Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion, or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Marvel Comics or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.

Chapter 1: Touched by an Angel

As Shinji Ikari stood before the apartment that was supposed to belong to Rei Ayanami, he kept looking from the apartment door to the card in his hand and back again. Wondering time and time again if someone had inscribed the wrong address on said card.

It would make a lot more sense than finding out that Rei actually does live out here, Shinji thought as he glanced about his surroundings. The apartment building the 3rd Child NERV was at was the most horribly rundown building he had ever seen in the worst section of Tokyo-3, a remnant of the old section of the city from before it had been razed and rebuilt. And a part of the city he would never have gone to of his own volition.

As he again looked down at the NERV ID card in his hand, Shinji thought back to last night when Dr. Ritsuko Akagi had asked him to give it to Rei as a favor. Making it clear that her old one had expired, and without a new one, she would have no access to NERV Headquarters. And so, being somewhat curious about Rei, whom he'd never been able to so much as start up a conversation with, he had agreed. Only for that curiosity to fade in the face of mounting confusion when he found himself at this dilapidated ruin.

Like the apartment building that was Shinji's home, there were walkways on the outside leading to each apartment door. And like his home, there were stairs and an elevator that led to each floor. But unlike his present lodgings, the elevator of this building was obviously in as much of a state of disrepair as the rest of it. Enough so that all it took was one look to convince him that, even after the long walk out this way, he would much rather take the stairs. Stairs that were littered with broken beer bottles and used hypodermics, as well as even worse objects, all of which were also to be found on the walkways. Every surface was stained and marred and smelled of things that would normally be found in a sewer, all of which made him that much more certain that this couldn't be the right place. Even the fact that the indicated door bore the name of Ayanami had not alleviated his confusion.

But.. .why...? Shinji thought as he attempted to wrestle with this incomprehensible reality. Why would anyone...live here? Neither the door nor the card had any answers for him. So without any further recourse, the 3rd Child decided to go along with the situation at hand, and hit the buzzer next to the door.

There was nothing. No response. He tried again, and a few more times, but with similar results.

I guess it's in as bad a condition as the rest of the place, Shinji decided with a frown. He then gave the door a gentle knocking, unwilling to risk knocking it off its hinges. Again, there was no response. So without any further recourse, he took hold of the door handle, and turned it. Of course, she's probably locked the door, so...

The gentle click followed by the door creaking open immediately proved Shinji wrong. What? he thought, his mouth popping open even as he cracked it open. But...who would leave the door unlocked in a place like this?

Again, Shinji had no answer to his question. So he did the only thing he could do; continue doing what he had been doing. And try to be polite about what was essentially breaking and entering as he possibly could.

Carefully cracking the door open just a bit wider, just enough to give him a slight view of the interior. Shinji softly called out, "Uh, hello? Ayanami?" Once more, there was no response. Nothing to indicate that Rei or anyone else was present. "Uh...it's just me. Shinji Ikari."

Once again, there was no response. Not having any better ideas, Shinji frowned and called out in a somewhat louder voice, "Uh...I'm coming in, okay?" Unsurprisingly, there was no response. So he carefully, silently opened the door all the way and stepped inside. Only to wince in disgust as he did.

The smell inside of Rei's apartment was even worse than it was outside. The walls and floors were smudged and stained with dirt and grime. Shinji felt dirty just looking at the thorough mess that was confronting him. Who could live in a place like this? he wondered as he made his way into what had to be the main room of the apartment, which was even worse.

There were precisely four pieces of furniture in evidence in there; a western-style bed that looked incredibly uncomfortable with a lumpy mattress and harsh metal framing, a small chair that looked like it belonged in a dump, a small refrigerator with a box filled with blood-stained bandages, and a chest of drawers. I don't believe this, Shinji grimaced as he took in his surroundings. This is even worse than Misato's apartment when I first moved in!

Shuddering at that memory, one which was bright and cheerful by comparison to this, Shinji looked this way and that...only to frown when something glinted in the low light. Turning towards the chest of drawers, he was surprised to see a pair of glasses on top of them. "Huh?" he started as he made his way up to the chest and studied the corrective lens. The frame was bent, and the lens had been cracked along the edges. "But...these can't be Rei's."

Once again wondering if he had somehow gotten the wrong apartment, Shinji carefully picked up the glasses, and after a moment's curious inspection, put them on. Finding that they were meant for a head somewhat larger than his own, he was satisfied that this had to be the wrong place. I better get out of here before someone spots me, Shinji thought nervously, already moving to take the glasses off. And then I'll call Akagi-san and -

The sound of a door sliding open made Shinji go completely rigid. The realization that he had been caught invading someone else's home emptied his mind, leaving him helpless to do anything but slowly turn towards the source of the sound. It was then that he received two more shocks that day. The first was the revelation that he did indeed have the correct apartment; Rei Ayanami was the one standing behind him, looking at him in mute surprise. The next was the fact that she must've been in the shower, because the blue-haired albino was nude save for the brown towel covering her upper body.

Sheer panic racing through his mind, Shinji broke into a cold sweat, and grew even colder at the look of faint annoyance that appeared on Rei's face. "Um - Ayanami - I -!" he sputtered out as she started towards him. "I - I'm sorry! The door w-was open, so -!"

His words had no effect on her. Rei just came up to him, not bothering to speak as she reached forward and plucked the glasses off his face. As for Shinji, he continued to scramble backwards, the fact that he was in close to proximity to an effectively nude girl leaving him scared and confused. As he continued to try and distance from her, his foot slid on a patch of grime.

Scared and off-balance, Shinji windmilled his arms in a desperate attempt to remain upright. But it was an attempt that was doomed to failure. And with the chest of drawers behind him, he was left with nowhere to fall but right into Rei.

Realizing that crashing down squarely on Rei's body was perhaps not the best of ideas, Shinji reacted on pure instinct, and was able to catch himself on his hands and knees before landing on her. Leaving him crouched over the nude girl, who was still silent. She had not screamed or cried out as she fell or when she landed. And now was just looking at him in silence even as she lay there, like this was just a normal day for her.

Several seconds passed in this fashion, with the two of them simply staring at each other. Until at last the silence was broken...and Rei actually spoke. "Will you get off?"

Initially puzzled by this statement, Shinji could only remain where he was as his brain rebooted itself into something resembling functional condition. And when it finally did, something in the back of his mind realized that while his right hand was feeling something cold and unbelievably filthy, his left hand was clenched about something warm, soft, and resilient.

Uh-oh...! Shinji thought, getting a very bad feeling. Without even thinking about it, he looked down and confirmed that he was presently groping Rei's right breast.

A moment later, Shinji was again in full panic mode. Flying off of her like he had been burned, he suddenly found a thousand separate apologies and excuses on his lips, struggling to come out at the same time. Unable to think, he carefully distanced himself from Rei as the albino rose from the ground and went over to the side of her bed. "I - I - I - sorry!" he sputtered out helplessly as the blue-haired girl picked up a pair of panties and began the process of getting dressed. At this, something in the back of his mind kicked in again, telling him that it might be a good idea not to ogle the girl whose home he had invaded and that he had accidentally assaulted. "I was just - well, I was asked to - that is -!"

Gulping loudly, Shinji took several deep breathes before trying again. "Your card - it's renewed, and -!" he fumbled out, glancing out of the corner of his eye. Seeing that Rei was mostly dressed, he swallowed and continued. "So I was asked to - bring it to - I'm sorry! I really didn't mean to -!" Fumbling once again, he swallowed a lump of bile that had formed in his throat. "Akagi-san - she forgot to give it to you - I tried to get your - your bell, it didn't work, and the door was unlocked, so -!"

