Chapter Seven

“Under Pressure”

 

            Ranma paced across the living room with his hands behind his back, his face knotted in anger.  He stomped back and forth almost putting holes in the floor while Misato just shook her head as she lounged on the couch.  The martial artist rounded on the captain.  “How could you let her be alone with that guy?” He demanded.

 

            Misato rolled her eyes, trying to keep her own temper in control.  “I keep telling you, it’s perfectly safe.  He wouldn’t do anything to her.  He’s over twice her age for God’s sake!”

 

            “I don’t trust the guy.”  Ranma rounded on her.  “He has too many secrets, and he could be VERY dangerous.  I don’t care if you used to date him, I don’t like him being alone with Asuka!”

 

            “Would you sit down?!”  She stood up, grabbed his hand, and hauled him back onto the couch.  “They’re only going clothes shopping!  Like I said before, he won’t do anything to her, he’s just being nice to her.  She’s just a little girl with a crush, and he’s placating her ego for a little while.”

 

            “I don’t trust him!”  He protested.

 

            Misato shook her head and took her new favorite seat in the house, Ranma’s lap.  He frowned at her as usual, but still didn’t try to push her off.  She reached up and ruffled his hair.  “Did I ever tell you how cute your paternal instinct is?”

 

            “I’m trying to be serious here!”  He practically yelled at her.

 

            Her grip tightened on his hair, causing his head to cock to the side in pain.  “And I keep trying to tell you, that there is NOTHING to worry about!” She released her grip on his raven strands of hair.  “Besides, you have plenty of secrets of your own that you haven’t even told ME!”  She snorted derisively.  “Too many secrets indeed!  Pot this is Kettle…”  Ranma made to open his mouth and she quickly stopped any more words with a kiss.  She pulled back and looked at him.  “If you’re going to be worried about the kids, then you best worry about what’s important, like their grades.  Both of their grades have been dropping.  Shinji’s even been falling asleep in class again!  I thought I told you to let him get plenty of sleep!”

 

            “Hey!”  Ranma began to get defensive.  “I’ve been letting him get plenty of sleep!  I can’t help it if school is boring!  I fell asleep in class all the time!  It never hurt me!”

 

            “Somehow I doubt that.”  She commented snidely.  “Anyway, I’m going to have to take them off their class trip to Okinawa.  They need to catch up on their studies, and they need to be here in case of angel attack.”

 

            Ranma looked to the side where Asuka had already packed some of her bags.  He noticed that Shinji’s bags were nowhere to be seen.  “You’ll break the girl’s heart.  She has been wanting to go diving for some time.”

 

            Misato smirked at him.  “Sometimes you have to be hard on your kids.  Even when they’re adopted.”  She added the last part when Ranma started to protest about them not being a family.  Misato knew that he treated the children like they were his own, but he couldn’t admit it aloud without seeming to stain his honor.  She had managed to get that much information out of him.  She accepted it and made sure that the kids knew about it, that way they could all be a family, even with Ranma’s audible denial.

 

            The captain cradled the martial artist’s chin in her hand.  “Now are you finished wasting our afternoon off?  We’ve only got a couple more hours left until Shinji gets back from headquarters and Asuka gets back from shopping.  Let’s see if we can’t find better ways to spend our time.”  He rolled his eyes as she locked lips with him again, but his arms still encircled her waist as he returned the kiss.

 

            The front door slid open at that point and Shinji strode into the room.  He took one look at the pair on the couch and shook his head.  “You two do have a room for that, you know.”  He slung his bag over his shoulder and went back to his own room.

 

            “Drat!”  Misato thought.  “I wanted to spend some ‘quality time’ with Ranma this afternoon, and Shinji picks today to be back early from his synch tests!”  She heard the door slide closed on Shinji’s room, and her thoughts continued.  “Of course he’s probably in there listening to his Walkman…he wouldn’t notice a little extra background noise.”  She leaned into Ranma as he tried to get up, causing him to plop back down on the couch.  She broke the kiss and looked into his deep blue eyes.  “You’re not going anywhere mister!  I mean to enjoy my afternoon off, even if you don’t!”  She pulled his head in for another kiss…

 

            SLAM!  “I’m home!”  Asuka’s voice rang through the apartment.

 

            …and quickly broke it off.  The blue/black haired woman swore under her breath.  “There goes my afternoon off.”  She growled to where only Ranma could hear.

 

            Asuka nearly skipped into the front room carrying her shopping bags.  She saw her guardian sitting on the lap of her roommate/he-won’t-admit-lover.  She rolled her eyes and turned toward her room.  “You know, you two have a room for that!”

 

            Misato groaned, threw up her hands in surrender, and jumped up off of Ranma.  “Well since you’re both here, you might as well hear the bad news!  Get Shinji and sit down at the dinner table.  I’ve got something important to tell you.”

 

 

 

            A short time later…

 

            “WHAT?!?!?!”  Asuka protested loudly.  “How can you do this to us!  We deserve a VACATION!!!  Everyone else gets to go!”

 

            Misato glared at her from across the table.  “Did you guys really think that I wouldn’t find out about your grades?  You guys are on permanent alert in case of angel attack, and I advise you to use this time to catch up on your studies.”

 

            The auburn haired half-German spun around toward Shinji.  “Aren’t you going to say something?!”  She demanded.

 

            Shinji shrugged.  “Actually, I kinda expected it.  It would be a good chance for me to catch up on my physics.”

 

            Asuka started to grind her teeth in frustration.

 

            Misato exhaled a put-upon sigh.  “If you’re so hot for going diving, why don’t you two go to the pool at headquarters?  You two can study, swim or whatever.  Rei should be down there exercising.  You all could get to know one another better.  You should know about you’re entire team.”

