Disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is the creation of Anno and Gainax. I don't own it, make no claims to it, and am making no profit from this fan fiction. No infringement of copyright is intended. In other words, please don't sue.

Disclaimer: I do not own DC comics or anything associated with it and am making no profit off this fan fiction. No infringement of copyright is intended. In other words, please don't sue.

Chapter Thirteen: The Ultimate Race

"Just remember, Makinami, this is for your own good!" Zoom shouted as he ran through Tokyo-3 at speeds that even the Flash couldn't match.

"I am going to hurt you so much when I catch you, Zolomon!" the scarlet speedster barked back as she pursued him. "And unlike just about everything else I do, I am going to do it slowly!"

Since coming to Tokyo-3 and joining the war against the Angels, the Flash had been in some exceedingly dicey situations. She had fought the world's largest daddy long legs with nothing but her speed and a very long length of heavy chain. She had faced down a new version of the Rogues. She had found herself sitting in the entry plug of an Angel-possessed Evangelion. She had even used herself as a human cannon ball against the Fourteenth Angel when it had been tearing the Evangelions to pieces.

Yet no situation she'd been in so far seemed quiet as dangerous as this one. Zoom, the very last villain that the previous Flash had ever faced, was intent on killing Shinji, all in the name of teaching her some kind of twisted lesson. And, impossibly, he was faster than she was. Much faster.

It also didn't help that she'd recently tumbled several floors down. Her accelerated healing factor had already done away with all the injuries, but her powers couldn't do anything about the damage to her costume. One of the lenses in the cowl had broken, which was a pretty big problem, since they were prescription. The scarlet speedster was keeping that eye tightly shut, which helped, but it also meant no depth perception. Which was just a little bit dangerous when you were running at several times the speed of sound.

"I realize that you must think I'm a monster," Zoom said.

"Gee, you think?!" the Flash snapped.

"But I really am doing this for your benefit," he continued, ignoring her. He actually sounded sad, she noted with disgust. "I'm doing the dirty job that no one else will, and believe it or not, this will ensure that everything's better in the future. Both for you and the world."

"You keep using that word 'better,'" the Flash said. "I don't think it means what you think it means."

As usual, Zoom ignored her. "This is all a game to you now, and a game has rules," he said. "I can tell that you've already imposed at least a few on yourself. No using your powers for your own benefit. No killing."

"You've got me all wrong, Zolomon!" the Flash shouted. "I told you before, I don't see this as a game!"

"You may think you don't, but you do," he sneered.

The scarlet speedster would've rolled her eyes if she didn't need to watch where she was going even more closely than usual. She was already more than a little sick of listening to this whack job pontificate, but she had to keep him talking if she could. She and Zoom had already run up and down every street in Tokyo-3 literally millions of times, they were both moving at such enormous speeds. However, he was faster than she was; he could make his way to Puppy-kun to kill him at any time, and unless the Flash could figure something out, there was nothing she could do to stop him.

So much as she hated listening to his stupid drivel, she kept him talking as she tried to come up with some plan.

"And you can't just tell me how to be 'better' then?" she demanded.

"No," he replied, flatly. "This is a lesson that only experience can teach. You need to feel the pain of losing someone you care for to truly understand it, to understand why you must do everything within your power to keep others from enduring it. After today, you won't hold yourself back with pointless rules anymore. You'll do whatever it takes, no matter what it takes, to save the day. As impossible as it might seem now, you'll thank me for this someday."

"Like Barry Allen did?" she shot back.

"That was a mistake!" Zoom roared.

He launched into a long, angry tirade that the Flash didn't bother to really pay attention to, using the break in having to maintain the conversation to think.

I need to go faster, to catch this bastard. But how? She thought to herself. Already her calves and thighs were screaming from the exertion, even worse than when she had run around the whole world in a few fractions of a second.

She had never faced this sort of situation before; not since the fateful, botched experiment back at Bethany Base had given her super speed, the Flash had never been too slow. Being the Fastest Girl Alive had guaranteed that, until now.

C'mon, think! Puppy-kun's life depends on it! What can you do that he can't? She asked herself.

That's when it finally hit her. Her connection to the Speed Force allowed her to steal and loan speed! The Flash hadn't use that ability to speed herself up before, because she had never needed to. Still, she didn't see any reason why she couldn't.

Of course, she had already tried it with Zoom to find that it didn't really work; his own time-based powers made him oddly slippery when it came to that. Fortunately, he wasn't the only thing around. Every moving object had speed, after all.

It would take a whole lot of speed for her to be able to catch him, though.

Here goes nothing, she thought, reaching out with her powers, with the Speed Force, and siphoning off speed from anything that she could find.

