmed over and then overflowed with tears, running down
her tense face.

"It's okay..." he said, pulling her against him. Rei shook, taking
several rattling breaths.

"It's okay," Shinji repeated, not letting her go.

"Do you..." Rei mumbled to Shinji.

"What?" Shinji replied, softly.

"Do you...hate me, now?"

Shinji smiled. He tilted her head up and looked into her eyes. "You
are still the same smart, beautiful girl, Rei," he said. "And like I
said before, I don't care what you are."

Rei responded by holding him closer. ^Thank you, Kaoru-kun,^ she
thought.

Shinji sat down next to her on the bed, not releasing her. He lightly
kissed the top of her head. "It's okay..." he repeated. He rubbed his
hands in broad circles on her back, hearing Rei purr at the sensation.
At the same time, Rei's hands came up to his shoulders.

The girl tilted her head up to meet his gaze. She moved up the few
centimeters and kissed his lips. Shinji returned it, feeling one of
Rei's hands come up and press on the back of his head, holding him in
place. He rewarded this effort with a deeper kiss, pulling Rei up
against him.

They finally broke off, both gasping for breath, for a variety of
reasons. Rei rested her head on Shinji's chest.

"Did you hear about my other...abnormality?" Rei asked.

^You mean _other_ than having a tank full of clones, and being part
Angel?^ "What are you talking about, Rei?"

"That I'm incapable of bearing children."

"Oh..." Shinji said, trailing off. "No, I didn't."

"Does it bother you?"

"Well, I...uh...never thought that far in advance, I guess," Shinji
said, blushing. He thought the matter over.

"But it...doesn't change who you are, though, Rei," he said. "Again, I
don't care about things like that, because you're still..._you_."

Rei breathed out what sounded like a sigh of relief. Shinji started
rubbing her back again.

"Does it bother _you_?" Shinji asked.

"I'm not certain," Rei said. "But I suppose not. There are much worse
things I could be without."

"_That_ much, I'll agree on."

The back rub was proving to be hypnotic. Rei felt her eyelids getting
heavy. But she didn't ask him to stop, either. She just closed her
eyes and stayed there, a contented smile on her face.

Shinji's hands eventually slowed and stopped. Rei's eyes cracked open
again, as she lightly grabbed his arms and pushed them down her back.

"Rei...what are you doing?"

"It felt nice when you touched me. I want to feel you...closer."

Shinji blinked, feeling the blood rush to his nose. Rei took advantage
of his hesitation and slid his hands underneath her shirt.

She'd been right in expecting that it would feel nice. Shinji's hands
felt soft and warm, if a little shaky. Shinji paused for just a
moment, before rubbing her back again. Rei moaned in pleasure.

Shinji's hands soon encountered the obstacle of her bra strap. Again,
Shinji paused, but then decided he should start taking initiative for
once. He ran his hands across it, finding the latch and unclipping it.

Rei gasped, but then smiled again. She pulled Shinji up against her.

Then all of a sudden, Rei stiffened, her eyes widening a little.
"Interesting..." she said to herself. She pulled away, much to
Shinji's discontent.

"Rei? What's wrong?"

"I...need to speak with Major Katsuragi," Rei said, walking off. She
still looked kind of surprised.

Shinji blinked again, watching the doorway she'd just walked out of and
almost willing her to come back in. ^I thought she liked it...why'd
she leave?^ Confused, he got up and went back into the living room.

Meanwhile, Rei had walked into Misato's room. The Major had just
gotten back in there, and was working on her computer again.

"Katsuragi-san..." she began.

Misato closed the screen she was looking at before turning around.
"What is it, Rei?"

"I have just experienced an...interesting physical reaction."

Misato's brow furrowed. "What do you mean, Rei?" she asked, her voice
consoling.

Rei showed her.

"Ohhhh," Misato said, instantly understanding. "Well, that's normal.
Were you and Shinji-kun...ah, _involved?_"

Rei blinked. Slightly confused by what Misato was trying to imply, she
shifted her balance and stood with her feet closer together. She also
reached around behind her back with one arm and grabbed her other arm,
an old habit she'd never gotten rid of. This motion caused her bra to
become fully dislodged and fall out of her shirt.

Misato looked at the underwear lying at Rei's feet. "I'll take that as
a yes," she said. "Like I said, that's normal." She thought it over,
before something clicked in her mind. "Rei, are you telling me you've
never been...aroused, before?"

"No, I have not."

"Hoo boy," Misato said, putting her hands on her knees. "Do you even
know how it works?"

Rei cocked her head, not understanding.

"Sit down," Misato said, gesturing to her bed. "I guess I'm as good a
person as any to tell you this. But one thing, before we start, Rei."

"Yes?"

"Call me Misato, at least. I'd like to be a friend of yours."

Rei considered that. Finally, she smiled, lightly. "Thank
you...Misato-san."

^It'll do for now,^ Misato thought. She waited for Rei to take a seat
on the bed before continuing. "OK now, Rei, you see, when a boy and a
girl..."

She continued, doing the best she could to explain it. She'd known
this issue might eventually come up, what with two teenage roommates.
She figured Rei was as good a person as any to start with.

She was wrong.

***

Some considerable time later, Rei walked out of Misato's room, carrying
a sizeable stack of books. She glanced back over her shoulder.

"Thank you, Misato-san," she said. "That was most...informative."

No response came back from the room. Rei walked quietly down the
hallway and into Shinji's room, where put down what she was carrying.
She picked up one of the books and started quietly reading through it.

Kaoru, from his position in the living room, watched Rei. He knew that
he'd just missed something here, but he didn't think it applied to him.
He went back to staring at the ceiling, something he apparently found
quite interesting. Shinji lay sprawled in one of the chairs, sound
asleep. All the sleep he'd missed in the past few weeks was catching
up with him, now that the stress of fighting the Angels was finally
gone.

After some few minutes, Misato walked into the living room.

"Hello, Katsuragi-san," Kaoru said, throwing his smile at her.

Misato didn't reply. She walked slowly forwards, as though in a
trance. She looked quite pale, and she wasn't blinking, either.
Interested, Kaoru got up and followed her.

Misato trudged into the kitchen, threw open the refrigerator, and dug
around in it until she came up with a large bottle of sake. She popped
it open, threw back her head, and took a long shot straight out of the
bottle.

"I thought you were saving that," Kaoru said.

"I'll buy more," Misato gasped out, lowering the bottle. "I need it
now. I just gave Rei the...talk."

"What?"

Misato took another drink. "You know, the facts of life."

"What facts of life?"

Misato groaned. "Sex."

"Oh."

Misato took a moment to catch her breath before going back to the
bottle. After swallowing again, she wiped her mouth off and set the
bottle on the counter. "Rei's so strange," she commented. "She knew
almost everything about how the physical part works, but she didn't
understand any of the emotions involved."

"Were you able to help her?"

"Sort of. After a while I just gave her my hentai manga and told her
to read through that."

"So that was what she was carrying..."

"Uh huh. Best sex ed there is," Misato said, leaning heavily against
the counter. She looked and sounded like she'd just run a marathon.

"I never learned about sexual interactions," Kaoru said. "Would you
teach me, Katsuragi-san?"

Misato looked back down and stared at Kaoru. Her facial expression
said, without words, 'why oh why me?'

"I'll get to _you_ later," Misato said, pointing her finger at Kaoru as
though accusing him of something. She shook her head and walked past
him, after grabbing the sake off the counter again. She had a feeling
she was going to be needing it.

Kaoru watched her leave, now more confused than he'd been to begin
with. He finally gave up trying to understand and went back to go sit
with Shinji again.

***

Several days after the trip to the cloning chamber, Ritsuko was called
up to Commander Ikari's office. Even before the call had come, she'd
known what it would be about. She'd gone anyway, knowing that there
was no way around it. Now, she was standing in the office, alone with
Gendo.

"This is the worst offense you have ever committed, Akagi," Gendo said,
seated behind his desk.

Akagi met his gaze, willing herself not to flinch. "I knew that," she
said. "But I did it anyway. I have no regrets, _Commander_."
Somehow, she made that last word sound more like a curse than a title.
Gendo didn't respond for several minutes. Ritsuko waited, exercising
her patience.

"Why did you do it?" Gendo finally asked.

"They were useless," Akagi replied, sounding as though she were
continuing a thought instead of answering the question. "They were
just rejects. And yet, you still insisted on keeping them around.
They were more important to you than anything, weren't they?"

Gendo slowly stood up, and began to come around the desk.

Ritsuko snorted out a laugh. "They were more important to you than I
was," she added on, following him with her eyes. "I could never win
over those dolls, could I? Say, when you got tired of fucking me, did
you use _them_ instead? Just so you could pretend you were with your
precious Yui agai - "

Gendo cut her off with a hard punch to the jaw. Ritsuko went
sprawling, feeling a few of her teeth loosened by the blow. Since the
world was spinning, she couldn't move as Gendo knelt down and put his
hand on her neck.

Gendo's voice dripped with concealed hate. "If you speak ill of my
wife again, I will kill you myself."

Ritsuko turned her gaze away from him, doing her best to ignore the
hand on her throat. "Go ahead, then," she said. "You think it would
hurt? I gave up on you when you asked me to kill Rei."

Gendo's hand tightened. "You should have done what I asked."

"She's a little girl!"

"She's a creation, nothing more," Gendo said. His hand tensed, but
then he pulled back, obviously fighting the urge to crush Ritsuko's
windpipe.

"Get up," he bit out, as he stood. Ritsuko didn't move. "Get UP!" he
shouted, delivering a vicious kick to her ribs. This time, Ritsuko
stood, clutching her side and panting.

"In other circumstances, I'd have just killed you for this," Gendo
said, regaining control of himself. He turned his back on her. "But
currently, we need you."

"Of course," Ritsuko choked out. "Just use me up and then throw me
away. Just like everyone else."

Gendo half-turned his head to look at her. "If you follow orders this
time, I'll make sure you survive. Though you won't go unpunished."

Ritsuko laughed quietly, even though it made her bruised ribs burn with
pain.

"SEELE's trying to take matters into its own hands," Gendo said, as he
sat back down and assumed his standard position. "They'll inevitably
try to attack our computers. We'll need you to defend the MAGI."

"...Fine," Ritsuko said. She didn't like agreeing with him, but if he
was being serious, then not helping would mean certain death.

"Now get out of here. My sources tell me we can expect an attack
within 24 hours."

Ritsuko turned to go. "And what happens to Rei?" she asked. "The one
Rei still around."

Gendo clenched a fist. "That's none of your concern," he said.

"Yes, sir," Ritsuko said, walking out the door. ^None of my concern,
my ass. I have a pretty good idea what you have planned for her.^

***

No more than 20 hours after Akagi left Gendo's office, alarms were
going off all over Tokyo-3. An army was closing on the city from all
sides.

Already within the city, double-agents working for the JSSDF had
started causing chaos. Backs were stabbed, locks were picked, and
computers were hacked. The heavily fortified gates into the Geofront
were taken by surprise and overrun by commando teams.

And watching over it all, nine planes circled. Each plane was painted
in jet black, radar-absorbent paint. And each one was tremendous,
easily the size of an office building. The soldiers on the ground
found it hard to believe that not one, but NINE of something that large
could actually be flying.

Each plane also had a red number painted onto its back. The numbers
went from 05 to 13. The planes waited, patiently, for the time when
they would drop their deadly cargo.

***

Oblivious to the events outside, Shinji and Rei sat in the NERV
cafeteria, enjoying a brief snack. Several days ago, it would have
been unthinkable for Rei to be out in public. But now that everyone
and his dog knew that the blue-haired girl had had a twin, it was at
least moderately acceptable for her to be out of the apartment like
this.

Earlier in the day, Rei had decided that now that her secret was out,
she could leave the apartment. She'd asked Shinji to accompany her to
NERV, something the boy had not understood, but which he'd done,
anyway. They'd ended up at the cafeteria, where Shinji had decided it
was time for Rei to broaden her culinary horizons.

"What is this called, again?" Rei asked, as she used a spoon to probe
the thing in front of her.

"It's called a sundae," Shinji answered, taking a bite of his own.
"You've never had ice cream before?"

"No," Rei said. She hesitantly took a bite, sloshed it around inside
of her mouth, and then swallowed. "Interesting..." she said, before
taking another, larger, bite.

"They're good, aren't they?" Shinji asked.

Rei just nodded, since her mouth was full.

"Let me guess...my dad thought they weren't necessary, right?"

Rei nodded again.

Shinji sighed and continued with his own sundae. He glanced up at Rei
again, holding in a laugh as he saw she'd managed to get melted ice
cream all over her chin.

"Very messy," the girl said, swallowing again. She started cleaning up
her face with a nearby napkin.

"So..." Shinji said, hesitantly, "You finally got out of the apartment.
Why'd you ask me to come here?"

"I wanted to spend time with you."

"Oh. Well...that's nice, I guess."

Rei crossed her fingers and looked down at her lap. "So..." she said.

"...so?" Shinji asked.

"How do you feel, now? You seemed disturbed, after the...last Angel."

"I don't know," Shinji replied. He took a bite of his ice cream to
give him time to think. Rei stared into his eyes while he chewed.

"Well, of course I'd be disturbed," Shinji said, after he'd swallowed.
"I just had to kill someone who I thought was human. And your clone,
no less. I don't know if I can do it, anymore."

"You mean, pilot Eva?"

"Yes."

"Well, it's understandable. But it would also appear to be irrelevant.
With the last Angel gone, there is really no longer a reason to pilot."

"Yeah."

"But...if you needed to pilot again, what would you do?"

Shinji was momentarily distracted as he spotted a group of NERV men ran
down the hallway, full-tilt. ^Wonder what all the excitement's about,^
he wondered. He turned back to face Rei.

"I..." he said. He looked at his left hand, remembering how the clone
of Rei had exploded into blood. He'd killed Angels before, but killing
one that looked human had been very, very different. The frightening
part was how easy it had been.

He looked back up at Rei, intending to say that he would quit at the
first chance he'd get. But then he saw the pleading look on her face.

"I never enjoyed piloting Eva," Rei said, still looking at him. "But I
did it, anyway."

"But didn't my father order you to?"

"The first few times, yes. But after that, I kept going, because I
wanted...to protect you."

"Me?" Shinji asked, blushing.

"And the rest of the city," Rei added, quickly. "But you could say I'd
found a reason to pilot."

"I kept piloting because it was just what I was supposed to do," Shinji
said. "After a while, though, I kept going because it made people
respect me."

"I suppose...that is an acceptable reason," Rei said. She failed to
keep the disappointment out of her voice. Watching this, Shinji felt
his mind decide before he was even ready. He took a breath.

"Rei..." he said. "If I...need to do it again..." he paused, as the
girl looked back up at him, her eyes questioning.

"I'll..." he said, pausing again. "I'll do it. I guess I've got some
people to protect, too."

Rei finally smiled. "Thank you, Shinji." The boy nodded to himself,
hoping he'd made the right choice.

"Shinji..." Rei began again, hesitant. "There actually was a reason I
asked you here."

"Why?"

"I didn't sleep last night."

"Why not?"

"I was thinking." Rei paused and stirred her sundae, watching it melt
into slush. "Shinji, did you hear what I said during the Sixteenth
Angel's attack?"

"I don't remember much of the radio stuff, no. I think all the AT
fields were scrambling the transmissions or something."

"Oh..." Rei replied, somewhat saddened. "Shinji, during that battle, I
was faced with the idea of my soul wanting to join with another's."

Shinji blinked several times, not understanding.

"I didn't know what it meant," Rei said. "I was confused, and a battle
is not the time to be pondering philosophy."

Shinji nodded, still not understanding. Rei sighed, trying to figure
out how to say what she was thinking. She looked away from him,
resting her chin on one hand. Shinji couldn't help thinking, for a
moment, that she looked just like she was sitting at her desk at school
again.

"But later, when I had to stay at the apartment, I had nothing _but_
time to think it over," she said, still looking off to the side. "I
wondered what it could mean, but even with all the time I had, I could
only figure it out partially."

"Yes..."

