Chapter Four

“Ballad of Lonely Hearts”

 

            The morning dawned bright and early.  The sun peeked in through the blinds and woke Shinji.  He sat up, stretched and yawned.  He didn’t used to be an early riser, but after almost two months of early morning practice, things had changed.  Sometimes he got up earlier than Ranma.  Of course the nights before those mornings had usually been filled with Misato shouting at the top of her lungs, for one reason or another.

 

            This was a typical morning.  Shinji came out in his training clothes and Ranma did the walk of shame from Misato’s bedroom to his.  Most mornings he tried to wake before Shinji, in order to avoid being caught.  Ranma emerged from his room wearing combat fatigues from one of the armies he had trained with in the past.  It appeared that the man never bought any clothing.  Instead, he only wore the standard issue uniforms.  Whenever more formal wear was called for, he clad himself in combinations of dress uniforms.  Many of the militaries he had trained with had given him honorary commissions, giving him a right to wear the clothes.

 

            Today it was the forest green camouflage of the American army.  He wore the BDU pants with a black t-shirt that showed off his well-muscled frame.  Shinji absently wondered why he didn’t wear a gi for martial arts training.

 

            Shinji looked down at himself.  He was wearing sweatpants and a blue t-shirt that matched his plugsuit.  He took a little bit of pride in the fact that you could actually see muscles on his arms.  In another month he could probably be pretty well cut.  He could already run longer distances than he thought he’d ever be able to, and he had learned quite a bit about Ranma’s particular style of martial arts.

 

            With a nod of Ranma’s head, they left the apartment through the front door.  The older man jumped from the high-rise apartment stairs.  He’d catch railings and such on the way down, landing gracefully and almost without a sound on the ground below.  Shinji, still a little leery about jumping from buildings this high, opted to take the stairs.

 

            They started their usual morning routine leading off with a short stretch, just enough to work the kinks out from the night before.  Ranma almost always seemed to have a lot of cramps to work out, like he was always sleeping in an uncomfortable position.  Shinji normally refrained from making any comments and lightly stretched out his arms and legs.

 

            Next up, they ran through a regimen of katas that taught specific receiving and striking methods.  The katas were repeated each morning to help the move become more instinctual.  That way a martial artist’s body would know how to handle a situation before his mind did.

 

            Then they went into the instruction period.  Ranma tested Shinji on what he remembered of the lesson from the day before and would then build on it.  The younger boy learned quickly that a true technique did not end at the kata.  You had to learn how to adapt it to any given situation.  He learned a variety of techniques from kicks, punches, hand grabs, body grabs, and so forth.

 

            After the instruction period was finished, the sparring began.  The two of them would do light sparring for a half-hour or so.  Light for Ranma anyway.  Shinji always found himself beyond exhausted while his instructor hadn’t even broken a sweat.

 

            They finished the morning training with a light run to work out the muscles and to build stamina.  The boy always felt better after the run for some ungodly reason.  To finish up their mini-marathon, they ran up the stairs to the apartment.  Ranma would grab the bath first before Shinji so he would be on time for work (and avoid Misato).  Shinji casually took his bath and dressed for school.  After all, he still had a good hour before he had to leave.

 

            When Shinji had about twenty minutes left until he had to leave, Misato opened her door and yawned loudly, adding her part to the daily grind.  She scratched her stomach through her white and light-blue open mid-drift sleeping clothes and go straight to the refrigerator for her morning beer.  The pajamas consisted of short shorts, and cut-off t-shirt with a small vest sewn on.  The outfit did very little to hide her luscious figure.  She dragged herself to the table, cracked open the beer, and chugged it all in one go.  “YEHAW!!!  Burrrrrrp!”

 

            Shinji’s eyebrow went up.  “Can’t you have something close to normal breakfast?”  He held up his toast to emphasize the point.

 

            Misato glared at him.  “Don’t you know the traditional Japanese breakfast starts with miso soup, rice, and sake?!”

 

            “What’s wrong with coffee?  Oh, well you’re so sloppy; it’s no wonder why you and Ranma only get along at night.  You’d probably get along with him a lot better if you weren’t so much of a slob.”  He took a casual sip of his coffee.

 

            Misato’s eyebrow started twitching.  “Now you’re becoming TOO much like him, Shinji.”

 

            “It’s only because what he says about you is true.”  Shinji got up and gathered his bag and things for school.  “So are you and Ranma really coming today for parent teacher conference?”

 

            “Sure!  It’s part of my job to be there!”  Misato was now sitting on the table Indian style chewing on a piece of toast.

 

“So it’s only a job to you.”  Shinji thought aloud.   “I wonder why Ranma does it.”

 

Misato gave him a concerned look, and the front door buzzed.  She got up to answer the door.

 

“Are you really going to answer the door like that?”  Shinji asked, looking her up and down.