From the perspective of herself and Zoom, everything around them was stopped, because they were going that quickly. However, from the perspective of the normal people just going about their lives, cars found themselves abruptly coming to a halt in the streets, not getting rear-ended only because the vehicles behind them stopped as well. People walking down the sidewalks were momentarily frozen in place. Small birds flying through the air became motionless for an instant, not even falling, as if someone had pushed pause on the world.

The gap between the Reverse Flash and the Flash, which had been steadily widening ever since Zoom had announced his intention to kill Shinji, gradually began to shrink.

I'm doing it! She thought, a broad, wicked grin spreading over her face as the golden lightning crackling over her from grew brighter and more intense. More! More!

The area from which the Flash was borrowing speed rapidly began to increase. Soon it was all of Tokyo-3, then all of Nippon. The effect spread wider and wider, until the waves of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Japan came to a stop. It wasn't long before parts of China were experiencing the phenomenon.

Almost there! C'mon! She thought, gritting her teeth as she drew in more and more speed. She stretched her arm out, almost able to place her hand on Zoom's shoulder.

Then she tripped over a curb, her focus on her enemy and her lack of depth perception finally biting her in the butt.

The Flash let out a cry of surprise and dismay as she went down, landing hard on the sidewalk. Her shout catching him by surprise, Zoom stopped and turned. His eyes widened as he realized how close she'd come to catching him.

"Clever girl," he chuckled. "You'll be magnificent when I'm through with you, but playtime's over. Time for you to learn your lesson."

He took off again, and the Flash scrambled to her feet and ran off, once again in hot pursuit, but she had lost her hold on much of the speed she'd gathered when she'd fallen. She frantically started to collect it again, but it would take time.

Time was something she didn't have. Zoom was obviously done with lectures and detours. The yellow-clad speedster made a beeline for his destination, and even with the Flash in speed mode, it seemed to take only a single beat of her heart for the moment of truth to come upon them. Zoom found Shinji walking home from school with Toji and Kensuke, still as a statue to their super-speed perspectives.

The jock and the otaku had cheerful grins on their faces, and it looked like they were joking around. Shinji, by contract, wore a pensive expression, and the Flash realized it was probably because he was worried about her second appointment with Doctor Zolomon. He was afraid she'd be kicked out of NERV and sent back to America.

If only he knew how it had all really played out.

"Remember this, Makinami!" Zoom shouted as he advanced toward Shinji, two fingers extended toward the Third Child's head. At the speed he was moving at, a single touch would be more than enough to kill.

"NO!" the Flash screamed, making one final, titanic effort.

The most incredible thing happened, then. The area where she was pulling speed from expanded faster than even the scarlet speedster would've believed possible, so that in no time at all her power had swept over the entire Earth. Every human, plant, and animal came to a momentary stop. The tides paused in their eternal ebb and flow. Electrons beyond number briefly halted their orbits around the nuclei of quintillions and quintillions of atoms.

The golden tongues of energy that always accompanied the Flash as she ran suddenly flared up, blazing with such intensity that the crimson comet shone like a second sun. She surged forward, suddenly so fast that not only was the world around her seemingly stopped, but Zoom appeared to be going in slow motion as well. She could have stopped him from murdering Shinji a hundred times over before he was able to strike the killing blow.

Of course, she only needed to do it once.

Grabbing hold of Zoom's wrist, she took off at speeds that were insane even by her standards, looping around the Earth thousands of times before the Reverse Flash could even comprehend what had happened to him. She had no idea where she actually was for any of it; even to her senses, the world was reduced to a blur of blues, greens, browns, and grays. Without her ability to phase through solid matter, she no doubt would have hit something, probably with an impact as deadly as any planet killing meteor could ever be.

"How are you doing this?!" Zoom demanded as he finally caught up with what was happening. Caught in the Flash's grip, the psycho in yellow was flapping out in the air after her like a flag in the wind.

"Maybe I know a few tricks that even Barry Allen didn't!" the crimson comet said.

"This changes nothing, Flash. You still need—"

"Spare me. I've had enough of listening to your crazy bullshit," she said bluntly, never stopping, never slowing down. "You think that you're performing a vital service that nobody else wants to do. You think you're making a sacrifice, doing something that needs to be done even though the person you're trying to help will hate you for it. But you know what? You're just a monster. A crazy monster who's wrong about everything."

Zoom didn't reply. If the Flash had bothered to look back at him, she would've seen that he was wearing a distraught expression, clearly filled with sorrow because she had rejected the vital lessons he'd tried to teach her.

Not that she would've cared, of course.

"For instance, you think that I won't kill anybody, no matter what," the Flash continued. "It's true that I don't want to kill people, and having these powers means I've always had the luxury of not needing to use lethal force so far. But I was raised to be a soldier since I was five, so if you think that I won't kill someone to save innocent people, then you're wrong. Dead wrong."