As Shinji struggled to get his mouth under control and say something more intelligible, his mouth automatically snapped shut at the sound of the door closing. Gasping in surprise, he quickly looked towards where Rei had been dressing. He gasped again when he saw that she was no longer there. Then he looked up the hallway leading to the door. "No way...!" he sputtered out, unable to believe what had just happened. "She wouldn't have -!"

As impossibility mounted on impossibility, Shinji shakily made his way up to the door and opened it. Sure enough, Rei had just left her apartment, apparently unconcerned about her uninvited visitor as she made her way downstairs.

Feeling his eyes and jaw hang open, Shinji just stared after, unable to comprehend what had just happened. He had broken into Rei's home, had been handling something that didn't belong to him, fell on her and groped her...and she had barely said a word. She hadn't even protested his presence. She had just asked him to get off so she could get dressed.

I don't get it, Shinji thought, utterly and thoroughly baffled as Rei made her way downstairs. I mean...I know she's quiet. She barely talks to anyone at school. And she's never said a word to me before now!

Bringing his hand to his forehead, Shinji struggled to make sense of this. A girl who apparently didn't care that she was living in filth in a building that ought to be condemned, who barely even reacted when he fell on her and groped her, and had just left without even bothering to ask him to leave her home before leaving it herself.

Why would she do that? Doesn't she care what I could have done to her home? Shinji thought, only to wince as he looked back inside. I mean...yeah, sure, there aren't a lot of ways I could make it worse than it is! But - I might steal something, or...doesn't she care? Why not ask me to leave, or wait to find out why I was here, or...?

Question after question flooded his mind, and Shinji had no answers. And he still had to get Rei's security card to her, or she wouldn't be able to get inside of Headquarters. I better go after her, he decided with considerable reluctance. But I better lock the door, first.

With this in mind, Shinji retreated into Rei's apartment just enough to gain full access to the door's interior. After a moment's futzing about, he found the latch and turned it...only for nothing to happen. No click of the lock, no bolt appearing from the door. Nothing.

What? Shinji frowned as he received his latest surprise of that day. He tried turning the latch again, only to have it spin in place like a top. You mean...the lock doesn't work, either? Giving the latch one final spin, he then let his hands fall to his sides in helpless disgust. But...why?

Shinji had no answers. And he had serious doubts that Rei would give him any. But he still had a job to do. So with that in mind, he carefully exited Rei's apartment, carefully closing the door before starting after her. Questions bounced about his mind chaotically as he started down the stairs.

For the next several minutes, Shinji followed Rei as she made her way to the more civilized portion of Tokyo-3. The blue hair that topped her head made it easy to keep track of her, even from a distance as they walked and eventually rode the train to Headquarters. All the while, the albino paid no heed to his presence. And while Shinji couldn't tell if she was unaware of him or simply didn't care if he was there, he strongly suspected that it was the latter.

But why? Why wouldn't she care? Shinji wondered for what felt like the umpteenth time as they exited the train and started towards the nearest entrance to the Geofront. I mean, I don't know a lot about girls, but I do know that anyone else at school would have beaten me up over what happened! The only thing Rei was concerned about back at her apartment were those glasses! And why was she so worried about a pair of broken glasses that aren't hers?

Shinji didn't have any answers. All he had were more questions, and they all revolved that anemic hovel that was Rei's home. Why would Father let Ayanami live in a place like that? he wondered, genuinely baffled by this puzzle, which was made up of pieces that were all at odds with each other. I mean...I thought he really liked her...

With this thought, Shinji flashed back to the things he had seen and learned in recent times. To the huge burn scars on the palms of his father's hands, as well as Ritsuko explaining how this had happened. How Gendo Ikari had rescued Rei when her Eva had gone berserk during a test, burning his hands when he had opened the superheated hatch of her Entry Plug. He thought of how he had watched from a distance as the two of them talked openly and freely with each other, the both of them smiling.

I can't remember the last time I saw Father smile. And Rei... Sighing as his thought trailed off, Shinji realized that the emotion he had seen on the albino's face that was more than he had seen from her the entire time he had been in Tokyo-3. But...if he likes her...then why? Why does she live in a place like that?

Again, Shinji had no answers, because there was no reason for it. As Commander of NERV, an organization charged with the defense of the world, Gendo certainly had plenty of clout. What he wanted, he generally got. One word from him, and Rei could likely have any home she so desired, especially with the slow decline in Tokyo-3's population. Something Shinji had learned the hard way on the day that Gendo had sent him away, ten years ago.

Why? Why did he save her? Does he...actually care about her? Shinji found himself wondering somewhat more idly. And if he does care...why let her live there?

Again, no answers came. Nothing that made any sense. So as the train ride came to an end, Shinji could do nothing but follow Rei as she got off, and proceeded towards the entrance to the Geofront. The two of them walked in silence until at last they reached the gateway, which had several lanes leading to a series of doors.

As Rei brought forth her card, Shinji silently closed the distance, almost curious to see what would happen and how she would react. Moving as briskly and efficiently as always, she took her card and slid it through the reader. The tiny screen on it flashed red.

Rei made no sound, did nothing to indicate she was surprised. Instead, she simply swiped her card again, but with the same results. She was about to try again, but Shinji, deciding that now was as good a time as any, closed in behind her and swiped her new card. As the reader flashed the words 'Good morning', the blue-haired girl looked up at him, her expression the same as before. The same as it always was.

"Um...here you are," Shinji began hesitantly, holding up the card for her even as the door slid open. "It's your new card. Akagi-san, she told me to -"

Rei didn't say a word. Didn't react. She simply took hold of the card and snatched it from Shinji's hand before starting forward. Leaving the 3rd Child to stand there, utterly perplexed as the door closed behind her.

Is this the same person? Shinji wondered as he slid his own security card through the reader. Proceeding as soon as the door slid open for him, allowing him to start after Rei once more. Is she really the same person I saw smiling at Father?

As he followed her down to the descending escalator, Shinji couldn't help but wonder if it was in fact possible. If perhaps the smiles and casual conversation he had seen Rei exchange with his father were in fact something conjured up by his own imagination. It would likely make more sense than this girl from whom he had seen no emotion, no expression of pain or joy of any kind suddenly smiling and being happy in the presence of the coldest, cruelest person Shinji had ever met.

But even as Shinji thought this, he frowned, for he knew just how poorly he himself understood others. A boy who had once given him a brutal beating had then become one of the closest things he had to a friend in this city. His guardian acted more like a goofy girl his junior at times, but was an efficient, calculating military commander while on duty. So if there were people such as that, then there was always the possibility that there was more to Rei than what she normally let show.

As this thought ran its course, Shinji studied the girl before her, thought of how little he knew about her, except the fact that she was seemingly closer to his own father than he himself was. He wondered why that was, why Gendo would risk his own life for her, and still treat her so shabbily. And as he did so, his curiosity grew, gnawing at him more and more, prompting him to speak. To at least try to engage this enigmatic girl in conversation.

"Uh..." Shinji began, trying to think of something to say. Wracking his brains until he suddenly remembered something he had heard Misato mention the previous day. "Um...I heard that...you're going to have a reactivation test today." Rei didn't respond to the strained words. Showed no reaction. Groaning his hesitation, Shinji soon decided that he had nothing to lose from proceeding. "Doesn't that...scare you? Piloting Unit 00?"

A couple seconds passed in silence, and for a moment, Shinji was convinced that his attempt at conversation would fall utterly flat. But even as she stood utterly still, Rei eventually spoke. "Why?"

It was a word, a single word, completely devoid of emotion or inflection. But it was a response, nonetheless. And after a moment's consideration as to how best to proceed, Shinji pounced on it.