 

“Why not?”

 

“It’s embarrassing!  I’ll get the door.”  He shouldered his pack and opened the door to reveal Kensuke and Toji.

 

“Morning Ikari!”  The two boys greeted in unison.  They both poked their heads in and yelled down the hall.  “GOOD MORNING MISS MISATO!  We’re going to school now!”

 

Misato’s arm waved at them from the dining area.  “Have fun boys!”

 

A trace of drool dripped from their open mouths.  Shinji shoved them out of the doorway.  “Let’s get to school.”

 

When they were out of earshot of the apartment, Toji got a goofy grin on his face.  “Man, Misato is such a babe!  Ranma’s the luckiest man in the world!”

 

Kensuke smirked.  “Well, Shinji here gets to live with her and get trained by the greatest martial artist in the world.  I think he’s pretty lucky too.”

 

“I don’t know about that.”  Shinji rolled his eyes to the side.

 

After they had left, Misato picked up the phone.  “He just left.  Make sure you keep an eye on him.”  Grumbling over the line.  “I don’t care if he keeps spotting you!  It’s not my fault you can’t stay hidden!  NERV’s elite indeed.”  She slammed the receiver down.

 

“Why do you have security watching him?”

 

She snapped around to see Ranma standing behind her with his arms folded.  “What are you doing here?”

 

“We’re going to Shinji’s parent-teacher meetings, remember?  I just got the men started and came back here.  Now stop changing the subject and answer the question.”  He glared at her.

 

“I’m concerned for his safety.  What would NERV do if some crazy decided to kill him?”

 

“Nothing will happen to him.  I’ve trained him personally.  He can take care of himself.” 

 

Misato folded her arms.  “And what if someone took a sniper shot at him?”

 

“He’d die.  Just like he would if the NERV elite were watching him.  They’re already behind him in training, so just let Shinji take care of himself.”

 

Misato softened a bit.  “I’m just concerned for him.”

 

Ranma sighed.  “So am I.  I just know he can take care of himself.  You have to trust him.”

 

“I guess you’re right.”  The martial artist’s expression changed and he looked Misato up and down.  “What?”

 

“You might want to get changed.  We need to leave pretty soon.”

 

“Ohhh!”  She huffed and stomped back into her bedroom.  Ranma just chuckled to himself.

 

 

           

            A short time later, the two were in Misato’s car driving toward the school.  Ranma looked out the window with an almost bored look on his face.  “So when did you get a new car?”  The one they were riding was red instead of blue.

 

            “I didn’t.  I just repainted this one.  It needed bodywork and a new paint job after going through the N2 mine.  I only got it back from the shop last week.”  She was looking forward as she drove, not looking at her passenger if she could help it.

 

            “That’s good.”

 

            A deafening silence filled the vehicle.  Both occupants were at a complete loss for anything to talk about.  In the midst of the silence Misato got lost in her thoughts.  ”What does he really think about me?   Does he feel anything for me?  Why do we keep on ending up in bed every night?  He’s always denying he has any feeling for me, is that true?”  Her thoughts kept going in much that same direction.  “Why?  Why?  Why?”  She mistakenly said aloud.

 

            Ranma turned to her as if he had just been roused from slumber.  “Why what?”

 

            “I, uh, was wondering why Shinji was so much more open with his feelings this morning.”  She made a good a recovery as she could.

 

            The martial artist just smirked and scoffed at her.  “It’s the confidence from the martial arts training.  He’ll be pretty good in a few more months.”

 

            “What if more angels attack?”

 

            “He’ll handle it.  In fact I don’t see why we’re doing this conference.  I’m sure Shinji is doing perfectly well in school.”  He leaned back in the seat and put his hands behind his head.

 

            “You didn’t have to come you know.   I could have handled it.”  Misato growled.  “Besides, his teacher was complaining about him starting to fall asleep in class.”

 

            Ranma chuckled.  “See!  Perfectly fine!”

 

            Misato reached over and bopped him on the head.  “Idiot.”

 

            They arrived at the school and Misato made a big show of getting out of the car.  She swayed her hips and tossed her head to the side to let her hair splay out into the wind.  Toji and Kensuke drooled from the window.  The bespectacled boy had his camera trained on the captain.  She flashed the victory sign and smiled for the camera.  Ranma just walked beside her with his arms crossed.  “You don’t have to make such a spectacle of yourself.”

 

            She leaned into him.  “I’m soooorrry.”  She said in her pouty voice.  “Are you jeeeaalous?”

 

            Ranma pulled his shoulder away from her.  “Of course not!  Let’s just talk to this teacher.”

