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 8: Awkward Encounters

As Mari walked along, a good breakfast in her stomach and fresh from a nice hot shower, she couldn't help but think that it looked like a perfect day outside. The sun was shining, the air refreshingly warm, and there was just enough clouds in the sky to add to the image of something being taken for a postcard.

Too bad it's only the sky that looks nice, Mari frowned as she lowered her eyes from the sky above, and scowled as she looked about the flight deck of the SHIELD helicarrier. Everywhere she looked, there were jets anchored to the deck, as well as the occasional SHIELD tech tending to them, making sure everything was as it should be. Dammit...I'm not looking forward to this...

"What's the matter, lass?" came the ever-welcome voice of Dugan, prompting Mari to look up and see the concern on her mentor's face as he walked alongside of her. "A bit nervous?"

A beat passed before Mari shrugged in response. "Eh...not really."

"Well, I wouldn't blame you if you were," Dugan went on as the two of them ambled across the flight deck, the mild winds doing nothing to even perturb the Irishman's ever-present bowler hat. "After all, today's the day you march right into the lion's den. Or his hunting grounds, at the very least."

"I know. I knew I where I was going the day you informed me I was shipping out," Mari retorted in a wry manner. "And trust me, Dum Dum, whatever worrying and handwringing and whatever I had to do, I got it done a long time ago. I am long past done being nervous." Then the bespectacled girl narrowed her eyes at the aircraft she and her mentor were heading towards and scowled. "However, I haven't even started being pissed off about Fury's stupid plan!"

Heaving a deep breath of comprehension, Dugan then nodded. "I see," he mused in a thoughtful manner. "Well, I don't deny that I've heard of better ways of slipping spies into hostile territory..."

"I'd hope so!" Mari remarked, still unable to fathom the plan she was going along with. "Fury wants me to go sky-diving over Tokyo-3 so that everyone there thinks I'm a complete lunatic?"

Holding up his hands in a soothing manner, Dugan returned, "Now, now, lass. I know you're upset about your meeting with the Colonel." As Mari snorted mildly, the Irishman sighed as he studied her. "Alright, you're absolutely furious. Is that more like it?"

"You're closer, Dum Dum," Mari returned with a solid frown.

Nodding to this, Dugan gave the bespectacled girl a weary smile. "Well...God knows you have every right to be. I know I'm not exactly overjoyed myself. But that's in the past, lass, and right now, we have a job to do."

"Yeah, I know," Mari returned in a snarky fashion. "Get me to Tokyo-3 and make me look like a total mental case in the process."

"I understand your feelings on that point, Mari. But like it or not, Fury did make one good point about this plan." Turning a look that demanded he explain what good point this was, Mari listened as Dugan went on to explain, "Secret agents are able to get their jobs done because they are just that; secret. We don't wear nametags with the word 'Spy' on them."

"I know that, Dum Dum," Mari muttered with a roll of her eyes. "But I thought the whole idea was to blend in with the rest of the crowd! Not do something stupid that makes you stick out like a sore thumb!"

"Aye, that's usually how the game is played," Dugan conceded. "Still, we've got our orders -"

"Really stupid orders," Mari muttered in a singsong manner.

"- and it's our job to see that they're carried out," Dugan concluded. When Mari didn't respond to this, the Irishman sighed. "Now, look. I don't blame you for what you did with the Pacific Fleet. Hell, I know that if your great-grandfather Steve were with us now, he'd be the first one to say you did the right thing. But you can't start bucking every single order given to you!" When the pigtailed girl failed to justify this with a response, the Irishman pushed on. "Don't forget that any organization, be it SHIELD or the military only works when everybody does their job the way they're supposed to. It takes a coordinated effort on everybody's part to make any plan work. And if one person decides to not bother doing as they're told, the whole blamed thing falls apart."

A beat passed before Mari sighed and gave a reluctant. "'It's the job of a soldier to put up, shut up, and do as they're told. That is, if they don't want to wind up tripping all over each other'," the girl slowly intoned, sporting a slight English accent as she spoke. Starting at these words and the way they were spoken, Dugan paused to look at the girl, who looked back and gave a small, cat-like smirk. "It's a line from Mom's journals. I don't remember who said it, but -"

"Pinky," Dugan broke in to Mari's surprise. "Percival Pinkerton...aye, that's what he used to say, alright. And he was quite right about that, lass."

Her smile contorting into an expression of annoyance, Mari heaved a deep breath before snorting. "Maybe...but I still don't like it."

"I never said you had to like it," Dugan assured her. "Just that we both have our jobs to do, and like it or not, we have to do them." Giving her a reassuring pat on the bat, he then asked, "So, are you ready for a little sky-diving, lass?"

"Are you kidding? After all the drop training SHIELD's put me through? The videos they made me watch?" Mari asked, managing to put more of her usual humor into her words. "I bet I could do a jump even without a parachute!"

"Well...maybe. But I wouldn't recommend it," Dugan advised her.

Smirking at this, Mari asked, "What about my shield and the rest of my gear? The American Dream?"

"Already being taken care of, lass," Dugan quickly assured her. "Everything's being shipped to Tokyo-3. Your support team is waiting to receive and get everything in place." Even as Mari nodded, the Irishman continued with, "Now, we were able to pull some strings in regards to your new apartment."

"String pulling seems to be one of SHIELD's talents," Mari noted.

"Hmm, I won't deny that," Dugan returned with a thoughtful look. "Anyway, there's an empty strip mall near the apartment building you'll be living in. It's been empty and abandoned for quite some time now, making it the perfect place for your support team to set up shop in. And we've been making arrangements so that you can get from your place to there without anybody noticing."

"And that's where my team and my gear will be kept, huh?" Mari returned, giving her mentor a look. "And what about the Dream? Even in a city as dead as Tokyo-3 is supposed to be, I think people would notice the sound of a jet landing in a strip mall!"

"You're right. Which is why the Dream will be kept in a separate location, outside of Tokyo-3." When Mari gave him an even more intense look, Dugan quickly returned, "Don't worry, lass. Even if things go to blazes on you, as fast as the Dream is, it'll only take a minute for it to fly on in and pull you out of the fire."

Pausing to study her mentor, Mari returned, "I just hope I don't have to find out the hard way."

Chuckling his agreement, Dugan went on to say, "Anyway, you won't be the only one heading into Tokyo-3 today." Making a questioning sound in her throat at this, Mari looked on as the Irishman explained, "I'm heading into NERV Central for a meeting with their Operations Director, to finalize the arrangements for your transfer."

"Captain Nutcase? That sounds like fun," Mari muttered, her words dripping sarcasm. "Hey, while you're there, why don't you ask her about NERV's evil plans! That would save everybody a whole lot of trouble!"

"Now, hold on!" Dugan protested in good humor. "I've bearded plenty of lions in their dens in my time, lass! That doesn't mean I go out of my way to stick my head in their mouths!" Chuckling at the Irishman's wit, Mari laughed even harder when Dugan joined in as well. "All joking aside, Mari, I'll be there just long enough to finish dealing with the red tape. Once that's done...well, that'll be it. It'll be up to you to get the goods on NERV."

Nodding to this, Mari made her way over to the airplane that was their goal. It was an simple, unadorned private craft in the basic colors of white and blue, with enough space inside for roughly half a dozen people, give or take. Utterly unobtrusive and boring as could be, especially in contrast to the helicarrier. "Now remember, this bird will be landing at a sky-diving service, supposedly having returned from a recent bit of business. You're to stay inside when it lands, and when your father and Ditto get there, they -"

"Ditto?" Mari repeated with a blank expression.

"That's what we call your stand-in," Dugan explained in an offhand manner. "Quite appropriate, wouldn't you agree?" Recalling her doppelganger and how she looked like she was on the other side of a mirror, Mari certainly couldn't fault this choice of codename. "Anyway, she'll get your father to let her go for a bit of skydiving, and get on the plane with you. While he's getting on the train to take him to Tokyo-3, you and Ditto will fly out there as well. Once you're in position, you'll jump out, with no one aware that there are two of you."

"Fine with me," Mari returned, deciding not to mention that she found the prospect of spending any real amount of time with her duplicate unnerving. "So...any other words of wisdom before I head out?"

Dugan opened his mouth to respond, but before he could say a word, a strange expression overshadowed his face, and his mouth fell into a thoughtful frown. "Actually...there is one other thing I'd like to say," the Irishman admitted, his words heavy with concern. "Remember what Fury said last night? About a Major Jones being your CO?"

"I remember," Mari nodded, not liking the sound of this. "I also remember you being really pissed off about it. Why?"

"You were probably wondering why I was...less than pleased when I heard about that," Dugan continued, the way he spoke making it clear that he was building up to something unpleasant.

"Well, I was pretty busy thinking about other stuff at the time, Dum Dum," Mari reminded her mentor even as she actively tried to avoid thinking about the other matters that had been brought to light as a result of her confrontation with Nick Fury. "My new CO kind of dropped to the bottom of my list of things I needed to think about."

"Understandable, but I strongly recommend you bump him back up a bit," Dugan informed her, still speaking in that level, all-too serious voice. "Not to the Number One spot on your list of immediate problems, but at the very least, he should occupy a spot on the Top Five list."

Not liking the way this was going, Mari studied her mentor for a time. "And...why is that?"

"Because...before he was a Major, Gabe Jones was one of us," Dugan tersely began, darkness flickering about his eyes. "One of the Howling Commandoes."

As this statement reverberated in Mari's mind, she found herself flashing back to the collection of old war journals her mother had once read to her. To stories and pictures of the Howling Commandoes, the soldiers that had fought alongside the original Captain America. And as she did so, her mind seized upon an image from one of those old photos, of an African-American man with a smug, knowing smile on his face. "Then...he's like you?" Mari gathered, still struggling with the things she had learned last night. "He also got dosed with that Super Serum?!"

