John Biles & Rod M. Present
          A Neon Genesis Evangelion Elseworlds 

         
                 Children of an Elder God

                        Part 13

                    Saving the Dead 
                       part 1 of 3
                    The Fourth Child


                         -*-

     Touji didn't like hospitals.

     For one thing, the one he was in smelled too clean.  
It was sterile, empty air.  It didn't have the scent of 
a place people lived in, it didn't have the feel of it 
either despite being filled with people.  He was surrounded 
by people, but it still felt oddly empty.

     Even sitting by his sister, it felt strangely empty
today.  The steady hisses and beeps of the machinery by 
her bed seemed to drone relentless, the only sounds in 
the room.

     Beep.  Hiss.

     She was oddly silent today.

     Was that a good thing?

     At least she wasn't thrashing and screaming.  Count
all the little blessings he could find... that was something
Hikari said to him once.  It seemed kinda appropriate now.

     "Hey sis, I'm back."

     Beep.  Hiss.

     "Dunno if you can hear me, but... um.. anyway."

     Beep.  Hiss.

     "Me'n Hikari... ya remember her?  Well... we... I
dunno... we've got somethin' going... I dunno what, but it's
nice.  Ya always did like her, didn'cha?"

     Beep.  Hiss.

     "Dad's doing okay.  He's... um... he's workin' hard
to pay for everythin', but he's doin' okay.  I might get a
job too, maybe.  Figure it's about time."

     Beep.  Hiss.

     "I brought ya some flowers.  Pink roses, I think,
were yer favorite, right?  I think the place needs it...
s'too darn clean in here.  The place could use some
smells."

     Beep.  Hiss.

     A knock at the door nearly made Touji jump from his
chair.  Nobody ever knocked.  When the nurses needed to get
in, they just opened the door slowly. 

     "Mr. Suzuhara?  We'd like to have a word with you." 

     What the heck? 

     "We're with NERV." 

     The door creaked open, and a somewhat menacing man in
black stepped in.  He had Government Goon written all over
him, Touji could see.  Whatever this was, he had a bad
feeling about it. 

     He frowned, then kissed his sister's forehead.  "Back
in a bit."  He walked to the man, then pointed outside. 
"C'mon, I don't wanna bother her." 

     The two left, Touji making sure the door closed quietly
behind him.  Unseen by anyone, his sister groaned and turned
in her sleep. 

     "Niichan... no..." 

                            -*-

     "Whoa." 

     Now this wasn't what he was expecting. 

     Touji Suzuhara found himself sitting in a darkened
office, eerie and magical symbols etched into the ebony
steel of its walls, floors, and ceiling.  The only source of
light was along the southern wall, which was glowing a
menacing shade of red.  Placed strategically between him and
the red wall was the large black desk, and more importantly,
the commander of NERV, Shinji's father.  He was, as ever, in
his traditional pose, elbows on the table, hands forming a
platform that rested at the bridge of his nose. 

     Yeah, they were right, he was one creepy looking
sonova-

     "Mr. Suzuhara." 

     "Huh?" 

     "You have been brought here for a very important
reason." 

     He blinked.  "Hey, yeah?" 

     "You will be the next pilot." 

     "Um, me?" 

     Gendo nodded.  "Yes, you." 

     Normal kids would have been intimidated.  Touji was
intimidated too, but there were a few issues he had with
NERV, and he was brave enough (or stupid enough, as some
would say) to push things here. 

     "On certain conditions." 

     Gendo raised an eyebrow, then adjusted his glasses. 
"You wish to set... conditions?" 

     "Um, yeah.  I..."  Touji took a deep breath, then found
his resolve.  "My sis... I want'er moved to a better place,
and I want NERV t'foot the bill." 

     "Your... sister.  Let's see..."  A holographic display
came to life on Gendo's desk, flipping through numerous
names, numbers, and faces until it stopped at his sister's. 

     Touji was shocked.  They had a file on her?  Man, if
Kensuke was alive, he'd be goin' off on that conspiracy crap
of his.  And he'd be right. 

     "Ah, your sister," said Gendo as he read the file.  "An
interesting case.  Very well, I agree to your terms." 

     "You do?" 

     "Yes." 

     "Well, um, okay.  So when do I start?" 

     "Tomorrow." 

     "Whoa, fast." 

     "You will report to the base immediately after school
for a physical and to begin your training.  Keep this
information to yourself, do you understand?"

     "Yea-" 

     "Failure to comply will result in... severe penalties." 

     Somehow, by the way he said that, Touji figured it
wouldn't be a good idea to find out what those penalties
were. 

                         -*-

     The next school day passed uneventfully for the
Children, though at least one member wished that the school
day could've been stretched out a bit longer.  Awaiting them
after school was an appointment with Dr. Akagi at the base. 

     The three pilots walked.  They could've taken the bus,
but Asuka thought it was a good day for a walk, was in no
particular hurry, and received no opposition from Rei or
Shinji. 

     "Mein gott, I hate these physicals," said Asuka. 

     "You've been a pilot all your life, right?" asked
Shinji.  "I know I don't like the physicals, but shouldn't
you be used to them?"

     Asuka sighed and wagged a finger.  "One should never
become accustomed to an anal probe.  What about you,
Ayanami?" 

     The nearly albino girl blinked, then shrugged. 

     "Okaaay, some people apparently do get used to them." 

     They passed the gates of NERV, flashing their ID cards
as they went.  They passed the outer doors, swiping their
IDs.  They entered the elevator, swiped their IDs through a
reader, then zoomed downward.

     For amusement, Asuka did what she usually did.  She
tossed a coin in the air, and it floated neatly in place. 

     "That's just wrong," said Shinji.  "We can't be moving
that fast."

     "I bet if this thing had windows, you'd get motion
sickness," said Asuka with a smirk.

     Arriving at the lower levels of NERV, they took a few
twists and turns.  They walked through cavernous
construction areas and narrow corridors, past security
patrols and NERV regulars, and finally reached Ritsuko's
office. 

     Asuka lead the way, strolling into the doctor's office
with a 'let's get this over quick' air about her.

     "Guten Tag, Frau Aka- YOU!!!" 

     Touji smirked.  "Yo." 

     Shinji blinked.  "Touji?  What're you doing here?" 

     Rei merely watched. 

     Dr. Akagi at this point intervened, saying, "I see
you're already familiar with the Fourth Child." 

     "HIM?!" roared Asuka.  With a trembling fist and the
facial expression of a demon out for blood, she asked, "HE
IS THE FOURTH CHILD?!" 

     "Feh.  Deal with it, kraut-muncher," said Touji. 

     "But he isn't pilot material!" yelled Asuka, getting in
Ritsuko's face.  "He's an idiot!  A jock!  A thug!  He'd do
nothing but get in the way!  He'd get in MY way!" 

     "Oh yeah?!" bellowed Touji.  "This I get from the girl
that gets'er arm ripped off by a friggin koosh-ball!" 

     Asuka turned a deeper shade of red.  Bringing up her
first sortie against an Angel was not her favorite topic. 
Touji bringing up her first sortie was an intolerable
insult. 

     "You want a fight?  Is that what you want, you
backwards neanderthal?!"  She moved quickly into a fighting
stance, a deadly gleam in her eye. 

