Chapter Six: Both Of You, Dance Like You Want To Win!

"So then, how long until Unit-00 can be deployed?" Shinji studied the cup of tea sitting before him as if it were about to spout some piece of great wisdom. The answer however came from Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki sitting across from him along with Tseng.

"We've completed repairs to the external armor, but the five hundred gallons of industrial grade blue paint we've ordered has not yet arrived." Fuyutsuki commented sipping his tea.

"Then it can be used?" Shinji asked.

"Yes." Fuyutsuki confirmed, he placed his cup down once more. "SEELE has been most temperamental lately, they demand to speak with you."

Shinji shrugged nonchalantly, "Let them insist, they won't cut our funding just because I don't speak to them directly, and even if they do they're losing sway with the UN with each passing day. The simple fact is that NERV has been making the UN look good by letting them in on the defense of Tokyo-3, not to mention the face we saved them by decimating Jet Alone in the trials."

Fuyutsuki hated to admit it, but the UN certainly had become more endurable recently. Especially with the addition of a liaison officer to the GeoFront's staff a rather klutzy woman from the UN's UK branch by the name of Cillia Kline. She seemed like a sweet woman to Shinji but she also was somehow, distant. She was on Tseng's short list for potential intelligence leaks.

"Well, anyways, we need to get down to our strategy." Shinji said, setting his tea to the side he pulled the keyboard for his officer projector out of his desk drawer and brought up a series of pictures. Pictures of an EVA, a rather nasty looking one at that. It was colored tar black with blunt red teeth forming a death heads grin. A short, blunt snout formed the most distinctive part of its facial construction giving it a surprising resemblance to Unit-01.

"This is Evangelion Unit-03, currently undergoing construction at the NERV Alaska base." Shinji explained. "Now we need to find a way to acquire it for our use."

"Well . . ." Tseng finally spoke, "We can't steal it obviously. And the American branch doesn't want to give it up, any guesses as to why?" He asked almost sarcastically.

"Simple." Shinji replied, "The US see's Units 03 and 04 as insurance against NERV's EVAs. It's no surprise that they are also sponsoring construction of half the mass production units. If there's anyplace in the world they would need EVAs to take it would be the GeoFront."

"The American's are due for another pointless invasion." Tseng added simply.

"You don't like them much do you." Fuyutski said.

"More like I disagree with their reasons for fighting. The politicians over there see the government as a tool to remake the entire nation in their own image, and the military by extension to do the same to the world. I have no quips with anyone but the old fools in charge."

"Enough," Shinji said, "That kind of stuff is too depressing. What we're here to do is brainstorm ways of getting the US to hand over Units 03 and 04."

The projector switched to the image of a silver/white machine that seemed to be only two thirds complete. Fuyutsuki looked it over appraisingly, "It won't be easy, the US has invested too much in those machines to turn them over to potential enemies so easily."

"I would have to agree with that assessment." Tseng added, quietly removing a handheld PC from his suit pocket, he ran his thumb over the biometric reader on its outer casing and brought up a note file. "I've taken the liberty of hacking into the database for the Alaskan branch, the EVA specifications are on their own separate mainframe and so are unaccessible from an external source. However the supply manifests are available through the US militaries unified supply network database. From the supplies received we can make several inferences about Units 03 and 04."

Shinji nodded for the head of security to continue.

"Assumption one, both machines are most likely equipped with a heavy grade anti beam coating and most probably an underlying heat dissipating super conductor mesh. Simulations done by Doctor Akagi suggest this would allow them to take a direct hit from medium or even heavy grade positron cannons like the Turks' strategic defensive particle cannon Sister Ray for up to fifteen seconds."

Shinji looked thoughtfully at the shifting images of Units 03 and 04 that filled the projector screen. "That is very impressive."

"We could concentrate the fire from several fixed cannons and probably bring them down in a few seconds." Fuyutsuki suggested hesitantly, military affairs weren't really his field of expertise.

"Possibly, but from what I understand an EVA is more than agile enough to escape to the safety of nearby cover, and then there's the AT field." Tseng countered.

"Okay, so we have to assume that both EVAs are resistant to energy weaponry, is their anyway to upgrade our EVAs to match them?" Shinji asked.

"We still have some of the base coating paint we used on the EVA shield during operation Hashima I could suggest to doctor Akagi that we experiment by coating Unit-00 with the paint." Fuyutsuki said.

"Well Unit-00 is pretty much our guinea pig for special equipment so I guess we might as well." Shinji agreed. "Tseng, please continue."

"Very well then. Assumption number two comes from the abnormal increase in electronics shipments being seen sent to both the Alaska and Nevada branches. It seems possible that the US branches are equipping their EVAs with extensive AWACS and ECM equipment which may boost their effectiveness against conventional forces."

Even Shinji knew the implications of that, all of this equipment was designed for fighting humans and seemed to be of little use against direct combatants such as the Angels. It was obvious that Units 03 and 04 were designed for fighting people first and Angels a far second. This really was worrying.

"Our final assumption, based on equipment being shipped in from several sizeable biotech labs, is a rather significant one. It appears that they are equipping Unit-04 at least, at the Nevada sight, with a MAGI grade onboard computer."

"What would they need something like that for?" Fuyutsuki wondered aloud.

"Battle space management most likely. If I had to guess I would say Unit-04 is being built as a command Unit. The plug will likely be partitioned with a separate station for an overseer. It would also allow the brass to pull the plug, as it were, on any lunatic trying to steel one of their EVAs while eliminating the threat of an external shut down being exploited by their enemies. If they used two pilots it may also be possible for one to act as support handling the EVA's more advanced subsystems or perhaps even acting as a squad leader for the mass production units."

Shinji and Fuyutsuki starred at the Section Two Commander in total silence. "Is . . . something wrong?" He asked.

"No, no," Shinji said shaking his head, "I'm just amazed you could figure all of that out from so little data."

Tseng shrugged, "Like I said, I'm mostly guessing, in their position, its certainly what I would do. All of the data fits my assumptions."

"We'll just have to take these assumptions as fact for now." Fuyutsuki said.

"Yes." Shinji agreed, his head tilted slightly to study a wall tapestry that had been hung as part of the office decorum. It appeared to be a depiction of the fabled Kamikaze, sweeping away Mongol ships as Japanese samurai and archers watched from the safety of the hills. If only it were that easy, with our luck the wave would wash us away instead. His attention turned back to his tea. Its cold.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

"Shinji's absent again today, wonder why?" Kensuke said fiddling with his camera, he'd gotten some great footage from the naval battle, unfortunately most of it had been confiscated. There had been plenty to film at school however. The dozen or so new female students in particular, of all the people at school Kensuke was the only one who found the sudden arrival of so many new students odd. And he had a sneaking suspicion that at least a one or two of them might have been related to Ayanami. They certainly had her personality.

"Considering him, its probably something to do with EVA." Touji said bored.

"Why do you say that?" Kensuke asked.

"Because Shinji doesn't have the personality to go against authority, he'd never ditch school." Touji explained.

"What about when he ran away." Kensuke pointed out.

"Well, that was . . . Is . . . its . . . That's not the same." He finally concluded.

"Eh? Whatever you say." Kensuke returned to messing with his camera paying the rest of the world no heed. "I guess he's lucky though, he hasn't had to deal with the Devil's Daughter."

The Second Child had been a most unwelcome addition to the class and one both Touji and Kensuke were firmly against. Of course Kensuke was still profiting from his misery by snapping pictures of the red head every chance he got. Plenty of his clientele had yet to discover what a dog the foreign student really was and that was fine by him. Money was money regardless of whether it was being wasted on photo's of a wolf in girls clothing or a new video game.

"Yeah no kidding." Touji muttered, "She's a pain in the butt, complains about everything, and the little narcissist isn't even half as pretty as she thinks she is. Where the hell does she get off with her bitching about everything. At least your making some money off of those pictures of her, I have to sit through it all without any reward."

"Mr. Suzuhara." Kensuke and Touji looked up as the monotone voice addressed them. Rei starred back with bored eyes.

Kensuke was the first to recovered from the sheer impossibility of the ice princess addressing them. "Uh, Ayanami, so what can we do for you?"

