The 2nd try

Chapter 3: The 13th





"I still cannot see the point of this activity," Rei stated, panting.

"Ha! Seems we have at least one thing in common, First!" Asuka didn't bother to look at her. Instead, she paid more attention to the strand of her sweat-soaked hair that had kept annoying her for a while now by constantly dropping in her view. She reached up to brush it away, but didn't take the time to secure it correctly to her headset. "I have much better things to do than wasting my time like this! Not to mention: with you two, of all beings! I can't believe there are people, who actually enjoy this." She failed to some extend in trying to cover her exhaustion, yet her voice didn't show the venom that usually came with her rants.

"Sorry," Shinji muttered. "It's not my fault that I won at 'rock-paper-scissors' for once."

"Yeah, right! I bet you cheated, so you could pull off this stupid idea of yours!"

Rei decided to ignore the argument of her co-pilots and focused on her current task. Which became harder and harder with each passing moment. She felt... she couldn't really place the feeling. It was as though she was ill, yet she was perfectly healthy before they started. Could it be because this was the first time she did this? She tried to clear her mind of the sensation by shaking her head. Soryu and Ikari didn't seem to notice, since she still scolded him for tricking her into this. Rei didn't understand why the redhead made such a fuss about it. When they had decided on whose idea of a joint activity was to be fulfilled by playing that game, it had seemed to her that the furious German had actually let him win. But she didn't say that out loud.

"Confess already, Shinji! You just wanted to drag us here!" Asuka droned on.

"B-but Misato had ordered us to do something together," Shinji whined. "That wasn't my idea."

Rei remained silent. It was odd that she wasn't ordered directly by Major Katsuragi or by any other superior officer. Instead she was informed by her fellow pilots during school that they would 'have to do something'. Rei didn't expect this 'something' to be this straining though.

Shinji seemed to notice this as well. "Are you alright, Ayanami? You look kinda exhausted."

"I am not used to this 'hiking'," Rei answered. Yet she couldn't help but feeling familiar with it.



They had been wandering for about two hours by now, taking a route that would lead them around the city. Now they were about to re-enter the borders to Neo Tokyo 3, but the strain of the trip (thanks to Asuka's rushing) as well as the blazing sun of the eternal summer had taken their toll on the Children. While Asuka and Shinji were both sweating and breathing a bit heavier, it was kind of surprising that Rei seemed to have the weakest endurance. Panting heavily, she was lurching behind. She didn't feel good at all.

"Well, too bad if you don't like it, First!" Asuka mocked as she turned around to face her companions. "Would you have preferred some other 'activity'?"

Rei blinked. She had never really thought about what she liked, especially not about what others would refer to as 'hobbies'.

No one had ever been interested.

"I would prefer swimming," the blue-haired pilot declared after a short pause.

"Well, we could go swimming another time," Shinji offered her cheerfully.

"No, we can't! Looks like a certain baka has forgotten that he cannot swim!" the Second Children blurted.

Shinji flinched noticeable. "Ah... eh... yeah... sorry, Aya... AYANAMI!!"

It was the last thing she heard before everything went black.


"What is it?" Asuka asked as she turned to see Shinji lowering their fellow pilot carefully to the ground.

"I don't know..." He immediately went on to check her pulse. The unsteady rhythm didn't ease his mind a bit and neither did her unusual red face, which was a big contrast to her otherwise pale skin. Putting his hand on her forehead only confirmed his fears. "It's hot. Looks like she has a sunstroke."
"We'll carry her there. Come on, grab her right and I take her left!"

"Wait! We can't move her that much!" Shinji protested firmly as Asuka lowered herself to the unconscious Rei, lifting the albino's left arm over her shoulder.

"Look, Shinji, I'm not gonna argue with you now! It's not that far anymore. Heck, we made this whole trip to get there at last."

"Asuka!"

She sighed. "Sorry, I know that sounded selfish. But we can't cool her down or help her here anyway."

She had a point there; he had to admit that as he looked around. There weren't any trees close to them, whose shadows could have eased the heat, and neither was a nearby stream. So close to the fortress of men, nature was forced to fall back.
So, finally, he gave in. "Okay, let's hurry."



****************



As Rei woke up, the first thing she noticed was something cold and wet on her forehead.

"Ah, it seems your friend regained consciousness, Mr. Ikari," she heard an old woman's voice.

The face of a dark brown-haired boy filled her blurry vision. "Hey Ayanami, how do you feel?"

"How do I feel...?" she whispered. "...Tired..."

Shinji smiled slightly. "We've called Misato; she will pick us up soon. You should try to get some rest until then."

She nodded as she slightly shifted her head to see that she was in a bright, tidy living room, but because of her blurred view she couldn't make out details. Behind Shinji she could vaguely see the silhouette of a woman with long gray hair, which was restrained in a ponytail. But before she could make out more, she drifted back to sleep again.

Shinji returned his attention to their host, seeing the old woman smiling at him. "Thanks again for your help, Mrs. Yamadera. I don't know what we would have done if you and your husband hadn't let us in."

Actually, he had been kind of surprised how eagerly they had been welcomed by the senior couple. After Mr. Yamadera had helped them to carry Rei into the house, they almost needed to fight his wife off as she kept offering them tea, cookies or other sweets.

"Oh, it's nothing. It got a bit lonely here after our children moved out. So we're glad whenever we have some guests. We don't even have a lot of customers these days. Our market-garden became more of a hobby than a business. The last customer we had was here weeks ago. And he just wanted some seeds for watermelons..." she trailed off, seeing the perplexed look of the boy. "Oh sorry, I guess I bore you with my tales."

"No," he shook his head negating. "I... I mean... Did this customer had a stubbly beard and a ponytail and was quite, uh, charming?"

"Huh? Yes, he was," she looked as though she tried to remember, before she grinned at her memory. "Koichi actually got somewhat jealous, even though he was very much like that himself when he was that age," she giggled. "So you know him?"

"Well, yes, kinda..." he chuckled. 'Now that's what I'd call coincidence...'

"Hmm, these melons should have grown a lot since then. Have you seen them?"

"No, not yet. But I'm supposed to see them soon..."

Despite the questioning look of the old woman, he didn't explain further.

"Say, your other friend sure takes her time. Is she always that long in the bathroom?"

"Ah, she's even worse in the morning..." Shinji trailed off and averted her gaze; slightly blushing as he noticed that this could easily be misunderstood. "Um... well..."

"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you," Mrs. Yamadera giggled again. It was easy to see that this phrase hadn't been the whole truth. "But since you've admitted that you even know her morning habits that would mean she IS actually close to you. Your girlfriend, perhaps?"

"Well... ye... I-I mean, no, I... we live together... Uh... eh... but not like that!" he blurted, nervous under the gaze of the gray-haired woman. 'Damn, she is almost like an older version of Misato.'

"You're surely easy to tease, Mr. Ikari. But you better look after her. I guess your, what did you call her? Your guardian? I guess she will be here soon."

He nodded shyly. After checking on Rei's status a last time, he went looking for Asuka.

It shouldn't take him long to find her, since the house wasn't that big. And he knew it pretty well.
As well as he knew her.
He wasn't stupid; he had easily been able to tell that she didn't insist on coming back here just to learn about the housekeepers.

He found her just were he had expected her to be. She was standing in the hall before a room, not moving at all, as if she was afraid of what she would find inside. He could understand very well why she was standing there; staring at the closed door.

That had been his room at first, before...

"Hello? Anybody home?" a familiar voice from the entrance startled both of them.

Misato's call snapped Asuka out of her trance and turned around to face him. He felt his heart break as he saw the unshed tears glimmering in her eyes. In that moment, he hated their decision more than ever before; he hated not being able to risk pulling her close, holding her. Trying to do the next best thing, he gently put his right hand on her shoulder, never losing the painful, yet reassuring eye-contact. With a forced but thankful smile, she placed her own hand over his, squeezing it lightly. A small nod answered his unspoken question.

"Yeah!" he called back to the entrance. "We're coming!"

Not moving.

Never losing the contact.



****************



"And you are sure that a young, lovely lady like you doesn't want any vegetables?"

"Eh, no, sorry, I..." Sweat-dropping, Misato did her best to reject the constant offers of the charming old man as polite as possible with a smile.

"Oh? Really? The lettuce and carrots have grown nicely this year. And you should just see my big, long..."

"KOICHI!"