     Touji sneered.  "I don't hit chicks, but then again,
you don't count."  Touji brought his fists up, sneering. 
"Come get some, bitch." 

     "STOP IT!" 

     The bickering duo nearly jumped, Dr. Akagi's angry
voice intimidating them quickly.  They'd never heard her
angry.  It was disturbing, somehow. 

     "Stop it, you two.  Just stop it.  I know you're kids,
but I expect better of you!  Now just... shut up and get
into the examination chambers." 

     "But-" 

     "NOT a word, Langley." 

     Touji smirked.  "Heh." 

     "You too, Suzuhara." 

                         -*-

     "Oh man, the guitar guy died?" Touji asked in
disbelief. 

     "Yeah," Shinji said, sighing.  "When did you...oh, the
beach." 

     Touji nodded.  They were out at one of Tokyo-3's small
parks, sitting on a bench and eating burgers.  He paused to
munch on four fries.  "So, did anything fun happen?  Any
Americans try to shoot you?" 

     "You call that fun?" 

     "Just runnin' off at the mouth, man." 

     "Well, we went to Disneyworld.  That was kinda fun." 
Shinji paused to munch a mouthful of burger.  "And...you're
not gonna believe this."  He picked up his drink and started
a sip. 

     "Rei became a Mouseketeer?" 

     Shinji snarfed his drink, then nearly fell off the
bench.  "What a weird thought.  No, we went on some rides,
and there was this rollercoaster, and...I'm not making this
up." 

     "Not making what up?"  Touji reached for his drink. 

     "Father threw up after riding on it." 

     Now it was Touji's turn to snarf.  "You're shitting
me." 

     "Nope.  I would have thrown up a few months ago, but I
guess all that riding around inside my EVA has made me not
get so motion sick as I used to."  He double- stuffed fries,
chewed, then said, "Asuka loved the rides, the booths, the
games, the whole nine yards."

     "I bet Misato loved them too." 

     "Yep." 

     "Man, I envy you living with her." 

     "You shouldn't.  She's a slob."  He took another bite. 

     Touji finished off his second burger, then said, "With
a body like hers, I wouldn't care if she didn't know what
cleaning meant.  You ever see her naked?" 

     Shinji turned beet red.  "NO!" 

     "What kinda guy lives with a hot babe like that and
doesn't try to see her naked?  You ain't an eunuch, are ya?" 

     "No!" 

     "Or are you lusting after someone else?" 

     "No!" 

     "You say anything but no, now?" 

     "Yes!" 

     "You ain't sweet on Kaiser Langley, are ya?" 

     "No!" 

     Touji grinned, then turned and tossed his rolled up
burger papers into the nearby garbage can.  "Two points." 
He turned back to Shinji.  "Then why ain't ya trying to see
Misato naked?" 

     "You don't do something like that to your...commander!" 

     "If I was runnin' NERV, all the hot babes would have to
wear uniforms like the ones from Gunbuster." 

     If you were running NERV, all the women would probably
kill you, Shinji thought. 

          _*_

     "So then Shinji just starts screaming like he's been
shot, and everyone starts staring, and Misato started asking
him what was wrong, and Rei dropped her ice cream cone on
herself.  And all that had really happened was that some fat
guy had stomped his foot accidentally, but he whimpered all
the way through the next ride."  Asuka shook her head. 
"He's like weird.  Sometimes he's this total wimp, and
sometimes, he's like...like when he managed to beat that
Throne that got inside his EVA.  He'll get pushed too far,
and suddenly, he's all steel."

     Hikari and Asuka were in Asuka's room, and Asuka was
rambling on about the trip as she put things away.

     "Guys are like that; they all have some part that only
comes out at odd times.  Like Touji; he can be a really nice
guy, but he doesn't show it very often."

     Asuka grumbled.  "Now I have to put up with him all
the time."  She began stuffing shirts into her dresser. 

     "Hey, he's not a bad guy!  I do like him, ya know,
so I'd appreciate it if you didn't badmouth him around me." 
Hikari leaned forward and got a tiny bit flushed. 

     Asuka sighed.  "Sorry. I'm just feeling...I
just...I'm starting to think maybe I should give up on
Kaji." 

     "I could have told you that a long time ago," she
said. 

     "Yeah, but you didn't have a good reason why," Asuka
said, puzzling over what to do with some of her souvenirs. 
"He was on Misato like glue, it seemed like, except when he
was flirting with Ritsuko and Maya.  Although he did go with
me on the Pirates of the Mississippi ride."  She smiled,
remembering it. 

     "There's a dozen guys in the class who would date
you in five seconds if you gave up on Kaji," Hikari said. 
"Hey, what's that picture?" 

     She pointed to a picture that Asuka was looking at,
a framed eight by eleven inch photo.  It showed Asuka posing
with an eight year old red haired girl who was wearing a
white T-shirt that had a head shot of Asuka on it and the
logo, 'NERV-Second Child, Asuka Soryuu Langley'.  Asuka and
the girl were doing a V-pose in unison. 

     Asuka laughed.  "Her name was Heather, and she
wanted me to take her back to Japan with me.  Or use my EVA
to stomp her brother.  So we posed together for a picture
her mother took, and Kaji took this one for me.  I hadn't
realized they were selling T-shirts and everything." 

     "She's a cute kid." 

     "We ran into fans all over the place; it was like
being a movie star, although most people didn't recognize
us.  This little kid gave Rei a flower...then he ran and hid
behind his dad."  She laughed.  "He was wearing a Rei T-
shirt, but I don't think she was quite what he expected." 
She put the picture on top of the dresser.  "I guess a lot
of kids will be wearing home made plug suits for Halloween." 

     Hikari laughed.  "My little sister wants to be an
EVA pilot for Halloween, assuming she can keep the idea in
her head the next few months." 

     Asuka pulled out another picture and laughed.  "Ahh,
this one is a classic." 

     It showed a mildly baffled looking Rei holding a
three foot tall stuffed Unit00 doll, standing next to a ring
toss booth; you could see Kaji's back as he was trying his
luck. 

     "She looks like she doesn't know what to do with
it," Hikari said. 

     Asuka nodded, still laughing.  "Shinji won it in the
ring toss and gave it to her.  And he won me a Unit02, and
won a new walkman for himself.  He was pretty good at it,
really." 

     "Wow, that is pretty good," Hikari said. 

     "Too bad we can't just challenge the Angels to
horseshoes." 

                         -*-

     Her hand moving the cloth in slow, steady circles,
Rei proceeded to wipe the surface areas of her apartment.

     This was something she didn't normally do, as she
was usually content to let the dust gather.  But Shinji told
her it was a good thing to clean, so she cleaned.

     Sitting in a corner of her room was a small
collection of stuffed animals that they'd gotten from
that... theme park.  Normally, she'd have no such things in
her room, but Asuka said that it would look nice.

     And hanging from a nail in the wall was a framed
picture.  In it, Misato, Kaji, Shinji, Asuka and Rei stood,
the rest of them smiling for the camera while Rei had a
somewhat confused look on her face.  Normally, she wouldn't
have put any pictures on her wall, but this time she made an
exception.  If asked, she wouldn't have an explanation why.

