[A/N] And I'm still here! It's time to thank you all once more for your words of encouragement, they really inspire me to keep going. Interesting to see how you've voted in the poll, it's given me some great ideas with the current leader. It's nice to know you're all still paying attention out there after all this time. Anyways, it's time to make this fic 20% cooler and clear it up in ten seconds flat!

And if it's not out for a week, I apologise for boasting…

Chapter 12: Revelation's Consequence

"Have you finished the reprogramming?" enquired Vegeta, his arms folded, the image of his wife on the capsule house's wall screen via the trans-dimensional linkup.

Bulma sighed and rolled her eyes, "Yes, oh dearest one. Even though you only gave me two days to finish, I've somehow managed to compile the code and get it up and running satisfactorily –though it's still beta, so don't blame me if it's a bit glitch. The upload to your scouter should be happening right about now. The code should compile itself as soon as it's copied over, so there's no need to mess about with it," explained the scientist and, just as promised, the scouter on the table in the centre of the room blinked to life and began working away, it's translucent green eye-screen covered in lines of code as the update began.

"And will it do as I asked?" asked Vegeta as he picked up the small device and fixed it to his ear, the display blinking off as the upload finished.

Bulma sighed once more, "Yes, Vegeta dear. Besides all of its usual functions it's been uploaded with all the NERV top level command codes you'll need. The security interface system has been installed too. Rewriting an entire firmware wasn't easy in that timescale to say the least; I never thought I'd ever have to pull an all-nighter to do an emergency jailbreak on one of my own devices.

Its detection systems have been upgraded too. I've programmed in a pseudo stealth-ops mode, which will allow it to trigger and differentiate between extremely low power levels approaching within fifty metres in any direction.

The upgrade applies to the opposite end of the scale too; by using a series of predictive algorithms and shutoff procedures on the input gate –and judging by the look on your face I just lost you, so I'll just say that it can now work to accommodate some of your much higher power levels without the damned thing blowing to pieces on you. That's the best I can do I'm afraid."

"It'll do," Vegeta replied, pulling the device off his ear and rolling it about in his hands.

"But what I don't understand is why you would want something like this," said Bulma, folding her hands on top of her work bench.

"It's not for me," said Vegeta simply, "What about the overlay functions?"

"Those were a little trickier to program in considering the way a scouter works, but after doing a bit of tweaking with the display drivers, I've managed to install a basic map overlaying feature like you asked. It should be simple enough to use and I've uploaded basic instructions for its use to you, it shouldn't take you too long to figure out. And just in case, I've programmed in a function that will cause the power cells to overload and fry the entire system; a self-destruct if you will, just make sure you're not wearing it when it goes off."

Vegeta pondered this for a minute, nodding in thought before turning to face the screen, "You've done well, Bulma. I'm impressed."

Bulma couldn't help but blush slightly; praise from her husband was sparse to say the least.

Vegeta looked back down to return the scouter to its capsule when Bulma suddenly spoke again, "H-how are you?"

Vegeta blinked and looked back up, pausing to compose a reply first, "You expected me to be injured by the likes of this world's occupants?" he asked, trying to sound insulted, never letting anyone know when he was touched by concern.

Bulma smiled weakly, "No, of course not…"

Vegeta turned sideways to hide his subtle blush and began pacing slowly, "The boys are fine, as is Kakarot. Is there anything else?"

"I could ask the same."

"What?"

"I mean,how are things on the monster-fighting front?"

Vegeta shrugged, folding his arms, "As expected, they've proved little threat so far."

"So I've seen…" Bulma said, having already reviewed the data sent to her earlier by Vegeta, but wanted to hear it from her husband's mouth anyway.

"Well, I've got work to do. I've got to deliver this to its future owner," said Vegeta, gripping the capsule between two fingers.

"Okay then…" She replied as Vegeta moved to unhook the generator that powered the link.

She suddenly spoke up again, "Vegeta!"

"What?" he asked with characteristic impatience.

"Take care…"

Vegeta seemed taken aback for an instant before shooting back one of his rarely seen smiles to his wife, reassuring her more than words ever could as he pulled the power on the link, the screen going dead…

-Z-

Bulma turned about to face the other occupant of the room who had been standing just out of view of the camera's lens.

"Are you sure about this?" asked Bulma.

Gohan nodded firmly, "I'm sure, believe me," he answered walking over to her, still clad in his Orange Star High uniform.

"Then why didn't you tell them?"

"Dissuasion is something I really don't want on this. You know what Vegeta would say."

"Yeah, I guess. Well I suppose you had better get to work then," Bulma said, standing up and unlocking a nearby security drawer, handing the compass-shaped device within to the teenage half-Saiyan.

"I'm on it!" Gohan said, turning round and heading out of the lab at a quick pace.

"And you take care too…" Bulma said quietly as she turned and went back to her work. With the exception of the distant sounds her parent's pets made, the now all-too quiet halls of the Capsule Corp. headquarters echoed around her…

-Z-

Shinji's life, in his humble opinion, had become most interesting of late, and by interesting he meant a cross between disturbing, annoying, and tolerable: Disturbing for obvious reasons; annoying due to the fact that his formerly temporary roommate now had a more permanent posting in his domicile; and tolerable… Well, he had begun to realise as of late that life does have certain upsides to it after all.

Groaning from the rude awakening from his mid-Sunday do-sweet-nothing time, which basically consisted of laying on the couch either watching TV or just pondering his thoughts, Shinji slowly pulled himself up and headed for the door to see who dared disturb his peace time, not that he could do anything about it, but he felt it helped to be annoyed anyway.

Shinji gave a slight start as he slid the door open to reveal the waiting form of Vegeta.

"Do you always keep people waiting that long?" growled the Saiyan.

"Give me a break," sighed Shinji, adding mentally 'considering you just took mine away', he covered his mouth to yawn, "Anyways, would you like to come in?" he offered, stepping aside to allow the Saiyan entry. Just as he closed the door his eyes were drawn back down to street level, and more importantly to the group of black suited figures looking back up at him, one with a pair of binoculars trained in his direction.

'Father is getting suspicious…'

-Z-

Sitting down at the kitchen table, Shinji sat back and stretched, "What can I do for you? Or is this a social call?"

The Saiyan rolled his eyes, folding his arms and preferring to remain standing, "Yes, of course; I just came to chat with simply adorable redhead and enjoy your guardian's gourmet cooking."

"Huh?"

Vegeta cocked an eyebrow up, "Ask a stupid question; get a stupid answer."

"Okay then, what are you here for then?" asked Shinji, his curiosity elevated above his former annoyance.

The Prince looked about, "Is this place secure?"

Shinji nodded, "I once asked Misato about that in passing, she said one of the first things she did after moving in was sweep the place for bugs. I'm pretty sure she does it on a regular basis. I've got to admit I'm glad for her paranoia."

"I would hardly call it paranoia, given the circumstances."

"Perhaps," admitted Shinji who, despite himself, stood up and turned on a tap loudly to cover their voices; you could never be too careful, "so how can I help you?"

"I came to drop a couple of things off for you," said Vegeta, stepping forward.

"Oh?"

"First," Vegeta said, pulling out an optical disc and placing it on the table in front of the pilot.

Shinji frowned and picked up the blank-labelled CD, "And what's this?"

"An instruction manual," replied the prince.

"For what?" asked Shinji, turning the disc over in his hands.

"This;" said Vegeta, and Shinji looked up as to see him retrieve a very small capsule from his pocket. Pushing the controller on the top, he tossed it down onto the table in front of the pilot, the capsule bursting open a second later with a cloud of smoke and revealing a familiar device.