"...cucumbers," he finished his sentence that had been interrupted by his wife. "What?"

Mrs. Yamadera bowed before Misato. "Please excuse my husband, Ms....?"

"Katsuragi."

"...Ms. Katsuragi! He is always like that with young, attractive women," she glared at him.

"Well, excuse me for trying to sell something..." he muttered.

Watching them quarrel, the Major couldn't help but feel reminded on someone else, yet couldn't lay a finger on it. "Eh, sorry, I didn't mean to cause an argument," she said, nervously laughing. "I just wanted to pick up the kids."

As if on cue, Shinji and Asuka came in sight.

"Hey there," she greeted them. "You're ready to go?"

Shinji shot a quick, but not unnoticed glance at his redheaded roommate, who nodded awkwardly passive. "Yeah. We just have to get Ayanami," he answered, pointing inside.

"Koichi, you'll help them!" Mrs. Yamadera commanded.

"Yeah, yeah..."



****************



"So, will you tell me now?" Misato asked as they drove home from NERV, after getting Rei to the infirmary. As if the trouble with the Children wasn't enough, she still had to attend to that meeting with the committee on the last Angel in an hour. So at least for now she wanted to have some fun.

"Tell you what?" came it instantly from the backseat.

"What were you guys doing out there?" Her voice pitched as she switched into teasing-mode. "You didn't go for a threesome in the bushes, did you?"

"MISATO!!" both teens shouted with deep red faces.

"How dare you thinking of me like that? As if I would lower myself to do something like... that with freaks like them..." Asuka added.

"B-besides, you've ordered us to spend some time together..." The way Shinji was staring at them, his shoes must be currently doing their interpretation of the well known work 'The Interesting Nothing'.

"...just the thought of it. Uargh..." Asuka continued.

"I did?" Misato blinked, ignoring the ongoing rants of the redhead. She couldn't really remember. Maybe she had been drunk again when she made that order?

"...I need a shower as soon as we get back..."

"W-well, yeah, actually it was back when we had the synchronization training..." Shinji mumbled.

"...Maybe that'll get these... disgusting images out of my head..."

Misato narrowed her eyes. "Oh, nice to see how eagerly you guys are fulfilling my orders..."

"...If it wasn't bad enough that she's always suspecting me having a thing for him, but also with her!..."



****************



"How long will the First Children be incapable of fulfilling her duty?" Commander Gendo Ikari waited for his daily report from his subordinate in front of his desk.

"Dr. Kanegawa recommended to have her under medical observation for at least one or two days," Ritsuko informed, shivering at his cold voice.

"She will be released by this evening," he ordered as calm as though he'd just ordered his lunch.

Ritsuko raised an eyebrow. Not that she really cared for the well-being of the First Children, but a sick pilot wouldn't do them any good. "Sir?"

"Is there a problem, Dr. Akagi?"

"No, Sir," she refrained from groaning. "I will inform the infirmary."

"Good. You will give her a 'checkup' in the coming days. I want that prototype finished as soon as possible."

"I don't see any complications with that. The work is progressing very fast. Though we have encountered some flaws..."

"That doesn't matter," he cut her sharply off.

"But..." She couldn't finish that sentence either; but she didn't even expect to. Gendo Ikari was a man who was only interested in success.

"What about the unnatural sync-ratio incident of the Second and Third Children?" he changed the topic. "Do you have the results of the investigation by now?"

"No. The MAGI didn't come to a consistent explanation for this either. Maybe it was just coincidence after all."

Ritsuko could tell that he wasn't pleased with this outcome, neither was she. Her scientific mind demanded a more logical explanation than just dumb luck.

"Very well then, drop that matter," he finally declared. "If it's not reproducible, it's not of use for us anyway."

"Yes, Sir."

"Anything else?"

"The test for the S2 engine is scheduled for..."



****************



"As usual, Ayanami and Aida are absent." The teacher of class 2-A managed to bore half of his pupils already before he even began with his 'lessons'. Toji was definitive part of that half. He sat slack in his chair, feet on the desk, not showing any respect or manners towards the old man.

"Hey, Toji," Shinji whispered to his friend, while the teacher droned on. "Where's Kensuke?"

"In Neo Yokosuka, watching warships. It's said that the "Myoko" entered port."

"Suzuhara!"

The boy bolted up, startled, as the teacher called his name up. "Yes!"


Shinji took out his Laptop and began writing a message as soon as the boot process was finished.

[-Kensuke is in Neo Yokosuka. Now I'm sure it was today.]

The reply didn't take long.

[-So, today it'll disappear]

[-Yes. And then the next will come]



Just at that moment, half a world away, all hell broke loose.



****************



"What's the status?"
**
"The MAGI will confirm..."
**
"Vanished?"
**
"It's gone!"
**
"I'm finished!"
**
"...is in panic."
**
"..the cause?"
**
"...only satellite footage..."
**
"...thousands of people..."
**
"...no explosion..."
**
"...the S2-engine..."
**
"...we will receive Unit-03..."
**
"...how will we do the test?"
**



"...appoint the Fourth..."




****************




"What do you mean, you forgot our lunch??" Asuka's loud voice disturbed the peace of the lunchtime, drawing the attention of the whole class to the 'beast' and her usual 'prey'.

"We... I... was kinda busy, you know?" Shinji sank further under the table, hoping to avoid the impending wrath of the redhead. "I, well, I had no time to prepare something, you see?"

"And because you were fooling around, I have to miss my lunch?"

Toji couldn't watch it anymore. It was time to 'help' his friend – and finally be able to consume the various packed meals he had bought before in peace.

"You two having another marital quarrel?" 'That should do it...'

As expected, it took a while for both of them under the blaring laughter of the other students before they simultaneously denied it. But...

'Barely blushing? They almost looked like they suppressed a laugh!? Could they actually...?' Toji's thoughts were disturbed by the grunting redhead, who turned around so fast that her long auburn hair hurled through the air, whipping Shinji's face.

'Nah, they would have to be totally drunk before they would start to like each other...'



****************



"We'll use the fourth pilot for Unit-03's tests in Matsushiro" Dr. Akagi declared to Major Katsuragi as she prepared the data for said EVA and its pilot.

"Huh? They found the Forth Children?"

"Yes, yesterday..."

Misato frowned. 'And again, I'm one of last to know...'
"I haven't received the report of the Marduk Institute yet..." she muttered.

"The official documents will arrive tomorrow."

"Dr. Akagi, are you hiding something from me again?" she asked bluntly.

"No," was the simple reply.

It was not the answer she hoped for, but Misato guessed that she wouldn't get a better one. Not for now at least.

"Ah, all right. And who is the selected child?" She turned around and took a look at the screen where her old friend displayed the data. Her eyes widened as it showed the identity of the Fourth. "What? It's...?"



****************



"Suzuhara!" Toji's path to freedom was blocked by the ever proper Hikari Horaki. "You're on duty this week. Do your work."

"What do you mean?" he whined, trying to escape his unpleasant tasks as he enviously watched the other students leave.

"This!" she held the printouts of the lessons in his face. "The teacher said you should deliver them."

Crippled, but not defeated he took them. "Someone else would be better suited for that," he repined.

"Ayanami was absent today."

"Ayanami and me... that wouldn't work. And going alone to a girl..."

Her face brightened at her chance... "I could..."

"Shinji!" he cut her off by calling the boy that was just about to leave. Hikari's smile faded in an instant. "You'll accompany me!"
"Oh no, he won't!"

"Aahh!" Toji shrieked in surprise when someone bolted through the door. "Asuka, I thought you were already gone!"

"Well, I'm not!" She grabbed the wailing Shinji at the collar of his shirt. "It's this baka's fault I had no lunch today and if he doesn't make me an appropriate dinner once we get home, I'll make sure that the idiot-trio will be the idiot-duo once again!"

"S-sorry, Toji..." Shinji managed to say, before he was dragged out of the classroom.

The jock stared at the door. "Man, how can a guy be that henpecked?" he muttered.

"AHEM!" His head turned around to face the class representative of 2-A again. "Will you bring her the printouts now?" she did her best to sound threatening.

"But I don't even know where she lives!" he protested.

Her face softened again and a slight blush was barely hidden by the freckles on her cheeks. "As... as I said, I could come with you..."

"So..." was all he said, before both felt silent for a moment.

