Silicon Knight in Tokyo-3


Tony Stark finished the last rough circuit board setting down the micro-solder. He slotted the board into its rack on the computer board. Eventually, it would all be micro-sized. But 'hand' done work was just simply easier to make much larger during the rough phases of construction on a prototype. He reached toward the switch with the intention of turning it on, then suddenly thought better. 'You know better, Tony,' he thought to himself in a chiding tone. 'It might not be possible for the Probability Gateway to activate without Wanda around, but let's not push your luck.'

With that, he tapped a button on his wristwatch. In moments, he was garbed in his world-distinctive suit of battle-armor. He left his face-plate up, as he'd grown into the habit of doing recently.

"All right. Let's see if it smokes!" he exclaimed aloud. This had been an exercise in theoretical chaos physics. Many of the baseline principles were ideas that he'd used during the ill-fated days of Force Works. He'd used the Scarlet Witch's chaos ability to be able to predict with a fair degree of certainty certain crises.

Nodding to himself as the checked over the computer panels that registered the flowing energies. If this worked correctly, he would be able to teleport almost any distance and in any dimension almost instantly. A useful card in his sleeve for some future emergency that the Avengers would be thrown into.

"I didn't even need to don my armor. I must be getting paranoid," he mused to himself.
As if someone were listening to him some blocks away and not wanting him to feel that Murphy's Law had been rescinded, the creature of chaos that was battling Dr. Strange released a brilliant, but undirected spell at his astral foe.

The mystic adroitly dodged the spell, letting it pass harmlessly though the buildings behind him. The astral battle he was engaged in was on nothing of great consequence. This creature's power was infinitesimal in the scheme of greater things. With a banishing powered by Agamato, he sent the creature back into its plane of existence.

Feeling satisfied, he paused just a moment to wonder why the balance of the world shifting towards chaos happened. How odd. He pursed his lips. Chaos could be tricky; sometimes it had more power with small changes that were perfectly and seemingly random placed.

Back to our previous scene! The probability gateway was almost perfectly poised to accept the chaotic influence, roaring to life unexpectedly.

"Impossible! It shouldn't be able to-" Tony Stark exclaimed just before the gateway and the surrounding ten meters of building disappeared!


"Nothing could survive the power of our N-2 mines!" the general boasted as the nuclear explosion struck the strange target.

"We are awaiting confirmation of the target's destruction!" a technician said to the general.

"What is there to confirm? Like I said, nothing could survive that!" the boisterous military man said again. His aides nodded and smirked in agreement.

"Wait! We are getting a visual of the target. The target is not, I repeat, not destroyed!" the same technician exclaimed in shock.

"Impossible! You must be mistaken!" the general again exclaimed. "Nothing can stand up to an N-2 mine!"

"That was out last chance!" the general's aide said loudly with disbelief.


Tony finally awoke, alarms blaring in his ears. His HUD suddenly sprouted into his view, specially designed imaging lasers imprinting the information onto his retina while backup LEDs flashed different messages to him.

His Iron Man armor was currently absorbing and dissipating hundreds of RADS of radiation. Nothing his armor couldn't deal with in the short term, but definitely not good for the long term. He noted that he himself had absorbed about five RADS. Luckily he didn't follow NASA's limits of safety for radiation exposure. Otherwise he'd never be able to use his own armor anymore.

Servos flexed and lifted the remains of his laboratory from off of his body. From the shattered remains of the slag, he looked out into a veritable nuclear holocaust. The only things that seemed to be within his degraded sensor range were a pair of gigantic and lumpy pillars on two sides of him.

"Time to see if there is any place less exciting to be!" Iron Man joked to himself. His boot-rockets whined to life, flinging him into the air and soon several miles away at a steep angle. "A nuclear hot point? Military aircraft of unknown designation and a Godzilla sized monster in the center. I think I need more information and fast!"

After noting the language and temporal drift, he tapped into the local defense forces communication grid. Several minutes later, he just shook his head. "Their tinker-toys are no match for something of this scale. And if no one else has appeared, it looks like it is up to me."

His armor had recovered from the tremendous amounts of radiation that had bombarded it and was within a few fractions of a percent of being at full functionality. His boot jets changed pitch, throwing him into the battle.


"Amazing. It is adapting and upgrading its parameters even as we watch." Gendo watched impassively as the camera switched to a tank commander only a quarter of a mile away after the Angel destroyed the drone.

"So we've been given the go ahead to proceed?" his assistant asked.

"It is what NERV was created for. We are the only thing standing between the world and utter annihilation," the commander of NERV replied.

"Sir, we are detecting an intruder attempting to enter into the battle."

"Warn them away. It would not do for a civilian to get themselves killed by their stupidity." Gendo smirked to himself.

"It is too small to be an aircraft! It's small even for a missile! The object is on a collision course for the Angel! It's accelerating fast! One thousand kilometers per hour! Two thousand! Three thousand! Impact!" the communications and sensor technician cried out in surprise.

The entire control room was surprised to see the Angel stagger backwards as something caromed off of it.

"Get me a visual of that intruder," Gendo Ikari snapped.

"It looks like something out of some comic book. Its power levels are hard to judge. The MAGI can not come to an agreement about its capabilities."

Gendo Ikari narrowed his eyes in thought. What was this new thing?


Shinji peeked over at seemingly crazy woman as they drove in the damaged car. He shivered as he remembered the blinding flash that this Misato had said was a nuclear explosion! Being too shy, he just wasn't sure how he would bring it up, so he would ask about radiation poisoning later! But this Misato person looked so serious right now.

Misato was very serious indeed, seriously upset and frustrated. She had just barely purchased this new car and look what happened! Would it be covered under insurance?

A red and gold blur roared past her. In passable, though mildly accented Japanese, a voice came from it, "Please evacuate this area! There is a monster moving in this direction!"

The two blinked in surprise at the humanoid looking robot that suddenly rocketed into the air and out of sight.

"That didn't look like Ultraman!" Shinji exclaimed. Wasn't that just an old movie-character?

Misato gave him a sideways glance. "I don't know what that was, but it wasn't one of ours."

Iron Man checked over the city, most people had been evacuated already, it seemed. That car had been the last one he'd warned off. There were several nuclear hardened bunkers and the city itself seemed to be armored, most of the buildings pulled underground.

Why someone would be so inefficient? He would have just built most of the city underground to make a more contiguous armoring.

He noted the directed transmission at him and flicked it onto his systems. "Unknown intruder, cease and desist these actions and remove yourself from Tokyo 3."

"Look, I understand that you don't know who I am, but I am trying to help out here. Unless you have something much more effective, I'm your best shot at stopping that thing. Oh, and you can call me Iron Man." He banked to the left, seeing the strange, humanoid figure stomping this way. "Jeeze, the thing's as big as Godzilla."

Gendo Ikari merely blinked at that comment. "You have nothing that can affect its AT Field. It is impervious to anything less than a nuclear strike." He glared at the figure on his tactical screen.

Ritsuko just shrugged her shoulders under her lab coat. She couldn't even see how that silly robot could be flying; much less survive the attacks from the angel that had actually struck it twice.

"Really? How much power do you have available here? I'm seeing massive electrical conduits all over the place," Iron Man responded. He zoomed towards the largest metal tower and attached himself to the side with his magnetic boot-clamps "If you can deliver two gigajoules, I can attempt a particle beam attack that may pierce the things psychoactive force field."

"Two giga-joules? What is he talking about?" the blonde scientist asked.

Gendo didn't reply as the remote camera watched the garish robot work.

Tony Stark, the man inside the supposed robot, was taken back when he accessed the electrical conduit and computer grid. The security was not very strong. In moments he had peripheral access to the computer grid and, more important for now, control of the energy distribution grid. "Now we're playing with high grade nuclear materials."

"He's accessed the Evangelion power grid interface, Commander!" a startled technician exclaimed over his control console.

Gendo didn't acknowledge the outburst directly, still watching the screen intently.

Iron Man connected a few cables of special, super-low impedance design. "Range, one thousand feet. I've got to fiddle with the phase-shift on the pulse-bolt emitter." Cybernetic commands were strung together like a ballad in record speed. "3-2-1... FIRE!"

An arc point of pure incandescence was unleashed.

"My God! What is that thing?" Ritsuko exclaimed. The pulse of energy moved rather slowly, as you could actually see it wavering on its way towards the angel for a split second.

As the electron torpedo traveled, it gathered even more energy from the air, becoming incredibly destructive. Electricity arced up to it from the ground building within it even more power.

With a pinpoint explosion, the pulse-bolt exploded as it struck the angel, knocking it over.

"The MAGI are calculating a 35 probability that was some form of static charged electron beam pulse. The readings are giving them absolute fits, as that would have struck nearly as hard as an N2 mine, but more focused." Ritsuko suddenly had a very large urge to take the new robot apart. The mind that designed it must be exceptional, to say the least.

Unfortunately, the angel was merely stunned for a minute and stood back up.

This conduit can take another two or three shots, Tony Stark thought to himself. He fired another super pulse-bolt at the angel. He would have to follow up the attack-

The angel raised its hand, air distorting in front as it manifested a stronger AT field. The pulse-bolt slammed into the AT field and became a ripple of energy in the bubble. The rippled went from front to back and then again to the front, unleashing a slightly diminished pulse-bolt right back at Iron Man.

The bolt struck home, blasting right through the metal tower and the three buildings behind it.

"No sign of the Iron Man anywhere!"

Gendo smiled under his hands that were covering his lower face. At least this Iron Man had slowed the Angel down far enough. "We will have to continue with our main plan, then. Prepare for Unit 01 for activation."

"Do we have the pilot?" Ritsuko asked. She checked her watch, realizing that this Iron Man had consumed a large portion of her time already.

"Yes. Major Katsuragi has arrived with him. She took him directly to the Cage." Gendo stood up and walked out of the bridge.

One of the technicians spoke up again. "The Angel is proceeding to attack the armor, trying to break into the Geofront. Estimating breakthrough within four hours and thirty minutes."


Shinji was almost hyperventilating as he breathed the salty LCL. The Evangelion Unit 01 was rocketing upwards, to a confrontation that he could barely believe, much less fight.

The gigantic purple monstrosity that he was in slammed to a halt at the top of the ride, within the city of Tokyo 3.

"Releasing safety locks. Evangelion Unit 01 is free of the restraints," one of the lieutenants of the command crew informed.

"Very well. Shinji, I want you to visualize walking," Ritsuko explained.

"Ah, okay!" the flustered boy said. That shouldn't be too hard, should it? In response to his tentative mental commands, the unit staggered a few steps forward and then just stood there.

Off in the distance, the Third Angel stood up from where it was blasting through the armor of the Geofront. It started moving towards the Evangelion Unit 01.

"Doesn't your pilot know how to use that thing?" Iron Man said as he rocketed past the slumped over robot.

"Iron Man? We had thought you were destroyed!" Maya exclaimed in surprise at her console.

"He must have his own AT Field to have survived such an extreme attack!" Ritsuko said as she looked up from her own computer console.

"Not a psycho-active one. But yes, I do have a force field that I managed to supercharge just before the attack hit," Iron Man explained. He glanced over his shoulders to the purple robot that appeared to part of Japan's defensive measure. "Have you gotten your feet there, soldier?"

"No! I'll fall over!" And ruin everything, he thought to himself.

"Great. An untested proto-type too, I bet. Look, kid, you are going to have to learn how to use that thing in a hurry. Falling over is fine. Don't worry about breaking things at this point." Iron Man rocketed forward, dodging a blast of energy from the angel again.

The small red and gold missile slammed into the angel again, knocking it backwards again. It seemed angry, though it was still eerily silent.

"Right! Just start moving and learning to walk, all over again. It's not that easy!" The Evangelion staggered drunkenly, slamming into the buildings.

"You are fighting it too much. Can you feel any sort of feed back from the system?" Iron Man said as he circled the angel while blasting at it with his repulsors set at high.

"I-I can!" Shinji replied with a hint of wonder in his voice.

That boy sounded awfully young, Tony thought to himself. "Practice moving your arms while focusing on the feedback." He was struck by a blast that sent him spinning, but he managed to gain control before the angel could follow up the attack, dodging the next attack by only a few feet..

"I think I've got it!" the young boy exclaimed. "Now what?"

Gendo looked over at Ritsuko and nodded curtly. He had not expected Shinji to actually pilot it as well as he had.

Ritsuko turned on her microphone. "Shinji, in the right vambrace above your shoulder is a progressive knife. Try to use it to break the red globe. That is the only weak point in the Angel that we can determine."

"Ah, you want me to attack the Angel with a knife?" Shinji stuttered. They were insane! His Evangelion smoothly grabbed the knife using preprogrammed movements. "AAAAAH!" he screamed as he clumsily charged it.

The Third Angel attempted to blast the small target that just would not die. It almost missed the stumbling charge of the Evangelion Unit One. At the last moment, it spun around and put up another AT Field around itself.

"The knife can't cut it!" Shinji exclaimed as the knife emitted sparks upon contact with the AT Field.

"The Evangelion also has an AT Field. Use it to defend yourself when it counter-attacks!" Ritsuko ordered.

"We are detecting a new AT Field! It's tiny!" Maya exclaimed.

"What switch do I hit to activate my AT Field?" the young boy asked. His voice was starting to get panicked.

"There is no switch, it is all mental effort," Ritsuko informed, voice tense. Would he be able to generate an AT Field like they expected?

"The Iron Man unit's energy-field is shifting into an AT Field. The MAGI are giving it a 92 probability that it is, in fact, an Angel." The lieutenant looked up from his console with worry on his face. "I didn't think the Angels could be so small!"

Gendo watched from the back of the room, seemingly impassive.

"We are detecting AT Field interaction! Iron Man's AT Field is attempting to pierce the Third Angel's barrier!" Maya looked at the readings in consternation. What was this robot, really?