"The Infinity Formula, aye," Dugan confirmed with a nod. "He was right with us, from the very beginning. And like myself and the other Howling Commandoes, he swore an oath to protect your grandfather. Steve and Peggy's child." Then the Irishman's eyes narrowed into a disgusted scowl, his mustache bristling as if it wanted to attack someone. "An oath that he broke...when he told the higher-ups that there was a living descendant of Captain America."

Now Mari was doubly surprised. "Wha- he's the one who -?!" she started, only for her tongue to flat from the shock. "But - I thought - when you told me that that was the real Fury, I thought he was the one who - who -!"

"Who let it slip to the powers-that-be? Got SHIELD on your trail?" Dugan intuited. As Mari nodded dumbly, the Irishman gave a sad shake of his head. "No, lass. I know Fury has a low opinion of you - not to mention everyone else that's tried to take up the shield, so to speak - but...he had nothing but the highest respect for Steven Rogers. Like the rest of us, he'd have followed your great-grandfather through the depths of hell and back again." Then the Major made a face. "But...we'd been trying to create Super Soldiers to help us deal with a number of crises; NERV, all those Third World dictators that have been popping up in the wake of Second Impact, and a lot of other nastiness. And with our rate of failure, not to mention loss of resources since the world went to blazes, Gabe, he...he tracked you down, figuring that our only real chance was to get a sample of whatever serum still lingered in your DNA." Giving this a moment to sink, the Irishman snorted. "Of course, Fury and I weren't too happy about it; called him out for what he'd done. But Gabe...he said that we had vowed to protect Steve's child. Not any of the children that would come after him. And that all we wanted was your blood, not you. So..."

"So he used a loophole," Mari remarked, with Dugan nodding in agreement. "Sounds like he'd make a great politician."

"We've all picked up a few tricks over the years, lass. Though I admit some are dirtier than others," Dugan admitted. "Anyway, once the Council knew about you, the genie was out of the bottle. So when we ran into the stability issues and found out that we would have to use you...well, there was no backing out of it then. We brought you in, and...the rest is history."

Giving a thoughtful sniff, Mari smirked and said, "Fury must've thrown a spiz-fit."

"You don't know the half of it. But, we still had orders." As Mari paused to imagine the chain-smoking cyclops ranting and raging over having to swallow some nasty orders of his own, getting a nice case of the warm fuzzies in the process, Dugan continued with, "Now, I reckon that Fury was hoping that we would be able to get a new version of the Serum before we had to ship you out. One that would be compatible with our regular agents, so he wouldn't have to use you. But...well, we all know that didn't happen." Nodding to this, the bespectacled girl paused when her mentor's expression hardened. "Anyway, we seem to be getting off-topic here. My point is that...Gabe, he was a good soldier, back in the day. Still is, in some ways. He's one of Fury's top advisors, and has saved him from making some bad mistakes here and there." But then darkness spilled over Dugan's expression, his mustache seeming to sag as he went on to say, "But...well, like Fury, he's changed quite a bit over the years. And...not for the better."

"So I can expect more of Fury's attitude from my new boss, huh? Great," Mari grumbled.

"Now, now. You won't be alone in this," Dugan quickly reassured her. "I've already arranged for Coulson to be assigned to the support team. He won't be in charge of this operation, but...well, he's very good with people. At the very least, he can try and keep Gabe from going overboard. Or too overboard, anyway."

"Coulson's gonna be there?" Mari asked before issuing a sigh of relief. "Thank god...at least I can look forward to having one friendly face in this crowd." Then she scowled and flashed back to the cold, unfeeling face of Nick Fury and added, "And having someone backing me up who still has his heart where it's supposed to be."

"And while he's helping you onsite, I'll be doing my best to give you whatever backup I can, lass," Dugan promptly assured her. "And one last word of warning, lass; from here on in, consider yourself to be on mission. There will be no more training sessions or gunmen shooting paintballs at you. From here on in, its real missions, and real bullets."

"Yeah, I sorta figured that out," Mari returned with a wry curl of her lip.

"Which is why I want you to be careful. Don't do anything that could tip anyone off that you're Captain America. No fancy stunts, no changing for giggles, no superhuman tricks. Not even if you think you're alone in your own home, because you can never tell when the walls have eyes, ears, or guns pointed at you. Or if someone that seems perfectly innocent is far from it. You'll be in enemy territory for the duration of this mission, and NERV has every edge you can think of...except that they don't know who you are. So make sure you keep it that way." Giving this a moment to sink in, Dugan took Mari by the shoulders and looked her squarely in the eyes. "I can't emphasize this enough, lass. Don't do anything that might blow your cover unless your life is in imminent danger. Because if NERV figures out who you really are, what you're up to, then I promise you...it will be. And so will a lot of others."

Thinking of the stories in her mother's journals, as well as some movies and TV shows that highlighted all the bad things that could happen when undercover agents had said cover blown, Mari's imagination decided to conjure up a montage of images, showcasing the kind of things that could and likely would happen if it came to that. "Understood, Dum Dum."

"Good," Dugan nodded. Then he frowned and glanced down at his watch. "Ach, you better get going, Problem Child. We don't want to keep your father and Ditto waiting, now do we?"

"I'll say!" Mari quickly agreed, quickly shaking off the funk Dugan's words of warning temporarily left her in. "I've had about as much of playing Secret Agent Girl as I can take right now!" As Dugan gave a friendly chuckle, the bespectacled girl moved to enter the airplane. Finding herself looking forward to a bit of normal life. Being at home with her father, going to school, and all the rest of it.

"Thanks for meeting with me on such short notice, you two," Misato began, smiling evenly as Shinji and Asuka sat down on the opposite side of the table she was at. "I know you're both supposed to be at school, and Asuka, you just got here, so you're still trying to get settled and everything." Pausing to study the redhead, the purple-haired woman then asked, "By the way, I hope you don't mind the place we have you in now."

"Well...it's not all bad, I suppose," Asuka returned in a polite-yet-grudging manner. "Still, I wish the Human Resources Department would hurry up and get me someplace to live! I want to be moved in before all my stuff gets here from home!"

"I understand. The HR Department isn't exactly dependable," Misato muttered, her expression darkening as she spoke.

"And why do I have to go to school here, anyway?!" Asuka went on, all wounded pout as she spoke. "I've already graduated from college, for Gott's sake! Why do I -?!"

"Huh?" Shinji started, looking up in surprise at the German. "What the...you're a college graduate?! Already?!"

Smiling in a superior fashion, Asuka nodded and returned, "That's right. I just graduated last year." Then she gave Misato a look and asked, "So why would I have to go to school here?! It's all just a waste of time if you ask me."

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Asuka," Misato replied in an earnest manner. "But the truth is, I've already discussed this with Sub Commander Fuyutsuki and Dr. Akagi. And they agree that it's best if you go to school like the other children here." The redhead let out a petulant groan, prompting the Captain to go on to say, "Look, I've seen your file, and while you may be able to speak Japanese, I know how much trouble you have with the kanji."

"You mean that chicken scratch you call writing?" Asuka incredulously demanded. "I can't see how anyone could ever make heads or tails of that gobbledygook!"

"Well, the Japanese have been using that gobbledygook for at least a few centuries now, so I guess it works for us," Misato smiled in a mildly teasing fashion. "Besides, I think it would be great if you could go to school, get to know other children your age. Make some friends while you're here."

Asuka just continued to look incredulously at Misato, prompting Shinji to sheepishly look at her and ask, "So, uh...what was it you wanted to talk to us about, Misato?"

"Hmm? Oh, right!" Misato returned, momentarily surprised after being reminded of the topic at hand. "After we got back to port with the Pacific Fleet, Ritsuko informed me that another Child would be arriving in Japan today, and -"

"What?!" Asuka blurted so loud that Shinji instinctively cupping a hand over his ear. While he groaned at the ringing he was now being forced to endure, the redhead went on to say, "They're sending us another pilot?! But I just got here!"

"I know. Commander Ikari has been after this girl for a while now, so don't be upset," Misato explained in a reassuring manner. "It's not about you. It's just that...he's wanted her here for a long while, and he's been pulling a lot of strings, trying to make it happen." As Asuka continued to stare at the Captain, Misato shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry, but I only just found out yesterday, so..."

As Misato trailed off, Asuka flopped back in her seat. "I don't believe this. Another pilot?!" the German grumbled in patent disbelief. "And I haven't had a chance to fight an Angel myself?! This sucks!"

Wincing as Asuka continued to mutter her dissatisfaction in German, Shinji gave a nervous chuckle before asking, "So, uh...who is the new pilot, Misato? Can you...tell us anything about her?"

"Not much. I haven't met her myself," Misato admitted. "But I can tell you that she's one of the American pilots. Mar-"

"You mean it's Maria?!" Asuka started, cutting Misato off. Jumping in surprise, Shinji brought his arms up to shield his face as he looked over at the redhead. To his considerable astonishment, she had gone from wounded pout to a mix of joy and relief in the span of a few seconds. "Oh, thank Gott! For a second, I thought we were in trouble!"

Blinking a few times, Misato gave a sheepish chuckle before saying, "Uh, well..."

"You mean you know who the new pilot is?" Shinji asked Asuka, now even more surprised.

"Yeah! In fact, I even met her once!" Asuka returned, showing what could almost be enthusiasm. "Her name is Maria Vincennes, and she was brought over to NERV Germany so that she could see my Unit 02. So she could see what a real Evangelion looks like, instead of those kludges you and the 1st Child are stuck with." Wincing involuntarily at the disparaging way the German referred to Unit 01, despite not being sure why, Shinji instead continued to listen as she went on to say, "Anyway, Maria went through a special training program, sort of like what I went through. She's not some untrained novice like you are."