 

 

 

            Since school had let out early, Shinji decided to wait by the car for Misato and Ranma.  Kensuke and Toji opted to join him.  Of course they were primarily there to catch another glimpse of Misato.  After a while their efforts were rewarded.  They also got an extra treat.  A buxom redhead wearing a uniform exactly the same as Ranma’s and an annoyed expression walked out with her.  She had a wild and dangerous look about her that only served to increase both her mystery and desirability (or so Toji and Kensuke thought).

 

            The two stooges’ jaws hit the floor, drool spilling outward.  Onna-Ranma smiled.  “Looks like you’re losing your fan club Misato.”

 

            The captain snorted and mumbled under her breath, “I guess those guys will fall for anything with tits.”

 

            “They can’t help but to fall for a sexier woman.”  Onna-Ranma smirked at the other woman.

 

            “Grrr…”  Misato looked like she was about to pop a gasket and the redhead in the uniform was eager to help.

 

            Shinji thought fast.  “I think I’ll go ahead and walk to headquarters.  It’s a great day for a walk.  Right guys?”

 

            The pair of hormone-ridden boys were still drooling.

 

            Shinji cleared his throat and grabbed each of them by the back of the neck.  “RIGHT GUYS!”

 

            The two finally became conscious of the outside world and looked at Shinji.  “What?”

 

            “Let’s go!”  He turned and walked off the boys said their goodbyes and followed.

 

            Toji quickly caught up to the smaller boy.  “So who was that HOT redhead?”  He asked with a hint of slobber.

 

            Shinji stopped at the nearest tree and began to pummel it with his forehead.

 

 

 

            Later that day, after Shinji had finished the synch test, he, Ranma, Misato and Ritsuko were riding one of the elevators out of central dogma.  Dr. Akagi was reading over the status reports.  “Unit Zero sustained heavy damage to external armor plating it’ll will take some major work to get it fully protected again.”

 

            “That’s going to take a lot of money.”  Misato stated idly.

 

            Ranma was leaning against the back wall.  “So, aren’t you guys above death and taxes?  Can’t you scare up the cash?”

 

            Ritsuko eyed him over her glasses.  “Man cannot live by EVA alone.  It takes money to run this operation and the Earth’s governments have to fund us for us to continue.”

 

            “We’ve got a big meeting tomorrow to that’ll decide where the money goes for the next few years.”  Misato added.

 

            Shinji looked up at her.  “Aren’t EVA the only things that can fight the angels?’  The captain nodded.  “Then why don’t they supply the funding?”

 

            Ritsuko looked out of the elevator window toward the Geofront.  “Even though we are the only ones that can fight it, the governments still think they can fight it with conventional means.  They gave us plenty of money when the first angel arrived.  We were actually running out of funding when the Third angel and you, Shinji, arrived.”

 

            Ranma scratched his head.  “Third angel?  What were the first two?”

 

            The blonde continued to stare into space.  “If you’re going to be here a while then you might as well learn the truth about second impact.  It wasn’t a meteor that crashed into the Antarctic.  It was the first angel.  A group of researchers were studying the find when it suddenly awoke, destroying the whole facility and much of the Earth’s environment.”

 

            An involuntary shudder went through Misato that didn’t go unnoticed by Ranma.  He watched as she absently ran a finger down her side.  From their bedroom romps, he remembered what was there.  “Her scar was from second impact?”,  he asked in his head.

 

 

 

            The next morning, Ranma and Shinji had finished their morning routine.  Ranma was finishing up his breakfast when Misato’s bedroom door slid open.  Ranma’s eyes went wide like a kid caught with his hand in a candy jar at the sound.  His jaw dropped when he turned and saw Misato standing there in a black NERV dress-uniform.  The outfit was a skirt suit with buttons running the full length and a cylindrical hat.  Her demeanor was all business.  “Good morning.”

 

            Shinji’s eyes also went wide and Pen-Pen dropped a half-chewed fish out of his mouth.

           

            Misato walked by, as if there was nothing unusual about this morning.  “I’ll be home later tonight.  I’ve got a conference over in old Tokyo.  Good-bye.”  As she walked by, she couldn’t help herself.  She reached over and lifted Ranma’s mouth to the closed position.  His mouth shut with a sound like a wood block.  He was still too stunned to do anything else.  Misato smirked and walked out the door.

                                          

 

 

            Later that day, Misato and Ritsuko were on a NERV helicopter flying over old Tokyo toward the main compound of Jet Alone.  Ritsuko was going over her notes when she noticed that Misato was staring out the window preoccupied with her thoughts.  “Something the matter, Captain Katsuragi?”

 

            The other woman sighed.  “It’s hard to believe that this used to be the capital of Japan.”

 

            “It pretty much had to be abandoned by the government in the aftermath of second impact.  The city was flooded.  It was only recently that the waters began to recede and people could live there again.”

 

            “So is this new project part of the SSDF’s new armaments?”

 

            “No, this is a private venture.  They’re hoping to get a piece of our budget.”