With a burst of pyrotechnics, Iron Man smashed through the barrier with his reversed psych-forcefield. "Keep up the pressure, I'll try to smash the 'heart' of this thing!" With that he blasted at the core of the Angel, impacting it with stunning force from his repulsor rays. Pieces start to break from it.

The Angel's AT Field collapsed as it was distracted by the mortal attack on its essence. That lapse cost it, as the purple Evangelion broke through and stabbed it in the fragmenting red core. It grabbed at the hands that were shoving it deeper in, in an attempt to stop the deadly attack.

All of a sudden, the Third Angel slumped over, like a puppet with its strings cut.

"It's... dead?" Shinji exclaimed in surprise.

"It sounds like it is. I'm not reading any active bio-systems or psychic-resonance readings across it," Iron Man said as he zipped around it.

"It was a living thing?" the boy exclaimed.

"From what I can tell, yes. Not like most things I've run into. I wonder what its genetics would tell me?" Tony Stark mused to himself.

"Shinji! You must defeat the Unknown Angel, Iron Man!" Gendo demanded suddenly. Everyone in the command room winced. They weren't ready for another Angel so soon.

"What? He just helped me!"

"Excuse me? What makes you think I'm something similar to this Angel creature?" Iron Man said tersely.

"The ability to generate an AT Field is limited to Angels and our Evangelions. Shinji, I told you to-"

"A psychic-resonance forcefield is not that unusual of a phenomena. It is a part and parcel with any higher-order life form. My Iron Man armor simply allows me to enhance my own human psychic-potential in certain limited ways that are similar to you AT Field."

"You are human?" Ritsuko asked.

"Of course. Tony Stark, at your service." Tony grinned under Iron Man's helmet. "By the way, you're welcome."


Gendo didn't know what to think of this Tony Stark. They had a very nice, long chat to verify as best as possible that he was indeed, human. It had been a tense time, while they watched the armor and Evangelion on the monitors.

A very smart, very dangerous human. Already SEELE was trying to determine if he threatened their project. Any sane person could easily see that he would, if he learned of it.

Even worse was the Iron man suit that he seemed so adroit in its use. The MAGI were still caught in a logic loop, trying to process that his technology could even function with out hand waving it as magic; that it just works.

He was quite aware of the Geofront too, having scanned the entire complex with some sort of neutrino device, giving him a bird's-eye view of the building.

The only thing that he seemed not to know was the most deeply hidden secrets, deep down in the bowls of NERV.

"So, Major Katsuragi, Dr. Akagi. Do you feel we can trust him?" the said to the two women. Behind them, stood his second in command, Fuyutsuki.

"Do we have much of a choice?" Ritsuki asked. "He's human to the nth degree from the bio sample we took. He powered down his 'armor' and from what the Magi's sensor could tell, there's no hidden Angel inside it. Its capabilities are still giving them fits."

"He helped us against the Third Angel." Misato shrugged her shoulder. "He claims to be from an alternate Earth, one populated by super-beings and mutants. He's willing to bargain for supplies to build a trans-dimensional teleporter with his services. He seems absolutely confident that he can help out with some of our quaint technology, as he put it."

"Quaint? That's rather presumptuous, isn't it?" Gendo said.

"His suit of armor has about 50 of an EVA's planned-for firepower and dozens of times its maneuverability and power generation. And it weighs less than a hundredth of a percent. I'd say he has some claim to our quaintness." Ritsuki shrugged.

Misato grinned. "Snap him up before the United Nations does. Even if he can't make more of those armors, he says he engineered it originally. On his own, mind you, and says he used to make weapons for his United States."

"Yes, indeed. A valuable but dangerous resource."


"So, how are you doing, Shinji?" Iron Man asked as the EVA was being processed for storage. The technicians were not happy to see him in the area, but no one had told them that he couldn't be there. They hadn't expected to see him standing on the EVA's shoulder as the elevator lowered him down.

"Uh, fine. I guess." Shinji shook his head as the LCL flowed off of him and was pumped back into storage. He suddenly coughed the liquid out, feeling rather horrible. The capsule he was in was ejected carefully and in moments he was being helped out of the opened hatch.

"Why did you send in child to fight that thing?" Iron Man demanded as he clomped up to one of the technicians. "He could have been killed!"

"I'm not authorized to-urk!" the startled technician started to refuse to answer when he was picked up by the very, very mean and big looking armored man.

"I would suggest that you figure out what you can tell me, quickly, before I get very upset at the negligent endangerment I'm seeing here." Tony loosened his grasp a little, but still held him eye to eye. The technician's feet dangled a good six inches off the ground.

"We don't know why, but the, uh, pilots had to have been born since Second Impact. We don't have a choice," the tech babbled.

"Second Impact? What is that?" Iron Man asked as he carefully set the man down.

"I'm sorry, but I'm really not cleared to tell you about that. Could you please ask someone in authority instead of threatening me again?"

Iron Man crouched next to the boy, pointedly ignoring the barbed comment. "How are you doing, Shinji?"

This formidable and scary looking armored man was worried about him? "I'm... fine, sir."

With a hiss, the face-plate of the helmet slid up and back. "Please, just call me Tony." Tony ruffled the boy's hair. "Well, you look like you came out of that fine. What were you doing in that thing with no training?"

Shinji was having a hard time adjusting to this open-seeming and charismatic man. "I had to. I couldn't let them force that injured girl to pilot. I don't know why my father wanted me though. He..." The boy couldn't continue. How could he bring up the fact that his father had abandoned him and left him virtually an orphan, only to demand that he pilot this monstrous thing? "He said that I had to, that there was no other choice."

"Your father?" Tony frowned. "That's... odd. And I probably won't get a better answer about that girl either."

"I think they said her name was Rei," Shinji mused.

"Well, that was a very brave thing that you did."

"I'm not brave! I'm... just a kid." A stupid, lonely-

The American snorted at that. "Just a kid that was willing to pilot that thing with no training against a gigantic monster? That's some kid, in my book!"

"But..." Shinji just couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"A hero. I know quite a few. People willing to put their lives in danger for anyone. Even innocents that they just met. Someone who did the right thing." Iron Man held out his right hand and carefully shook the boy's own hand.

"I'm a hero?" He was just about flabbergasted.

"Hey, you! What are you doing down here? Who let you in?" Misato yelled, glaring at the technician's that replied something that the two couldn't hear. The female officer looked up at the lift that had dropped down the EVA unit.

"Charmed," Tony said rakishly as he walked over and shook Misato's hand. "Tony Stark. Pleased to meet you."

"Ah. I'm Major Katsuragi. This is a top secret military facility; we can't have you just wandering around here." She coughed suddenly. "Shinji, I'd like you to accompany Jaime here. He's going to take you to medical for a check up, to make sure you're all right."

Shinji nodded nervously and followed the Hispanic looking fellow. As he walked off, he thought he heard Misato ask the armored man about Godzilla. He must have been mistaken, that was just a made up monster!

The next hour passed in a rapid blur as doctors prodded and poked him. They finally decided to keep him overnight. The blonde woman seemed especially pleased by his synchronization ratio. She patted him on the head and then shuffled him off to a room, where he currently was laying. Nothing on TV appealed to him, it was all about the Angel that attacked Tokyo-3. With a sigh, he turned off the device.

"Well, they didn't say I couldn't wander around, they just said I couldn't leave the hospital," the boy muttered to himself. He wandered out of his room and found the vending machines. He groaned as he suddenly realized that he had nothing but the hospital gown he was wearing. That was useless.

With another sigh, he wandered back in the direction of his room. An orderly nearly bumped into him, mouthing an apology. Behind him, through the open door, he saw the badly wounded girl that his father had used to blackmail him into piloting the EVA.

Shrugging, Shinji walked in the door before it closed entirely. "Er, hello?"

The girl's left eye cracked slightly open. She didn't seem to be able to quite focus her eye. Rei made a noncommittal sound that might have been construed as hello.

"I hope you get feeling better," he said. He waited a second for her response.

The young girl was quite puzzled, under all of the pain medications she was currently on. "I... will heal," she replied softly.

"That's really good!" Shinji tried to say cheerfully. He scavenged his mind for anything to continue the conversation. "So is your family going to be here soon? To make sure you're alright?"

"Family?" she responded groggily. She had no family. She was merely... herself.

"Oh, an orphan? I guess your guardian you live with then." The young man hunched himself over. That wasn't a very good thing, to remind her of her loss.


"I'm sorry?" Now Shinji was confused.

"I do not... live with... a guardian," she said simply. Her voice belied her weakened state. Her mind was a muddied whirlwind of semi-conscious thought.

"Who takes care of you then?" he asked. Wait, she probably lived at an orphanage.

"I live... alone." She seemed to consider it for a long moment. It didn't make sense. Why did he care about this issue? She discarded that thought as too hard for right now.

"But you're hurt! Who's going to take care of you?" Shinji waited for a response, but nothing seemed to be forthcoming.

"Tired." That was wall she said before sinking into inky blackness.

"Oh. Yeah. Sorry." The young man carefully walked out the door, turning out the light behind him. His face was creased in thought. That didn't seem right. She was too young to be so alone. He ignored the nurses and doctors as he wandered back towards his own room.

"There you are. I finally got free," Misato called out. She waved cheerfully. "I've had to deal with more weird stuff today. Hey, I've got the neatest thing to show you. Come on! I convinced them to let you come with me."

"Hey! Wait! Let me get dressed!" What happened to spending the night?


"So, what do you think?" Misato asked. She pointed towards the buildings that were rising from the ground in slow majesty.

"It's... incredible." Shinji just stared at the amazing sight.

"Shinji... I've asked for permission for you to move in with me while you are here in Tokyo-3. I asked the commander and he authorized it." The major wasn't going to let this young man face this trying time alone.

"My father doesn't want me to live with him, does he?" the young boy asked with a sad expression.

"He's... a very busy man. He's dedicated his entire life to stopping the Angels and to NERV."

"I don't know. I thought, just maybe, that he cared about me. I guess that was too much to expect."

"You are just too down!" Misato grabbed the young man and tussled his hair. "Come on! I'll show you my place."

"Misato? What about Rei? I just found out that she lives all alone. And... that isn't right. Not for a girl hurt like that."

The officer looked surprised at that. "Er, well, I can check on it. But I think she's been living on her own for a while."


Shinji stared at his breakfast sourly. Misato's version of housekeeping left much to be desired, he decided. He was just about to attempt to take another bite of what only the most generous person would call 'breakfast' when the doorbell rang.

Misato stuck her head out of her room. "Whazat?"

The boy opened the door to see an imposing man in a fancy business suit. "Er, hello?"

Tony Stark smiled disarmingly. "Good morning, Shinji. May I come in?"

"Oh! You're Iron Man?" Shinji was quite surprised to see him; he thought Tony have been too busy to see him for now. "Come on in."

They entered the living room, which was still very cluttered. "I had a few moments and I had some things to drop off." Tony pulled out a small head-set. "This is for you. It should allow you to have a low level of synchronization with the Evangelion for continuous training and adaptation. Keep this transmitter here at the house." He handed Shinji the headset and a box to Misato

"What? Why does he need that?" Misato snapped, obviously a bit hung over. She was almost falling out of her loose tank top.

"I went over the information on the process that you are using to cybernetically control the bio-drones that you are using. I've come up with a few, minor modifications and suggested a more reasonable way of training your pilots faster. I've got quite a bit of experience with cybernetic links." He started showing Shinji the headset. "Although I am a little worried with how much emotion the linkages bleeds through."

"What do the MAGI think about this?" Misato asked.

Shinji just looked confused. "MAGI?"

"Artificial Intelligent analysis tools that NERV uses. Quite intriguing, actually. They give my plan about a 95 chance of success within two weeks of careful monitoring. This is for you, Major. I understand you are to protect Shinji her in the home. This should stop a man or elephant at fifty paces quite easily. Quite non-lethal, of course." He handed the confused NERV officer something that vaguely resembled a laser pistol.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Nerve-stunner. It should have about fifty shots. You can hold down the trigger for larger targets."

"When have you had time to do all of this?" the major asked in bewilderment.

"Just this morning's project. Shinji, would you try the neural adapter?" he replied smoothly.

Shinji carefully set the odd headset onto his head. It was quite a bit different from the type he had worn earlier. It didn't sit on the top of his head with little 'ear' like bulges, but was strips of metal that ran under his hair a bit and just in front of his ears. "Ithink I can feel the EVA."

"Good!" Tony Stark opened the door to the apartment. "I have some more business to deal with today. I still have to rent someplace to live yet."

"Thank you, sir! Goodbye!" Shinji said automatically.

Tony gave Misato a faint look of disgust as she replied, "Yeah, thanks." He exited and closed the door behind him.

Misato suddenly yawned. "Man, he's too much of a morning person. Now I don't have an excuse to not get back to work." She waggled her finger at Shinji. "Or you to school."


"You caused this! You and your giant robot!" a larger boy yelled as he loomed over Shinji.

"W-what?" the newest EVA pilot squeaked out. He'd only been in school for a week and now this was happening.

"It's because of you that my sister is in the hospital!" The boy seemed to be very upset and was building himself up to some violence.

"I tried... to save everyone," Shinji explained plaintively. "I did my... best."

"Toji! I don't think-" another boy, who was wearing glasses, tried to interject.

Toji held up his fists angrily at Shinji. "Kensuke, you might be my friend, but don't you dare get in my way right now."

"Look, Toji? I'm really sorry to hear about your sister, but if I hadn't fought that Angel they told me it would have been very bad."

"Why, you!" Toji's fist smashed into Shinji's cheek at full force. "You have no right to even mention my sister. She could die because of you!"

"Toji, I'm really sorry about your sister. I really tried to stop the Angel before it could hurt anyone. But... I didn't know how." Shinji just stood there, waiting for another punch to land.