Again wincing at the derogatory way Asuka was referring to him, Shinji bit back the urge to counter her unpleasant remarks, instead asking, "So...does that mean she's been to college, too?"

"Yup! Got her Ph.D and everything! She's fully trained in hand-to-hand, and..." Then Asuka made an odd expression, just before her eyes lit up to the tune of a metaphorical light bulb appearing over her head. "Let's just say she's sort of a blonde, American version of me! That should tell you how good she is."

"Uh, well..." Misato started again, clearing her throat in the process.

"Wow. You sound...pretty close," Shinji decided after a moment. "Are you friends, or...?"

"Not exactly friends, Third," Asuka corrected. "I mean, we'd email each other every now and again, that sort of thing. Just keeping tabs on each other, but...working for NERV has kept us both pretty busy. Training, studying, college and all that ain't easy. It takes a lot of hard work and effort to get as good as I am, and Maria...well, she's always been focused on her future. You know, planning ahead, just in case things didn't go right for her?" Making a noise of comprehension, all the while wondering why anyone would push so hard so fast, Shinji was brought back to the moment when the German continued with, "Anyway, she's definitely good. I don't know why the 2nd Branch waited for so long to make her an official Child. Seriously, she works her ass off, and they don't make it official until she finally gets her first synch test! Just how stupid is that?!" Then Asuka narrowed her eyes and added, "Especially when the 1st Branch practically hands the title of 4th Child to a complete lunatic!"

Wincing at the venom in Asuka's words, Shinji considered asking what the redhead meant, but decided against it. Instead, shrugged warily and said, "Still...you seem pretty happy that you're going to be seeing her again."

"Um, actually..." Misato tried once more.

"Well, sort of," Asuka answered. "Don't get me wrong, Third, I'm not thrilled about another pilot showing up like this! I haven't even been in a single battle yet!" Shrugging, she then admitted, "Buuut...if we have to have another pilot showing up this fast, then I'm glad it's her and not someone else." This said, the German looked squarely at Misato and asked, "So, when does Maria get here?"

"She doesn't," Misato declared in a flat tone, one that caused both Shinji and Asuka's eyes to bulge in surprise. "Our new pilot is the 4thChild, Asuka, not the 5th. Mari Illustrious -"

"WHAaaaat?!" Asuka screeched in consummate horror. Jumping awkwardly out of her chair in surprise, the German came awkwardly to her feet, only to unbalance herself almost instantly before tumbling to a heap on the floor.

As Shinji, Misato, and everyone else at the cafe stared at Asuka, who was groaning pitifully on the floor as she struggled to recover, the Captain sheepishly concluded, "...Makanami."

Groaning deep in his throat, Shinji glanced between the Captain and the prone German who was fighting her way back to her feet. "Um, Asuka...?" he hesitantly began, wincing as he took note of the flames presently spitting from her eyes. "Are you...do you need any...?"

"The Problem Child?!" Asuka shrilled as she stood, slamming her fists down upon the table for emphasis. "Are you fucking kidding me?! We're getting stuck with the Problem Child?!"

"If by 'Problem Child', you mean the Fourth, then yes," Misato nodded. "And I would thank you not to use such language against a superior officer, Asuka."

Her eyes swelling with additional astonishment and outrage, Asuka sputtered out a spat of German that Shinji imagined to be bungled profanities. While Misato made a face that reinforced that impression, the redhead proceeded to spit out, "Th-this is some kinda joke, right?! The Commander is going to all this trouble to bring the Gott-damn Problem Child here?! Is he completely insane?!"

"This is no joke, Asuka," Misato assured the redhead, much to Asuka's consternation. "But...I am curious; why do you keep calling Mari the Problem Child?"

The instant this question was heard, Asuka's jaw clattered unceremoniously upon the floor, her eyes ballooning from their sockets. "Wha...are you kidding?!" the German demanded incredulously. "You mean you've never heard of her?!"

"That's right. Which is why I'm curious to know how you know so much about this girl," Misato confirmed, leaning in closer to the girl before her. "Especially since you didn't know anything about Shinji before you first met him."

Flinching at this rebuke, Asuka scowled. "Hey, I knew about the Third! I just didn't waste a lot of time, learning about his life story!" Pausing to turn a scathing glare at the boy next to her, she went on to say, "Seriously, he's a little wimp who got lucky in his first battle after dear ol' Daddy handed him his Eva on a silver platter! What's there to know?!"

Stung by this particular remark, Shinji found himself flashing back to the day he had first come face-to-face with the horrible horned countenance of Evangelion Unit 01. Of the horrible reality he had been faced with when Gendo had declared that the only reason he had summoned Shinji to Tokyo-3 was because he had a use for him now, and when Shinji had initially refused to pilot the purple monstrosity he knew nothing about, Gendo had had the badly beaten Rei Ayanami wheeled in to pilot, despite the fact that she was barely capable of moving.

"Hey, you can't say that about me," Shinji mildly protested.

"I'll say whatever I want about you, baka!" Asuka promptly countered.

"Now, hold on, Asuka!" Misato broke in before Shinji could think of anything to say in response. "First of all, Shinji wasn't handed anything. We put him in a terrible position because we were out of options. We needed a pilot, and he was the only one we had. And he's no wimp; he's already faced the Angels three times without anyone out there to help him, and nearly got killed in the process." Taking a deep breath, the purple-haired woman favored the 3rd Child with a tiny smile before returning her focus to the German. "Secondly, I want to hear what you know about Mari, and how you learned it."

"Well, I heard about her, duh! The people back at NERV Germany talked about her, as well as the other pilots! And you wouldn't believe the kind of horror stories coming out of the 1st Branch!" Asuka snorted. "They call that bimbo the Problem Child because that's precisely what she is; one big headache that never listens to orders, does whatever she wants, and runs around all the time, causing trouble! I hear she even managed to crash her Eva through a wall during a synch test, and -!"

"So basically what you're saying is that all you know about the 4th Child is based on gossip and rumors," Misato broke in. "That's not exactly the kind of thing I'd take to heart, Asuka."

"Hey, if even a fourth of the things I've heard about her are true, then we don't want her anywhere near here!" Asuka decreed. "Besides, I also heard that this girl has only been training for - what, two years now?!"

"Now that is mentioned in Mari's file," Misato admitted with a nod.

"So why the hell would the Commander wanted an untrained novice like her when he could have gotten someone like Maria?! You know, as in a pilot that actually knows what she's doing!" Asuka demanded.

Her features hardening somewhat, Misato heaved a deep breath. "Look, first of all, I'm sure that this Mari is nowhere near as bad as you make her out to be, Asuka." The redhead opened her mouth to protest, but the purple-haired woman extended her right forefinger and added, "If she was that bad, then there's no way that NERV would have made her a designated Child, let alone kept her on as long as they have. Secondly, I don't think it's Mari is the one that the Commander is interested in. It's her Eva."

"But that's even crazier than wanting the Problem Child!" Asuka proclaimed in an outburst of aggravation. "I've heard all about Unit 05, and it's an even more useless than the Eva the Third has!"

Giving Asuka a wry smile, Misato just sat there for a moment before saying, "I've heard a few things about Unit 05 myself. And I know how it started out; an overly-specialized Evangelion designed specifically to be used in a base that was ultimately never built. So yes, back then, it was useless to us." A smug smile of triumph began to spread on the German's face, only to be cut off when the Captain added, "But, that's only part of the story. And judging from the look on your face, I'd say you don't know the rest of it."

"What do you mean, Misato?" Shinji asked, genuinely curious at this point.

"I mean that, after the base was scrapped, the people at the 1st Branch got their hands on Unit 05, and decided that it would be a waste to let perfectly good machinery get scrapped. So they decided to rebuild it into an experimental prototype for a new, Heavy Assault Model Evangelion." Pausing to smirk at the way Asuka's eyes went wide with surprise, Misato continued with, "And according to Ritsuko, it's anything but useless now. Better armor, more battery power, integrated weapons, specialized support equipment, an onboard AI system to assist the pilot, and a whole lot more." Giving the redhead a sly look, the Operations Director concluded, "You might think Unit 05 is a joke, and at one point, it was. But the Commander is taking this thing very seriously. And with all the firepower they've loaded onto this thing, he wants it here in Japan, where it'll do the most good."

Her expression wrinkling like she had just spent the past hour massaging her face with overripe lemons, Asuka shot back, "Well, even if that thing is now some kind of super-Eva, why stick us with the Problem Child?! Why not give it to someone who can actually handle it?!"

"Because Mari can handle it. In fact, according to her file, she's the only pilot who can." Surprise again rippling across her face, Asuka looked on in slack-jawed surprised as Misato explained, "According to Ritsuko, Unit 05 has a specialized control system. It's completely different from any other Eva, including the Production Models, and only someone with special training can make this thing work."

"So Mari's the only one who's been trained to use Unit 05?" Shinji intuited.

"That's right," Misato confirmed with a nod. "It's a package deal; we want Unit 05, then we have to take the pilot it comes with." Then she smirked at Asuka before adding, "Problem Child or not."

Bristling at the look given her, Asuka sniffed disdainfully before sticking her nose up in the air. "Whatever! There's no way this dumb kludge is better than my Unit 02! After all, you can't improve on perfection!"

Letting out a weary sigh at this, Shinji sat back in his seat. Mari Illustrious Makinami, huh? he thought, sounding the name out in his mind. I wonder what she's like...?