"You are Shinji's friends, correct." It was a statement not a question, Rei was well aware of the happenings around her, and though she may not have understood them all she did understand enough to make some of the more obvious assumptions without any external confirmation.

Two thirds of the three stooges looked at each other and then back to Rei. "Well, yeah, we're his friends." Touji confirmed. "Why, is there something about Shinji you want to tell us?"

"No." Rei said pointing behind them, "I simply wished to inform you that Pilot Soryu has been standing within earshot of your entire conversation, due to Pilot Soryu's violent nature I chose to inform you of this. I believe Shinji would be greatly saddened if either of you were to come to harm."

Both young men turned slowly in the direction Rei was pointing. Asuka had a rather sickening smile on her face. "So, I'm a bitch who's not pretty enough, huh?"

Both boys turned ghostly pale.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

"Ooh, the short one can really run fast when he's motivated!" Reno said as he observed class 2A from the nearby hill with a pair of high powered binoculars. Rude sat next to him scanning the area around the building for the umpteenth time.

"What did they do this time?" Rude asked.

"My guess . . . insult the Second Child."

"Ouch."

Observing the girl over the last three days had served as startling proof that even a child could be a serious threat. "Wonder if they've ever considered therapy?" Reno said wincing slightly as he traced the Second Child and her pray in their dash down the hallway, she'd managed to catch the larger one and was now latched to his back beating his face in

"Its her pride." Rude said as he continued to scan the perimeter.

Reno looked at his partner flatly and shrugged. "Eh? Whatever, personally I think . . ." Sirens went off cutting off Reno's retort in mid sentence.

"Those must be the Angel alarms." Reno said stretching his arms out before looking over to Rude, "Lets get going, Partner." Turning on his heel the red headed Turk began the trek back to the plane black suburban they had been assigned. It wasn't the most maneuverable thing on the road, but then, it was the job of Section Two to get the pilots to NERV in a timely manner, not them.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

"Report." Fuyutsuki ordered as he sat down at the Commander's station.

"The Angel has been spotted approaching the coast, twenty minutes to contact." Hyuga reported.

"Units 01 and 02 are ready for deployment, Unit-00 has still not completed finally diagnostics." Maya added helpfully.

"Was it a good idea sending Shinji out?" Fuyutsuki looked up to see Major Katsuragi standing at his side.

"Perhaps not, but he still has a higher synch score with Unit-01 then Rei does." The Sub-Commander tilted his head slightly to observe the agitated Major from the corner of his eye. "Right now we need every EVA and ever pilot we have."

"Is that the Commander's opinion?" Misato asked carefully.

"As a matter of face, it is." Fuyutsuki confirmed, Shinji had been adamant that he was still needed as a pilot, in all likeliness he would have to give it up soon but this time at least he really was the best choice to send out to battle.

"Very well then sir, I'm going to brief the pilots." Misato said turning to head for the personnel lift down to the second tier of the bridge. She was agitated, Shinji for all his sweet nature and surprising ability to think outside of the box so far really was taking some unnecessary risks, it wasn't like they were short on potential pilots any more either. Ritsuko had begun a more thorough screening for the 4th and 5th Children in the event that NERV would receive Units-03 and 04 and had apparently already found several viable candidates, thought she wasn't sharing that list with anyone at the moment.

Misato was beginning to wish, not for the first time, that she could drink on duty.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Asuka Langley Soryu was at an impasse, she wasn't exactly one to brood over anything, but at the moment she was doing just that. On one hand she had found herself insulting her own superior totally unaware of the fact, on the other she couldn't step down from those insults without looking like a fool. And that was what mattered, as long as people knew she was the best and saw her as a happy and productive person she was fine. She could fend off the darkness as long as she could make herself believe that.

Perhaps that made her a bit too protective of her image and a bit too quick to take criticism, then again she had seen some of the pictures that little idiot Aida had managed to take, how he had gotten a shot of her in her underwear was a mystery she would have to ponder for sometime, but, she thought with some satisfaction, he had gotten what was coming to him.

"Okay listen up." Asuka was snapped out of her stupor as Misato gave them the short and sweet of the situation. "The Tokyo-3 intercept grid is still only around twenty six percent operational so we need to kill this thing before it gets close enough to threaten the city. For this reason we will be air dropping you near the Angel to engage it as it comes ashore."

Asuka snorted, "I get that part but why do I need back up from our illustrious Commander?"

"Its just SOP." Shinji said cheerfully, he backed down quickly when Asuka growled back at him through the display window, she was certainly vicious enough for the job of fighting Angel's. Now if there was just a way to harness that destructive potential . . .

"Alright you'll be dropping in fifty seconds, the Angel has nearly made landfall, since we don't have any data one this one we want you to close in and attack sequentially. In other words move in and take turns."

Asuka nodded to herself, this would be her chance to prove herself, she just had to finish the Angel off quickly and she could redeem her earlier transgressions.

"Ten seconds to release." The transport plane's pilot announced. Restraining bolts and locks snapped free letting the thousand plus tons of bio-mechanical weapons technology that was Evangelion Unit-02 drop free from the massive lifting body of its transport plane. The less then aerodynamic body of the EVA began to drop with ever increasing speed as its forward momentum dropped to near zero making contact with the ground in an explosion of sand and water moments after Unit-01.

NERV support teams were already on station and moved in quickly to patch the two EVA's into the local power grid hooking umbilical cables into place with a practiced efficiency, the weapons carriers were next presenting Units 01 and 02 with a pallet rifle and progressive spear respectively.

Asuka noted the broken remains of old pre impact buildings laying out in the harbor area, those could come in handy in a quick attack allowing her to advance without getting bogged down by the ocean sediment. The water less then a kilometer off shore was blasted into the sky in a salty spray as the Angel made landfall.

"Here it comes." Shinji gritted his teeth and took on a determined stance as he aimed the pallet rifle. Shinji's first thought upon seeing the massive creature was fairly typical. It was ugly, plain and simple. Hunched over the Angel possessed two stubby arms that came barely to its waist, its back was hunched forward with the bony mask of its face set half way down its chest. To round off its entry as a art majors entry into a modern art contest gone horribly wrong, it was a dark olive color over the majority of its body. That thing . . . its body shape reminds me of something. Shinji thought.

"Okay then, Shinji cover me!"

Shinji glanced to Asuka in surprise before Unit-02 launched itself into a charge. "Hey, wait a second, Asuka!"

"Ladies first!" She shouted back at him as she leapt effortlessly along path of half submerged debris. Shinji no knowing what else to do simply opened fire with the pallet rifle, if the Angel could be beaten quickly . . .

The Angel was left with no chance to counter attack as one of its opponents landed directly before it and with a single clean movement opened it from its hunched buck and the way through, neatly slicing it in half.

Shinji stopped firing and blinked a few times, "Well I'll be damned." He said stupidly.

"How do you like that Commander, a real fight should be clean and elegant, without waste." The Angel's carcass quivered slightly.

"Asuka!" Shinji shouted in warning, it was too late to do anything however, the Angel's halves broke away from one another limbs growing out to mirror the remaining half of their symmetrical bodies. Where the formerly defeated Angel had stood two smaller duplicates were now ready to battle back to back.

That's what it reminded me of, a starfish. Shinji thought rather surreally just as Misato shouted over the radio.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

The briefing began quietly with the room so quiet the projector's fan was audible, the pre recorded voice of Lieutenant Ibuki read off the briefing. "Today at 10:58 AM Unit-01 was attacked by one of the targets, Alpha, which had separated from the other target, submerged two kilometers off Surugawan bay." The picture of Unit-01 taken by one of the rescue VTOLs showed the behemoth in a pitiful state legs up in the air as it sat embedded in the bay floor. Forgive me Mother. He thought apologetically as he suddenly realized it was entirely possible that his mother's consciousness, which Ritsuko believed retained some level of awareness within the EVA, may have felt that.

The briefing continue, "Twenty seconds later Unit-02 was stopped by target Beta's attack. I believe the project chairperson summed it up best."

"THIS IS PATHETIC!" A short clip of Ritsuko's audio log shouted.

Asuka stayed quiet gritting her teeth, she wanted to tear into Shinji full out for how useless he had been but that would only serve to put her in an even deep grave.