"Well...you were hurt pretty bad in an earlier experiment," he explained, thinking back to the day he had first seen her. To the battered, barely conscious girl who could barely even move. "So...I thought...that you...might be worried...and..."

This time, Rei's response was more immediate. And completely unexpected. "Aren't you Commander Ikari's son?"

"Huh?" Shinji frowned uncertainly. So eventually, he nodded and answered, "Well...yeah. But...what's that have to do with it?"

"Unit 00 is Commander Ikari's creation," Rei stated, still speaking in that same tone of voice. "Don't you have faith in your own father's work?"

Shinji's mouth popped open at this, but even as he experienced surprise at her question, that surprise turned to anger. "No, of course I don't trust him or those monsters!" he snapped, thinking back to the day he had first come there. How his father had stood before him, demanding that Shinji pilot a death machine that he had never seen before, let alone had any idea as to how to pilot. Had made it clear that the only reason Shinji had been summoned to Tokyo-3 was because Gendo had 'a use' for him. "Why would I ever trust him? How can I after what he -?"

Before Shinji could complete this declaration, Rei turned to face him. When she did, he was so surprised that his unfinished sentence fell flat in his mouth. The albino girl's crimson eyes were glaring at him with such intensity that it was impossible for him to miss, and her lips were pressed together in a narrow slit. Everything in her features radiating emotion. And that emotion was anger.

Dumbstruck by what he was seeing, Shinji tried to think of what he should say or do next when Rei did something else to shock him. Moving quicker than the eye could follow, she raised her hand and struck him on the face. Knocked off-balance by the force of the blow, the 3rd Child brought his hand to the stinging welt Rei had left him with even as the blue-haired girl turned and started stepping down the escalator. Not bothering to disguise her eagerness to get away from him.

Watching as Rei departed, Shinji could only stand there, unable to believe what was happening. Once again, she had expressed emotion, and again, it was related to his father. But why? What does she see in him? he wondered once more. And why...does he care about her? Why does he smile...just for her?

Deep beneath the pyramid that was NERV Headquarters, in the bowels of what was thought of some as a den of secrets, in a place that was forbidden to everyone but a select few of NERV's elite, a titanic figure hung above a pool of crimson orange fluid. A masked figure that hung from a tremendous, crimson cross, crucified upon it. It hung limply, without any true legs to support it. Only tiny, vestigial ones that grew from where true legs should have appeared.

The titanic figure was an Angel. The second one discovered by humanity. A prisoner of NERV.

A prisoner that was even now stirring, ever so slightly.

Something was coming. The figure could sense it. A power that, while much smaller than her own, was quite similar. And different, just the same.

Another Angel was coming. Another of Adam's Children would soon arrive, to try and reach her. To set in motion the destruction of her own children.

After a brief time, the figure settled, contenting herself to wait and watch as events played out on the surface. For really, with her powers suppressed by both the restraining cross and NERV's own safeguards, that was all Lilith was capable of doing.

Watching and waiting for the destruction to end. Helpless to save her children from themselves.

Pausing to push his glasses back up his nose, Gendo Ikari paused before asking, "Rei, can you hear me?"

"Yes," came Rei's voice over the intercom feeding into the observation room of the test facility they were in.

"We will now commence the Unit 00 reactivation experiment," Gendo announced for everyone to hear, including the technical staff that was present. Then he turned towards a female figure in a white lab coat. "Dr. Akagi, initiate primary connection."

"Yes, sir," Ritsuko nodded before focusing on her staff. As she did so, Gendo disconnected himself from the menial matters she was attending to. There was no point on dwelling on what might or might not go wrong. On whether or not the disaster from the previous experiment would repeat itself. Either everything would work out fine, or it wouldn't. Success or failure. There was nothing in between.

And I have to succeed, despite everything that can go wrong, Gendo thought as he studied the armored cyclops that stood restrained before him. I won't allow anything to interfere with me, or Rei.

"The checklist is satisfactory up to 2590," Maya Ibuki reported from her station, her voice returning Gendo to the moment. "We're approaching the borderline!"

"Watch it, Maya!" Ritsuko told her as the activating nerve links reached the critical point of no return.

"Borderline in 3, 2, 1...!" Maya announced, veritably dripping with tension as the critical red mark slowly flickered blue. Once again hovering at the borderline for a murderously long moment.

For a brief moment, Gendo felt an edge of concern. A moment that finally ended when the mark stopped flickering, and turned blue. As did the ones beyond it. "That did it!" Maya cried out, her relief clear. "Systems are currently functioning within acceptable tolerances! Unit 00 is now fully activated!"

"Excellent," Gendo commented, indulging in a sense of relief at this minor success. Then he turned towards Ritsuko and told her, "Proceed with the interlock tests, Dr. Akagi."

Ritsuko opened her mouth to respond, but before she could say a word, a voice from behind broke in. "Not so fast, Ikari," came the elderly voice of Sub Commander Kozo Fuyutsuki. As Gendo and the others turned to his former professor, the old man lowered the cell phone in his hand. "Lt. Aoba has just informed me that an unidentified object is rapidly approaching NERV Central."

Gendo needed just a moment to process this import of this statement. "An Angel?"

"It's possible," Fuyutsuki confirmed. "They're still waiting for it to get close enough for the MAGI to perform a positive pattern analysis." The old professor narrowed his eyes sharply before adding, "He did say that the object is approaching from the air. And according to the initial radar contact, it is too large to be an airplane of any sort."

Now it was Gendo's turn to narrow his eyes. "Very well. Abort the tests and place all operations on First Stage alert," he declared even as he glanced over at Unit 00. Still untested. It's armor inferior and outmoded. And with a pilot that he couldn't afford to put at risk. Not yet. "Contact the 3rd Child and prepare Unit 01 for immediate deployment."

Nodding to this, Fuyutsuki frowned slightly before replying, "Very well."

As Misato stood on the bridge, her eyes narrowed sharply as she took in the displays before her, she was aware of everything. She was aware of the reports signaling the progress of the evacuation of Tokyo-3's civilian population to the emergency shelters. She was monitoring the progress reports on the rapid preparations to launch Unit 01. But most of all, she was aware of the central image being displayed before her. The image of a blue, translucent octahedron that was presently floating towards the fortress city, the latest manifestation of doom and destruction.

The 5th Angel.

"Captain Katsuragi!" one of the bridge staff called out to her. "The target is passing over Tonosawa!"

"Beginning Unit 01 launch sequence," another staff member announced as he hunched over his station.

"Understood," Misato nodded before focusing on the youthful face being projected before her. "Alright, Shinji, listen up! The Angel is heading towards Lake Ashi airspace! Now, we don't know what this thing is capable of, but we better not give it a chance to teach us the hard way!" Shinji gave a quick, quiet nod to this. "Now, we're launching you so that you'll be shielded by one of the dummy buildings up top, so even if this Angel has any long range capabilities, you should be protected from an initial attack. We're also preparing a rocket launcher to send to the surface. So as soon as you get up there, I want you to grab it and give that thing everything you've got! Understood?"

"Roger!" Shinji responded, his quiet voice showing just the slightest tremor of fear.

Feeling pride in the young man, despite the edge of guilt stabbing into her, Misato took a deep breath before announcing, "Alright, then! Evangelion Unit 01, launch!"

With this command, the electromagnetic catapult sent the purple destroyer known as Unit 01 rocketing up to the surface. As it did so, Misato tracked the progress of the horned Evangelion, watching as it flew up the series of shafts that would take it to the proper position. Giving it optimum shelter just in case...

"Captain!" Lieutenant Shigeru Aoba urgently cried out. "We've got a high energy reaction inside the target!"