I swear, I can't wait until we get to Tokyo-3! Mari thought impatiently as she sat in the airplane that was presently winging its way to the fortress city. Just sitting around here, looking at...her...is making me crazy!

Pressing her face against the window next to her seat, Mari sighed as she scanned for any sign of the massive city that was her destination even as she thought about everything that had happened thus far. Including the plan for getting her into Tokyo-3. A plan that, she was forced to admit, was thus far going like clockwork.

Just as planned, the airplane she had boarded had flown down to the airfield that was ostensibly it's normal place of business. Mari had no idea just how many arrangements the people at SHIELD had made in order to insure that no one suspected anything out of the ordinary, and at the moment, she really didn't care. All she knew was that the airplane had descended upon the simple airfield near the airport, and there they had waited for the cab carrying her father and Ditto to arrive.

Acting on the advice of the pilot, Mari had kept hidden the entire time the plane was on the ground, not taking any chances of anyone catching sight of her. There was too much that could go wrong at this point, and they simply couldn't afford for anything to go wrong. So she had been unable to watch what was going on outside, but with her other senses augmented by the Rebirth process, she was still able to keep tabs on what was going on out there. And so Mari had been able to listen as Ditto spoke to Mari's father in Mari's voice, using Mari's mannerisms, gleefully thanking her father for going along with her plans to make a big entrance into Tokyo-3.

It was creepy as could be for Mari, listening to someone living her life, doing the things she would do. And it had been even worse, watching Ditto board the plane, wearing Mari's clothes and Mari's smile, thanking the people on board for helping her in exactly the same way Mari herself would do.

I wonder how the heck he - she - whatever pulls it off? Mari couldn't help but wonder, glancing over at where Ditto sat, and suffering a mild shock as a result. Even now, her stand-in was the perfect double for Mari herself, affecting the same mannerisms as they continued onwards. Is it some kind of SHIELD gizmo, or...maybe some kind of Super Serum? Like mine?

Mari had no idea. And after Ditto returned her look, the Super Soldier decided that she really didn't want to know. She already had enough on her mind without thinking about her unnerving stand-in. A situation made even worse by the fact that the flight was giving her far too much time to think about such things.

Fury's plan with the Pacific Fleet didn't make any sense, even overlooking his apparent disregard for the lives of the people there. SHIELD still had resources; there was no reason Mari could think of that they couldn't have found some way of alerting NERV to the Angel's approach, give them a chance to prepare for the approaching enemy. Perhaps even deploy Unit 01 with the proper equipment to help protect the fleet. Do something that would give them a better chance of saving all those lives. He might not have been able to think of a way for Mari to help without betraying her presence at a bad time, but there had to have been a way for SHIELD to make the crisis that had confronted them at least a little less devastating.

It simply didn't make sense...unless Fury had wanted the Pacific Fleet annihilated. It and the NERV entourage they were carrying.

Could that be it? Mari found herself wondering. Did Fury want for Shinji, Asuka, Captain Katsuragi and the others to be killed? For Unit 02 to be destroyed?

Mari really didn't like thinking such things, but as she did, she had to admit that, from a purely tactical, ruthless viewpoint, something like that would likely be a great boon for SHIELD. With the loss of two pilots, their Operations Director, and Unit 02, NERV Central's military capabilities would have been effectively ruined. As a result, Gendo would have to work fast in order to fill the gaps left by their deaths, especially with an Angel still running roughshod throughout the ocean. And as a result, he wouldn't have the luxury of time to screen whatever new recruits he got, at least not very carefully. Giving SHIELD an excellent opportunity to slip in a few more agents.

Not to mention that losing an Eva and all the rest would make for a lot of egg on Commander Creep's face, Mari thought, continuing to follow this chain of thought to its logical conclusion. The UN, the Instrumentality Committee, and a whole of other people would be pretty mad at Gendo. Just the sort of thing SHIELD can use to get the UN to send more money their way. Maybe even get SHIELD in a better position to build more weapons to use against NERV, or something like that. Then she frowned, considering another matter. I mean...yeah, it would mean losing Unit 02, which would be bad. But with Unit 05 on the way, and with another pilot and Eva over at the 2nd Branch to replace Asuka and Unit 02...

It made sense. It made far too much sense. There were too many positives from SHIELD's perspective for Mari to simply dismiss the possibility. A situation made even worse by the fact that, after her meeting with Fury, she knew he wouldn't hesitate to let so many people die in order to gain a tactical advantage over NERV.

I still can't believe he's the Nick Fury from Mom's journals, Mari thought, shuddering as she compared the stories about the Howling Commandoes with the heartless bastard she had met the previous night. Did living through the war really do that to him? Make him willing to write off so many people, make him -?

"Agent Makinami," a voice from in front sounded, snapping Mari out of her dour thoughts. "We're five minutes out from the drop zone. Get prepped for drop."

Thank you! Mari thought, almost swooning with relief as she unbuckled her seat belt. I was starting to wonder if we would ever get there!

Rising up from her seat, Mari then bent down and grabbed her parachute out from beneath her seat. Already strapping it on, she started towards the door. Only to pause paused when Ditto approached, still smiling Mari's smile. "Here, let me get you strapped in," her doppelganger offered. "Want to make sure you're properly secured."

"Uh..." Mari paused, staring helplessly at her double even as Ditto began securing the various straps.

"I've seen a lot of drops before, girl, and there's a lot that can very wrong, even when these things work the way they're supposed to," Ditto went on, working the various straps and buckles, making certain that everything was taught and secure. "I remember one time I saw someone actually slip out of the harness. The whole rig just slid off because it wasn't tight enough! Another agent had to zip in and save the poor girl, and..." Trailing off as he/she noticed the way Mari was looking at the doppelganger, Ditto then groaned. "And you really don't need to hear about that sort of thing right before you jump out of plane into empty air with nothing but concrete to break your fall. Sorry."

Wincing as the image of her being reduced to chunky salsa appeared in her mind completely unbidden, Mari groaned in her throat before shuffling a bit. "Well, no, it's not that - well, not entirely that..." she got out, trying not to think of things like her parachute failing to open or being caught on a wing or something else that would likely result in an utterly pointless and quite painful death. "It's just that...well..."

A beat passed before Ditto smiled with a noise of comprehension. "Oh, right. That!" Giving a wan chuckle, the doppelganger continued to work, making certain that the parachute was ready. "Yeah, I know. A lot of people freak when they see me looking like them," Ditto remarked, pausing to wave aside Mari's concerns. "Don't worry, I'm used to it by now."

"Yeah, I'll bet," Mari muttered as they made their way to the door.

"You should've seen the look on Coulson's face when he saw me as him," Ditto chuckled knowingly. "I've never seen anyone's jaw drop that hard!" The doppelganger chuckled once more before looking Mari soberly in the face. "Anyway, I can't drop this look. At least, not with you around."

"Why not?" Mari wondered, suddenly curious.

"Because I'm under orders not to break this look until you're off the plane," Ditto explained. "And those orders come straight from Nick Fury himself. Meaning that, as far as we're concerned, they came from God."

Her expression souring at the mention of Fury, Mari grumbled, "Yeah, well, one of these days, that 'God' is going to wind up wearing a grenade up his ass."

Chuckling at this, Ditto returned, "Easier said than done. Now you know the cover story, right?"

"Yeah, I rehearsed it with Dum Dum this morning over breakfast," Mari returned with a roll of her eyes.

"Okay. Now, before you jump, let's go over a few things," Ditto instructed Mari. "First off, the harness has a GPS tracker, just in case something goes wrong and you wind up landing where you shouldn't. Once deployed, the pilot chute will pull the pin and deploy the main. The red handle is for the backup chute, the blue is the main. As soon as you're clear of the plane, I want you to pull the blue! I want you to pull it really hard!"

"I know, I know! I have worked with parachutes before!" Mari assured her double. "And I even know enough not to pull the blue while I'm still on the plane, so don't treat me like a dumbass!"

"Alright, alright! Sorry!" Ditto returned with a good-natured roll of the eyes. "Now, the plan is for you to land on the perimeter of Tokyo-3, just below the mountains. But like I said, there's always a chance the wind could shift and carry you off course. So Coulson and a group of agents are on standby, waiting to pick you up when you land. If anything goes wrong, be sure to call them and arrange for pickup." A beat passed as a strange look appeared on Ditto's face. "You do have your cell phone, right?"

Giving a tiny smile, Mari reached into her pocket and held up the tiny device. "Right here."

Nodding to this, Ditto smile Mari's smile. "Good, great. And - oops! Almost forgot!" Frowning at this, Mari looked on as her double went back and grabbed a helmet from a storage rack. "Can't go skydiving without your brain bucket!"

"Uh, right. Good idea," Mari noted as Ditto came and put the helmet on her head. "I'm awfully attached to my brain, and I'd like to keep it that way."

"Good idea," Ditto noted. Then he/she turned towards the cockpit. "Time to target?"

"One minute and counting!" the pilot sounded.

Nodding, Ditto then turned back to Mari. "Then let's get some fresh air." With that, the doppelganger grabbed the door handle, and with a grunt of effort, slid it open. Taking a step back as a rush of fresh air surged into her, Mari then recovered, moving closer to the aperture that led into empty air. "Let us know when we're in position!"

"Right!" the pilot replied even as Mari poked her head out the door and looked down below. The entire landscape of Japan seemed to be spread out beneath her, giving her a perfect view of the mountains, valleys, lakes, and even the massive fortress that was Tokyo-3.

As the wind rushed past her face, tossing her pigtails about and wafting up her nose, as she looked down at the dizzying drop beneath her, Mari's heart began to pound with excitement. A feral grin split her face as she tensed herself to spring forward into empty space, to dive down to ground like a bird of prey.