"So you're going to kill me, then?" Zoom asked, allowing just a trace of eagerness to creep into his voice. Perhaps there was hope for this new Flash yet.

She shook her head. "No," she said firmly. "I won't, though not because you don't deserve it, since you totally do. But you tried to kill Jessie. You tried to kill Puppy-kun. So you don't get to make me do that. You don't get to be right—at all—and I'm sure as hell not giving you a martyr's death, which is what I know you'd see that as." She told him, her voice cold.

"Then what—?"

"I'm going to do to you what Barry Allen tried to," the Flash told him. "I'm going to throw your ass into the Speed Force."

"No! Don't do it, Makinami! You'll end up trapped there, too!" Zoom cried.

"I don't think so," the Flash said, accelerating.

Just like when she'd run around the world at top speed in preparation for launching herself at the Fourteenth Angel, the scarlet speedster soon spotted a great mass of writhing, golden lighting crackling in the distance. The Speed Force.

She had turned away from it last time. This time she poured on the speed, drawing closer and closer to it with every blazingly fast step.

Just as it had last time, the Speed Force called out to her, singing an otherworldly siren song that enticed her and terrified her at once. She found herself tempted to forget about Zoom and to plunge past the veil of golden energy herself, to see what lurked beyond. The normally lionhearted heroine felt a pulse of terror in her breast, fearing that she would lose control and lose herself to it.

She quickly suppressed the feeling, however. If she didn't throw Zoom in there, she would have to kill him, and she had already explained why she wasn't doing that. She pushed herself to run faster, getting closer to the lightning, until she was practically within spitting distance of it.

Getting so close was like staring right into the naked soul of a violent thunderstorm.

The Flash turned her head to look back at Zoom. "Hey, remember how you made that remark about this being a battle between the Fastest Man Alive and the Fastest Girl Alive?" she asked, grinning cheekily.

Zoom didn't respond. Possibly because he didn't know what to say.

"Well, it looks like girls rule and boys drool!" she shouted, laughing.

She sped up even further, coming so close to the Speed Force barrier that she could feel stray tongues of energy playing on her face. With a loud grunt, she pulled Zoom forward, hurling him ahead of her as she abruptly dug her heels into the ground and began to slide to a stop.

"Nooo!" Zoom screamed as he careened into the mass of lightning. The jagged bolts of energy rushed over him, like supernatural snakes on some kind of feeding frenzy. It took less than a second for him to vanish from sight.

The Flash barely saw all this. The moment she started to slow down, the Speed Force rapidly began to grow more and more distant from her, soon vanishing entirely from her sight.

"Damn, I'm really going to have to get my breaks checked!" she exclaimed through gritted teeth. Despite her efforts, it seemed to take several long minutes for her to finally skid to a stop.

At last coming to a halt in the middle of a pleasant looking meadow, the scarlet speedster immediately allowed herself to collapse onto the soft grass.

"Ow ow ow ow ow!" she moaned, sitting up and massaging her legs, which were overcome with the most intense and painful muscle cramps imaginable. "Guess I overdid it a little there." She panted.

For a few minutes she simply there, admiring the long, long trench she had left in the ground (it went further than the eye could see) and taking stock. In addition to the leg pain, which was mercifully diminishing with every second, her costume was even more of a mess than it had been. Her boots were a particular disaster; the soles were almost completely gone. Of course, the material they were made from was insanely tough, but she'd be lucky if she could get another hundred thousand miles out of them. Which she could do very quickly.

"Hell, might have to go that far just to get home," she muttered, idly wondering which continent she was one at the moment.

It occurred to her then that she had just avenged Barry Allen. She hoped he had been the kind of person who would've appreciated that, though she supposed it didn't really matter, in the grand scheme of things. She certainly hadn't done what she done that day for him, after all.

Finally feeling all right again, the Flash got to her feet and took off running, in search of Tokyo-3. She needed to get back, and there was something she felt she needed to do now. Something she probably should've done a long time ago.

"I'm home," Shinji announced as he stepped across the threshold of the apartment where he'd been living ever since coming to Tokyo-3.

He was unsurprised when no one answered him. Misato would still be working at NERV for another few hours, of course, and Asuka had decided to go out and do something or another with some of her girlfriends/admirers.

Alone in the apartment, Shinji put his school bag down on the kitchen table and filled a tea kettle with water, putting in on the stove. Then he put some water and rice into Misato's old but reliable rice cooker, getting it started.

He felt a familiar pang of annoyance as he did this, wondering, as he often did, why he had to be the responsible one and cook dinner the vast bulk of the time, in addition to doing most of the other chores around the apartment. Why didn't he have places to go and things to do after school as often as Asuka did?

However, he quickly squelched his irritation, telling himself that it wasn't Asuka's fault that he was less popular than she was and that he should feel grateful that Misato had taken him in.