"I realized that it was impossible to truly live alone," Rei said,
finally turning her head to look at him. "We all need interaction to
feel alive. Even before the Sixteenth, I preferred being among people
who knew me as opposed to being in my apartment. But..."

Shinji could see Rei was nervous. "Take your time," he said. Rei
shook her head and tried to go on.

"But I still felt like something was lacking. I didn't realize the
answer until when you came back from seeing...what I was."

"Oh...that's good, I guess." ^Where is she going with this?^

"I found I needed someone who would stay close to me and protect me.
Someone who makes me whole. Someone who...was the missing part of my
life that I never knew was missing, before." She looked up at Shinji.
"And I think you may be that person, Shinji." She finished by smiling.
Shinji was instantly captivated by the look on her face. For once, Rei
actually seemed _alive_.

Then what she'd just said hit him. "Are you telling me...you're in
love with me?"

Rei smiled again. "I still can't find a good definition of the word.
Everyone says that when you're in love, you 'just know.' But yes, I
believe that's what I'm saying."

Shinji swallowed loudly. A part of him wanted to run like hell. That
was also the part that was afraid of reaching out, of commitment to
someone who would probably die or leave him, anyway. But for once,
that was not the dominant part of him.

He slowly pushed his ice cream off to the side. He slowly reached
across the table. He took Rei's hand, noticing it was still coated in
melted ice cream.

He swallowed again. "Rei, I..."

He was cut off quite abruptly as his sundae exploded. They both
jumped, as they were covered with ice cream and pieces of broken glass.
Rei was the first to realize that a gun had just fired.

"Get down!" she shouted, as more shots broke out. Shinji caught a
glimpse of several men, wearing black commando uniforms and armed with
machine guns, charging in.

They both took cover, as the formerly peaceful area exploded into
chaos.

***

"Can't we fight back?!" Misato shouted.

"Negative!" Hyuuga replied, typing madly on his terminal. "MAGI are
being hacked from around the world! Defense systems aren't working!
We can't even activate the alarms in half the rooms!"

Misato swore. A lot.

"Their primary targets will be the pilots," came a voice from up above.
Misato looked up at the control platform, where Gendo Ikari was looking
down at her. She nodded.

"Get the pilots here," Misato ordered. "They're in danger."

"Intruders inside the NERV complex!" Shigeru called out. "Heavy
casualties reported!"

***

Kaoru walked calmly into Central Dogma several minutes after he'd been
called. People were running around everywhere, frantically trying to
keep things from falling apart. Every once in a while, the base shook
from an explosion outside.

The hardest working individuals were the bridge crew and Ritsuko, all
of whom were fighting the hackers and hoping against hope that they
could restore control to the defenses.

"Nagisa-kun!" Misato called out, coming over to him. "Good, you made
it."

"Indeed," Kaoru replied. "What is the situation?"

"The UN's attacking. I've just been told that they've got Evas of
they're own, with that Dummy plug autopilot system."

"Why would they attack?" Kaoru asked, peeking past her to watch the
activities of the bridge crew.

"It's crazy, but Ritsu says they're going to try to start Third Impact
with the Evas."

Kaoru looked at her, puzzled. Then, he shrugged; he could tell Misato
didn't know why humans would want to start Third Impact, either.
"Where are Sohryuu and Shinji-kun?" he asked.

"We've already put Asuka into Unit-02 and set her at the bottom of a
lake for later deployment," Misato said. "And we're still waiting on
Shinji. I was about to go and look for him myself."

Kaoru's expression instantly changed over to one of worry. "Shinji-kun
is still in the base?" he asked. "But there's fighting going on
everywhere! He's in danger!"

Misato nodded, and checked her gun to make sure it was prepped.
"That's why I'm headed out."

"Then I'm going with you," Kaoru said.

"No way," Misato replied, shaking her head and holstering her gun.
"You get in Unit-03 and prepare to back up Asuka once she sorties. The
JSSDF has its mass-production Evas ready for deployment against us."

"I don't care," Kaoru replied, firmly. "I'm going to make sure Shinji-
kun is all right."

Misato looked down at him, seeing the determination in the boy's eyes.
"Fine," she said, relenting. "We'll split up. You can handle
yourself, right, Nagisa-kun?"

Kaoru nodded.

"If you haven't found him in twenty minutes, you go to the Eva bays and
you back up Asuka, got it?" Misato ordered, staring him in the eye.

"Yes, sir," Kaoru replied almost casually. He immediately headed off
into the corridors of NERV, leaving Misato to trail after him.

***

Shinji cowered under the table with Rei.

They were still in the NERV cafeteria. Shinji couldn't belive how
crappy this situation had suddenly become. One minute, he'd been
taking a pleasant break with Rei. The next, UN troops had stormed in,
just in time to meet armed NERV personnel coming in on the opposite
side of the room. Anyone with any brains had either fled or taken
cover.

Shinji winced as he heard another man scream from a bullet wound. "Any
ideas?" he asked Rei, who was leaning against his back.

Rei was the picture of self-control. "I suggest we escape, Shinji.
There's no shame in running when it is suicidal to stay."

Shinji nodded. "OK, then...any ideas of how to do that?"

"I believe so. Follow me." She went out from under the table and, on
her hands and knees, started making her way across the floor. Shinji
followed, reminded of how much this was like when NERV lost power. He
hoped Rei wouldn't insist he keep his eyes on the floor.

They ducked under several tables, moving slowly for the exit Rei had in
mind. Stray bullets whizzed by them, leaving pockmarks in the floor
and tugging at their clothes and hair. Shinji stiffened as he felt a
particularly near-miss scrape his arm. He shook it off, though, and
kept moving. He couldn't let Rei get too far ahead of him.

"Ready..." Rei said, as they took cover under another table. She
glanced around. "Okay, go," she said, and started moving again. But
as Shinji tried to follow, Rei froze.

"Hey, what are you doing..." Shinji tried to say, but stopped as he saw
a black gloved hand grab the back of Rei's shirt and pull her onto her
feet.

Rei looked up at the UN trooper that had caught her. Sheer terror
froze her feet to the floor. ^This is not the time to lock up,^ she
thought to herself. ^Come on, _move!_^

She glanced back under the table, where Shinji was trying to escape
back the way they'd come. The trooper did not miss that glance. He
signaled to another one of his men, who ran over and dragged Shinji out
into the open.

"First and Third Children located," the man said into his head comm.
"Proceeding with terminations."

Rei's eyes widened. They were going to...do _what?_ To _Shinji?_

She was moving before she even realized what she was doing. Her knee
met the groin of the man in front of her. He fell to his knees,
cursing. Rei vaulted the table and tackled the man holding Shinji,
using her velocity to push him to the floor. She did her best to pin
his arms.

An impact in her stomach sent her flying off of her prey. Rei rolled
on the ground, breathless, looking up at the third UN trooper, the one
who'd just kicked her. The man pulled out his pistol and aimed it at
Rei.

"Don't blame me, kid," the man said.

That was all he got out, though, before an arm went around his neck and
turned him to the side. The pistol shot went wild, missing Rei by a
good margin. Meanwhile, the person holding the trooper pulled out
their own gun. Using the man as a human shield, the person turned and
coldly emptied rounds into the other two troopers.

Misato kept her arm around the man's neck as she leaned forwards to
whisper into his ear.

"Don't blame me," she hissed out. She then adjusted her grip on his
head and twisted.

CRACK.

The man fell to the ground, his head hanging at an odd angle. Misato
jacked out the empty clip in her gun and loaded in a new one.

"Time to go!" she shouted out. "Come on, you two!"

Shinji and Rei were on their feet in moments. "Follow me!" Misato
shouted, running towards the NERV personnel who were now clearing out
the cafeteria. Shinji and Rei followed.

"Hang on," she said as they passed a NERV man. She turned to her two
wards. "You two better say goodbye here. Shinji...you'll pilot,
right?"

"All...all right, Misato-san..." Shinji said, clenching his fists to
steel himself. "I'll do it." He turned to face Rei. She looked so
much like the girl he'd killed...but she was so different, at the same
time.

"I've got something to fight for," he added.

Rei surprised everyone by leaning forwards and giving Shinji a french
kiss that made Misato's jaw drop. ^Geez, _I_ can't kiss like that,^
the Major thought. ^I guess she got something out of all that hentai
manga.^

"That's how adults kiss," Rei said, stepping back. "We'll do the rest
when you get back."

Misato scratched her nose, unable to shake the feeling that someone had
just stolen her line.

Shinji blinked and tried to stem a slight nosebleed. "Where'd you
learn how to do _that?_" he asked her.

"I'll tell you later," Rei said, smiling provocatively.

Misato figured she had to step in before this went on too long. She
pushed Rei into the arms of the nearest NERV man. "Take this girl to
safety," she ordered. The man nodded and turned to take Rei down
another corridor.

Shinji, still a little dazed, blinked and then looked at Misato. "I
guess we should get going, then?"

Misato nodded and took off down another corridor. Shinji followed. As
they came to the doorway to the lift that would take them to the Eva
bays, Shinji started to relax. They hadn't run into any other
commandos along the way. Maybe things were getting better.

Spoke too soon.

Just as they reached the door, another group of UN soldiers appeared on
a lower level. They saw Misato and Shinji, and immediately opened
fire.

Misato didn't even have time to react. She could only see the muzzle
flashes, and was sure that she could see the bullets, too. She grabbed
Shinji and tried to shield him with her body. ^I'm sorry, Shinji,^ she
thought, closing her eyes.

The hits never came.

Misato cracked her eyes open and turned around, simultaneously checking
herself for bullet wounds. She would have looked over at Shinji, but
her attention was rooted to the scene in front of her. The bullets
were coming, but they were stopping in midair, bouncing off of an
indestructible...

AT field?

"YOU BASTARDS!" Kaoru shouted, coming down on them from a higher level.
Several of the soldiers fired at him, to no avail. One of hurled a
grenade. The projectile just deflected off the AT field, exploding
harmlessly in the air.

He fell down into their midst, his skin glowing white. He closed his
eyes and concentrated his AT field, blasting the troopers over the
guardrail, where they fell screaming for several dozen stories before
hitting the ground.

Taking deep breaths, Kaoru looked up at Misato and Shinji. He floated
over to them, stopping out in midair and looking down at the pair.

"K...Kaoru-kun..." Shinji stammered out.

"Are you all right, Shinji-kun?" Kaoru asked, actual panic creeping
into his voice.

"I...I'm fine."

Kaoru breathed a tremendous sigh of relief. "I guess we should be
going then. Odds are they'll be bombing this area soon," he said,
landing in front of Shinji. The glow receded back into him. In
moments, he again looked just like a normal boy.

"N-Nagisa-kun...thank you," Misato said.

Kaoru shrugged. "I was just doing my part as a friend," he said,
smiling. His smile fell quickly, though, and his brow furrowed. He
cocked his head, as though hearing something.

"What is it, Kaoru-kun?" Shinji asked.

"Shh..." Kaworu replied, holding up a finger. He nodded after a
moment. "I understand now," he said to himself. "So he's still intent
on making it happen..." Shaking his head, he turned to Shinji.

"Shinji, take your Eva and head down to Terminal Dogma," he said,
authoritatively.

"Hey, Nagisa-kun," Misato said. "I don't care who or what you are,
_I'm_ the commanding officer here."

"I understand, Katsuragi-san. But it is imperative that Shinji-kun go
down to Lillith."

"Alright, Kaoru-kun," Shinji said, cutting off Misato's response before
this could turn into a full-fledged argument. He headed into the lift
just beyond the door they were standing in front of.

"And what are _you_ doing then?" Misato asked, crossing her arms and
looking down at Kaoru.

"I suppose I should pilot," he said, smiling and again going into his
relaxed composure. "I _was_ ordered to back up the Second, correct?"

Misato nodded. "Get going, Nagisa-san."

Kaoru nodded and got into the lift with Shinji. Misato waved goodbye
to them, thinking that this could be the last time she saw either of
them. After the lift doors closed, she headed for another lift, one
which would take her back up to Central Dogma.

***

At the same time, Rei was being rushed down another hallway. The NERV
man who'd been appointed to escort her was not very polite, but he was
fast.

"I'm taking you to one of this building's shelters," the man explained,
as they turned down another corridor. "Those things can take a N2
blast, so you should be safe there."

Rei didn't respond; she just concentrated on keeping up with the man's
pace.

"Hold it," came a voice. The owner of that voice stepped around a
corner.

The NERV man relaxed when he recognized the new arrival. Rei, however,
nearly had a coronary. Gendo Ikari stood in front of them.

"I'll take her," Gendo said, calmly.

"Oh...I see, sir. I was going to take her to a shelter - "

"That is fine. You are relieved of your duty."

"Yes, sir," the man said, nodding. "I'll - "

"No. Don't listen to him!" Rei called out. "Let's go!" she said,
trying to pull the NERV man in another direction.

The man looked up at Gendo for instructions, only to see that the
Commander had pulled out his gun. With one shot, he dropped the NERV
man to the floor.

"I don't have time for such nonsense," Gendo said, grabbing Rei around
the waist and picking her up off the ground. He slung the panicking
girl over his shoulder and started off back the way he'd come.

He headed for Terminal Dogma.

***

Shinji stood in Unit-01's hangar. He was quite prepared to jump into
the Eva and get going, but unfortunately, he couldn't get at it. Unit-
01 had been coated in bakelite as NERV was evacuated. Currently, the
most powerful fighting machine on the face of the planet was sealed
inside a nearly unbreakable layer of crystal.

"Dammit," he said to himself. "What am I supposed to do now?"

He sat down on the floor and looked at the Eva, trying to figure out a
way into it.

***

Kaoru was in his plugsuit, set up inside Unit-03. Unfortunately, he
hadn't launched yet. He sat in the Eva with his eyes closed, waiting
patiently.

"Can't we even launch an Eva?" Misato shouted from her position at
Central Dogma.

"We're _working_ on it!" Makoto yelled. "I think we can beat the
hackers, but it'll take time!"

At that moment, UN troopers made their appearance on the lowest level
of the control room. Everyone took cover as the shots began to ring
out.

"Keep working!" Misato shouted. "Aoba-kun!"

"Yes, ma'am?" Shigeru Aoba asked, turning slightly to face her.

"You're with me. We've got to cover our people."

"Roger."

The technicians went back to typing, trying to ignore the bullets
flashing by them. Shigeru, meanwhile, took out the submachine gun he'd
had under his desk. After checking to make sure it was loaded, he
crouched down next to Misato. Misato readied her pistol. Using the
computers as cover, they returned fire on the troops.

"C'mon..." Makoto said, his fingers flying so quickly they were a blur.

Maya was was a mess. "I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die, I'm gonna die..."
she kept mumbling to herself, as she cowered under her desk.

"Keep _working_, Maya!" came a voice from inside the MAGI. "You can
panic _after_ we're done!"

"Y-yes, sempai," Maya muttered. She pulled herself back up to her
terminal and started typing.

Shigeru popped up from behind cover and gunned down three UN troopers
at one go. He ducked back down just as the return fire began
ricocheting off of the walls.

"Good shooting, Aoba-kun!" Misato shouted out. Shigeru just nodded.

"Almost..." Makoto mumbled to himself, the computer's display
reflecting off of his glasses.

Misato took her turn, getting up and taking a bead on a soldier. She
put two rounds in his chest before he could return fire.
Unfortunately, she got up just as another trooper fired at the control
center. Even as she killed the one UN trooper, she took a bullet in
the gut.

Misato cried out in surprise and fell to the ground, dropping her gun
and cradling the wound. Blood was pouring out of her, pooling on the
floor.

"Major!" Shigeru shouted out, crawling over to her.

"It's alright!" Misato lied. "Keep fighting! They need more time!"

Shigeru looked at her suspiciously, then nodded and went back to taking
potshots. Several interminable minutes passed. Then:

"Almost...got it!" Makoto shouted.

NERV came to life around them. The MAGI all began to hum as powerful
motors engaged within them, bringing them back to full operational
capacity.