In fact, it seemed far too long time before the pilot called out, "Time to jump in ten seconds! Ten, nine, eight...!"

"Good look to you, Agent Makinami," Ditto stated from off to the side.

Glancing over at her double, the adrenaline coursing through her overwhelming everything else, Mari returned, "Ditto to you, Ditto."

Ditto just had enough to sprout one of Mari's smile before the pilot concluded, "...two, one...now!"

Without a trace of hesitation, Mari launched herself into empty space, and found herself in the merciless grip of the Earth's gravity. Almost instantly, the rushing of the air washed out the sound of the airplane as it soared away from her, leaving her to her fate.

Aw, damn! This is awesome! Mari thought as she spread her arms and legs out as she had been trained to do. Though she had been trained for aerial drops such as this, the training had been limited, especially in the face of all the other training that needed to be done, as well as the necessity of maintaining a normal life. So when her ability to emulate any action she saw manifested, SHIELD had put it to good use, making Mari watch special training videos in order to compensate for any shortfalls in her training. She had never actually been in an aerial drop; merely a few simulations that she passed effortlessly before moving on to the next item she needed to train for.

At the moment, Mari was seriously regretting this necessity. Because this was as big a rush in its own way as her combat training. The absolute thrill of the wind whipping through her hair, washing over her body, the view of the landscape below as it grew ever larger. I definitely should do this again sometime! she quickly decided. Still...I better put on the brakes. I know what happens if I don't slow down before that sudden stop at the bottom!

With this in mind, Mari took hold of the blue release handle and yanked on it good and hard. An instant later, the sound of something popping loose, followed by fabric being caught in the wind was heard just before her body was jerked hard. Letting out a gasp as the wind was knocked out of her, the bespectacled girl was tossed about a bit before finally stabilizing. Glancing upwards, she saw her green parachute spread out perfectly, catching the air and turning her deadly dive into a soft, controlled descent.

So far, so good, Mari thought, her heart still pounding away merrily in her chest. Nothing's gone wrong yet...so I should probably stop thinking about stuff like that while I'm still ahead!

Chuckling to herself, she instead focused on the ground below. Tokyo-3 and the mountains that cradled it were steadily growing larger in her view. Hmm...I wonder if I can spot the Coulson Cavalry from up here? Mari wondered as she continued to glance about. Ground's coming pretty fast, so -

The sound of cloth rippling in the wind was the only warning Mari had before something wrenched her. Gasping in surprise, she quickly looked about, trying to make sense of what had happened. There was no sign of another airplane, or anything else that could interfere with her descent. The wind must've changed direction, she soon realized, again checking her surroundings, only to suck in a tiny breath as she realized the consequence. Oh, crap...I'm being blown off course! I'm heading right for the center of the city!

Mari quickly considered her options, only to realize that she didn't have any. She couldn't simply abandon her parachute, and there was no real way for her to change course unless the wind decided to oblige her. Guess I'm stuck taking the scenic route, she eventually decided. Oh, well...GPS, Coulson. No big deal. I mean...what's the worst that can happen?

Continuing to look down at the cityscape below, watching out for anything that her parachute might get hooked on or something unpleasant that she would have to be careful when landing on, she focused on the building that she seemed to be descending upon. There was no sign of anything her parachute might get hooked on, save for the flagpole, and she didn't seem to be heading for that. There was a definite possibility of her slamming into a wall, but otherwise...

Wait...hold on...! Mari thought, narrowing her eyes as she studied the roof. Even though her glasses had been designed to limit her vision to a point where she couldn't see any better than most people, she could still make out a figure lying on the roof below.

And judging from her current trajectory and speed, Mari was about to crash right into him.

Aw, crap...! Mari thought dejectedly. 'What's the worst that can happen?' You'd think I'd know better than to ask something that stupid!

"I don't like this..." came a voice from an alley, a voice whose own was observing the school they were so very close to.

"What do you mean? This is perfect!" came another voice. "We know what must be done! The child above angers the Almighty! If we can take him -!"

"I know, I know! But...it shouldn't be this easy!" the first speaker protested even as he looked about. "You know about NERV's secret police! Wherever the Children go, they can't be far away!"

"Do you see any secret police or men in black watching right now?!" came a third speaker. "The boy's unguarded! We'll never have a better chance to take one of NERV's blasphemous Children!" Then she narrowed her eyes at the first speaker and demanded, "What, don't you have faith in our cause?! Aren't you willing to die for it?!"

"I - I never said I wasn't!" the first speaker hurriedly protested. "But - I still don't like it! We've seen NERV's agents around the pilots at all times! Why should now be any different?!" Then he glared at the third speaker before asking, "What good does it do us to try and take one of the Children when all it does it get us arrested?!"

The third speaker was about to say something, but then the second placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I understand what you're saying. And you're correct; there is an element of danger to this!" Then the second speaker looked at the third and intoned, "But any risk is worth it if we can appease the Almighty's divine wrath! And what better way could there be than to -?"

"Wait!" the third speaker broke in, a look of concern on her face as she angled her ear upwards. "What was...did you hear that?!"

The other two present were about to ask what she was referring to when they heard it themselves; a female voice crying out. Just before a shadow flitted overhead...

What a stupid day this has been... Shinji thought wearily as he lay back on the school roof, listening to the soothing music being played by his SDAT.

By the time he and Asuka had left NERV that morning, he was already well and truly exhausted. The fiery redhead had spent their trip to school ranting and raving her disgust about how another new pilot was arriving and how that pilot was yet another pathetic loser who could only serve to get in her way and screw up battles for her. In fact, by the time they had actually reached school that day, not only was half of the day done, but Shinji had a monstrous headache as a result.

But that not been the end of it, unfortunately. When Shinji's friends had also learned that Asuka would be coming to school, they had been utterly horrified, having not had the best of experiences in dealing with the German when they had met her on the Over the Rainbow. Not that Shinji could blame them, for he had not enjoyed his dealings with the bombastic redhead in the slightest thus far, and her first day at school would not be changing things. For over the course of the day, Asuka had continued to grumble and complain about Mari's arrival, thus alerting the entire school that another Evangelion pilot would soon be arriving. As a result, Shinji's friend Kensuke Aida, along with several other students, had spent much of the day pestering him and Asuka for more information about the latest pilot. Something the irate redhead had responded to with by recounting each and every horror story she could think of regarding the so-called Problem Child.

Is she really that bad? Shinji found himself wondering. I mean...Asuka doesn't seem to like anyone except for Mr. Kaji...and maybe that other Eva pilot she talked about. As he continued to study the clouds passing overhead, the sound of an airplane flying past penetrated the classical music. Still, I...

A large shadow suddenly passed over Shinji, causing him to gasp in surprise. Wondering what had caused it, he looked up...only for his eyes to widen in astonishment.

"Move! Move!" a girl cried out. She was presently dangling from a parachute, the source of the shadow, and wore an expression of alarm as she added, "Get outta the way!"

It took precisely one second for the meaning of the girl's words to register with Shinji. It took him another one or two seconds for him to realize that the girl was presently on a crash course with him, and cry out in alarm even as he strove to follow her advice. Unfortunately, that was all he had the chance to do before she crashed right into him, sending his SDAT flying and him and the girl tumbling to the roof.

Ugh...that sucked... Mari groaned inwardly, her eyes screwed shut as she tried to recover from her most unwelcome collision.

Though her body had been transformed by the Rebirth process and the Super Soldier Serum, Mari was still fairly vulnerable to collisions, bashes, and bruises, especially while she was in her more normal state. And as a result, she was groaning in pain as stars and comets flitted about her head even as her helmet tumbled to the concrete.

Pausing to groan and massage her forehead, Mari opened her eyes when she became aware of a muffled voice coming from somewhere nearby. Blinking in surprise, she then looked down...only for her eyes to go wide with surprise when she realized that she was presently lying on top of the person she had crashed into, his face firmly sandwiched between her breasts.

Gasping in surprise, Mari promptly pushed herself up onto her knees, at which her accidental victim heaved in a deep breath. Wow, he must've been suffocating in there. And to think, there were guys back at my old school that joked about wanting to be in that pos- wait. Taking a quick sniff even as she studied the boy she was presently straddling, she groaned in dismay when she realized just who he was. Aw, shit! I just landed on the 3rd Child?! Are you kidding me?!

Already envisioning the lecture she would get for mangling the son of Commander Ikari as well as NERV Central's Number One Pilot, Mari struggled to think of a way to deal with this. I hope he's not hurt, she thought as Shinji grimaced, his eyes still shut. It doesn't look too bad, but...hold on. It was at that point that Mari realized how clearly she could see the boy she was perched on, as well as the rest of the world. She was seeing the world with the eyes of a raptor, picking out minute details flawlessly. Oh, crap, my glasses!

Gasping in dismay, Mari hurriedly dismounted the boy she had inadvertently mangled, her training already kicking in. Shinji was groaning in pain, and though he had had his eyes closed, she could already tell by his groans and movements that he was slowly recovering. So she had to do what she had become used to doing when her glasses fell from their perch on her face; make a show of hunting for them, as any near-sighted person would do.

I'm just glad SHIELD made these things durable! Mari thought as she made a show of crouching on her knees, feeling around for glasses she perfectly see in front of her. If they'd broken, I'd have to pick up every piece! Because it wouldn't take long for NERV to figure out they weren't for correcting my eyesight!

Her augmented senses picking up Shinji's movements, making it clear that he was sitting up and looking at her, Mari added to the image of nearsighted girl by muttering, "Dammit...where are my glasses?" As the 3rd Child groaned from behind her, she decided to put an end to her impromptu show, and grabbed hold of her glasses. Putting them on, she then turned towards Shinji, who was looking dazedly at her. "Oh...sorry about that."