 

            “Lovely.”  Misato hissed as she continued to stare out the window.

 

            They arrived at the facility and disembarked from the helicopter.  Ritsuko noticed that Misato was still not paying much attention to the world around them as they entered the facility.  The facility looked like a concert hall with a skyscraper sticking out of the center.  They made their way to the main conference area and found their table.

 

            As they made their way toward the front, they spotted a table with NERV printed on the name card.  They took their seats and Misato took a look at the empty seats.  “You’d think they would have sent more people with us.”

 

            “Why?  Don’t you think we can handle this?”  The blonde gave her a teasing grin.

 

            “I guess.”  She started to stare off into space again.

 

            Ritsuko got an annoyed look on her face.  “What’s with you this morning?  You’ve been distracted the whole trip.”

 

            “Nothing.”  Misato looked away.

 

            “I know something’s bothering you.”  She shook her head.  “What is it?  Shinji?  The angels?  Or is it a certain martial artist?”

 

            “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

            “Oh why not?”  Ritsuko teased her.  “So what did he do this time?”

 

            “I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

            “So what did he do this time?  Come on, you know I won’t leave you alone until you tell me.”

 

            “No.”

 

            “What could Ranma have done to piss you off this time?”

 

            At the mention of Ranma’s name, a pair of ears perked up at another table.

 

            Ritsuko went on.  “What could he have done that was worse than insulting your cooking, sensuality, or command ability?”

 

            Misato cradled her head in her hands.  “You really want to know?”

 

            “That’s why I’ve been asking.”

 

            “Oh all right.”  The raven-haired girl’s gaze went straight down to the table.  “The idiot <mumble>”

 

            “What?”

 

            “I said, the idiot made me <mumble>.”

 

            “Did he make you have anal sex or something?  As often as you two have been having intimate relations, I wouldn’t be surprised.”

 

            “No!  The idiot made me fall in love with him!”  She nearly shouted.

 

            Ritsuko shook her head.  “Oh dear.  You poor, poor imbecile.”

 

            “I know.  I know.”  Misato’s forehead sank to the table.

 

            “Excuse me, but are you two talking about Saotome Ranma?  I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, I just heard the name and the MO sounded familiar.”

 

            The two NERV officers turned to see a woman with short brown hair wearing a gray business suit-skirt.  Misato looked her up and down.  “Do you know Ranma?”

 

            The woman tapped a finger on the side of her face.  “Black hair, martial artist, infuriating ego…Ring a bell?”

 

            Ritsuko smiled at Misato.  “That sounds like him.”

 

            The woman reached into her purse, produced a picture, and handed it to Misato.  “Is this him?”

 

            Misato wearily looked over the photo and then her eyes lit up. “Oh my god!  He looks so cute in this picture!”  She started fawning over the photograph like a mother would an embarrassing baby picture of their children.  “Look at this little pigtail and the Chinese clothes!  It’s adorable!”

 

            The woman arched an eyebrow.  “You mean he doesn’t look like that anymore?”

 

            The Captain shook her head.  “No.  His hair is cropped to about your length and he lets it fly loose, and he only wears uniforms from military units he’s trained.  I haven’t seen any Chinese clothes in his stuff.”

 

            “The times they do a-change.”  The brunette muttered.

 

            “You’ve got to let me have this picture!  This is quality blackmail material!”  Misato held the picture to her bosom.

 

            The woman opened her purse and produced another picture.  This one was of a young Onna-Ranma posing in a string bikini.  “Maybe you’d like this one as well?”

 

            Misato’s eyes lit up.

 

            Ritsuko cleared her throat.  “Excuse me, but who are you?”

 

            The woman handed her a card.  “Tendo Nabiki, Lifetime Investments.  My company is one of the financers of the Jet Alone project.”

 

            The doctor accepted the card and looked it over.  “And how do you know Ranma?  We haven’t been able to get more than the bare essentials out of him, yet you have childhood pictures of him.”

 

            “Let’s just say he was almost like a brother to me.”  Nabiki smirked.

 

            Misato snapped her fingers.  “You must be his ex-fiancé’s sister!  He mentioned something about being engaged!”

 

            The middle Tendo daughter raised an eyebrow.  “That’s all he said?”

 

            “Was there more?”

 

            “Oh, much more.”

 

            “You HAVE to tell me!”  Misato had an evil grin.

 

            “It’ll cost you.”  Nabiki smirked.

 

            “Could you two keep it down, the conference is about to start.”

 

            Misato wasn’t about to let an opportunity like this go by.  She produced some cash and started to get all the information out of Nabiki that she could.  She didn’t even notice Ritsuko starting to question the head of the Jet Alone project.

 

            “So tell me more about kid Ranma!”  The NERV officer whispered.  “What was that ‘much more’?”