'I can't believe I've actually asked him,' she thought, her eyes cast down. 'What is he waiting for? Please say yes! But what if he doesn't? He still hasn't answered. Is that a good sign? Or is he just thinking about how he could drop me best? What if Asuka is right and he is just a pervert and just waits for an opportunity to get in my pants? Well, that could be ni...ohh, what am I thinking??'

"Can't you bring them to her then?"

Startled by his blunt, unexpected answer, she snapped out of her thoughts. "No!" she almost yelled, before she regained control of herself. "I mean, you're the one officially on duty!"

"Oohh..."



****************



"We're home!" Shinji exclaimed as the apartment door closed behind him. Asuka already slipped out of her shoes, went in and looked around.

"Misato's not home, y..." Before she could finish, she already found herself in a tight, but enjoyable warm embrace from behind. "You're hopeless, you know that?" she smiled at him.

"Yes," he chuckled and softly kissed her neck. "Have I ever told you how cute you are in that school uniform?"

"Figures," she glared playfully at him. "Should have known that you're just a dirty hentai chasing after little schoolgirls." With a false look of hurt, she turned her face from him.

Only to find it almost immediately being gently brought back by his hand on her heating cheek. "No," he said as he placed his lips on hers, "just after one."

She finally turned in his embrace to face him completely, wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him closer; deepening the kiss they were sharing. She was already regretting that it couldn't last much longer.

"Baka," she whispered smiling. "Misato could be back any minute..." She startled. "...and we're being watched."

Shinji turned his head to follow her gaze, meeting the eyes of a penguin that watched them curiously before he went back to his fridge.

"Oh, don't mind him," he laughed, "pay him with some nice food and he won't tell anybody."

"But, still... Misato... she or someone else could..." Despite her words, she tightened her grip and laid her head on his shoulders, not wanting to let go of him.

He sighed. They had this discussion several times already, but still... "We... we could at least say that we have fallen in love with each other..."

"Oh, Shinji, we talked about this before. They wouldn't believe that we, of all people, could become a couple. At least not just like that, without any reason. They think we hate each other..." her voice trailed off, "Or at least that I hate you, thanks to my pride..."

He sensed Asuka's anxiety as she reminded herself of her old faults they had long forgotten about. Trying to soothe her, he held her as close as possible while he slowly stroke her back. "...And that I would never have the guts to get close to you. But you have to admit, it wasn't much different from 'just like that' when it actually happened."

She gave him a weak smile. "You call the Third Impact 'not much'?"

Shinji just shrugged with a wry grin. "Do you think our little plan with Toji and Hikari will work out?" he changed the subject.

"It better does! They already spoiled our plan with the hiking trip!"

"Well, at least that gave us the opportunity to have Rei open up a bit."

"Yeah, and that ended with her in hospital." She rolled her eyes.

"Hey, but finally we've been..." he stopped as he felt her tense. "You're alright?"

Even though it wasn't a very difficult question, it took her a while before she answered.

"Yes..." came at last a reply, far too weak for his taste. "It just felt so... I don't know how to say... empty there..."

He nodded affirming as his thoughts drifted back to their trip the last day, when he had wanted to hold her like this, easing the pain of the haunting past they had both felt there, just before...

"Misato!"

"HUH?!" Surprised, she broke the embrace rather forcefully, looking around in panic for the announced Major. "It wasn't my idea, Misato! That baka-hentai tried to... Where is she?"

"What?" He stood somewhat dumbfounded, before he realized their misunderstanding. "No, I meant: I just remembered that she won't be back soon."

After a moment of glaring, she grinned again. "Baka!" She flipped his forehead. "Don't scare me like that!" she said as she advanced once more with more than a hint of a lustful look in her eyes. "So we have more time for ourselves?"

"I'm afraid not," he sighed. "We have synch tests tonight..."



****************



"Hello? Ayanami, you're home?" Toji waited for a reply from behind the door of his classmate's apartment... For about two seconds. "Obviously not..." he stated and turned to go. If it hadn't been for the hand that got a grip on the sleeve of his tracksuit.

"Hey, you haven't delivered the print outs yet!"

"But class rep," he whined to the brunette, pigtailed girl. "She won't see it in that overflowing mailbox! And I don't want to wait here for her!"

Trying to free himself from the firm grip of the seemingly fragile girl by twisting around, he slumped forcefully against the door. Creaking, it revealed the entrance to apartment 402.

"It's open?" Hikari blinked.

"B-but we can't just go in there!"

"Maybe she's home and didn't hear us?" she questioned. "Ayanami? We're coming in!"

Slowly, they took their steps in; awkward, as if a monster was lurking in the small apartment, waiting for a tasty jock-lunch and a class representative-dessert. What greeted them, however, was the sight of a dark, untidy room.

"My God!" Hikari gasped.

"This is a girl's room? Not very comfortable..." Toji shuffled to the unmade bed and threw the print outs carelessly on the pillow. "Now, let's get..." he trailed off as he turned to the dutiful girl; seeing her kneeling on the floor. "What are you doing?"

"I'm cleaning up. I can't leave a room like this."

"Well, I'm not gonna help you! That's no job for a man!" he declared proud.

"SUZUHARA!" That got his attention. Maybe she could try this 'helpless/seductive-method' Asuka was using occasionally? "You wouldn't let a poor girl do all this work alone, would you?"

"I don't... but... I... Oh, man!" he sighed in defeat, while Hikari made a mental note that this method may be somewhat embarrassing, but definitely useful.



****************



"You've changed a lot."

"Huh?" the jock asked somewhat uninterested, without even looking up from his work to gather the garbage on the floor.

"I mean, if somebody had told me few months ago that you can be a kind and caring person, I would have laughed at him," Hikari explained slightly blushing. That might not have been the whole truth, but it was the best she could think of. "I'm not sure what I would say now, after what happened to your sister and since you've become friends with Ikari..." She looked over to him, expecting an outburst in some way from Toji.
Yet, he stared untypical serious into nothingness. 'I shouldn't have mentioned his sister. Stupid me!' she scolded herself, quickly averting her view again.

"Maybe I have..."

"Eh?" She blinked in surprise when he suddenly spoke up.

"Changed, I mean..." He showed her a small smile. "But you have as well."

"How...how so?"

"You've never been so..." he was cut off by the opening of the door by the rightful inhabitant of the apartment; startling Hikari, who hadn't even noticed how much she had tensed up. Rei went in as though she either hadn't seen or didn't care about the two intruders.

"Excuse us!" both said almost simultaneously what got them at least a questioning look from their blue-haired classmate.

The problem with questioning looks is: You don't know exactly what the question is. Especially when the one to give you said look is one Rei Ayanami.

"Eh... you see; we brought you the printouts..."

"...and the door was open..."

"...so we went in..."

"...and saw your room..."

"...and w... she decided to clean it up..."

"...but we didn't do anything else..." Both blushed. "...Ah, with your things, I mean..."

Rei found herself in a situation she only seldom was in: She didn't exactly know how to react towards the now blushing and stuttering cleaners. People had helped her, usually on duty, but this was the first time she could remember that someone did something... nice for her without being asked for.

"I am... grateful for your work," she finally said awkwardly and made a slight, formal bow.



****************



"Man, these EVA-pilots are surely strange," Toji commented as they made their way home.

Hikari nodded. "Yeah, while Asuka can be extremely... well, 'outgoing'," she could see him roll his eyes, "Ikari is almost the exact opposite. And Ayanami, well, she is..."

"...Freaky!"

"Suzuhara! You shouldn't talk like that behind the back of someone!"

"Sorry, sorry!" He raised his hands in defense. "You know, it wasn't even that bad," he said calmly, startling her... and even him a bit. Both stood silent on the sidewalk, while trying as best as they could to look at anything but each other. Strange, how awkward these silences can be when you are on a deserted street, while the sun is setting and with the constant chirping of the cicadas in the air, all alone with someone you...

"Eh... I... better get going. S-see you tomorrow," Toji finally stammered, before he stumbled backwards and went with a quick pace.

"S-sure..." Hikari whispered as she watched him vanishing behind the next corner.



****************



"And were might you two have been?" an impatient Dr Akagi asked the two teenagers, who just rushed through the hallway.

"Are we too late? That's all the baka's fault!"

"How so? You were the one, who..."

Ritsuko shook her head in disbelief. Sometimes she wondered how pilots of the Evangelions, defeaters of Angels and saviors of mankind could argue about whose fault something had been, just like little children. Then again, she had to remind herself that they were still children.