Realizing that this was a lame apology even as she said it, Mari was about to speak again when a familiar chiming sounded for her attention. Oh, great. No mystery who that is, she thought even as she pushed herself up to her feet. Retrieving her cell phone, the bespectacled Super Soldier flipped it open and pushed the answer button. "Hello, Mari here."

"Mari, what happened?" came the concerned voice of Philip Coulson. "GPS readings say you're at some point above the ground, in Tokyo-3."

"Yeah, I know," Mari returned in English even as she worked to gather up her parachute. "The wind picked up and took me off-target."

"Did your parachute get caught?" Coulson wondered. "Where are you exactly?"

"I think I landed on the roof of a school of some sort," Mari reported.

"Wonderful," Coulson muttered. "Colonel Fury is not going to like this."

"Well, don't blame me. It's not like a parachute comes with a steering wheel," Mari grumbled, wishing she could speak freely her opinion of Nick Fury's stupidity. But as Dugan had told her, she was now in enemy territory, where loose lips could very easily sink ships. A situation compounded by the fact that, with Shinji there, it was a good bet that Section 2 was somewhere close by. "Just please send someone over to pick me up, okay?"

"Got it," Coulson returned. "I'll be over in ten minutes to pick you up."

"Great! Thanks!" Mari returned before switching her cell phone off. Then she switched off her cell phone and turned her eyes towards the nearby 3rd Child.

Shinji was still sitting there, looking perplexedly at Mari. He had his hand clasped over his right shoulder, so it was clearly bothering him, but she couldn't smell his blood, and her keen eyes and ears detected nothing that would hint at a serious injury.

That's a relief, Mari thought as she paused to study him. He was definitely cute, despite being rather on the slender side. But nothing some time at the gym wouldn't fix. And he isn't yelling at me or making a fuss, which is good. Still...

Again, Mari's nose pricked at the unique scent of the LCL that clung to Shinji, and she found her heart again beating that much more powerfully as she took in the deep, primal scent that wafted off the unlikely 3rd Child. And as her body reacted to that heady aroma, a naughty idea came to her.

Fury wanted me to play an eccentric girl, huh? Mari thought as she studied the boy in front of her. Okay, fine. But why not have some fun with that?

Could it be...? Shinji thought dazedly as he studied the girl that stood in front of him. Is that...her?

Shinji was still in a fair amount of pain. His head hurt, and he landed on his right shoulder when the girl had crashed into him. But at the moment, he couldn't help but stare at the girl that was responsible for his current condition even as she been on the phone and gathering up her parachute, all the while trying to fathom what was going on. Why had this girl been in a parachute to begin with, and where she had come from.

But these questions had been shoved to the side when he had hear talking on the phone. While he couldn't understand much English, he had heard enough of it to be able to recognize it as such. And more importantly, he had definitely picked up on it when he heard the girl answer her phone, saying the name 'Mari'.

So...does that mean that she's Mari...? Shinji couldn't help but wonder as he looked over the girl. She was definitely the kind of girl that would quickly have Toji and Kensuke drooling over her; shapely legs, a well-endowed chest, an athletic build, and was quite attractive in terms of facial features. Her stockings had been torn up in her landing, but the rest of her garments looked to be intact, and resembled a school uniform of some kind. Her magenta-colored hair was done up in twin pigtails, and was wearing a blue hair band, and her glasses only seemed to add to her attractiveness. But...what is she...?

Then the girl he assumed to be Mari clicked off her phone and turned her eyes towards Shinji, freezing his thoughts in their place. Only to proceed to empty his mind completely as she moved towards him, going back down on her hands and knees with the easy grace of a jungle cat and closing in on him. His eyes widening in further confusion, the 3rd Child could only watch as she drew right up to him, and began taking deep, suggestive sniffs.

As Shinji struggled to keep what was left of his sanity, the girl pulled back a degree, and looked at him with her pure blue eyes. In a sultry manner, she then spoke in fluent Japanese. "You smell good. Like LCL," she cooed. "One of my favorite smells in the world."

Huh - wait?! She smells LCL?! Then she - she has to be Mari! The new pilot! Shinji's staggered mind thought as his eyes bulged in astonishment. But - her favorite smell?! But LCL smells like -!

Smiling as she effortlessly rose up to her feet, Mari looked down at Shinji. "You're...interesting," she remarked in that same voice. Then in a more relaxed manner, she then handed him his SDAT. "By the way, I found this while I was looking for my glasses."

Starting as he looked at the familiar device she held, Shinji gasped in surprise before accepting it. "Oh, uh...!" he sputtered out, still too confused to make sense of much, he then looked up at Mari. "Thanks...I think."

Tittering at this, Mari replied, "Well, it seems the least I can do, considering that I dropped in on you unannounced." Then she cocked her head to the side and smiled a cat-like smile. "But...let's pretend I wasn't here. That cool with you, 3rd Child?"

Shinji considered his response to this, but before he could say anything, Mari darted off towards the stairs, dragging her parachute behind her. Leaving Shinji to groan before slowly falling back upon the roof of the school. I don't believe this... he thought, utterly exhausted. She comes crashing into me from out of the sky, and she says she likes the smell of LCL? The smell of blood?

Heaving a deep, wearied sigh, Shinji considered the girl he had just met, thinking of the many horror stories as Asuka had given voice to that day. I don't know if she's as bad as Asuka says she is...but she's definitely strange. Then he frowned as he considered himself, as well as the other pilots he had met thus far. Then again...who am I to talk?

"Thanks for the grand tour, Captain Katsuragi," Dugan told her in a friendly manner as the purple-haired woman led the portly Major about the bridge of NERV Headquarters. "I must say, this is quite the impressive place you people have got here. Though I have to admit, it feels like something straight out of the movies."

Tittering in a good-natured way, Misato returned, "I know what you mean. I felt the same way when I first saw it for myself."

Nodding to this, Dugan scanned the massive complex he now stood in. A place that SHIELD had moved heaven and earth in their efforts to infiltrate, all to no avail. A place that they had worked for years in order to set things up so that Mari could slip into it. The very heart of NERV's power base. And as awesome a sight as the former Howling Commando could remember seeing.

Awesome...and terrible, Dugan couldn't help but think as he scanned his surroundings. He recognized the various techs working at their stations, as well as Ritsuko Akagi. There was no sign of Commander Ikari, but his second-in-command, Sub Commander Fuyutsuki, was presently seated in a perfect spot to oversee all of the activities taking place on the bridge. Not far below Dugan were the three MAGI supercomputers that ran all of Japan, and the place where Naoko Akagi had supposedly thrown herself to her death. And off in the distance...

I swear, I'll never get used to those monsters... Dugan thought unhappily as he looked out at the terrifying figures of the three Evangelions that were currently in service to NERV Central. People were presently working on the horrific cyclops that was Unit 00, repairing the damage it suffered during the operation that brought down the 5th Angel. But Unit 02 was fully intact, and even more intimidating than its predecessor. And as for Unit 01...

Ugh...why'd they design those things to look that way? To twist people's stomachs? Dugan thought as he forced himself to look away from the horrible horned continence of Unit 01. I know they were cloned from the 1st Angel, but still...!

Images of what would happen if SHIELD was right about NERV, and that they had plans for the Evangelions beyond defeating the Angels, again came unbidden to Dugan. And not for the first time, he did his best to force them away before returning to the subject at hand. "You know, it's too bad that the Children aren't here. I'd like to meet them myself before I have to take my leave," the Irishman remarked. "After all, it's their hands we're putting our futures in. And...well, I wouldn't mind seeing how you're treating them and all."

Smiling at this, Misato replied, "I understand. Maybe we can arrange for you to meet them before you have to go." Then she gave a slight frown before asking, "Speaking of the Children...we still need you to sign the paperwork, transferring custody of the 4th Child over to us. As well as Unit 05."

"I know, I know," Dugan replied in an agreeable manner. "But - well, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather hold off on signing for either girl or Eva before they actually get here."

"And when will that be, Major Dugan?" wondered Fuyutsuki from his place at the top of the bridge.

"Well, Mari should be arriving soon enough. I've already arranged for a welcoming party to greet her when she arrives, and once she does, they'll be calling to let me know." Then he heaved a deep breath before admitting, "As for Unit 05...well, that's bound to take a bit longer. Between the Eva itself and all the support gear you'll be needing for it...that's a lot of equipment to be moving around." It was pretty obvious that Fuyutsuki was none too happy about this response, but Dugan was quick to add, "Don't you worry, sir. I'll be in town until Unit 05 gets here. And I'll be sure to keep you up to date on when it'll be getting here."

"Ah, good," Misato beamed. "Then maybe we can arrange for you to meet the Children while you're here."

"Well, we'll have to make sure to get such a visit properly scheduled." When Misato frowned somewhat, Dugan put some of the old Irish charm into his smile. "I'm bound to be in and out of town for much of that time. You know how it is; the boys up top just love to give me all the chores they'd rather not being doing themselves."

Issuing a noise of comprehension, Misato nodded. "I know how that is."

Nodding as well, Dugan paused to study the Operations Director. So far, she seems pleasant enough. Certainly hasn't let anything slip that anything's not right with her priorities. But even as he thought that, the Irishman frowned. For he had been a part of the military for a long time, longer than any person had a right to be, and he had been part of several different outfits, and seen all kinds of different games being played on all levels. And thus he had learned that it was the people that seemed the most normal, the most cheerful and straight forward, were more often than not simply very good at putting on a very convincing act.