Knowing he didn't have to worry about doing any other cooking for another hour or so, he sat down at the kitchen table as he waited for the water for his tea to get hot. Unpacking some of his books, he began to do his homework. It was all the very picture of normalcy.

However, it didn't last very long. Only minutes after he'd started on the math problems he and the rest of the class had been assigned, the doorbell rang. With a sigh, the Third Child put down his pencil. He hadn't been making very much progress anyway.

Getting up, Shinji opened the door and was surprised to see Mari standing there. He never would've expected her to finish her appointment with Doctor Zolomon so soon.

"Hi, Puppy-kun," Mari said.

She sounded out of breath, which immediately struck Shinji as odd. The brunette was in such good shape, he didn't think he'd ever actually seen her winded before.

"Uh, hi, Mari," he greeted her. "So how did—?"

He never got any further. Mari grabbed hold of his shoulders and pulled him forward, pressing her mouth over his.

Caught completely by surprise, Shinji just froze, his whole body stiffening.

If Mari was put off by the lack of a response on his part, she didn't show it. She wrapped her arms around his back, pressing herself up against him.

When her tongue found its way into his mouth, Shinji's body suddenly went from rigid to completely limp. He actually might've fallen, but Mari kept a tight grip on him, leaning forward as he leaned backwards.

The kettle that Shinji had left on the stove earlier suddenly began to whistle sharply.

Then, when it finally occurred to him that he should probably be doing something or another, Mari straightened up, taking him with her, and broke the kiss.

The little bit of mental clarity he'd obtained left him with the shift in the situation, and he just stared at Mari, stunned.

The bespectacled girl grinned wickedly at him, licking her lips. "See ya later, Puppy-kun," she said sweetly.

Then, going on tip-toes, she gave him a quick peck on the nose, turned, and walked off. Shinji poked his head out the door just in time to see her turning a corner as she headed for the stairs.

Shinji closed the door, still too shocked to form a truly coherent thought (which was most likely a fortunate thing, since otherwise he likely would've realized that she'd dipped him, which he probably wouldn't have been too happy about). He staggered back into the kitchen, as though drunk. Operating mostly on autopilot, Shinji took the still whistling tea kettle off the lit burner and then turned off the stove.

He didn't even attempt to pour himself a cup; he didn't trust himself with the boiling liquid right then. Instead, he practically collapsed into the chair he'd been sitting in earlier, all thought of his math homework utterly forgotten.

As he waited for his head to stop spinning so much, Pen-Pen walked by, on his way to the special fridge he called home.

"Wark!" the penguin honked, getting the EVA pilot's attention.

Shinji might've just been imagining it, but he swore that Pen-Pen winked at him, right before he pressed the button to open the little door to his own "apartment" and slipped inside.

"C'mon, where is she? She knows I have school tomorrow…" Denise Myles muttered to herself as she looked at the clock in her bedroom.

It was late at night, she was in her pajamas, and she should be sleeping. However, a very interesting call from her friend (who was on a completely different sleep schedule, by the way) had gotten her to agree to stay up late. She had begun the evening excited, but that eagerness had gradually transformed into annoyance.

You wouldn't think that it would take the speediest person alive so long to get here, she thought.

Her mental grumbling was interrupted by a soft tapping at her bedroom door. Quickly getting up, Denise opened it, and was unsurprised to find the Flash standing there, even though no one had let her into the house; a simple locked door wasn't going to slow down the scarlet speedster, let alone stop her.

"Hey, Denise," the superwoman greeted her as she stepped inside, pulling down her cowl.

"So, sidetracked on your way here?" Denise asked, shutting the door and then crossing her arms.

"Um, yeah, a bit," Mari answered. "There were some guys robbing a convenience store downtown and a couple of muggings that needed breaking up, along with a few other things. Why?"

"You're almost an hour late," Denise pointed out.

"Oh," Mari chuckled guiltily. "Whoops. Sorry."

Denise sighed. It was a little hard to be ticked off at somebody for being late when the delay was a result of her saving people without feeling like a total jerk. Even if she did strongly suspect that the "few other things" Mari had mentioned entailed getting a snack or three, knowing how her friend's stomach had become a bottomless pit ever since she'd gained her powers.

"I guess I should just be grateful that you didn't decide to scare the hell out of me again by just popping up behind me," Denise said ruefully.

"I considered it," Mari answered with a cheeky grin. "Didn't want you to scream and wake up your parents, though."

"Thoughtful," Denise said with a smirk.

"Hey, I try," Mari said with a shrug, her grin widening.

"Your costume's really destroyed," Denise observed, finally getting around to giving her friend a good look up and down.

In addition to the broken lens in the cowl and the pretty much totally worn out boots, there were huge rips and tears in the crimson outfit, with patches of material just missing in places. It barely even protected her modesty anymore.