"No, actually you're even too early," she interrupted them. "We were supposed to have another conference before your tests, but a certain Major hasn't shown up yet," she sighed. "Shinji, could you do me a favor and go looking for her?"

He nodded affirming and went off.

"So now that the baka's busy, what about me?" the redhead inquired.

"Well, since you're here already, we'll do some physical tests until Misato arrives," the doctor proposed.

Asuka's eyes narrowed. "You're kidding, right?"

"Have you ever seen me joking?"



****************



Meanwhile, Shinji made his way to the lounge, where he was sure to find Misato, even if he wouldn't have known it already. Whenever she wasn't where she was supposed to be, she would usually be there, getting herself something to drink and chatting with other personal that, unlike her, actually had a break from duty.

'Either that, or she's using the restrooms to get all the liquids out of her system again,' he chuckled. But this time, he knew definitively that she would be there, talking with Kaji.

Kaji...

His hand wandered almost unknowingly down to the envelope in his pocket. No, it was still too early for that...

He heard some sort of shuffling as he neared the lounge.

"Misato?" he called out as he entered, seeing them standing by the vending machines about two meters away from each other; Kaji sipping innocently on a drink. Shinji wasn't sure what they've done that they tried to hide it, and actually, he didn't want to know.

"Oh, hi, Shinji. I would have expected you earlier. When you have tests in the evening, you usually come right after school."

"Ah... I kinda... forgot..." he scratched his head.

"Hey, hey, no reason to be ashamed. If I were you, I wouldn't waste that little free time here anyway."

"Eh, Ritsuko said your conference is beginning..."

"Okay, thanks." With a short "See you later" towards Kaji, she left the two males alone.

"Hey, how about going out for a tea?" the older offered.

"Actually," Shinji smirked, "I prefer coffee."

"Eh?"



****************



"Kaji," Shinji began, "you are not only working for NERV, are you?"

For a moment, the man at the other side of the bench outside of NERV-HQ looked like was going to choke. It didn't last long, however.

"You don't dread people you trust, huh?"

"Sorry."

"When even you know about it..." Kaji sighed. "Seems my secret part-time job isn't that secret anymore..."

"I don't know very much. Most is just speculation. But actually, I hope that some of it is true..."

"I see... Come, I'll show you something nice," the agent flashed Shinji his trademarked smile as he stood up. "That is, if you not afraid that I'll have to let you disappear for knowing too much..."



****************



"Melons?" the young Ikari asked the obvious as he knelt down and reached for one of the oval, green striped plants.

Kaji's mouth formed a proud smile, while he watered his 'babies'. "Aren't they beautiful? It's my hobby."

"Don't worry, you're secret's safe with me," Shinji assured. "Both of them."

"Well, thanks. You know, to create or grow something is great. You can learn many things, like pleasure..."

"Yeah," his voice became monotonous, "but the more pleasure you have raising it, the more painful it is, when you lose it."

"You hate the pain?"

"In this case? Yes!" Shinji nodded, frowning.

"Oh? What happened so horrible to your plants that you grieve so much about it?"

Shinji looked at him, seemingly surprised. "Plants?"

"Or what have you raised?" Kaji shrugged.

"Oh, it... vanished..."

"Stolen, huh?"

"In a way..." Shinji nodded. "I think you water them a bit too much," he suddenly changed the topic, holding one of the melons near his ear and knocking on it.

"Pardon?"

"I could be wrong though. You should ask Asuka, she knows more about this than me... eh... I mean... never mind!" the boy apologized quickly and placed the fruit back.

Kaji just gave him a confused look. He didn't even notice that he didn't move the watering can anymore, soaking one single spot. It was new too him that the shy EVA-pilot was once a hobby-gardener, but shouldn't he know if Asuka had knowledge about watering too? She would have listed it as often as possible to him, like her other positive features. And why would she tell Shinji?

The ringing of his phone disturbed his trail of thoughts and brought him back to reality.



****************



Synch tests came and went, just like day and night. And sooner than later the students of the Children's school found themselves back at their classes. But just like the night was replaced by the dawn, even the most boring lesson was replaced by the lunch break.
This would be the time were friends gathered at places where they could regularly be found, be it inside the classroom or outside in the shadow of the trees, on the benches at the schoolyard, on the grass near the sports field, or even on the rooftop.
This was the time they would be eating and drinking the lunches they brought with them, be it self-made by them or their parents at home, bought in overpriced grocery stores, or, what was considered as worst, from the school cafeteria.
And this was also the time were the newest gossip made its way.

"EVA Unit-03?" Shinji asked visibly nervous. A bit too nervous for Kensuke's taste.

"You... you know something don't you?" he asked upset. He rushed up so fast that he lost the balance for a moment and almost regretted sitting on the other side of the railing if he wouldn't have gotten a hold on it in the last second. After the shock of almost falling down several meters from the roof eased, he grabbed Shinji's collar and shook his friend. "Come on, tell me!"

"Ah, my, I wonder what's Toji doing that long? He was called over twenty minutes ago..." his friend tried a sad attempt to change the topic.

"Don't try to fool me, Ikari! You know it's coming here!"

"Eh... no!"

"And that it'll be tested in Matsushiro!"

"I have no idea!"

"Tell me, they don't have a pilot yet, do they?"

"I don't know!"

"Could you ask Misato if they let me pilot it? Please, I want..."

Shinji's face suddenly became very serious. "Believe me, you wouldn't want to pilot this one..."

"Huh? Why?" Kensuke eyed the other boy biting his tongue.

"Eh... be... because it's... ah... pink, yeah, that's it!"

"So you even know its color? WOW!"

"Kensuke," he gripped his friend's shoulders and shoved him off, "just... just drop it, okay?"

"Oh, okay, okay..." he sighed in defeat and leaned over the railing. "You're right, Toji takes his time. Maybe he is with the class rep."

"What gives you that idea?"

"Ah, Shinji, haven't you seen the looks they gave each other the whole day?"

Shinji smiled slightly as he gazed down to the chatting, eating and laughing pupils on the schoolyard. "So?"



****************



Hikari made her way back to class 2-A. It was getting late; the sun was already setting and most students were already gone for a while. Toji would still be there, being on duty; so she could check on him... that he did his work, of course.

Well, maybe not.

She thought back to when he had returned after being called to the principal's office. The blank face and monotone voice had worried, even scared her. The principal wouldn't tell her anything; he just said that it was beyond his authority. That didn't really ease her mind.

As she entered, she saw him sitting on his desk, eating this "food" he always bought from the shop.

"Suzuhara!" she called him.

"Eh?"

"You're on duty. You've got to write the daily report and straighten the desks." Hikari found herself saying in her typical role as class representative. 'Damn it, Hikari! You've made progress. Do you want to lose that again?'

"I haven't had lunch yet. I'll do it afterwards."

'Come on! It's now or never,' she tried to encourage herself. "Suz...Toji, what... what happened during lunch? You seemed kind of... distraught afterwards..."

He visibly winced at the mention of the break. "I... I..." He forced a smile. "I managed to get a better medical treatment for my sister!"

"But- That's great!" Hikari cheered. "What did you do for that?"

"Nothing much," he mumbled. His smile dropped again and his eyes regained a distant look. "Just sold my soul..."





*******************************





Misato had packed and was ready to go. There was the case with her clothes, the bag with some snacks and the beer for her time off duty (which would hopefully be enough until she had time to find a shop), she had her gun for whatever reason, she even wore her cap, since she had to greet the American delegates with all formalities, which included the complete uniform... Wait, something was missing for completeness.

"Shinji, have you seen my jacket?" she called back to the apartment.

"Yeah, I've got it here!" He came a moment later around the corner, his schoolbag in one hand and the bright red uniform jacket in the other. Misato eyed him suspiciously as she took it from him.

"What were you doing with it?"

"Eh, I've cleaned it for your trip!" he replied rather nervous, gathering his shoes. "Say, where's Asuka?"

She let him drop the topic, not sure if she really wanted further explanations. "She's gone already. She's trying to avoid me."

"Still because of Kaji?"

That was surprising. Shinji was a nice kid, no question, but he never seemed good at understanding other people's feelings, especially when it came to affairs of the heart.

"Yeah, most likely."

