As the afternoon's heat pressed down upon him, the lone man loosened the buttons of his collared shirt, pausing only to light a cigarette. Inhaling deeply, he sighed and smiled at the cigarette, watching as the room's metal fans blew the smoke into an intricate pattern. He smiled. Misato had always told him that these things would kill him someday, but he had paid her comments no mind. Funny thing that it would not be the cigarettes that would kill him.

Flicking the cigarette away, he turned back to a small wooden crate that was serving as a table. Upon it, sat a small cell phone and a neatly draped sport coat. Reaching inside the coat, he felt around, fingers searching for an elusive item. Finally he managed to remove it. The blued steel of a .9mm Sig Auto pistol gleamed in the afternoon light. Removing the clip, the man tossed it into a corner and set the empty handgun down on the crate.

Reaching now for his phone, he picked it up and dialed a number that he should have forgotten long ago, but only remembered out of pure habit and his love. As the dial tone rang, he prepared his speech. What would he say to her?

"Hi this is the Katsuragi residence! Leave your message after the beep!"

As the machine began it's recording cycle, Kaji Ryoji smiled and began to speak.

Several years earlier.Tokyo-2 University

"Kaji!" shouted the beautiful purple haired woman as she rushed up to hug him. "I've missed you!" she shouted as she hugged the tall gangly looking youth around the neck.

"I've missed you too," smiled Kaji as he gently kissed her cheek. Taking the woman's hand in his, they began walking off the platform of the local train station. "So how did you fare while I was away, Misato?"

"Oh I spent a lot of time with Ritsuko," smiled Misato. "I've got a present for you!"

Kaji knew that Misato had gotten a present for him, as one of his dorm mates had told him in a drunken phone conversation while Kaji had been in Kyoto visiting his uncle. Feigning surprise, Kaji smiled and asked, "What is it?"

"Ta-da!" shouted Misato as she tossed him a long red silk tie. Kaji looked down at it in surprise and then smiled, giving Misato a quick kiss on the mouth.

"Get a room!" jokingly shouted a voice from the other end of the railroad platform. Kaji looked up to see a tall blonde with short hair standing by her car, a vintage 1999 Honda Accord.

"Oh believe me, I would!" shouted Kaji as he grinned and quickly embraced the tall blonde. "Ritsuko Akagi."

Ritsuko smiled. "I guess a week wasn't enough to change you Kaji."

"Nope," grinned Kaji as he thumbed his nose. "I came back early because I missed Misato."

"Oh yes, before you two start making out again.I have something for you," said Ritsuko, rummaging through her purse. Fishing out a small object, she handed it to Kaji saying, "There you go!"

Kaji looked down at the object he held in his hand. Looking up at Ritsuko with a look of disbelief on his face, he said, "What the hell is this?"

"It's a good luck cat," smiled Ritsuko slyly. "This way you'll never lose luck."

"Yeah, right," said Kaji as he shoved the cat in his pocket. He never had had a soft spot for cats, he suspected this was Ritsuko's idea of a joke.

"I'm dying of hunger!!" whined Misato as she tugged on Kaji's arm. "Let's go get some food.and then afterwards Kaji, I've got planned."

"You're on!" grinned Kaji.

The memories faded from his mind quickly. The man stood, his shoes leaving imprints in the room's dusty floor. Reaching into his pocket for another cigarette, his fingers brushed something hard and oblong. Pulling it out, he smiled down at the object he held in his fingers. A small brown stone cat smiled back at him.

"Neko.." he smiled as he put the cat back in his pocket.

Two Years After: Tokyo-3

"Waahhh! You joined Gehirn also?! Congratulations!" shouted Misato as she embraced Kaji.

"Of course, love, you forget that you are being posted to Germany in less than a month, while I stay here in Japan," he said with a mournful tone in his voice.

"Oh forget that! As long as there's love, nothing can happen to us!" smiled Misato as she looked up at him, eyes gleaming.

Kaji smiled and kissed her. "Exactly right."

Wind blew away the thoughts of that happy moment as he suddenly remembered the turbulent times that had followed. His thoughts became punctuated by days of hard work and stress.and the fact that he had forgotten something dear. Something irreplaceable.

A Year Later: Tokyo-3

"Hey Kaj! What's up?" greeted the tall-brown haired man as he slapped Kaji's hand in greeting.

"Hey Yosuke," muttered Kaji in return as he slumped himself down at the bar. "Gimme a double scotch," he muttered to the bartender, as Yosuke sat down next to him.

"Kaji. Man, I really gotta talk to you. You cut classes two days in a row, you don't call, you don't talk, you sit in the dorm room and mope. What's up with you?"

Downing the scotch in a single toss, Kaji leaned over and looked at Yosuke. With pain evident in his voice, he spoke, "Misato dumped me two days ago."

"From Germany? Aw, that's harsh man," comforted Yosuke, patting him on the back.

"You know what? I really thought we had something there," muttered Kaji as he stared blankly into space. Then regaining his composure, he muttered, "Ah, fuck it! Bartender! More scotch!"

The painful memories stung his heart as the man flicked away the remnants of his second cigarette. Looking at the pistol resting on the desk brought back memories of that moment when she had found out the piece to the puzzle known as NERV.

Several Weeks Earlier: Kaji's Apartment

The room was a soft glow, lit only by lamps. Odds and ends of Kaji's various travels lay scattered around the room as the lamps gave it a soft rosy glow. The bed in the middle of the room held two occupants, one male, one female.

Naked under the covers, Kaji rolled over and smiled at the woman next to him, who was as naked as he was. Ruffling his fingers through her purple hair, he placed a small white and red pill next to her. Whispering into her ear, he smiled and lay back down.

That gift would hold the key to NERV. As the man stood, he heard the sound of a vehicle outside. Standing at attention, he lit up another cigarette, an unconcerned look on his face. As the sound of footsteps approached the door, he flicked the cigarette away, knowing it would be his last.

The door burst open, revealing two men carrying automatic handguns. .9mm NERV issue. The man smiled saying only, "Oh, you're a little late."

As the men raised their guns, the man's hand lunged for his pocket. With a loud explosion, a single gunshot broke the silence. The man twisted as he fell, his hand clutching at something falling from his limp hand. As the assassins watched, he fell to the ground and lay still, unmoving.

The assassins walked over, kneeling down by the dead man. Lifting his hand, one agent picked up the item from the ground. A couple smiled up at him from the photograph, one a tall lanky male with a wild unkempt look, and one a smiling young female with long purple hair..