 

            “Did he tell you he had at least three fiancés at any given time?”

 

            “No!  I didn’t think he’d be the type to be a playboy with that charming personality of his.”

 

            “Oh, he wasn’t.  His father just made a lot of ‘deals’.”

 

            “Tell me more!”

 

            Ritsuko’s line of questioning turned into a full out argument about EVA vs. nuclear power with the head of Jet Alone project.  The two other women seated at her table were lost in their information exchange.  They covered both of their lives with the martial artist, of course Nabiki didn’t mention why Ranma left because she honestly didn’t know.  She just said that he had had enough one day and left.  After a while they got into Ranma and Misato’s relationship.

 

            “…and we always argue and end up in bed with each other.”  Misato’s expression dropped a little bit.  “I don’t know if he cares about me or anything.”

 

            Nabiki was honestly confused.  “The arguing sounds like him, but the sex didn’t.  The boy I knew would have passed out if a girl got hot and heavy with him.”

 

            Misato shrugged.  “Things change I guess.  So what do you think?  Does he care anything about me?”

 

            “Does he do outrageous things to rescue you?”

 

            “He does outrageous things, but I don’t know if it’s for me.  He got me out from under some falling equipment once, does that count?”

 

            “Did he push you out of the way, or carry you?”

 

            “Carry.”

 

            “He had to have some feelings for you, otherwise he would have just pushed you.  That and the arguing pretty much clinch it with him.”

 

            “You think so?”

 

            “Actions speak louder than words, don’t you think?”

 

            Misato thought it over and got a goofy grin on her face.  “I guess you’re right.  I’ll definitely keep a closer eye on him.”  She got a suspicious look on her face.  “Why are you so anxious to help me?  Wasn’t he supposed to marry your sister?”

 

            “That was finished long ago.  Let’s just say I owe him some peace.”

 

            “You call arguing constantly peace?”

 

            “Relatively speaking, of course.”

 

            About that time the head of the JA project decided that he and Ritsuko had wasted enough time fighting.  “And now ladies and gentlemen, we will adjourn for a few minutes, and then we will have the demonstration.”

 

            Misato bid farewell to Nabiki and went to the changing rooms with Ritsuko.  The Dr looked at the Captain and smiled.  “So did you catch any of that presentation, Captain Katsuragi?”

 

            “None.  Anything important?”

 

            “Not really.  He did know about the AT Fields though.”

 

            Misato’s eyes went wide.  “How in the hell did he know about that?  That’s top secret!”

 

            “I’m wondering about that myself.  Still, they’ll never be able to match it with only nuclear power.”

 

            “Nuclear power?”

 

            The blonde tsked the captain.  “You haven’t paid attention to anything these last two days, have you?”

 

            She made an elaborate show of looking at her watch.  “Oh boy!  It’s time for that demo!  Let’s get going!”

 

            Ritsuko smacked herself on the forehead.

 

            The time passed and everyone was gathered for the demonstration.  The main tower in the middle of the complex split in half, revealing the hulking form of Jet Alone.  The robot was just as tall as an Evangelion, but had arms that reached nearly to its knees and no head to speak of.  It just had a bump with a grill on the front.  At the project head’s command, the control rods were pulled from JA’s core.  The six posts came out of the robots back and splayed out and upwards.

 

            “Begin walking.”  The project head commanded.

 

            Outside the metallic goliath began to take slow steps forward.

 

            “What do you know?  It walks!”  Misato commented with a smile.

 

            “Big deal.”  Ritsuko replied.

 

            After the first two steps alarms started to go off.  One of the technicians turned around and reported.  “Sir!  The heat level is increasing!”

 

            “Send the abort signal!”

 

            “It’s being blocked!”

 

            “Turn the thing before it hits the complex!”

 

            “We can’t!  It’s not responding to the control signal!”

 

            At that moment most of the spectators scattered.  The roof creaked and then broke when Jet Alone’s foot went through it as it continued its uncontrolled walk.  It left behind a perfect footprint in the debris.

 

            “That thing’s as badly behaved as Ranma.”  Misato commented.

 

            “Sir, the core is headed toward meltdown!” One of the techs reported.

 

            “Impossible!”  The project head sagged under his own weight.  “Jet Alone was programmed for all contingencies!  This can’t happen!”

 

            Misato leaned over the rail.  “Looks like you’re about to have an impossible meltdown.  What recovery procedures do you have?”

 

            “None.”

 

            “Sir, Jet Alone is headed toward Asugi!”

 

            “It looks like it’s NERV’s turn to bail you out.  I’ll need the system password to deactivate that monster.”

 

“I can’t give that to you.  That’s classified information.  I have to get proper authorization.”

 

“Then you had better get it!”

 

For the next twenty minutes the head of the Jet Alone project was on the phone trying to get a hold of someone to give the proper authorization.  Misato finally had enough. 