Not that she has so much of that…

"I know," Mari said. "Speaking of which, do you have it?"

"Yeah," Denise replied. Going to her dresser, she opened her sock drawer and pulled out a small gold ring hidden at the bottom. "Here you go."

"You're the best, girlfriend!" Mari said, accepting it.

She pressed the little stud on the side, and the ring opened, ejecting a miniature, undamaged version of Mari's costume that rapidly began to expand.

Suddenly, the brunette became a complete blur of motion, and a second later, she was wearing an undamaged costume, the ragged one draped over her shoulder.

"Much better," Mari said, looking down at herself. "Thanks again, Denise. I'm amazed you were able to get me a new one so quickly."

So am I, Denise thought.

She had expected there would be a long wait when Mari had contacted her and conveyed her need for a fresh costume. However, upon visiting the tailor Paul Giambi, Denise had discovered that he'd fully expected the new Flash to destroy her scarlet garment sooner or later and had made a new one ahead of time.

"Don't mention it," she said.

"Here," Mari said, producing a wad of yen notes from somewhere and pressing it into Denise's hand. "I know it couldn't have been cheap. This should cover it, once you get it Americanized, anyway."

Denise arched an eyebrow. "Do I want to know how you got all this cash?"

She didn't know the exchange ratio between the dollar and the yen offhand, but she was still pretty sure that her friend had just given her at least enough to cover both of her costumes.

"Nope," Mari said cheerfully.

Denise decided to take her friend at her word. "Fine," she said. "But you have to tell me about the fight! Was it really him? The same Reverse Flash that Barry Allen faced?"

"Oh, yeah, it was him all right," Mari said, a scowl forming on her usually cheerful face. "He wouldn't shut up about that. I trapped his ass in the Speed Force."

"Amazing," Denise breathed. "Everybody assumed that whatever happened to Barry Allen also happened to Zoom. Nobody ever suspected that he survived and was just living as a normal guy."

"Well, he was," Mari said. "I fixed that, though."

"Okay, keep going," Denise prompted.

"About what?" the blue eyed girl asked, blinking.

"Oh, come on!" Denise exclaimed. "You were headed for an appointment to determine if you were mentally fit to pilot, and the doctor turned out to be a super villain who blew up the building! There had to be fallout!"

Mari shrugged. "People think that the Flash saved me along with everybody else in the building," she said. "The cops decided that Zolomon was killed by Zoom."

"Even though they can't find a body?" Denise asked, frowning.

"I guess they don't wanna accuse the guy of being a super villain with no real proof," Mari spread her hands to convey her lack of knowledge on that front. "The police and NERV were also freaking out about how I was stealing everybody's speed in the city, but they've pretty much admitted they can't figure it out and gave up by now. Apparently, nobody noticed outside of Tokyo-3, anyway."

"I didn't notice anything that day," Denise nodded. "You're sure you really borrowed all the speed in the world?"

"Definitely," Mari nodded. "I guess that everything just stopped so totally during that final push that nobody could even think during that moment."

"You're…pretty damn badass as the Flash, Mari," Denise said, despite her desire not to stroke her friend's ego.

"Well, of course I am!" Mari said, puffing out her (obnoxiously impressive) chest and planting her fists on her hips. "I was pretty damn badass before getting superpowers, so what do you expect?"

"Not modesty, that's for sure," Denise rolled her eyes. Then she grinned slyly. "So, tell me about that boy you said you kissed."

She didn't know why she'd been expecting Mari to blush or at least look a little flustered by this line of inquiry, but she had been. She was, of course, disappointed.

"Shinji? He's a real sweetie, and pretty cute, too," Mari said. "He's another pilot, and we've been hanging out a lot. Finally decided it was time to plant one on him."

"C'mon, I need more details than that," Denise cajoled. "What did he do after you kissed him?"

"He was too stunned to do much of anything," Mari grinned. "I was kind of surprised he didn't pass out!"

"Okay, and since then?" Denise asked.

"Not much, really," Mari answered casually.


"He's kind of shy, and I did come on pretty strong," the brunette replied. "I'm gonna give him a little more time to approach me before I go up to him."

"That's unusually patient of you," Denise remarked.

"I figure it'll be better for his male ego if I don't direct all the traffic at this stage. Anyway, I…" Mari trailed off, then, squinting at the clock on Denise's bedside table. She pulled on her cowl, which had both the lenses intact, so she could see it more clearly. "Oh, man! It's way later than I thought! I gotta go! See ya, Denise!"

"Tell me about everything that happens with Shinji!" Denise said in a great rush, just before the Flash zipped away.

"Tell me, Ryoji, do you get all your ideas from bad spy movies and novels?" Jessie Quinn demanded as she strode into the almost totally empty parking garage, quickly spotting the spy.