Besides, what she went through because of Second Impact was no act. Nor was NERV making certain that she was properly 'taken care of', Dugan reminded himself, flashing back to the horrors described in her files. Nobody comes out of a nightmare like that without picking up more than their share of demons to deal with. Then he frowned somberly, his eyes lowering ever so slightly. Nobody...

"Uh, excuse me?" came Misato's voice. Starting somewhat, Dugan once again focused on the woman, who was looking at him in apparent concern. "Is something wrong?"

Deciding that, if Misato was putting on an act for his benefit, she was doing a pretty good job of it, Dugan quickly waved aside whatever concerns she might have had. "No, no, lass. I was just...thinking of better times, that's all," he answered in a way that said nothing. "So, uh...will there be anything else?"

A beat passed as Misato pursed her lips slightly in consideration. "Well...there is one thing," she finally admitted. "Now...I know better than to put too much faith in rumors and gossip, but...I have to be honest with you. I've heard some...troubling things about the Fourth."

Ach, here it comes, Dugan grimaced inwardly, having seen this coming a mile away. Having learned that, over the course of Mari's training, Fury had already been setting up the cover that she would now be employed, arranging for some nasty rumors regarding her attitude towards authority and more to be seeded throughout NERV. Rumors that he had helped start within the 1st Branch of NERV. Oh, well...nothing for it now...

"Well, whatever it is you've heard, I'm sure it consists of minor exaggerations at the least, and outright lies at the most," Dugan informed her in a voice of outright certainty. "But just out of curiosity...what exactly is it that you've heard?"

"That she's become known as the Problem Child on account of being highly insubordinate and a troublemaker," Misato replied in an all-business tone of voice. "And that she managed to damage Unit 05 during a synch test."

Wincing inwardly at the fact that his affectionate nickname for Mari had somehow become a brand of shame and wondering if it had somehow happened on purpose, Dugan gave a weary sigh before matching Misato's all-business demeanor. "Well, let me put your mind at ease, Captain. First of all, Mari is known as the Problem Child. It's my nickname for her, nothing more. I call her that because she tends to be a little rough in training, and has a bad habit of injuring her trainers and practice partners."

"Injuring her...?" Misato began, frowning slightly. "How could she hurt somebody during a combat simulation?"

"Oh, not during the simulations. During combat training. Hand-to-hand, martial arts, that sort of thing," Dugan elaborated, prompting a sound of comprehension from Misato. "She's got something of a...competitive streak to her. The lass is heavy into sports. Baseball, gymnastics, that sort of thing. She doesn't like to lose, and that...tends to show up in her sparring sessions."

"I see," Misato nodded, a look of understanding appearing on her face. "And the incident with Unit 05?"

"A malfunction with the synch system. A pretty nasty one, but nothing that they couldn't work out," Dugan explained. "Please keep in mind that Unit 05 is the first of the new Heavy Assault Model Evangelions. The first of its kind. There's bound to be a few bugs to be ironed out here and there."

Nodding, Misato then added, "Particularly given that it was rebuilt from something else."

"True. I don't deny it," Dugan assured her. "Now, you want to know about Mari? Fine. She's a real go-getter. She may not have been in training as long as some of the other Children, but I'd bet on her against any of the rest of them, any day of the week. Tough and aggressive in a battle, and easy enough to get along with out of it. And while I freely admit freely admit that she has a few personality quirks, when it comes down to crunch time, you'll be able to depend on her, no worries."

"That's what I am worried about," Misato pointed out. "Even if she's as good as you say are, she's no use to us if she won't follow orders." Leaning in a bit closer to Dugan, she gave him a piercing look before asking, "So is there any truth to her being insubordinate, or isn't there?"

A beat passed as Dugan considered how best to answer this. "That depends. If you order her to go after an Angel, she won't stop going after it until either it's down, or she is," the Irishman stated in total confidence. "If you ask her to do something she thinks is stupid, she'll be sure to let you know her opinion, but she'll still do it. But if you tell her to get out of an Angel's way because a battle's gone bad or something, and that she's to let it go stomping around, killing everything in sight when she thinks there's a chance of stopping it...then don't expect her to listen to a damned thing you say."

A beat passed as Misato considered this statement before at last nodding. "I guess I can accept that."

Grateful to be past that bit of business, Dugan smiled his Irish charm once more. "Trust me, Captain. You're getting more than a helluva machine. You're getting an even better pilot to go with it."

Okay, that might have been a bit mean of me, Mari thought to herself as she slipped out of the school, parachute still in hand. Thinking of the goggle-eyed shock that had filled Shinji's face as a result of her teasing. Still...the look on his face...!

Chuckling beneath her breath, the bespectacled girl continued down the stairs, hoping it won't be long before she found her way out. I just know that Fury's going to blame me for this, Mari thought sourly. As if this wasn't all his bright idea! That chain-smoking...huh?

There were footsteps echoing through the halls of the school. Faint, but still detectable by Mari's enhanced hearing. Multiple persons, by the sound of it.

Pausing to consider the matter, Mari eventually shrugged and started forward. Probably the maintenance staff here. Or maybe students on cleanup duty, she decided as she searched for the stairs. But as the footsteps continued to grow louder, the hairs on the back of her neck rose up, her insides twisting about. Still...better be ready. Just in case...

With that, Mari quickened her pace just a bit, reminding herself of Dugan's words. She was in NERV's city now. She couldn't afford any mistakes. And the surest way to avoid making mistakes was to avoid getting into a situation where mistakes could be made. Sure, it's probably nothing, Mari thought even as the footsteps continued to draw closer. But it's the 'probably' part that's bugging me!

Just as a set of stairs came into view, Mari frowned, because the source of one set of footsteps was moving up the stairs and into view. And it became immediately clear that she wasn't a janitor, or one of the students. She was older than Mari, looked to be in her mid-twenties, was dressed in casual clothes. And worst of all...she was carrying a gun.

Catching sight of Mari as she caught sight of her, the woman held up the gun, a simple revolver but nasty enough. "Where is he?" she demanded, taking aim at the Super Soldier. "Where is that NERV bastard?!"

Crap, she means Shinji! Mari swore inwardly, thinking of the boy who lay unaware of the peril that awaited him in there. Is she alone, or does she have -?

"Kaori, is that you?" came a voice from behind Mari. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched as guy who looked a bit older than her came into view. "What the -?!"

"It's her. The girl who landed on the roof," Kaori reported, her gun still trained on Mari. "Now, I'll ask again; where is that NERV demon?!"

Not liking the way this was going, Mari raised her hands, allowing her parachute to fall to the floor. She quickly considered her options, which weren't exactly plentiful. The hallway she was standing in was lined with classrooms with open windows, which meant that were was a possibility, no matter how faint, of someone seeing what was going on. Which meant if she went all Super Soldier on the gunwoman and her friend, there was a danger of Section 2 either seeing or hearing it happen.

Assuming they aren't already on their way to deal with a pair of lunatics who look like they want to put a bullet in Shinji's brain! Mari thought even as she keened her senses for any indication of their arrival. Dammit, I sure hope they are!

But there was nothing. No additional footsteps within the school. Only the last set of footsteps she had heard from before, and the woman holding a gun to her face. "Last chance, girl," she intoned, a dangerous snarl twisting her lips. "Where's that NERV bastard?!"

"I'd tell her, if I were you," came the boy from behind. "Kaori's not messing around! She'll blow your brains out if you don't tell her what she wants to know!"

"Can you guarantee she won't blow my brains out if I do?" Mari asked him in perfect Japanese. "I'm pretty sure I've seen this movie before. Thug puts gun to someone's head, asks some questions, and as soon as he gets the answers, he pulls the trigger anyway."

"I guarantee I will kill you if you don't tell me where that devilspawn is!" Kaori growled hatefully. "Now talk!"

Mari tried to think of something to say, something that would buy some time for Section 2 to show up and deal with these thugs. They have to be nearby. That's SOP for Section 2! They're not supposed to leave a pilot unguarded! she reminded herself, having seen the files on NERV's Men In Black. So what the hell is taking them so long?!

Not liking this at all, Mari tried to think of a way out of this that didn't involve betraying her unique abilities and failed utterly. And to make matters worse, the owner of the third set of footsteps suddenly appeared behind the gunwomen. "The building's clear," she announced, a woman older than either of the others. "There's no sign of staff or - ah, I see you found our unexpected guest..."

"That's right," Kaori replied, raising her gun just a little bit higher. "And I was just about to get some answers out of her when you showed up."

"Well, whatever you do, you better do it quick!" the boy declared, his voice fidgety and his scent rife with fear. "We have to get out of here and fast, before NERV shows up!"

"We're not going anywhere, Masashi," the eldest of the trio declared in a firm manner. "Not until we've got the Child."

At this point, Mari frowned, because these words had given her an idea. An insanely dangerous one, even by her standards, but an idea, nonetheless. It was clear that they were after Shinji, or at the very least, an Evangelion pilot. It was also clear that they wanted to get out of there quickly, before Section 2 showed up. They had no compunction against killing, not if Kaori's actions were any indicator, so if Mari were to tell them where Shinji was, odds were good they'd kill her before going after him.

But if they wanted an Eva pilot in general and not Shinji in particular...

Hoping against hope that their plan wasn't simply to blow somebody's brains out and call it a day, Mari snorted. "Hey, if you're after a Child, then you've got one right here." Kaori's angered face was suddenly diluted with confusion, and the other woman there was clearly surprised by her statement. "Allow me to introduce myself. Mari Illustrious Makinami, designated pilot of Evangelion Unit 05 and 4th Child of NERV."

"What?!" Kaori shrilled, her rage causing her gun to shake in her hands. "You're one of those monsters?! You help NERV enflame the Almighty's rage, causing him to bring more vengeance down upon us?!"