Shinji reached out slowly and gingerly picked up the strange piece of technology which, Vegeta had noted, looked identical to the scouters used by both himself earlier in his life and also the tyrant Frieza and his men. The only visible difference was the capsule corp. logo emblazoned on the side and an additional button for returning the device to its capsule.

Examining it closely, Shinji asked, "W-what is this?"

Vegeta nodded at it, "A scouter; an advanced communications and energy detections device, slightly remodelled to suit your needs. It fits over your ear and the button on the side is used to cycle between functions."

"To suit my needs?" asked Shinji, "How?"

"Think of it as a portable ki detector, useful if you want to know if someone's coming. It also has a built in map overlay and extreme range communicator. We've added a security interface also, which should be able to unlock any security door you happen to come into contact with."

"Wow…" replied the pilot in awe and he flinched as his finger accidentally clicked the button on the side. The device whirred as the digital display flared up, he noticed it stop with a yellow circle in the centre. Shinji turned the device about discover there was a number beside the circle.

"Congratulations," said Vegeta, "You just took your own power level."

Shinji cocked his head, "Hey, I'm at level 5.6. Is…that good?" Vegeta seemed too amused to respond and watched as Shinji clicked the button again, this time aiming it at back at the Saiyan as he fitted it over his right ear.

Vegeta watched with a smirk as Shinji swallowed a gulp, observing as the numbers climbed higher and higher, the digits going quickly from tens to hundreds, to thousands, to hundreds of thousands and then to figures Shinji didn't quite like to think about when comparing it against a regular human like himself. The Saiyan shrugged, "I'm keeping my power level suppressed right now, so don't worry if the device makes me seem far weaker than I actually am."

Shinji's eyebrows rose, "This is suppressed?" he gaped. If people could be measured in horsepower, he'd be a windup car sitting in front of a supersonic jet.

Setting the device down again, he turned his attention back to Vegeta, "There are several more features I think you should become accustomed to first however."

"More features? Talk about multifunctional…"

Vegeta cocked an eyebrow at his comment, "Yes. Well, I would appreciate it if you didn't allow anyone to see you with that thing. I would rather not have our technology falling into certain hands."

Shinji nodded, "You don't need to tell me that twice, believe me. And so everything I need to know is on here then?" he asked, holding up the CD.

"Yes, I suggest you familiarise yourself with it. I think you'll find that device will come in veryhandy."

"Thanks," Shinji said with a smile, more than happy the little gift.

As silence descended, Shinji drummed his tables on the table edge, "Umm, so… do you want drink or something?" He offered, remembering to remain the polite host.

Vegeta grumbled, realising he was a bit parched, "Sure, why not."

Smiling, Shinji dug into the fridge, retrieving a can of orange for the Saiyan and a lemonade for himself, "So…" Shinji said, twiddling his thumbs as he fought to open a conversation, "Missing home at all?"

Vegeta humphed from behind his can as he took a long swig from it, "home, is wherever the fight is," preached the Saiyan in his usual tone, not often one for dishing out Saiyan philosophical comments.

"I… See," lied Shinjit.

Vegeta looked about himself, "And how is home?" Vegeta enquired, knowing full well about the redhead's moving in.

"You've met Asuka, right?"

Vegeta nodded once as he downed the remainder of his drink, idly compacting the can down to the size of a garden pea in his hand afterwards.

"Then guess…"

"Hah!" spat Vegeta, "Women…"

"I'm reading you on that one," Shinji said, laughing slightly.

Vegeta couldn't help but grin as well, "So, which one?"

Shinji frowned, "Which one what?"

"Which one have you chosen as your mate?" asked Vegeta, never really grasping the human obsession for subtlety in their mating rituals.

"My What?" Shinji spluttered, inadvertently inhaling half a mouthful of lemonade in the process. Blushing furiously and wiping down his nose, he did his best to keep his voice level, "W-what on Earth would make you think I've taken one as my… my…" he trailed off, unwilling to actually say the word.

"What?" asked Vegeta with a shrug, "I don't see why," he said dismissively, "It would probably do that redheaded brat good having a man in her life; it might teach her her place."

"What?" gaped Shinji, thinking incredulously to himself, 'Her place, he says! In that case I know the only place she would enjoy: Me on the ground, unconscious, with her standing over me and leering down for even thinking about putting her in her 'place'.'

"I see, then that Katsuragi," offered Vegeta, "she has spirit, she would make a fine mate for you; strong and spirited as I've seen, for a human woman." He said with utter nonchalance, but secretly enjoying the way the Third Child's skin tone shifted further and further up the red end of the colour spectrum.

"N-no" Shinji protested as best he could, his rebellious mind not helping things by conjuring images of himself and Misato 'mating' in the Saiyan way, not that he had any idea what that was, but judging from Vegeta, Shinji had some general ideas.

Vegeta pushed further, unknowingly going beyond even Misato's boundaries of teasing and into the depths of his own depths of teasing, which he normally reserved for taunting an enemy into attacking him in a screaming fury…which was usually his favourite bit, "What?" he asked, tilting an eyebrow up, "You prefer men or something?" Shinji opened his mouth wide to object, but Vegeta continued on, "Not that there's anything wrong with that of course. I mean, there was this green haired fool I once knew; I mean… we never mentioned anything, but we all knew…"

"I am not gay!" Shinji half shrieked, slamming a fist into the table at the accusation, the level of the reaction pleasing the Saiyan to no end. Shinji then realised being teased by Vegeta was a battle already lost and now the Saiyan was just kicking him when he was down.

Vegeta chuckled under his breath; he still had it.

Once more, he decided, for old time's sake.

The Saiyan raised his eyebrows in mock intrigue "I see, so you would prefer to take both then?" he nodded ponderingly, "I admire you in your courage. Your stamina must be more impressive than I first assumed." he said, hiding a sly grin.

Shinji just slumped forward and proceeded to bash his head off the table surface as he was bombarded by images of his two flatmates and himself 'together'.

He groaned and looked up over his fingers, "You're evil, has anyone ever said that?"

Vegeta looked off to the side in thought for a second, "I'm afraid I lost count of the number of times when it reached into seven figures, though it's usually preceded by the word 'you' and followed by the word 'monster', and then there's often the usual string of pleas for me to stop killing them and ending their civilisation." he said, shrugging the memory off, noticing Shinji's eyes widening slightly. He smirked slightly in response, "I wasn't always this nice, you know." He said, Shinji finding the mere concept of Vegeta being worse than he already was somewhat terrifying to say the least.

The Saiyan turned his back to the child and headed for the door, stopping briefly at the threshold and said, without looking back, "I'm going now, good luck in your mating quest, and remember; have many children with your two women, your offspring will make you proud when you send them off into space to conquer other worlds for you." Vegeta commented, releasing a painful groan from the Third Child as the headed out, all in all feeling quite pleased with himself.

After sitting in silence for a moment to get his hormones under control, and also realising his relaxing Sunday at home was a vain hope shattered, Shinji decided to turn his attention to the device on the table and the CD next to it.

"Okay, Mr Scouter, you've officially piqued my curiosity," He said, picking both items up and heading off to his room to grab his laptop so he could view the instructions for his new toy.

-Z-

Sub-Commander Fuyutski stood at the end of the moving walkway as the all-too familiar form of Gendo Ikari approached. Needless to say, the commander's return was not something the ex-professor had been particularly looking forward to, said opinion not being helped by the fact that the commander appeared to be carrying a report on recent affairs which had obviously been wired to him en route back.

"Ikari, welcome back," said Fuyutski, nodding his head the darkly dressed commander stepped off the walkway and continued onwards, his second-in-command stepping into pace at his side "How was your trip?"