"Am I interrupting?" a deep, masculine voice intruded.

Shinji looked around in surprise. "Mr. Stark! I mean, Tony!"

Toji and Kensuke looked at the tall foreigner in surprise. "Who are you?"

"Misato asked me to pick you up to get you home. She won't be able to get back. Mostly because I've caused a bit of a ruckus about security at NERV headquarters." Tony Stark just looked at the two boys that looked shocked.

"You work for NERV?" Kensuke asked incredulously.

"A contract specialist, actually. A lot of hush-hush engineering work. Coming, Shinji?" Tony asked as he started to walk to his car.

"Yes, sir. I mean, yes, Tony!"

Kensuke and Toji exchanged looks of confusion. "Did you understand that?"

In the car as Tony drove them toward Misato's apartment, Shinji managed to ask, "Why are you helping us like this? This doesn't seem... very heroic."

Tony slid on a pair of sunglasses. "I've mentored a few heroes in my time. You seem to need a good influence in your life and I don't think Misato is it." And no one else seemed to have any idea of how to help a young conflicted hero adjust to his new realities.

"You don't like Misato?" the boy asked.

A slightly pained expression touched Tony's face. "She's got a problem with alcohol. I know what sort of problems that can cause."

"I don't follow that, Tony."

"I've lost nearly everything because I'm an alcoholic. I might not have a problem right this moment, but I know that it's a demon." Tony pulled up to the apartment complex.

"I've never heard of a superhero that had a problem like that." Shinji sounded stunned.

"I'm perfectly human outside the armor, Shinji. Cut me and I bleed. Shoot me, and I'll probably die. I should have many times." Tony suddenly grinned. "But I've got the devil's own luck sometimes. So that makes up for being merely human."


"Mr. Stark, this is ludicrous! We can't depend on a battery system for the EVAs!" Ritsuko shouted.

"Why not?" he countered.

Gendo watched the proceedings carefully. "Please explain yourself."

Tony stood up and tapped a few buttons on the controls to the briefing room's display. A diagram of EVA 01 appeared. "A tether is too vulnerable to attack and one-to-five minutes is too short of a duration in an emergency. What if something is able to cripple your power grid? You would be defenseless." Another tap brought up an armored backpack that merged with the back of EVA One. "While you are missing key metallurgical components for a truly efficient battery system of this scale, I managed to come up with something that will last a bit longer."

"I can see many tactical advantages to your system. You are not replacing the internal battery system?" Gendo asked.

"Those numbers may work. The MAGI think there is a 85 probability that he can get it to work, but it will be very expensive." The doctor looked at the American with grudging respect.

Tony nodded to Ritsuko. "I can make it work. These systems should only cost about fifty million Yen a piece, quite cheap by your standards. The internal battery must be replaced, but should last at least thirty minutes. While the backpack unit will be able last almost two days at constant usage. I can have all new systems integrated within two weeks."

"And what of these other plans?" Gendo asked. He flipped a folder open imperiously.

"Basic self-defense training for the pilots will make them able to fight in the EVAs more effectively. They will also be able to react to dangers outside in case of terrorism and espionage." Tony tapped a few buttons to show the new headset unit on the screen. "The feedback training that the new headsets engenders should allow the pilots to synchronize at a higher ratio in an accelerated training regime. Shinji should hopefully be able to pilot the EVA in a fight effectively within just a week at this rate."

"Do you have anything that would be a problem with implementing this, Dr. Akagi?" the commander asked.

"We won't have an operational EVA for two weeks. And we won't have this new hardware tested before installation. There should be a minimum of three weeks of that before we even think about implementing it." The blonde-haired woman looked very perturbed at the suggestions.

"This is an old design that I've adapted. It will need a bit of testing, but three weeks is very much overdoing it."

"We will proceed on the basis of Mr. Stark's recommendations. This capability added to the EVAs greatly increases their survivability."


Shinji slid open the door to Misato's apartment. A friendly 'wark' from Pen-Pen let him know that he was welcomed. It had been a tough couple of days since he had transferred to the nearby school. But he was now starting to adjust.

As he walked into the kitchen, he saw a pile of bandages on the table, brownish-red streaks visible. "Misato? Are you all right?" He walked over to her room which was as messed up as always. It had taken him days to clean up the rest of the apartment to be habitable.

He heard a shuffle from further down the hall. He turned to see a young girl, wearing a disheveled school uniform open the door to the spare bedroom. She was still bandaged up with a patch over her one eye and her arm in a sling. "Pilot Ikari."

"Uh, Pilot Ayanami. I guess those were your bandages." Shinji scratched his head nervously.

"Yes." She closed the door without any warning.

"Um, if you need anything or any help, just ask. Okay?" the young boy called out.

From behind the door, he heard her respond softly, "That will be satisfactory."

An hour or so later, Shinji realized that he needed to start cooking for when Misato got home. He walked up to Rei's door. With a bit of trepidation, he knocked softly. "Um, Ayanami? What would you like for supper?"

A bit of shuffling and then the door opened. From what Shinji could tell, she had been lying down. Rei looked at him for a moment. "Like?"

"Um, you know. Food that you really enjoy eating." The Third Child was starting to get spooked.

She seemed to consider it for a very long time with no emotion showing. "I enjoy vegetable stir fry."

"Um, right. I'll see what I can do," he replied nervously.

Rei just nodded as she closed her door.


Misato slammed a beer down her throat, belched and then slapped the can onto the table. "Nothing better than a beer while eating a good meal. Eh, Rei?" she asked her newest room-mate.

Rei just stared at her, a bit of surprise showing. This was a side of the major that she had never seen before. "I do not know. I have never had alcohol."

Shinji just tried to ignore the polar opposites that were embodied in the two women.

"You're a bit too young for alcohol, but you should be able to appreciate good food! This was very good, Shinji! Oh, Rei? I have some instructions for cleaning your wounds and such. Ritsuki wants to make sure you make a full recovery."

Suddenly, Misato's cell phone beeped. She picked it up and said, "Hello!" After a few moments, she nodded. "I'll be right in."

"Another late night?" Shinji asked.

"Yeah. No rest for the wicked!" the major said while grabbing her red jacket and stood up. "Don't stay up late waiting for me. Don't forget Rei's instructions either, kiddo!" And with that, she walked out.

"Um, okay." Shinji grabbed the folder with the instructions. He looked up from the instructions. "You've already taken your pain medications?"

Rei nodded passively.

"It says that your wounds need to be checked regularly and cleaned if there is a sign of infection. When did you last check them?" he asked.

"This morning." Rei seemed very bored about all this.

"All right. Let's do that then." Shinji tried to smile comfortingly, but it fell slightly flat.

Rei stood up and started to remove her blouse, shocking Shinji. He opened his mouth to stop her we he saw the bandages underneath. Not to mention her uncovered, petite breasts.

"Oh, um, okay. Do you need any help removing the bandages?" Shinji's voice almost caught in his throat.

Rei seemed to consider the request seriously. "That is why I am here. You may assist me in removing the bandages."

Very carefully and timidly, he started to work the bandages loose. He focused on the wounds and discovered that allowed him to ignore the naked girl next to him. "This one looks like it might be a bit infected." He grabbed the bottle of disinfectant and carefully dabbed it. "Tell me if it stings too much. I don't want to cause you any pain."

Rei sat passively as he administered the feather light touches. "Why?"

"Why what, Rei?" he replied.

"Why did you ask for me to be moved here? Why do you... care?"

"I don't know. It just didn't seem right. Tony... Tony says that I'm a hero. That I'm brave. I don't feel brave."

Rei seemed to muse about that thought for a moment. "Bravery isn't not feeling fear, it is continuing in spite of your fears."

"Really? Maybe I'm braver than I thought. Let's get some new bandages on that." And with that, Shinji started to carefully bandage her wounds on her torso. "We need to check you eye, too."

The young albino sat passively as he removed the bandage, revealing a bruised eye and almost healed stitching. "That looks like it is healing fine. It shouldn't even leave much of a scar. That's good!"

"Good?" Rei asked.

"Well," Shinji hemmed and hawed for a second. "You are a pretty girl. It would be a shame if that left any scars." He tried to smile again. He'd heard that most albinos were strangely repelling looking, but the pale skin, hair and pink-red eyes on Rei merely looked exotic.

"That is irrelevant. All that matters is piloting EVA." Rei seemed absolutely certain of her statement.

"Piloting EVA? That's all that matters? That doesn't seem right. You're more than just a pilot!" Shinji exclaimed.

"I am unimportant. My existence is to pilot EVA," she said coolly.

"You're important to me. And to Mr. Stark! Don't say that! Don't ever say that!" he cried out suddenly.

That seemed to catch the young girl by surprise. "But it is true."

"No! That can't be right! Everyone is important! I don't want anyone to get hurt!"

"I do not understand. Are we finished, Pilot Ikari?" she asked finally.

"Um, I think so?" Shinji checked the instruction again. "Oh, it says you are a vegetarian? I'll have to get a cookbook tonight then."

A small blush crept on her cheeks for some reason. She had never felt so... cared for. "That is correct." She started to pull on her blouse just as Shinji looked up.

He looked away quickly, blushing furiously. "Sorry! I should have looked away while you were dressing."


"I don't know that I can explain that. Don't you have any problem with nudity?" he asked.

"No." Rei stood up. "I am going to rest now. Good night."

Shinji just blinked at that. This was not something he had expected.


Rei had shocked him for the first few mornings by walking to the bathroom totally naked. She really didn't seem care. When Misato had finally seen this, she had asked Rei to put on some clothing. Which had led to an interesting discussion that Rei only had a swim suit and then school clothing. That was it. So the 'girls' were going shopping.

Shinji was weathering the changes as best as possible. But a new school, learning how to use the EVA along with having to wear the sync contraption that Tony had made was not his idea of fun.

Breeep. Breeep. Shinji opened his cell-pen. "Hello? Another Angel? I'm on my way."


Iron Man floated above the Antarctic, almost invisible and undetectable. Energy and vapor obscured the ground below. The energy readings were literally out of this world. A signal reached his armor from a carefully hacked satellite. Turning, he suddenly swooped up into the sky. Even as he rocketed into the stratosphere, his sensors noted the fleet off the shore.

As he reached his apogee, he shut off his stealth systems. He opened a channel to NERV. "So it is an Angel?" he asked.

Deep within the NERV control room, Misato nodded. "We are loading Shinji into Unit One. Luckily we finished testing those new batteries yesterday. How far are you out?"

"I'm roughly ten minutes out on orbital insertion." The Earth curved beneath his flight, green-blue and so alive.

"That thing can hit orbit? That has to be handy." Misato grinned to herself.


This new Angel was slightly different than the last one, Shinji noted to himself. "What do we know about this Angel, Misato?"

"The MAGI are still crunching numbers. But we don't any specifics for now. Just try to stay at range and defeat it with the weapons you have been training with." Misato looked over at Ritsuki.

The scientist just shrugged. On the screen, the Angel suddenly charged as energy lashes snapped out like whips made of light-energy. Shinji bounded back while firing a burst with his machine gun. "It doesn't seem to be affected," he shouted.

Suddenly, Iron Man rocketed into the area. "I'll try to knock it over!" he called onto the command link. And with that, Iron Man grabbed the Angel by its tail. It looked a bit like a terrier attacking an elephant, but this was a rocket powered terrier that knew physics and leverage.

The Angel crashed to the ground, smashing a small grove of trees to kindling. Even on its back, it lashed out with it's two whip arms. One slashed into the machine gun that Shinji had been using ineffectually, while the other nearly connected to Iron Man who barely managed to swerve out of the way.

With the gun cut in half, Shinji was suddenly on the defensive again. He dashed backwards to retreat from the whip again.

"Shinji! It looks like it is immune to the machine gun. We will need to attack it directly with the progressive knife!" Misato shouted over the comlink.

On a nearby hill and only two thousand feet away, two young boys looked at the frantic fight in awe. Toji was the first to speak. "Is that an EVA?" he asked in wonderment.

His friend Kensuke nodded. "I'd seen rough pictures, but it just doesn't do justice. This is just so great!"he yelled out. They watched the fight for a minute, seeing it sway back and forth.

"Our EVA doesn't seem to be doing so hot," the bigger boy said.

"Yeah, it's armor is starting to look beat up," the other boy said as he pushed up his glasses.

"Do you think that kid is actually in there?" Toji finally asked.

The battle finally ended when the tiny robot managed to flip the Fourth Angel onto its back again, giving Shinji enough time to jam his progressive knife into its core. As the knife sparked and gouged in, Iron Man pulled back long enough to finish shattering the core with his own pulse bolts.

The EVA sagged to its knees, even as the two boys decided to head closer. As they got closer, the head of the EVA tilted forward and the pilot's tube ejected halfway. They saw the human-sized thing that they thought was a robot rip open the hatch.

"NERVA Central, Shinji is going to need a medical team ready. The pain from the feedback was too much in a sustained fight! I'll fly him there directly!" Iron Man said. He carefully picked up the quivering boy. His HUD flashed him a possible warning and focused his view on Kensuke and Toji. He classed them immediately as a non-threat and triggered his boot jets. In moments he flew off over the hill in the direction of NERVA.

"What happened? Didn't they win?" Toji asked his geeky friend.

The bespectacled boy frowned as he looked at the deep gouges in the EVA's armor. Gouges that were leaking a red-ish liquid. "I think... that he could feel the wounds, like they were his own. Somehow!"

"That is seriously freaky!" the jock replied.


Under the drizzle of rain, Kensuke and Toji were arguing as they walked to Shinji's apartment. "I just don't know. Shinji hasn't been to school since the attack," Kensuke said. "I mean, he might be still in the hospital or something."

"Look, all we're going to do is ring the bell and ask if he's all right. Don't wimp out on me here!" the jock exclaimed.