"At 11:03 AM NERV abandoned the operation and transferred command to the UN secondary force." Maya's briefing continued. Sequential pictures of the twin Angel's making a slow advance across the country side filled the screen.

"We had to call in UN assistance on this one too." Shinji was almost ashamed that such help had been required.

"NERV has been completely humiliated by this." Fuyutsuki agreed, "We've all but undone all we managed to accomplish as the JetAlone trials." At least the UN military was pleased with them, the fact that NERV had been more open and in general cooperative recently served as a bit of a cushion against the ridicule they would have otherwise received.

"At 11:05 AM, the UN forces made an attack with an N2 mine." The next picture in the slide show was nearly completely white from the intense blast of light generated by the N2 mines detonation.

"We're going to have to redraw the map again." Fuyutsuki growled before slamming his hands down on the table, "Damn it, the UN makes us pay for the surveys!" The aging sub-commander looked mildly surprised at his own outburst and sat down quickly.

"The Attack succeeded in burning off twenty seven percent of the targets's structural mass." If the Angel hadn't been about to win any beauty contests before, it was in no danger of winning one now, the twin Angel pairs were little more then a pair of half melted mounds leaning on each other for support.

"Well, at least it looks sort of dead." Asuka mumbled.

The briefing ended as the lights came back up, Shinji stood and looked at Asuka. "What do you think our job is here, Asuka, tell me, why are you here?"

"To pilot EVA." She said.

"No, that's not it." Shinji shook his head, frustration building as he sat back down, "Our job is to beat the Angel's, and the only way we're going to do that is if we can work together." Fuyutsuki nodded in agreement with NERV's commander. "Now, how in the hell do we do that?" Shinji wondered aloud. The thud as the Sub-commander banged his head against the table got everyone's attention.

"Well, at least we have some time to regroup and plan our strategy and you really can't ask for more then that." Kaji said cheerfully, the scruffy and eternally unshaven man stood leaning against the briefing room's back wall having observed events he uncrossed his arms and made to leave.

"And where are you going?" Misato asked irritably.

"Oh, I have something I want to ask Ritsuko about, hope to see you again soon Misato." Kaji waved over his back and was quickly gone from sight.

Shinji stood again and headed for the door as well, "I think I'm going to go talk to Tseng maybe we can come up with something, you want to come Misato?"

The Operation's director glanced at the clock quickly and shook her head, "No, I have to finish some more paperwork before I can head home tonight." The UN standard release forms are fifty pages long, then another twenty seven pages for authorizing the N2 mine drop, then the two hundred and twelve pages for the coast guards assistance in retrieving the EVAs, and the four hundred and eleven pages to authorize payment for the new map surveys . . . adds up to seven hundred pages, at one page a minute on average that's . . . Almost twelve hours. Misato groaned softly as she plopped her head down on the table before her.

As the rest of the staff quietly filed out Asuka was left clenching her fists in her lap, how had this turned into such a total sheep screw? Her eyes burned slightly, damn it, don't cry, not over something this stupid . . . "Damn it."

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

"What we know about the Angel so far is that it can synchronize attacks between its two halves. At first glance we would assume this was some sort of radio communication or perhaps usage of its AT field is a transmission medium. However broad spectrum analyses by the MAGI has emphatically proven that the Angel is not communicating by any known means between its body pairs." Tseng looked between the gathered staff later that evening as they sat in their usual seat around Shinji's office, Rei and Asuka were absent from the meeting, Rei due to a medical checkup and Asuka by her own choice.

"I believe doctor Akagi has a theory on this matter." Tseng nodded to the bottle blond.

Ritsuko stood up quickly glancing over the clipboard in her hand. "From what we can see the Angel's seem to be synchronizing with each other, much akin to say, setting two watches at exactly the same time."

"So they're totally separate when they're fighting as a pair?" Shinji wondered.

"Yes, by what we can see, the Angels each most likely inherit the battle plan that they came up with in their combined form and then split off to execute it, since they have identical trains of thought they seem to act as if by some form of link, but the truth is that they just know how the other is going to react to the situation. Therefore all we should have to do to defeat them is throw off their synchronization."

Shinji nodded, "That sounds like a good idea, but how do we do that?"

"I might have an idea." Kaji said leaning back easily into the heavy padding of the couch he took up along with Tseng. "Ritsuko, how well do you think the MAGI could choreograph?"

Shinji leaned back in his own chair lacing his hand together in his lap and smiling slightly as he listened, this would be the perfect solution to Asuka's teamwork problem.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

The next afternoon was as hot as usual in post Impact Japan, the cicada's were chirping furiously as Shinji slowly trudged down the sidewalk. Rei was right behind him carrying a small duffel bag and clutching her teddy bear tight to her side. They both were wearing coolie hats that Fuyutsuki had insisted on for the long walk to Misato's apartment telling Rei that she should not go outside without protection on such a hot day.

Rei only did it because he asked, I don't think she ever even considers her own self preservation. Hmm, he's really protective towards her, I guess, that's how a father would act. Shinji thought looking up towards the sky. "It's really hot." He said.

"Yes. . . It is." Rei said blandly.

So much for starting a conversation, Shinji bowed his head in defeat.

A moving truck passed them by as they approached Misato's apartment, reminding Shinji of what to expect when he go there. "Rei."

"Yes."

"Do you think you'll be alright working with Asuka?" Shinji asked.

"I will do as I am ordered." Rei said before pausing, "Pilot Soryu requested that we be friends earlier today . . . If that is your order I . . ."

Shinji shook his head, "It shouldn't have to be an order Rei, if you want to be her friend then go ahead."

"Perhaps . . . I will accept then." Rei said after some contemplation, "Ikari, what does one do as a friend?"

"Well that's easy they . . ." Shinji stopped in his track and scratched his head, "Come to think of it I don't really know, they just hang out I guess, I mean, that's what I do with Kensuke and Touji . . . But . . ." Aren't friends supposed to stand up for you and stuff . . . I guess Touji and Kensuke would if it came to that, but its not like they can help me in my situation. Shinji sighed inwardly, his head piqued suddenly as they reached the apartment building. "I apologize if it's a little messy." Shinji said bowing as he turned to open the door.

They moved inside finally getting free of the mid afternoon sun and back into the haven of an air conditioned room. Rei followed Shinji down the hallway quietly noting the layout of the apartment as she went. She was going to be here for the next several days so it was best to become acclimated quickly.

Rei heard the door to the livingroom sliding open, then silence, and then Shinji's shout of surprise. Her attention was wrenched away from examining the rest of her surroundings as Shinji stepped back looking shocked. "What in the hell are these boxes doing here!"

"Ah, so you're here, eh?" Shinji turned to look as Asuka currently fresh from a bath in a pair of shorts and a T-shirt which left little to the male imagination.

Shinji pointed once more to the living room where moving boxes were stacked five high in places. "What the heck are these!" How am I supposed to clean around all of this!

"Its not my fault that I can't fit all of my stuff in my room, why do Japanese houses have to be so small anyway?" She shrugged as she walked past Shinji and started playing with the sliding door that lead into the livingroom, "And what's with this, none of the inside doors have locks on them! Its weird."

"Its Japanese tradition to put the interest of others before one's self." Misato said from behind the young woman causing her to nearly jump out of her skin in surprise.

"Misato." Shinji and Asuka said at once, Shinji with some relief.

"Hay, so Rei's here too, that's good I'm sure you two will hit it off just fine." Misato said cheerfully.

Asuka frowned, "What's that supposed to mean . . . Misato?" After a moment rummaging through the duffel bag on her back she tossed what looked like an exercise outfit to her. "You might want to put those on, I'll explain once you and Rei are ready." Asuka turned to note Rei already removing a matching outfit from her own small duffel bag.

Shinji dissappeared into the living room grumbling about how the boxes through off his cleaning routine. Meanwhile, Misato began explaining the brilliance of 'her' plan to the girls. What she told them convinced Asuka that Misato was outright insane.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHH

". . . And get those components moved into position ASAP, we need to put down the primer coating before 0400 tomorrow morning." Ritsuko shouted through the loudspeaker she was holding before taking another gulp of her coffee.

"Wow, who knew she could be such a workaholic." One of the maintenance technicians muttered.

"This was how she was before she started banging the old Commander." Another said dryly. It wasn't like Ritsuko's late night rendevous were all that clandestine, not compared to some of NERV's other goings on.