     She didn't seem to mind that the glass was cracked,
either.

                         -*-

     The score was 89 to 88, the 'home' team down by one. 
There was less than a minute was left to go in the Olympic
quarter-finals, with Japan facing Germany.

     The Germans went on a fast break, dribbling the
basketball fast down the court.  The point guard threw a
needle pass through four defenders to the awaiting center,
when suddenly star basketball captain Touji Suzuhara lunged
for the ball, caught it, then pushed it down court as fast
as he could.  In the corner of his eye he could see the
clock ticking down. 

     Three... two... one...

     No time left, he had to go for it.

     Touji put up a shot from thirty feet out just as the
buzzer sounded.  Up it went, in a rainbow trajectory, high
above everone and everything.... and then down it went,
slowly, gracefully, straight for the hoop.

     And then Asuka jumped out from the crowd, up in the
air, and grabbed the ball just before it reached the rim.

     The cheering crowds suddenly fell silent.

     "Playtime's over, jock-boy," she said crossly.
"Let's go."

     "Wha... LANGLEY?!"

     "Yeah, dumbass, it's me.  C'mon, quit fooling around
and let's go."

     "Go?! GO?! YA FUCKED UP THE GAME, YA DAMN BITCH!!!
WHAT THE HELL D'YA THINK YER DOING?!"

     Asuka tapped her foot impatiently, crossing her arms
over her chest.  "Starting your training, du arschloch." 

     Touji was red in the face now, his fist raised next
to his face and trembling.  "YOU COST US THE GAME!" 

     "Ach.  So."  Asuka sighed, rolling up her eyes.
"This, moron, is a dream.  Or haven't you noticed how
everyone else vanished?"

     "Huh?"  As he looked around, Touji realized she was
right.  In fact, the entire area around them seemed to have
darkened, as if they were under a spotlight in the dark.
"This, er, this a dream?"

     "Yup, this is a dream, and I'm gonna be your drill
sergeant every night until you can control your dreams
better."

     "Oh."   Touji considered this a moment.  "HEY!
ABSOLUTELY NOT!"

     "I'm not exactly thrilled either," grumbled Asuka.
"But orders are orders.  C'mon, let's get this over with for
tonight."

     "Orders?  What damn order?!"

     "Commander Ikari, dumbass.  Come on, quit wasting
time."

     And then they were standing at the foot of a
mountain, out in the middle of a grassy plain.  Touji was
immediately disoriented.

     "What the-  how'd we get here?!"

     She knocked on his head.  Oddly enough, a hollow
sound echoed.  "Helloooo?  This is a DREAM, genius."

     He knocked back on hers.  "Then let me alone!  
I was ENJOYING my dream until you screwed it up!"

     "Well, that's the last dream you're gonna 
enjoy until you finish your training."  Asuka crossed her
arms under her breasts.  "You gonna cooperate, or do I have
to give you an object lesson?"

     "How the hell did you get into MY dream, anyway?"

     "You don't know how to guard your dreams, you don't
know how to control them, and if I had hostile intent, you'd
already be dead.  Simply put, when it comes to dreams, you
suck.  Not to mention Germany would whip Japan's miserable
ass in a basketball game, so you're delusional too."  Her 
voice was a wonderful mix of acid and bile.  

     "Screw you, Langley!  We'd whip Germany's ass any
day of the week!  And I can too control my dreams!"  He knew 
that wasn't true, but he couldn't let Langley score any points
on him.

     She laughed.  "I'm going to throw you off a cliff. 
If you can stop me, I'll leave you to yourself."

     "There ain't no..." he began.

     Three feet to the left of him, the ground vanished,
plummeting hundreds of feet into clouds far below them. 
Touji stared over the edge.  "What the hell?!  Where the
hell'd THAT come from?" 

     Asuka grinned, then grabbed his arm.  "Time for you
to find out."

     "What're y-"

     And then she merrily tossed him off the cliff.

     "AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEeeeeee..."

     ... and into the ocean.

     At that moment, Asuka's dream became a lot more
pleasant. 

     "Yaaaadaaaaamcrouteatingbiiiiiiiiiiiitch...."

     "We'll try again tomorrow, jock-boy!"

                         -*-

     And the next night, into the ocean again...

     "AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEeeeeee..."

                         -*-

     And the next night, into an endless sea of mud...

     "DamnyouLangleeeeeeeeeeeeey..."

                         -*-

     And the next night, into an ocean of jello...

     "Killkillkillkillkillkillkill..."

                         -*-

     And so...

     As the bell rang to end another day, most students
rose up from their seats and left.  Touji groaned and seemed
to pass out in his seat.

     "What's bothering you?" asked Shinji.

     Touji didn't reply, but the state he was in gave
plenty of answers.  His eyes were red, his movements lacking
energy, and his left eyebrow seemed to be twitching.  Every
morning, for the past several days, he'd been coming in like
this, though today was the worst shape he'd seen Touji in
yet.

     Unknown to Shinji, Touji's silence was one of pride.
Touji was told this training was standard for all the
pilots.  Therefore, Shinji had gone through the very same
thing.  But Shinji was a wimp, right?  If Shinji could
take it, so could he.  There would be no complaint.

     And more importantly, he'd be damned if he let
himself be ground under the heel of that bitch.

     As if on cue, the redhead strolled by the desk,
grinning like a shark.  "Seeya tonight, Touji," she said
teasingly.  "Unless you're wimping out on me." 

     He didn't raise his head from the desk, but he
managed to raise a clenched fist and shake it.  "Yeah yeah,
tonight."

     A few feet away, Hikari listened to the conversation
and frowned.

                         -*-

     Later that night....

     "BIIIIIIiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch!!!!"

     Asuka dusted off her hands and sighed in
satisfaction, looking down below as Touji fell from the
cliff once more, hurtling towards an ocean of writhing
trout.

     Was this overly mean of her?  Possibly.  

     Did this mean she was likely to stop?  Nope.

     He needed the crash course anyway, she thought,
since he was being brought in late.

     Perhaps they'd done enough cliff-diving for one
night.

     Yes.

     Tomorrow they'd start on dream combat basics.

                         -*-

     The day after...

     Touji's condition seemed to be becoming more ragged
and tired, while Asuka seemed to be more pleasant these
days.

     Hikari eyed the pair warily as they talked again.
Touji always had his face in his desk, and Asuka seemed
happy, _too_ happy.  The class president went to Shinji,
pulling him aside.

     "Ikari, got a minute?"

     "Hm?"

     Hikari pulled him out of the classroom, which got
the attention of Touji and Asuka.

     "What the heck is she doing with him?" Asuka
muttered.

     Touji narrowed his eyes.

     Fortunately for Hikari, Rei was not there.

                         -*-

     "Ikari, has Asuka been acting... strange lately?"

     "Strange?"  The boy scratched his head.  "I'm not
sure I know what you mean."

     "Is she acting different lately?  Happier?  Sadder?
Does she go out at night?"

     Shinji frowned.  "Now that you mention it, she does
go to sleep earlier than usual these days."

     "Earlier?"

     "Yeah, and she seems kinda happy when she does..."

     Hikari's eyebrow twitched.  "Is that so?"