"You are just doing this because you are feeling guilty!" his smaller friend retorted.

"What if I am? I'm not so stuck up that I can't admit that I goofed. Shinji did seem upset about my sister too." Toji looked off into the rain-soaked hills. "And I sure as hell didn't know that he had been thrown into that thing with almost no training."

Finally they make it up the stairs and to the door. They rand the doorbell, both trying not to cringe. The door opened silently to a sight they had not been expecting.

Blood-red eyes stared at them with no concern or emotion showing. The albino said nothing, just stared at them.

"Rei Ayanami? What are you doing here?" Toji blurted out in surprise.

"I live here," was her diffident response.

"But we were told this is where Shinji lives," Kensuke said, confusion lacing his words.

"He does. Do you wish to see him?" she asked. At their nods, she stepped to the side while opening the door wider to let them pass. "He is in the living room."

The duo walked down the hall and into said living room to find Shinji slumped on a couch. He looks very pale and dejected. A small spark lights up in his eyes, but fades almost immediately. "You guys? Here?"

Toji squares his jaw and steps forward slightly. With a curt bow of apology, he waits for a second before replying. "I came to apologize. For before."

Shinji is now looking confused. None of them notice Rei watching from the hallway. "But your sister-"

"-is probably alive because of you. That Angel, it wants to destroy us all, doesn't it? That's why you pilot the EVA!" the older boy declares.

"But why are you here?" Shinji asked.

"Well, we were worried about you and wanted to make sure you were all okay," Kensuke replied.

Shinji was just shocked. These two guys that had been at him earlier now cared about what happened?

"So how are you doing since that last attack?" Toji asked as he flopped down on the other end of the couch.

"The feedback hurt. A lot. They had to drug me for over a day. Tony said that this sort of thing could happen. Though he apologized to me for not realizing it sooner," the pilot said. "But he said he was going to make it up to me by making the armor a lot better."


Rei stared at the dinner blankly. "This is new," she finally said. A fairly fancy meal with several items sat on the table.

Shinji smiled. "Yes. I bought a vegetarian cook book so we could have more variety. I hope you like it." He speared the non-meat dumpling with his chopsticks and dipped in a sweet and sour sauce. The visit earlier from Kensuke and Toji had buoyed up his spirit.

After the short meal, Shinji started to clean up the table. He looked a little deflated. "Pilot Ayanami, would you pick up the living room please??"

"Are you well, Pilot Ikari?" she asked. She started to pick up the scattered items, mostly junk and trash that Misato had left behind. Rei had not been the most neat person, but the major had actually gotten on her nerves for the messes that she left behind. Under Shinji's guidance, she had actually started to develop good household habits.

"I'm fine," he replied softly.

"You do not sound fine. Should I contact Dr. Ritsuko?" she asked as she carried a pile of papers to the trash in the kitchen.

"I'm just not sure if I cooked that right. You didn't seem to react at all to the food, good or bad," he replied as he scrubbed a bowl in the sink.

"It was very good. Major Katsuragi compliments you all the time. That should tell you it is very good," she replied. She thought over the current situation as logically. Shinji should know that his cooking is good. Why did he seek acknowledgment of that ability? "Pilot Ikari?"

Shinji stopped scrubbing for a second. The almost compliment that he'd received from Rei had buoyed his feelings for a second. "Yes?" he replied absently.

"Are you supposed to always acknowledge when someone does something beyond what they normally do for you?" she finally asked.

The young pilot stopped. "Well, if you liked it. To let the person know you cared. About what they did, I mean," he finished in a rush. That wasn't quite what he meant to say.

"I see. It was a very nice meal, Pilot Ikari," she replied seriously.

Shinji suddenly realized how much thought she must have put in that. That this strange, albino girl didn't understand how to really give out compliments. He gave her a soft smile. "You are very welcome, Ayanami."

She nodded, suddenly confused. A hint of a blush appeared on her cheeks, unknowingly to her. Her eye bandage had finally come off and allowing her good looks to show through. She retreated to her room to think. She laid down on her bed, ignoring Misato's advice to change clothing into 'sleep wear'. She heard Shinji finish in the kitchen and then go to his own, slightly larger room. She heard an audible click of his S-DAT player start.

The only time she had felt like this was when the Commander Ikari complimented her for doing her job. Acknowledging her function and existence. Her worth, she realized. But that involved EVA, her purpose for existing. Instrumentality.

It did not make sense. How could she have worth outside of EVA? She was nothing without EVA, wasn't she?

But Pilot Ikari did not seem to think that. He seemed to think she had worth just being a roommate and conversing with him. He would go out of his way to do things with her. To do things beyond what was needed just for her.

And, she was surprised to discover, things that she actually liked having done for her. She let that seep in as she stared at the ceiling with unblinking red eyes. The room slowly darkened as the sun went down.

She should respond to Pilot Ikari's kindness, she decided. She would acknowledge his kindness. That brought up another, strange thought. Should she do things for him? But she was no cook, that was obvious. He was obviously far better at that.

She heard the thump of the front door closing and the major calling out her greeting. Shinji probably had not heard her at all. She slid out of her bed and walked to the door.

"Major Katsuragi. Welcome home," she said solemnly as was expected.

"Why thank you, Rei!" Misato said over familiarly.

For some reason, that always irritated Rei, though she never showed it. "May I ask you a question, Major?"

The older woman popped the tab on her beer and drank half of it in one large pull. She flopped on her clean couch with a large smile. "Ahhh! Sure! Fire away!"

"I want to know what I can do for Pilot Ikari for his kindness in cooking for me," she stated carefully as she sat on one of the chairs in the living room primly.

Misato smirked. Why, the little ice queen was thawing. "Well, you could parade naked for him, but I think you might give him a heart attack," she replied jokingly.

"I do not wish to provoke a life threatening situation like that." Rei was thinking about it. Ikari did not seem appreciate looking at her like that anyways. He seemed so put out by her nakedness.

"Too true! Well, you could take him for ice cream or buy him sweets," the officer said slyly. Shinji would probably misinterpret that.

"Buy him sweets? Do you know what sweets he likes?"

"No, but I'm sure you could just buy some things at the store."

"I will think about this." And with that, Rei went back to her room. This time she slipped out of her school clothing to go to bed.


Shinji was walking home from school with Rei, taking in the sunny skies and generally balmy weather. It had been a good day, hanging out with Kensuke and Toji. Though the strange looks he was receiving at times were worrying. Did he have a large zit or something?

He heard the jingle of the convenience store door opening, just as they were passing. He turned his head and saw that Rei had turned to walk in there. With a shrug, he followed. She must need something that they forgot on the last trip to the grocery store. He was surprised to see her head to the candy counter, looking over it thoughtfully.

"Looking for something in particular?" he asked.

"Yes. I am looking for something for you," she replied without turning away from the different products. There were so many of them. Which would he like?

Shinji seemed to divine her problem. He pointed at his favorite brand of pocky. "This one is pretty good. Did you want any?"

"I do not know which one to get," she replied.

"Well, there's really sour candy. And really sweet. And then there's some bittersweet. And even some kind of bland sweet ones," he explained. They he explained some of the other flavors as best he could.

Thinking for a long time, she finally answered, "I would like something slightly sweet." She picked up the package that he pointed out and read the products. There did not appear to be any meat-products included, so she was fine. She then took both packages to the counter and paid for them. She felt a twinge of pain from her healing arm and held both packages in her good one as they left.

She turned to Shinji as they exited the store and started to head back to their place. "Here is your candy."

He took it and took out a stick. "Thank you, Rei!"

She smiled tentatively. Then she turned to opening her package of chocolates. Her right arm was still not working and it caused her a twinge of pain. She was startled when Shinji took the candy from her and opened it up.

"Don't be afraid to ask for help," he said as he gave a nod and smiled. This really was a great day.

Suddenly, a bright red sports car swerved to a stop next to them with a screech of rubber, causing both of them to jump. "Hey, kids! Hop in!" Tony Stark said with a suave smile. He was in a stylish polo shirt and wearing sunglasses.

"Um, sure." Shinji shot Rei a quick glance, but she seemed unconcerned now. "There's no back seat though!" Shinji opened the door.

"You'll have to share the front seat. The Stark Speedster was designed for speed," the older man said with a small smile. It had been something he'd modified and had the automation he was setting up build as a test with scrap metal.

Rei looked at the bucket seat with perplexity. "I think you will have to get in first, Pilot Ikari. I will have to sit on your lap."

As soon as that was down, Tony took off down the road. "I hope you don't mind me stealing you for a while. But I promised Commander Ikari that I would personally deal with some of your defensive training."

Shinji winced. He was still sore from his last practice only an hour ago in the school gym with the school karate teacher. He shifted uncomfortably, as having a pretty girl sitting on his lap was an unusual feeling, to say the least. Was that the scent of lavender?

"What can you teach us that Sensei Watumi can not?" the albino girl asked. She frowned as they cornered a green light at a fast clip. That did not feel like how it did when the Major turned tight corners in her car.

"A few mental defenses. With the way angels are able to erect psychic barriers and such, it is very feasible that they may have other psi based abilities. I cobbled a minor mental amplifier. Along with some techniques that I've picked from telepaths, I should be able to pass on rudimentary protection." He suddenly accelerated heavily, weaving in and out of traffic, the wind whipping through their hair. Through it all, they could still easily hear one another.

Shinji finally noticed that he was barely feeling the swerving. "Did you make this car?" he asked.

"It's a one of a kind. With inertial dampeners and wind-shear fields, this car can corner at 0140 kilometers an hour. We do seem to be losing your nannies though." He picked up a cell phone. "This is Stark. I am going to take personal responsibility for the Children for the next two hours. You can contact me at this number if you need any of us. Thanks." The engine's purr turned to a roar as he hit the freeway overpass and opened up the throttle.

"Wow, we are really moving!" Shinji exclaimed as they passed other cars as if they were standing still.

Rei shaded her eyes as she wiggled a bit on his lap. It wasn't exactly the most comfortable place to sit.

In just a few minutes the arrived at a turn off that led into the woods. Tony slowed down to a very reasonable speed. "Here we are. This is Takishimuto Shrine. I've arranged for us to use one of the gardens for our meditation."

"Really? I didn't think Americans believed in that sort of thing," the young boy said. He winced as he realized how tactless that sounded that would sound to a foreigner.

The American in question just nodded. "I may not believe in your traditions, but I can respect them. I have a lot of history with Japan and some very interesting Japanese people." His eyes became haunted. "Some enemies and some very close friends."

The two children didn't know what to make of this, so kept silent as he pulled up to a small gravel lot and parked. He led them into the shrine where they changed into formal visitor robes and then to their private garden. Concentric circles in the sand emphasized the rocks laid out. He handed them what looked to be some headbands with the katakana symbol for concentration emblazoned on it. They kneeled in a triangle, facing each other.

"Rei, I have your synchronizing band for home in the car. These, however, are just minor mental amplifiers that will allow you to become used to defending your mind. It is a matter of willpower and concentration. Even a normal human can mitigate the affects of a powerful psi if he puts 100 of his will against them." Tony waited until they had their headbands on. "You will feel a minor irritation, like a headache behind your eyes." He stared at Shinji for a minute. "Did you feel anything? Please be truthful."

Shinji sighed. "No, sir."

"Good. I didn't actually do anything." Then without changing a single expression, he lashed out a psi-thrust that impinged on Shinji, causing him to wince. "But you felt that, I take it?"

"Um, yes." Shinji shook his head, but the pain was fading already.

"Now try to focus on that feeling and send it back to me." After several minutes, Tony finally felt a small thrust that barely would have affected anyone. "Very good. Now do that to Ms. Ayanami."

After another minute, Rei nodded. "I felt that." Shinji let go his breath.

"Very good. Now I want you to put a cold distance, like someone just insulted you around your mind, Rei. Try again, Shinji." Tony was breathing deeply, even though meditation wasn't really his thing.

"I think she blocked it," Shinji said as sweat appeared on his forehead.

Rei nodded. "I felt his attack, but pushed it back with the feelings you mentioned."

"It's not actually the feelings, but a subconscious raising of mental barriers when you actually have those feelings. When you feel insulted, you pull away from those around you, putting them at a distance. There are many levels of interaction. The public, which is furthest. These are the people you keep furthest from you. You instinctively lessen whatever empathy you feel for them. Then there is acquaintances, those that you let affect you by interacting with you. Then there is friends, those that you let care about you and that you care about. Finally, there is lovers and family, those that are always close to your heart." Tony grinned. "At least that's the way that Moondragon explained it to me. A good telepath or empath can adjust their sensitivity greatly, though they are far more attuned to the minds and feelings of those around them."

"A barrier in between you and everyone in the world," Rei murmured.

"Correct. It takes great courage to let someone into your heart." Without warning, he sent a sharp mental thrust at Rei, causing her to wince and try to push him back. After a moment, he let up.

"I wasn't able to stop you that time," she noted. She rubbed her eyes.

"I struck unexpectedly. Enemies will always do that if they can."


Rei yawned as she opened the door. The mental exercises that Tony had them doing for over an hour were very taxing, she was finding. Shinji was about in the same shape.

"Sheesh, you two look like you just ran a marathon," Misato said from the kitchen. She was slurping her ramen that she'd made. Pen Pen warked a greeting and hustled over to Shinji and looked up at him soulfully.

"She tried to feed you some of that death-by-spice ramen again, didn't she?" he asked as he headed towards the kitchen.

The penguin warked and shook his head. Shinji was so tired he didn't even realize that he had gotten a very direct reply to his question.

"Hey! There's nothing wrong with my ramen!"

"Rei? Can you get some rice going? I'll do a quick stir fry," he replied as he took out some sardines for Pen Pen and put them in his cup.

After a quick supper, Shinji stretched and yawned. "I think I'm going to go to bed. Rei, don't forget that Tony wants you to wear your synchronization band tonight. He's got the MAGI ready to monitor the long term study."