"And you people, stop slacking and get back to work, the serial bus connections between the plug interface equipment and the EVA nervous system need to be fully checked before we can clear Unit-00 for use!"

"Yes ma'am." The two technicians shouted in unison.

"Wow, Sempai, you're so assertive!" Maya squeaked gleefully.

Ritsuko looked at her grinning, "True . . . And how is that little pet project that the Commander left for the MAGI going."

Maya handed Ritsuko a large folder, "I was actually on my way to give these to you, there the stock projections that the MAGI made on the last three test runs, they're nearly spot on . . . but . . . isn't it a little unfair to use the MAGI like this?"

"What?" Ritsuko asked as she flipped through the results. "They have plenty of unused runtime and companies have computers manage their stocks all the time." Admittedly none of those companies have three highly sophisticated seventh generation AI operating systems capable of analyzing every variable from past demand and resource prices, to psychological trends in the consumer base. To think all of this came up because Shinji wanted to know whether the MAGI could do some of NERV's accounting work.

"Uhm, yes Sempai." Maya said quietly, still something just felt immoral to her about using a computer like that. Maybe it was her naivete, believing that works of science were only for the benefit of mankind. Images of their soulless eyes filled her mind. No . . . she couldn't afford that kind of attitude anymore. Technology could benefit man, but it was also dangerous in the hands of the selfish, she couldn't run away from that. She watched as Ritsuko continued to read through the report, she was so much more confident, so much more dignified then Maya. The mousy haired technician took a deep breath, for her Sempai's sake she would see this through to the end.

Love could be a very odd thing.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHH

"I'm getting a little worried about Shinji, he hasn't been at school for the past couple days." Touji said.

"And he skipped the three before that, didn't he?" Kensuke said glancing up at Touji.

"Hmm, its probably for NERV, don't you think."

"Yeah, probably." Kensuke agreed, secretly cursing Shinji for being a pilot instead of him and for certainly knowing more about NERV's activity. And his dad's supposed to be the Commander, darn it, if I had a dad like that . . . Kensuke's fantasies were interrupted by Touji's sudden utterance.

"The class rep . . ."

Kensuke looked up to see that class representative Horaki as well as the two new girls from their class, were standing right inside the adjacent elevator. The first of the new girls was Yumiko Kusanagi, an odd one with short jet black hair and a penchant for reading . . . a lot, she was a frail girl but had managed to draw the attention of at least a few of the class's male population, and more alarmingly a few of the female members as well.

The second girl, Aoi Akari was slightly taller with a mild tan, her black hair came down to her shoulders and seemed to strangely fit her electric blue eyes. She seemed a bit boisterous at first, until one realized she only spoke at all when she was addressed by another person. Despite the illusion of normalcy she emitted the same aura as Ayanami, unsurprisingly most people were too frightened to approach her. Both girl's remained silent as the pig tailed class representative spoke for their party.

"Two of the three stooges." Hikari replied bluntly, before shaking her head, "I mean, Mr. Aida, Mr. Suzuhara, what are you two doing here?"

"We're here to see Shinji, and you?" Touji asked.

"I'm here to see Asuka."

"And we have come to speak with Pilot Ayanami." Yumiko said softly.

All five stopped before Misato's door.

Hikari turned to Kensuke and Touji, the three spoke at once, "Why are you stopping here?" Pausing for a moment, Kensuke pressed the doorbell hesitantly.

"Coming", A pair of voices responded immediately. The sound of the door being unlocked quickly was followed by its opening, none of the group new quite what to think as two heads stuck out. It was a rather off putting scene considering the extremes that each girl represented, made all the more surreal by the identical downcast frown on both of their faces.

"Uhm, why are you . . ." Hikari began.

"It is part of our training." Asuka and Rei replied simultaneously, "To defeat the Angel." They finished.

"Okay . . ." Hikari said dumbly, "Uhm, where would Shinji happen to be?"

Both pointed simultaneously to the group's left where Shinji and Misato were just reaching them, accompanied by a fiery haired man and a bald brute in plain business suits. Shinji wore a look of mild contentment on his face as he held up a bag full of what looked like snack food. "Oh, hello guys." He said hesitantly.

"Where have you been?" Touji asked.

"We've been worried about you." Kensuke chimed in.

"And what has NERV been making Rei and Asuka do?" Hikari spat out having gotten over her brief shock at the odd sight she had ben presented upon her arrival. "Not to mention where have you been? Nobodies been able to reach you even to drop off your homework!"

"I-I apologize." Shinji stammered, bowing quickly, "I'm really sorry Miss Horaki, please just get me the paper's and I'll do my best to make them up."

"Jeez, its just your schoolwork not your freaking income tax returns." The red headed man grumbled, backing off quickly at the glare from the class representative.

"Schoolwork should be done on time, it's important for all the work to be done so he doesn't fall behind." Hikari said sternly.

"Ah, relax Shinji'll get it done." Touji said, slamming one arm down on Shinji's back, "He may not be the smartest, he may not be the most attractive, and he may get worked up over the dumbest thing, but Shinji's the most reliable guy I know."

"Gee, thanks." Shinji said not sure whether to be honored or insulted. "Uhm, why don't you guys come inside and we'll explain everything." Rei and Asuka opened the door all the way revealing the matching exercise costumes they were wearing.

"Oh my." Hikari whispered quietly into her hand, "I mean, that's a rather . . . interesting . . ."

"Do not finish that sentence." Asuka growled quietly, her growling intensified, "Damn it, now thanks to little miss Ice Queen, I can not even use contractions! This is ridiculous!"

"No, what's ridiculous is your performance so far." Misato said ushering the two girl's back into the living room. An elaborate dance pad lay spread out across the back half of the living room, leaving the sizeable crowd very little space to sit down and watch. But watch they did, watch Rei and Asuka try, and fail, yet again.

It was pretty clear that the two were expected to synchronize their actions based on the lights that came up on the screen, but they seemed less than skilled at it. Rei was forever trying to move precisely without any error, while Asuka simply charged ahead, making few mistakes but not winning any awards for grace. As they attempted to simultaneously step forward with their inside feet they succeeded in butting their heads squarely together and sliding to the floor once again.

"I think they're getting worse." Shinji whispered to Misato. When they had started they had at least been able to stay more or less in time with each other. Now though they seemed to be good for nothing but tripping their partner up.

"It's not my fault." Asuka shouted quickly, pointing a finger at Rei who sat rubbing her head tenderly, "How can I be expected to synchronize my movements at the rate this . . . animated turnip moves at!" Her voice had remained mostly level despite the obvious agitation she felt towards Rei.

But I like turnips. Rei though bluntly as Misato did her best to calm the German, "So your saying you don't want to do this?" Misato asked.

Asuka snorted, "Its not like you have anyone to replace me with." She said sounding rather full of herself. If there was one thing she was certain in it was her utter superiority over the First and Third Children. The dance machines suddenly let out a short tone alerting the entire room that the dancers were moving in synch with each other. Asuka snapped about eyes wide as Shinji moved carefully in perfect synch with Rei. Neither child was looking at the other, they just moved as if it was natural to be that way.

"Well, what do you know." Misato said, "Maybe we should try having Shinji do it instead, then Rei and him can take care of this Angel.

Asuka paled, she knew what was going to come next if she didn't do something . . . She took the only course open to her.

Shinji put his left hand down in Synch with Rei's, he'd just been curious how the machine worked and it had looked sort of fun when Rei and Asuka had started the day before. He was rewarded by another short tone which strangely seemed to please him immensely. He was about to put his right hand down on the appropriate circle when the headphones were suddenly yanked off. He blinked a few times and looked around startled. "Wha . . ."

"You idiot!" The Class Representative balled her fist dangerously as she looked down on Shinji, "You made her cry!"

"I . . . don't . . ." Shinji tried to make sense of what Hikari was talking about.

"Go find her and apologize you MORON!" She shouted in his face. Shinji suddenly felt the desire to be somewhere else, "Uhm, oh, uh, where's Asuka?" He said looking around confused, whatever the class rep was shouting at him about this was his chance to make his escape. "I- I'll go find her!" Shinji scrambled to the door and was gone in seconds.