But there was still something gnawing at her. She still hadn't told him about the pilot of Unit-03. Shinji may had shown at least little signs of growing fond of piloting; even after that incident with the 12th Angel, his synch ratio only dropped so much that he was barely beaten by Asuka again. Yet he wouldn't ever forget what pain the EVAs can cause. She wasn't sure if he would ever forgive them if something would happen to any of the pilots. Now another of his friends was put to that risk. And he wouldn't even know...

"Uh, by the way..." both started simultaneously. Lost in her thoughts, Misato hadn't even noticed that he had been just as silent as her.

"Go ahead..." she encouraged him.

"I... I just wanted to say: Watch out for yourself there. We... don't know if that EVA is all right, after what I heard that had happened to Unit-04..."

"Oh my, is there someone worried about me?" she smilingly teased him. "No need for that. Ritsuko is there too. And even if anything goes wrong... Well, our EVAs, pilots and staff are the best."

"I hope so..." he whispered; not sounding very convinced.

"Shinji, there's something I should tell you..." she finally began, still not sure how to say it. "You see; the pilot..."

The ringing of the doorbell interrupted her.

"I'll get it," he announced, leaving her mid-sentence

As soon as he opened the door, he was nearly overrun by the inwards-rushing Kensuke. The bespectacled boy came to a hold before her and made a deep bow.

"Major Katsuragi! I formerly request to become the pilot of Evangelion Unit-03!" he blurted, sounding as though he was actually serious.

Misato, however, answered just like everyone would answer to a request like that.

"Eh?"

"Come Kensuke, let's get to school! Bye Misato!" Shinji said, shoving his friend outside. "Haven't I told you to cut it out?"



****************



"Now, let's have lunch!" Kensuke exclaimed, gathering his food as the bell finally freed class 2-A from the droning about the Second Impact of their teacher. But looking around, he noticed something unusual. "Eh? Where's Toji?"

"I don't know. Haven't seen him for a while," Shinji stated, still sitting at his desk.

"Toji's gone? Him without lunch? That's impossible!"

"Well, he's been acting a bit strange lately."

"Look who's talking..." Kensuke mumbled, eying his friend.

"Huh?"

"Nothing, nothing," he appeased.



****************



"Suzuhara."

The quiet voice distracted Toji from his trail of thoughts. He had gone for the roof where he had expected to be left alone; getting some time to think about everything and nothing, while he leaned over the railing and watched into the distance. But seemingly his wish was not to be fulfilled, as he took a quick look behind him.

"Ah, it's you Ayanami. If you're looking for Shinji, he's not here."

Yet, she didn't move. So if she wasn't there searching for the pilot of Unit-01, it would mean... "You know about me, don't you? Soryu seems to know, too."

"Yes."

"Shinji is the only one who doesn't know..."

"I believe you are wrong," Rei interrupted him. What startled the depressed jock, no question. The chance of getting interrupted by Rei Ayanami was as rare as the chance to be selected as... well, EVA-pilot.
He grinned wryly at his comparison.

"How so?"

"He is acting different lately. Soryu as well. Both have improved their social skills. Ikari is not as timid in the presence of other people. Soryu's aggressiveness has calmed down enough to accept the presence of people she had declared to hate, including myself. However, most of the time, they are trying to convince everyone that these changes are not existent. They also seem to possess a greater knowledge than before," the blue-haired girl told, or more precisely, reported him.

He gave her a frowning and at the same time questioning look. Of course, he noticed the slight changes in the behavior of the EVA-pilots as well, even though he wasn't sure about Asuka. Actually, in his opinion, all of the first three Children became more open towards others. Here he was, having an actual conversation with the Rei Ayanami.
But he didn't really understand her last sentence. "In which way can you tell how much they know?"

"I have observed them."

"You can see their amount of knowledge by watching them?"

"Yes."

"Who would have guessed..." He waited for the blue-haired albino girl to question what exactly he meant.
Then he remembered that it was the blue-haired albino girl standing there. "That you're watching Soryu as well, I mean. I would have thought that you only look after Shinji."

"I do not understand."

"You're worried about him," he stated what had been obvious to him for a while.

"So? Maybe I am."

"Yepp."



****************



"Hikari! Let's eat lunch!"

The loud voice distracted Hikari from her gaze through the window, where she had watched a conversation between two of her classmates on the rooftop. Especially the male one of them caught her eye and thoughts.

"Oh, Asuka, would you mind eating without me today? I... have to go somewhere," she told her waiting friend.

Asuka narrowed her eyes at that poor excuse. "Yeah, riiight..."

"Sorry, but..." Hikari trailed off, not really knowing what to say. She didn't notice the slight, yet traitorous blush that crept on her face.

"Oh, go already! I'll eat here! All alone!" Asuka played an ironic act of hurt, emphasizing especially the last part.

Even though she knew that it wasn't meant seriously, Hikari couldn't help but feeling somewhat guilty, leaving her best friend without any company. "You could join Ikari and Aida..."

"You're sure that you're alright? Some kind of fever, perhaps? Maybe you really should go and get some fresh air or something!"

"Okay," the pigtailed brunette giggled. "And, Asuka, could we walk home together today? I'd like to talk with you..."

"Sure, gives me a chance to get away from certain people."



***********************



"Toji?" Just a few minutes after Rei left, he was again startled by a girl's voice. But as he turned, he couldn't help but smile at the freckled teen in front of him.

"Oh, hey, Hikari," he greeted her.

"Is everything alright?" She bit her tongue. Of course NOT was everything alright. "You... you're still worried about tomorrow, right?"

"Must be pretty obvious, huh?" Toji sighed. "When even Ayanami comes to cheer one up..."

Cheer him up? The small jealous side of her was eased when she learned that their talk was only 'professional'. It was then that she remembered the lunch packets she had nervously fumbled with in her hands until now. "Hey, have you eaten something already? We... I mean, I made a bit too much lunch. We could share some... That is if you want to!"

"Why not? Food never failed to raise my spirits." Smiling, he took the one of the presented bundles as they sat down to eat.


Neither of them noticed the smiling girl watching them from the window of class 2-A.



****************



"I'm sorry, Asuka," Hikari apologized to her friend. "You usually walk home with Ikari."

"Ah, don't worry, Hikari. I'm just with him because of the job and I have to see his stupid face at home already."

"Oh? I thought you two finally understood each other better..."

"Eh? What?" The redhead blurted rather nervously. "Must be your imagination!"

Hikari wasn't sure what to think of this reaction, but decided not to ask further. At least not now.

After a while of walking, they finally reached a place where they could talk without being disturbed. They sat down on a bench at this lookout point; while the sunset created an even more spectacular view over the majestic city of Neo Tokyo-3.

Sitting there a few moments in silence, Hikari tried to figure out how to talk with her friend about Toji, before Asuka would lose her patience and leave. She didn't expect her to be very happy about this anyway.
But while she was still searching for the right words to begin, Asuka raised her voice. "Hey, Hikari. There's something... you should know about Su..."

"If you want to tell me that he is the Fourth Children; I know that already." The class rep of 2-A almost laughed at the surprised and shocked expression of the Second Children.

"EH? How do you know??"

"Well, he... told me," Hikari shrugged.

"He did what??"

"What? Wasn't he allowed to? It's well known that you, Ikari and Ayanami are pilots, why shouldn't he tell?"

Asuka shook her head, obviously trying to regain her calm. "No, it's not that, it's just... well, unexpected..."

"Well, we..." Hikari could feel another blush approaching. "I think we have become a bit closer the last couple of days..."

"Oh boy!" The sarcasm in her voice was impossible to miss. "Don't tell me it's 'the big L' already?"

" 'The big...?' " Now Hikari blushed full force, eyes to the ground as she understood what Asuka meant. "I... I don't know! B-but... I think it's nice to have someone you can open up to... or to be this one."

"Yeah," whispered a dreamy voice.

"Huh?"

"Eh, I meant: Yeah, yeah!" Asuka quickly added in a more sarcastic tone.

But this time she wouldn't get away that easily.

"Oh, come on, you've been thinking of someone you could share something like this with!"

"Ha! All this sweet-talk with your jock must have damaged your senses! You know exactly that I don't need anyone!" the redhead exclaimed pridefully, but lacking the usual determination.
At least, it wasn't enough to convince Hikari.

"Hmm, who could it be? If it was your Mr. Kaji, you would react differently. I bet it is Ikari after all! He seems to be nice enough..."

"What? He's the stupidest of all, that baka! He has no idea how to relate to others!"

"Oh, but..."

"Cut it out, already!"