The commander made no outward sign of his feelings on the matter beyond a slight grunt, "Tedious; another waste of time being questioned by pathetic bureaucrats." He answered, handing the report over to Fuyutski in order keep his hands free when he walked as he preferred.

"I…guess you've read the report on the battle then," Fuyutski offered, reluctantly breaching the subject.

"The outcome was satisfactory." Replied the commander simply, "The Angel was destroyed, that is all that matters. I hear Katsuragi has already handled any extraneous outcries from the incident. All may proceed as planned," he explained, missing the slightly relieved expression on his second's face.

Both walked silently toward the commander's office in neutral silence, as usual any personnel in their path swerved to avoid them like they were on fire, saluting as appropriate.

Fuyutski was deep in thought as they entered the darkened office. He watched as Gendo stopped to a halt half way to his desk and looked left and right, surveying the now completed repairs to his office.

Smiling internally at having his little hideaway back in order, Gendo walked over and took his usual position behind the desk at the end of the room.

Kozo continued walking and took up a position in front of one of the windows on the back wall of the office behind the commander, looking out over the geo-front outside, his eyes narrowed in thought.

"What do you make of it, Fuyutski?" said Gendo from behind steepled hands, his voice breaking the silence.

Fuyutski had a suspicion as to what the Commander was referring to, but decided to confirm anyway, "I take it you're referring to the recent incident involving your son and Unit-01?" Gendo made no reply, which for him was basically a confirmation. The sub-commander exhaled a breath, "I don't know," he admitted, "I suppose only Unit-01 would know the answer to that."

"And perhaps the Third Child also?" offered Gendo.

Fuyutski pondered this for a second "Possibly, though I doubt it, Ikari. He's never been aware of Unit-01's independent actions thus far. It could have just been a freak accident."

Gendo knew that the older man didn't believe his own words, "Indeed… and what of Unit-01?"

"A full systems test was run later that day. No anomalies were detected in any circuits and it behaved as natural in the battle against the Angel later on, except…" Fuyutski paused as another bit of information came to mind.

"Except?" prompted Gendo with mild impatience.

"Well… All was the same, except that Shinji's sync ratio had jumped dramatically between both incidents, far beyond our expectations. Although we haven't had a full harmonics test since the battle, the readings for during the battle with the Angel are quite conclusive."

Gendo fell into silence, assimilating the information. He came quickly to his decision, "Give the order for a full sync test to be held starting 5pm today."

"That's a bit short notice Ikari," responded Fuyutski

"That's irrelevant; do it," said Gendo sternly; if there was one thing he hated more than being beaten up by unbelievably smug interdimensional aliens, it was being questioned.

"Yes, sir" Fuyutski replied, turning about and heading for the doors, only to be stopped as the commander's voice followed behind.

"And have the Third Child brought to my office immediately," he said, as if on an afterthought.

"What?" Fuyutski breathed, glancing back, the commander responding to his protest by silently glaring at him over his steepled fingers, and Fuyutski knew better than to speak out of turn again. Saying nothing more, he nodded his head in acceptance and headed out of the office.

-Z-

"Amazing…" said Shinji's in awe as he toyed with the interface and power level detection functions on his scouter, realising that it also doubled as a remote control for several devices that weren't even designed to be controlled in such a way. He realised what Vegeta meant about how this function could help him. And, deciding against turning on every electronic appliance in the building he could interface with just to see what happened, he decided to toy more with the detection functions.

He set the device to maximum sensitivity and quirked his head up towards the kitchen, clicking the button on the side once again. The display flickered to life on the small screen over his eye. A circle with an arrow pointing to it appeared on the screen and a display of numbers began flicking and calculating in the bottom corner.

'Let's see,' he pondered, 'I found one of the Saiyans with a surface power level of 1.2 million, I guess that's one of the kids, I think, So…' Shinji watched as the digits grew smaller and smaller until it blinked and flicked with its final figure.

"Pen-Pen's power level is… 5.9?" Shinji's frown turned into a scowl as the bird in question waddled past the sofa, "Hang on, why is your power level higher than mine?" he demanded.

Pen-Pen regarded him in almost ambiguous silence for a second, a suspicious glint in his dark eyes, "Wark!" said the bird informatively, flapping his wings once before waddling off back to his freezer, leaving a somewhat bewildered Shinji behind.

"Something very odd about that bird…" he murmured.

Dismissing it, he shook his head and then grinned, clicking the scouter display off and returning the device to its ¾ of an inch capsule, which he then slid down the side of his sock for safe-keeping.

He returned his attention to his laptop, deciding to finish up on his required reading.

-Z-

A little while later…

"We're home," Came Misato's chiming voice as she struggled to drag a bunch of miscellaneous shopping bags into the lounge behind her, Asuka closely following behind and being similarly encumbered.

Shinji sighed and slipped his laptop shut, turning his head around as his co-pilot and guardian staggered in, dropping their bags onto the floor.

"Have fun then?" Shinji asked, leaning back on the sofa with his hands behind his head as the two exhausted and sweating females dropped down into the armchairs.

"Of course," said Asuka, pausing to catch her breath, "what, hah, kinda stupid question is that, Third Child?" Asuka panted as she mopped her brow, missing the bemused expression on Shinji's face.

A sweating Misato spoke up next, "Yeah Shin-Chan, you really, hah, should've come with us…"

Shinji laid back into his chair even more and raised an eyebrow, "And become the personal baggage carrier for two hyperactive and overly lazy women? I already do pretty much everything here as it is; I cook your meals, I clean and iron your clothes, I make your lunches, I save your lives every other Thursday, but under NO circumstances will I be brought down to the level of pack mule! You want that kind of service, get a boyfriend or get married." Dictated Shinji in his seat, glad he kindly turned down the offer to go shopping with the two women, having sensed the ulterior motive quite easily.

"Come on, Shinji!" Misato said, returning from the kitchen and having finally pulled herself round thanks to the Senzu bean-like effects a can of Yebisu had on her, "Surely you don't think I would make you do something like that."

Shinji raised his eyebrow and shot a half disbelieving glance at his guardian.

"Well perhaps I should just marry you, Shinji dear, then you'd be all mine." Teased Misato, slinking down onto the arm of Shinji's chair, running a fingertip across his shoulder.

Asuka couldn't help but grin as she shifted up next to the Third Child, "Ooh, not if I take him from you first, Misato" She said, smirking as she trailed a circling finger over his chest.

Shinji made an attempt to sink deeper into his chair as the mental images he had banished earlier returned with a vengeance.

Misato smirked as she slid down on the opposite side of the pilot, pushing herself right up against him "You wouldn't let her do a thing like that would you, Shinji?" she pouted.

Asuka pushed the initiative further as she pressed herself up against his opposite side and traced a finger over the his neck, causing the already blushing and rigid pilot to shudder, "I don't think he could resist even if he tried." she said, breathing down his neckline.

"Well then, Asuka, " Misato began, speaking as if Shinji was neither there nor blushing so hard it looked like his head might explode, before continuing, "I guess that just means we'll just have to share him, won't we?" she said, her smirk matching Asuka's.

"Sounds good to me, Misato…" replied Asuka in that same tone.

Shinji's hands balled into fists in his lap, 'If he hadn't said anything earlier then I might have had the strength to endure… damn you, Vegeta!' cursed Shinji mentally as the two women combined their teasing powers on him.

He felt his mind begin to stall, 'Right, stay calm… just remember; I mustn't run away… mustn't run away –Actually… that sounds like a pretty good plan in this circumstance; initiate running.'