Hikari sighed, "Man, Shinji's sweet, but what a dunce."

Rei felt a slight twinge of anger at the Class Rep's comment but said nothing. Her attention was drawn to a slight tapping at her shoulder, Aoi and Yumiko looked at her seriously. "We need to speak to you." Yumiko said softly, Aoi nodded mutely in agreement. Neither waited for Rei's confirmation, simply hooking their arms around her shoulders they hauled her out into the hallway to speak privately. "This is most troubling." Yumiko said.

"What is?" Rei asked.

"The red haired harlequin is going to be living with Shinji-sama." The small girl explained looking Rei in the eyes. "Do you not understand the significance of this?" Seeing a total lack of comprehension in the eyes of the girl that was her genetic template Yumiko began explaining in small words. "It is due to Shinji that we are alive now, we hold him in the highest esteem . . . However we have also heard of the red haired ones violent nature and fear for Shinji-sama's safety." She fidgeted with the skirt of her school uniform. "It is possible that Shinji-sama could be drawn to her, foreigners often are seen as exotic, this is unacceptable." Yumiko leaned in dangerously, "Have you forgotten his promise to you already."

Rei's eyes widened, "He promised . . . he promised to help me find it." She affirmed.

"She may try to take him away from us." Yumiko said slowly, "If that happens his promise may be voided, his promise to us will be lost!"

"To . . . us?" Rei wondered. She didn't need an explanation, the answers came unbidden, memory after memory of her eyes opening for the first time. They were faint, blurred, but there ultimate meaning was undeniable.

The small girl nodded eyes knowing, "You have felt it too have you not, it is how we knew where to find you. We are separate but we are also one, if Shinji's promise is not fulfilled then none of us will ever be whole."

Rei turned to look at the door anxiously, "I will . . . go find Shinji . . . And attempt to sort this out."

Yumiko nodded and leaned forward, "We will support you in any endeavor involving Shinji . . . But it you lose him . . ." Her voice lowered to a growl, "If you lose him, especially to the harlequin, we will never forgive you." Rei was out the door in a time that would have made a late running Misato proud. Soon after Yumiko and Aoi left as well.

"Was it . . . wise to do that?" Aoi asked suddenly, "We are not . . . certain that Shinji is even attracted to the second child, shouldn't we wait and see how things develop instead of worrying her."

Yumiko pulled a book on romance from her satchel, "It is too great a risk to take." She said flatly, "We are already at a disadvantage due to Rei's proximity in proportion to Asuka's. Under normal conditions the Harlequin with have the advantage of distance, five meters as compared to five kilometers. Under shared living conditions the risk is too great for us to remain uninvolved. Ultimately Rei will not be able to gain him unless she can make major inroads soon . . ." Yumiko stopped and turned to stare at her sibling. Aoi was slightly taller due to an infusion of growth hormones during the rapid modifications to her body, though like Yumiko she was virtually identical to Rei genetically. "What is it?"

"Are you really so confident in your research. We have had only two weeks to build on our template, how can you be so certain that your analyses is correct?"

"You make a valid point." Yumiko admitted, "However it is because of our relatively blank minds that we can adapt so quickly, we have no old falsehoods to unlearn." Yumiko like the other clones had begun to branch rapidly from the original personality template. Though she had a quiet focus on par with Rei's, she was also fanatically devoted to literature of any kind. She had become the defacto leader of the small group of girls born from the room of Gauf, keeping them tightly nit in a world that was, though wonderful, not entirely friendly.

"But are you certain that what you are learning now are not those very falsehoods?" Aoi pointed out.

Yumiko paused to consider her siblings words, "I must accept for now that I am right." I have to be, for all of our sakes.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Shinji paused and looked over his shoulder, Reno look at him and then grinned. "Why are you fallowing me?" Shinji asked.

"Come on, don't think we'd leave you alone boss, did ya?" The Turk asked playfully as he started walking once more, his hands were stuffed in the pockets of his rumpled business suit and his head was slouched forward slightly as he considered the intersection. "She probably hasn't gone far." He said.

"Yeah, probably." Shinji admitted, "Uhm, we could try the convenience stores, the closest one is about two blocks from here." The pair moved quickly heading in the direction Shinji gestured. Shinji starred at his bodyguard again. The young man kept up with no trouble, not even breaking a sweat despite being in heavier clothing then Shinji.

"Something bothering you Boss?" Reno asked keeping his eyes on the street ahead of them.

"I was . . . just wondering, how you became a Turk?"

Reno's features were pulled into a slight grin, "Would you believe it was to impress a girl?" He asked.

"Really?" Shinji said startled.

"Something like that, honestly, that was six years ago, and I really don't want to think about that time. God you don't know how much I don't want to think about that time." Those words were spoken with a tone of regret foreign to the normally light hearted Turk's voice.

Shinji decided it was best not to dig any deeper. The convenience store was one of a chain that spanned all across Japan, the familiar green and orange marking catching the eye the moment they turned onto the street.

They found her in the back, near the coolers, "Don't you Japanese have any descent drinks?" She said in disgust, she didn't look at him instead choosing to pin her attention to the row of brightly colored bottles.

"Asuka, we need to . . ."

"Yeah I know, me and your little Wonder Girl have to pull off this miracle you and Misato are hoping for, Herr Furer." Shinji didn't know what that last thing had meant but he nodded anyway.

"Its . . . Its important to all of us that you do the best you can. I mean . . . I don't think I could do it . . ." Shinji stopped when he saw her tense and start to shake. "Asuka?"

Before he could say anything she turned hurling a coke can at him, "THAT'S JUST IT, YOU GODDAMN COULD!" She snarled, eyes red with frustration. "What in the hell is wrong with you, you moron! Don't you get it, you could do this, you and your little wind up girlfriend could do it no problem! And you will too, won't you, you'll be the little miracle child everyone expects you to be . .." Asuka was shaking as she spoke, her eyes were hidden beneath her matted hair as she continued to speak. Her face had twisted into a tight little smile, "After all, you've killed three Angels with almost no help, then you went and inherited an entire NERV branch. No matter what the hell I do now, you're name is the one that's going to go down in the history books."

"Asuka . . . I." Shinji looked at her suddenly, "Is that why you pilot, so you'll be famous?"

"I have to be the best." She said flatly, "I was the best until you suddenly showed up out of nowhere and started racking up victories on beginners luck."

"Asuka . . ."

She smirked, "Well, if that's all Herr Ferer." She returned to starring at the drinks in the cooler. Reno was busy at the counter calming the manager over the whole outburst and explaining the situation as best he could.

"Asuka, I didn't want this, I didn't want to pilot EVA, and I sure as hell didn't want to be the lord of all that I survey, but I guess I am. And what I need right now is help, because I can't do this alone, I need . . . I need your help because you know what the truth is?" Asuka didn't seem to hear him. "The truth is, I'm scarred as hell. God, I don't want to die, and I don't want to see anyone else die either. The only reason I survived all of those fights is because others were their to suffer in my place, I've always lucked out and gotten the easy job . . ." Asuka still did not respond. "Asuka, you act like you have it so damn hard, you don't think other's have been through that hell? I know I have, and so has Rei. The difference is that I just gave up, and Rei turned a deaf ear to her suffering. Only you Asuka, out of the three of us, only you actually did something about it. I thought I was a failure, but you in that same situation decided that you would better yourself. I guess . . . That makes me look up to you." He sighed when he saw that even that gamble had no affect. He turned to leave and paused as he heard a soft snicker.

"So, is this the almighty King saying he's sorry or something?"

Shinji smiled a little, "Even a King needs knights, right?"

She stood slowly and looked at him. She looked him over and then smiled slightly, she saluted sharply, "Knight Errant Soryu at your service my liege." She said before suddenly breaking out in laughter.

Shinji let out a tight sigh not sure whether to feel relieved that he had brought Asuka back around, or worried that she seemed to have some sort of multiple personality disorder. Deciding to worry about that after the Angel was defeated, he brushed past Asuka drawing her attention as he opened the cooler and rummaged through it. He held up a small strawberry milk bottle, he pointed at the label. "You should try this brand."