The defensive systems re-engaged. All around the control center,
panels in the walls slid open. Out of them came automated miniguns and
anti-personnel grenade launchers, which immediately began firing on the
UN troops. Throughout the building, similar things were happening to
the invaders. The battle was finished in moments, with a decisive
victory for NERV.

In the chaos, no one noticed Ritsuko crawl out of the MAGI and sneak
off down into the depths of the Geofront, towards Terminal Dogma.

"We did it, Major!" Makoto shouted, turning to look at her. "We...oh,
no..." he said, looking at Misato, who was now lying on the floor,
shivering.

"Someone get a doctor in here!" Makoto shouted, running over to her.
He pulled her shirt up and had a look at the bullet wound.

"Feels...cold..." Misato mumbled. "Hyuuga-kun..."

"Yes, ma'am?" Makoto asked, leaning down to better hear her.

"Evangelion Unit-03...l-launch..." she mumbled, before she went limp.

Makoto immediately put two fingers to Misato's wrist. He grit his
teeth at what he felt. "Lauch Unit-03!" he yelled out to the control
center. He then immediately started CPR on the woman.

Kaoru's eyes opened as he felt the launch equipment come to life around
him, followed shortly thereafter by launch orders.

"Well, let's go," he said to the Eva. Moments later, Unit-03 was
rocketed up to the surface.

***

Asuka was already in action. Misato had ordered her to power up and
engage the UN troops some time ago. She had done so, with relish.

It had been an _extremely_ one-sided battle, considering Unit-02 had an
AT field conventional weapons couldn't touch. Asuka had taken great
pleasure in throwing battleships around like footballs, before she'd
climbed out of the lake she'd been stationed in. Then, she'd started
stepping on all the ground units, watching as tanks were reduced to bus
tokens underneath her Eva's massive feet.

The UN had cut her umbilical cable a few minutes ago, but her battery
had given her more than enough time to cause havoc among the troops.
Unfortunately, she now had only about a minute of power left.

"C'mon, you want some more of this?!" Asuka shouted, making sure her
shouts were broadcast over her Eva's loudspeakers to the troops
underneath her.

She stopped as she heard powerful machinery activating. She turned
towards Tokyo-3, not even noticing as UN missiles exploded against her
AT field. What she saw made her smile.

Tokyo-3 was powering up, going to full operational mode. The buildings
retracted into the ground, and thick armor plates moved up into
position. More importantly, the weapons that had been designed to take
down Angels were now activating, and targeting the UN. The first
several lines of troops were annihilated in seconds.

"Yeah! Don't fuck with Tokyo-3!" Asuka shouted, stomping another few
tanks into the ground. "You got that?!"

"Sohyruu," came a calm voice over her radio. Asuka recognized it as
that new kid, Nagisa.

"What?" Asuka grunted out.

"Tokyo-3 can hold off the troops on its own, now. Home in on my
position and prepare for Eva-to-Eva combat."

"What? I..."

"Just do it, before you run out of power."

Asuka checked her meter, noticing she only had 43 seconds left. She
took off, towards Nagisa's location, which was marked on her Eva's
display. She got there with ten seconds to spare, jumping up onto the
hill Unit-03 had deployed on.

"Take this," Nagisa ordered, as Unit-03 threw her a spare umbilical
connection. Asuka plugged in without hesistation, grinning toothily as
her "time remaining" display switched from 00:07 to 99:99.

"And take these," he said, throwing her a pair of rocket launchers like
the ones she'd used on the Fourteenth Angel. As Asuka armed the
weapons, Unit-03 lumbered over to the weapons building it had been
standing in front of and shouldered a portable positron rifle, like the
one Asuka had tried to use on the Fifteenth Angel.

"Alright, ready," Asuka said. "But who put _you_ in charge, rookie?"

"We'll discuss it later," Nagisa replied. Unit-03 looked up at the
sky. "Ah. Here they come."

Asuka followed Unit-03's line of vision, eventually seeing what he was
looking at. Nine black planes were circling. As they did so, their
enormous bomb bay doors opened, and nine white, humanoid shapes tumbled
out.

"Those things...they're Evas?" Asuka asked, as the white shapes
sprouted feathery wings and took control of their descents.

"Yes," came the reply. "You needn't worry about human losses, however.
Tac-comm says the Evas are using the Dummy plug system." As he said
this, Nagisa took careful aim at one of the shapes. As soon as his
computer locked on, he fired.

The recoil from the positron blast was enough to tilt Unit-03 slightly
backwards. The blue beam of energy lanced out, making a beeline
towards one of the white Evas...

...only to miss as the Eva dodged out of the way.

"Damn, they're fast," Asuka remarked, as the white Evas started
swooping in towards her and Nagisa. "Ugly, too," she added, as she got
a better look at them. Although the Evas' bodies resembled those of
humans, their heads were elongated, having the appearance of being
massive, smiling mouths.

"The Eva mass-production series has finally been completed," Kaoru
commented. "But why send all of them in at once?"

"Who cares? _Shoot_ the damn things!"

"We need to destroy them all, Sohryuu," Nagisa said, taking another
shot.

"Yeah, well, you could try _hitting_ them!" Asuka shot back, as she saw
Nagisa's target dodge once again. She waited for one of the Evas to
get within range, then she fired a rocket at it. Since the Eva was now
closer, it had less time to dodge, and so took a glancing hit from
Asuka's rocket. One of its wings broke, and it tumbled out of control,
eventually crash-landing several hundred meters behind them.

Kaoru and Asuka both opened fire, lighting up the skies with positron
blasts and missile exhaust. Three-quarters of the time, the white Evas
just turned sharply and dodged the hit. However, they didn't come out
unharmed. Asuka got lucky and took down two at once, with a shot from
each rocket launcher. One of Kaoru's shots clipped off an arm,
destroying the wing behind it. In a matter of minutes, all the mass-
production Evas were down, either from damage or by landing to get out
of the line of fire.

Then all of them, even the ones that had crashed, began to move again.
Their wings retracted into their backs, disappearing into a backpack-
like device. The grotesque machines came at them, roaring their
defiance. The one that was missing an arm picked up the appendage and
put it back in its place. The flesh knit back together, and the arm
was again attached.

Asuka took aim at the nearest one and blew its head off with her
second-to-last rocket. "What the hell?!" she shouted, as the headless
Eva got up and turned to face her, seemingly oblivious to its wound.
Even as she watched, tendrils of flesh extended from the bloody stump
of its neck, slowly flowing together into what Asuka could already tell
would be a new head.

"They must have the S2 organ," Nagisa remarked. "They're just like
Angels. You need to destroy the S2, or they keep coming back." He
fired his last round, which only succeded in disintegrating an Eva's
hand. He threw the empty positron rifle to the ground and took a
combat stance.

"Smash the core, huh?" Asuka asked, checking her remaining ammo. She
jumped down to the ground, determined to get the first kill. At first,
it looked like it was going to be four-on-one, but then several of the
Evas spread their wings and flew up to the crest of the hill to engage
Unit-03. Asuka was left staring at the Eva Kaoru had just hit, with
the remaining enemy mecha too far away to engage at the moment.

The Eva in front of her bared its teeth and charged, brandishing a huge
weapon that looked like a flat, edged spear.

Asuka ran up to it and knocked the Eva's attack aside with a well-
placed kick. She then rammed her rocket launcher into the thing's
still-gaping mouth and down its throat.

"Eat this!" she yelled, pulling the trigger. The weapon discharged,
putting a rocket right into the mecha's guts. Asuka backed off,
watching as the white Eva spat out fire from the missile's fuel. It's
torso expanded, then burst, spewing flames and innards everywhere.
What remained of the Eva stumbled backwards.

And then...regained its balance.

"You have _got_ to be kidding me," Asuka said, dropping the empty
rocket launchers. She watched the machine, which was now little more
than a pair of legs connected to a shredded torso, try to come at her
again. Unfortunately, she could also see that it was already healing.

Asuka glanced at her Eva's shoulder baffle, which opened and deployed
the Progressive knife. She drew the knife and, before it had even
finished heating up, jumped onto the tortured white Eva and rammed her
weapon into its now-exposed S2 engine.

She pulled the knife downwards, cutting a long gash into the red orb.
The white Eva shuddered, trying to defend itself and failing miserably.
Asuka screamed in fury, as she continued pulling downwards. Blood
sprayed out into a fountain, as though it had been kept inside under
pressure.

All of a sudden, her Eva's arm jerked backwards. Asuka looked back at
her hand, seeing just a knife hilt. She looked back at the enemy Eva,
noticing the broken knife blade embedded in its core.

Asuka swore and looked around for a way to finish it off. But luck was
with her, this time. The damaged S2 engine flexed, as a wave went
across its surface. Finally, the organ exploded, covering Asuka's Eva
with a spray of blood. The white Unit finally fell still.

"One down!" Asuka shouted.

"Keep going!" Nagisa replied. "I'm engaged with four of them up here!"

Asuka nodded and threw her useless knife aside. She got to her feet,
and turned. She immediately saw that the other four had caught up now,
and were coming at her. They growled.

Asuka growled back. Then she charged.

She tackled the nearest one and landed a punch to its face, crushing
its skull. The Eva grabbed her arms and threw her off, standing up as
its cranium regenerated. Asuka backed off, turning to kick another Eva
in the gut. It stumbled backwards, but quickly caught itself and began
coming forwards again.

Deciding she needed something stronger, she ran over to the Eva she'd
killed, and pried the spear out of its fingers. Swinging her newly-
aquired weapon to get the feel for its weight, she turned to face her
attackers. Three of them were backing off to reassess the situation,
while the fourth remained to keep her busy. ^Have to do this before
the others can react,^ she thought.

Unit-02 flexed its legs and jumped into the air, its power umbilical
trailing out behind it. She brought her spear down in a two-handed
overhead strike that would have split a building in half.

The Eva she attacked raised its own spear, holding it steady with both
hands as Asuka hit it. A loud CLANG resounding across the landscape,
but neither weapon broke. Asuka fought for balance as her feet hit the
ground. She grunted, feeling her Eva strain to bring the heavy weapon
around to one side. At the same time, the white Eva moved its own
spear to the side, in imitation of Asuka.

The sheer weight of the weapons slowed them to the point that it looked
as though they were fighting in slow motion. Asuka had never prayed
before, but she found she was praying now, for just a _little_ more
speed.

The two Evas swung their spears at each other in horizontal arcs.
Asuka watched the incoming weapon and adjusted her angle of attack,
forcing her weapon upwards by a few degrees as they finally hit.

Another CLANG sounded. However, Asuka had calculated the angle
correctly; she won the contest of strength, reversing the direction of
the white Eva's attack and tearing the spear out of one of its hands.
Its other arm hung on desperately, but the momentum carried the spear
back too far. While the enemy Unit struggled to bring its weapon up
with just one hand, Asuka took control of her own spear and rammed it
forwards, tip-first.

The Eva brought its free arm up, choosing to take the hit instead of
dodging. This proved to be a fatal mistake. The sheer force of the
blow was too much; the spear went through the arm, through the Unit's
chest armor, and out its back. Asuka twisted, watching as a gout of
blood from its S2 engine burst out of the wound. She released her
grip, letting the impaled Eva tumble to the ground. It didn't get back
up.

Unfortunately, while she'd been struggling with this one, the other
three Evas had moved into an attack formation. One of them grabbed her
from behind. Asuka immediately hit the trigger for the emergency spike
launcher, putting a half-dozen long metal spikes through the Eva's
head. Unfazed, the Unit latched onto her right arm, while another one
grabbed her left. As they held her down, the third Eva chucked its
spear at her.

Asuka raised her AT field to block the blow. But, as she watched with
horror, the spear morphed, twisting into a two-pronged lance she'd only
seen once before.

"Lancea Longinus..." she said to herself, as the lance tore through her
AT field and buried itself into Unit-02's head.

Asuka screamed.

***

Kaoru flinched as he heard Asuka's scream. He slashed at the Eva in
front of him with the Progressive claw, cutting its jaw in five places.
He then jumped backwards, out of the reach of the thing's spear. His
eyes narrowed, and Unit-03's arm stretched over the increased distance,
towards the Eva's chest. Unfortunately, it was blocked as the Eva put
up an AT field.

Annoyed, Kaoru turned and lashed out at the Eva that had tried to come
up behind him. He then jumped down, landing not far from Unit-02. The
three Evas Asuka had not killed had crowded together over the red
mecha. They had been in the process of devouring it, an action that
filled Kaoru's comm lines with female screams of agony.

Kaoru sent a message to Central Dogma to cut Asuka's neural connection,
then he engaged. Unit-03's arms whipped out, grabbing two of the mass-
production Evas from several hundred meters away. He slung them off of
Unit-02, using the increased leverage of his Eva's long arms to send
the Units flying. The third Eva, seeing its allies were no longer
present, turned to face its newest attacker. As Kaoru closed the
distance, the enemy Unit threw its spear away and tackled him, pinning
Unit-03's arms to the ground. Kaoru looked up at its grinning face.

Unit-03 _bit_ into the white Eva's neck. His enemy roared, bringing up
its arms to try and tear Unit-03 off, as hot blood poured out of the
wound. Unit-03, now with its arms free, rammed its Progressive claw
through the Eva's chest.

Kaoru twisted his hand, feeling the the S2 organ flex inwards as it met
the knives on his Eva's hand. The enemy Eva growled, bringing its
hands down to grip onto Unit-03's neck. Kaoru felt the fingers digging
into his throat, but didn't flinch. He got a grip and squeezed,
feeling the S2 cave in underneath the assault. The Eva on top of him
went limp. Kaoru got Unit-03's legs underneath the now-dead Eva, and
kicked it off.

He looked up in time to see that remaining six Evas had taken to the
skies and were circling above them, like vultures. It was the last
thing he saw before six lances came down, spearing his Eva to the
ground.

Kaoru gasped, then looked down at the huge copy of the Lancea Longinus
sticking out of his torso. Not the Eva's torso. _His_ torso. One of
the lances had torn through armor, flesh, and metal, going right into
the entry plug.

His vision dimmed. "Thank you, Shinji..." he said, smiling through the
pain. "My life was meaningful because of you."

At that, he closed his eyes, and fell still. The six remaining Evas
roared in triumph.

***

Shortly after Unit-03 had launched, Gendo made it down to Terminal
Dogma. Rei had fought him the entire way, but he was stronger than she
was, and had been able to restrain her. Now, they were almost at
Heaven's Gate.

He slid his ID card through the slot, and the huge doors opened,
revealing the crucified form of Lillith beyond. Also standing in their
way was Dr. Ritsuko Akagi.

Ritsuko had her pistol out, and trained it on Gendo's forehead. Gendo,
not flinching in the least, took aim with his own gun.

"Don't even think about it," Ritsuko said, holding up her free hand.
In it was a remote control, with several glowing red lights on it.

"It's a dead-man switch," Ritsuko said, calmly. "All I have to do is
drop this, and the MAGI will self-destruct."

Gendo hesitated.

"What are you going to do with her, anyway?" Ritsuko asked,
skeptically. "She's not the perfect Angel you need. She's _human_,
Gendo."

"Her soul is still from Lillith. That's all we really need."

Ritsuko shook her head. "Are you really that obsessed, Gendo?" she
asked. "Is it really so important that you find your Yui again? So
important that you'd kill a little girl, along with the rest of the
world?"

Gendo's eyes narrowed behind his glasses. "You are one to speak.
You're the reason I need to use an this one instead of one of the other
clones," he said, pulling Rei in front of him.

Ritsuko snorted. "Yes, I did that. But those were just _things,_
Gendo. Soulless dolls that I destroyed so you couldn't use them.
You're intent on destroying _her,_ a living girl," Ritsuko said,
pointing at the still-restrained Rei Gendo was holding. "You have no
idea how much she's developed," Ritsuko said. "She's the only Rei
that...I'm proud of."

Rei stopped struggling, and looked at Ritsuko, as though seeing her for
the first time.

"She's a tool and I intend to use her as such," Gendo said. He fired.

Ritsuko took the bullet in the chest, and fell over backwards. She
dropped the remote control. It hit the ground, right in front of
Ritsuko's face, and 'beeped'.

No explosion came.