                         -*-

     Later that day...

     After clearing the paperwork and finally receiving
his NERV ID, it was finally time for Touji to begin
preparing for his piloting duties. 

     To say he was nervous was an understatement, but it
was tempered by the realization that Kensuke would've loved
to have been in his shoes.

     "Jeez, this thing's loose," said Touji, tugging
reluctantly at the blue and black plugsuit.

     "Press the button on your wrist," replied Shinji.

     "Button?  What button?"

     "This one."

     *FWOOSH*

     "Whoa, that was cool."

                         -*-

     They stood on the rim of a vast, circular room,
rimmed by a steel walkway, with gangways leading to four
entry plugs.  Below the walkway was a seemingly bottomless
amount of LCL fluid.

     "Aw man, smells worse than shit," grumbled Touji.

     "I know," mumbled Shinji.

     Asuka noticed their discomfort, which annoyed her.  
"You wimps.  If you can't handle even this, you shouldn't 
be piloting.  And YOU, Shinji, haven't you gotten used 
to it yet?"

     Touji sneered, "The kraut-bitch would be at home in
a place as smelly as this." 

     *WHAP*

     Ritsuko sighed.  "That's enough!  I know you're
still children, but TRY to act a little civilized here?
This is serious."

     "He started it," said Asuka.

     "Did not!" yelled Touji.

     Rei watched everything they did, but remained silent.

     This, thought Ritsuko bitterly, was going to be one
of those days.  She ignored their bickering and went on with
her presentation, hoping they'd get with the program and
shut up.

     "This, children, is the new virtual Eva trainer.
Given how expensive it is to deploy the Evas every time,
we've had to resort to this."

     "A sim?" said Asuka distastefully.  "Real training
is better."

     "Oh, you'll be surprised how effective it is," said
Ritsuko.  "Just give it a chance.  You'll notice each entry
plug is labeled accordingly:  Rei takes zero, Shinji takes
one, Asuka takes two, and Touji takes three.  Go ahead and
enter."

     The pilots walked to their designated plugs, Asuka
with some annoyance, Rei silently, Shinji with a small bit
of depression, and Touji with a lot of curiosity.  One by
one, they opened the plugs and entered, except Touji.

     "Hey!  My plug's filled with this crap!"

     "It's supposed to be, actually," said Ritsuko.
"The liquid serves as an interface between you and the Eva.
Don't worry, it's totally breathable."

     "Uh huh."  Touji looked inside his plug to the
black, noxious goo, then back at Ritsuko.  "I'm, er,
supposed ta just dive right in, right?"

     Asuka's laughter echoed from her plug.  //"Hohohoho!
Wimp!"//

     That did it.

     "Banzai!"

     With a sloshy sort of splash, Touji jumped in.  A
moment later, he was gagging and spitting, his lungs filling
with the most utterly disgusting substance he'd ever
experienced in his life. 

     //"Suzuhara, stop struggling,"// said Ritsuko
through the comm system.  //"Just relax, take a slow, deep
breath."//

     A slow deep breath?  It sounded like one of the
worst ideas he could possibly follow, but since everyone
else was doing it...

     He took his first deep breath, then his second, and
then his third...

     //"Getting used to it?"// asked Ritsuko.

     //"Ugh... this is what they mean when they say 'eat
shit and die',"// he replied weakly.  //"I'm gonna puke in
here, lady."//

     //"Touji, it takes a while to get used to it, okay? 
The others have different tasks today, so don't worry about
catching up with them."//

     Touji nodded weakly, then cupped a hand over his
mouth.  //"Yeah, gotcha,"// he replied faintly.

     //"And if you really feel the need to throw up,
there's bags in the right compartment.  Thank Shinji for
that addition."//

     So, Shinji puked when he first started, huh?  That
fact comforted Touji a bit as he grabbed one quickly and
vomited into it. 

                         -*-

     Later, at night, in their dreams...

     "NOT the cliff!  ENOUGH with the cliff!  Today was
bad enough with the black gooey crap!"

     "Relax, Suzuhara, we're done with the cliff."

     Touji visibly relaxed.  "We... we are?"

     The world around them grew dark for a moment, then
reappeared in the form of...

     "Hey, what the heck?"

     ... a boxing ring.

     "Fight time, jock-boy."

     And then she demonstrated to him her experience in
kickboxing.

     *thwack*

     She also demonstrated her tendancy to fight dirty.

     "AAAAAAAAARGH!"

     "Maybe I should have told him to dream that he was
wearing a protective cup?  Nah." 

     "You... that's it!  You d-"

     *whack*

     "AAAAUGH! BY NODE!!!"

     "C'mon, Suzuhara, start showing me some defense!"

     "Dammid, dad's nod vai-"

     *whack*thwack*thud*

     "AAAAAAGH!"

                         -*-

     This school day was different, noted Shinji.  Touji
looked as worn out as usual, but this time he also looked
boiling mad as he strode into the classroom.  His battle
aura almost seemed visible, and the path he took clearly
lead towards Asuka.

     The look in Touji's eyes promised much violence and
mayhem.

     "Touji?"  Shinji stood up, trying to block the path
between him and Asuka.  Violence amongst pilots was
something that Shinji classified as a really bad thing.
"Touji, wait, what's going on?"

     "NOT now, Shinji, got me a superbitch ta beat up."
With ease, Touji shoved Shinji aside and loomed menacingly
over Asuka, who was having a conversation with Hikari at the
moment.  "Class prez, s'cuse us a sec.  C'mere,
kraut-muncher.  Step outside."

     Asuka was unfazed, even smiling pleasantly as if the
sight of an infuriated Touji gave her great satisfaction. 
Hikari, on the other hand, was frightened by the sight,
having never seen Touji this enraged before.  Before she
could say anything, Asuka and Touji were already outside,
closing the door behind them.

     Immediately, the students piled around the door,
putting their ear against it.

     "What are you doing?!"  She shoved some of them
aside, then stepped towards the door.  "Make room for me."

     Shinji watched it all and sighed.

     Rei just watched.

     Through the door they could hear angry yells from
Touji and the arrogant voice of Asuka, though the words were
muffled by the door and the constant whispers of the other
classmates.

     "...EVERY NIGHT YOU... getting SICK OF..."

     The whispers amongst the students grew excited, and
many of the girls began to giggle at Touji's rant.

     "...no stamina, weakling... on top... under my
heel..."

     The boys collectively 'ooh'ed at what was percieved
to be Asuka's dismissal of Touji's... prowess.

     "...have my LIMITS... didn't do it with SHINJI?!..."

     At this point, everyone stared at Shinji, who merely
got even more nervous than usual and blinked.

     "...last time... my CROTCH, DAMMIT!!"

     And at this point, Hikari couldn't take it anymore.
With a fury unseen before, she slammed open the door and
opened her mouth.  Thinking better of it, she slammed the
door behind her, then started yelling.

     "Asuka!  Touji! I don't believe you two!" 

     The Eva pilots turned to her and blinked, slowly.

     "Huh?" they both said in perfect synchronicity.

     Hikari turned to Asuka, her eyes beginning to form
tears.  "Asuka, after all that I told you... I... I trusted
you and this is what you do to me?!"