She nodded, realizing that she would have forgotten if he hadn't reminded her. She slipped the headband into her hair. Commander Ikari had finally relented and allowed her to use the training device, as Shinji's synchronization score was steadily rising with no adverse affect. He was even starting to get close to Second Child's score in just a few weeks. Commander Ikari hadn't liked the idea of untested technology being used on her, but the benefits were quite obvious and no untoward affects has shown up. Tony Stark really did seem to know about cybernetic interfaces and how to train people to get the most out of them.

Soon, everyone was in bed.


Shinji was walking down a hallway in NERV, deep within the bowls of the fortress. Instead of his normal wariness, he only felt a slight impatience. The door ahead of him opened into a large room, shrouded in darkness. The far side of the room had bubbles drifting upwards behind a sheen of glass. A faint hint of yellow LCL could be seen as he approached. He put his hand on the glass and rested his forehead on the glass. Suddenly, in front of him a familiar form drifted out of the darkness.

It was Rei, with her eyes open and floating listlessly in the LCL, totally naked. And then beyond her, another pale figure could be seen as it drifted closer, also revealing itself to be Rei. What sort of weird dream was this? He stepped back, only to see something reflecting off the glass in front of him.

It appeared to be Rei, wearing her school uniform. He raised his hand, only to see the reflected Rei do the same. He put his hand on the reflection, it mirroring his own action.

With a yell, Shinji woke up, his SDAT clicking as it reversed. He quickly got up to get a glass of water. What a weird dream.

Misato blinked as Shinji walked into the kitchen and quickly filled a glass and drank half of it very early the next morning. "A bad dream?"

"Yeah. I was somewhere in NERV. And I saw this huge tank of LCL with these bodies floating within it. And they were all Rei," he said. He decided to not mention that he had also been Rei, too. "I don't know what it means."

"You do not have sufficient security clearance to know about that project," Rei said from the hallway. She looked slightly mussed, but awake. She was actually wearing the large T-shirt that Misato had gotten her as sleepwear.

Misato narrowed her eyes at that. Behind her, Shinji looked too confused as he tried to remember the dream. "I did not know about this either."

"You did not need to know," the albino replied. How had Shinji dreamed of her clones?

Overly casually, the major continued, "I'll need to apply for the clearance for that project so that I am aware of everything regarding you two."

That actually made a bit of sense, the First Child thought to herself. "You will have to ask the Commander or Lieutenant Commander Fuyutsuki."

Misato took out a notebook and a pen. "What projects must I ask about? I can't just say, give me all your secrets."

Rei just stared at her for a long second. "The Dummy Plug System."

Misato nodded and relaxed. There wasn't anything to be worried about then. She'd heard a little bit about that already. Though what did it have to do with Rei? "Ah, that's been getting mentioned around a bit. The autonomous control system for the Evangelions. I'll fill out the paperwork. Should I ask for anything else?"

"The Commander will authorize you for what you need to know," she replied.

Shinji had been listening as he slowly awoke. "I wonder if I need to know too?" he muttered.

Misato just grabbed him and scrubbed his hair playfully. "I doubt it, but duplicate paperwork is easy enough to do."

Rei nodded to herself. The situation had been handled as far as she was concerned. The only unanswered question was; how had Shinji had that dream? Was it something that the Angels had sent him?


It had been another quiet week of tests. Shinji was almost starting to get bored with being a pilot. He was currently sitting in EVA 01 and looking out at the glass covered command section. He saw Tony Stark wave over in his direction as he entered the room.

"Commander Ikari. Pilot Ayanami." Tony waved to them even as he took off his jacket. He sent a wink a Maya Ibuki and then turned to the business at hand. "I've been going over the schematics of NERV Central."

Gendo tensed slightly. Had he discovered Terminal Dogma? "Go ahead, Mr. Stark."

"I have some ideas on increasing security while making things easier to fix and upgrade the EVAs," he started. He handed a folder to the commander. "It's obvious that NERV Central is designed to withstand attacks from giant alien life forms such as the Angels, but it actually quite weak on a more mundane threat."

"NERV exists to stop the Angels," he said even as he adjusted his glasses. He did not look amused.

"As a general course in familiarizing myself with here and now, I've read up on not on the Angels but more mundane threats like Black November, Shia Tiun and other terrorist organizations. Several of these have started to manipulate their people into believing that the Angels are actually from God, even if there is no evidence of that. I estimate that within three months, they will strike at one of the NERV headquarters. Within six months against one of the EVAs." Tony was not a big believer in God and Heaven, so these radicals irritated him. "I suggest looking at updating the security at these locations and alert the other branches of NERV so that they can take appropriate action."

"I will take that under advisement," Gendo replied coldly. Though there was an advantage to following his advice, it was making it harder for SEELE to get closer to certain information. He would grumble publicly about it, but would definitely expedite the security upgrade. The Geofront would become a true fortress.

Tony then crouched a bit so he was more eye to eye with Rei. "Pilot Ayanami, how has your exercises going?"

"I am currently a green belt. Sensei does not think that I will advance beyond that soon," she replied.

"And the mental exercises?"

Gendo frowned at that. He had not wanted to do that, but Major Katsuragi had thought it was a good idea and there was the insinuation that one of the Angels would be a psychic and directly attack their minds. The two pilots had practiced for an hour a night in the living room, almost in silence while she watched TV and filed reports. But for them to have confidence and true stability in their lives was not part of the scenario.

"I am able to block most of Pilot Ikari's attacks, as he is able to do so to me also." Rei seemed totally unconcerned about learning the mental disciplines. It was just part of her duties.

"Very well. I have to talk to Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki." With that, Gendo turned and walked off.

"I suggest that you attempt to mentally attack Shinji when he isn't expecting it. It will become more of a reflex if you do that." Tony turned towards the EVA in the activation room.

"Should I tell Pilot Ikari to test me the same way?" she asked.

"Well, I'd hope he'd have the initiative to do that on his own, but after you ambush him three times let him know that he needs to do the same. He has to be able to think and react on his own."

"You are training us in tactical thinking?" she asked almost curiously.

"Yes. You might lose communication with NERV and have to decide what to do to fight the Angels on your own."

Whatever Tony was about to say was cut off by an alarm.

Maya looked up. "It's definitely an Angel. It's almost to the edge of the city already!"

Misato looked at the screens that were lighting up. "Rei, get into EVA 00 immediately. Even though it is repaired, you aren't ready for combat yet. But we may need you as backup. Prepare to launch EVA 01!"

"Mr. Aoba, you might want to think about transferring Shinji to a slightly further away elevator rather than one within line of sight of an unknown enemy," Tony mentioned blandly. He triggered a switch on his watch, summoning his armor that floated through the door. It had been very close the entire time. In moments it was enfolding him into the form of Iron Man.

"A good point. Transfer him to lift two," Misato ordered. "Set Tokyo 3 to full defensive mode."

Iron Man strode out of the control room and floated over to EVA 01's shoulder. "I'll hitch a ride to the surface with Shinji here."

"Thanks, Tony!"


Kouzou Fuyutsuki looked up from his paperwork as Sub Commander of NERV. It happened to be some forms for security clearance on the Dummy Plug project. It wasn't something that he had thought Gendo had decided to allow after their last discussion. They were going to wait until they were further on the project. There were advantages to having Misato in on it sooner rather than later though.

With her in on the project, it would let her plan tactical and strategic plans for EVA uses, allowing them better use of the tools they were creating. He growled at his paperwork. This was going to set him back hours and he was needed at a meeting in Tokyo-2 to try and derail the Jet Alone Project. Trusting that Gendo knew what he was doing, he quickly stamped approved and signed his name to the forms. If he hadn't been quite in such a rush or tired after a long day of activation tests and procedure meetings, he would have noted that there were more forms than normal.

His door opened at the Commander entered. "Kouzou. I will take charge of this situation. You must get to Tokyo-2 to the summit."

He put the papers in his out box. His assistant would make sure they were filed correctly. "I will do everything I can to stop the Jet Alone Project. We need those funds to maintain work on our own projects."

"Yes. Though the changes and upgrades that we have been implementing have undercut several projects. We can see about getting them canceled or moved to us. With Dr. Akagi and Mr. Stark, we have an unparalleled scientific team for matters concerning EVA."


"EVA LAUNCH!" Misato called out. "Oh, and Iron Man too."

"Thanks, Major Katsuragi," Iron Man replied dryly. He had magnetically attached himself EVA 01's shoulder as they rocketed towards the surface.

Shinji giggled at that, even as the EVA rumbled up fast acceleration lifts. In just a moment, they slammed to a halt just outside Tokyo 3.

"Release EVA 01! Shinji, the nearest Pallet Box has rifle for you! We want to see how effective it is," Misato said from the command room. Cameras showed the Fifth Angel ignoring tanks as it floated over Tokyo 3. A different screen showed EVA 01 moving towards Tokyo 3. Iron Man was flying overhead.

"We are detecting a power build up from the Angel!" Maya called out.

A beam of light stabbed out, smashing into Iron Man with blinding power.

"We are detecting another build up!"

"Shinji! Get out of there!" Misato shouted into her headphone.

EVA 01 had responded to Shinji's thoughts, moving to run towards the place he thought he saw a damaged Iron Man fall. The Fifth Angel blasted again, but just barely clipped the running form of the EVA, burning his right arm. Shinji cried out and stumbled, dropping his rifle. This actually saved him from being struck again by the second attack. "I can't get close!" he yelled out as he ducked behind a building.

The Angel responded by blasting him again, though the armor of the pillbox cut down the power of the shot by half. The armor on his battery managed to barely take the blast, but it felt like he had 3rd degree burns all over his shoulders. "What do I do?"

"Retreat to the elevator! Break line of sight immediately!" Misato shouted. "Open elevator 15-A!"

The bridge crew quickly followed the order, allowing the EVA to escape below ground with only light, glancing hits that had gouged huge burns in the EVAs armor.

"Pilots vital signs are fluctuating wildly." Ritsuko started to frantically typing. "I am authorizing administering a mild sedative to combat the pain.

Shinji was breathing fast, his eyes dilated. He felt a pinprick of pain his chest and the pain receded slightly. "W-What was that?"

"Just a pain reliever until we can get you out of EVA 01," Misato explained. Until Ritsuko or Tony could figure out a way to lower the pain threshold on the link, this was the best they could do.

"It hurts. It hurts so bad," Shinji said, his voice twisted from the pain.

"We'll have you out in no time, Shinji. Just hold on." The Major turned to the rest of the command crew. "Get him un-synchronized ASAP. Have a medical team meet EVA 01 pronto."

"The Fifth Angel has started to drill through the armored barriers," a technician replied.

Aoba suddenly talked into his microphone, "Iron Man, please respond. What is your status?"

"Send out some soldiers immediately! Find out what happened to him now!" Had they become dependent on the other-dimensional hero already, Misato wondered.


Shinji awoke to see a blank ceiling. It took him a moment to realize that he was in the infirmary.

"Pilot Ikari, you are awake," Rei said off to the side. She closed her book. "You suffered a serious reaction to the damage suffered by Unit One. You should recover within just a few hours and be able to pilot the repaired Unit 01."

Shinji shivered in remembered pain. "It hurt so bad. I'm not sure I could do that again."

Rei stared at the curtain separating him from the other side of the room."Your injuries are minor. Even the shock to your mind should be minimal in just a few hours. You got off quite lightly in comparison to Mr. Stark."

"Mr. Stark? Oh, that's right. He was hit first, wasn't he?" Shinji tried to sit up.

"He was severely burnt with 2nd and 3rd degree burns across much of his upper body and arms. The Iron Man armor is very badly damaged. We shall have to defeat this Angel on our own." Rei replied to this as emotionally as anything else.

"How can we defeat that thing?" Shinji said, suddenly feeling small for wanting to give up from just the pain of injuries that his EVA had suffered.

"Major Katsuragi is currently formulating a plan of attack by acquiring information about the Angels abilities and limitations.

"I hope she has a very good plan," the boy muttered. He sat up with a wince and put his right hand to his forehead.

"You can rest for a while. Major Katsuragi is still working on her plan," Rei said with worry. She did not even realize it, but she was showing visible concern for him.


Misato stood at the front of a small conference room. Behind her were displayed visuals of the Fifth Angel. "The Angel has a perfect defense and a perfect offense. Anything that can threaten the angel with a several kilometer radius is immediately attacked and destroyed when it is perceived as a threat, while any attack is countered by its AT field. We can not even attack it with an N2 Mine, as it would immediately destroy it before it got into range."

"How do you plan to defeat it?" Commander Ikari asked. It was not hard to define the problems. Solutions were much harder.

"I have come up with a plan to use the prototype positronic rifle and power the weapon using the power grid of Japan. The MAGI give it a 5 chance of succeeding, higher than any other plan by 4.9," she explained. "Dr. Akagi has modified the plan accordingly to give us a better chance-" she continued.

And that was how Shinji had ended up on a hill with the entire power grid of the country at the beck of his trigger-finger. EVA Unit 00 was holding a modified heat shield in chase the floating angel fired at them.

Misato nodded. "Commencing operation! Prepare to fire in five seconds!" She was back at the headquarters in the combat control room. "Do your best, Shinji!" She frowned, as she realized that she had been using Tony Stark's advice to build up the young man's self esteem.

"Roger! Firing in three... two... one!" Shinji called out. He pressed his firing trigger.

"Energy surge from the Fourth Angel!" a technician called out.

The two beams of energy deflected each other, blasting two innocuous hills into smithereens.

"Capacitors charging! System is cooling!" the young man called out. A timer in front of him started counting down.

"Another energy surge from the Angel!" The burst of energy came even as the technician was talking, only to be intercepted by EVA Unit 01 carrying the large shield.