Ritsuko tried to keep breathing, despite the fact that she could feel
her life flowing out of her. She read the display of the remote,
stating that one of the MAGI had overriden the self-destruct.

"Caspar..." she gasped out. "Mother...you'd betray your daughter for
your man?"

"She always did love me more," Gendo said coldly, stepping by the dying
woman. "You think I didn't know that?"

"Shinji..." Rei whispered to herself.

***

Shinji looked up, as he heard a voice.

"Rei?" he asked the air. "Rei, where are you?"

No response came.

An ominous feeling settled into the pit of Shinji's stomach. He stood
up again and looked at Unit-01. "Let me in!" he shouted in
desperation. "I know you can hear me! GODDAMMIT, LET ME _IN!_"

A groaning noise came from the bakelite. Shinji looked down in time to
see the crystal shatter. Unit-01's huge arm tore free of its prison,
and grabbed onto the wall next to Shinji. Using this grip as leverage,
the Eva turned itself around, shattering the rest of the bakelite as it
knelt down. Simultaneously, the back armor plate of Unit-01 slid up,
deploying the entry plug. As the Eva knelt down, it was oriented
correctly that the plug lined up with Shinji. The boy set his jaw and
jumped up, grabbing onto the edge of the entry plug and struggling
inside. As soon as he was inside, the plug retracted, as though of its
own accord. Shinji powered up the Eva.

"Let's go save Rei...mom," he said.

***

Gendo turned Rei around roughly, and grabbed at her shirt. He ripped
it open with one motion, as the girl gasped in surprise. Finally, he
pulled off his right glove.

"I have Adam with me," he said, showing her his palm. True enough, Rei
could just see the egg-like construct, now buried into Gendo's hand.
"It's time for you to lead me back to Yui," he said to Rei. Holding
her still with his left arm, he placed his right hand on her breast.

Rei cried out as Gendo's hand sank into her. She tried to pull him out
of her chest, but to no avail. Adam had already bonded them together.
The girl shuddered as Gendo's hand slowly moved downwards, finally
stopping at her abdomen. Rei felt power begin flowing through her
body, and watched in horror as her skin began to glow.

A gunshot rang out in Heaven's Gate. The bullet tore through flesh and
bone, blasting Gendo's hand off at the wrist. Gendo grunted with the
pain, watching as the remains of his hand sank into Rei. He turned
towards where the shot had come from.

Ritsuko's hand went limp, and she dropped her gun. With the last of
her strength, she looked Rei in the eyes.

"I'm sorry," she mouthed, finally saying what she'd been trying so hard
to tell Rei.

With that, she went limp, her eyes staring lifelessly.

In a fit of anger, Gendo pulled out his sidearm and emptied the clip
into Ritsuko's already-dead body. He then turned back to Rei, just in
time to see her floating up off the ground, towards Lillith.

"No...Rei, come back!" he shouted. "You're supposed to take me to
Yui!"

Rei definitely _wanted_ to go back, but currently, she had no control.
Her body was being pulled towards the crucified Angel in front of her.
A wind picked up in Heaven's Gate, whipping at her clothes and hair.
Slowly, she approached the massive figure. She was too scared to even
scream.

As she neared the white monstrosity, a thunderous crash erupted at the
entrance to Heaven's Gate. Unit-01 powered in, its footsteps shaking
the walls.

"Shinji!" Rei called out. Unit-01 turned towards her and sped up,
covering the distance.

"Welcome home," came a voice in Rei's mind. The girl turned to face
Lillith, in time to see the white flesh reaching outwards for her. Rei
screamed.

With one last stride, Unit-01 made it to Rei. It's purple hand reached
out and grabbed onto Rei at the same time as Lillith's flesh surrounded
the girl, encasing her - and Unit-01's fist - into a cocoon, which was
pulled back into Lillith herself.

"No!" Shinji's voice called out over the loudspeakers. "No! REI!"

Unit-01's free hand started pounding on Lillith's chest. "Let her go!
Shinji yelled, his voice hysterical. "You useless goddamn piece of
SHIT! LET HER _GO!_"

As Unit-01's fist impacted with Lillith again, it stuck, as though to
glue. Shinji tried to pull it away, but saw that Unit-01's arm was
getting sucked into the Angel. He looked at his other hand, the hand
he'd tried to grab Rei with. The same thing was happening over there;
it had already been drawn in up to the elbow. Shinji's eyes went wide.

Suddenly, Lillith's body exploded outwards, surrounding Unit-01 like a
web and pulling it in. Shinji was cut off mid-scream as his Eva was
absorbed entirely into the Angel, leaving no trace that it had even
been there.

Gendo watched it happen, while holding onto the stump of his arm. Only
one thought was in his mind: ^That was _not_ supposed to happen.^

***

Shinji blinked, looking around. It looked like he was in a cloud;
misty gray and white swaths undulated around him, never taking a real
shape.

^What happened?^ Shinji thought. It didn't look like he was in Unit-
01, or Terminal Dogma. That white Angel had pulled him in...but how
had he ended up here?

Shinji had no time to figure out just where he was. He just hoped this
was real, and not a dream. He didn't have time to dream, right now.

"Rei?" he called out. He tried to walk, but found that there was no
ground under his feet. If he was moving, he didn't feel any air
blowing by him, and the gray clouds around him were too erratic to tell
anything from.

"Rei!" he called out, again. He had to find her. He _needed_ to find
her. If he could just do that, then maybe they'd find a way out of
this.

"Shinji," came a voice behind him.

Shinji turned to face the source of the voice. He soon found himself
looking at someone who bore a striking similarity to Rei, but who
looked older, and with brown hair instead of blue. She looked quite
familiar...

"M...mother?" Shinji asked her.

"Yes, my son," Yui said, coming forwards. She took Shinji up in her
arms and held him close. "It's me. I hope you can forgive me, son."

"F-for what?" he asked.

"For Third Impact." As she said this, a wind picked up, blowing the
gray clouds aside and leaving Shinji and Yui floating in blackness.
Shinji turned to see the white Angel from Terminal Dogma floating there
next to them. A glowing form that resembled an Eva appeared next to
the Angel. The two massive forms came together, merging into an
undefinable light.

"Adam has been joined with Lillith, just as we'd hoped," Yui said,
maintaining her hold on Shinji but letting him watch. "Though we
didn't think you'd come into play this early. But now...humanity will
be complete."

"Wh-what?" Shinji asked, his mind not quite able to grasp all of this
at once.

The view shifted again, until Shinji and Yui were floating in an ocean
of orange fluid. Shinji recognized it immediately as LCL.

"This is the sea of LCL," Yui said. "Soon this is what the world will
be like. Everyone will be one."

Shinji looked around, dumbfounded. _This_ was Third Impact? The end
of the world?

"People no longer have to fear being harmed, and no longer have to feel
alone," Yui continued. "The AT fields that keep their hearts from each
other will be brought down."

^Never lonely again...^ Shinji thought about the prospect. ^Yeah,
you're body would be goop, but your mind...would never alone again?^

^I have never known what it is like to be lonely...^ Shinji heard Rei's
voice in his mind. That memory reminded him of what he'd come here
for. He blinked once, and then moved forwards, pulling out of Yui's
grip.

"Shinji?" Yui asked, surprised. "Where are you going?"

"You want this?" Shinji asked, whirling on his mother. "Are you really
that...that..._cowardly?_ Taking the easy way out by melting everyone
together?"

"Shinji, this is humanity's destiny."

"No!" Shinji shouted, making a cutting motion with his hand. "I won't
believe it. People might be happy, but they won't be themselves,
either, mother. It would only be an illusion, that they no longer have
any personal thoughts."

"That is the point, Shinji. Privacy blocks others out, and keeps your
heart from others."

"I don't care!" Shinji shouted. "As much as you don't like it, you
_need_ some space you can call your own. And look at it!" he said,
gesturing to the LCL. "People might be happy, but it would be fake!
They would be nothing but some..._shit_ that even the bugs are better
than! It wouldn't be real!"

"Shinji..." Yui said, backing off a little.

"I've finally found something worth piloting for, and you want to take
it away by melting everyone down? No, I won't accept it!" Shinji said,
turning his back on Yui. "Rei!" he called out, swimming through the
LCL. ^She's got to be here, somewhere,^ he thought.

Yui blinked, watching her son leave her behind. After a long while,
she nodded, closed her eyes, and vanished from sight.

As she vanished, the world she'd shown to Shinji vanished, as well.

***

Gendo looked up as Lillith began to move. The Angel leaned forwards,
its hands flowing off of the bolts that had been securing it. Lillith
fell into the LCl, and stood to her full height.

And then...she looked down at Gendo.

"Gendo..." came a voice in the Commander's mind. He recognized it
immediately.

"Yui?" he asked Lillith.

"Yes, Gendo, it's me. It appears we've finally succeeded."

"Yes, Yui," Gendo said, his injury forgotten.

"But I ask you...is it worth this much pain?"

Gendo hesitated. "What?" he asked.

"Our son. I know what you've done to him, Gendo. Him, Rei, and
everyone else you've used. All this time, I have been protecting him.
What have _you_ been doing?"

"But...it was what needed to be done. Third Impact will atone for my
sins."

Lillith spasmed, as though in pain. "Gendo," came Yui's voice, as calm
as ever. "I've thought the same way, through all the years. That a
little pain was admissible, if it meant Third Impact in the end.
But...our son...he doesn't want it to happen."

"He doesn't know all the facts, Yui!"

"I believe he knows enough. I can feel him. He's trying so hard to
find that girl. She is not your doll anymore, Gendo. And if we cause
Third Impact, he will be separated from her."

"No! Everyone will be united!"

"And the individuality, the thing my son loves about this girl...will
be gone."

Boils appeared on Lillith's skin. "So I ask you..." Yui said. "Have
you ever..."

Some of the boils broke. Purple armor glinted underneath.

"Thought that maybe..."

Lillith's flesh began to flow off, like melting ice.

"Just maybe..."

Lillith's arms came up as though embracing something. As they did so,
the skin melted off, revealing Unit-01's arms underneath.

"We might...be wrong?"

Lillith evaporated entirely. Standing where the Angel had been was
Unit-01, which, bizarrely enough, was wearing the seven-eyed mask that
had been covering Lillith's face.

Gendo was stunned. "Yui?" he asked. There was no response. "_Yui?!_
No! This isn't supposed to happen!"

Unit-01 opened its mouth and roared. As it did so, the mask fell off
of its face, and towards the ground. Directly towards Gendo.

Gendo looked up as the multi-ton mask came down on him. "I
understand..." he whispered.

Those were his last words, before the mask landed on him, flattening
him into red paste.

Unit-01's eyes glowed brightly. It looked upwards, towards the
battlefield above. It roared again. As it did so, a massive flare of
energy erupted from the Eva, powering up through every layer of armor
in one shot and blasting out onto the surface, where it spread into the
shape of a cross.

Huge "wings" of pure energy, which the world had only seen once before,
expanded out of the Eva's back. Unit-01 rose upwards, floating up
through the tunnel it had made, heading for the surface outside.

As its feet touched the ground, its eyes stopped glowing, and its pilot
finally became conscious.

***

Shinji blinked as he awoke. It looked like he was in Unit-01's
cockpit. He had only one question on his mind.

"What the hell just happened?" he asked aloud.

A moaning sound grabbed his attention. He turned around in his seat.

"Rei?" he asked, seeing the girl floating in the LCL behind him. "Is
that you?"

"I..." the girl tried to say. She trailed off, though, as her
attention attention shifted to the viewscreens. Shinji turned to see
what had caught her attention.

He saw nothing but chaos. The ground had been churned into slush by
its huge combatants, five of which lay prostrated at the foot of a
hill. Shinji recognized two of them instantly: Units 02 and 03.

"Asuka..." Shinji mumbled, looking at Unit-02. The red Eva was half-
eaten, with its guts hanging out everywhere. "Kaoru..." he said,
looking at Unit-03. The black Eva was more or less in one piece, but
it had been impaled multiple times.

Even as he watched, the surviving mass-production Evas landed near
Unit-03 and pulled their lances out of its still form. Holding their
weapons up triumphantly, they spread their wings and took the skies
once more.

***

Unit-03's soul was in torment.

It had felt the pain of being speared, of being stuck to the ground
like a piece of meat. It had been nearly unbearable. But the worst
part of all had been feeling its pilot die. Just as the pilot felt the
Eva's pain, the Eva felt its pilot's pain.

It could sense that its pilot was not like its last controller. The
boy had synchronized with the Eva as though they were already one
being. Unit-03 hadn't known how, but it hadn't cared, either; it had
been able to fight, and that was all that had mattered.

But now the boy was gone. There had to be something that could be
done, but Unit-03 did not know what it was.

Unit-03 screamed silently as it felt the long pointy things get pulled
out of it. It needed to fight back! It needed to defend itself!

But to do that, Unit-03 needed a pilot to synchronize with...

Then, Unit-03 felt it: that the boy was made of the same material as
the Eva itself was. Unit-03 probed into its pilot's dead mind. It
felt that the boy even had an artificial soul, just like the Eva.

Unit-03's soul came to a dim understanding of why this pilot had been
able to synchronize so easily. And it reasoned out a solution to its
current situation.

It reached out, the metal of the entry plug flowing as though made of
liquid. It touched the boy's body, and absorbed him, taking him into
the Eva itself. As soon as the absorption was complete, it felt the
presence of the boy inside of it. Just a little prodding re-awakened
the soul. Now it was no longer defenseless. It re-synchronized, its
pilot's soul accepting the link.

Unit-03 was, once again, alive.

***

Shinji watched, sickened, as the destroyed Unit-03 began to move. Its
arms moved slowly, dumbly, before beginning to pick itself up off the
ground. Its wounds from the spears reopened as it stood. Unit-03
seemed oblivious to the blood that poured down its form, as well as the
massive amounts of pain it must be feeling.

Shinji locked up. He couldn't believe that the Eva was still moving.
It was like watching a corpse moving. Was it going berserk? Unable to
figure out the answers, he just stood there, staring at the black
mecha.

His attention was drawn to a long object coming from the sky. He
recognized it as the Lancea Longinus. Hadn't that been sent into
orbit?

Dumbstruck, he watched the Lance come down at impossible speed,
clearing the distance to Unit-01 in the space of a heartbeat. The
Lancea stopped short, though, mere centimeters in front of Unit-01's
face. Shinji stared at it, his mind unable to take all of this in at
once.

"Shinji!" Rei shouted out.

Shinji snapped out of it. He turned his head, seeing two of the white
Evas swooping down, their lances aimed for Unit-01's hands.

Shinji developed a tic under one eye. These..._things_ were the ones
that had destroyed Units 02 and 03. These monstrosities had killed his
friends. They were to blame for all this!

Shinji didn't notice that he was screaming. He didn't even notice that
he'd grabbed the Lancea. But he _did_ notice that he charged one of
the white Evas. The Lancea passed through the enemy Eva's AT field as
though it weren't even there, going right into its chest.

Shinji kept screaming, pushing forwards so hard that the enemy in front
of him shattered under the momentum. He turned towards the other white
Eva, which was turning to engage him from the side.

"DIIIIE!!" he yelled, swinging the Lancea Longinus as though it were an
axe. The enemy was cut into two halves by the blow.

While this was happening, Unit-03 regained its footing. Slowly, as
though in a daze, it moved forwards, grabbing onto one of the dead
mass-production Evas. It got a grip on the mecha's "backpack", and
pulled. Flesh and bone gave way, as the pack tore away. Unit-03
placed the pack onto its _own_ back. Armor flowed, assimilating the
new addition. The backpack turned black as it became one with Unit-03.
The Eva shuddered, then stood up straight once more.

Units 01 and 03 simultaneously deployed wings. Unit-01 used the energy
wings that had brought it to the surface, while Unit-03 used the more
conventional white, feathery wings of the mass-production Evas. They
both took to the skies.

Shinji didn't know how this was happening. He knew Unit-01 was
definitely _not_ able to fly. But he didn't care, either. He opened
himself fully, synchronizing with Unit-01 to the point that he could no
longer tell himself from the Eva. As he did this, he felt Rei's
presence, as well. The girl was doing the same thing he was: opening
her heart and linking her mind to the Eva's.