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Rei had little luck finding Shinji and Asuka, no surprise considering she didn't even know where to begin looking. There were some disadvantages to having lived such a sheltered existence. She stopped to take a breath studying her surrounding once more as she considered, Reno had slipped out after Shinji almost as soon as he'd left, which meant they may have split up to check multiple locations. Or, they may have stuck together assuming they knew where the Second Child would most likely be . . . Rei really wasn't cut out for deducing other's plans.

"Hey, Ayanami?"

Rei cocked her head to the side catching sight of Shinji carrying a small grocery sack, Asuka and Reno were right behind him. Shinji rummaged through the sack and pulled out a small bottle, "Here."

Rei took it curiously, reading the label she carefully opened the bottle and took a sip. Shinji watched her expectantly, "It is good." She said softly taking another sip.

They continued back to the apartment in silence before Shinji finally spoke once more, "Listen, you two don't get along well. But if you can't do this training then we're going to be beaten by this Angel. So both you . . ." Shinji struggled to find the right words. "Both of you have to dance like you want to want to win." He said with all the forcefulness and spirit he could muster.

Asuka and Reno broke into a sudden fit of snickering, not what Shinji had expected. Asuka's snickers turned to a evil cackle as she fought to take in enough air. "T-thats just . . . just to rich . . . Dance like you want to win . . ." She blurted out in laughter again. Reno's laughter redoubled along with that of the German's. Rei simply cocked her head slightly torn between curiosity at why Shinji's words were so funny and anger that these two would laugh at them regardless of their comedic value.

"Well . . . I guess you don't have to take it that seriously, after all the UN is backing us up. So its not like it'll be that bad if you guys lose . . ." The laughing stopped, both Rei and Asuka were looking at him beset with determination. "What's the . . ."

"Do not say that. It is never okay to lose!" Both girls said as one, it was something that they both whole heartedly believed even if their reasoning for it was different.

They looked at each other with mild surprise. "Well well." Asuka smirked, "For once I have to agree with you First, now lets prove the Furer here what we can do." Rei had no chance to reply as she was dragged along behind the red head by the wrist.

"Pilot Soryu . . ." Rei began.

"Relax First we're heading right back to Misato's so we can train to kick that Angel's ass."

"The Major's residence is in the other direction." Rei stated flatly pointing back the way they had come. "Ger, Right! I just got turned around is all." Asuka dashed off dragging Rei along behind her now traveling in the appropriate direction. Not far from them small girl had been watching the scene from a footbridge.

"She really is a harlequin." Yumiko muttered before turning to leave, her sisters were waiting for the latest news.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Five straight days of training were broken only by a few brief synch sessions between Rei and Unit-01. It had been decided that her synch score was high enough to use the machine in Shinji's stead, especially considering all of the modifications being made to Unit-00, Doctor Akagi seemed to have gotten in touch with her inner mad scientist on that one.

The training had not been easy, in fact, it had been grueling, to the point that Rei and Asuka had come to rapidly despise the dance pad and. But that was all over now, they'd successfully gone through the synch training over one hundred times with fewer than fifteen mistakes. That was good enough for Misato and the equipment had been packed up and moved out that afternoon.

Rei looked at herself in the mirror, Fuyutsuki had been very firm with her when it came to dressing around the house, but he had at least compensated on allowing her to wear something less constricting then her school clothes. Black sleeveless shirt and dark blue shorts, it kept everything covered but left her feeling more comfortable then in anything else she owned. There was a knocking at the bathroom door.

"Other people have to use that bathroom two you know." Asuka complained from the other side, knocking again with considerably more force.

Rei sighed to herself, the Second truly seemed to be testing her patience. A patience that amazingly did have limits. It was apparent that Asuka did not like her, or at least did not prefer her company from the beginning. Perhaps I should have accepted her offer of friendship, I may have offended her by refusing. It wasn't that Rei particularly gave a damn whether or not she had offended the Second Child, she was just so obnoxious that any way to smooth relations with her would have been welcome.

Rei stepped to the side as Asuka barged through and shoed her out. The hiss of the tub faucet came a moment later. Rei could at least sympathize with the Second's desire for a hot bath, it was one of the little pleasures she had only discovered upon moving in with the Sub-commander, and had been greatly pleased with it.

"Oh, your done then Rei?" Shinji asked coming out of the kitchen with a spatula in hand.

She gave him a look that told him his question had been a waste of breath. And he looked away, "Sorry." He mumbled.

"Why?" She asked curiously.

"Its nothing, you should hurry up and eat, and probably tell Asuka as well." Shinji rushed back into the kitchen he came out with a plate of warm somen noodles, "You have to eat them quick or they lose their flavor and texture." He explained pressing the plat into Rei's hands and hurrying down the hallway to the bathroom.

Rei took an experimental bite of the meal, deciding it was good she went to sit at the table and dig in more earnestly.

"Asuka, finish quick or you'll be stuck with left overs." Shinji said tapping on the door.

He heard Asuka snort loudly from the other side before turning on the water. Shinji sighed that girl was going to kill him one day. Even after a week in the same house she was brash, arrogant, and yet somehow he couldn't get her off his mind. She had a certain energy that he couldn't deny he found alluring. Not that she would ever notice him.

He sat down at the table and started eating. He felt a little sorry that Misato was stuck with the night shift at NERV but she did have a lot of paperwork to catch up on so he supposed she was probably making the best of it. When Asuka finally emerged from the bathroom Shinji was just cleaning off his plate. Rei had already taken care of her own washing it and putting it in the sink before padding off down the hallway.

Shinji handed her the plat he had left for her, watching as she scowled at him. "It tastes like wet cardboard."

"I told you to hurry, noodles don't keep their flavor that long." Shinji defended, the German grunted irritably before take another bite.

"You better make it up to me." She said on her next bite.

"I'll be sure to make something you like for your victory dinner tomorrow." Shinji said, he'd found that the quickest way to the redheads heart was through feeding her stomach and stroking her ego. Doing both was guaranteed to keep her in a good mood. And an Asuka in a good mood was an Asuka that wasn't subjugating him as he slave. He was still trying to figure our how he had ended up unpacking all of her stuff. He was relatively certain it had involved jenkin. I can't keep playing that game. Shinji decided looking back on his terrible track record. Misato had to have something up her sleeve.

"Yo, earth to Shinji." Asuka waved her hand in front of the blanked out Commander. Shinji shook his head and looked at her hard.

"Oh, I'm sorry, just thinking about . . ."

"About what?" Asuka said. Leaning forward, "It's something perverted isn't it." She growled before letting out a snort of disgust. "Whatever, Misato's isn't going to be getting in until after the battle tomorrow so was have the entire house to our self. So my Furer we would do best getting some sleep." Asuka scarfed down the rest of her meal with a grimace and stocked to her room. She slid the door open and then shut again, a moment later it opened again, "And don't you dare come in here." She slammed the door shut again.

"Okay." Shinji said dumbly. There has got to be something wrong with that girl. I'm not sure if she's being playful or murderous half the time. He would have to ask Ritsuko or Fuyutsuki about that. Maybe she had some mental condition, he could check her full records and probably get an answer.

With the kitchen in satisfactory order for the next day Shinji went straight for his room, it was too late to do anything but sleep. Not after all the stuff Rei and Asuka had put him through in the last few days. He wondered vaguely as he changed and lay down if they were getting along well.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Asuka grimaced as she looked at her roommate, thank god this was temporary. She didn't know how much longer she could stand the First Child. It wasn't like she was doing anything overly obnoxious. It was just that . . ."

"God, how much more are you going to mess with that stupid teddy bear."

Rei fixed her with a frosty stare. "GenGen isn't stupid, Ikari bought him for me."

Asuka rolled her eyes, "Because of course our great and powerful Furer buys it, it must be one of the greatest things the world has ever produced. That idiot wouldn't know style if it bit him in the face." Asuka blinked as she heard something. Looking at Rei her eyes narrowed, "Are you, growling at me?"

The First Child did not respond verbally instead tightening her grip on GenGen and pulling the covers of her futon over herself.

Asuka shook her head, the twerp wasn't worth so much trouble especially when dealing with Shinji. Still, she needed to understand where she stood. "You really like Shinji, huh?" She said as she paced over to turn of the lights.

"The Commander, is very agreeable, I enjoy his company very much." Rei responded wondering what angle the German was attempting to use on her. She had already weathered several mental attacks in the past few days aimed at everything from her bazar hair and eye color to her frigid attitude.