 

“Bureaucracies.”  Misato swore under her breath.  “We’ll just do this the hard way.”

 

One of the technicians smashed a console with a crash axe.  “The manual controls should be online now.”

 

“How do you plan on stopping it?”  Ritsuko asked.

 

“From the inside, of course.  I’m going in through the backpack.”

 

“You’re insane!”  The head swore.  “The chamber will be flooded with radiation!”

 

Misato pulled out her cell phone.  “Hyuga, I need a radiation suit, Shinji, and Unit One.  We have to head off Jet Alone before it destroys Asugi.”

 

“I’ll be there ASAP!”  The tech reported back.

 

“Hope.”

 

Misato turned to see the head of the project.  He was looking down and his shoulders were slumped.  “What?”

 

“The password is hope.”  He said again in a weak voice.

 

Misato nodded.  “Thank you.”

 

In a matter of minutes, the flying wing transport arrived carrying the items Misato requested plus one.  Ranma was standing on the top of the ramp as it opened onto the tarmac.  He had a stern expression on his face as he stood with crossed arms.  “What do you think you’re doing?”

 

“No time to explain!”  She ran by him, grabbed the radiation suit, and bolted toward the dressing rooms.

 

“Make time!”  Ranma dashed after her.

 

A few moments later, Misato was in the locker room changing into the radiation suit.  She didn’t mind the fact that Ranma was there watching her, scowling the whole time. “I should be the one to do this.”  He commented for the nth time.

 

            The raven and blue haired woman shook her head and fastened the primary seals on the suit.  “Ranma, you can’t even operate a computer effectively.  I’m the only one.”

 

            He crossed his arms.  “Surely there’s somebody else…”  He was cut off when Misato put two fingers over his lips.

 

            “Shhh.”  She gave him a serious look.  “Ranma, why do you fight odds that you have no chance of beating?”

 

            “Because it’s my duty to protect innocents.”  He answered without thinking.

 

            She smiled.  “That’s why I’m doing this.  It’s my duty to protect all the civilians.  Just let me do my job.”

 

            His scowl deepened.  “Then let me come with you.”

 

            “No.”  She shook her head.  “We’ve already been over this.  There’s only one suit and I’m the only one that can wear it.”  She reached up and gave him a kiss.  “Just wish me luck.”

 

            “Good luck.”  He grumbled.

 

            Misato smiled, turned, and walked out of the dressing room.  Ranma followed her out the door and stopped and watched her as she boarded the plane.  The powerful engines on the flying wing ignited, carrying aloft Evangelion and Captain Katsuragi.  The Martial artist watched until he couldn’t see the plane any longer.

 

            “Saotome.”  He heard a familiar voice behind him.  He turned to see a businesswoman with close-cropped hair wearing a gray suit-skirt outfit.

 

            His expression went neutral.  “Hello, Nabiki.”

 

            She sauntered up to him and looked out toward the horizon.  “It’s been nineteen years.”

 

            He crossed his arms and stared out into the distance as well.  “Indeed.”

 

            Nabiki steeled herself and took a deep breath.  “So…Are you still mad at all of us?”

 

            Ranma shook his head and sighed.  “I couldn’t stay mad at all of you forever, but I couldn’t go back either.”

 

            “It was another woman, wasn’t it?”  Ranma’s expression didn’t change.  “It was another woman.  You had three beautiful woman chasing after you, and you fell in love with another woman.”

 

            He turned to look at her with a menacing look in his eyes.  “What’s it to you?  I can still make good on the promises I made that day.”

 

            Nabiki took an involuntary step backwards.  “Those were just threats.”

 

            “I don’t make threats.  I make promises.”  He sneered at her.

 

            She put her hands in a calming motion.  “Easy, Ranma!  I’m not here to judge you, or make you angry.  I just wanted to know the truth.”

 

            The martial artist backed off and looked back to the horizon.  “Yes, it was another woman.  Satisfied?”

 

            “I guess.  So was that bundle of energy that took off out of here Mrs. Saotome?”

 

            Ranma shook his head.  “I’m never going to marry.  If I marry anyone, but a Tendo, I lose my family honor.”

 

            “You’re not concerned about Kuonji?”  Nabiki asked curiously.

 

            “We resolved our issues where honor was satisfied.”  He turned to her.  “So are you here to try and press the engagement?  It’s gotten way too old, Nabs.”

 

            She grimaced.  “That’s not it at all.  I was just asking a question.”

 

            His eyes flashed with an intense emotion and then went back to neutral.  “No.  She isn’t anything to me.”

 

            “Heh.”  Nabiki scoffed.  “That’s a load of bull if I ever heard any.  What was that goodbye kiss?”

 

            He turned to her with a furious look on his face.  “You were spying on me!”  He raised his fists.