"Okay, okay," Hikari giggled.

"Geez," Asuka huffed, crossing her arms. "What happened to the shy, little girl that already blushed bright red when such topics were barley scratched?"

"I guess she's just somewhat happy..."

"Hey, if you knew already and also obviously don't need to know anymore how to get all lovey-dovey with him; about what did you want to talk with me then?"

Hikari's smile faded as she remembered the reason why they were sitting there. "I was just curious... about the test tomorrow. And afterwards. He... he will be safe, won't he?"

"What? That's what this is all about?"

"Asuka, please..." She clenched her slightly trembling hands. "I'm serious..."

Asuka grunted audible. "Alright, alright, we'll play babysitter for him. Happy now?"

With a regained smile on her lips, Hikari nodded, honestly thankful about the promise of her friend. How should she have known that Asuka made a similar promise already a long while ago?



****************



"I have no time for that! Why can't you let me learn in peace now?"

"Hmph! Why can't you leave and let me alone with Kaji?"

"Now, now, stop bickering you two!" Kaji sighed, interfering in at least the fifth quarrel this evening. He almost wished he hadn't 'volunteered' to watch for the Children in the four days Katsuragi was gone. "I think I could need a bath. And please, could you try not to kill each other?"


******


"Did you give it to them?" Asuka asked without looking up from the boring magazine she read. She lay in front of the running, yet ignored TV not far away from Shinji, who seemed to concentrate on the schoolbooks and his laptop on the table.

"I've put an anonymous warning in Misato's jacket. But I hadn't much time with Kaji. I'll talk with him tonight."

"You better do. That could be the last chance you see him."

"I don't understand it anyway," he sighed, finally looking at her. "You'll see him much more often than me."

"Oh," she let the magazine fall out of her hands, closed her eyes and rested her head on her now crossed arms, "you know pretty well that he'll just think it's some kind of love letter."

"No wonder, by the way you're around him!" Shinji muttered with narrowed eyes.

"What?" Asuka grinned. "Do I hear some jealousy?"

"Well, you've been with him for quite a while yesterday..." he stated with exaggerated hurt in his voice.

"Awww, poor Shinji!" she mocked. "I wonder how I could make it up to you."

Just as she said this, she could hear him standing up and soon felt him leaning towards her from behind, carefully not to wake up PenPen, who was sleeping at her side.

"I would prefer making out instead of making up," he whispered in her ear, sending shivers down her spine. "To bad Kaji is here tonight. We could do something we haven't done since we're here."

"And we won't," she tried to sound determined, but without much success, feeling his breath tickling her back. "They would notice with the next physical checkup at the latest."

"Hmm, are you really the same Asuka that always wanted to stay in bed just a little bit longer?" His hands slowly found their way around her slim waist as the light kisses he placed on her neck made her gasp.

"You... ah... hentai!" She bit her lip, suppressing a too loud moan. "You should better use the time and think instead of how you can make up for the last 'first time'."

"What? You're still holding that against me?" Startled, he pulled back a bit, before he leaned in again. "Besides, I don't remember you complaining much afterwards."

"So what? That doesn't mean you don't owe me a better one! Oh, and stop that before we can't stop anymore!" She turned slightly and shoved him off, as much as she regretted it. "Kaji will be back any minute!"

"But..."

"No 'but's! Now get back to your computer and books and pretend to learn like a good boy, before Kaji comes back!" she instructed, pointing at the table.

"Yeah, yeah..." He shuffled his way back and slumped down, sighing.

"And stay there!" she reminded him forcefully, just as the door opened and revealing Kaji, now clad in a green bathrobe, toweling his hair.

"Ahh, that was a nice, hot bath," he stated before he noticed the tense atmosphere, which could mean only one thing. "Bickering again? Are you always like this when Katsuragi is gone?"

"Actually, it's always like this..." Shinji muttered.

"Ah, don't listen to him! I'm trying to be nicer to him for you, but I can't help it. He just keeps provoking me!"

"Sorry..."

"See? He's doing it again!"

Kaji sighed inwardly. "Yeah, I see. We better get some sleep. That's the best to do in such situations!"



****************



"Kaji? Are you asleep?" Shinji's voice disturbed the silence in the now dark living room, where he and Kaji lay on their futons.

"No, not yet," the older answered.

"How much do you know about my father?"

"Huh? Now, that's a kind of surprising question. I thought..."

"Of his work, I mean," Shinji interrupted him. "And those behind him?"

Again in a few days, Kaji found himself surprised by the young Ikari. "You know about SEELE?"

"Huh? I didn't know what they are called. I just heard something about a committee sometimes."

Kaji nodded, though facing the other direction he wasn't able to tell if Shinji could see him. The information about the committee wasn't as restricted as SEELE's, even if this information only said that it was part of the UN-administration that NERV was reporting to.

"Well, there isn't much difference actually. The committee consists of the highest ranking SEELE members and exists only to maintain the appearance that the UN has control over NERV."

"So you do know a lot about them?"

"Let's say, I know more than that it's healthy..." he told him, fearing that he already said way too much.

"Enough to help us?"

"Eh?" Kaji rolled over as he heard the boy standing up and going for his clothes. After some searching, he came back with an envelope in his hand.

"Take this with you," Shinji said as he presented it to him. "And keep it secret. Please, you may be the only one who can do this."

"What is this?" Kaji asked as he tried to read the letters written on the envelope in the moonlight: "To be opened after the 14th!"

Shinji meanwhile returned under the covers of his makeshift bed and closed his eyes again.

"Maybe the last hope for a future..." he mumbled.



****************



"Do you think the test has started yet?" Hikari fumbled nervously with her still unwrapped lunch-box.

"Oh, Hikari! That's at least the sixth time you're asking this!" Asuka became obviously annoyed, sitting at her desk and resting her head on her hand. Yet Hikari couldn't help but getting worried.

"I'm sorry..."

"Great, now you even sound like Shinji!"

"I'm sor...oh, I see what you mean." She would have giggled if she would have been in the right mood. But at least for a moment, a slight smile found its way onto her face. "It's just... Have you ever felt so much for someone that you're always worried whenever you don't know that he is safe?"

For a second, she thought seeing her glancing at Shinji's empty desk, but it vanished as quickly as it had come. "Quit being so lovesick about that jerk! You'll see: Sooner than I'd like to, he'll be another incompetent pilot I have to watch after, so that he doesn't hurt himself."

"Yeah, maybe you're right," Hikari said, but neither sounded nor looked like she really meant it. "I'm not very hungry," she sighed and presented her lunch to Asuka. "Do you want to eat this?"



****************



"Hey, you're awaiting a call?"

"What?" Shinji looked up to the bespectacled boy next to him, startled by the sudden question.

"You've looked at your phone several times in the last half hour," Kensuke explained, before he grinned at his friend. "Hey, Shinji, could it be... a girl?"

"No," he sighed, rolling his eyes. "Actually, I hope it won't ring."

"I see. Got yourself a persisting fan?"

There was a slight smirk in his direction on Shinji's face that Kensuke couldn't quite place. Did he have some remains of his lunch on his face?
But as quickly as it had come, the smile was again replaced by a worrying look. "Persisting? Yeah, in some way. But definitely not a fan."

"Oh," Kensuke began knowingly, setting his glasses straight. "Since when does Asuka order you around via phone?"

"Eh? Why should Asuka do that?"

Shinji's honest surprise almost scared the blond boy. "What? Are you protecting her already? Geez, what is it with you two?"

"I-I have no idea what you mean!" the young pilot denied much too suspiciously.

"You two have been acting a bit strange lately," Kensuke prodded further. "Too... I don't know... friendly."

Shinji laughed nervously. "Y-you must be seeing things. Have you forgotten her 'greeting' yesterday? And you should have been there three days ago, when she was mad at me for forgetting her lunch."

Kensuke dismissed his friend's whimpering as lame excuse with a 'humph'. "You're not 'sympathizing with the devil', are you?"

Shinji blushed slightly, but not slightly enough to escape Kensuke's eyes. Yet, the shy EVA-pilot had not been able to stammer an obviously not completely truthful denial.


The cell phone rang.



****************



"An accident at Matsushiro?" Shinji asked, just having been briefed about the situation, as he sat in the already deployed EVA Unit-01. "What... what about all the staff? Misato?"

"They could not make contact yet," Rei informed over the comm.

"But... what are we supposed to do? We can't fight an Angel on our own."