"I guess you would." Asuka said laying down on her futon. "But you know, Girls like you don't get guys like him."

Rei's heart skipped a beat. "What . . . Do you mean?"

"Well. The way I here it Shinji's got a fair amount of cash stashed away in his father's accounts. Assuming he has half of what little brains I think he has he'll know he can live pretty luxuriously off the interest that cash with accrue for the rest of his life. To top it off he isn't exactly terrible looking either. Trust me, plenty of women with better bodies and personalities then yours will be lining up to spend their lives with him. He'll be able to take his pick. What makes you think he'd choose a poorly endowed peasant girl like you when he can have a Victoria Secret model, or three."

Rei didn't respond, she starred up at the ceiling instead as she considered these words. She knew it was true, Rei was not particularly attractive. In fact, save for her unique pigmentation she was thoroughly average in every conceivable way, certainly not ugly but no someone who would ever be called beautiful. Not that she had minded this until now. Not until now, now it meant a great deal. Shinji would be taken by someone else, or worse yet, take someone else for his affections and leave his promise to her unkept. She wouldn't find her missing piece.

Asuka was unaware of the turmoil she had spawned with her hateful little speech, already happily asleep, awaiting the next day and her chance to finally prove herself.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

"My god, where does all this paperwork come from?" Misato sagged back in her seat.

"We're lucky you know." Ritsuko said sipping from a coffee mug.

Misato snorted, "And how the hell is that."

"We have the MAGI to do most of the scutt work, imagine how bad it would be without them turning away endlessly on our accounting files and stock portfolio."

"Portfolio?" Misato asked.

"Oh, never mind that." Ritsuko said quickly.

Misato groaned, "Well whatever, if I don't get all of this paperwork done my pay will get cut at the end of the month." She began to cry, "I'll have to subsist on instant ramen and none brand name bear!"

Ritsuko's eye twitched, "You need help with that Misato, seriously get in touch with alcoholics anonymous or something."

"Oh and you're one to talk, you go out barhopping with me too you know."

"Yes but I'm not a sloppy drunk." She sniped back.

Misato glared, "Fine, whatever, honestly thought how do you get all of this paperwork done. I mean seriously there's enough to require your own secretary."

Ritsuko shrugged, "I get Maya to do it."

Misato piqued, "How do you do that?"

Ritsuko looked at her oddly, "Didn't you know? Each member of the bridge staff is supposed to act as an adjutant to their appropriate Division leader. Maya is my direct subordinate so she helps me with the Project E administration work. Makoto is Fuyutsuki's direct subordinate in general administration and I know he takes care of organizing the reports sent up to the Commander's office. I think its Hyuga's job to assist you since he's the second in command of the Tactical Division."

Misato's jaw dropped, "Why in the hell didn't I know that?"

Ritsuko smiled evilly, "It was mentioned in the orientation you slept through."

"AND YOU NEVER THOUGHT TO TELL ME?" The Operations Director shouted in her oldest, soon to be most recently deceased, friend's face.

"Oh I just thought you liked to take a hands on approach." Ritsuko looked at her watch getting up she waved of her back, "Well I have to be going Misato. Unit-00 won't finish system diagnostics on itself you know."

Misato watched her go before slumping in her seat. "Why in God's name didn't anybody ever tell me this." She whined.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

A battle was coming the next day, it was possible that people would die. Likely that homes would be destroyed. Yet Tokyo-3 slept peacefully. In every case but one. The door to Asuka's room creaked open, a shadow slipped inside and came to stand between both sleeping girls.

Shinji smiled slightly as he sat down to simply watch them. The first time it had been entirely accidental. The first night he had come stumbling in after a late night trip to the bathroom. The second time he had been curious, the Asuka who was violent while awake seemed so peaceful in sleep. And Rei likewise lost her tense control revealing just how innocent she really was.

It brought a strange sense of peace to him, to see them like this. It made him feel like he really could protect them. With Unit-01, and with NERV. He just, didn't want to see any more pain. If he could stop everyone's suffering then maybe, maybe then, he could finally deserve to be happy.

He frowned as he saw a small tear beading in Asuka's eye. "Mmmm . . ." She twisted softly in her sleep, face contorting as she was haunted by something. A nightmare?

Shinji leaned forward and tried to wipe the tear from her eye, she shifted again knocking his supporting hand out and causing him to slip onto the futon next to her. She turned again eyes squeezed tight. Shinji froze as she leaned forward towards the warmth she had felt even in her nightmare. "Mmmm . . ."

He stiffened, terrified that she would wake up and kill . . . Her lips brushed against his . . . Him . . . He broke out in a cold sweat. "Mmmm momma." She whimpered her arms fell around him grabbing him tight. "Don't leave me momma, I'm a good girl." Her tears started to flow more freely. "I'm a good girl, aren't I momma?"

Shinji carefully dislodged himself from her embrace breathing heavily.

"Momma?" She whimpered again.

She . . . Must have it rough too. Your still just a child too. Shinji thought angrily, still . . . He place a hand on her forehead. "That's right . . ." He said hesitantly, recalling something that Asuka might have found comforting. He'd heard her use the word a couple times and knew what it meant. "That's right . . . Liebchen . . . You're a good girl." He doubted Asuka could actually feel any of this but comforting her settled his nerves. Sighing softly he got up and left the room afraid of what might happen if he stuck around any longer.

He didn't notice the tears beginning to flow down Rei's face as she dreamt her first dream. Of being left all alone, in the dark and the cold.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

"All system checks complete Unit-01 and 02 ready for launch." Aoba reported.

Hyugga looked up from his console. "Synchronization track is ready to play."

"MAGI have preloaded commands to the defensive grid. All launcher sights prepared to fire." Maya chimed in.

"Good work everyone." Shinji said looked out from the top tier of Central Dogma. He wore the black jacket Hyuga had suggested for him back during the whole Jet Alone incident, he had to admit it was a really nice jacket. And Misato didn't nag him as much now that he had gained a little bit more style with his clothing. "Rei, Asuka, are you two ready?" He asked over the intercom.

"Leave it to us herr Furer." Asuka said confidently.

"We will complete the mission with utmost diligence." Rei agreed.

"The Angel is approaching the first line." Aoba said.

Shinji nodded and looked down to Misato's station in the second tier, "Misato, would you do the honors?"

"Gladly Sir." Misato turned to face the rest of the bridge crew. "Evangelion Units 01 and 02, launch!"

The machines rocketed to the surface on NERV electromagnetic catapults their hard point locks already detached. They reached the surface in under ten seconds and continued straight up to get a clear view of the angel as Beethoven's 8th symphony began to play.

"This was a really good choice of music." Shinji commented as he watched the battle. The first act on the part of Unit 01 and 02 was to split the recombined Angel and divide its power between its two halves. A fairly solid tactical decision considering that the EVA's would hopefully have the upper hand in synchronization.

Misato frowned, "You know it actually serves a purpose in this battle, right?"

"Oh I know that." Shinji smiled, "I just think it would be neat if we played music in the background for all of our operations. It would get everyone in the mood, its just so exhilarating!"

Missile sites all over the city opened fire, hammering the Angels in concert with UN deployed rocket artillery. This unexpected attack helped to throw of the Angels's own synchronized movement shifting that advantage further to NERV.

Misato looked at Shinji in disbelief, she would certainly have to have Ritsuko looked at him. Shinji did seem to be suffering from a mild bout of insanity. Or maybe all the power was going to his head.

The music reached its climax as the Angels were staggered, Unit 01 and 02 initiated their final attack, a running leap that ended in a synchronized attack on both cores. The explosion that ensued was proof enough that the plan had succeeded. A light round of cheering broke out amongst the bridge staff at another successful battle.

Fuyutsuki coughed into his hand to hide his feeling of humiliation at the battle's conclusion, "Well, it could have ended worse." He nodded to the main monitor where Unit-02 lay fallen over Unit-01. At some point one of them must have botched the landing, which exactly was never determined but the whole embarrassing incident did start quite the running bet.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Later that same evening Shinji could be found walked all around NERV. If someone had observed him they would have been quite curious. He stopped in many of the offices saying hello to staff and asking them how there day was. Listening to jokes told by the technical crews in warehouses and even going to get coffee for the Central Dogma night shift. It all would have seemed very strange, alien in fact, if the Commander had been anyone but Shinji.