Feeling a chill at these words, Misato glared at the long-haired lieutenant. "What'd you say?"

"The energy charge is accelerating and amassing upon itself!" Shigeru explained, looking at his sensory readouts. "Energy readings are going off the charts!"

Hissing in anger and fear, Misato turned her eyes back to the image relaying what the surface cameras captured. The dark edges of the 5th Angel were shimmering brilliantly, glowing more intensely with each passing second. At the same time, one of the launch gates was opening, a section of track reaching up into the sunlight. Followed immediately by a large, purple blur.

"Shinji, look out!" Misato cried out, suffering a terrible feeling that she was already too late.

The young boy had only enough time to make a sound of confusion when the Angel fired. A blinding beam of purple lanced out from the crystalline monstrosity, instantly melting through the building that Misato had thought would provide some protection for Unit 01, blasting it apart in the span of a second. It then proceeded to strike the purple Evangelion upon the chest plate, drilling into where a human's heart would be.

In a moment, every readout before Misato went insane. Damage reports and warning alerts flashed as the beam of destruction bored into Unit 01's armor. But most of all, she saw the agonized face of her young ward and pilot as he screamed in consummate agony. Experiencing everything that Unit 01 felt as the beam burned into its armor.

"No!" Misato howled before turning towards Lieutenant Makoto Hyuga. "Retrieve Unit 01! Hurry!"

"Uh, yes, sir!" Makoto replied as he frantically worked his station, his fingers raining down upon his control console in a veritable blurs. The gantry carrying Unit 01 responded, but it did so slowly; it had been designed for speed in carrying the Evas to the surface, not getting them back down.

As Misato made a mental note to beat the crap out of whatever moron had come up with such a useless design, Unit 01 began to sink back into the launch tube. The Angel continued to fire, adjusting its aim to keep firing on the same spot. The Captain thought she would go out of her mind as the horned Eva finally sank out of sight. The Angel's beam weapon was finally unable to strike its target, and instead hit the interior of the launch tube, resulting in a blinding explosion.

Ignoring the plume of flame that rose up from the point of impact, Misato knelt down behind Makoto. "What's Shinji's status?"

"He's alive, but in bad shape!" Makoto reported tersely. "I'm sending Unit 01 back down to the cages!"

"What about the Angel?" Misato asked, knowing that she couldn't focus on Shinji alone.

"It's gone silent, sir!" Shigeru reported shakily. "It's taking up position over Tokyo-3! Right above us!"

Hissing in disgust, Misato looked up the monster that had thwarted them so effortlessly. Already cursing herself for her own shortsightedness, and how someone else was now paying for it. "Alert NERV Medical! I want an emergency team down to the cages immediately!" she ordered as she stood up straight and glared at the image of this latest Angel.

You're going to get yours, you bastard! Misato vowed silently. Plans already taking shape in her mind for the next engagement. I'm going to figure out some way to get you for this, and then...you'll die in pain!

In war, there were victories and defeats. Good fortune and unfortunate setbacks. One side would gain an advantage, another would lose one. No one won every single battle.

This was a reality that Gendo accepted. More to the point, he didn't care how many battles he lost. How many people needed to die in order for him to succeed. All he cared about was making certain that the war was won, and that the precious elements he needed for his overall plans were intact and in place when the time was right.

However, even he had to admit that victory seemed to be an unlikely thing under these circumstances.

"According to our analysis, sir, the Angel is capable of projecting a high-power, accelerated particle beam in virtually any direction," Misato reported as she stood before him in his office, her stance perfect and her eyes narrowed with intensity. "In the time since the failed first engagement, we've deployed life-sized balloon dummies of Unit 01, as well as an automated train fitted with a self-propelled mortar. All of which the Angel has destroyed." The Captain paused to take a breath before continuing. "Judging from this, we can safely assume that the Angel automatically attacks any potential opponents that come within a certain range."

"Which means that close-range combat in an Eva is not an option," Fuyutsuki muttered as he stood off to Gendo's side.

"And what of the Angel's AT-Field?" Gendo asked as he sat at his desk, his fingers steepled together.

"It's remained active this entire time, sir. Our readings indicate that it is much stronger than the AT-Fields of the previous Angels," Misato admitted with a grudging respect. "To put it simply, sirs, in terms of offense and defense, this Angel is almost perfect. A virtual flying fortress."

Almost perfect. Gendo pounced on that term like a tiger stalking its prey. Knowing that in war, almost was never enough. "And what is the Angel's current location?"

"Currently, it's directly above us," Misato reported, her voice tensing somewhat. "It's deployed a high density drill from its underside, and is presently boring towards the Geofront."

"Then it intends to attack us directly," Fuyutsuki muttered, showing no surprise at this. "How long do we have?"

"At the Angel's current rate, we estimate it will have breached all twenty-two layers of the defense armor of the Tokyo-3 null zone, and breached Headquarters shortly after midnight," Misato explained tersely. "To be precise, at six minutes, fifty-four seconds AM."

"What of Unit 01 and the 3rd Child?" Gendo wondered with deceptive mildness. "What's their status?"

"Unit 01's chest plate was severely damaged, but it's internal systems suffered minimal damage. Ritsuko says it should be ready for action again within three hours." Then Misato lowered her eyes somewhat. Not much, but just enough to be noticed. "As for Shinji...physically, he's fine. However, the nervous feedback from Unit 01 has left him unconscious. He should recover in due time, but..."

"Time, Captain Katsuragi, is something we don't have much of," Gendo grimly intoned, aware as few others could be of the penalty of defeat at the hands of the Angels. A reality he knew the Operations Director to equally aware of. "Do whatever needs to be done, but we need the 3rd Child awake and ready to pilot. Is that understood?"

A moment passed before Misato nodded her understanding. "Yes, sir."

Satisfied that he had made his point, Gendo proceeded to their primary concern. "Now, we still need a way to deal with the 5th Angel," he intoned, leaning in closer to Misato. "You've told us of its capabilities, Captain. Do you have any ideas as to how to neutralize them?"

Her eyes snapping back up, Misato nodded. "Yes, sir," she answered, her voice sharper and more determined. "As I've already explained, given the Angel's offensive and defensive abilities, close-range combat and conventional weapons would be completely ineffective. Therefore, I believe that our only chance is to employ a sniper-style attack against it."

"A sniper?" Fuyutsuki repeated perplexedly. "You want to shoot the target from outside it's firing zone?"

"Exactly," Misato nodded. "Instead of trying to neutralize the target's AT-Field, we penetrate it using a pinpoint shot with a focused, high-energy beam. Furthermore, as long as the Angel is drilling towards its way towards Headquarters, it's locked in place. Meaning that there's no way for it to dodge such an assault."

As he looked at his Operations Director, Gendo paused to consider her suggestion, and found himself seeing the sense of it. An AT-Field was a powerful defense, one that rendered conventional weapons all but useless, but it wasn't perfect. With enough power, it was possible to penetrate them, inflicting at least some damage upon the target. "What about the MAGI?" Gendo wondered, wanting further confirmation. "What did they say?"

"The MAGI supercomputers calculated that the probability of success is 8.7%," Misato admitted after a moment's consideration. "However, it can be done within nine hours, and it has the highest chance of success."

"I see," Gendo answered after a moment's thought. "However, in order to penetrate the Angel's AT-Field and destroy it in a single shot will require an enormous amount of power. Far more power than any of our ranged weapons is capable of."

"I realize that, sir," Misato nodded, clearly prepared for this. "However, I intend to requisition the JSSDF's prototype self-propelled positron rifle. According to the MAGI, it is capable of handling the hundred and eighty million kilowatts needed to penetrate the Angel's AT-Field."