 

            Once again, the middle Tendo daughter was on the retreat.  She tried to placate him once more.  “Yes, but not for blackmail of anything!  I just wanted to make sure it was you!  I didn’t mean any harm, honest!”

 

            Ranma shook his head and relaxed.  “You’ll never change.  Just like everyone else.”

 

            “You’re wrong, Ranma.  Things did change.  After second impact, everything changed.  You heard about your parents, didn’t you?”  She approached him slowly.

 

            “I know.  They died in one of the tidal waves created by the meteor.”  He looked again toward the horizon.

 

            “They were on a second honeymoon trying to salvage their marriage at the time.  They actually called me when they heard the tidal wave was coming.  Do you want to know what their last words were, Ranma?”

 

            The man stiffened and slowly relaxed as he regained his composure.  “Not really.”

 

            “Tell Ranma we forgive him, we’re sorry, and we love him.  Their last thoughts were of you.  They loved you.  Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”  She put a hand on his shoulder.

 

            Ranma brushed the hand off.  “They had a funny way of showing it.  One destroyed our family honor, while the other one was trying to kill me.”

 

            Nabiki was flabbergasted.  “How can you be so cold?”

 

            He turned to her with a hardened expression.  “I learned from the best.”

 

            She reeled as if she had been struck.  A pained look crossed her face.  “I guess I had that coming.”  She turned away from him with her head hung low.  “Akane never married, you know.”

 

            “No, I didn’t.  Couldn’t have been from a lack of suitors.” He turned back to where the jet had left.

 

            “There were plenty of suitors, just one big problem.”  Nabiki turned back to him.

 

            He turned his head to meet her eyes, which were filling with regret.  “And what was that?”

 

            “She was in love with somebody else.  Someone she had hurt really badly, but couldn’t apologize to.”  Ranma seemed to deflate a little.  “She thought for sure you would be back within the week, but when you weren’t there she became depressed.  Kasumi had to practically force feed her that second week, and she didn’t eat a full meal for another month afterward.”

 

            Ranma looked toward the horizon again and shook his head.  “Tell her to get on with her life.  I won’t be a part of any of that ever again.”

 

            “That’s what we’ve been telling her, but she still loves you, Ranma, even after all this time.”

 

            “You’re going to tell her where I am, aren’t you?”  He didn’t even look at middle Tendo.

 

            “Only if you tell me that you have nobody else.  If there’s still a chance for her, I’ll take it.”

 

            “You know I can’t answer that without losing honor.”

 

            Nabiki raised an eyebrow.  “So you DO care for Misato.”  Ranma just harrumphed.  She shook her head and turned toward the main complex.  “So long Ranma.  I hope we get to see each other again in better times.  And one more thing…”

 

            The martial artist turned to her.  “What?”

 

            “Don’t waste time with this one like you did with Akane.  You’re not getting any younger.”  With that she turned and strode quickly toward the buildings.

 

            After thinking a bit, Ranma finally shook his head and went to the control room to get an update on the JA situation.  He arrived in time to see Unit One catch up with Jet Alone and grab it by the backpack.  The EVA’s hand went forward and Misato climbed onto the access ladder.  Ranma gasped when Misato slipped and fell over the edge.  He was about to sprint out there when she grabbed onto a rung and stopped her fall.  He finally relaxed a little when she made it inside the hatch.

 

            “Stop Jet Alone from going forward, Shinji!”  Misato’s voice came over the intercom.

 

            “Stop you brainless bastard!”  Shinji shouted as the hand of Unit One shot forward and held the head of Jet Alone.  He maneuvered the EVA into a stance that Ranma had taught him for stability.  Amazingly enough he halted the robot’s progress.  Shinji was quite proud of himself until the seals on the coolant lines began to rupture on JA.  Steam started spraying out of the chassis of the massive metal monstrosity.  He swore and started plugging the holes with the EVA’s hands.  “Hurry up, Misato!”

 

            “Heat level reaching danger levels!”  A tech announced at the complex.  The declaration did nothing to help Ranma’s nerves.  He had never felt so helpless in his life.

 

            Inside, Misato was sweating bullets.  She reached the control console and pressed the release button.  The panel opened up to show the computer screen and the manual system booted up.  When it prompted her for a pass code, she typed in HOPE.

 

            The console started buzzing as ERROR flashed on the screen.

 

            “The password didn’t work!”  Misato’s voice came again.

 

            Ranma was about to jump out of his skin.  She was toast and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it.  He would burn to a crisp before he ever made it to her.  “Please.  If there is a god up there, get her out of this.”   He silently prayed.

 

            “I’ve got one more thing to try!”  Came Misato’s voice again.

 

            Inside the control center of Jet Alone, Misato began to push against the internal control rods.