"Okay, done." Said Shinji quickly, bolting out of the chair, grabbing his laptop and retreating quickly to his room. "You're SICK!" he shouted, once the door was safely closed between them.

It took about one millisecond after Shinji's door slammed shut behind him for the two women on the couch to burst into a fit of uncontrolled laughter.

Misato wiped a tear off her eye, "Hah, serves him right!" She gasped out between laughs.' He thought he had me beat?' she thought, smirking with self-satisfaction, 'All it took was a bit of backup and Mama's right back on top.'

"Yup," said Asuka, leaning back into Shinji's chair, "It just takes that special touch from a lady and any man can be put right back in his place."

-Z-

Shinji did his best to ignore the obvious chuckling coming from the living room, which he barely managed to do without impacting his cranium off any nearby blunt objects, even with it becoming obvious that he now had two teasing-obsessed females to not only work with, but also to live with and go to school with on top of it.

'God, where is my sanctuary now?' pleaded Shinji to himself mentally, realising that he now had nowhere to turn when his mind was in need of peace and reassurance… Or did he?

That was the part that was confusing the hell out of him; was the trust he had put in that one person to be his spiritual confidant as badly misplaced as he feared?

'Are you there for me?' he thought to himself, imagining that person's face, 'Or are you precisely what one would think of you from merely knowing what you are?' Shinji's mind worked furiously as he sat down with his hands behind his head.

"Damn it," he moaned, slumping forwards and bashing his head off his desk, "Why can't I tell the depths of just one person's feelings for me… or If there's really any there at all.' He thought, his head starting to hurt, though he considered that to be less due to his dilemma and more to do with the red welt forming on his forehead.

Thump! Thump! Thump!

Shinji raised his head slightly from the desk and opened an eye, glancing left and right curiously, 'well that wasn't me', he contemplated, realising the loud thudding had come unmistakeably from the direction of the front door.

Shinji curiously pushed himself up, sliding open his door and taking a half step into the hallway, just as a frustrated Second Child came storming into the hallway.

"God damned salesmen!" Shouted the girl, "Why do they always have to pound the door around here, haven't they heard of the doorbell? You know the only reason they don't use it is because of the intercom, else who would even bother answering if they knew it was them?" Asuka ranted loudly in frustration as she stood near the door, her fists clenched at her side.

Thump! Thump! Thump!

"BUZZ OFF!" shouted Asuka at the door. After six hours of shopping she was quite fed up with people trying to sell her things she didn't want.

A gruff and deep voice came through the door, "This is NERV sec-"

"I don't care if you're the god damn Pope! I'm not opening this door until you ring the god damned doorbell!"

There was a long, long pause.

ding-dong

Asuka smiled sweetly and reached for the door control, sliding it open, "Right! That's better, now just what the heeep-" Shinji frowned as he heard Asuka's breath catch in her throat, and glanced out of the door to see a trio of ridiculously imposing men clad in matching black suits and sunglasses, all of whom were clearly neither salesmen, nor, obviously, were they amused by the situation.

Asuka laughed uncomfortably, backing up several steps as the men's reflective glare followed her back, "Heh…umm," abruptly, the girl spun about and bolted for her room, "Misato, it's for you!"

Shinji, from his position leaning against his doorpost, had his eyes narrowed at the sight of the three agents, 'Father must've just gotten back… Man, he doesn't waste any time, does he?'

Misato entered the hallway yawning, with her red flight jacket slung over her shoulder, rubbing her eyes as she prepared for her shift, "What's all the ruckus out here?"

"I swear, if those parking guys have towed me again I'll stick my foot right up their-" Misato stopped mid-sentence as her eyes met the occupants standing outside her doorway.

Shinji noted the subtle yet somehow complete shift in his guardian's demeanour; the slight narrowing of the eyebrows, the slight lowering of the head and raising of the shoulders.

She'd just switched to Captain Katsuragi mode.

The change was notable in her tone of voice also, "Is there something I can help you with, gentlemen?" She enquired, "Unless it's urgent and you're here to make a report," she paused, adding mentally, 'and I have pretty damn good hunch you're not' "then just forward it to my terminal and I'll check It out when I get to headquarters in an hour or so."

To be truthful, Misato had a distinctly bad feeling about this, her bad feelings often becoming noticeable to her when she realises she's subconsciously tensing her jacket over where she often keeps he service pistol secured.

To Misato's surprise, the reply came from her right, having not noticed Shinji's presence before, "I assume you're here for me?" He said calmly, having already slipped his shoes on.

Misato looked dumbfounded at her charge who, as far as she could tell, seemed to be ignoring her and had all his attention focused directly on the three guests. Her bewilderment was amplified several magnitudes when the lead agent, a stout Eurasian man standing at over two metres tall, nodded briefly and spoke in a level tone, "Commander Ikari wishes to see you."

"I'll bet he would," murmured Shinji, walking out past Misato without another word.

"Excuse me!" Misato interrupted, causing Shinji to stop adjacent to her, meeting her eyes with a sidelong glance, "But do you mind telling me just what the hell is going on?"

Shinji's mouth opened "I-" then his eyes fell, having been about to say 'I'll explain it all later' but then realised the predicament he was in, and the fact that telling his purple haired guardian anything could put her in serious danger if she acted on any of the information he could provide. He changed his reply, "I'm sure he just wants a chat or something," he offered lightly, in a stark contrast to the way he had been speaking just a second earlier. Misato regarded him in silence, waiting for him to elaborate, and so he simply shrugged his shoulders, "I'll see you later on then, shall I?" he offered with a smile.

"S-sure," She said unsurely, smiling weakly in return and nodding slowly. At this, Shinji turned and headed out of the door and into the company of the trio of waiting agents just outside.

-Z-

Shinji's expression melted back into its former serious one the instant the door slid closed behind him, "Shall we…" He offered, glancing at the lead agent.

The blonde man inclined his head curtly and beckoned Shinji to follow, the other two agents forming up behind him, obviously to block any attempt at retreat and always staying within arm's reach, just in case the cooperative Third Child suddenly chose to be less cooperative.

It was a shame one hadn't been keeping an eye on the pilot from the side, else they might have noticed the child keeping focused on something out the corner of his eye until they reached the two elevators at the end of the floor, one being taken by two agents, the other by Shinji and the leader.

-Z-

"Do you believe what he said?" asked Asuka as she approached the Captain, who was still standing in the same position as before, her strained smile long since faded.

Misato made no response other than to pass a barely readable expression to the pilot.

"Didn't think so… It was a pretty lame excuse, wasn't it," said Asuka, smiling weakly in an attempt to cheer up their worried guardian.

Misato's expression suddenly cleared, "Asuka, I'm leaving early today. I'll see you later on," said the Captain quickly, slipping her shoes on and heading out of the apartment, determined to at least attempt to ensure her charge's safety.

Asuka's eyes followed Misato until she was out of sight, a thousand confusing thoughts running through her mind, "And there she goes…" she mumbled, shaking her head as the door closed shut, leaving her alone with her thoughts.

Just the way she hated it…

-Z-

Shinji sat in the back of the black NERV Sedan, an agent either side of him as it started off towards headquarters. At that point he had allowed his eye to drift covertly to the side and up to the spot he was watching before.

There on top of a nearby building, standing sentinel over him, was Goku.

Shinji watched as the figure nodded his head once directly at him and, again as covertly as he could, Shinji slowly nodded his head back in acknowledgement of his presence.

Goku stood, focusing his mind on the ki signals in the car moving away from him. Individually their life signals would be almost impossible to track or determine from a distance but, considering the size of some of the agents and the fact they were all grouped together in one spot, Goku just barely managed to establish a lock he could follow satisfactorily.