"And where exactly do you intend to get a hundred and eighty million kilowatts of power?" Fuyutsuki wondered in that deadpan fashion that Gendo knew so well.

"From anywhere I can get it, sir!" Misato declared, her voice taken on a distinct edge of enthusiasm. "From all over Japan, if I have to!

Again, Gendo considered the matter, and found himself nodding. NERV certainly had the resources and the political muscle in order to accomplish what the Captain was proposing. And as an added bonus, their acquiring that particular piece of equipment could help derail a certain project that he had been advised of, one that could prove troublesome to him in the long run. "Very well. I see no reason to reject your plan," he finally intoned. "Will there be anything else?"

"Just one more thing, sir," Misato explained, her enthusiasm subsiding to a degree. "In the event that the Angel is somehow capable of attacking the sniper, even outside it's estimated firing range, I've had Ritsuko and Maya prepare a defense."

"A defense?" Fuyutsuki repeated.

"Yes, sir. A shield," Misato explained quickly. "According to Ritsuko, this shield should be able to hold up against the Angel's particle beam for at least seventeen seconds. However, for it to be effective, we'll need an Eva to handle it." Then the Captain's eyes narrowed somewhat before she added, "And since we need Unit 01 to aim and fire the rifle..."

"You need Unit 00 to provide cover for Unit 01, then," Gendo broke in even as Misato trailed off. With a solemn look, the purple-haired woman nodded her confirmation. "What is Unit 00's status?"

"According to Ritsuko, the reactivation of Unit 00 shouldn't be a problem." Then Misato pressed her lips together as she added, "However, they haven't been able to solve the problem with the feedback error."

It was a simple statement of fact, and to anyone who didn't know the Evas as well as Gendo did, it would not have seemed to be an important factor. But Gendo did know the Evas. He had been there from the beginning, helping to create the base technologies that made the biomechanical titans possible. And he knew full well how important the synchronization between the Evas and their human operators was. As well as the dire consequences that same synchronization could have on the pilot, particular in the situation Misato described. "So if Unit 00 were to be damaged in battle...it could kill the pilot."

Nodding somberly, Misato answered, "Yes, sir. I'm afraid so."

A long moment passed as Gendo considered this statement. That he was being told that the optimum method for insuring victory would be to risk Rei's life in an imperfect Evangelion. Assigning her a duty that, by its very definition, required her to put her life on the line for someone else.

For a moment, Gendo was tempted to protest this assignment. But even as he considered this, he realized that such a protect would not be in the best interests of himself, or his own plans. There could be no playing it safe in this situation. Not with the formidable capabilities of their foe.

The 5th Angel had to be defeated. Just like all the others Angels that would come afterwards. To fail in that would be to fail...in everything.

And with this thought in mind, Gendo suffered a slight pang of reluctance before saying, "Very well. You may proceed, Captain Katsuragi."

"Thank you, sir," Misato replied, giving him a polite bow before turning to leave.

As he watched his Operations Director depart, Gendo frowned in thought. Now all we need is the 3rd Child. he knew, realizing even as he thought this just how gross an understatement this was. The Evangelions were useless without pilots, and because of the circumstances behind Unit 01's creation, it was notoriously fickle. There was only one person that could fully synchronize with it, only one that could draw out its full potential. And even if he does wake up, there's no guarantee that he'll be willing to pilot once again.

With this thought in mind, Gendo sat back in his seat and considered the situation. Shinji hated piloting Unit 01, that much was obvious. He hated the fact that he had been brought to Tokyo-3 for that reason alone, he hated the fact that he had nowhere else to go, and he hated the Commander of NERV for putting him in that position. And after this disastrous encounter with the 5th Angel, he would likely be even more disinclined to pilot, now that he had suffered his first real brush with death. And he still didn't understand just how truly vital it was that the Angels had to be defeated.

Nor will he ever learn, Gendo frowned, knowing just how crucial Shinji's ignorance of his role in things was. Not if I have anything to say about it.

As these things ran through Gendo's mind, Fuyutsuki arched an eyebrow at him. "What are you thinking, Ikari?"

Gendo didn't answer right away. Instead, he flashed back to that moment when Shinji had first arrived in Tokyo-3, and how he had originally convinced the miserable little creature to do his bidding. And as he did so, the Commander of NERV rose from his seat. "Keep me advised as to Captain Katsuragi's progress, sensei, and let me know when the 3rd Child has regained consciousness," Gendo instructed his former teacher as he started towards the door. "There's something I need to discuss with Rei."

I hate this ceiling, Shinji thought as he lay within NERV Medical.

It had been roughly an hour since he had awoken in a NERV Emergency Medical Chamber. An hour since he had opened his eyes to find himself inside what looked to be a metallic coffin. And it had been hour that he had spent being reassured by doctors and nurses alike that he was perfectly fine, that he had suffered no lasting damage from his aborted fight with the 5th Angel. That everything was going to be alright.

Hmph. Alright? Shinji had found himself thinking off and on as he slipped in and out of consciousness. His overwhelmed body and mind struggling to recover from the agony of a burning spear of destruction drilling through Unit 01's chest, agony that he had felt as cleanly as the Eva itself had. What do they know? Nothing's alright. He let out a low, weary sigh before closing his eyes and adding, Not when it's going to happen again...

They were going to make him fight again. Shinji was sure of it. The Angel was still alive, still somewhere out there, possibly still within Tokyo-3 itself. And Misato, Ritsuko, along with everyone else at NERV, would be depending on him to kill it. To stop it from ripping the city apart and killing everyone in it.

And...I guess I understand why they need me. Because...Unit 01...needs me, Shinji thought solemnly, thinking of the horned destroyer that was his to command. That had once even saved him, protected him, even when he was not controlling it. Activating of its own accord, just to keep him from being crushed by falling debris. But...is that it? Is that the only thing I'm good for? The only reason...they even want me here?

This was another question Shinji had asked himself off and on since he come to Tokyo-3. On the one hand, he knew Misato had decided to be his guardian when she didn't have to, and had even initially protested his piloting until Ritsuko had silenced her with sheer logic. But at the same time, the Captain was a slob, and while she was nice enough to him, she certainly didn't mind it when he cleaned up around their shared apartment. And while the other children at school seemed to like him well enough, what had really started that had been when they had learned that he was an Eva pilot. When they learned of that, they had been so excited, like he was a celebrity of some kind.

Liking me because I'm a pilot...it's so stupid, Shinji thought for wasn't the first time, and would likely not be the last. I...I never asked to be a pilot...I...

As this thought ran through his mind, it was sundered by the sound of a door sliding open. Starting at this, Shinji sat up in his bed and watched as a serving cart was wheeled into his room. A cart that was being pushed by a familiar figure. "Ayanami."

The blue-haired girl pushed the cart up to the side of his bed, then stopped and looked at him. "Pilot Ikari," she began, speaking in her normal monotone. Showing no sign of the anger and hatred that had filled her face the last time he had seen it. "I've been sent here to brief you on the timetable for Operation: Yashima."

"Operation...Yashima?" Shinji blankly repeated as Rei reached into her dress pocket, and pulled out a small handbook.

"Pilots Ikari and Ayanami will report to the Eva cages by 1730. At 1800, Unit 01 and Unit 00 will be activated. At 1805, both Units will be deployed. They will arrive at the temporary base at Mount Futago at 1830. There, they will await further orders," Rei told him, reading the handbook line for line, he was certain. Before he could say anything to this, she put the book back in her pocket before bending down and reaching into one of the cart's drawers. When she stood back up, she had a plug suit in her hand. It was wrapped in plastic, and was colored blue and white. The same colors he wore.