Another time, Shinji might have been surprised that Unit-01, the most
picky of the Evas about who piloted it, was even allowing Rei to
synchronize. At this moment, however, he was focused entirely on the
battle in front of him.

His and Rei's minds were in perfect synch with each other and with
Unit-01. They knew what had to be done. Very little thought went
through either of their minds. They only knew that the enemy Evas had
to be destroyed.

The purple and black Evas split up, breaking in opposite directions.
Unit-01 engaged two of the enemy Evas, batting one away as though it
were a fly, then swooping around to charge the other. This Eva dodged,
using its supernatural speed to get out of the way. It rolled
gracefully and dropped towards the ground. However, Unit-01 was able
to turn harder and dive faster. The white Eva was caught before it
could react.

Using the Lancea, Unit-01 impaled its enemy. Shinji/Rei pushed harder,
puncturing the S2 unit, before ripping the Lancea out and turning to
face its next enemy.

The other mass production Eva was diving in, spear at the ready.
Shinji/Rei blocked it with their own Lance. Both Evas flew away from
each other, then turned and charged again. Again, they met in midair,
Lancea meeting lance. The enemy Eva pulled back, then came down on
Unit-01 with a crushing sweep. Unit-01 blocked once more. This time,
the stronger Lancea shattered the weapon of the enemy Eva. The white
mecha, realizing it had been disarmed, turned and dove downwards, out
of Unit-01's immediate reach. Shinji/Rei did not hesitate to take aim
and throw the Lancea. The white Eva was speared, the Lancea going into
its back and coming out its front. The Eva died in mid-air and fell,
eventually crash-landing below. Shinji/Rei turned to face the
remaining two Evas, which were at an even higher altitude.

Unit-03 had been keeping them busy as Unit-01 had been fighting. Even
as Shinji/Rei watched, one of the Evas slowed down to try and reassess
the situation. This was its last move, as Unit-03 came in from above
it and rammed it from behind the Progressive claw. In a heartbeat,
half of the white Eva's torso was ripped off, leaving a gaping hole
where the S2 used to be.

But as Unit-03 swooped away from that enemy, the other Eva came up from
below. Shinji/Rei called out to try and warn Unit-03, but it was too
late. The enemy Unit shot upwards with incredible speed, putting its
lance through Unit-03 and leaving it there. As the black Eva shuddered
in pain, the white one flew up, grabbed Unit-03's recently-aquired
wings, and crushed them with its bare hands.

Unit-03 fell from the sky, its broken wings flapping uselessly.
Shinji/Rei closed their eyes as the black Eva hit the ground. When
they looked, they saw that Unit-03 was motionless and limp. They
looked up at their last enemy, the one who dared kill their ally.

The white Eva dove for the ground, with Unit-01 following close behind.
They flew in so low that they brushed the tops of trees. The white Eva
turned suddenly, leaving Unit-01 to shoot by. As Unit-01 regained
control and turned around, the last remaining Eva landed on its feet,
its wings retracting. It had calculated its landing position so that
it landed near where one of the other mass-production Evas had fallen.
This particular one had the original Lancea Longinus sitting in the
ground near it. The white Eva picked up the Lancea, opened its huge
mouth, and hissed at Unit-01.

Unit-01 touched down not far from the enemy. Shinji/Rei eyed the white
mecha carefully, circling it. The other Eva circled in the same
direction, keeping the distance constant. Finally, Shinji/Rei deployed
the Progressive knife, and charged.

Shinji/Rei used their weapon's small size and light weight to shift
their attack position constantly, keeping their enemy on its toes.
However, the other Eva's weapon, though unwieldy, was also much larger.
Shinji/Rei couldn't get past its defense, and their striked deflected
uselessly off the Lancea.

The enemy Unit swept at Unit-01's legs. Shinji/Rei jumped,
successfully clearing a blow that would have easily taken both of Unit-
01's legs right off.

The white Eva, having put all its force into that one strike,
overbalanced and stumbled. Shinji/Rei took their chance and rammed the
Progressive knife into the enemy Eva's head, right up to the hilt. The
Eva stumbled, but then...grinned. It didn't even feel the pain.
Leaving the knife in its head, it whipped the Lancea around with as-yet
unheard of speed, and brought it down on its opponent. The weapon cut
deeply into Unit-01's shoulder. Shinji/Rei screamed in pain.

But the pain also focused them. Unit-01's eyes glowed, shifting from
yellow to blood red. It grabbed the Lancea, and pulled it out of the
enemy Eva's hands. It threw the weapon away as though it weighed no
more than a toothpick. It finished by kicking its opponent in the
stomach.

The enemy Eva stumbled backwards, tripping and falling onto its back.
Unit-01 pounced, pinning the Unit to the ground. It yanked the
Progressive knife out of the white Eva's skull, and then rammed it
downwards so hard that it left a crater in the Eva's chest.

The enemy Eva grinned again. It's S2 had taken a glancing hit from the
blow, but not enough to kill it. But it knew that the end was near.
Its computerized mind made the most logical choice.

The last mass-production Evangelion exploded under Shinji/Rei, erupting
into raw nuclear fury as its S2 went critical. Unit-01 vanished
entirely within the flash.

As the smoke and flames cleared, observers from Tokyo-3 and from the UN
position could see Unit-01 slowly walking away from the battle. Much
of its armor had been stripped off, but even as they watched, the
purple plating grew back. Unit-01 tilted its head back and roared.

Tokyo-3's defender's cheered.

The remaining UN troops broke and ran for their lives.

It was over.

***

Shinji groaned as consciousness returned. He didn't want to get up.
He was tired, and he wanted to sleep. He didn't want to think about
fighting Evas, and all the blood. He didn't want to think about Rei
getting absorbed -

Rei.

Getting absorbed.

And then...

Shinji sat up quickly, looking around. He was in the hospital, once
again. He also became aware of a splitting headache.

Holding his head with one hand, he looked around. "How did I get
here?" he muttered to himself. He could rememeber killing that last
Eva, and then letting out a primal war-cry that had felt surprisingly
good. And then...he couldn't remember.

He looked over to the side, at the sound of even breathing. There, in
the bed next to his, was Rei.

Shinji got out of bed, shivering as his feet his the cold metal floor
of the hospital. He made his way over to Rei, going down on his knees
as he made it over to her. He took her hand and held it to his face,
feeling the warmth from her. She was here. She was still alive.

Shinji could feel tears going down his face as he gripped Rei's hand
even harder. He looked up, though, as he felt her shift and groan.

Rei's eyes opened slowly. She blinked a few times, her face betraying
nothing. Then she looked down and saw Shinji.

She didn't say anything. She just sat up, as Shinji got to his feet.
They embraced, holding each other tightly, breathing raggedly and both
crying.

The door opened, and footsteps came in. Neither of them looked up, at
first.

"Well, looks like you two have recovered."

Shinji turned around. "Misato-san!" he called out, running over to the
purple-haired woman and hugging her. "You're alive!"

Misato yelped. "Ouch! Shinji, watch it!"

Shinji pulled away. As he did so, Misato tugged up her shirt,
revealing the thick bandage over her stomach. "I've gotta be careful
with that," she told him. "They said I could break it open again if I
don't watch out."

"Oh...sorry, Misato-san."

"Yeah, don't go killing her right after she was operated on, baka
Shinji!"

Shinji looked past Misato. "Asuka!" he cried out, running over and
hugging her, too. "You're alive, too!"

"Of course I'm alive," Asuka said, though at a more controlled volume.
"Now let go of me before I choke to death, you hentai."

Shinji backed off from the redhead. He walked back over to Rei, and
sat on her bed.

"How are you two feeling?" Misato asked.

"I've got a headache like you wouldn't believe," Shinji and Rei said,
simultaneously. They looked at each other, and giggled.

"Well, that's to be expected. You both blasted by your standing
synchro records. Disconnecting suddenly when you're _that_
synchronized could hurt."

"Oh," Shinji and Rei said. "So, uh...Misato-san. What happened?"

"What's the last thing you remember?"

"Having that last Eva blow up under me."

Misato nodded. "Well, according to our computers, both of you passed
out soon after that. But that's to be expected. I mean, you'd both
been through a lot."

"Not as much as _me,_" Asuka butted in. "Did _you_ get a spear through
your eye, then get _eaten?_"

Shinji and Rei blinked in unison, then shook their heads slowly.

"...yeah," Misato said. "Nagisa-kun saw it happening and had us
terminate her link to the Eva. We managed to cut her out before it was
too late, but we still had to rebuild the optical nerve for her left
eye." She looked down at Asuka. "We've also been filling her up with
drugs for the past few days, because she keeps getting nightmares."

"Hey!" Asuka said, glaring back up at Misato. "You didn't have to tell
them _that!_"

Shinji and Rei both smiled. "And what about us?" they asked. ^Why is
he/she talking at the same time as me?^ they both thought.

Misato walked over slowly and sat on the bed. "You both had us all on
edge for a while," she said, her eyes going soft. "Up until a few days
ago, we didn't know if you'd make it."

Shinji and Rei blinked. "Wh...why?"

"Well, you were both highly synched with the Eva," Misato said,
carefully reaching out and taking Shinji's hand. "The MAGI register
your patterns spiking all over the place. We kept seeing the Eva
absorb both of you, then spit you back out."

Shinji and Rei both shuddered, thinking about what that meant. Misato
continued.

"Then, your links were cut so quickly, you both lost consciousness.
The doctors were telling me that maybe you'd fried your brains."

"Oh..." they replied, stroking their foreheads. "Uh...I guess we made
it, though."

"Yup," Misato replied. "You two had me and Asuka worried sick for a
while back there."

"Hey! _I_ for one was _not_ worried about those idiots!" a certain
redhead stated, loudly.

Misato nodded, rolling her eyes as she did so. "Okay, Asuka."

The Major turned back to the pair on the bed. "Anyway, I twisted the
doctor's arm and got her to release you two early, if you're both
careful. C'mon," she said, gesturing at the door. "You get dressed,
and then there's someplace I'd like you to go."

Rei and Shinji looked at each other, then back to Misato. "Okay..."
they said, again simultaneously.

***

Misato brought them to a small room that had a projector screen on the
wall.

"Asuka and I have seen this already," Misato said, turning down the
lights and prepping the tape. "But we still can't quite believe it."

The tape started running. "This is footage from a NERV security cam,"
Misato added in. "There's more before this, but I fast-forwarded to
the part you should see."

On the screen, Unit-01 could be seen wrestling with one of the mass-
production Evas. Shinji and Rei watched, detached, almost unable to
believe that they'd been piloting that thing. It looked less like a
mecha and more like a monster straight from hell.

Everyone winced as the white Eva exploded, the flash lighting up the
darkened room. Finally, the glare receded, and Unit-01 could be seen
walking away. Unit-01 roared.

"Alright, I remember doing that," Shinji and Rei said. Again, they
looked at each other, with puzzled looks on their faces. "How long are
we going to be talking like this?" they asked.

Misato paused the tape. "Probably not for very long. Remember you
were synching with each other as well as the Eva. Your minds will
eventually fall out of synch, though." Shini and Rei nodded as one in
response.

"Anyway," Misato said, "Right about here's where we registered you'd
both lost consciousness." She hit play again.

As they watched, Unit-01 hunched over, going to one knee and curling
into a ball. Its shoulder baffles and the other restraining parts of
its armor broke, flying off its body. Its exposed back plating opened,
and the familiar white cylinder of an entry plug ejected. The camera
view traced the plug's arc through the air, to where it parachuted to a
landing far from the Eva.

The camera then looked back to Unit-01, which had stood up again,
oblivious to the fact that it no longer had any pilots. It looked to
the sky, and its wings of energy expanded to their full width.

Unit-01 held out its hand. The Lancea Longinus came in from off-
screen, as though pulled by a magnet. The Eva grasped the weapon and
held it tightly as it rose into the air.

Everyone in the room watched, amazed, as Unit-01 flew upwards,
accelerating and quickly vanishing from sight.

"Mother..." Shinji said to himself. Rei glanced at him, but said
nothing.

Misato stopped the tape, and brought the lights back up again. "We
cracked open the plug and found you two holding onto each other, both
sound asleep," Misato said. "So we brought you here, and...that's
where you woke up."

Shinji and Rei nodded, still quite shocked.

"C'mon," Misato said, opening the door. "There's one more place you
need to go."

***

The next place Misato took them was the Eva bays. They walked by
several of the less-damaged Type 5's, which were apparently being
salvaged.

They finally stopped as they reached Unit-03. The black mecha stood
docile in its gantry, staring blankly into space. Any damage it had
suffered had long since either regenerated or been repaired afterwards.
Shinji and Rei noticed that it still had that wing-backpack fused into
its back.

"Here's the other survivor," Misato said, gesturing to the Eva.

Asuka "hmmphed," looking at the machine. Shinji and Rei glanced in her
direction, puzzled.

Misato laughed a little. "She's just mad about Unit-03 surviving.
Unit-02 was too far gone after the battle. We had to destroy it."

"Oh..." Shinji and Rei both said. "So...what do you mean, 'the other
survivor'?"

"We never retrieved Nagisa-kun," Misato said, her voice somber. "We
looked into the entry plug, and just his empty plugsuit was there."

Shinji and Rei's eyes both went wide as they realized what had
happened.

"There wasn't any trace of him, not even DNA," Misato said. "The suit
had a huge hole in the chest, but no blood. It looks like Nagisa-kun
had the same thing happen to him as you, Shinji."

"C...can you get him out?" Shinji and Rei asked, nervous.

Misato shook her head. "I said we couldn't find any trace of him. The
Eva has absorbed him completely, Shinji. We can't even find his soul
in the plug."

Shinji nodded slowly, unable to respond otherwise.

"I'll...leave you alone for a minute," Misato said, stepping back.
"Come on, Asuka."

Asuka, mumbling to herself in German, followed. Rei looked like she
was about to go after them, but then changed her mind and remained next
to Shinji. After a moment, she took his hand and squeezed it. Shinji
looked up at her and smiled. Then, he looked to Unit-03.

"We...we did it, Kaoru-kun..." Shinji said to the Eva. "I...don't know
if you can hear me, but if you can...we did it. The Angels are gone
for good, now, and we stopped all the enemy Evas."

They stood there in silence for a few minutes, watching the motionless
machine.

"I...hope you're happy in there," Shinji continued. "You don't have to
worry, anymore. About falling apart, I mean. Misato-san will make
sure they take good care of Unit-03. And if she doesn't, I will."

Shinji paused, swallowing. He knew he was sad, but it was as though
he'd run out of tears.

"Just tell me you're happy," Shinji said, again. "Then I...won't have
any problem with it. I'll be fine, if I know you are."

He kept staring at Unit-03, for a good five minutes. Nothing happened.

Shinji sighed and turned away. "Let's go," he said to Rei.

But, as he turned, he saw Kaoru standing on the catwalk. Shinji froze.
He could see through Kaoru, as though he were made of mist. The boy
stood there, with his hands in his pockets and that same carefree smile
on his face.

Kaoru nodded, once, his eyes looking directly into Shinji's.

And then...he was gone. He vanished instantaneously, as though he
hadn't even been there.

Shinji blinked. He looked at Rei. "Did you see that?" he asked.

Rei nodded and squeezed his hand again. "I think that was your answer,
Shinji."

Shinji nodded, sighing a little. "I'm glad to know that...Kaoru-
kun..." he said to Unit-03. With that, he turned and left, Rei walking
by his side. Inside Unit-03, Kaoru's soul watched through the Eva's
eyes.

Later that day, several of the techs swore that they'd seen Unit-03
smiling.

***

The next few weeks went by as a blur. Workers came in from all over
Japan to rebuild Tokyo-3. Not only did the city need work, the area
around it needed to be reconstructed and decontaminated. The decision
was made to empty the city entirely, leaving just the MAGI and a small
technician staff behind to manage them. It wasn't much of an
evacuation; other than the NERV staff, not many people were still
living there. But they left with the promise that when they returned,
Tokyo-3 would again be a majestic city.