His brow furrowed into a frown as he heard another engine roar to life in the street below.

The Saiyan turned about, eyes tracing back down to the road again. He spotted a familiar blue Renault Alpine move into pursuit of the vehicle ahead, "And just what are you up to?" mumbled Goku, "Just heading into the office? Or could you be doing precisely the same thing I am?" he found himself asking and, with a grin, the Saiyan gook off into the air to follow after the Third Child…

-Z-

Twenty minutes later, Shinji was walking through the halls of NERV still accompanied by his three-man escort.

Shinji realised that, for some reason, it seemed as if not one thought had passed through his mind since he left the apartment. He realised that he seemed to have put himself into autopilot, as if needing all his willpower to gather the strength he needed for what was to come.

His mind was forced to reinstate itself as the doors to his father's office came into sight before him.

All at once Shinji suddenly realised that he had never actually been here before, 'I wonder what it's like,' He mulled silently, 'It's father so: I'm guessing unnecessarily large and imposing; pointlessly dark; with little to no décor.' Shinji glanced back, seeing that the agents had halted at the reception area, obviously just to make sure he went inside before they departed.

Taking a steadying breath, Shinji turned to the double doors in front of him. He regarded the handles for a second as a smirk tugged at the corner of his mouth 'okay, for a good start; make a dramatic entrance,' he thought, lowering his hands and flinging the doors open with unnecessary speed…

-Z-

Gendo stifled a gasp, his eyes flinching up as the doors to his office flew open, banging loudly off the walls either side an instant later. Light poured in from the corridor outside, the unmistakable silhouette of his son standing at the threshold.

Shinji stood for a second, arms still outstretched, before folding them behind his back and stepping slowly into the office, the doors closing behind him.

The pilot got less than half-way across the room before coming to a halt, his trainers squeaking off the smooth floor as he stopped. He slowly began arching his head about, looking all about.

He nodded ponderingly, eyebrows raised, 'Yup, called it…'

He cocked his head, as if reconsidering, 'although… I suppose it is stylish…if you're a minimalist vampire.' He continued walking, stopping again, still having not even looked at his father, who was glaring at him with slipping patience. He paused again as he reached the Kabbalah tree etched into the floor, frowning as his foot brushed over the Malkhut sephirot experimentally, 'interesting decoration…'

"hmm…" hummed the pilot out loud, glancing around again.

Commander Ikari however was getting quickly irritated. Not only was his son showing the opposite reaction to how people usually acted when they first entered his office, acting almost grudgingly impressed by the whole outfit as opposed to sheepish and intimated, but he had also so far not paid him the slightest bit of attention.

He wasn't used to that.

"Pilot…" said Gendo to the inattentive teenager, who now seemed more interested in the ceiling than the supreme commander.

"Hmm, yes?" mumbled Shinji, briefly glancing down before returning his gaze to the diagram on the ceiling. He wasn't intentionally ignoring the commander, and in fact had sort of become almost morbidly impressed by the layout. 'No wonder this place terrifies people, all he needs is a monocle and a fluffy white cat to sit on his lap' Shinji contemplated, fighting the urge to smirk.

"Pilot…" repeated Gendo warningly.

Shinji nodded at the ceiling, "Who painted this? It's very good. But seriously, where did you find a guy to come all the way down here and-"

"Shinji!" Gendo barked, unwillingly using his son's name for the first time in many years.

"Yes?" asked Shinji, "Sorry, were you saying something?"

Shinji wasn't sure, but he could've sworn he heard his father's knuckles crack together.

"Well?" Gendo asked, deciding to probe what assumptions his son may make with as little information given as possible.

Shinji quirked an eyebrow, "Well what?"

"What do you have to say?" He elaborated.

Shinji was taken aback even more; his father wasn't exactly making much sense.

There was a period of silence.

"Nice…office?"

Gendo could be seen taking a long, calming breath, "I'm glad you approve, Third Child," said the commander, trying not to be baited by whatever it was his son was attempting. He was at least secretly reassured that his son had assumed the traditional place for someone standing before him in his office: three metres away, back straight and rigid, "However, I did not bring you here to admire the décor."

Shinji decided against standing on the knife edge in this conversation by toying with his father – something which he had to admit was giving him a funny buzzing feeling in the pit of his stomach –and despite knowing he was in no particular danger, he decided to stop beating about the bush, and address the issue head on, "You're talking about what happened with Unit-01, aren't you?" Shinji said, back in his usual tone, averting his eyes to the side.

"Indeed. The incident is somewhat unprecedented," replied the elder Ikari.

"But I thought Commander Fuyutski saw the whole thing."

"That's true," admitted the commander, "but he was not directly involved, Shinji… You were however."

"So what would you like me to say then?" Shinji enquired, knowing that he couldn't reveal he knew anything more about his EVA than he should do. Playing possum was the only way; the last thing he wanted was his father or Seele changing their strategies so early in the game. So long as he played at being their pawn, playing by their rules, then there would be no need for them to alter their plans and therefore both he and the Saiyans could predict their moves with laser-like accuracy and hence manipulate the board in any way they saw fit.

Let it never be said there's not a downside to allowing a millennia old document to dictate your strategy.

Shinji had decided: he would do as he was told…for now.

"I want you to describe in detail the events that led up to the EVA's reactivation."

Shinji's eyes narrowed in thought as he contemplated the best way to answer his father's enquiry without raising suspicions, though from the outside it just appeared he was straining to remember, "I'm not too sure what happened. I just reached out and touched the EVA and… I don't know… It just did it," said Shinji, his confusion only partly an act; to be fair whatever was the actual trigger for causing Unit-01 to go berserk wasn't clear to him. Though if he did know that, he admitted to himself, things would be far much simpler.

Gendo contemplated this and decided to change his method of questioning, "You were in headquarters?" he began, and continued after a confirming nod from Shinji, "for quite a while after your test was scheduled to end, why?"

"No reason," said Shinji, shrugging his shoulders, "I was kind of… lost in thought. I suppose I was just wandering."

Gendo realised that this did indeed seem in line with what the security monitors had picked up of the pilots movements. All except for one thing: "I see… And yet you seemed at one point to alter your direction and go directly to the cage containing Unit-01. That is somewhat of a coincidence for mere wandering in my opinion."

Shinji chose to answer truthfully…for the most part, "Curiosity: There's so much I don't know about EVA, and yet I have to pilot the damn thing out there to try and save to world. And I don't know why I thought going to the cages would change that but, I don't know, I just…did." Explained Shinji, the picture still of ignorance and innocence, "And after I got there, what happened just… happened."

Gendo decided to accept this as a reasonable answer also, and decided that his son had little to offer on the mystery "Very well then, you are dismissed, pilot," instructed Gendo coldly as his mind began to work on what the whole situation could mean.

Shinji nodded "Good day, father."

"Likewise…" Gendo mumbled as if on an afterthought as his son walked out of the office, "Wait…" he said abruptly, Shinji's trainer squeaking as he pulled himself to an abrupt halt.

"What is it?" asked Shinji, half turning about.

Gendo peered at his son over his hands, "My reports state that you visited the Saiyans, correct?"

Shinji hesitated for a second, "It's true. I already explained what happened to Misato."

"Indeed, I have read Captain Katsuragi's report. According to this, they only wished to offer you advice in terms of strategy."

Shinji inclined his head, "Yes, strategy was the main point of conversation," said Shinji, realising it was actually a truth.

"I see…is there anything you would like to add? Was there anything mentioned or discussed that you feel NERV should know?"