"Commander Ikari is taking direct command."

"Father? But..."

"Stop whining already!" Asuka's face popped up in the comm-screen. "We'll kick that Angel's ass with or without Misato!"

He frowned as he heard her ranting. He noticed rather easily that she was distressed as well, much more than she was supposed to be. She even said we instead of I.

'Either Misato hasn't got the message or it didn't make any change...'

And now, everything was about to repeat itself. The 13th Angel had taken over EVA-03.
The attempt to eject the entry plug would fail. The Commander would abandon Unit-03 and declare it as their target.
The other EVAs would be positioned apart from each other to form three defense lines near Nobeyama.

'The biggest 'mistake'!' He firmly gripped the controls. 'But not again!'



****************



"The target is approaching!" Hyuga's voice blared through the comm.

Then it came into Shinji's sight. It was just as he remembered; with the sun in its back, it looked more like a black demon from the deepest pits of hell than the holy messenger it was named after.

"But... that's an EVA. That's... the Angel?" he asked, not needing to play his nervousness. The knowledge of what depended on their success today was enough to make his heart flutter.

"Yes, that's the target."

He flinched at the cold voice of his father. He fought the urge to snap something back at him, remembering what that man had done last time. Luckily, Asuka's comment stopped his trail of thoughts.

"The EVA was taken over by the Angel?"

Shinji closed his eyes. It was time for a little change. "The pilot... Is he still inside?"

No answer.

"I... I have to help..." he mumbled. He stood up, threw his gun on the ground and made a run towards the 'first defense line'.

If the Commander was surprised, his voice didn't show much of it. "What are you doing?"

'Just changing history...'

***

This time, she was prepared.

This time, she wasn't distracted.

This time she stopped the unnatural fast blow with her own hands.

'This time, you won't get me that easily!'

***

Shinji wielded his EVA forward as fast as he could, while his father still tried to convince him to stop.

"Pilot Soryu's training makes her more qualified to react to unknown threats than you."

"That doesn't mean I can't help!" he shot back, forcing a pleading sound into it.

"Third Children!" The Commander's voice gained only a bit, but noticeable anger. "You were ordered to remain in position until we know of the Angel's abilities!"

"I've got to save the pilot of Unit-03!"

"The EVA and its pilot are lost. Any rescue attempt is futile and an unnecessary risk. The Angel is to be destroyed!"

"No!" Shinji declared as determined as he could. "I won't attack as long as the pilot is inside!"

***

"Since when does he have such self-confidence?" Fuyutsuki wondered, watching EVA-01 advancing on the giant screen like everyone else in the Central Dogma.

"In the worst of times," Gendo cursed. "His insubordination endangers Unit-01. If the Angel posses this EVA as well, everything is lost." He shifted his attention to the technicians below. "Sever the connections between Unit-01 and its pilot!" He commanded. "Activate the dummy plug!"

"Sir," the young woman he identified as Lt. Ibuki, blurted, "there are still problems with the dummy plug and without Dr. Akagi..."

"Anything is better than a pilot who doesn't follow orders!" Ikari cut her off.

"But, Sir!" she protested "He is engaging the Ang..."

"That doesn't matter! Do it!"

"Yes, sir..."

"Ikari..." the Sub-Commander warned to no avail.

***

EVA-01 halted abruptly. Darkness surrounded the Third Children, before a red light engulfed the plug. But instead of panicking, Shinji just grinned.
His normal sight returned in an instant.
EVA-01 moved on.

***

"Unit-01 is rejecting the dummy-plug! Connections to the pilot have been restored!"

***

"Thank you, mother!"

The purple mecha leaped up to encounter the Angel.

***

"What?" For a moment, the Commander lost his cold and professional attitude. "That's impossible!"

"Seems like the mother has chosen her favorite..." Fuyutsuki stated calmly.

"Yui? You chose the boy over your own flesh?" Gendo wondered, not even noticing the irony in this question.

***

"Hey, baka! Want to get in the spotlight again?"

As Shinji arrived, the two EVAs struggled against each other. Asuka needed both arms and one leg to keep the possessed Unit-03 restrained and herself on a safe distance from the slavering mouth of the Angel.

"Sorry! Can you pin..." He was cut off as the black EVA freed one of its extending arms from Unit-02's grip and got a hold of EVA-01's head. Growling in frustration, Shinji took the arm in both hands, trying to get free, but to no avail.

"Damn it!" Asuka cursed. "Hold still, will ya?!"

"Ayanami! We could..."

***

"...need some help here!"

Again, Rei found herself in a – for her – unknown situation.

She was in a turmoil.

This was not following the Commander's strategy. Unit-03 was lost. The Angel was to be destroyed.


But...


He is still inside. He will be injured. Killed.


But...


Stop the Angel when advancing. Defeat the Angel at all cost.


But...


Help Ikari and Soryu. Rescue the Fourth.


But...


The orders. The Commander's...

'"Don't you trust your father's work?"
"How could I, with a father like that?"
'
Could it be true? Could it be that his decisions weren't always credible? Could he be... wrong?

"What..."

***

"...What am I supposed to do?"

The Commander knitted his brows ever so slightly. The situation slipped more and more out of his grasp. "Remain...!"

"Ikari!" Fuyutsuki scolded. "If we don't let her help them, we might lose more than one EVA!"

Gendo didn't answer. Fuyutsuki wasn't even sure whether he actually had listened to him or just pondered about his choices.

"Commander?" Rei asked again.

"Advance to assist the other pilots..." Ikari muttered unpleased.

***

"Understood," she acknowledged the new order with more relief than she would have expected.

Dropping the rifle, she moved to engage the Angel.

***

A scream echoed through the air as Shinji bent the restraining arm in an awkward angle in his attempt to get free. As much as he cursed himself for possible hurting the pilot, this was the time to strike. Before he recovered, EVA-02 made a swift kick against the rogue Unit's legs, sending it face forward to the ground. It growled in frustration as it struggled against the two EVAs who immediately pinned it down as firm as possible.

"Ayanami!" Shinji called out to the just arriving blue EVA.

Rei moved as quickly as she could to get a hold on the halfway-ejected entry plug on the back of the squirming Unit-03. The gum-like slime surrounding it expanded as she pulled it forcefully, not willing to free the plug.

"I can't hold him much longer!"

"Stop... whining... Third!" Asuka berated him, despite sounding as though she had trouble holding the twitching body down herself.

Finally, the plug was slowly pulled out. EVA-00's shoulder released its Prog-Knife and with a swift stroke, the remaining goo was cut off.
The Fourth Children was freed.

"Great! Now to get him... safe?" Shinji's exclamation trailed down. The black giant body went limp.

"The thirteenth Angel is silent! Pattern blue vanished!" Aoba announced through the comm.

"Could it be...?"

'It was dependent of its pilot?'

Slowly, they backed away from the apparently dead Angel.

"We... defeated it..."

"Just like this..." Asuka wondered, before switching back to her usual attitude. "Hmph, I expected a more glorious victory. And worst of all, you two interfered..."

"Asuka, watch out!!"

"Wha..." She couldn't say more, as a powerful blow into her EVA's stomach knocked her out. The black arm reduced to its normal size as the Angel leaped up in a seemingly impossible angle; the eyes glimmering in a pure white; the mouth grinning with the contrasting red teeth.

"Blue pattern restored! EVA-02 down, pilot unconscious!"

'Tell me something I don't know!' Shinji gritted his teeth as he looked over to the fallen red Unit. 'Damn! She will not be very happy about this when she wakes up.'

Shinji watched in horror as the black EVA's arm that he had twisted before snapped back to its prior position. But, what looked even worse to him, thick veins appeared all over the body, stretching the armor plates everywhere and finally bursting the restrains of the EVA. Heavily grunting, the 13th glared directly at Unit-01.

"Ayanami, get the plug to safety!" he shouted as he pulled out his Prog Knife, preparing to fight.

He could only hope that she did what he said, since he had no time to watch her. The now fully awakened Angel leaped behind him in a split second and slammed the surprised EVA directly into the nearest mountain, causing it to lose the knife. Before Shinji could react, he felt something enclosing his neck. If it wasn't for the deadly situation, he might have laughed at how history repeated itself. Only that this time, he was ready to fight back.

Yet the grin on his face faded as he forced his eyes open. Instead of bending directly over him, the Angel stood way out of his reach, thanks to his expandable limbs. As much as he tried not to, Shinji began to panic when his lack of air became more and more evident.