He just enjoyed seeing how people were doing, knowing what made them happy and what made them sad. Knowing who's daughter was on the honor roll and who's had just gotten a check up. He'd been invited to have dinner with the families of several of the NERV staff. It was an open secret now that Shinji was the owner and proprietor of NERV but for the most part it was being kept quiet. NERV was trying to avoid the splash that having a child Commander would cause in the media.

That didn't bother Shinji in the least. In fact, he proffered it that way. It meant his successes would get equally as little publicity. And therefore adults would continue to underestimate him. An advantage that was going to be very important in continued negotiations with companies such as JHI and Zantiu-Braun the two lead contractors of the Tokyo-3 intercept grid.

He wasn't sure how his path lead him to his last stop but he supposed if he was talking to the rest of NERV's personnel he should at least say hello to three of its hardest working staff.

The EVA cages were totally devoid of crewmen evening, neither EVA had suffered significant damage and what warping had been done to the armor by the more extreme maneuvers had been scheduled for repair the next day. Shinji had the entire cage to himself as he walked out onto the central cat walk, betting a clear view of all three titanic war machines.

"I don't know . . . If my Father . . . If Gendo ever came down here before." He said. "I'm not even certain if you can hear me. I guess this is a little disgraceful. I mean I don't even know the names of two of you." He tilted his head to look up at the dormant Unit-01. "But I do know that you're here mother. So I beg of you, if you can hear me, please listen to my request."

Shinji sat down in the middle of the catwalk, letting his legs dangle out over the coolant covering the EVA's to their shoulders. "Protect them. Protect them for me, protect them as I cannot, as much as I wish I could. Not just Rei and Asuka. Protect all of them, everyone at NERV and everyone in this city. Everyone on this planet. Please protect them because if we lose, all of them will die too. Die because of a fight that they had nothing to do with. So I beg you, protect them."

Shinji starred up at the huge being, dealers of death made as a sort of final joke against the Angels. If they had heard him they didn't respond.

"Seems like a rather odd place to come for a brake." A self confident voice announced. Kaji Ryoji came walking out onto the catwalk hands in his pockets.

"You know . . . Its awfully rude to walk in unannounced." Shinji mumbled, standing to his full height of, well, not a lot.

The scruffy man grinned, "So I heard you've been taken off the pilots roster. Are you trying to duck out of the fighting?"

Shinji looked down, "Of course not. Misato and Fuyutsuki are insisting that I can't pilot if I'm supposed to Command NERV. Authority means I have to give some things up."

"Does it bother you?" Kaji asked.

Shinji looked at him, trying to decide if he was being devious. But, he needed somebody to talk to about this and Misato would just refuse to hear it if he talked about it. "Yeah, it does. I thought if I piloted I would, I don't know. Be worthy or something. The first time I did it I was just doing it out of pressure."

"To save Rei?" Kaji asked.

Shinji looked at him from the corner of his eye. He snorted. "No, I wish it was something that noble. The truth is I was more worried that everyone would hate me for letting her die. If it had just been her and me there, I think I would have run away and left her to her death." He chuckled softly, "How pathetic is that?"

"Do you think that way anymore?" Kaji asked.

"I think . . . I do." Shinji said, shame welled up within him, did he really do all of this just so people would be proud of him? Just so they would praise him? So they would like him?

"Trust me Shinji." Kaji said quietly. "You don't want to go down that path. I once told a woman I cared about very deeply that I didn't think I was capable of true love."

"That sounds pretty morbid coming from someone who seems like such a ladies man."

Kaji chuckled, "You know what the real kicker is. The fact that I could say something like that should have proved I loved her. If you can tell someone that you're not sure that you can love, then you're only telling them that out of concern for their happiness. And isn't that love? It really is one of the most perverse and selfish of emotions."

"An interesting way to put it." Shinji let his eye stare off into the distance, wondering just how far the GeoFront really extended. "Are you saying that love is like greed?"

"Sort of." Kaji agreed. "For example, you might sacrifice yourself for someone and love them selfishly since you're choosing to die instead of having to suffer the loss, never thinking about how they may feel about you dieing."

Those words only fueled Shinji's depressed mood, the reasoning was cold to say the least and sapped a lot of the beauty out of romance.

"Or." Kaji continued, "You could love selflessly and sacrifice yourself because you know they will live on and be happy."

Shinji mulled over the comment and then began to speak. "When I was younger I used to read fairy tales. My favorite one was about a female songbird who took human form."

Kaji looked at Shinji curiously. "Yeah, I think I know the one your talking about. The Songbird took the form of a beautiful maiden who drew the eye of the King. He fell in love with her and when she shed her human form he caged her so that she would never leave him."

"And do you know how the story ends?" Shinji asked.

"The Songbird grew sick from its captivity and loneliness, nothing the king did seemed to heal its broken heart and one day, in the coldest part of winter, he found the bird dead in its cage."

Shinji nodded, "But the story has two different endings."

"Yes I've heard that. The most common is that the King committed suicide so that he could find his beloved songbird in the afterlife."

"That's one." Shinji agreed. "The other one though I think holds to the stories intent much better. When spring finally came the King ordered all of the birds caged in the kingdom released so that they might find happiness. The King then left his Kingdom to wonder the surrounding country as a simple beggar and in his humility lived a rich and full life before dying at the age of one hundred on the same day as his songbird."

"I have to admit it's a rather interesting story. So, does this mean that you trust me?"

"That depends." Shinji said beginning to walk away. "Are you only after the truth?"

Kaji's face grew serious, "The truth is the only thing that I want from you Shinji."

Shinji nodded, "Then let me ask you this, just so I know how much of the truth you already posses. What is EVA?"

Kaji snorted, "That's simple isn't it? A cage for the human heart."

Shinji's lips quirked coldly. "Well said."

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

"Aren't you going to eat it?" Fuyutsuki asked quietly.

Rei pushed her rice around starring at if as if expecting it to hold some deep revelation. She seemed to have not even heard him speak.

The aging professor's concern had been growing ever since he had picked her up from Misato's apartment. She had seemed even more distant then usual. She had behaved differently after returning home as well. Sitting on the living rooms couch with one of Fuyutsuki's history books and simply reading. He'd find her sitting there hours later simply memorizing facts. It had taken a while to figure out that it was what Rei did when she was upset.

What was bothering her however remained a mystery. She'd barely spoken since the Angel's attack and seemed somehow, anxious.

"Sir?"

Fuyutsuki piqued up hoping to here what was troubling her.

"Yes Rei."

"I have a question."

"What could be bothering you Rei?" Fuyutsuki asked, he felt some relief at being asked for help. Helping with a question was something he could do, blindly guessing at an answer had always bothered him. He kept an open mind about whatever Rei may ask. However, he had to admit his mind wasn't quite open enough for the question Rei asked.

"What can you tell me about romance?"

HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

Yes I've been late on updating. Yes this chapter probably isn't very good. YES THERE ARE PLOTHOLES AND REAL WORLD INCONSISTENCIES A MILE WIDE. (Not that those ever appear in NGE fiction or the series itself). But if you're reading on its not for fine literature its because you want to read something that you find vaguely amusing and or entertaining rather then being ultra cerebral. However if you are looking for some quality thought invoking fiction for when you actually want to read a real authors works I would suggest Peter F. Hamilton's "Pandora's Star" and "Judas Unchained" Both of which are excellent works of fiction on par with Dan Simons Hyperion Cantos and Frank Herbert's Dune.

Now FLAME IT, FLAME IT WITH A STICK! -Laughs maniacally as he is crushed by a Dolem-

Okay now on to me ranting about a few things.

-Rei does posses a sort of group mind with her siblings. Kind of like a biological version of the Tachikoma's in GitS. So even though they posses a vague grouping of common memories they still branch out and diversify.

-The point of the last part between Shinji and Kaji is supposed to show Shinji resembling Gendo at the end. The conversation actually reflects my own opinions on the complexity of love and how it is most often selfish. True love can only come from humility and willingness to accept another's flaws.

I think that's it. Please comment any advice would be nice.