"This is your new uniform," Rei told him simply before tossing the plug suit onto his bed. As he glanced down at the simple article of clothing that was another representation of the only purpose he apparently had in Tokyo-3, the blue-haired girl added, "We will be departing in 60 minutes. You should eat now."

A sound of surprise escaping his lips, Shinji looked up at Rei, and then the cart. Sure enough, there was a tray laden with food present. A simple, plain meal that looked like it had come from a box. And smelled typical of NERV hospital food.

Instantly losing what little appetite he might have had, Shinji brought his knees up and wrapped his arms about his legs. "Do I..." he started, almost choking on his words as he spoke, "really have to pilot again?"

"Yes. You do," Rei answered, showing no surprise. No concern. Nothing.

The cold, emotionless voice with which she delivered what in Shinji's mind amounted to a death sentence was the last straw for him. "I don't want to!" he spat out, tightening his grip on his legs. Seeking some kind of anchor in this world of madness. "I...how can you be so cool about this?" Rei didn't say anything, didn't do anything as he looked into her blood-red eyes. "I nearly died out there, Ayanami! Don't you care about that? Doesn't anybody?" Shaking his head in disbelief, he then lowered his face into his own knees. "You don't know what it's like, having to go out there and fight, Ayanami. I have." After a moment's time, he closed his eyes, blotting out the rest of the world before muttering, "And I don't want to do it again..."

"Then you can just stay here," Rei immediately answered.

The instant these words were spoken, Shinji's mind was completely emptied by the shock of them. Looking up in surprise, he studied the girl that had so casually spoken them, just as she said everything. "What?" he got out, initially certain that he must have heard her wrong. "Wh-what do you mean?"

"I will pilot Unit 01," Rei told him flatly. "Dr. Akagi is already prepared to rewrite the personal data files for Unit 01."

If anything, Shinji was more astonished than before. "A-Akagi-san is...?"

"Captain Katsuragi and Dr. Akagi will be waiting for me," Rei told him, still speaking in the flat voice even as she turned to leave. Leaving Shinji helpless to do anything as she made her way out the door. "Goodbye."

A moment later, the door closed behind her. Leaving Shinji alone.

And yet, as he continued to look at the door, he realized that he wasn't truly alone.

Rei was ready and willing to pilot that awful monster that was Unit 01 in his stead. She was going to pilot it. She was going to go out and risk her life and sanity against monsters that seemingly attacked for no reason. That destroyed just for the sake of destroying.

And she was going to fight it. Rei was going to battle it. Had told Shinji that he didn't have to fight again.

On one level, Shinji thought that he should be glad for this. That he should rejoice that he didn't have to get inside that monstrosity that was his father's creation. To experience it's pain as his own once again. To fight battles that made no sense to him. To suffer simply because of a coldhearted man who didn't want him around, that had brought him to Tokyo-3 simply because he had 'a use' for him.

Shinji should have been happy. But he wasn't. And after several long minutes thinking, he realized why that was.

They were ready to discard him. They didn't need him anymore. After everything that he had done, all the ugliness and pain Shinji had gone through, they were ready to reprogram Unit 01 for Rei's use. Just like that. He wasn't needed. He wasn't useful to them. He had no purpose in Tokyo-3.

He had no purpose...anywhere.

And as he realized this, Shinji found himself stunned. With just a few words, Shinji had chased it all away. The pain, the suffering, the outrageous expectations, the training, the rules governing his life, all of it was now gone.

And with it went...everything.

His place at school. His home. His current guardian. All of it would be gone the instant his father learned that Shinji refused to pilot. And Shinji would be sent away. Again.

Because Father has...someone else, Shinji thought, recalling that day he had seen Gendo conversing with Rei. Smiling when he would smile for no one else. And now...they all have someone else.

As this thought rang in his head, Shinji continued to sit in his bed, perfectly still, recalling his life before now. A life that wasn't truly living. That was simply existing, simply getting by, day after day. A life that was loneliness, with no one but a guardian that expected him to take care of himself. No friends. No family. No purpose.


As these thoughts ran through his mind, Shinji's eyes were slowly, inexorably drawn to the plug suit that lay on his bed. And as he looked at, he was forced to think of all the things that it represented in his life. Both bad...and good. And he did so, he couldn't help but sigh and think, I hate my life.

"I'm really glad you decided to come, Shinji," Misato told him, smiling despite the situation they were in.

The Captain stood along with much of NERV's command staff, as well as technicians and more power converters and other miscellaneous equipment than she could shake an Eva at on Mount Futago, the staging grounds for Operation: Yashima. The site had been chosen for optimum firing angle, as well as ready access to power sources. Everywhere around her, Misato could hear people going about their business, working feverishly as they prepared their best and only chance at destroying the latest Angel. Bright work lights flooded the entire area, blotting out much of the color as she looked about at Ritauko, as well as the two children charged with defending the world.

"I won't lie to you, Shinji. We'd have been sunk if you hadn't agreed to do this," Misato added, still smiling as best as she could. "I really appreciate this."

"Oh," Shinji replied mutely. Looking nervous and uncertain as he usually did. "Okay."

Somewhat saddened by the lack of responsiveness in her charge, Misato sighed. Then again, it's not like I can blame him. Not after what happened, she thought, knowing just how close she had come to losing him that very day. A pit opening in her stomach as she added, And now...

Wincing at the detour her train of thought had been about to take, Misato took a breath and focused on the task at hand. Already planning on getting good and drunk later on, she focused on the immediate situation. "Okay, listen up! Here are the battle plans!" she announced as she looked squarely at the 3rd Child. "Shinji, your Unit 01 will be the gunner." Then she looked over at Rei, who was little more than a silhouette against the blinding light. "Rei, you'll be covering him in Unit 00."

"The reason for this arrangement is because Shinji has a higher synch ratio with his Eva, and this operation will require an exceptionally high degree of precision," Ritsuko informed them. "Now, Shinji, the positron beam will be influenced by the Earth's gravity, magnetic fields, and rotation, so you'll have to wait until the computers confirm a target lock on the Angel's core. As soon they do, just pull the trigger."

"Okay," Shinji replied nervously as he glanced over at the monstrous sniper rifle that he would be wielding. A weapon that had been hastily prepared by NERV's technical crews, and one that he had never used before.

"Just be aware that, before you can fire the rifle a second time, you will first have to wait for it to cool, then replace the fuses, and reload," Ritsuko continued, speaking slowly and carefully to make sure he got every word. "So you've got to destroy the Angel with your first shot. We might not get another one."

A moment passed in ugly silence before Shinji answered, "I see. Then...I have no choice."

As she looked at the children that were at her command, the young lives that it was her duty to put on the line, Misato found herself thinking, Sometimes, I think that we never have a choice. But even as this grim thought settled on her, she glanced away, back towards Tokyo-3. Seeing even at that distance, even through the trees and bushes, the monster that was drilling its way towards Headquarters. The monster that they had less than four hours to kill...before it doomed them all.

Misato wanted to say something encouraging. Something that would reassure them that everything would be alright. But in the end, all she could say was, "It's time. You better get geared up."

"Right," Shinji and Rei replied as one. And without hesitation, they started towards the portable gantries supporting Units 01 and 00.

Time was drawing close. Though Shinji didn't have a watch, he was well aware that the time for battle was almost upon them.

As he sat next to the horrible horned head of Unit 01, Shinji watched as all the lights in Tokyo-3 fell dark, the blackout that had been scheduled for 11:30 taking effect. And as fortress city faded to shadows, he knew that everywhere else in Japan, entire cities were being plunged into darkness, the power that lit them up being diverted to them. All for this one battle.