To his credit, Kaji actually looked vaguely surprised by the accusation. "No, I wanted to meet here because the acoustics of places like this make it hard for bugs to reliably pick anything up. Plus, it can be hard to hide in an empty garage. What movie did something like this happen in?"

"What? Don't tell me you've never seen All the President's Men!" Jessie exclaimed.

"Never heard of it," Kaji shrugged.

"Well, I suppose it's not actually a spy movie, but it's still a classic," the blonde huffed. "Next I suppose you'll tell me you've never seen the James Bond movies, either."

"Oh no, I can assure you I've seen all of those," Kaji said with a smirk. "In any case, if you don't enjoy the surroundings, I'm sure we can find somewhere more comfortable."

Jessie's eyes immediately narrowed, a scowl appearing on her face. "I've told you before, I don't care about how things always go for James Bond. This story," she gestured to him and herself, "doesn't end with you getting into my pants."

He arched an eyebrow. "Something wrong, Quinn?" he asked. "You seem rather…testy this evening."

She sighed. "Sorry. Mari seems unusually happy recently, which is generally a sign that she's up to something. I can't figure out what, though, and it's making me nervous."

She didn't tell him about the hurricane force winds that had blown through her apartment at about the same time the Flash had been dealing with the Reverse Flash, which was really what was bothering her. He didn't need to know about that.

Kaji chuckled. "I'm sure she'll be fine. Mari seems to be the kind of person who can take whatever the world throws at her."

"Mmm," Jessie grunted in acknowledgement. "Well, in any case, if you're looking for a little female companionship, don't waste your efforts on me. Call Misato. She may not admit it, but she's still carrying a torch for you."

"I haven't had time to get as reacquainted with her as I'd like," Kaji confessed. He took out a cigarette, stuck it in his mouth, and lit it. "And perhaps that's a good thing." He added as he took a drag.

Jessie frowned. "Why do you say that?" she demanded. "For that matter, why did you ask me to come here, anyway?"

"Commander Fuyutski's been kidnapped," Kaji said.

"What? I thought he was in Europe on NERV business," Jessie said, caught by surprise.

"That's the official story," Kaji turned his head and exhaled a brief plume of cigarette smoke. "But it's a lie. The Committee decided that they wanted a private word with him and sent a special ops teams after him."

"Incredible," Jessie said.

She had known that the relationship between NERV Central and the Human Instrumentality Committee wasn't always harmonious—practically everyone who worked for NERV knew that. Yet before she'd started working with Kaji and digging into the organization's dark secrets, she never would've believed that things could ever become so hostile.

"Ikari's assigned me the task of getting Fuyutski out of the Committee's custody," Kaji added.

Jessie's eyes widened as the implications of that sunk in. She knew that Kaji was a double agent working for both groups. Up until now he'd mostly managed to keep to the periphery of the feud between Ikari and Keel, while still being in the middle of things and able to snoop around. Now one master was sending him against the other, which was every double agent's worst nightmare.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm going to rescue Fuyutski, of course," Kaji replied calmly.

"You…do know that Keel will retaliate, right?" Jessie asked, unable to believe how serene he appeared. "He'll have you killed."

"I'm aware," Kaji said. "But I'm in too deep to walk away now. Too close to the truth, too."

Jessie paused. She wanted to tell the long-haired man that he was being an idiot. That this wasn't a movie, and sometimes spies didn't get all the answers that they were looking for. That he shouldn't die just to get a little bit closer.

"What do you want me to do?" she asked instead.

Kaji reached into his pocket and withdrew a red and white capsule. "Continue looking for the truth, of course," he said, putting the pill into her hand. "The chip in here should help."

Then he smiled and her and began to walked off.

"Wait a second, Kaji…" Jessie began, not she what to say. She was keenly aware of the fact that this was probably the last time she'd ever see him alive.

He turned and smirked at her. "I think it's best if we just part ways now, no sentimental last words," he said. "Unless of course you've decided to change your mind about sleeping with me."

Jessie found it substantially easier to let him go after that remark. It was many hours later before she realized that might well have been his intent.

"Um, Mari?" Shinji said, nervously approaching the Fourth Child as school let out for the day.

"Oh, hi, Puppy-kun," she greeted him cheerfully. "What's up?"

He ignored the snickers of his fellow students at the pet name with an effort. It had already gone around the school, he told himself. Asuka had seen to that, and even if she hadn't, Mari didn't exercise a lot of discretion when using it. Sometimes he suspected that she assumed everyone else was as hard to embarrass as she was.

"I was wondering if I could walk you home today," Shinji said. "I wanted to talk to you."

"Sure thing, Puppy-kun," Mari agreed at once. "I'd be happy to. I wanted to have a chat with you for a while, too."