Most of the city's inhabitants moved down to Osaka-2, where they took
up temporary residences at various places. In the case of the pilots
and bridge crew, a grant from NERV let them stay at a high-class hotel,
each with their own individual room.

Then there came the hard part: finding the dead. The corpses of NERV
personnel had been retrieved by the dozen from the Geofront. Many of
them had had to be chipped out of the bakelite the corridors had been
flooded with.

Shinji and Rei had only attended two of the funerals. They hadn't
intended to go to the first one, but then Fuyutsuki had explained to
them why Gendo had wanted to start Third Impact. They'd grudgingly
decided to go to the funeral for Shinji's father.

At the funeral, Shinji had looked stiff, while Rei had looked as though
she'd have rather been anywhere else. But they'd still gone through
the motions, attending the wake and watching as the coffin was buried.
They'd left soon afterwards, and put the event out of their minds.

The second funeral they'd attended had been that of Ritsuko Akagi.
That had been another matter altogether. Shinji had gotten a soft look
in his eyes. He hadn't really known Ritsuko, but she hadn't been that
bad a person. Rei had genuinely cried, shedding tears freely. The
only person who had cried more had been Maya, who'd been bawling like a
baby about her "sempai" and how she "never told her the way she felt."

Shinji and Rei had visited Akagi's tombstone later on. Rei had left
flowers, and said in a low voice that she forgave the doctor. Then,
after a few minutes, she'd asked if Ritsuko was still proud of her.
Shinji had never asked her what she meant by that, and Rei had not
ventured an explanation.

***

Just a week after Ritsuko's funeral had been completed, there was no
trace of sadness in the pilots. Now that the mourning was through, at
least for the moment, they'd managed to rest up to full strength again.
Which meant one thing and one thing alone: that it was time to
celebrate.

Another grant from NERV had allowed them to rent out a ballroom at the
hotel they were staying at. It had even been enough to pay for a fully
loaded bar, with waiters galore.

It was a black-tie affair, with everyone dressing up in formal clothes
they hadn't had a reason to wear for the past few months. It was a
time for celebration both because the Angels were gone, and because
people from Tokyo-3 were finally able to see the people they hadn't
seen since most of the city had been evacuated.

Shinji laughed out loud as Kensuke Aida filled him in on what had been
going on.

"I'm serious," Kensuke said, in response to Shinji's laughing. "Touji
bet Hikari that if he was standing on his own two feet before January,
he'd wear a dress for one whole day. And, well, what do you know," -
he stopped to laugh, thinking about how silly Touji had looked. "But I
don't think he cared. You should've seen how happy he was to have both
legs again."

Shinji glanced over at Touji, who was downing his umpteenth glass of
punch. The boy looked perfectly normal; if Shinji hadn't known better,
he'd have never guessed that he was looking at a former double-amputee.

"I guess technology can help as much as it hurts," Shinji remarked.
Misato had warned him that Touji would be up and about again, but he
still couldn't believe it. The same technology that had created the
Evas had been used to furnish a new arm and leg for Touji.

"No kidding. I've got some great pictures of him wearing the dress.
You wanna see?"

Shinji laughed again. "Uh...no thanks. So...how are those two doing,
anyway?"

"Who?"

"Touji and Hikari."

Kensuke blinked a few times, then figured it out. "Oh, yeah. Sorry,
you really _have_ been out of the loop, haven't you?"

"Huh?"

"Well, they dated for a while after he got his new arm and leg, but
after a few weeks they broke up. No hard feelings on either side, but
it just didn't work out."

"Oh..." Shinji said, a little depressed by this revelation. "So how'd
Hikari take it?"

"Surprisingly well," Kensuke said, smiling.

***

"Well, _I_ think you made the right choice," Asuka said to Hikari.
"You know you can do better than that pervert."

Hikari nodded quietly and sipped from her punch. Asuka went on,
regardless.

"He doesn't stop ogling over that Misato for more than a few seconds at
most! And you know what he did when I first saw him? No 'hi, how are
you,' but - "

"Asuka, I know what happened," Hikari said. "You've told me many times
already."

Asuka stopped mid-sentence, stared at Hikari for a moment, then nodded.
"So..." she said, trying another conversational tack, "have you found
someone new yet?"

Hikari nodded, blushing.

"Oooh. Who is it? Is he a stud?"

"...he's cute. And he's very smart, too."

"Oh, I gotta know. Who is he? Is he in this room?"

Hikari nodded again.

"Well, who is he?"

Hikari looked up, across the room. Asuka followed Hikari's gaze.

Kensuke Aida was staring back, meeting Hikari's eyes. He waved at the
girls. Hikari's blush deepened.

Asuka looked from Kensuke, to Hikari, then back to Kensuke, and finally
back to Hikari. "Okay," she said, calmly.

Hikari, still quite red, looked up at her. "You took that well. I'd
have guessed you'd go nuts."

"Of course not, my friend," Asuka said, smiling. She turned around.
"Hey, Misato!" she yelled out. "Where's the booze? I just got a
_really_ good reason not to remember this party!"

***

Kensuke and Touji had switched places, and now Shinji was talking with
his other friend. There had been a very uneasy silence between the two
of them for several minutes, before Touji had finally said that he
didn't blame Shinji for what had happened. Things had been improving
from there.

"So, Shinji, you got a girlfriend yet?" Touji asked, grinning
lecherously.

Shinji nodded.

"Yeah, figures. Who's the lucky girl?" he asked, glancing over at
Asuka.

"Rei."

Touji looked back to Shinji. He had an unreadable expression on his
face for a moment. Then, he smiled a genuine smile. "Good for you,
man!" he said, clapping Shinji on the shoulder. "I always thought you
had a thing for her."

Shinji nodded, smiling back.

"So what started it? What broke the ice?"

"An Eva self-destruct," Shinji replied, casually.

"Huh?" Touji asked, confused.

"I'll explain _that_ one later," Shinji said, finishing off his drink.

"Alright, alright," Touji replied. "So where is she? Did she not want
to come?"

Shinji shook his head. "No, she promised me she'd come. But Misato-
san insisted she get something to wear for this party. She's trying on
her new clothes now."

"Geez. Ayanami actually _cares_ about how she looks?

"Yeah. A lot's different about her, these days."

Touji's eyes widened. "...wow," he said, incredulous.

Shinji nodded. "Yeah, I guess it is kind of surprising," he said.
"Because, I mean, the last _you_ saw of her, she - "

"Wow," Touji said, again. Shinji looked up, to see that his friend
was, in fact, paying attention to something behind him. Shinji turned
around...

...and was left breathless.

Just stepping through the doorway into the room, Rei glanced around
nervously. Even with help from Misato, it had taken a good couple of
hours to pick out the dress that was just right. She'd spent the last
thirty minutes just looking at herself in the mirror. She'd never gone
to a formal engagement before, much less worn anything like _this_.

The dress was of a smooth material she couldn't remember the name of.
It seemed to catch the light and almost glow. The dress covered her
shoulders nicely, but left her arms bare. It also had an open back,
something that had made Rei blush for the first several minutes after
putting it on. The top part of the dress clung to her body, molding
itself to every curve. It was a blue exactly the same color as her
hair. Below her waist, the dress took on a darker blue, and flared out
into a thin skirt.

Folding her hands in front of her, she looked around, quietly stepping
into the party room.

Touji poked Shinji, but got no response. "We've lost him," he said to
himself.

"God she's beautiful..." Shinji mumbled.

"Looks like she's really gone all-out tonight," Touji remarked, eyeing
Rei. "Getting a lot of attention for it, too," he added, noticing the
double and triple-takes many of the males were doing when they saw the
girl.

Shinji could only nod dumbly.

"So go over to her," Touji said, shoving his friend.

Shinji stumbled, but caught himself. He snapped back to reality.
"Huh? B...but..."

"But what?"

"I wouldn't know what to say."

Touji shrugged. "Why so?"

"Well, the last chance we got to be alone together...not like that!" he
added on, noticing the way Touji looked at him. "The last time we
really talked, she...said that she loved me."

Touji blinked. "Damn. Ayanami said the l-word? I'd have never
guessed."

"Me, too," Shinji said, watching the girl walk across the room. Rei
looked at him, holding him in place with her eyes and her smile.
Shinji couldn't help smiling back.

"Looks like she's waiting for you," Touji said. "So...what're you
going to say to her?"

"I wish I knew."

Touji's face went deadpan, and his tone became quiet and serious.
"Alright, just between you and me, and I swear on _whatever's_ still
sacred that I won't tell anyone. Do you love her back?"

Shinji didn't say anything, at first. Touji displayed uncharacteristic
patience, crossing his arms and waiting.

"A while ago, I told her I'd protect her," Shinji finally began. Touji
kept his mouth shut; he could almost sense the other boy had more to
say. He was right.

"And right after that, it all went down. And...I almost lost her. I
saw her disappear, and...my world ended, right then. I lost my mind.
All that mattered was getting her back. You know..." he said, looking
directly at Touji. "I think I can almost understand my father. At
that moment, I'd have destroyed the world myself, if it meant getting
her back."

Touji waited a few more moments, to see if Shinji had anything else to
say. When the boy remained silent, Touji nodded. "Sounds pretty good
to me, man," he said, nudging Shinji's arm. "Why don't you tell her
that? Go over there, and tell where what you just told me."

"B...but..."

"What?"

"But there's so many people, here. And it's different when I'm talking
to her. I get kind of self-conscious, sometimes."

"If you say so, man. Tell you what, you don't even have to say
anything. I might not be an expert on this stuff, but I know you can
get pretty far without saying much at all. Here," he said, pointing to
the dance floor. "Ask her to dance."

Shinji went pale. "I don't know how to dance."

"That's not stopping Kensuke," Touji said, pointing to a couple on the
dance floor. Sure enough, Kensuke and Hikari were there, swaying to
the music, slowly moving around the floor.

Shinji shook his head. "N...no. I might go talk to her, but no
dancing. I'll just embarass myself."

Touji looked like he was about to say something, but then he just
nodded. "If you feel that way, fine," he said. "Good luck, man," he
said, clapping Shinji on the back and turning away.

Shinji watched Touji go, then slowly turned back to face Rei. She was
_so_ beautiful. How could he be worthy of that? No, he wouldn't ruin
it by trying to dance with her. Period.

***

"We need to get Shinji onto the dance floor," Touji said.

"Alright," Kensuke replied, pushing his glasses back up his nose.
"What's your preferred method? At gunpoint? Or maybe an electric
cattle prod?"

Hikari, next to him, turned one corner of her mouth down. "That's not
nice," she said to Kensuke.

The target of her chidings sank into himself a little. "Sorry," he
said. "But honestly, Touji. How do you intend to make him do
something you _know_ he won't want to do?"

"Easy. I've got an idea."

"This oughta be good," Kensuke said. "Okay, what's your idea?"

Touji looked around conspiratorially, then leaned down, pulling Hikari
and Kensuke down into an improvised huddle. He whispered his idea to
them.

Hikari giggled. "You'd _do_ that?" she asked.

"Hey, it's for the kid's own good," Touji said, taking a noble pose.

"You know, that's actually a decent plan," Kensuke remarked. "Who are
you, and what did you do with Touji?"

Hikari fixed Kensuke with a stern look. Kensuke recovered by putting
his arm around Hikari's waist. "Alright, I'll behave," he said,
quietly.

"You better," the girl replied.

"Okay, let's go," Touji said, clapping his hands together. "I'll talk
to the band. Hikari, you go around and make sure these people all know
the chorus. Kensuke, you get that guy with the long hair - "

"Shigeru Aoba?" Kensuke suggested.

"Yeah, that's him. Tell him to get his guitar."

They all nodded in unison, then split up, going to do their respective
tasks.

***

Shinji had finally worked up the guts to approach the object of his
affection.

"H...hello, Rei," he said, nervously tugging at his collar.

"Hello, Shinji..." Rei replied, glancing down at her feet to hide her
blush.

"Y...you look nice, tonight."

"Thank you. You also look nice, Shinji."

They both swallowed, neither really knowing what to say.

Both of them tried to say something at the same time, and both of them
stopped, smiling a little. They tried again, but this time, they were
cut off by a series of cheers and hoots going up amongst the crowd.
They looked towards the stage, which seemed to be on the center of the
ruckus.

Standing on the stage was Touji, microphone in hand. He took a dramtic
bow in response to the mock cheers of the crowd. He then gestured to
the band behind him. The music immediately started, with Shigeru
plucking off several chords on his guitar.

^Shigeru? Where'd he come from?^ Shinji wondered. The rest of the
band kicked in, playing a bouncy, almost street-music tune. Then came
the worst part of all: Touji began to sing.

It wasn't just that Touji couldn't carry a tune in a sack. No, _that_
would have been bearable. But in addition to that, the boy was looking
over in Shinji and Rei's direction, quite obviously singing for their
benefit.

"Laughin' and a-runnin'...skippin' and a-jumpin'...in the misty
moooornin'..." Touji sang. Shinji wished he could disappear.

"...with you...the red-eyed girl..." Touji said, pointing to them from
where he stood on the stage. "Yoooou're my...red-eyed girl..."

The worst wasn't over yet. Touji continued: "Do you remember when...we
used to sing..."

At this, the _entire_ crowd erupted into the chorus. "SHA LA LA LA LA
LA LA LA LA LA LA TEE DA!!"

Shinji glanced over at Rei, who was trying to hold back a _very_
embarassed smile. The crowd kept going. "SHA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA LA
LA LA TEE DA! LA TEE DA!"

Shigeru stopped playing for a moment, letting the bass guitar have a
brief solo. While this was going on, Touji got off the stage, still
holding his microphone. He made his way through the cheering crowd,
over to to Shinji and Rei.

Touji threw one arm around Shinji's shoulders and offered him the mike.
Shinji shiied away as though it were a snake, despite the cheers from
everyone else for him to sing. Touji shrugged and jumped back in,
missing his cue by a few beats.

"So hard to fiiind my way..." he continued, now beginning to dance
around Shinji and Rei. Shinji's face, by this time, rivaled Unit-02
with its shade of red.

"Yooou're my...red-eyed girl. Do you remember when...we used to
sing..."

_Rei_ joined in with the crowd this time, while Shinji covered his eyes
with one hand.

As it turned out, that was the last chorus. Touji took another bow in
front of the tremendous applause from the crowd, then brought the mike
back up to his mouth.

"Shinji," he said, his voice broadcast across the room. "You are now
quite thoroughly embarassed, and stand absolutely nothing to lose by
showing us what a bad dancer you are."

^I _am_ going to kill you for this, Touji,^ Shinji thought. His
thoughts were interrupted, however, as Rei took his hand.

Shinji's mind froze. ^What's she doing? She wouldn't...^

He considered breaking free, but his body didn't seem to be listening,
right now. He just walked stiffly, allowing Rei to lead him out to the
dance floor amid even more cheering.

They made it out onto the hard wooden surface, along with several other
couples who decided to go back to dancing. On the stage, Shigeru took
a bow and stepped off, slinging his guitar over his shoulder as he
headed off to the bar.

The band began playing something much slower and more relaxed than that
last tune. It flowed smoothly, washing over the crowd and calming the
over-excited observers.

Shinji felt Rei start to sway her hips to the music. He panicked at
first, but then let himself go along with it. This wasn't too hard.
All he had to do was ignore the eyes of the crowd.

That was actually a surprisingly easy thing to do. All he had to do
was look down at the girl in his arms. Into the eyes Touji had just
been singing about. Shinji felt himself relax, as he looked at Rei's
peaceful face. He pulled her closer, letting the music move him.

After a while, Rei turned her head and rested it on his chest, letting
a small sigh escape her lips. Shinji sighed as well, as he felt her
warm body pressing into him. He concentrated on dancing. ^Maybe I
_won't_ kill Touji...^

He could feel her heart thudding against his chest, feel her hands
circled gently around his waist as they continued to sway back and
forth. Shinji moved his own hand from her waist up to the bare skin of
her back. He turned his head down slightly, smelling the fresh scent
of Rei's perfume. ^Since when does she wear perfume? It's kind of
nice, though...^

All too soon, the music ended. Shinji pulled away from Rei, slightly.
They looked into each others eyes for what seemed like an eternity.