***

"Cut the synchronization to 60 percent!" Fuyutsuki ordered the technicians, but was stopped by his superior.

"Wait!"

"But if this keeps up, the pilot will die!" he reminded the Commander.

"This is his best fight to date. I'm eager to see how well he can handle it."

"Even if that kills him?"

The former professor wasn't sure what scared him more: the Commander's orders or his ruthless grin.

***

Shinji tried to free himself from the Angel's death grip, but to no avail. All he could do now was to fumble around for something to help him; a rock or a big street sign or a telephone pole or his knife...

His knife!

As soon as he felt the haft, he reached out, stretching as far as he could to get a good grip on it and rammed it into the Angel's arm. Yet, despite the shrieks of pain, it didn't let go of its prey. Shinji pulled the blade deeper and farther through the 'flesh', racing against time before he would pass out. Then, at last, the grip around his neck broke and a horrid screech filled the air as the arm was severed off.

Shinji lost no time. Once he caught his breath, he stormed towards the Angel and, before it could respond, rammed the Prog Knife right into its throat. The neck of an EVA Unit was certainly thicker than its arms, but that fact didn't stop Shinji from trying just the same strategy again. The adrenalin pumping in his veins didn't let him think much of a more adequate way to kill this Angel. He ignored the constant punches from the remaining fist of the struggling Unit and kept pushing forward. About halfway through, a last squirm was made as the rest of the head fell victim to the gravity.

Shinji stared panting at the torso, before he finally relaxed in relief.


Too early!

"It's still alive??" he asked no one particular as the headless body began stumbling forward after standing still for only a few seconds. With one arm partly cut off, the head missing, cracked armor plates and thick veins all over, the humanoid figure looked more like a zombie from a cheap horror movie with its slow, uncoordinated movements.

'I can't believe it! Do I really have to rip it into countless pieces to kill it?' It was then that a glimpse of red in a now open area of the Unit's chest came in his vision. 'Of course! The core!'

Luckily, without any coordination the Angel wasn't much of a threat anymore. A quick tackle caused the crippled giant to fall. Shinji ripped the remaining armor apart, exposing the Angel's/EVA's core. With only little resistance, he knifed it again and again and again.

He was somehow satisfied and horrified at the same time when the severed head gave a last scream in rage and agony as the red orb finally cracked and shattered into thousands of pieces. The following silence was only disturbed when the limp torso fell on the road.

At last, Unit-03 – the 13th Angel – was dead.

And this time Shinji Ikari smiled.



****************



With the sound of sirens and rushing medics booming in her head, Misato slowly opened her eyes.

"I'm still alive?" Despite the painkillers the medics obviously gave her, she felt the various bruises and scratches, and her left arm felt numb. She guessed that it was at least sprained, maybe even broken. It was then that she noticed someone kneeling down to the stretcher she was lying on. "Kaji?"

"You were lucky, Katsuragi," he said smiling, obviously judging by the destruction the rogue Unit had caused.

"What about Ritsuko?"

"Don't worry,".Kaji assured her. "She's in a better shape than you."

"So?" She managed a smile, but then she remembered. "And EVA-03?"

"Destroyed as Angel by Unit-01."

To say she was shocked was an understatement. "I-I haven't told Shinji yet," she turned her gaze away from him.

"You don't need..."

She didn't listen though. "I need a comm!" Driven by guilt, she fought the pain, struggled to sit up and turned to the hectic technicians. "Get me a communication to EVA-01 at once."

"Katsuragi, listen..."

"Not now, Kaji!"



****************



Shinji felt as though he was waiting for the results of an important test. Rei had brought EVA-03's entry plug to a safe distance from the fight, but didn't return to the base in case she was needed. Due to this, the status of the pilot was still not checked yet.

"Shinji..." He smiled at the distracting voice.

"Misato, you're okay?"

"Shinji, I'm sorry. I ha..." she whispered.

"I know that it's Toji," he admitted.

"Shinji? How...?"

"Sorry Misato, but I need to hear this now..." he cut her off as he finally heard Maya's voice through the comm.

["Report from the entry plug salvage crew: Survival of the pilot confirmed."

"He's unconscious. His left arm and leg..."]

Shinji held his breath. 'No! It can't be! We...'

["...seem to be broken, but otherwise..."]

He let the breath out and fell relaxed back into the seat.

"Shinji? Shinji?" Misato asked worried. "Can you read me? You're okay?"

A tired smile crept over his face. At least this time they had won the way they should have.

"Yes, Misato, I'm fine..."

At least one success...



****************



"Sir, I must protest!"
To say Misato was angry was an understatement. She could barley keep herself halfway disciplined. She had left the infirmary, arm and bruises bandaged, and had rushed to Commander Ikari's pretentious big, yet dark office as soon as she had heard that Shinji was ordered there 'to face the consequences of his insubordination'. "Having the Third Children suspended from duty for more than a week could prove fatal in case of another attack!"

"In case of an Angel attack, he will sortie, but only if it's truly necessary," the Commander replied coolly, the hands before his mouth and the sunglasses before his eyes masking his emotions as always.

Misato clenched her good fist. It wasn't fair at all. Orders or not, he successfully defeated the Angel and saved the life of his friend as well. And for that he was supposed to be punished? After he finally showed some confidence in piloting the EVA?

"Sir, I..."

"Major, do not question my decisions!" he cut her off. "The suspension is a result of his actions. He disobeyed orders several times in the past and I have left his punishment up to you, as you have been his commanding officer then. But this time it had been my direct orders and I will not let him get away with a scolding!"

"But..."

"Misato," the weak voice of the discussed one interrupted her. Shinji had remained silent until now. He had just kept standing there, glaring at his father, without flinching once while they were talking about his fate.

As if had expected something like this.

"Drop it, okay? The Commander made his orders very clear," he continued as he turned around and went for the door.

Misato simply nodded, still glaring at the older Ikari, before she followed the younger.

"They will suspect something, Ikari!" Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki warned as both had left. "Such an illogical order doesn't fit you."

"I'm just adapting. I will not let him spoil the scenario."

The old man frowned. "Sometimes I'm asking myself if you're actually still going after the same scenario you and Yui convinced me in..."

Gendo did not answer.

He just grinned behind his clasped hands.




---------------------------------------
A/N: Oh man, this came off much more humorous than I intended to. This was supposed to be my serious fic. *sigh*
Well, let's start at the beginning (where else?).

Before Rei fans start to lynch me for making her the weak, fast exhausted girl (even though, I think that's more believable than making her an all powerful kick-ass fighter, as some writers do), I should tell you: The hiking trip was originally planned entirely different, as being mentioned, with Toji and Hikari accompany them, Hikari passing out, Toji caring her, etc. (which would also have made the T/H relationship here much more believable) and happening somewhere between Toji's 'delivery-assignment' and his selection as Fourth Children. But after re-watching the episodes, I've noticed, that there wouldn't be any time, since they have school till late afternoon/early evening and there's no day in between. But if they would have got closer before the episodes, the rest of the chapter wouldn't have worked out as well. And since I didn't wanted to abandon the scene, I've send Rei with Asuka and Shinji. Btw, the die-hard otakus (to whom I can't count me, since I had to look it up) might
have noticed: Koichi Yamadera is the name of Kaji's voice actor.

The A/S scenes might be very similar, but see it like this: I have to let them talk occasionally. They can only talk when they're alone. They can do 'other things' only if they alone as well. So it's only logical, isn't it?

Why aren't they as secretive towards Kaji as to the others? Well, I'll tell most likely in chapter 7, but... just take a wild guess, it's not that hard to tell...

Now for the Angel-fight... Hey, it was my first real fight and someone as undescriptive as me, it's not very easy to pull off. I know, I've put a lot of 'artistic freedom' in here, with the 'undying' Angel, for example. But seriously guys, just pulling Toji out and then have Shinji break its neck, would have been kinda boring and I seriously doubt he would rip it to thousands of bloody pieces like the dummy plug.

I guess that's all the excuses for this I can think of now. Prepare for more of them in Chapter 5, when we'll face the attack of the 14th Angel. Will Zeruel end up as EVA-01's dinner again? Will Shinji be reduced to a blot of LCL? Wait and see...

And, of course, thanks to my pre-readers dennisud and Divine Chaos. 
All rights belong to their respective owners. Which means mostly Gainax in this case...