Oh, great, Mari thought despondently, Kaori's words making it clear what the Super Soldier was dealing with. Cultists!

She had heard of this sort of thing, even before being recruited by SHIELD. In the aftermath of Second Impact, the various religious organizations, in a surge of spiritual fervor, had each interpreted the event that had nearly ended the world in their own way, something that had made worse when the Instrumentality Committee had designated the invading creatures NERV now faced as Angels. As a result, several crazy cults had started popping up, and according to SHIELD files, some of them even went in for human sacrifice in an attempt to appease God's righteous wrath.

I guess that explains what they want Shinji for, Mari thought as the apparent leader of the trio continued to look at her. What better sacrifice could they ask for than one of the folks who go around, pissing God off by killing His Angels?

"Is this true?" asked the lead woman.

"Uh, yeah. I'm the newest arrival. Just in from America," Mari went on, hoping against hope that the cultists operated as such groups reported to act in SHIELD's files; by kidnapping people for ritual sacrifice. Not only would that give her time and possibly a better chance to make a move, but it would get them away from the school before Shinji decided to come downstairs and made a target of himself. "Hey, if you don't believe me, then just check my wallet! I've got my NERV ID and everything!" A beat passed as she glanced over at Kaori, and added, "I'd get it out myself, but...I think she'd put a bullet in my brain if I moved a muscle."

"You're right," Masashi declared, whatever fear he had displayed before replaced with disgust.

"Which is why I'll get take it," the leader of the trio declared. "Kaori, if she makes any moves..."

"Then she's dead," Kaori intoned grimly as the leader started towards Mari, cool, calm, and collected. As soon as she reached the bespectacled girl, she began digging through her pockets. Upon finding her cell phone, she tossed it aside, and then continued searching until she found Mari's wallet. Flipping it open, she wrinkled her face in disgust even as she scanned the contents.

As silence fell in the hallway, Masashi hesitantly asked, "So...is she -?"

"She is. Another blasphemer in the employ of NERV," the lead woman declared, giving Mari a hateful look before taking up station behind her. Giving the Super Soldier a shove, she sent her towards the gunwoman. "Take her!"

Gesturing for Mari to come closer even as she kept the gun trained on him, Kaori hissed, "We should go after the other one, Setsuko! We have the chance; we should take it!"

"Are you crazy?!" Masashi incredulously demanded. "Section 2 could be here any second! We have what came for! Let's get out of here!"

"Masashi's right," the leader, Setsuko, nodded. "We have one of the Children, even if it's not the one we were after." As Kaori groaned in annoyance and disappointment, the head of the trio continued. "Let's get her to the van and tied up before Section 2 shows up. Then we'll meet with the others...so we can offer the Almighty our sacrifice!"

And hopefully, by the time that happens, I'll have figured a way out of this mess! Mari thought to herself. Or at least gotten somewhere where no one will see me slip away from you shitheads!

As Mari allowed herself to be escorted down the stairs, her cell phone and parachute left in their wake, her ears pricked at the sound of another set of footsteps coming from somewhere behind them...

Who was that talking? Shinji wondered, his brows furrowed as he made his way down from the roof.

After a short time spent recovering from being slammed into by his newest teammate, not to mention wrestling with the idea that she liked the smell of blood, Shinji had finally sighed and realized that he had to get moving. He had to get back home and make dinner, as well as take care of whatever chores that had to be done. And so, with great reluctance, he left the peaceful solitude of the roof behind, and started through the halls of his school...only to receive a surprise.

"What the...?" Shinji frowned as he looked down the hall, which was presently littered with the parachute Mari had been wearing. Furrowing his brows in confusion, the 3rd Child quickened his pace, for while the girl had certainly been weird, he couldn't imagine why she would have just left her parachute after going to the trouble of gathering it up and leaving with it.

When he reached the parachute, Shinji's confusion shifted to concern, for it wasn't just Mari's parachute that was lying on the floor. Right next to it were her cell phone, as well as a wallet with her NERV ID, facing up as if to look at him.

Oh, no...something...must've happened. But what could have -?! Shinji started to ask himself, only to frown and realize that only one thing could have happened. Strange or not, there was no reason for Mari to simply discard her wallet and the rest of it.

No reason at all...unless she had been forced to do so.

Mari must've been kidnapped. And at that moment, Shinji was likely the only person who knew about it.

Author's Notes: Well, I hope my new method of writing is helping me to get my groove back on when it comes to writing. I hope everyone enjoyed this latest chapter! So please, read and review! And maybe check out my other stories?

Now, as those of you who have been following my stories will know, life has not been good to me. But I really am doing my best to get back on track and produce more stories for all of you to enjoy.

Yes, I know that things are moving a bit slowly at this point. But I'd have to think that, given that we're dealing with spies and placing Mari into a delicate situation, that things would naturally slow down a bit. And as for Mari's current predicament...there's a darker aspect behind it that will soon come into play.

Also, I have a special announcement to make. I've recently set up my own account. For more details on that, please check out my profile here on FFNet, or my page at DeviantArt.

animefan29, it was indeed harsh. And well, the Infinity Formula is a Marvel creation, but yes, it does fit into that category nicely. And I always felt it would make more sense for SHIELD to be able to smell that something stinks, but not knowing what exactly it is.

Quathis, yeah, I figured that Steve would tell off Fury for his attitude. Heck, that's pretty much what he did in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier". And Fury is cold. He's been through a lot over the years, and it hasn't done his moral compass an ounce of good. As for the MREs...okay, I have to admit that I've never had them myself, and what I've heard were jokes. And what can I say? I'm an old school comic person. And while Samuel Jackson is excellent, when I think Nick Fury, I still picture the chain-smoking jerk from classic Marvel.

Well, now that that's settled, it's time for some omakes!

Omake 1

Nodding, Ditto then turned back to Mari. "Then let's get some fresh air." With that, the doppelganger grabbed the door handle, and with a grunt of effort, slid it open. Taking a step back as a rush of fresh air surged into her, Mari then recovered, moving closer to the aperture that led into empty air. "Let us know when we're in position!"

"Right!" the pilot replied even as Mari poked her head out the door and looked down below. The entire landscape of Japan seemed to be spread out beneath her, giving her a perfect view of the mountains, valleys, lakes, and even the massive fortress that was Tokyo-3.

As the wind rushed past her face, tossing her pigtails about and wafting up her nose, as she looked down at the dizzying drop beneath her, Mari's heart began to pound with excitement. A feral grin split her face as she tensed herself to spring forward into empty space, to dive down to ground like a bird of prey.

In fact, it seemed far too long time before the pilot called out, "Time to jump in ten seconds! Ten, nine, eight...!"

"Good look to you, Agent Makinami," Ditto stated from off to the side.

Glancing over at her double, the adrenaline coursing through her overwhelming everything else, Mari returned, "Ditto to you, Ditto." Then she looked out the door and muttered, "And here's hoping I actually land where I'm -"

"Aw, dammit!" came an outraged voice from off to the side, followed by the noise of something being thrown against the wall and shattering. "Cut, cut! Mari!"

Wincing as she turned to see Orion sitting in his director's chair, the camera crew groaning in dismay. "What?! I wasn't that loud!" Mari protested. "Couldn't you have just edited out my voice?"

"Yes, we could have. if your lips hadn't been in view of the camera!" Orion declared, massaging his now-throbbing temples. "Dammit...this is the eighteenth take already...!"

"Well, I'm sorry! But I was just hoping I could actually hit the target for once!" Mari protested. "I've already landed in an open sewer, the city pound, one on of the city's solar collectors, snagged on airplane wing -!"

"Believe me, I know this has been a rotten work day. I've long since figured that out," Orion grumbled, shaking his head hatefully. "Alright, take five while we bring the plane around! And hope like hell that the nineteenth time is the charm!"

Omake 2

Pausing to groan and massage her forehead, Mari opened her eyes when she became aware of a muffled voice coming from somewhere nearby. Blinking in surprise, she then looked down...only for her eyes to go wide with surprise when she realized that she was presently lying on top of the person she had crashed into, his face firmly sandwiched between her breasts.

Gasping in surprise, Mari promptly pushed herself up onto her knees, at which her accidental victim heaved in a deep breath. Wow, he must've been suffocating in there. And to think, there were guys back at my old school that joked about wanting to be in that pos- wait. Taking a quick sniff even as she studied the boy she was presently straddling, she groaned in dismay when she realized just who he was. Aw, shit! I just landed on the 3rd Child?! Are you kidding me?!

Already envisioning the lecture she would get for mangling the son of Commander Ikari as well as NERV Central's Number One Pilot, Mari struggled to think of a way to deal with this. I hope he's not hurt, she thought as Shinji grimaced, his eyes still shut. It doesn't look too bad, but...hold on.

As Mari processed the sensations she was experiencing, the boy she was currently straddling recovered enough to give her a look. "Um...excuse me...?" Shinji weakly began, his features creased in pain as he looked up at her. "Could you...get off of me...?"

A beat passed as Mari smirked at the feel of something large and hard pressing at her. "Are you sure you want me to?" she asked, giving Shinji a cat-like smile. When the 3rd Child looked up at her in pained confusion, she added, "Because I'm feeling something that says to me that you really don't want me to get off! And it's not a set of toothpicks!"

Blinking a few times as Shinji realized what Mari was referring to, he then flushed a brilliant crimson. "Ah, well - that is - ohhh...!"

This was all Shinji had time to say before passing out, twin gushers of blood erupting from his nose. And that's not the only thing that's blowing its top! Mari noted with a bit of satisfaction as another scent filled the air. I guess it's true what they say; it's always the quiet ones!