As Shinji thought about this, he glanced over at Rei. Like him, she was sitting next to her Eva's head, and though Unit 00 didn't emit the same air of menace as his own Eva did, it was an ominous sight, nonetheless. A monster of the same kind, and one that had very nearly killed her once before.

Without even really thinking about it, Shinji found himself asking, "I was just wondering, Ayanami...why do you pilot this thing?"

"Because I'm bonded to it," Rei answered simply, not even bothering to look up at him.

"Bonded?" Shinji repeated blankly.

"Yes. It's a bond," Rei told him, speaking just as simply as always.

Shinji considered this for a moment before asking, "You mean...to my father?"

"To all people," Rei corrected him.

For a moment, Shinji thought of what he should say to this. Thought of what he could say to someone who had been battered and brutalized and lived in poverty and squalor, all to pilot a machine that could well be the death of her. Until at last he found that the only thing he could think to say was, "You're very strong, Ayanami."

"I have nothing else," Rei answered.

Taken aback by these words, Shinji frowned as he studied the blue-haired girl. "What do you mean, you have nothing else?"

Rei didn't answer. She just sat there for a time, continuing to look out towards Tokyo-3, before finally getting to her feet. "It's time to go." As Shinji continued to sit there, he watched as Rei started forward, only to stop and look at him. And as he looked at her, standing with the full moon at her back, he spotted something in her eyes. The tiniest traces of what might have been emotion.

An emotion he recognized...as sadness.

"Goodbye, Shinji," Rei told him. And with that, she made her way along the gantry towards the Entry Plug of Unit 00.

It was drawing closer. Lilith could sense it.

The Child of Adam was making its way to her. Slowly but surely, it was coming closer. All the while her own children were scrambling about. Some fighting for survival. Some to insure their own doom.

And amidst all of this, one child in particular stood out like a beacon to Lilith. Her mind an open book to the 2nd Angel. Who was standing ready to help kill Adam's child...as well as all hope for the future.

"Commencing operation!" Makoto called out, the NERV technician's words sounding with the stroke of midnight. Echoing slightly in the Entry Plug of Unit 00 as Rei tensed herself for battle.

A moment later, two holographic display panels appeared before Rei. One of them featured the face of Misato, and the other, Gendo's son. "Listen, Shinji, we're trust you with all the power of Japan!" the Captain announced, a slight smile marking her face as she looked at the 3rd Child. "We're all counting on you!"

"Roger!" Shinji replied from within Unit 01. As Misato began giving orders, setting in motion the final preparations for the operation, Rei studied Shinji's face, and found herself mildly confused.

She was not surprised that Shinji had chosen to pilot, despite his initial unwillingness to do so. Gendo Ikari had anticipated that he would feel this way, and Gendo Ikari had told her exactly what she needed to say in order to prompt him to do so. And like always, Gendo Ikari had been right.

What she didn't understand was why Shinji would refuse to pilot in the first place.

Why would he refuse his purpose? Rei frowned, unable to fathom such a thing. After all, everything that existed had to have a purpose. A reason for being. And for Shinji, piloting Unit 01 was that purpose. So why would he refute that? And why...doesn't he trust in Gendo's works?

Rei considered this question for a moment longer before finally shrugging it off. Such thoughts were ultimately unimportant, for they had no bearing on her current purpose; to make certain that Shinji fulfilled his own purpose. And so, with that thought in mind, she willed Unit 00 to action, preparing the makeshift shield NERV had made from the base of a space shuttle for action, in case the worst came to the worst.

"Release final safety locks!" Misato ordered.

"Release final safety!" Makoto responded. At this, Unit 01 pulled back on the safety connection on the sniper rifle, preparing to fire at a moment's notice. Though Rei couldn't see it, she knew that a targeting scope was now sliding in front of the 3rd Child's face, one that would allow him to see the exact moment he needed to fire. "Target lock in ten, nine, eight...!"

As Makoto ran down the final countdown before firing, Rei furrowed her brows when something lit up in the darkened city of Tokyo-3. The massive octahedron that was the 5th Angel was stirring, energy pulsing along its edges. "Captain!" Maya was heard crying out "High energy detected from inside the target!"

"No! Not now!" Ritsuko snapped in response.

"...Three, two, one!" Makoto announced.

"Fire now!" Misato shouted. A command Shinji responded to instantly, pulling the trigger and unleashing all the power they had amassed there in a single bolt of pure destruction. But even as he fired, the Angel launched its own attack. The two streams of power headed towards each other, conflicting with each other, resulting in them both being deflected from their intended courses.

As the Angel's beam veered off, colliding with the mountains behind them and sending them up in a plume of destruction, Rei tensed herself. The mission was now in danger of failing. The purpose for which she and Shinji existed to fulfill was in peril.

"Dammit!" Misato swore vehemently in a display of useless emotion. "Get ready for the second shot!"

"Roger!" Shinji answered as he and the other NERV personnel there worked hurriedly to prepare the sniper rifle for their second, and likely, last attempt. The fuses were replaced, the rifle recharged, the barrel of the rifle cooled…

"Sir!" Maya cried out. "We've got another energy buildup from inside the target!"

"Not again!" Misato shouted as the Angel lit up once more. Moments after the words were past her lips, a deadly beam lanced out towards Unit 01. Prompting a terrified scream from Shinji as he watched what would be his death race towards him.

Rei would not allow it. Without hesitation, the albino spurred Unit 00 into action, leaping between Unit 01 and the destructive river of power. The instant she landed, the Eva braced itself in place and held up the shield just before the Angel's beam slammed into it.

"Ayanami!" Shinji cried out as the force of the Angel's particle beam pushed Unit 00 back. The makeshift shield slowly melting, as was the Eva's own armor.

As the heat slowly rose, Rei felt as if it were her own skin being burned away, her own body being slowly cooked alive. But that didn't matter. None of it mattered. All that was important...was her purpose.

"The shield won't hold!" Ritsuko cried out.

"Aren't we ready?" Misato demanded.

"Please! Hurry!" Shinji cried out, his voice rife with fear and urgency as the shield sagged in Unit 00's hands.

Seconds ticked by mercilessly as Rei fought to stay awake, to continue shielding Gendo's son from the blast. The 5th Angel's particle beam cooking her alive, it's power flooding through her even as the sniper rifle was fired once more. This time, the spear of light ran directly parallel to the Angel's own assault, hit its AT-Field…and penetrated the Angel, smashing through its body and lancing out the other side.

As the Angel's beam died with it, Rei allowed herself a moment of satisfaction in knowing that she had fulfilled her purpose that day before her vision clouded over…and she fainted.

"Yeah, we did it!" Misato cried out, her voice one of many being raised in victory as the 5th Angel slowly fell upon Tokyo-3, it's crystalline surface visibly burning away as clouds of smoke rose up from it.

But Shinji wasn't paying attention to that. The only thing he was paying attention to was Unit 00 as it slowly fell to the ground. It's shield a molten wreck and it's armor melted through and through.

"Ayanami!" Shinji cried out as he urged Unit 01 to Unit 00's side. There was no response from the damaged Eva's pilot. Nothing.

No...no, no, noooo! Shinji cried out inwardly. Acting on pure instinct, he prompted Unit 01 to rip off the plates on Unit 00's back that covered it's Entry Plug. Ignoring the burning pain of the horned destroyer's own armor being melted from simply touching the scorched prototype, he watched as the Entry Plug's automatic eject triggered, exposing the Plug and allowing Unit 01 to grab it and set it down on the ground.

Please be okay! Shinji thought as he prepared to eject his own Plug. Please be okay!