Then they both looked up, as applause broke out in the crowd. It
started off with just Touji, Hikari, and Kensuke, but then it spread,
until the entire room was clapping for Shinji and Rei. Shinji blushed,
but managed a nod in the crowd's direction. Rei did likewise.

Shinji led them off of the dance floor. He took a seat in front of a
window. Rei sat down next to him.

"You did that very well, Shinji," Rei said, softly.

Shinji blushed. "I was just...making it up as I went along."

"That made no difference. You still did it well."

"Th...thank you, then," he said, putting his arm around her shoulders.
He looked out the window, at the stars beyond. He felt Rei turn to
look, as well.

"What are you looking at, Shinji?" Rei asked.

"Nothing specifically," Shinji replied, slowly. "Just...taking in the
night's beauty," he added, glancing at Rei. The girl blushed at this.

They'd been sitting there for several minutes when they were suddenly
interrupted by a voice coming from behind them.

"Excuse me...Shinji Ikari?"

Shinji turned around. "Yes?" he asked the speaker. It looked like one
of the waiters they'd hired for this party.

"A man outside asked me to give this to you," he said, handing Shinji a
letter. At that, he bowed and left.

Shinji's brow furrowed. Who would have given him this?

"Open it, Shinji," Rei said, looking curiously at the letter.

Shinji nodded and ripped it open. Inside was a brief letter. Shinji
held it out, letting Rei read it with him.

"Shinji," the letter read. "I'm sorry I had to leave for a while. I
know you must have been hurt by that. My apologies. I had some work
to do, which was best done alone. If anyone had known who I cared for,
you and Katsuragi might have been used as leverage against me. But my
work is done now, and I thought I'd drop in on my friends.

"I'd like to talk to you later. From what I hear, a lot's happened in
my absence. Right now, however, I've got some things to say to
Katsuragi, which are best done in person. I didn't know if she'd want
to see me, after what I did. I'm asking you as a friend to bring her
out here. I'm out in the lobby.

"P.S. : How're my melons doing?"

There was no name. Shinji knew exactly who it was, though. He blinked
and read the letter again. "I thought he was gone..." Shinji mumbled
to himself. "Misato-san sure thought so..." he continued, remembering
that one night he'd found Misato crying.

"Who wrote this, Shinji?" Rei asked, cocking her head.

"Just a friend," Shinji replied, hesitantly. "I'll be back in a
minute, Rei. Just wait here."

Rei nodded once, then went back to looking at the stars.

Shinji pushed through the crowd, until he found Misato, who was heading
for the bar.

"Misato-san!" he called out.

Misato turned around. "Oh, hi there, Shinji-kun," she said. She
smiled at him, but Shinji could see the empty look in her eyes.

"Is...is there something wrong?" Shinji asked, momentarily forgetting
what he'd come here for.

"Nothing, nothing," Misato replied, shaking her head. The empty look
remained in her eyes. "I'm just glad to see everyone so happy."

Shinji remained suspicious, but shook it off. "Uh...Misato-san,
someone's asked to...uh...meet you."

"Who?" Misato asked, suspicious.

"They didn't give me their name," Shinji replied, truthfully. "I'm
sure it'll just take a minute. Come on."

Misato looked from Shinji, then back to the bar and its supply of free
alcohol, then back to Shinji. "Oh, why not?" she asked, shrugging.

Shinji nodded and started heading for the doors. Misato followed
closely, and they made good progress through the crowd.

They made it through the doors and into the significantly emptier
hallway outside. Shinji turned left and headed for this floor's lobby.
Behind him, Misato still followed, though a questioning look was slowly
spreading across her face.

Shinji made it to the lobby, and looked around. He saw nothing out of
place; a few people headed to their rooms, a tiled floor, and some
leather chairs for people who were waiting. But...he didn't see anyone
he recognized.

"He said he'd be here..." Shinji muttered.

"_Who_ said that?" Misato asked. "Shinji, who told you to come out here?"

"I...I..." Shinji tried to say something, but he couldn't decide
whether to lie or tell the truth. Fate bailed him out, though, as he
saw the object of their search walk into the lobby from out of the
shadows of a side corridor.

"Seems you've developed a cynical streak since I last saw you,
Katsuragi," Ryouji Kaji said, crossing his arms.

Misato froze at the voice. She turned around slowly, meeting Kaji's
gaze. She stared for a long, long moment. After a while, her mouth
started to open and shut, but no words came out.

"So much to say, you don't know what to say first...I know the
feeling," Kaji continued, smiling a little. As he watched, the vacant
look in Misato's eyes vanished, replaced by a little sparkle.

Misato walked up to him, smiled, and promptly tackled him. Shinji
winced as he saw Kaji's head hit the floor. Misato started pounding on
Kaji's chest so hard that grunts of pain escaped him. Words started
tumbling out of her mouth.

"You goddamn shit-eating asshole rat-fuck bastard son of a fucking
_bitch!_ You scared me! And now you come crawling back?! I
oughta..."

Kaji just lay there and took the punishment, ignoring the stares of
people walking through the lobby. Misato continued swearing and
beating him until she was out of breath. She leaned on him, gasping,
as a bruised and battered Kaji took a breath to speak.

"I'm sorry," he began. Misato looked like she wanted to say something,
but since she was still trying to get her wind back, she couldn't.

"I know it's not nearly enough, but I'm sorry." He glanced at Shinji,
who nodded and walked back to the party room.

"I'd found out who was behind it all, but I was too far in," Kaji said.
"I knew someone was going to try to kill me, so I asked a friend to
help me fake my own death. I took a temporary identity and
disappeared."

"You scared me..." Misato whispered.

"I know. But I needed to stop SEELE, because I was sure they wouldn't
stop trying, even if their first attempt at Third Impact wasn't enough.
And the safest protection was for me to be dead. You can't kill a dead
man, and you can't blackmail him by threatening his friends."

"Oh, so it was for _my_ benefit," Misato said sarcastically, getting
up.

Kaji stood up, as well, and rubbed at his sore ribs. "It was out of
everyone's best interests. I enjoy being alive, you know. But it's
over with, now," he said. "I called in a few more favors. SEELE is
dead."

"You mean..."

"Yes. While SEELE was trying to start Third Impact, it let its guard
down. During that time, my...associates and I took care of the entire
board. I'd come here to finish Gendo with my own hands, but it seems
someone beat me to the punch..." he looked at her, to see that she'd
turned away.

"What is it?" Kaji asked.

"I can't believe this," Misato said. "You just took out the strongest
government in the world? Just like that?"

"It wasn't easy."

Misato shook her head. "That's going to cause a _lot_ of trouble."

"Better that than Third Impact. Besides, if we were all 'evolved', as
they said, I probably wouldn't be able to do _this_ any more," he said,
as he pinched her butt.

Misato jumped at the contact, turned around, and gave Kaji a slap that
would have put Asuka to shame. Kaji's head turned to the side with the
force, but he smiled. "That was worth it," he said.

"You jerk," Misato said. At the same time, she turned his head back to
face her, and planted a wet kiss right on his lips.

After they broke off, Kaji stroked her face. "So, what do you say?
Now that it's finished, at least for a while, do you want to try
starting over?"

Misato sighed and stepped back. "I don't know," she said. "But you
can at least keep me company for the rest of this party. After
that...we'll see."

"That's as good a start as any," Kaji said, offering her his arm.
Misato took it, and they slowly made their way back to the party.

***

Touji had been one of the first people to clap, and one of the last to
stop, as Shinji and Rei stepped off the floor. ^Knew he could do it,^
he thought. ^Just needed to give him a push.^ He laughed to himself,
remembering the look on Shinji's face.

Some several minutes ago, he'd sat down in a convenient chair, giving
his legs a break. He didn't like this formal wear. It was too tight,
and the jacket was getting hot. He'd put up with it for a little
longer, but he could feel himself running down. It would be a little
while before he would feel like standing up again.

He grinned to himself as Misato walked back in from the lobby. She was
as stunning as ever. His grin fell, though, as he saw the man with
her. Hadn't that guy left a long time ago? He'd figured it had been
some kind of violent break-up. But, judging from the way he was
staying close to her, it seemed the break-up was off. Though it didn't
explain the handprint on his face...

He turned his glance back over to Rei and Shinji. Shinji had just
returned from taking Misato somewhere, and had gone back to sit down
next to Rei. They had gone back to looking out into the clear night
air. He had high hopes for those two.

^But then again, what do I know?^ he asked himself. ^I get a steady
girlfriend for a month, and then I can read other relationships like
books? Yeah, right.^ But, it was nice to think everything would work
out. Maybe it would.

He glanced over at the bar, where he could see that Maya woman sitting
with Shigeru. Both of them - Maya especially - appeared to be knocking
back a _lot_ of booze. Maybe he could do that. He sure wouldn't be
dancing.

"Should have Shinji give me some pointers..." he said to himself,
remembering how Shinji had managed to relax and just let the music move
him.

"Oh, give me a _break_," came a new voice from behind him. Touji grit
his teeth at the voice. He turned and looked at Asuka standing next to
him.

"You call _that_ dancing?" Asuka asked, much too loudly for Touji's
tastes. "That baka Shinji doesn't know anything about how to dance.
He can't even _kiss_ right."

Touji smirked as he peeked past her. "And when did you last check how
he could kiss?" he asked.

Asuka turned and saw Shinji and Rei exchanging a rather deep kiss over
by one of the windows. "Oh, get a room why don't you!" Asuka said, not
really shouting, but definitely not at normal conversational tones.
"In any case," she said, crossing her arms angrily, "_that's_ not how
you kiss in a nice party like this."

"Do _you_ know how, Sohryuu?" Touji asked, leering at her.

"Oh, yuck! Get away from me, you pervert!" Asuka shouted, backing
away.

Touji snorted. "So _you_ haven't changed. Why are you bothering this
pervert, anyway?" he asked.

"I..." Asuka looked like she was going to say something else, but
trailed off.

Touji nodded, as though able to read her thoughts. "Uh huh," he said,
cynically. He glanced over at Hikari and Kensuke, then at Shinji and
Rei, then finally at Misato and Kaji, who were dancing a surprisingly
good tango. "You're lonely," he said.

"I am not!" Asuka declared, though she said it so quietly it was almost
a whisper.

"Uh huh," Touji said, again. "Well, if you're lonely, you do something
about it." He looked away, staring back into the crowd. "You tell me
you know how to kiss people?"

"Of course I do!" Asuka declared, putting her hands on her hips. "I
know everything there is to know about romancing someone!"

"Then you show me you can kiss someone in this room the right way. I
bet you..." - he checked his pocket money - "a thousand yen," he said,
that you couldn't kiss someone right if your life depended on it."

"Ha!" Asuka snorted out, half-turning away. "You're about to owe me a
thousand yen."

"Can I pick the...er...target?"

"Go right ahead, Suzuhara! I can land anyone, even the ugliest guy
here!"

"Hm..." Touji said, standing up and doing his best to look thoughtful.

Asuka's brow furrowed as she felt a hand grab her arm and turn her
around. She looked up to see Touji looking down at her. "What are you
doing, you bak..." she cut off mid-word as she saw him leaning down
towards her. She locked up.

Asuka's eyes went to the size of dinner plates as she felt Touji's lips
touch hers. She felt her heart accelerate so much that it tried to
jackhammer through her chest. She felt...

Touji stood back up, leaving an _extremely_ shocked Asuka standing
there. "You owe me a thousand yen," he said, tapping her on the nose.
With that, he turned around and walked off.

For the next several minutes, Asuka just stood there, staring
unblinkingly into space. Her cheeks were quite red, and not from
anger, this time. People waved their hands in front of her eyes, and
got no response. Finally, she snapped out of it; her eyes went back to
normal size, and she shook her head clear. It finally hit her what had
happened.

Muttering various German expletives, she pushed her way through the
crowd. Her eyes blazed as she caught up to Touji.

"Suzuhara!" she shouted out at the top of her lungs. All conversation
in the immediate vicinity suddenly died, as everyone turned to face the
girl who looked like anger incarnate. Touji also turned. He saw the
look on her face, and could take a good guess what it meant. But he
didn't let himself look scared. He looked her right back in the eye,
while quietly hoping death would be quick.

Asuka stomped right up to him, the crowd parting as she did so. Touji
didn't flinch.

Asuka grabbed his head. Touji _still_ didn't flinch.

Asuka dragged his lips down onto hers. Before he knew what was
happening, he was engaged in a kiss that left everyone around them
absolutely speechless. He felt Asuka's tounge slide into his mouth.

_Now_ Touji flinched. But by then, he was firmly in Asuka's grip.

After nearly half a minute, Asuka stepped away, breathing hard and
still seething. "Now _you_ owe _me_ a thousand yen," she said.

Touji blinked, trying to un-scramble his brain. His emotions got
control before his logical side. Which, in this case, was not all that
bad.

"You call _that_ a kiss?!" he shot back. "That's nothing. You
should've seen what me and Hikari could do!" Luckily for Hikari, she
was out of earshot when he said this.

"Don't make me laugh!" Asuka argued back.

"You need a demonstration?" Touji asked, stepping up to her.

Asuka stopped him with a slap that resounded through the room.
"Hentai!" she shouted. She dropped her arm and stepped next to him.

"At least don't show me in front of all these people," she muttered,
her voice at a volume only he could hear. For the benefit of the
people surrounding them, though, she kept her face a mask of fury.
"I'm going to my room. It's room 1416, Suzuhara...and there won't be
an audience there."

With that, she stomped off in a huff. Everyone around Touji started
buzzing with gossip about what had just happened. Touji blushed in
spite of himself.

He turned in time to see Asuka storm out the nearest door. Just before
she closed the door, though, she looked back, meeting Touji's eyes for
a moment. For that moment, Touji could see the loneliness Asuka was
trying so hard to hide. He could also see her silently begging him to
come, to break the loneliness for a while.

Then, the moment passed, and the door closed, blocking Touji's view of
the girl. He again became aware of the world around him.

Touji blinked several times, trying to sort things out. Finally, his
brain kicked back in, and he smiled. Broadly. And he slowly made his
way for the door.

***

Shinji returned from leading Misato outside, and sat back down next to
Rei. Shinji smiled at her, but saw that she looked fairly somber.

"Rei?" he asked. "Is there something wrong?

"I was just thinking," the girl replied. "Back when...Adam merged with
me."

Shinji tried to look consoling. "Yes?" he asked.

Rei leaned over, resting her head on his shoulder. "I
felt...completed, almost. Feeling another life down within me. I..."

Shinji put his arm around her, giving her time to get her words
together.

"...I think that's what it feels like to have a child," Rei said. "And
I...I'll never be able to feel that again."

Shinji responded by turning and planting his lips onto hers. Rei
paused for a moment, but then returned it. The girl blinked as Shinji
broke the kiss.

"Not that I minded in the least," she said, "but what was _that_ for?"

"I told you before," Shinji said. "I don't care. And Rei, you of all
people should learn to value what you have. Things could have been a
lot worse, you know."

Rei smiled. It was the same smile she'd used since the Fifth Angel,
and it was still just as beautiful. "Thank you, Shinji," she said.

She again leaned her head on Shinji's shoulder and went back to
stargazing with him. Some moments later, she could hear Asuka and
Touji arguing it out over who could kiss better. She ignored them,
though; it didn't seem to have any bearing on her or the boy next to
her.

Time quietly passed, as they kept looking out the window, in relative
silence. Behind them, guests slowly started to leave, deciding it was
time to go to sleep if they wanted to get back to work the next day.
Asuka and Touji had disappeared some time ago, and no one had seen them
since.

Misato and Kaji continued dancing, as the band kept playing. For that
short time, at least, the Major didn't feel as lonely as she had at the
beginning of the party.

Kensuke and Hikari eventually left, as well, going back to their homes,
but not before setting a time for their next date.

Shigeru had to carry Maya out, the woman having drunken herself into
unconsciousness. Shinji already pitied her. He knew from experience
with Misato what she would be going through in the morning.