Shinji narrowed his eyes at his father just a tad, "No…I feel there's nothing else you need to know."

His father was silent for a few seconds; it was a most uncomfortable silence for Shinji, "I dislike how you phrased that, Pilot."

"I meant nothing by it, father. I merely meant that there wasn't anything else you would feel is relevant. I don't think there's anything they told me that you don't already know yourself." He said, again it was a technical truth.

It wasn't his fault that his father wasn't asking the correct questions.

Again, the commander was quiet, as if wondering if the Third Child would offer anything else voluntarily, "You are aware that if you are hiding something from me, or are considering any treasonous activities, I will find out the truth."

Shinji's glanced out his peripheral vision at the figure in orange floating in the shadows outside, out of his father's line of sight. He smiled innocently and inclined his head to his father, "Of course, sir. I would never lie to you. After all, what could I possibly do to you? I'm just one of your pilots, nothing more, right?"

Gendo found his son's words appeasing, but for some reason he found his tone to be bordering on a threat. He pushed the suspicion aside for now; such a thing was well outside his son's capacity based on the psychological reports done on him recently after his arrival in Tokyo-3. He realised he had to return his mind to the more important issue of Unit-01 and its recent unpredictable behaviour.

"Very well, but you may consider yourself forbidden from approaching the Saiyans without NERV's prior authorisation, is that understood?"

Shinji bowed his head, "Yes, sir. I will make not approach the Saiyans camp without permission in future." He said, realising he hadn't been forbidden from calling them, nor had he forbidden them from approaching him.

"Very good," said Gendo, "You may leave now."

"Of course, father," replied Shinji, who raised his head back up, turned, and left his father alone, the elder Ikari's thoughts returning immediately to Unit-01.

Gendo sat in the dark, contemplating over and over the details of the incident in the cage, 'What is it you're thinking… Yui?' he thought, his outer posture not betraying the turmoil going on within…

-Z-

Shinji stepped out into the area outside his father's office, just glad to see the light again. He was also surprised to find a very apprehensive looking Misato sitting in one of the reception chairs.

"Hey…" said Shinji softly, as if not to startle the lavender haired woman, who still jumped up as if someone had struck her with a Taser.

"Shinji!" she exclaimed with alarm, "Are you-"

Shinji's eyes fell to the floor as he interrupted quietly, "You always worry so much for me…"

Misato's worried face melted into a relieved smile as she slowly reached down and brushed a hand down over the pilot's cheek, raising his chin up with a finger to meet her eyes, "Hey, someone has to…" She grinned, turning to head off, "Come on, this place is depressing enough as it is without getting all soppy on his highness' doorstep."

Shinji couldn't help but laugh as he followed on after his guardian away from the commander's office.

"You want to tell me what that was all about, then?" She asked, pointing a thumb back at the double doors.

Shinji shrugged, "Nothing much. He just wanted to ask me a few questions about that incident with Unit-01 just before the seventh Angel's attack."

Misato's brow furrowed in confusion, "What incident?"

"What, I thought Ritsuko would've told you about it," Shinji said, tilting his head about to regard his guardian as they walked.

Misato let out a disgruntled snort, "What, Ritsuko actually telling me something without me having to grill her, are you mad?"

Shinji smiled slightly, "I guess I am. But, it's nothing big really; Unit-01 just had a little hiccup while it was in the cage. I just happened to be standing in front of it at the time."

Misato frowned, "A hiccup?"

"Well, not literally; its eyes just kind of glowed for a second before going dead again. It was probably nothing, but I guess my father wanted the details anyway."

"I guess," said Misato, folding her arms as they walked, "but why didn't you even mention it afterwards?"

Shinji shrugged "Like I said: I didn't think much of it, plus I thought that you would've been told anyways."

Misato breathed a sigh, "Okay then. Well do you want to grab a bite to eat before I rush off onto duty?" she offered, just realising she hadn't ate before coming into headquarters after Shinji.

"You go; I may as well head back now. It's getting kind of dark out."

"There's no point in doing that," said Misato.

"Huh?"

"Oh, didn't you hear? You've got a sync test in about an hour."

Shinji frowned, "Since when?"

"About twenty minutes ago. The commander ordered it specially. I've already had an earful from Asuka over the phone about it."

"My father?" Shinji murmured, glancing back the way they had come.

"Yup, I suppose it's because we haven't had an actual sync test since before the attack of the seventh Angel. I suppose he just wants an update on how things stand, and you know how impatient your dad can be: anything not already done before he's asked is usually too late."

"Yeah…" muttered Shinji, a faraway look in his eyes, "I'm sure that's the reason…I think my father really doesn't know where things stand just now."

"You hungry then?" Asked Misato brightly, bringing back Shinji's attention.

Shinji blinked, "Wha-? Oh yeah, sure, let's go." He said, doing his best to smile as Misato dragged him off in search of food.

-Z-

Out in the Geo-front, Goku got a similar inkling to Misato and, deciding Shinji was in no immediate danger, concentrated his energy and disappeared…

-Z-

"I'm guessing Asuka's going to be doing some complaining when she gets in," commented Shinji as he finished his last sushi roll.

Misato smirked, twirling her chopsticks between her fingers, "What, you thought she would be over the moon to spend several hours of her time off in perpetual silence floating about in orange goo?"

Shinji cocked an eyebrow up, "What, and you think I am?"

"N-no, "stammered Misato, "It's just…" at that she fumbled off, not particularly wanting to describe how she simply found him to be far more obedient and easier to work with than his German counterpart.

"It's okay, Misato," said Shinji, setting his chopsticks down in front of him, "Either way, I think It's going to be an interesting evening," his eyes seemed to lose focus for a while, "whether I like it or not…"

"What do you mean by that?" asked Misato through her last mouthful of octopus, bewildered by some of the ambiguous statements her charge had been coming out with as of late.

Shinji's eyes blinked as he brought himself back to focus "W-what? Oh nothing, just wishful thinking and all. Nothing more boring than these harmonics tests," said Shinji, dismissively shrugging his shoulders.

Misato smiled weakly in return, "Yeah, I can't say I envy you," replied Misato agreeably, regarding her charge from over her can of beer thoughtfully, 'What is it you're hiding from me, Shinji? Don't you trust me even now?' she contemplated almost sadly as she watched the pilot finish his drink.

-Z-

About an hour later Rei was in the changing rooms, preparing for the upcoming test.

She clicked the control on her plug suit, pressurising it up as her normally fluidic thought processes continued to fluctuate around a matter which had begun to really disturb her.

She sat, staring forward as her mind ran over the fears that had been jammed there for some time now.

She had seen neither head nor tail of Shinji Ikari for over a week now. In fact he had been almost non-existent since their conversation on the day Goten and Trunks had fought over Tokyo-3. It was for this reason that the albino girl was most disturbed; somehow Shinji had managed to evade her presence ever since that day.

She had decided not to visit his residence during his training for the upcoming battle with the seventh Angel, having not wanted to disturb his coordination training simply for her own peace of mind, and yet afterward it was as if he were intentionally keeping one step ahead of her in order avoid being in her presence. That disturbed her, greatly. Shinji simply could not abhor her, recent and semi-recent events had proved that to her.

She wasn't sure yet: She didn't know what the pain was that stabbed at her every time she imagined the way Shinji might look at her; she didn't understand that longing to simply sit by him again and hear his voice as he confided in her; she couldn't comprehend the borderline desperation to see his smile or feel his touch once more, nor the strange and disagreeable feeling about never being able to experience that again.

No, she wasn't sure, but she would find out…today.