     "It's, er, training," said Asuka.

     "It's PERVERTED is what it is!" snapped back Hikari,
so angrily that Asuka stepped away from her.  "And YOU!"
said Hikari, whirling towards Touji.

     "Eep!"

     "I thought you... I thought we...."  Finally, the
emotions of the moment overwhelmed Hikari, and she ran away
in tears.  "Touji you jerk!"

     And so the two Eva pilots were left, very confused
and very rattled.  Touji scratched his head while Asuka just
stared down the hallway.

     "Um, what wassat?" asked Touji.

     Asuka thought about it a moment.  "Hrm...."

     Touji tried thinking about it as well, though a
contemplative look on Touji looked unnatural.  "S'like she's
jealous or somethin'."

     "Uh oh."

     "Uh oh?"

     "Well, if you think about what YOU were yelling,"
said Asuka, "I think she thinks that we..."

     "We...?"  Touji stared at Asuka, waiting for the
answer.

     "She thinks we were having sex, idiot!"

     Immediately, Touji's face wrinkled severely.
"WHAT?!"  He stared at the classroom door, then violently
opened it.  The wall of students listening at the door
nearly fell on top of him.

     "LISSEN UP YOU JERKS!  I DIDN'T HAVE NO SEX WITH
THIS KRAUT-MUNCHIN' BEER-SWILLIN' LOUDMOUTHED BITCH, GOT
IT?!"

     And then he immediately received a sharp boot to the
head from Asuka.

                         -*-

     And so the day passed as it always did, with 
children leaving school as the final bell rang.  Many went
to their respective circles, others headed straight for
home.  Asuka and Touji went to find Hikari just to make it
clear to her how much Touji and Asuka hated each other.

     Unlike other children, Shinji hadn't left yet.
Today was his day to clean up the schoolroom, and by chance
he was paired up with Rei.  She went about the business of
cleaning the room, all business as usual.  Shinji, on the
other hand, went about his business with a measure of
discomfort.  After a lot of thought, Shinji had good
reason to believe Rei was his mysterious secret admirer.  
He'd meant to ask her for some time, and now seemed as 
good a time as any.

     Except that he'd suddenly lost all his nerve.

     He watched, paralyzed, as Rei wrung out her
handcloth over the pail, then resumed wiping the floor.
Looking at her just then, there seemed to be something
appealing about her, something utterly mystifying, and just
a little... matronly?

     She paused in mid-wipe, looking up.  Her eyes met
his; they stayed frozen that way for what seemed like
eternity.

     Until Rei broke the spell by looking away.

     Shinji realized what he'd just done and quickly
looked away as well, blushing furiously.

     Some part of him raged, screaming at him that NOW
was the time to ask, NOW was the time to speak up.

     "R... Rei?"

     She paused again, once more locking eyes with him,
seemingly oblivious to his discomfort.  "Yes?"

     "Ah..."  The part of him that held bravery found
itself withering and dying at the onslaught of her crimson
gaze.  "N... never mind."

     He'd ask her.

     Later.

                         -*-

     Meanwhile, back at the command center...

     "So how's he doing?" asked Misato, looking over
Ritsuko's shoulder at the screens of data flashing by.

     "Synch ratio at 23%, a bit lower than we were
expecting," replied Ritsuko.  "But he started the day at
16%.  If we can keep that progress going, he should be ready
to go into the field in a few weeks, right on schedule."

     Misato nodded in approval.  "Good, that's good.  Did
he give you any problems?"

     The roll of Ritsuko's eyes told the story already.
"The fourth and the second don't get along at all.  It's
like they were born to hate each other, those two."

     "Give'em time," said Misato.  "I'm sure they'll
straighten out."

     Ritsuko smirked.  "We can only hope.  Anyway, it's
time to call it a day.  Join me for a drink?"

     "Wish I could, but I've still got some paperwork to
get out of the way."

     "Damage reports?"

     "Yep."

     "Still?"

     "Yep."

     With a smile, Ritsuko patted her friend on the back.
"Oh well, maybe next time."

     "Thanks."

     "Good luck."

     Misato watched with a little bit of envy as her
friend left the command room.  Just as Ritsuko reached the
door, she watched Maya conveniently bump into her.  With a
stuttering voice, Misato heard Maya apologize eagerly, then
ask if 'sempai' was done for the day.  To Misato's
surprise, Ritsuko was still oblivious to the younger
woman's... eager attention.  Almost as an afterthought,
Ritsuko asked Maya if she wanted to join her for drinks.

     Misato tried to suppress her laughter.

     Ah, well, complicated situation, that, and one she'd
rather stay out of.  She had no idea how to handle it
anyway.  Did Ritsuko swing that way?  Well, she didn't
recall Ritsuko dating in college, no, so it was a bit
ambiguous.

     "Aaargh."  She shook her head, having enough on her
plate without wondering about her friend.  Time to get that
final lump of paperwork out of the way once and for all.

     With a resigned sag of her shoulders, she idly
walked to the elevators, headed towards the elevators, and,
eventually, to her office.  The doors slid open, and in she
trudged.  With a press of the button the elevator began it's
decent, then halted a few floors short of her destination.
With a -ding- the doors slid open.

     "Oh, hey there," said Kaji smoothly.

     Misato scowled.  "Che."

     Kaji immediately took a step back, though in an
enclosed elevator it didn't do much good.  "Well, looks like
someone's little miss grumpy today," he said jokingly.

     "Oh, shaddup."

     The elevator resumed its decent, jerked violently
for a moment, then stopped.

     The two remained silent, waiting for the elevator to
resume moving.

     And waited.

     And waited.

     Kaji very carefully coughed.  "Maybe we should ring
up the maintenance guys?"

     Without acknowledging him, Misato grabbed the
emergency phone, which was dead.  "Shit."

     "Dead phone?" asked Kaji.

     Misato tossed the phone back into its holder.  "Yep,
dead." 

     "Uh huh."

     "Huh."

     "Wella..."

     They lapsed into uncomfortable silence again.

     "Hey, Misato?"

     "Eh?" she replied cautiously.

     "Remember the time we got caught in that elevator
during Thanksgiving vacation?" 

     Misato laughed.  "First we got locked in the
building, and then trapped in the elevator.  A good thing
we...ahah!  Boost me up, and I'll see if I can find the
trapdoor in the ceiling.  We can get out that way." 

     He nodded, walked over to her, and hefted her,
visibly straining a bit.  "Been hitting the jelly donuts
since then, I see." 

     "You're the one with the gut."  She took down the
grillwork covering the ceiling, and soon found the ceiling
hatch.  Which was closed with an electronic lock. 
"Damnation, why put a lock on a damn elevator trapdoor?" 

     "Three years ago, a group of cultists killed the
commander of NERV-Kenya by stopping the elevator and
dropping poisonous snakes down through the hatch.  I thought
you'd know the password, though." 

     Misato did not like the mental image she got from
that.  "I had no idea about this." 

     "Well, when they open the hatch to kill us, you can
grab them and pull them down."  He passed her his gun.  "Or
use this." 

     "Maybe I can shoot the lock out," she mused. 

     "It'll probably bounce and kill one of us." 