Inside her plug, Rei closed her eyes and diverted power from her hookups and into the electronic devices implanted into the backside of the shield. An AT field started to form, blunting the attack. "Attack stopped," she said grimly through the pain of the energy striking her AT field.

Misato felt like cheering. Ritsuko's idea had worked, though she said she'd gleaned some of the basics of the shield technology from the wayward super hero. "Recalibrate the firing solution! We don't have all day here!"

The angel finally was unable to keep up the attack, leaving Unit 00 and Unit 01 free to act. Rei moved her EVA slightly, to allow Shinji to retaliate.

"Firing!" Shinji called out, even as he depressed the trigger and unleashing the positron beam weapon again.

This time the beam struck true, shooting right through the angel and its AT field in one shot. Cheers erupted in the command center.

"Great job, guys!" Misato called out. She winced as she saw that the Angel had actually almost breached the armor plating of the geocenter. Just another three layers.


Shinji knocked at the door in the hospital, stealing a glance at the albino at his side. He opened the door slightly to peek in. "Wasn't this Tony's room?" he asked. It hadn't been that long since they'd both been in this room earlier today.

"That is what the nurse said." Rei carefully pushed open the door. She immediately saw why Shinji had said that, as the room was empty.

The young man checked the room number, but it was the correct one. "He's not here."

Rei felt, more than saw, the nurse reaching over the island desk down the corridor. Reacting with her new training, she grabbed Shinji and tackled him into the room. The young man 'oomphed' as the girl landed on him, but she was too busy rolling to her feet as three bullet holes appeared at the doorway's edge. "An assassin!" she called out.

She placed herself right at the doorway, trying to take him by surprise, but found herself staring down the barrel of a silenced pistol. The 'nurse' took in the whole tableau instantly. His eyes hardened. "No witnesses." He was just starting to pull the trigger when a bolt of crimson energy hit his back.

"Code Green! We have a Code Green situation!" Misato yelled, even as she stepped over the stunned assassin and into the room. "Rei, take his gun!" She popped her head back, seeing more hospital personnel with weapons. She barely ducked in time to avoid getting shot in the head. "Stay here, no matter what!"

The NERV officer came out of the doorway, shooting nonstop even as she cleared the hallway and into the patients room across the hallway. She managed to hit another nurse, but noted that more were arriving.

That was when Section Two agents arrived, firing their very non-silenced weapons in the midst of the hospital. A brief fire fight occurred, but the spies were outmatched quickly as more security showed up.


Commander Gendo Ikari stepped over the bullet-ridden body as he took in the situation. "What happened?"

"It looks like Mr. Stark was kidnapped. I've got Section Two agents securing the building and looking for any clues. I did capture several enemies," Misato snapped out as she saluted.

"The children?"

"Have been moved to a secure location." Misato gulped at the commander's expression.

"They've gone too far. Good job, Captain Katsuragi. You may have just saved the world." Gendo turned and walked off.

Misato Katsuragi narrowed her eyes at that. Gendo obviously knew who was behind it, so why did they still exist?


Shinji lay on the bed, quite aware that he was feeling closed in because the Section Two security guys had locked him and Rei in the quarters at headquarters. The bed he was on shifted as Rei sat on the bed, looking at him.

That was right before she jabbed at him with a mental thought of needle-like sharpness. "Ouch! Why did you do that?" he cried out.

She didn't reply, just arched an eyebrow coolly at him. She then turned away and started reading her book. It was half a hour later when she mentally jabbed him again. She totally ignored his outraged expression. Ten minutes later, he jabbed back, but found he was blocked. He felt more than saw her smile. They went back and forth, trying to surprise the other as she read or he listened to music.

After his latest attempt was thwarted, Shinji was trying to figure out some way to surprise her. He started by tensing his mental shields, but that seemed to tire him out. He tried to see if he could feel her before she sent the mental barb at him. It was a gradual pressure, quite unlike anything he'd attempted before.

So when Rei lowered her defenses to jab again, he suddenly found himself accidentally linking to her even as her mental attack landed home. Both children grabbed their foreheads.

"That was unexpected, Pilot Ikari," Rei finally said. "What were you attempting to do?"

"Ouch. I was trying to see if I could feel when you were attacking, but all I managed to do was give you my headache from your attack," he replied. "I can't keep my shields up all the time. It was tiring me out too much."

"Is your amplifier broken?" she asked calmly. She had only a little bit of a problem keeping her mental barriers active the entire time.

Shinji thought about that for a second and then pulled off his regular training synchronizing headband. "Oh, I didn't even have the amplifier on. No wonder it was tougher." He scratched his hair were the band had been located.

"You do not need the psychic amplifier? I thought Mr. Stark said that you would need it to do the exercise?" This was confusing her.

"That is kind of weird. Guess I'm a bit psychic," he said while laughing nervously. He suddenly felt a subtle cool feeling drifting over him. Instinctively, he tightened his mental shields, blocking the feeling. At Rei's widening eyes, he realized she had felt him reacting. With a soft gulp, he tried relaxing his outer barriers, feeling her surprise directly. "That's... wow."

"You are improving, Pilot Ikari. We shall have to see if this helps pilot EVA."

Suddenly, the door opened to admit the newly promoted Captain Misato Katsuragi. She nodded as they startled from her entrance. "We found him. And it looks like we are going to need the EVAs just in case."


Misato stared through binoculars at the house out in the woods. "All right, Shinji. I want you and Rei to neutralize the two assault copters before they can escape. Once we've stopped that, we'll demand to talk to them. Understood?"

"Roger!" Shinji said, noting Rei's nod on the other screen.

The two EVAs suddenly charged forward through the last two miles, cresting the hills quickly. The assault helicopters started to rev their engines when the EVAs smashed their tail vanes, ground them permanently.

At Misato's orders, a technician activated loudspeakers on Shinji's EVA 01. "This is Captain Katsuragi of NERV! You are surrounded! Give up and we will be lenient!"

"We have a hostage! If you want him alive, you will do exactly as we want!" yelled a voice from inside.

That caused Shinji to tense angrily. That they would use someone who was injured!?

Back in the mobile command center, Misato replied with, "Your only option is to surrender."

"Captain Katsuragi, for the safety of the world you can not let them leave with Tony Stark," Commander Gendo Ikari ordered from the doorway of the semi-truck trailer. "I do not want killed if at all possible, but escape with him is totally out of the question. The consequences are far too dire."

The dark-haired officer nodded grimly. "I understand, sir." She turned back towards the viewing monitors and then said to the kidnappers, "What is your response?"

It came immediately from within the house, "We demand a vehicle and safe passage. We will release the hostage once we have reached Tokyo-2's airport and are away."

With hard eyes, Misato replied, "You will not leave this area with the hostage, no matter what. I will order an air-strike to destroy everything if I must."

Inside his EVA, Shinji protested, "But Misato-!"

"You have fifteen minutes!" the captain ordered. "Cut the speaker." She turned to look at the young man piloting Unit One. "Shinji, we have no choice. Could you imagine Tony being forced to create weapons for maniacs like these people? For the safety of the world, we have to do this!"

Shinji looked upset and like he wanted to protest, but he could barely see what she was talking about. Rei was watching the area to make sure the enemy was unable to escape, but a part of her was watching the Third Child. Why was he so upset?

Ritsuko was working at a computer screen with Maya, cramped in the tight confines of the mobile headquarters. "Thermograph imaging online. We have four targets in the main room, one definitely injured. Maya, how is the infrared laser microphone working on that nearby window?"

"Patching it through," the younger technician said.

"-ammit, how did they find us so fast? Did they compromise our security?" a voice said while the computers worked to match it to the heat sources. A little target circle appeared around one of them finally.

"We should force their bluff. Stark is in good enough shape. We give them a warning that we will shoot him if they don't back off and if they don't, shoot him somewhere non-vital, like his knee," a second voice said. This one was identified as the man holding what appeared to be a cool object in his hand that was pointed at the injured person's head.

"That sounds like a plan," the third person in the room said.

Shinji growled. Tony had done nothing to deserve this except be a good person. He just wished he could do something. He growled slightly. He absently sent an irritated mental jab at the one guy who was threatening Tony with the gun while sticking his tongue out.

The reaction was surprising, as the man suddenly collapsed. In the background, Shinji heard Ritsuko calling out, "AT field detected from Unit 01. Shinji, what happened?"

"I, um, mentally poked him like Rei and I have been doing while training."

"Shinji, you must do that to all targets within that room or Stark's life is forfeit!" Gendo suddenly ordered. "Do it... NOW!"

Shinji gulped, but flicked sharp, attacking thoughts at the two other men that were starting to move. In the background, he heard Misato shouting orders for the assault teams from Section Two to start the attack.

"Retrieving Mr. Stark," Rei called out, sending her EVA dashing forward to smash its hand through the second floor wall. She carefully picked up the comatose man with one hand while the other hand kept the house from collapsing on him. In just a minute, she had him back to the triage for emergency medical assistance.

"Recall Unit 01," Gendo ordered. "Captain Katsuragi, make sure that all detainees are taken back to NERV under heavy guard."


Shinji blocked a punch that would have broken his nose. He deflected Rei's attack to the left side of his head even as he snapped out a sloppy kick which she absorbed onto her thigh. Their teacher watched on in the back ground, frowning.

"Shinji, you need to get your mind on the game!" Watsumi called out.

The young man frowned, even as he took a punch to his stomach. The fight went on for several minutes, showing that Shinji was not being very effective on being offensive.

"Okay, that's enough. Shinji, is there a problem?"

"No, teacher." Even his denial lacked any vehemence.

Their martial arts teacher didn't look convinced, but nodded. "Then hit the shower. Rei, please stay a moment." The older, craggy featured man studied the younger man's back. He turned to look toward the albino. "Do you know what his problem is?"

A very muted flash of irritation appeared, only to be immediately smothered. "I am unsure."

"Did anything happen two weeks ago? That's when Shinji started having trouble concentrating," the teacher asked.

"Mister Stark was kidnapped and we were called to pilot in an attempt to recover him. We succeeded," she said blandly

Watsumi briefly wondered what two kids were doing trying to recover a person that was kidnapped, but it must have to do with the EVAs they pilot. "Did Shinji do anything different?"

"He defeated the three men directly holding Mister Stark hostage. Other than that, he was not called upon to do anything other than take out a helicopter."

"Defeated three men?" He didn't think Shinji was up to that.

"He mentally incapacitated them, using... a feature of his EVA." Rei frowned. How was she to explain that he used the EVA's AT field without revealing NERV's secrets?

"Oh? And what happened to those men afterwards?"

"They are hospitalized. Their recovery is unlikely."

"They aren't going to recover? So he killed them?" Watsumi asked, blinking in shock.

"The kidnappers have no higher level brain activity."

"So he effectively made them vegetables? Yeah, I could see why he'd be a bit off." Watsumi frowned in thought. "He's got to be feeling a lot of pent up guilt. A kid shouldn't be called on to kill like that." He shook his head. "That's all, Rei. Hit the shower."

Rei continued thinking about the strange conversation as she quickly showered and changed out of her gi. She met up with Shinji outside the school, where they started to walk back home. As it had been for the last few weeks, Shinji was morosely walking with his hands in his pocket.

The young man looked up as he heard the jingle of the door to the convenience store near their house opening, seeing Rei walk in. With a sad shrug, he followed her in. Rei bought some candies, including some of Shinji's favorites. They also grabbed some items that the apartment needed and then headed on out.

Shinji hadn't bothered to start snacking on his treats, just silently carrying the small plastic bag of items.

Rei could feel his turbulent feelings. Had not Captain Katsuragi said that treats were for making people feel better? "Pilot Ikari? Do you not want your candies?"

"No, not right now," he replied. He stopped next to a park, looking over the empty swings while lost in thought.

"Would it not make you feel better? I... bought them for that," she asked, starting to look a bit perplexed. An unusual feeling of worry was growing in her.

"I don't deserve it," he replied.

"I do not understand. You did nothing wrong. Why do you feel so... sad?" Their psychic defense training had continued, with both of them showing more sensitivity to the other's thoughts and feelings. She suddenly saw a flash of Tony Stark in a hospital bed, along with the news that the three people he had mentally attacked would probably not recover. "Mister Stark's kidnapping was not your fault. You had no way to know that the men you defeated would not recover. I do not understand why you are in pain," she said as she unconsciously took a step towards him.

Shinji then turned his back. He didn't/needed her comfort. "I don't want to hurt anyone."

Without realizing that she was responding to his unstated desire for someone to comfort him, Rei put her hand on his arm as she stepped even closer. "You most likely saved Mr. Stark's life."

He turned towards her, almost shouting, "But I didn't have to hurt them like that. I should have been able to just knock them out." He grabbed her shoulders. "You don't understand, do you? They were just enemies to you, like the angels."

She realized, with a glimmering of understanding, that his problem was that they were people, not monsters. "You did not know. You were just helping." Something, she realized, that Shinji would always do.

"But I might as well have killed them," the young man cried out, tears starting to trickle down his cheeks.

"You should not feel pain. They tried to kill you and Mr. Stark. And you did not mean to kill them."

That was when Shinji started sobbing on her shoulder, letting down his defenses as he desperately wanted someone to comfort him because of the perceived evil of what he'd done. Unsteadily and very unsurely, Rei let him cry as her hands went to his waist. "I am sorry, Pilot Ikari, that I do not know how to help you," she finally said. Strangely, she realized that she wanted to help the young man, to relieve his pain. All she could do was be there for him.

She didn't realize that was all he really needed. Finally, after a good twenty minutes, his sobbing had petered out and he realized that he was holding Rei close with his head on her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he blurted out.

"There is nothing to be sorry for," she replied, blushing a bit because of his embarrassment over their closeness.

"I- Thank you, Rei. I guess I really needed that," Shinji blurted out.