-Z-

Shinji laid back in the seat of the entry plug as he awaited the tests to begin, savouring the silence and the coolness of the ultra-thin breathable liquid in his lungs.

'Right,' he contemplated to himself, 'here we go. Let's just see what happens…'

Ritsuko's voice sounded over the comm. system, bringing Shinji back to reality, "Right, we're almost set to begin. You all should know the drill by now," a trio of affirmatives responded to her as the linkups between the test plugs and their respective EVA's began.

Shinji relaxed further, opening his mind as synchronisation with the EVA began.

This time however, he was going to do it differently. Before, he had merely allowed his mind to be linked with the fighting machine and let his sync level be what it may as the EVA embraced his mind. Today, he decided, he was going to do things differently. He intended to take what he had begun to do slowly over the past few times he had synchronised with Unit-01 to a new level.

It was that strange sensation that enveloped his mind like a warm blanket that he was focusing on, the one that surrounded him with an eerie yet wonderfully familiar feeling of calm and closeness. Before, he had merely viewed it as a pleasant side-effect of the linkup, yet it had always prayed on his sub consciousness; caressing it kindly. Knowing what he knew now, he strongly suspected that he knew what that feeling was or, more to the point, who it was.

The Third Child sank back as his mind was linked up, his consciousness connected to something much more than himself.

He felt that familiar warmth surrounded him, a small contented smile gracing his features. Unlike before, this time he allowed his mind to call out to it. He felt the embrace deepen as he allowed his mind to draw itself into the warmth around him. As he pulled himself in further, he felt like he was sinking deeper and deeper into a bottomless well of contentedness until it enveloped every last corner of his mind and gleefully held him softly within it, touching his every pain in the back of his mind and smoothly caressing it. He felt the warmth spread out from around his mind and down his body, like he was being cradled from behind in the tender embrace of another.

He let a smile spread out across his face as he felt love gently surge through him; innocent, unconditional, and limitless love, a love that was content to do nothing more than hold him, and simply be there.

He exhaled a slow breath, 'Ahh… there you are…'

-Z-

And so, the tests went on for hours on end they usually did until the data from the testing systems finally began to flow in.

Maya pulled up the details on screen as she had a dozen times before, but it took her mind a moment to accept what her eyes were showing her, "Umm, Sempai? You might want take a look at this…" she said, her eyes wide as they regarded the screen. Ritsuko looked up from her clipboard and leaned over to looks, Misato wheeling over on her chair a second later.

Ritsuko supressed a gasp as her eyes passed over the syncograph readouts, or to be more precise, the readouts that had come from Unit-01, "That's impossible…" she breathed, "Maya, lower the graph depth another five points," She said, keeping her eyes transfixed on the data as her subordinate entered the command.

Shinji felt the imposed contamination as it tried to pull him free of his embrace, but he wasn't in the mood for NERV's games, and neither did it seem was the EVA. Shinji felt it as Unit-01 forcefully shut out any impositions on its pilots mind and brought him back to the safety of its tender embrace…

Ritsuko gasped as the ratio dropped for a few seconds before the graph seemed to readjust itself to compensate, forcing the synchronisation level back up to where it was before "Did it just…adapt?" asked Misato, who was now staring with almost as much disbelief as the other two. She might not be the most scientifically minded person around, but she knew how to read off a synchronisation graph.

"This is incredible," breathed Maya as her eyes stared at the sync ratio indicator below the graphs.

'Commander Ikari has to know about this,' thought Ritsuko with a slight frown before turning her eyes to the screen showing the three pilots, focusing on the face of the Third Child, and the small contented smile that graced his lips, "He's amazing…" said the scientist with awe.

'He looks… happy' thought Misato with a start, 'He's happy to be with the EVA?' her charge had never been happy, not really, with his duties as the Third Child, and here he was looking for all the world like he wouldn't want to be anywhere else, "What's the status on Rei and Asuka?" she asked, turning to Maya.

"The graph adjustment has put them both on the edge on the contamination zone."

"And Shinji?" she asked

"Not even close. And his plug depth is as low as the system can put it short of cutting the link circuits entirely," explained the young lieutenant.

'Have they figured out one another?' theorised Ritsuko silently before saying out loud, "Anyway, this aside, I think this is all the data we're going to get today." She commented, trying to keep her voice as nonchalant as possible.

Misato leaned over to the microphone, "Shinji?" She watched as Shinji remained still, not opening his eyes. "Shinji?" she repeated slightly louder, a note of sudden concern in his voice.

"I hear you…" He said, his reply barely over a whisper, as if he were bordering on the edge of sleep.

"Um, are you feeling alright?" She enquired unsurely.

Shinji's eyes opened as he met his guardian's curious stare, his smile widening a bit, seeming almost amused at the question as he cocked his head, "I'm feeling great, why? Is there a problem?" he asked curiously. He'd be shocked if she replied that there was an issue, as he felt good.

No, that was a lie, he felt great, insanely so…

"N-no, there's no problem at all, Shinji," said Misato hastily, her eyes flicking between the pilot and the readout screen, "it's just, your sync ratio…"

Shinji cocked his head, wondering if his change in method had caused his sync ratio to plummet, "W-what, has it gone down a few points or something?"

"No, that's not it… Misato said, contemplating the best way to continue, before taking a deep breath and deciding to just come out with it, "Shinji, your synchronisation ratio is at ninety-four percent."

Shinji half choked on the LCL in shock, "it's what?" he gasped, noticing he had lost concentration. He found himself resisting the urge to laugh for mentally apologising to his EVA for pulling away from her before refocusing.

Ritsuko's voice came over as she nudged Misato to one side, her voice serious, "Shinji, we need to know, have you been doing anything odd recently that could have caused this kind of change?"

"Are you implying I'm on drugs or something?" he asked, feigning insult.

"N-no," she corrected quickly, "nothing like that at all. We just need to know what could affect a sync ratio like this."

Shinji wasn't sure if he should laugh or scold himself for doing what he had, as it kind of revealed that he had more of an insight into the true workings of EVA than he should do. And so he contemplated his response for a second, "Beats the hell out of me," he said, shrugging his shoulders in a convincingly confused tone.

'Yup,' he thought to himself, 'that's the way; when in doubt, lie, lie, lie.'

If all were paying more attention to the communication indicators, they would have noticed that, for nearly all of the conversation, the feed from the First Child's plug was kept constantly open from within. Neither did they notice the momentary look of shock on Rei's pale features at the revelation of the Third Child's synch ratio.

Ritsuko sighed for a moment, "Well either way it's very good work, Shinji. Anyway, that'll be all for today. "She opened the comm link to the other pilots, "Good work everyone. We're finished for today."

"And?" came Asuka's curious voice.

"And what?" replied Ritsuko.

"What's my test score then?"

Ritsuko sighed again "Just as well as ever, Asuka. Well done."

"Hmph, no news is good news, I guess." Asuka said, shrugging as she climbed up and out of her plug once the hatch had fully opened, the other pilots following suit, one of which was intently looking forward, as if to dissuade anyone from trying to converse with him for a few hours at least. The other had her crimson eyes locked on the Third Child as she realised this would be her best chance.

-Z-

After a nice long LCL-cleansing shower and a change of clothing, Shinji walked down through the seemingly endless maze of steel corridors with his eyes narrowed in thought, something he found he had come to do a lot recently.

'Ninety-four?' he found himself thinking, 'And I felt like I was relaxing not focusing. I thought it would've been lower if anything.' A smile tugged at his lips, 'I guess even EVAs like to cuddle…'

He turned a corner and walked forward a few paces, screeching suddenly to a halt, realising he had subconsciously wandered into the EVA cages.