Shinji winced slightly at that. It had been about a week since she'd shown up at his home, planted one on him, and had then skipped off with barely a word. Never one for confrontation of any kind, he'd sought to avoid the conversation he was now outright asking for. However, he'd felt so painfully awkward around Mari lately; he wasn't sure where they stood or how he should behave around her now.

He'd actually caught himself avoiding her the other day, and that was when he realized that as much as he didn't want to, he had to talk to Mari about their relationship.

The two of them started walking down the sidewalk toward the Fourth Child's apartment building, and Shinji immediately found himself tongue tied. He realized had no idea how to begin this conversation.

"So," Mari said, doing a couple of flips, "what do you wanna talk about, Puppy-kun?"

"Uh, well, has NERV cleared you for duty again, yet?" he asked, seizing upon the first alternate topic that came to him.

"Yup," she replied cheerfully. "NERV found a new head shrinker. Guy practically slept through the appointment, but at least he declared me good to go. Now all I need is a new Evangelion."

Shinji nodded. "You were in that building when it happened, right?" he asked. "When the Reverse Flash destroyed it."

"I was," Mari nodded, hopping up onto a long bike rack that they were passing by and walking along the top. "But the Flash saved me, along with everybody else in the building, except for Dr. Zolomon. That girl is really cool by the way. Also, she's just plain gorgeous. I mean, I don't swing that way, but if I did—damn!"

Shinji felt his face redden, but even though Mari's remark left him feeling rather flustered, he still managed to feel some regret over Dr. Zolomon, who had seemed very friendly.

She gave him a knowing look as he recovered. "So, I don't think you asked to talk to me because you wanted to know about my time with the shrink," she said, nimbly hopping off the bike rack and returning to the sidewalk next to him. "What's really on your mind, Puppy-kun?"

"Well," he began, "the other day…you kissed me."

Mari let out a theatrical sigh of relief. "Oh, thank goodness, you remember that," she said. "I would've been majorly insulted if you managed to forget."

"Believe me, I couldn't if I tried," he said with a little smile. "But…I just wanted to know why you did it. And what does it mean? Are we…boyfriend and girlfriend now?"

Mari smirked at the last part. "Aw, Puppy-kun wants to know if we're going steady," she said in a singsong voice.

"Hey, c'mon," he grumbled, wanting her to be serious.

"Sorry," she said, not sounding the least bit contrite. "I did it because, well, that was a pretty close call I went through, with that building going up like that. If the Flash hadn't been there, it would've been lights out for me. Before I thought that we probably shouldn't do anything like that. With us both being Evangelion pilots, it seemed like it really wouldn't be kosher. But that close call made me realize that we need to seize the day. Live life to the fullest."

"So…you really kissed me because you like me? Like that?" he asked, barely daring to believe it.

Mari laughed. "Of course I do, Puppy-kun! I don't just go around kissing guys I don't like. That would be crazy, and I now have had a medical professional certify that I'm not crazy."

"But, why?" Shinji asked. "Why me?"

"Why not you?" Mari countered. "You're a nice guy, you're sweet to me, and you're a lot of fun to be with. Also, it really doesn't hurt that you've got a seriously cute butt."

Shinji blushed spectacularly at the last part, which of course drew a gale of laughter from Mari.

"S-So you like me," he said, several moments later, after mostly recovering. "But do you want us to be, you know, dating? Officially?"

She grinned. "Yeah, I do. Do you?"

"Um, I like you, too," he said, blushing ferociously. "But is it okay for us to date? We are both pilots."

"Yeah, we are," she agreed, intertwining her fingers and placing them behind her head. "But look at it this way, Puppy-kun. We hang out all the time. I take you places. You took me on that awesome trip to that crater. I make you feel better when you're down, and you do the same for me. I have an adorable pet name for you. And as we've just established, I have feelings for you, and you have feelings for me."

"Okay, so?" he asked.

"So, we're pretty much already dating," Mari said, as though it was obvious. "The way I see it, the only thing that really changes if we make it official is that we can stop wondering where we stand with each other and start making out on a regular basis. Which is a pretty big improvement, in my opinion."

Shinji blinked, a little surprised at that way of looking at it. He had to admit it did make a certain kind of sense, as well as appeal to him. He wasn't sure if he really believed that their relationship wouldn't change all that much, but he rather liked the idea. It made the whole thing seem a lot less intimidating.

"Okay, then," he said. Then, feeling that he should really make it official, asked, "Mari, would you like to be my girlfriend?"

"Why, yes, Puppy-kun, I would, thank you for asking," Mari smiled.

It took him a couple of seconds to realize that he was grinning like an idiot. She reached out her hand, and Shinji took it.

They reached her apartment building soon after that, and Shinji walked her up to her door.

"We should probably kiss now. I'd appreciate it if you kissed me back this time," Mari said frankly.

"R-Right," Shinji said, swallowing.