     "Got any other helpful thoughts?" she asked
sardonically. 

     "Not really."  He lowered Misato to the ground. 

     Misato cursed and sat down.  "Well, if nothing else,
the kids'll notice I'm not home yet and send a search
party." 

     "Plus, MAGI monitors the elevators, so by morning,
there will be a repair crew.  MAGI might even figure out
we're in here if anyone asks it.  And I'm sure they will." 
Kaji sat down by her.  "So how are you and the Children
getting along?" 

     "I'd forgotten what good food is like," she said,
"Ever since I stopped living with Ritsuko.  Shinji is
getting better, and Asuka's a great cook.  It's been a lot
better than I ever thought being a mom could be." 

     "A mom?" he asked with faint amusement. 

     Misato smiled nervously and stared off at the
apparently now fascinating corner.  "Well, it's like being a
mom.  I even had this dream where...anyway.  I guess being
able to skip the bad parts, like taking care of the baby in
the middle of the night helped.  They're good kids.  I
haven't been this...Life hasn't been this good for a while." 

     "And if we beat the Angels, you'll be able to pretty
much live on the fame of that for the rest of your life. 
There's already talk about making a TV movie about your
life.  I wonder who they'll get to play me." 

     "Macauley Culkin," Misato said. 

     "BLEAH," Kaji replied.  He noogied her, and they
started wrestling around.  "Going to have to punish you for
that." 

     "Hah, I order you to surrender!" 

     "Sorry, I'm in the Inspection division, not
Tactical.  I take my orders from Inspector General Javino." 
He briefly managed to pin her, only to get kneed in the
chest and thrown back. 

     She pressed her advantage, and soon had him
spread-eagled on his back.  "And you fight like it, too,"
she said, nearly nose-to-nose with him. 

     "Maybe this was all part of my devious plot," he
said, then leaned forward and kissed her.  Her muscles
relaxed, and she lost her grip.  He turned the hold into an
embrace.  "Good thing NERV has large elevators so we can
stretch out." 

     "You never change," Misato said. 

     "Do you want me to?" 

     "You'd do this with any woman," she accused. 

     "Not just any woman.  Well...maybe Ritsuko just so I
could be the first and she could finally relax, but other
than that, you're the only one for me.  I've tried a lot of
other flowers, but I keep coming back to you because...My
train of thought just derailed."  He looked a little
embarrassed. 

     Misato laughed.  "Don't quit your day job.  I think
Maya may be out to beat you to Ritsuko." 

     "As if Ritsuko would even notice," he said.  "You
know, I think we two are the only people who get to actually
use her first name." 

     "Asuka does, but she tends to use everyone's first
name."  She stared at Kaji.  "I shouldn't do this." 

     "Why?" 

     "I don't know, I just..." 

     "You're just trying to find excuses to be unhappy,
because you feel guilty you didn't die in Antarctica with
everyone else.  You really think they want you to be
miserable?" 

     "No," she said faintly.  "But I just...I mean..." 

     "If you want to die, then die.  But I want you to
live." 

     She stared at his face, which was far more serious
than usual.  It was a handsome face, though scruffy, one
that oft haunted her dreams.  She wondered for a moment if
her father would have liked him, and whether he might be
watching right now from wherever people went when they died. 
He...he had wanted her to live.  That was why he'd sent her
out in the boat.  To live for them.  To avenge them.  And
part of living was...  "I want to live too," she said. 

     So she kissed him, and nature took its course as it
is wont to do.  Fortunately, they finished long before
anyone found them. 

                         -*-

     Asuka trudged into the apartment weakly, with not so
much as a 'tadaima' to announce her presence.  She just
opened the door, tossed her bookbag on the couch, and joined
it soon after.

     Shinji poked his head out of the kitchen a moment
later, wondering what he'd heard.  "Oh, welcome back,
Asuka."

     "Nng."

     He frowned.  "Long day?"

     "Had t'straighten things out with Hikari."

     "Oh."  He thought about this a moment.  "About
what?"

     "She thought me and Touji were dating," said Asuka
in disgust.  "As if!"

     Shinjij blinked, slowly.  "Oh.  Okay."

     Asuka eyed Shinji over, noting the apron and gloves.
"Hey, your turn to cook tonight?"

     "Yeah, it is."

     "What's for dinner?"

     "Beef Stroganoff."

     Asuka nodded with approval.  This was a western
dish, very western, and an alternative to rice as well. 
"Ah, good, great.  Proceed, number three."

     Shinji went back to the kitchen, while Asuka grabbed
the remote and idly flipped through the channels.

     "Hey," she yelled to the kitchen, "where's our
fearless leader?"

     "Misato?  I dunno, she's usually home by now."

     Asuka narrowed her eyes, but said nothing, instead
immersing herself in media entertainment.  One hundred and
twenty eight channels later, she was beginning to despair.  
With Misato inexplicably gone, certain anxieties were 
rearing their ugly heads in the back of her mind.

     "Hey, Shinji?"

     "Yeah?"

     "Who d'you think is cuter, me or Misato?"

     His reply was a sudden clatter of dishes and
utensils.  Still in an apron and wearing oven mitts, he
emerged from the kitchen.  "Er, w-what kind of question
is that?" 

     "It's a good question!" she shot back, her annoyance
growing.   "C'mon, c'mon, who's cuter?"

     "I, er,"  Shinji didn't like the question.  Not at
all.  There were too many opportunities to say the wrong
thing.   "Why're you asking me?!"

     "I need a man's opinion, but since there isn't one
around, I'll have to settle for yours."

     "Veeeeery funny."

     "I'm just kidding!  Sheesh."  She slumped further
into her couch, pouting.  "I just wanna know how my chances
are with Kaji, that's all." 

     "Well.... er..."  Shinji was fairly lousy around the
opposite sex, not having much dealings with them until now.
This was alien territory for the boy, and all he could do
was try to recall the advice he'd been given by Touji and
Kensuke about them.

     Tell them whatever they want to hear.  It may be a lie,
but that doesn't matter.  Lie like your life depended on it,
because it does. 

     And make it sound good.

     Taking all those into consideration, Shinji
clumsily assembled an answer that he hoped would pacify his
fellow pilot.  "If... er... I mean... you're not like
Misato..."  He saw her frown.  Wrong wording, bad direction,
must fix.  "But... er... you're cute too... in a different
way.  Apples... oranges.... er... you know?"

     Asuka considered this, a solemn look still on her
face.  Shinji was very much worried that he'd offended her.

     "You're way too uptight around women," she finally
said with a smirk.  "You know that?"

     Shinji smiled nervously and scratched the back of
his head.  "Sorry."

     "And stop apologizing," she said, rolling her eyes. 
"Go, back to the kitchen, cook!"  Much to his surprise, she
slapped him on the ass, prodding him back into the kitchen. 
"Get to work, tightass!" she yelled, though in jest.  "I'm
hungry!"

     "Okay, I'm going!"  He mock bowed to her and
scuttled back into the kitchen.

                         -*-

     The bar was a pleasant one, nestled in the hills of
the city.  It overlooked Toyko-3 nicely, and with the onset
of nightfall, the city became a sprinkle of lights in the
dark ocean of night.  The candle-lit bar and tables added to
the ambiance, giving the lounge a subdued feel to it.  Off
to the side, Neil "Buddy" O'Tip played lounge classics on
the grand piano, wrapping up a two hour marathon of
Sinatra's best, getting ready to take requests from the
audience. 