Adam's Child was dead. Lilith could feel it.

The 2nd Angel felt no relief at this. No satisfaction. For there was nothing for her to relieved or satisfied about. For even though this one child of Adam was gone, more remained. Several more. And even if they were to fall in turn, her own children remained in peril. A peril that she knew to be spawned by a select few. A peril that she was powerless to do anything to avert.

And yet...

The titanic figure tensed as something brushed her consciousness. A spark of power that lingered from Adam's Child. But that was impossible. The Child was dead. It's core destroyed.

And yet...

As Lilith opened her mind to the minds and souls of the people above, she was astonished by what she discovered. That it wasn't Adam's Child that the spark of power was coming from, but another. From one of her own children.

From one who was intrinsically connected to Lilith herself.

Could it be...? Lilith thought, almost unwilling to bring herself to hope. Hope that she was no longer as powerless as she had once been...

His entire body cried out in protest as Shinji strained every muscle he possessed. His hands were being seared as he struggled with the emergency hatch of Rei's superheated Entry Plug. But he didn't care about these things. He simply continued to groan as he fought to get to the pilot that was inside.

As steam rose up from his hands, the plastic insulating them melting away, Shinji was eventually rewarded by the sound of the hatch release grinding open. A moment later, the hatch flipped open, allowing him to stick his head inside.

"Ayanami!" Shinji cried out as he looked inside. Only for him to gasp in horror when he finally saw her. Rei was lying prone in her seat, her arms dangling limply to her side. And worst of all, her skin and hair had gone dark, looking to be a dull, gunmetal grey.

"Ayanami!" Shinji shrieked as he processed this sight. Acting on pure instinct, he pulled himself in even further into the Entry Plug, trying his best to reach her. "Ayanami...are you...Ayanami!"

For the longest time, Rei didn't move. Didn't speak. She simply lay there, as quiet as a corpse. And as he continued to look at her, Shinji grew more and more convinced that that was exactly what she was. But as he continued to stand there, hope dying and falling away, a low groan was heard echoing in the Entry Plug. Sucking in a gasp, Shinji stood statue-still as Rei's eyelids fluttered somewhat before slowly opening.

Oh, my god...she's alive! Shinji thought, delirious with relief. Tears already welling up in his eyes, he quickly brushed them aside. With his eyes more or less clear, he watched as Rei slowly sat up. As she did so, what little light coming in from the hatch stroke her, revealing that her skin and hair were their normal coloring. It...it must've been...a trick of the light, or...oh, thank god...!

As Rei sat up straighter, she frowned slightly as she studied Shinji's face. "Pilot...Ikari...?" she started, speaking weakly. Obviously drained by her experience. "Why...why are you...crying?"

For a brief moment, Shinji was about to ask her why he shouldn't be crying. But that question never managed to reach his lips. Instead, he blurted out something else entirely. "Don't ever say that! Just don't say that you have nothing else! Please don't say that!" he pleaded of her, thinking of that moment from before she had entered Unit 00. And how she had spoken...like she was going off to die.

"And don't say goodbye when you leave on a mission. It's just too sad!"

"It...is?" Rei frowned, apparently baffled by his statement. As if she couldn't understand why someone would be saddened that she felt that all she had was Eva. That she acted like she expected to die piloting.

And that made the whole thing that much sadder. Leaving Shinji helpless to do anything but hang his head and openly cry.

As tears flowed freely down his face, his body trembling with grief, Rei slowly lowered her face "...I'm very sorry," she told him, something that could almost be shame in her voice. "But... I don't know what I should do or feel at a time like this."

At these words, Shinji slowly looked up at her, giving a sad smile. And once again, spoke without even needing to think about what he wanted to say. "Well...why don't you just try smiling?"

Sharply looking up at him, Rei studied the 3rd Child for a time. And after a moment's time, a true, kindly smile lit up her face. A smile that Shinji was happy to receive.

Lilith was also aware of Rei's smile. And more importantly, the 2nd Angel could sense the genuine emotion that drove this expression. As well as the spark of power that lingered within her. Power from one of Adam's Children.

Things that Lilith quickly realized could turn the tide against Adam. And could save her children from the misguided actions of a few.

But not on their own. The spark inside Rei was still a tiny thing, and would need something to fan it's flame into something truly brilliant. And more importantly, the girl would need guidance. People to help lead her away from the poisonous influence of the man who had shaped her development at every stage.

However, Lilith had hope. Had a chance to save her children. And so, the 2nd Angel began to work. Focusing what power she could summon forth and manifest, channeling it into the lake of liquid that NERV had been bleeding from her in order to use with the Evangelions and their various experiments. Power that slowly began to change the nature of the blood-like liquid.

Slowly, so slowly, a small whirlpool took shape before her. And in the heart of it appeared a tiny point of silver light, cool and beautiful...

Author's Notes: This is the second of my 'Superwomen of Eva' stories! I hope it's off to a good start! Please, read and review! And I hope that you will all check out my other stories while you're at it!


Scared and off-balance, Shinji windmilled his arms in a desperate attempt to remain upright. But it was an attempt that was doomed to failure. And with the chest of drawers behind him, he was left with nowhere to fall but right into Rei.

Realizing that crashing down squarely on Rei's body was perhaps not the best of ideas, Shinji reacted on pure instinct, and was able to catch himself on his hands and knees before landing on her. Leaving him crouched over the nude girl, who was still silent. She had not screamed or cried out as she fell or when she landed. And now was just looking at him in silence even as she lay there, like this was just a normal day for her.

Several seconds passed in this fashion, with the two of them simply staring at each other. Until he felt a set of slender, delicate fingers slipping about his groin. Huh? was all he had time to think before those fingers closed about his clothed manhood, and squeezed.

"Ouch!" Shinji cried out as he flew off of the nude girl. "Ayanami, what are you doing?"

"That's what I was about to ask!" came a voice from off to the side. As Shinji looked in that direction, he saw an irritated man sitting in a director's chair, smacking his forehead with the palm of his hand. "I don't believe this...Rei, we've been over the script a dozen times already! I thought you already had this scene down pat!"

"I do," Rei replied, completely deadpan as she sat up, readjusting the towel so it covered her up once more.

"Then why the heck did you grope Shinji?" Orion demanded incredulously. "You're just supposed to ask him to get off, not cop a feel!"

"I know, but..." Rei then paused to study the fanfic writer and director for a short time before asking, "In this story, I'm supposed to be paired with Ikari-kun, correct?"

Nodding irritably, Orion answered, "Yes, that's correct! But what's that have to do with anything?"

"I just thought that, since he's to be my boyfriend in this story, there would be no harm in inspecting Ikari-kun's physical attributes," Rei explained, still speaking in that perfectly deadpan voice.

While Shinji blushed a deep, bright red at this, Orion groaned once more. "Rei, do me a favor. Do whatever you want with Shinji while you're off the set, but while we're filming, I need you to keep your mind on the job. Okay?" Rei replied to this with a simple nod. "Besides, you don't have to worry about Shinji's equipment. I promise you, by the time you get to that point, I'll make sure he's amply endowed to do whatever you want to you."

Rei considered this for a moment before nodding. "Ah, good," she murmured, still speaking in that deadpan voice. Then she glanced over at Shinji, and allowed a slight smile to curl her lips. "That's very fortunate."

Shinji was about to ask what she meant when the meaning came to him of its own accord. Leaving him to blush his humiliation as Orion sighed and rolled his eyes. "Sometimes, Rei, I think you're a bit too blunt for your own good." Silently agreeing with the fanfic writer, Shinji groaned wearily as Orion glanced about at the camera crew. "Okay, people, let's take it from the top."