Walking onward, Shinji passed by Unit-01. He paused to give it a subtle side-glance, 'did you do this?' he contemplated curiously, wondering if it could've somehow planted the subconscious idea to come here during synchronisation.

He sighed at the thought, 'Well if so, I really don't see the point. After all, you're not exactly in the position to give any motherly advi-'Shinji's mind screeched to a loud and untimely halt as his world froze around him, a soft and familiar female voice sounding from directly behind him…

"Shinji…" called Rei softly yet unsurely to the Third child.

Shinji turned around slowly, as if it were taking all his effort just to do so. And, as suspected, found the pilot of Evangelion Unit-00 standing not two metres away from him.

Rei could have been slapped right across the face by the third child and it wouldn't have struck her more momentary pain than the look in the boy's eyes as they met her. The soft, curious and always caring eyes he would regard her with were now gone. In their place was an unsure look of fear that pierced her very heart, 'I think…he knows.'

Nothing was said for literally a minute as Shinji's mind waged war again. That imperfection in his ego that he had been battling to isolate and perfect, and thought he was done with, forced it's way abruptly back onto the edge of his consciousness.

Battle had recommenced…

"You know what she is," said Shadow, now concealed in darkness once more in Shinji's mind's eye, his voice laced with venom.

"Rei," fumbled Shinji, finding himself fracturing back into Light and his own observations between the two once more, "Is Rei…" he completed, more than a little unsurely.

"For one," the voice half snarled, "She belongs to him."

'No, I won't believe that,' Shinji replied surely, quickly syncing back into the 'Light' part of himself once more.

"Don't you get it?" demanded Shadow with disgust, "That's why he made her like that: She is the embodiment of your rejection by your own father."

"No!" snapped Shinji, "That I refuse to believe!"

"Then what do you believe?" asked Shadow almost tauntingly.

'I don't know, damn it!' He screamed back into his mind.

"Then I suggest we go…" said Shadow as levelly and coldly as a disembodied figment of one's imagination could.

"W-what?"

"A temporary withdrawal if you will," said Shadow in sickly smooth voice, "Do you prefer it when I call it that? I doubt you'll be coming to any real revelations while in its presence."

T-temporary, yes," stammered Shinji, his will beginning to waver, "I need to… think…"

"Yes…" breathed Shadow, "Just to think."

Shinji slowly found himself pulling away from the girl's stare and beginning to turn round, "I… I've got to… go."

Rei found loneliness, abandonment and full blown emotional agony forced into realisation in that brief instant for her full viewing pleasure. As Shinji orientated away from her, she felt that, with each degree her turned, he tore a piece of her very self with him.

As he began to leave, she felt as if he were ripping her heart along with him with each inch he moved. And no, she wasn't sure. She never knew what to do at times like these. There was only one thing she did know:

'I need you…'

She didn't know how to act, nor how to really think in such a situation, and so she did the only thing she possibly could do at that moment.

"Huh?" said Shinji in confusion, finding he had been forced to a halt or, more accurately, pulled to one, as he felt something gripping tightly onto the cuff of his short sleeved shirt.

Slowly again, he turned round to meet Rei once more, his eyes widening as he touched the pale hand on his shoulder.

'My god, she's… Trembling.' he thought as he stared into her downturned and glistening crimson eyes. He watched as she said absolutely nothing, and simply held onto him as if for dear life.

He gasped softly as he suddenly realised what he was doing to the girl.

Time seemed to stand still as he found himself face to face with Shadow once more.

"I…can't leave her."

"Do you mind if I ask why?" he demanded sardonically.

Shinji glared at the form, "Oh I think you know why."

"Excuse me! She's an Angel half-breed clone with freaking DNA from your mom!" said the voice incredulously.

Shinji suddenly found that the answer to this had been standing in the front of his mind all along, and it was such a simple one that he had overlooked it.

"I…don't care…" Shinji whispered through his whole consciousness as he stared into Rei's eyes and brushed her trembling hand, which was still attached to his shoulder.

"Come again?" demanded Shadow.

Shinji found himself towering over the shadow aspect of himself, deciding it was time to put him to bed once and for all, "You really don't get it do you?" he demanded more intensely than ever before

"Then why don't you enlighten me," said Shadow defiantly.

Shinji plunged his hand into that mental darkness and took hold of it firmly in his grasp.

"Let me put in words you'll understand, then. And I'll be sure to keep this simple." He said, feeling the shadow aspect crack in his hand as an image of Rei brushing his cheek flashed by.

"Rei-" he said, remembering her touching his hand, '-is still-' and then her smiling after the fight with the fifth Angel. And finally, the sight of the frail, frightened girl standing before him right now, "-Rei!'

Suddenly, images of the young albino girl flooded one after another through his mind, over and over, crushing each doubt raised simply by her origin, any disgust or abhorrence dissolved by what he knew he truly felt. He fight Shadow break like glass in his hand, and suddenly the small dissolving form of his younger self was looking back up at him with tired exasperation.

"You have a very odd sense of priorities, has anyone ever said that?"

Shinji cocked his head, "They have now…"

"But I am you," it retorted.

"Then no, so I'll just have go on prioritising until someone does say it then, wont I?"

The younger Shinji sighed, "We're hopeless…"

"At last we agree on something."

"You know, if It's all the same with you, I'm going to hang on around here a while longer, just in case this goes as tits up as I think it will…"

Shinji smiled, "Make yourself comfortable, you're going to be waiting a long time…"

-Z-

Shinji kept his eyes locked with the first child's as his face softened for her. His smile returned to how it had been before. He kept his eyes held with hers as allowed the hand resting atop hers to slide slowly up the length of her pale slender arm and onto her shoulder. He sighed and brought is other hand to rest on Rei's other shoulder. Rei's eyes met his questioningly, and she let out a startled gasp as Shinji slid his arms down behind her back and gently pulled the rigid girl into his embrace, and from there he simply held her…

Rei was tense in his arms, and after a pause Shinji felt her melt against him as she brought her head to rest gently on his shoulder. Shinji didn't give much of a start as Rei slid her other arm round his back and embraced him back with all she had, as if she feared he would evaporate into nothingness if she let him go. Rei closed her eyes and rested for a moment, feeling for the first time emotional relief. No, this was more than that…

This was bliss.

Shinji felt several warm tears splash down onto his arm as he realised what she was worried of. Gently, he slowly brought a hand up and caressed her smooth azure locks, as she spoke the first words since the start of the encounter.

"Why am I crying?" she whispered, her fingers digging in slightly as she rested her cheek against his shoulder.

"Probably for the same reason I did." He replied gently. He felt his grip tighten slightly, "I'm so, so sorry, Rei. I promise I'll never leave you again," he whispered down, resting his face against the top of her head as they held each other in silence, neither wanting to leave that place unless it was absolutely necessary, which both Rei and Shinji hoped, would be quite some time...

And from the viewpoint overlooking the cage, Commander Fuyutski stood with his hand hovering over the intercom button linked directly to the Supreme Commander's office.

After a moment, a small smile graced the old professor's features as he pulled his hand back and slid it into his pocket. After watching the two for a moment in silence, he turned and walked off, allowing the tormented teens to have their moment of joy. "I don't think Ikari needs to hear about this"

To be continued…

-XA-

[A/N] And thusly we complete another instalment and yes, from here on out there is a romantic subplot, but for those who loathe such things in their tales, I'll try and keep things balanced. Well, as many of the older readers know, new characters will be entering the fray soon and new developments to come. Hope you'll stick with me and I'll catch you all next time.

See you all in Chapter 13: Heat of the Moment.