After a while, the room had calmed down. Rei turned her gaze to the
side, to see that Shinji was staring at her, a hint of a smile on his
lips.

"What are you doing?" she asked, blushing at the attention.

"Just thinking," Shinji replied, as he continued to stare at the girl
in front of him. "What are you going to do now, Rei?"

"You mean tonight?" Rei asked. She smiled to herself. "That depends
on whether or not we can find some privacy," she replied.

Shinji blinked several times, then turned a faint pink. "Uh..." he
stuttered. "I...uh...meant, what now, that the Evas are gone."

Rei shook her head. "I doubt that things will remain the way they
are," she said. "The Evas will probably be developed further,
for...various uses."

Shinji nodded somberly. "So you still want to pilot?" he asked.

Rei hesitated before answering. "I don't know," she said. "For so
long, Eva was all I had. I don't know if I can give it up so easily.
I suppose you want to put it as far behind you as possible..." she
asked, turning to face him.

Shinji was also hesitant. "Well I...that is...Eva causes so much pain,
but...I..."

"You still kept finding a reason to pilot," Rei finished for him.
Shinji nodded in response.

Rei turned back to looking out into the sky. "I do not believe I want
to pilot an Eva. But I would still prefer to work with them. I have
much first-hand knowledge of how they work, and the Dummy system is
based off of me. I suppose I could be useful, somehow."

"Hm," Shinji replied, holding her closer. "I don't think I could leave
it all behind, either. Asuka's staying on as a pilot, and Touji tells
me he might actually do something with it." He laughed a little.
"Everyone I'm close to is involved. I could almost say Eva is all I
have."

Rei glanced up at him. She remembered saying that herself, though the
context had been different. After a second's deliberation, she
tightened her grip on Shinji to the point where the air was pushed out
of his lungs.

"Hey!" Shinji wheezed out. Rei loosened her hold. "What was that
for?" he asked.

"Don't say it's all you have," Rei said, looking up into his eyes.
"You told me that a long time ago. It sounds like you needed to be
reminded."

"I guess. But I didn't mean it that way...I just meant that I can't
really leave it behind."

"I suppose so."

They sat like that for another few minutes.

"What are you looking at, Shinji?" Rei asked, eventually.

"What?"

"You're looking at the sky, but you appear to be looking at something
in particular."

"I...guess so. I don't know what it is. But I just...felt like I
should be looking in that direction."

"For a sign, maybe?"

"Maybe."

They both looked back to the window just in time to see a white blur
arc its lazy path across the night sky.

"Shooting star," Shinji commented. "Make a wish, Rei."

Rei said nothing.

"Rei?"

"I did make a wish, Shinji. But I think it's time we went to bed."

Shinji nodded, unconsciously checking his watch. It _was_ quite late.
He slowly escorted Rei out of the room and into an elevator, which took
them up into the hotel.

Rei asked him to accompany her down the hall, until she got into her
room. Shinji, seeing no harm in this, did so. He waited patiently as
Rei unlocked her door and slid it aside.

"Good night, Rei," Shinji said, turning to go.

"Shinji..."

He stopped and turned around again. "Yes, Rei?"

"Would you keep me company a little longer?"

Shinji looked into her contented - but at the same time pleading -
face, and found he couldn't say no. He nodded and followed her inside.
Shinji left his shoes by the door, relaxing as he felt his feet finally
able to move. Those shoes had been a little too small.

Rei politely closed the door behind them and then went over to her
closet. Shinji crossed his arms behind his back and looked around.

"They sure gave us big rooms, didn't they?" he mused. "You've just got
to love this, R..." he trailed off as he heard the sharp noise of a
zipper being opened. He slowly looked over at Rei, in time to see her
taking off her dress.

Shinji was sure he had a heart attack on the spot. He turned around
quickly. "Rei?! What are you doing?"

"Changing my clothes."

"Huh?" Shinji asked, having expected the answer to be something else
entirely.

"I am uncomfortable in this dress. I'm changing out of it."

"Oh...okay."

Rei said nothing more, and Shinji didn't move, even though he felt his
face getting hot. After a while, he chanced a look over his shoulder.
Rei had changed into a short skirt and socks. At the moment, she was
sliding into one of her few tee-shirts. Her head popped out of the
collar, and her arms came out of the sleeves shortly thereafter. The
shirt, being several sizes too big, hung off of one shoulder. Shinji
couldn't help mentally remarking on how cute she looked.

"Shinji?" the girl asked, looking at him questioningly.

"...yes, Rei?"

"Why didn't you watch?"

Shinji fought the urge to loosen his collar, which suddenly felt like
it was strangling him. "Uh...I was just respecting your privacy.
Should I have watched?"

"Only if you'd wanted," Rei said offhandedly, taking a seat in one of
the room's big chairs.

Shinji shrugged out of his jacket and took off his tie. He did his
best to redirect the conversation. "I'll agree with you, though. This
formal wear just isn't for me. And those stupid shoes were crushing my
feet. He glanced at Rei, to see she was staring at him. Shinji gulped
and looked out the window.

"But overall, I think it was kind of nice to do this once, just to see
what it was like," he continued. His eyes wandered back to Rei. She
was still staring at him.

"And I sure didn't mind dancing, after I got out on the floor..." he
trailed off as he looked at Rei again. She hadn't even blinked, yet.

"Rei?" he asked. He did his best to meet her gaze, but his eyes kept
darting away. But he could tell by the expression on her face that she
was waiting for something. Maybe it was from their high cross-synch
not too long ago, or maybe just from raw intuition, but Shinji had a
fairly good idea of what she was waiting for.

Shinji nervously sat down next to the window. He took a breath. "I
was talking with Touji about you," he said. "He can't believe how much
you've changed. He was kind of surprised to hear you say you l..." -
he swallowed before continuing - "loved...me."

Rei was still staring at him. It was starting to get creepy. Finding
he couldn't sit still under that gaze, he stood up again. Rei's eyes
following him closely.

^What did I say to Touji?^ he wondered. ^I think it sounded pretty
good. Now if only I could remember...^

"Rei, I...said I'd protect you. Because I knew you'd do the same for
me." Still no response from the girl. "And...then I couldn't keep my
promise. I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing," Rei said. "It's over with, now."

"I guess so," Shinji said, relieved that Rei had finally decided to say
something. He looked at her, in time to see she'd gone back to staring
at him. Shinji turned his back on her, looking out the window again,
to try and calm himself down. It didn't help, much.

"Rei, I..."

^C'mon, _remember_! What did I say to Touji?^

"Rei...I love you, too."

^...close enough.^

Shinji blinked, thinking about how easy that had been to say. However,
he didn't get much time to think about it before he heard a sob behind
him.

He turned around, to see that Rei was crying. He was instantly by her
side, going to one knee and taking her hand in his. "What's wrong?" he
asked, his voice full of worry.

Rei looked up at him, and Shinji understood. Although tears were
running down her face, she was smiling, and actual happiness showed in
her eyes.

"You asked me to make a wish, Shinji..." she said, her voice nearly a
whisper, "...and you just made it come true."

Shinji brought himself upwards and onto Rei's level. Their lips
locked, and they kissed hungrily. Shinji's arms looped around behind
her and pulled her against him, holding her in place as their tounges
chased each other wildly.

They broke off, the only reason being that if they hadn't they have
both suffocated. Shinji stood up, pulling Rei to her feet. They
kissed again, even more passionately, if such a thing were possible.

Shinji's eyes opened as he felt Rei pushing him backwards, towards the
bed. He broke the kiss, even though he'd been thoroughly enjoying it.

"Rei?" he asked. "What are you - "

"Please just trust me, Shinji," Rei said, stopping at Shinji's legs
bumped into the bed. "That's all I ask."

"O...okay," he said. He sat down on the bed, shifting around slightly.
Rei stood by, watching him get comfortable.

Rei reached out and softly touched his face. "I'm willing to wait,"
she said. "If it's what you want, I can wait. But for now..."

"Yes?"

"Touch me, Shinji...please?"

Shinji nodded, reaching out and putting his hands around her waist.
"Of course," he said, quietly. "I'll do that, if you want."

Rei turned around and lowered herself onto his lap. Shinji paused, but
then adjusted his grip and rubbed her stomach, feeling Rei melt in his
grip. She turned her head, allowing him to come in over her shoulder
and kiss her again. She reached over and held his head with one hand,
while Shinji's hands rubbed in broad circles on her stomach.

Shinji hesitantly slid his hands under her shirt, feeling Rei shiver as
he touched her bare skin. He was rewarded with another kiss.

Shinji worked his way up her torso, feeling Rei's breathing accelerate
as he did so. He paused, though, as he reached two particular mounds
of flesh. ^No bra in the way this time,^ he thought.

But then, he remembered how she'd reacted the last time he'd done this.
^She got kind of tense. Does she really want me to do this?^.

"Don't stop," Rei gasped out, as she felt his hands slow in their
progress.

Shrugging mentally, Shinji went back to what he'd been doing. He
carefully moved upwards, feeling her body undulate underneath his
hands. He squeezed, causing Rei to cry out at the sudden pleasure. He
pressed down, concentrating on the soft, pale flesh underneath his
fingers. Rei clenched her hands, gathering fistfuls of sheet in each
hand as she closed her eyes and shivered again.

Rei suddenly turned around, Shinji's hands sliding around underneath
her shirt and ending up on her back. Now face-to-face with the girl,
Shinji found himself caught up in another kiss. He returned it,
eagerly, as his hands came back around to her chest.

Rei pulled back, stroking his neck with one hand and his side with
another. Then, smiling, she raised her arms up over her head.

Shinji quickly understood what she wanted him to do. He hesitated,
knowing what this could lead to. Did he want to go that far? He
looked into her face, her smile being all the confirmation he needed.

He lifted up his hands, which were still under her shirt. The cloth
came up over her head and off of her body. Shinji dropped her shirt
off to the side, as Rei leaned forwards and kissed him again, this time
pushing him to the bed. Shinji didn't try to resist.

They both straightend out to stretch over the length of the bed, all
without breaking their kiss. After they broke off, Rei leaned in and
started nibbling his neck, an odd yet pleasurable sensation for Shinji.
Her hands, meanwhile, started to unbutton Shinji's shirt. Shinji
relaxed, closing his eyes and letting Rei do her work.

After a moment, his hands came up to Rei's breasts again, giving them a
playful squeeze. Rei gasped and looked up, greeting Shinji with
another smile, before going back to his shirt. As she got to the last
button, Shinji moved his hands downwards, back to her stomach. He
moved his fingers quickly, tickling her as she finished unbuttoning his
shirt.

Rei stopped curled up a little, clenching her jaw and trying to hold in
a laugh. She only succeeded partially, letting out a series of small
giggles.

"Sh...Shinji! What are you...ahh...doing?"

"I like hearing you laugh, Rei."

"Well, you...you're not going to..." she failed to finish, as she
finally fell over to the side, laughing uncontrollably as Shinji kept
tickling her.

"Not going to win?" Shinji suggested, smiling. "What was that?"

"Oh! I..." - Rei laughed some more - "Oh, you're hopeless!"

"Really?" Shinji asked. He sat up and moved down the bed. Rei,
meanwhile, tried to catch her breath.

Shinji made it down to her feet. With a quick motion, he yanked off
the socks that had been covering them. He ran his fingers up one of
them, causing Rei to laugh again. He was surprised, however, as Rei
reached over and started tickling one of _his_ feet. Shinji jerked
around reflexively, trying and failing to get out of her reach. He
finally released Rei's foot.

"Okay, you win," Shinji said, catching his own breath. He felt Rei
tugging off his socks. "Rei?" he asked.

Rei finished removing his socks and looked up at him. ^She really is
beautiful,^ Shinji thought.

"Yes?" Rei asked, innocently.

"Are you...sure it's okay?" he asked.

Rei nodded immediately. "I want to show you how much you mean to me,
Shinji."

Shinji turned himself around so he was sitting at her feet. He first
shrugged out of his shirt and threw it off the bed. Then, he slowly
crawled up towards Rei. He stopped about halfway, though, putting his
hands on the inside of her thighs. He stroked them gently, slowly
pushing her skirt up as he moved higher. He could almost _feel_ Rei
moan in appreciation.

He slid his hands around to the outside of her legs as he felt the lace
of her underwear underneath his fingers. He paused, looking up at Rei.
The girl opened her eyes again, meeting his gaze. She nodded eagerly.

After a moment's hesitation, he grabbed onto the white lace of her
panties and started pulling them down. Rei watched, smiling shyly, as
he pulled them off her legs. Shinji threw the panties over his
shoulder, where they landed God-knows-where.

Shinji watched nervously as Rei sat up and grabbed the waistline of his
pants. She unbuttoned them quickly and started sliding them down his
legs, hooking her thumbs into his underwear and dragging that off, too.
Shinji blushed, sitting back and shifting his position so that Rei
could finish dragging off his clothes.

Shinji sat up and leaned his back against the wall. Rei got on her
knees and sat in front of him. She reached out and touched his face
again. Her face was calm, but Shinji couldn't help seeing the hungry
look in her eyes.

"Do _you_ want this, Shinji?" she asked.

Shinji replied by reaching down and pulling the zipper down on her
skirt. Rei's last piece of clothing fell off of her. Shinji leaned
over to the side, bringing Rei back down to the bed.

"I want to show you how much you mean to me, too, Rei," he said.

Rei smiled and moved towards him.

They went from there.

***

Had someone been following Shinji's line of sight into the sky, they'd
have gone out into deep space. Far, far into the reaches of the
galaxy, to a point so distant that even the planets appeared as tiny
dots, floated Evangelion Unit-01, carrying the Lancea Longinus.

The mecha felt its pilot's soul join with the other pilot's. Inside,
Yui Ikari's soul let out a sigh of relief.

^I'm glad you were able to find happiness, my son,^ she thought. ^I'll
be here, whenever you need me. As long as one Evangelion survives,
humanity will live forever.^

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Endnote : Well, that's that. "An Unwilling Angel" is, at last,
finished. I hope you enjoyed it.

All right, first things first : "Red Eyed Girl" is a slightly altered
version of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl." That song is the property
of Van Morrison, etc. It is not mine.

I knew I wanted Touji to sing something, but I didn't know what. I
looked around, eventually stumbling onto that song. I listened to it
once, and I knew that it was the perfect "let's-embarass-Shinji-into-
dancing" song. Please just bear with me and assume everyone in that
room knew enough English to understand the words.

I knew one of Shinji's prime purposes in the series was to deny Third
Impact. So I figured, why not have him do that _before_ everyone gets
dissolved? I was never a big supporter of the "end of the world" idea,
myself.

In case you're wondering: yes, I took some inspiration from "The One I
Love Is" for Rei's dress. Mostly though, I just used what little
fashion sense I have and improvised.

About Kaji: It might seem a little out of the blue for some people, but
I knew SEELE had to be taken care of, or else I might (gasp) have to
write a sequel to this. Why not use Eva's "secret agent man" to handle
the problem? Besides, I figured Misato was due for a break.

Sorry, Touji-Hikari fans. But I didn't see any real chemistry between
the two of them, so I figured breaking them up wouldn't cause that much
havoc.

I can hear the flames now, concerning the Asuka pairing. I'll admit
right now that I got the idea for a Touji-Asuka relationship from
Tekkaman Warhammer's "Seraphim's Judgement". It seemed to make sense
to me; Touji was the only male in Eva that really stood up to Asuka.
Before you flay me alive, remember that I could have paired her with
Kensuke.

In addition, with all due respect to Asuka's many fans...that scene was
_fun_ to write.

As for Gendo: I know a fair number of people pity him. And I know
several people who'd prefer to have him apologize to his son, and try
to make up for lost time. But DAMN that felt good. Gendo's death
under Lillith's mask has some poetic justice, too, ne?

Anyway, even though the story's done, I appreciate comments. Write me
at otakusadist@hotmail.com.

And if you like Shinji/Rei stories, go to my website at
http://www.angelfire.com/anime2/shinjirei/index.html

Story completed on : March 2, 2001