     "Wow, this is a nice place," said Maya in hushed
tones.

     "Yeah, it is," agreed Ritsuko.  "This is usually
Misato and I's place, nice and quiet after the frenzy 
that is NERV."

     Maya tried not to sound jealous, though if it
showed, Ritsuko was amazingly blind to it.  "Aheh... you and
Misato go back a long ways?"

     Pausing to take a sip from her martini, Ritsuko
nodded.  "Met her in college," she explained.  "She was
assigned as my roommate, though when I first met her I
thought it wouldn't work out."

     "Oh?  Why?"

     Ritsuko looked Maya in the eye with a droll look. 
"There I was, a quiet, bookish top student, and I'm suddenly
forced to share quarters with this girl that wouldn't shut
up.  Add to this her massive beer habit and frequent visits
from her oversexed boyfriend, Kaji."

     Meanwhile, back at the piano, "Buddy" O'Tip began
playing once more...

     o/~ She flies so gracefully o/~
     o/~ Over rocks and trees and sand o/~
     o/~ Soaring over cliffs o/~
     o/~ And gently flowing down to land o/~

     "You knew Kaji back in college too?" asked Maya,
surprised.

     "Yeah, the terrible trio, that was us."  Ritsuko
took another sip of her martini, then leaned on the bar,
relaxing visibly.  "After a while, I got used to Misato, and
found out she actually wasn't a total idiot."

     Maya raised an eyebrow.  "Would you say she's...
your best friend?"

     Ritsuko smiled and laughed.  "Yeah, I guess that'd
be entirely accurate.  One of these days, her and Kaji will 
finally get their acts together and finally shack up.  They 
already act like a married couple anyway."

     With those words, Maya visibly relaxed.  "Yeah, I
guess they are, huh?"  She leaned back on her own chair,
finally enjoying her pina colada.  The two relaxed in
silence for a while, as "Buddy" O'Tip continued his
crooning.

     "So," said Ritsuko, nudging Maya with her elbow.
"How's the Press Relations duties going?"

     "It's... going, I guess," sighed Maya.  "There's a
ton of reporters I haven't gotten back to, and I'm already
busy enough with my other duties."

     o/~ With me o/~
     o/~ That's where you belong, with me o/~
     o/~ I know I can't be strong o/~
     o/~ When you're with me o/~

     Ritsuko patted her on the back.  "Hang in there,
Maya," she said confidently.  "You're my protegee, you'll do
fine." 

     Maya was positively glowing at that remark, though
once more Ritsuko failed to notice.

     And in the background, "Buddy" O'Tip played on
with a knowing smile...

     o/~ Just you and me o/~
     o/~ Lesbian seagull o/~
     o/~ Side by side, we'll be till we die o/~

                         -*-

     Though the city had fallen into darkness and most of
Tokyo-3's residents had gone to the safety of their homes,
two young people lingered behind in the park, swaying
casually on the swings.

     "Hey, Hikari, we're alright now, right?" asked
Touji shyly.

     Hikari smiled.  "Yeah, we're alright."

     "Oh, uh, good."  He scratched his head, trying to
think of what to say next.  It wasn't as easy as he and
Kensuke had thought it would be.  "I, er.... sorry'bout
before, I mean, not tellin'ya... but it's top secret NERV
stuff, y'know?"

     "I know, Touji, I know."  She did, too, having gone
over this ground a hundred times when Touji and Asuka had
shown up at her door a few hours earlier.  After a while of
listening to their explanations, all was made well, though
Asuka got the subtle hints from Hikari that it was a good
time to be alone with Touji.

     Even though she didn't approve.

     Since then, Hikari had lead Touji on a walk through
the city, with no particular place in mind.  He had
followed, not sure what was going on, but having a feeling
it wasn't a good idea to question her too much at this
point.

     "Hey, Touji?"

     "Yeah?"

     "Can I ask... hm... how the training's been so far?
I mean, in general?"

     Touji scratched his head.  "Well... so far it's been
a pain in the ass.  I don't got a robot yet, but they've
been puttin'me in this simulator thing.  Oh, and they made
that damn bitch Asuka my instructor."

     "Touji!"

     He raised his hands defensively.  "Hey, I call it as
I see it, an'that girl's a-"

     "Touji!"

     "Okay, okay!"

     Hikari sighed.  "Can't you get along with her?
Please?"

     Touji grumbled to himself.

     "Touji!"

     "Fine, fine, I'll try, okay!  I ain't promising
anything, but I'll try."

     Hikari smiled.  "Good, that's good.  I wouldn't want
my best friend and boyfriend fighting all the time."

     "Well, yea- wha?"  He stopped in mid-sentence,
finally catching on to the bit with 'boyfriend' in it.  With
a puzzled look in Hikari's direction, he asked, "Um, what?"

     The class president smiled wryly.  "Did I
say something wrong?" she asked innocently.

     "Er... no!  Nothing wrong, no!"

     "Good.  C'mon, Touji, walk me back to my house.
It's getting late."

     And so with a little nervousness, Touji and Hikari
walked down the streets, arm in arm, into the night.

                         -*-

     Shinji and Asuka killed the time as they usually
did, wrapping up homework (something the college-graduate
Asuka loathed), attending to miscellaneous chores, and, when
everything else was done, watching large quantities of TV. 
They were doing just that at the moment, as Japan played
Germany in a football match. 

     "It's damn near midnight, where the hell is she?!" 
asked Asuka.  "Hey, Shinji, you got her phone number?" 

     "It's on the post-it note on the refrigerator," he
replied. 

     With some apprehension, Asuka got off the couch and
went to the kitchen, grabbing the cordless phone as she
went.  As advertised, Misato's portable phone number was on
the refrigerator door, and so she dialed. 

     And it rang. 

     And rang. 

     And rang. 

     Asuka began tapping her foot impatiently. 

     And finally someone picked up. 

     Or tried to. 

     The sound of rustling cloth, fumbling arms, and
stifled giggles came through the phone. 

     //"Hey, that's my phone!"// said Misato whimsically. 
//"I forgot I had it."//

     //"If it's important, they'll leave a message,"//
replied Kaji's voice.  And then he hung up. 

     The redhead stared at the phone, her hand shaking. 

     A moment later, the sound of the phone crashing
against the wall caught Shinji's attention.  Before he could
do anything, Asuka was already out the door and running into
the night. 

     "Asuka, wait!"  Shinji scrambled after her, but lost
sight of her immediately.  Standing outside their apartment,
he gave a weary sigh, knowing that he just had to go chase
after her wherever she may have gone. 

     It was going to be a long night. 

                         -*-

     A flock of ravens scattered in the night, taking to
the air in a panic and filling the skies of Tokyo-3 with the
sound of their beating wings.  Down below, stray animals
bolted away, while the less fortunate animals scratched at
their leashes and howled mournfully. 

     Rei Ayanami prowled the night.