 

            “Core is reaching critical mass!”  The tech that Ranma was quickly coming to despise announced.

 

            “Fuck it!”  Ranma turned and launched through the foot hole in the roof.  He pushed himself beyond his limits to try and get to Misato before the things blew.  He topped a hill and saw the control rods on Jet Alone retract into the body.  The robot went limp.  Ranma stopped and took stock of the situation.  “What the?”

 

 

 

            After Unit One and Jet Alone had been recovered, and Misato had taken a shower to ensure that she had no radiation residue on her body, she was released as ‘okay’.  Ranma ran up and hugged her to his chest tightly.  “Don’t ever do that again, you crazy bitch!”

 

            She just smiled a knowing grin and rested her head on his shoulder.  “It’s been a rough day.  Let’s go home.”

 

            Later that evening, Shinji retired early.  He didn’t EVEN want to be around when this round of fighting started up.  Misato just sat on the couch staring into space as Ranma stood over her with his arms crossed.

 

            “You got lucky out there.  It was a miracle that thing shut down.”  The martial artist commented.

 

            “It was a manufactured miracle.  Somebody planned all of this.”  She looked out the window.

 

            “Gendou.”

 

            Misato turned to him.  “Are you sure?”

 

            “He needs the funding for the Evangelions.  Of course he set this up.”

 

            “Do you think we can get any proof?”

 

            “Not likely, but I think it’s time I started keeping a closer eye on him.”

 

            “How’s that?”  She turned and Ranma was gone!  “Where are you?”

 

            Ranma faded in beside her on the couch.  “Like this.  I’ve got ways of invading privacy that would make reporters green with envy.”

 

            “Just be careful.”

 

            “Careful?”  He raised his voice as he jumped to his feet.  “CAREFUL?  Who’s the insane idiot who jumped inside a radiation bin tonight?!”

 

            Misato sighed.  “Not tonight, Ranma.  I’ve got a headache.”

 

            Ranma’s eyebrows shot up and he turned to walk away.  “I wonder how my bed sleeps?”  He thought absently.

 

            He suddenly felt a pair of arms wrap around him.  Misato leaned against his back.  “Let’s go to bed without fighting.”

 

            Something was different about that night.  Although they were going through the same actions they had many times before, it seemed special this time, sweeter.  Neither of them fully realized that for once they weren’t just having sex; they were making love. Steps were being taken that would change their lives forever.

 

 

 

            Ranma awoke the next morning and looked at the sleeping form of Misato.  He didn’t know what he felt for her, but he had no one to blame this time but himself.  He brushed a few stray hairs away from her eyes and looked at her tranquil face.  A mixture of emotions, old and new, poured through him.  Finally, he made his decision to repeat the usual morning routine.  He reached down and removed her hand that was around his waist.

 

            Everything had gone like usual until he went to put her hand on the bed so he could leave without waking her.  At the top of the arc her hand stiffened and her fingers interlaced with his.  She brought their hands down to her side.

 

            She slowly opened her purple eyes to gaze into Ranma’s blue.  “You don’t have to leave.”

 

            He looked deep into her eyes and began to get lost.  He managed to bring himself back at the last minute.  “What about Shinji?”

 

            She closed the gap between them and held began trailing kisses up his chest.  “Let him sleep.”  She said between kisses.

 

            For once in his life, Ranma gave up.  He couldn’t run away, but he couldn’t fight it either.  He was still a little confused as to whether or not he really wanted to battle it at all.  In the end, he stayed in bed.

 

 

 

            Shinji awoke as usual and expected Ranma to be there heading to his room like always.  He looked around and found no trace of the older man.  He wondered if Ranma had started without him.  Well, that is he wondered until he heard the sounds coming from Misato’s bedroom.  “They still at it from last night?”

 

            After a while Shinji decided to get out of the place, he trained, bathed, and met Kensuke and Toji on their way to the apartment.  The two noticed something was different about their friend this morning.  “What’s up, Shinji?”  Kensuke asked.

 

            “Oh, it’s Misato and Ranma!  She’s always being such a slob and embarrassing me, Ranma’s always fighting her, and yet they spent this morning messing around in bed!”

 

            “Did you get any video of Misato?”  Toji asked.  He got a snarl in response.

 

            Kensuke shook his head.  “They’ve both been looking after you this whole time, right?”  Shinji gave him a confused look, but nodded his head.  “And they haven’t acted fake around you at all, have they?”  The boy shook his head.

 

            “The poor fool doesn’t even realize.”  Toji shook his head in pity.

 

            “What?”  Shinji looked between the two, desperately seeking an answer.

 

            “You really are a kid.”  Kensuke chided him.  “What all that means is that you three are family!  Dysfunctional, yes, but a family nonetheless.”

 

            Shinji thought about it, and then a joyous smile crossed his face.  “A family!”