They pressed their lips together. It wasn't nearly as intense an affair as their previous kiss had been, but Shinji enjoyed it a lot more, mostly because he wasn't caught off guard by it. By the time they separated, he decided it was definitely something he could get used to.

Then they separated, grinning at each other.

"I should head up," she said eventually.

"Right," he agreed. "See you."

He turned to go, but he hadn't gone one step when he felt something squeeze him. Jumping, he spun around, another ferocious blush coloring his face.

Mari grinned wickedly at him, opening and closing her hand a few times, then she disappeared into the elevator, the doors sliding shut.

Alone in the apartment building's lobby, Shinji hesitated, then turned his head, taking as good a look at his allegedly cute butt as possible.

He shrugged, finally departing. There didn't seem to be anything special or noteworthy about it so far as he could tell.

Even so, he walked a little bit straighter than usual as he headed toward his own home.

The atmosphere in the meeting room used by Section Two was tense. Captain Chiron had been absent from the base for a long time, and little explanation had ever been given to the members of his department. Saito, Chiron's number two, had maintained that he was on assignment and would be back, but as they days had gone by, many of the rank and file had grown doubtful about that.

Eventually, it had become the common assumption that Ikari, angry with him over the abject failure of the new Rogues, had sent Chiron off on some suicide mission. Most of Section Two had been expecting an announcement that he was dead and that Saito was their new chief to happen any day now.

Yet here he was, back, and there was just a slightly crazed glint of mingled determination and desperation in his eyes.

"Hello, gentlemen," he said. "Did you miss me?"

There was some nervous murmuring. The men of Section Two generally respected Chiron, and several of them outright feared the man, but he was far from adored by his subordinates.

Apparently not having expected a different reaction, Chiron plowed forward, unperturbed. "I'm sure several of you are wondering where I've been," he said. "Well, I've been working to acquire something that will help us deal with our little Flash problem."

He opened the black case he was carrying, showing them the vials of red liquid contained inside. "This is Velocity 9."

No one present had any idea what that was, and it clearly showed in their blank expressions.

"This is a drug that temporarily grants ordinary people extraordinary powers," Chiron explained, looking vaguely ticked off by their ignorance. "I believe that a team of men using this should be able to eliminate the Flash. However, the potential side effects are, shall we say, quite severe."

The men shuffled nervously. Legally, there was no way Chiron could force any of them to use that stuff; theoretically, they could just quit if he tried it.

However, a lot of the things that Section Two did for NERV weren't legal, so they didn't have a lot of faith in the ability of the law to protect them.

So they were more than a little relieved when the chief opted for the carrot rather than the stick.

"So, here's the deal gentlemen," Chiron said. "Those of you who volunteer for this, if you successfully manage to kill the Flash, get to retire after it's over. With a pension equal to your current salary that lasts as long as you live. And full medical coverage. So, who's in?"

"Failed again. Tried to so hard to make the new Flash better," Zoom muttered to himself as he trudged through the swirling maelstrom of golden energy. "Should've tried harder. The world needs the best Flash possible."

The yellow-clad speedster had long ago lost track of how long he'd been trapped in the Speed Force. It hadn't taken him long; there was no day or night in the alien realm, nor anything else to judge the passing of the hours.

He hoped that he would die in this place, that eventually it would turn out that the Flash actually had broken her own inhibitions against killing. It would be a hollow victory, but it was the best he could hope for, along with an escape from this purgatory.

Yet that hadn't happened. The lightning and the other writhing energies that surrounded him, that made up this place, refused to touch him, let alone tear him apart. And though he felt certain he had been in the Speed Force for many hours, if not days, he hadn't grown hungry or thirsty. At least, not yet.

So, with nothing better to do, he walked. As if he might find an exit door somewhere.

His attention was suddenly caught by something in the distance that wasn't part of the Speed Force. Something red. Eyes widening, Zoom ran toward it.

"My God," he breathed, picking it up.

It was a crimson costume, one he knew very well. It was like the one that Mari had worn, but larger and made for a man rather than a woman.

There were no remains in it; for all he knew, Barry Allen could have simply turned to dust and blown away, leaving nothing but this. Or he could've become one with the Speed Force, ascending to become something greater.

For several long moments, Zoom just stood there, looking down at the outfit once worn by the first Flash that he had failed.

Then he snickered. That grew in chuckle, which itself turned into great gales of laughter. Throwing his head back, Zoom started to outright cackle, though his laughs sounded almost like sobs.

The sound rang through the Speed Force for a very long time.

Author's Notes: Eventful chapter, huh? Mari defeats Zoom, but it looks like she's got another challenge coming up. Will she be able to handle a squad of Section Two agents on Velocity 9? Only way to find out is to come back next update.

As always, thanks to all my readers and reviewers, and thanks to my beta reader, too.