     Nothing more than a dark shadow and glowing red eyes
in the night, it was impossible to track her movement by
eye.  One moment her red eyes could be seen peering from
deep within the foliage of a tree, and in a moment those
same red eyes would appear within the shadows of an alley.

     The silhouetted form of Rei appeared at Shinji's
window, hunched over and peering inside.

     Empty.

     Those red eyes narrowed, then disappeared, once more
searching in the night.  From shadow to shadow, from
darkness to darkness, the red eyes of Rei Ayanami glowed,
searching the night.

     And then she stopped in the park.

     Her pale form emerged from the shadows of the trees,
still clothed in her school uniform.  She stood several
meters away from an unsuspecting Asuka Langley, who seemed
to be, from Rei's point of view, in some sort of pain.  The
redhead's hands were balled into fists at her side, and she
seemed to be trembling.

     Vulnerable, so vulnerable. 

     So easy to kill.

     And nobody would see.

     Rei's face betrayed no emotion, still and placid as
she stared at Asuka.  Stepping silently towards her quarry,
Rei's hands slowly flexed.

     She hesitated.

     Orders were, after all, orders.

     Ikari wouldn't like it if she died.

     Ikari...

     Her red eyes seemed to flare for a moment.  Once
more, she calmly walked to Asuka's bench.  The redhead
failed to notice Rei until finally the red-eyed girl was
standing mere inches away from her.

     Asuka blinked, then realized she had company.  The
figure stood between her and the light post, a dark
silhouette casting a shadow over her.  Only a pair of
curious red eyes peering down gave a clue to her identity. 

     "Wha.... A-Ayanami?"

     The first child tilted her head slightly to the
side, leaning down to peer at Asuka.  There was something
not quite right about her motions though, it was as if she
was imitating the movements of someone else in a stiff
manner.

     "What are you doing here?" asked Rei, her typically 
monotone voice seeming a little odd, off-key in an unknown way.

     Asuka's voice trembled as she spoke, her eyes
beginning to water.  "I... ah... I..."

     Rei leaned down, then reached forward with one hand,
and in the darkness it seemed to Asuka as if she was
reaching out in sympathy.  The gesture was touching to
Asuka, especially considering this was the ice-cold first
child actually showing emotion.  Asuka was alone,
heartbroken, and despite all the belief she had that she
could stand on her own and weather any storm, right now she
needed someone, anyone.

     And so she broke down and cried, embracing Rei
tightly as her emotions overwhelmed her.  She did not see
Rei's startled look, or the hand that hovered over Asuka's
neck.  Asuka had clung to her much like Rei wished to be
with Shinji.  It was something ultimately confusing to Rei,
as she presumed Asuka was a rival for Shinji's attention.

     So what did this mean?

     Rei wasn't sure.

     The question was still ticking in her head, even as
Asuka cried on and on.  She feebly patted Asuka's back in
imitation of something one of the characters in 'Springtime
Cherry Blossoms' had done in a similar situation.  It seemed
to soothe Asuka.  Her indecision was broken as a familiar
presence entered the scene.

     "Rei?  Asuka?"

     Asuka didn't notice, too caught up in her own
misery, but Rei raised her head and saw Shinji standing
there.  He looked uneasy, as if he was intruding.

     They stared silently at each other, and then he
almost crept over.  "Asuka?" he asked softly.

     She turned and stared at him.  "He...he...he and
Misato..."  She broke down in more tears, utterly incoherent,
but it was enough for Shinji to understand.  

     He stepped closer, then reached out a comforting hand, 
then pulled it back in a fit of cowardice.  Taking a deep
breath, he stepped forward and very tentatively put his
arms around her, and around Rei in the process.  The trio 
stood there for several minutes as Asuka's crying slowly faded.

     And then the crying stopped, and Asuka faintly said, 
"Thank you, Rei."

     "For what?"  Rei asked, still not sure what had just 
happened.

     Asuka said, "Being there.  For just being there."

     "I'm always here," Rei replied, still not quite 
getting it.

     And then Asuka briefly smiled a wobbly smile, though
it quickly vanished.  "Thank you anyway.  It still hurts, but
not as much as before."  She turned to Shinji and said, "Let's 
go home."

     "You should see a doctor if you're hurt," Rei said.  
"Pain is detrimental to efficiency."

     Asuka sighed.  "There's no medicine but time for this.
Other than that I'm gonna kick Kaji's ass when I see him."

     The triple embrace ended, and Shinji said, "Come on, Rei.  
I'll walk you home after we get Asuka to bed."

                         -*-

     Touji had a feeling that this night's session was
going to be hell.  Earlier in the day, Asuka seemed to be
generally upset and irritable, a bad sign already since she
was hell to deal with when she was happy.

     And so, with some apprehension that night, he went
to sleep.

     And as he emerged into the world of dreams, the
first thing he saw was a foot flying towards his head.  The
first thing he felt was incredible pain as that foot smacked
him off his feet, into the air, and on his back as he hit
the floor.

     "Aagh!  Hey!  What the-"  But before he could
protest any further, he saw the horrifying sight of Asuka in
a military combat outfit, high in the air with a flying kick
aimed right at him.  He managed to roll away as Asuka's
impact left a crater in the ground, sputtering, "Shit!  Wait
a damn minute!" 

     And much to his relief, Asuka did.  "Good," she
said.  "Good reaction, though you started out lousy."

     "Of course I started out lousy!  Ya blindsided me!"

     "You think your enemies will be any better?" she
asked angrily.  "You get BLINDSIDED.  Life's that way, deal
with it!"

     Touji's frown sloped to one side as he lowered an
eyebrow.  "Uh huh."

     "You ready for more combat training?" Aska asked.

     "Yer goin' DOWN, Langley," Touji replied
confidently.  "Y'see, I been thinkin' about this dream
stuff, and if it's all just a matter'a mind over matter..." 
He grinned menacingly as large metal baseball bats
materialized in both hands. 

     Asuka smiled menacingly, then materialized two even
larger steel bats in her hands.  Unlike Touji's bats, these
were clearly not meant for baseball, as indicated by their
tip-heavy shapes and spherical bulges that dotted the latter
halves.  As if demonstrating the fact, she let one bat drop
to the ground, which left a considerable dent on the earth
as it hit.

     Touji blinked.  "Shit."

                         -*-

     An excruciating hour later, both combatants had
finally agreed to a break.  Touji was feeling thankful that
this was just a dream, being as badly battered and bruised
as he was.  He felt some small measure of pride as he saw
Asuka limp over to a nearby boulder, taking a seat.  He
might not have been as good as her, but he got a few good
shots in.

     And that's when he heard the voice.

     It was a faint voice, as if spoken from an unknown
distance beyond the horizon, and yet whispered into his ear
at the same time.  The voice whispered Touji's name, as if
in pain and seeking salvation.

     The Fourth Child sat up, blinking.  "What the...
Hey, Langley, you hear somethin'?"

     "Nope."

     Touji frowned, then lapsed into silence, listening
for the unknown.  Asuka seemed to sense something was
strange as well, doing the same.

     And when the distant voice spoke next, they both
heard its words.

     "Help... meeee...."

     Asuka's eyes widened, while Touji felt himself go
cold.

     The voice was Kensuke's.


                         -*-
                     end part 13
                         -*-