"You feel better," Rei replied, a hint of wonder in her voice. She had helped him somehow. How?

"I do." Thanks to you, he added silently. But he thought she understood.


It was only a few days later that they were allowed to visit Tony in the hospital, where he seemed to be much improved. "Tony! You seem to be doing better!" Shinji called out. He and Rei had brought some more flowers.

"I am, thanks. They might even let me out of this asylum soon. According to Captain Katsuragi, they are getting tired of paying for my hospitalization," the patient said with a grin.

Rei stood in the background, watching them both with an intentness that would have surprised her just weeks ago.

"That's good to hear. I guess you were lucky," Shinji replied.

"Well, that's part of the hero business. You can't expect to enter deadly combat without getting hurt at least occasionally. At least it wasn't the psycho girlfriend putting a bullet through my spine this time," Tony joked right back.

"You've been shot?" the boy blurted out his question in shock.

"And stabbed, burned, electrocuted, mentally assaulted and probably worse at some points. Though I have to admit, that my heart injury was probably the worst pain I ever had to endure." Tony just gave him a lopsided grin.

"And you want me to be a hero?"

Rei was surprised at that strange comment.

"No, you are already a hero. I'm just trying to make sure you don't get as banged up as me, actually. Besides, I got my bum ticker replaced a long time ago!"

"Um, wow."

"So I hear the Second Child will be arriving soon?" Tony said.

"That is correct. The United Nations Combined Fleet will be arriving with EVA Unit 02, soon," Rei said.

Tony gestured at the screen on the little table that was pushed over his hospital bed. "Right. It's got the same upgrades as your own EVAs. I was familiarizing myself with its specifications. The Second Child seems to be quite the little firecracker according to NERV records. Though I wonder why no one thought to equip it for sea combat while it was en route. I sent a memo asking that and the technicians on the Over the Rainbow suddenly started working to equip it for underwater combat. Idiots!"

"Captain Katsuragi said that we are to head out today on a helicopter. Kind of a little mini-vacation," Shinji explained.

"That ought to be fun for you. You too, Rei?"

"That is correct. Though I will have a synch test when we get back," she replied mutely.

"Good! Shinji needs someone to watch his back. I've talked to Doctor Akagi and we are going to be running some tests on the effect of range on the long-term synchronization training. So wear your trainers." Tony seemed to think a second. "You should probably wear your plugsuits too, actually."

"Why?" That would just be so embarrassing out in public.

"Well, you are meeting with the Second Child. So it is sort of official NERV business. Consider it your duty uniform."

"That makes sense," Rei replied, thinking aloud.

Shinji grimaced but could see what they were saying.


Asuka trotted down the hallway on the super carrier. One of the sailors had let her know that the First and Third Children had arrived just a few minutes ago. She spotted them easily, as they were wearing their plugsuits. She stepped out on deck when a wind whipped up, sending her short sun dress swirling upward. She grabbed her dress to pull it back down, noting that Shinji had seen her undies. Sudden anger overtook her as she stomped up. "Pervert!" she cried out, lashing out a slap...

That was blocked by the shocked Third Child instinctively. "Um, sorry?" Shinji said as he took a step back, balancing on his toes slightly like his teacher had taught him..

The First Child frowned slightly in thought. "Why did you attempt to hit Pilot Ikari?"

"He was being a pervert!" Asuka cried out. "I saw him staring!"


"He did not mean to embarrass you. And it was your fault."

Asuka glared at the albino. "What do you mean?"

"You are the one wearing that dress on a windy ship," Rei noted. Though she thought it was something very strange to be embarrassed about. But she had finally come to the understanding that Shinji would be embarrassed by seeing her nude or wearing just her underwear. It wasn't too much of a stretch to realize he'd be embarrassed seeing other girls like that too.

Misato coughed. "She does have a point. You are Asuka Langley Soryu, the Second Child, right?" At Asuka's angry nod, the captain continued with, "This is First Child Rey Ayanami and Third Child Shinji Ikari."

"Um, hi," Shinji said, instinctively taking another half-step back.

The captain just shook his head. These kids were supposed to save their world from monsters? Insanity. He and Misato got into an argument about who was actually in charge, but Asuka was far more interested in the scruffy man that appeared.

"Kajiiii!" Asuka suddenly called out, putting on her best appearance.

"I don't remember inviting you to the bridge, Mr. Ryouji." The ship's captain seemed very put out about the whole situation.


Shinji winced at the part of the conversation he overheard between 'Kaji' and Misato. It appeared Mistato actually knew the scruffy guy.

"Come on! I want to show you something!" Asuka called out, having Rei and Shinji follow her to a tarp covered form in the hold. They had taken a small boat to the massive cargo thips.

"It's... really red," Shinji noted inanely. The edges of Rei's lips curled slightly at the inane comment. He could just be so silly at times.

Asuka rolled her eyes. "Of course it is! I asked them to paint it red, because it is the first production model! It's far superior to your test models!"

That caused both the First and the Third Children to bristle. There was nothing wrong with their EVAs just because they were the first prototypes.

Suddenly, the ship shook and a resounding 'thoom' was heard. Out in the fleet, ships were launching depth charges into the ocean. The big guns of the battleships roared off in the distance. Alarm klaxons started to call everyone to battle-stations.

"Explosions?" Shinji said. There was nothing about combat practice.

"An Angel!" Rei said, her red eyes fill with worry. They were too far from their own Evangelions.

"All right!" Asuka shouted. "We'll defeat this Angel in my EVA!" She ran across the floating pontoons towards an equipment locker, pulling out her own red plug suit. She started looking around for someplace to change.

"How about in the Entry Plug?" Shinji asked.

"But it's out in the open! And there are cameras!" she complained back. Perhaps the stairwell-

"The cameras are off, as the EVA is deactivated. There is no reason to go elsewhere. Pilot Ikari will not peek, as he is quite... shy," Rei said quietly.

"Fine! If you do peek, dumpkoff, I will rip off your privates!" Asuka snarled, even as she ran back to the entry plug.

"Um, yes ma'am! I mean, no I won't peek!" Shinji was starting to babble, which was slightly annoying to Rei. "Oh, sorry Rei."

"I do not see the problem myself," Rei said softly. Why was nudity such an issue? It wasn't like the other pilot hadn't seen her naked several times. His reaction had been irritating then, too.

Shinji's eyes narrowed, seeing the very slight put upon expression on Rei. "What's wrong, Pilot Ayanami?"

"This is very silly. The fate of the world and she is more worried about you seeing her naked than piloting," the albino replied.

"Oh. I... don't know how to explain it. A boy seeing a girl naked usually means that he's interested in her that way."

"What way?" she replied, not realizing that Asuka was still listening.

"Well, um, to be attracted to her. Like going on dates. Or even more." Shinji took a deep breath. He was not going to talk about sex to the girl. "I'm not that good at explaining things. It's not like I've ever had a girl friend, you know."

"So Pilot Soryu is worried that you will peek at her to let her know that you are interested?" That didn't make any sort of sense.

"Well, some people are perverts and like to look at girls inappropriately. Without their permission, I mean." And worse, too, of course, Shinji thought.

"I see. Thank you, Pilot Ikari. These things were confusing." Rei seemed quite pensive as she thought through things. She knew he was interested in her. She could feel it at times with their improving empathy. "You have my permission to look."

"What?" Shinji could not have heard that correctly.

Rei looked uncertain for a second. "I would not mind you looking at me that way." It was only logical, after all. He seemed to care about her and she was discovering that she cared about his well being too.

"What are you too being so quiet about?" Asuka called out. "Get in here! We've got an Angel to fight!" She watched the two of them sidle into the EVA. Three people was almost too tight. Shinji was on her right, Rei on her left.

"Pilot Ikari, do not forget to use the regular receptors." Rei was taking off her training headset and putting on the full, short range version.

"Right!" he called back, even as the Entry Plug filled with LCL.

"What are those?" Asuka asked curiously.

"Psionic amplifiers for training," the albino replied. "Mr. Stark will make sure you have a set. You are behind on your mental defense training."

"That sounds pretty neat." Asuka then started rapid-fire commanding her EVA in German to start up until it errorred out. The computer faithfully told her that it wasn't possible due to language interference. "Gah! Quit thinking in Japanese! Think in German!" she suddenly said as she looked to her left and right at the other two pilots.

"Pilot Soryu, I do not believe we have enough understanding of your language to do so effectively. I would suggest changing your EVA's language to Japanese, as you are supposed to be quite fluent in it," Rei said softly. Shinji just looked surprised. They could do that?

"Schiesse! Fine!" Asuka started toggling switches and then giving out orders, which her EVA faithfully followed. "EVA Unit 02, activate!" The giant red synthetic life-form stood up, the huge tarp still covering it like a cloak.


On the bridge of the super-carrier Over the Rainbow, the admiral and his bridge were fighting the battle against the unknown contact in the water. "Why won't it die!?" the admiral screamed.

Misato nodded to herself. "It's probably an Angel. That means you aren't equipped to deal with it, sir! We need to use the Evangelion against it. It's our only hope!" Missiles were streaking off the deck of destroyers in an arc, trying to hit the underwater foe. "Per my orders from Headquarters, I am assuming operational command now!"

"We don't need your tinker toys to defeat this thing!" he snapped back.

"Sir! The EVA has activated," an officer shouted out.

The admiral grabbed a headset and started yelling into it, "What do you think you are doing!"

That was when Misato grabbed it out of his hands. "All right, Asuka! Great job activating your EVA!"

Asuka just smirked. Like that was too hard. "We are going to confront the Angel now! EVA, launch!"

We? What did Asuka mean by that, Misato though to herself? The EVA crouched low, then launched into the air only to land in the water leaving the tarp fluttering behind it.

"Activating underwater turbines," Rei said, even as she tapped a few buttons. Fins unfolded as the EVA started gliding through the water. Jets started rocketing them forward. The sun was glittering through the surface of the ocean hundreds of feet above.

"Here it comes! Dodge to the left!" Shinji shouted out.

All three pilots suddenly focused on avoiding the gargantuan Angel, sliding sideways in the water. The Angel rocketed past them, but they were safely away. That was when six depth charged detonated around them from the fleet.

"You dumpkoffs! Watch were you are throwing those!" Asuka screamed. "You almost scratched my paint job!"

"It's coming back again. It is faster than us," Rei called out.

Asuka saw an image of Iron Man in her minds eye for a second, seeing how he would dodge much larger opponents. What was that? She was so startled that the Angel clipped them as they dodged left again. Pain flared as it felt like a mule kicked them in the ribs.

"Feint left, dodge up!" Shinji ordered. It was learning their tactics.

"Right! Wait, quit ordering me around in my EVA!" she snapped back, but that didn't stop her from doing the maneuver. "Dropping depth charges!" she suddenly yelled out, just as the Angel rocketed under them. Pods disconnected from the EVA's legs, sinking quickly.

The four charges exploded in sequence down the Angel's back, causing it to roar and thrash.

"No effect! The target's AT field has blocked the attack!" Rei called out.

"What? An AT field should hamper its movement," Shinji exclaimed suddenly.

Rei frowned, but nodded. "It must be using the AT field to enhance its structure internally."

"That isn't helping us figure out how to defeat it!" Asuka snapped, even as she launched some torpedoes from her EVA's left arm gauntlet. They were just as ineffective as the depth charges.

"We have to counteract its field if we want to hurt it. I bet you it's field is weaker, but allows it to be active all the time." Shinji was very focused on the combat. "An N2 mine would probably really hurt this Angel."

"No N2 mines were assigned to the combined Pacific Fleet!" the albino pilot informed them calmly.

"Just great. What we need is a spear or harpoon," the auburn-haired girl complained. "But all the weapons other than the progressive knife and underwater combat loads were shipped ahead to Tokyo-3!"

"We'll have to grab a fin as it goes by. This is probably going to hurt again." Shinji grimaced at that pronouncement, but saw both of the other pilots nodding.

Misato blinked. They were working like a team already. She pursed her lips in thought. "Go for it, EVA Unit 02!" She totally ignored the rambling rants of the admiral behind her on the bridge of the super-carrier. Misato was staring intently at the tactical board, showing the depth and speed of the underwater units. "Admiral, I think we need to move the fleet away from the combat zone. All I need is to be close enough to talk to EVA Unit 02 and possible recovery later."

"Fine! All ships, full combat speed to Tokyo-2! Get us moving,!" the gruff man demanded.

Misato was so focused that she didn't even see the old Harrier jet taking off with Kaji on board, though she dimly heard the flight deck controller screaming into his headset.

All three pilots were regretting their decision to try to hitch a ride on the Angel. The red EVA was hanging on for dear life to the Angel's right forward fin.

"Verdammit! This isn't working. How can we attack it if we can't even move- WHOA!" she screamed as the Angel was suddenly knocked for a loop by some sort of explosion, the EVA slipping off the fin.

A dark-red and gold figure streamed by, blocky and unfamiliar... but still very obviously- "Iron Man!" Shinji cried out. The bulky suit waved even as it suddenly twisted and turned to avoid the gaping jaws of the huge Angel.

"This doesn't seem to be a very happy fellow now, does it?" Iron Man drawled out.

"I thought your old suit was-" Shinji started to asked when Asuka interrupted.

"Talk later, fight now!" Auska looked almost ready to emit steam from her ears.

"Agreed. The Angel is altering course to attack us again," Rei said calmly.

"Follow me!" Iron Man called out, diving down suddenly, the huge, red EVA following him down towards the submerged city below. "Prepare to pull up at the last moment."

"I got it! The Angel isn't as maneuverable as us, so it will crash into the ground!" Asuka shouted gleefully. Her blue eyes were shining in her realization.

"Exactly!" the man replied. "Prepare to come back and attack it once it is stopped for a moment."

The EVA pulled out of it's 'dive' just barely, it's foot smashing the top of a submerged house. Iron Man made a much sharper, later turn. The Angel appeared to be very confused, smashing into the ground. The power armor and EVA were already turning back. They charged right into the murk of displaced silt, switching to SONAR.

Asuka had the progressive knife out in her EVA's hand. "Crap! Where to attack it?"

"MAGI has been unable to determine where its core is located. We are too far from Tokyo-3's sensor net," Rei said, reading quickly on a side screen.

"This could take a while," Shinji muttered.

"Red globe, in its mouth," Iron Man called out.

"Huh?" Shinji and Asuka exclaimed.

"I saw it when it tried to swallow me." Tony rolled his eyes at their antics. Kids, he thought with a smile on his face.

"It will take much cutting with our progressive knife to get to the core from the side or top," Rei noted.

"I'm not throwing my EVA into its mouth!" Asuka shouted. At her direction, Unit 02 started to hack at the back of the Angel with one hand, the other holding on tightly.

Iron Man suddenly zoomed straight up. "I'll be back. Keep it busy!"

"Yes, Tony!" the young man said.

"Hey! Who put you in charge?" the new pilot called out angrily.

The Angel suddenly surged forward as the red EVA continued to slice with its knife into its back, even as the other hand gripped deeply into the blubber of the Angel.

"AHHHHHH!" screamed the three children suddenly. The Angel was fighting back a different way, trying to absorb the EVA into itself through its wound. The left arm of the EVA was now fusing to the gaping wound.

"Put up an AT field!" Shinji shouted, even as he grappled mentally to force the alienness out of his arm. "Out! Out!" he screamed.

"Out. Out!' Rei mimicked unconsciously, eyes narrowed in concentration.

"Out! Out dammit!" Asuka shouted as their three wills merged to eject the Ange from the EVA's arm.

The results... were explosive as the AT Field generated was quite a bit more powerful than anyone was expecting. A good one-quarter of the Angel's mass was vaporized as the EVA amplified their will.

"We... did that?" Asuka asked in shock.

"There's the core!" the young man said in a whisper.

"Banzai! Full power ahead!" the 'owner' of the EVA called out gleefully. "Pile it on before it can recover!"

The EVA surged forward on jets of water, it's progressive knife a glowing needle attempting to puncture the heart, the essence, of the Angel. Sparks and light burst from the point of contact, even as the EVA clawed for leverage onto the wounded back of the leviathan.

With a shrieking roar, the Angel spasmed, then went limp.

"The Angel is defeated," Rei said softly. They had done it. And it had almost seemed easy.

"Of course we did! I'm the best!" Asuka crowed.

Iron Man hovered back, two large missiles under his arms as he pushed through the water. "Well, I see I'm being redundant!" he replied jocularly. "I guess I better return these 2000 pound missiles."

Shinji was grinning to the other pilots. "We really did do it, all on our own!"

Rei nodded, not even realizing that a small smile had appeared on her face.

"Yeah, yeah. Let's get my EVA recovered already!" the new pilots said, though her tone wasn't quite as caustic as it could have been.

"Actually, Asuka? Instead of trying to get your EVA lifted back onto a ship, I just want you to walk it to NERV. It'll just be more simple to do that." Misato was looking over the damaged remains of the might fleet.

"What?" the Second Child complained. She didn't want to be cooped up in here with the other two pilots for that long.

"We are only a few hundred miles. That is easily in range for your EVA with the new batteries," Rei explained.

"Yeah, I forgot about that. Nice not to have to worry about running out of juice in five minutes if our line gets cut," the other girl replied with a wide grin. It would allow her to show off her EVA some more too. "All right, EVA Unit 02 heading out!"

Shinji still had a soft smile, though doubts lurked in the depths of his consciousness. Both of them are very pretty, in their own way. Not that either would ever notice him.

The First Child had caught that, blushing at the suppressed feelings of attraction she was feeling from him. How was she supposed to respond to that?

The red EVA turned westward, slicing through the water like a water-born predator.


Shinji and Rei walked into the apartment after school the next day. They were both a bit tired from the karate lessons, but were gamely ready for a snack and then to finish off homework. So when Shinji tripped over his chair from his bedroom that had ended up in the front room, he was understandably upset. "What is going on?"

Rei was frowning slightly. All of Shinji's furniture and clothing was in the front room, along with shipping boxes from DHL.

"Good afternoon!" Asuka called out. "I hope you don't mind, but I was moving my stuff in!" She seemed awful chipper, even if she looked like she'd been working all day.

"Um, where exactly are my things supposed to go then?" the boy asked, starting to get upset.

"I'm just the replacement. The improved model! You'll just have to figure something out!"

"Pilot Soryu, there are only three bedrooms in this apartment," Rei said, hands at her side as she considered the other pilot. "Shinji and I were assigned to live here."

"Well, I don't know who did that, but I was assigned to live with Captain Katsuragi weeks ago," the new pilot explained.

"That must have been before you moved in, Rei."

The First Child suddenly frowned even more deeply. She had a sudden and, to her, inexplicable desire to not move back to her old apartment. And that was what Asuka was trying to do, she realized. Force her and Shinji to leave. "I wish to stay here." Her red eyes were cold with anger even as her hands curled into fists.

Shinji just blinked. He didn't think he'd ever heard Rei actually say something like that before. Actually saying what she wanted.

"I can't believe these doors though. They don't even lock!" Asuka complained, ignoring the other girl.

"It is the Japanese way to think of others before yourself!" Misato said, carefully controlling her temper.

"What a crackpot idea!" was the girl's response.

"Be that as it may, we are going to have to rearrange things here," the NERV officer said. "It's a good thing you moved all your stuff into the larger room, Asuka!"

"What else for the newest and best pilot?"

"Once we get Rei's stuff in there with you, we'll move all of Shinji's into the smaller room." Misato started counting down to explosion 'Asuka' in her head.

"WHAT!?" she screamed. "Never!"

"You want Shinji moved back in? I didn't think Germans were that forward?" she jibed right back.

"That pathetic punk? I'd rip his arms off if he even thought about touching me!"

"Hey!" Shinji tried to protest, starting to get angry.

"QUIET!" Misato finally shouted before the argument could get out of control. "All of the Children have to be lodged here for now."

"Why?" Ausko looked angry enough to chew nails.

The captain looked deadly serious. "Because I don't want to find your body with a bullet hole in your forehead. Shinji and Rei were almost killed already. This allows Section Two to protect only one location much more easily." She grabbed her red jacket. "I have to go into work." She turned and walked out, slamming the door.

"What did she mean?" Asuka demanded, spinning on the other two pilots.

Shinji spared a glance to Rei, but she was still glaring at Asuka. So he started telling her about how Tony Stark had been kidnapped, they had almost been killed at the hospital and then the confrontation in the house in the woods.

Asuka had a pout on her face, but finally nodded. "Okay, I can see why we all have to live here. But I don't have to like it."

That was when there was a knock at the door. Rei moved to answer it, even as Asuka was still grappling with the loss of her personal space. She blinked as she saw Shinji's expression change from surliness to happiness very quickly.

"Tony!" the boy exclaimed.

"Hello, Shinji. And you must be Asuka Langely Soryu! Pleased to meet you finally," the man said as he wound his way through the crowded house.

Asuka just stared, taking in the impeccably tailored, Italian, designer suit and immaculate looks. If he had been ten years younger, he would have been a teen idol heart-throb plastered across magazines that teen girls read around the world. "You are Mr. Stark?" she asked, incredulously even as all thoughts of Kaji were shoved into the background.

With a practiced, charming smile, he nodded. "Guilty as charged. I came to drop off your equipment."

"Oh? The stuff for practice? I heard you created a long-range continual synchronization trainer that's been helping the Third Child a lot!" she replied, her attitude suddenly undergoing a one-hundred and eighty degree change, becoming sugary-sweet instantly.

"And an amplifier for mental training too. Shinji and Rei can show you how to 'play' that game," the older man said.

"Oh, Tony? Rei and I've noticed that we seem to be able to do the little mental attack even without the headband!" Shinji explained, even as Rei nodded.

"Now that is interesting." Tony was concentrating. "Any other changes?"

Shinji and Rei shared a glance even as Asuka fumed about them butting into her time with her new infatuation. "Well, we've noticed that we can sometimes feel each other's feelings," the boy finally explained.

"Interesting. You might have a high degree of psychic potential. It could be one of the things that they look for in potential pilots." Tony frowned in thought. "I'll have to see if the Marduk Institute has that information available."

The auburn-haired girl was flabbergasted. The First and Third Children were psychic? And they wanted her to become psychic too? No way in hell would she-

"So, Miss Soryu, the faster you can work at defending yourself mentally the better! Shinji and Rei's synchronization scores are catching up to you quickly, but I'm sure you'll improve just as quickly with the new training tools. Do your best! Shinji, Rei? I'll see you two later at NERV." Tony waved as he headed for the door.

Well, maybe she could do this training and see if it was everything they said it was. "What?" she snapped at the other two children.

"Your change in attitude was remarkable, Pilot Soryu," Rei noted aloud.

Shinji just thought it was scary how she could go from mean to sweet in three seconds flat. "Well, let's get things moved around," he finally said.

"Yeah, yeah," Asuka complained.


Captain Misato Katsuragi entered the area where Maya was finishing up the latest synchronization testing in the test systems the next day "Hello, Maya. How's the testing going?"

"Just about finished up, captain," the young NERV scientist said.

"Good. Could you have Rei and Shinji stop by my office? We have to go over some security paperwork," the slightly older woman said. At the nod of acknowledgement, she turned and headed back to her office to do the dreaded paperwork. She was actually so lost in it that she was startled by Shinji knocking on the door almost an hour later.

"Misato?" he asked as he opened the door. He had not been happy at Asuka, their latest room-mate, ditching him to head home already.

"Great! And Rei too?" she asked as she slid the papers into the folder. "Here's your new card, Shinji. I've got the basic briefing paperwork on the Dummy Plug system. Let's go take a look." Her lips were thin, her whole body showing a tension. She stood up and walked to the doorway

Rei blinked in surprise. They had been granted access that it? She schooled her features instantly, but she could feel Shinji catching her startlement through their new found sensitivity. "Yes, Captain Katsuragi."

The albino turned to go down the hall, but Misato grabbed her elbow. "Let's go this way, actually. I'm still learning the back ways of this place a bit," she said blandly. She carefully did not point out that they were not going by Ritsuko's office. She wanted to avoid bumping into her at this point.

Shinji and Rei shared a quick, confused glance but then he shrugged. They headed the other way and found an elevator where all three of them had to show their access. They rocketed further down, deeper than the boy ever remembered going before. The empty corridors down here were very dimly lit, putting Shinji on edge. Something about this seemed unusual to him. Like deja vu, the feeling that he had been here before somehow.

Misato started talking again as they were walking. "The Dummy Plug System is the research program devoted to creating an auto-pilot for the EVAs. This requires a biologic control system to be created, as a purely electronic system would not be able to control the EVA nor generate or counter AT Fields." Misato opened the door to a room shrouded in darkness. She turned on the lights, illuminating a large set of glass tanks full of LCL with the few lights available.

"Wait. I know this room. It's the room from my dream!" Shinji eyes were opened wide, fear starting to show. He gulped as he saw the floating forms, not even getting slightly aroused from the nude forms of Rei Ayanami floating with closed eyes.

"So they created an artificial person, a genetically altered clone, to be the control system," Misato said softly.

The two children's reactions were startling different and impacted the other. Shinji's initial horror smashed into Rei, causing her own emotions to plummet. She hadn't thought that it would make a difference, because she was worthless... replaceable. Why was his approval so important? Shinji felt her heart shatter, her eyes wide in shock at his feelings... his loathing of her.

"Wait-" he said slowly. He tried to reign in his feelings, to actually think things through. Rei was still the girl he was learning to know, the girl that was learning to show her feelings and what they were. "I'm sorry."

"You hated me... then do not hate me any more. I do not understand," Rei said softly. Confusion laced her words. Perhaps he still cared for her still?

"It was just shock." Sudden understanding dawned in him. "This is why you said your worthless. It's because there are these others... the clones to replace you."

That hurt her, she realized. She didn't want to be replaced, but she nodded. "I am the second Rei."

Misato and Shinji both just blinked in shock. The second one? "What happened to the first one?" the officer finally blurted out.

The pale girl's hand went to her throat suddenly. "She was killed," she whispered, suddenly struck by the sudden flashback of an older, blonde woman with her hands around the neck of a very young Rei.

Shinji gulped, but carefully reached a hand out to her shoulder. The flash of her emotions from the memory just then was terrifying. "Rei? Are you all right?"

Her face comported itself, becoming the porcelain mask of uncaring even as she pushed those memories away. "That was not me. So does not matter. And this is why I know I am replaceable. I have been replaced."

"But if you remember that, that means you are the first Rei, too." His brain was still thinking in overdrive. He suddenly snickered. He gestured at the tank with the 'replacements' of her floating there, finally noting their alabaster skin and nakedness which caused a blush. He looked away. "If this makes you worthless, where you have all this to make sure you are reborn, I'd hate to see what they consider using for someone 'worth something!'"

Rei frowned slightly even as Misato started laughing heartily. "Oh, that's a good one, Shin-boy! I wonder if being able to get a new body could be done for anyone?" Misato said with a laugh.

"You know I am not normal but do not care?" the girl asked the captain, wonder starting to fill her voice.

"Heh. I'm not that far removed from your origin either!" she said with a lopsided grin. "I'm a test-tube baby myself. My parents actually had some genetic defects fixed while they were at it. And you wouldn't believe the number of parents going in for that these days. The infertility rate after Second Impact has been raising steadily."

It was like a bolt of pure relief struck her. Tears started streaming down her cheeks silently even as her lips turned up into a strained smile. She found her head on Shinji's shoulder, crying in abject happiness.

They still cared for her, in their own quirky way.