 

            Shinji’s gaze whipped up to Misato.  “Does that mean that they’re going to try and activate Unit 00 again?  Are all the repairs complete?”

 

            Misato nodded her head.  “They’re going to try the reactivation tomorrow.  She should be ready for the next angel.”  Shinji smiled in response.

 

            Asuka felt a stab of jealousy at the smile, but quickly pushed it out of mind.  She didn’t care one way or the other about the baka third child, did she?  She stifled that thought faster than the jealousy.  She shook her head and grabbed Shinji by the back collar of his shirt.  “Let’s go Shinji before they make us stay home from that too!”

 

            “HEY!”  Shinji protested, as he was drug out of the room.  The kids quickly gathered their things and were out the door.

 

            Ranma sighed from where he was leaning against the refrigerator.  “They do need a vacation, you know.   They are only kids, not real soldiers.”

 

            Misato pushed slowly away from the table and turned to face him.  “I’ll make it up to them somehow.  Their studies and the safety of Tokyo-3 come first in front of vacation time.”

 

            “I just don’t want them to become burnt out and forget what they’re fighting for.”  Ranma’s eyes narrowed.  “Bad things tend to happen when you lose sight of that.”

 

            “Shh…Enough of that.”  She placed two fingers over his lips.  “Now where were we when the kids came in and interrupted…”  She leaned in for another kiss, and other things.

 

            The phone on the wall started to ring.  She tried to ignore it until the answering machine piped up.  “Captain Katsuragi.  We have a situation you need to attend to immediately!”

 

            “DAMN!!!”  She swore violently as she turned to go change into her uniform.

 

            Ranma smirked at her frustration, but frowned when he realized that he had actually been looking forward to finishing what she had started.  He sighed and began to gather his ID’s for NERV headquarters.

 

 

 

            Back at NERV headquarters, Shinji was sitting at a table beside the pool, looking back and forth between Rei swimming in a white one-piece and his computer screen.  He was finding hard to really concentrate on his homework while the lithe blue-haired girl swam through the water.

 

            “Hel-lo Shinji!”  Came a cheerful voice to his right. 

 

He turned his head and came face-to-breast with Asuka.  She was wearing a red and white striped bikini and was leaning over the table.  He was suddenly glad he decided to keep his jeans on as he stifled the blood that almost came from his nose.

 

“What are you doing?”  She asked with a brilliant smile.

 

He quickly swung his gaze back to his computer screen.  “I’m trying to work on my physics.  I’m just having a little trouble with this set of problems.”

 

She stepped around and leaned over him and began typing on his laptop, causing her bosom to sway beside his face.  “Oh, Thermal expansion?  This is child’s play.”  She began to type away furiously with one hand, finishing the problems perfectly in a few seconds.

 

“How can you do that and being doing so bad in school?”  He asked with a look of confusion on his face.

 

“Oh these are nothing compared to the problems I had to solve in college.”  Asuka straightened and put her hand on her hip in a confident stance.

 

“You went to college?”  Shinji looked up at her in amazement.

 

“I already have my degree.  I just don’t know all of my kanji.  I don’t even know why Misato enrolled me into the school system.”  She waved her hand in an exasperated motion.

 

“May…Maybe I could help you with that.”  Shinji slowly offered.

 

She turned and smiled at him, beamed actually.  “I think I would like that, but for right now…you’re done with your homework.”  Her grin turned evil at the last phrase.

 

“Wha?”  Was all Shinji had the time to get out before Asuka hauled him out of the chair and hip threw him out into the middle of pool a-la Saotome School Martial Arts.

 

She started laughing from the side.  “You’re all wet Shinji!”  She yelled out.  She was so glad to finally get the best of the boy.

 

Just as she was about to sprain her elbow from patting herself on the back, Shinji shot out of the water, landed behind her, and planted a stomp kick in her back, sending her flying into the water.  The only thing going through her mind was, “Since when has he been able to jump like that?”

 

“Now who is all wet?”  He chuckled from the side.  He threw back his head and let out an enormous laugh, but it was cut short as a hand shot out and pulled his body into the water by his ankle.  The two started to wrestle and dunk each other in the water.

 

They both froze when they heard someone leaving the water near them.  They both turned and saw Rei standing by the pool staring at them as she dried her hair.  She never spoke, but her whole demeanor screamed, “Disgraceful.”  She finished drying and turned to leave.

 

Shinji and Asuka separated quickly.  Putting as much distance between each other as they could.  Shinji jumped out of the water and went for a towel.  Asuka smirked at him from the water.  “I guess we know who is the queen of the ocean is?  You could never take me in the water!”

 

Shinji smirked.  He held up a small bit of red and white cloth.  “Really?”

 

Asuka’s jaw dropped to the water as she looked down and found her top missing.  “PERVERT!!!”  She screamed as she rushed to cover herself.  He just smirked an exact copy of Ranma’s trademark cocky grin and tossed the top into the water over his shoulder as he turned and left.

 

 

 

Back at Central Dogma, Gendou was seated at a table of light surrounded by several other men at similar tables.  They ranged across several nationalities and ages, although none were under forty.  Fuyutsuki stood beside the director of NERV’s shoulder as usual.  Gendou gave his report of what they had discovered in the magma of a mountain several miles away, an angel in the chrysalis stage of development.  They hoped to capture the specimen for study.

 

“Are sure that is wise Ikari?”  Asked a man with a nose swooped out and low like an eagle’s beak.

 

“It is the best situation we could hope for.  It will give us a chance to study a pre-mature angel.  We could find a way to prevent them from maturing, and it may also give us the ability to find them long before they attack.”

 

“But will you be able to contain such a creature?” asked a rather plain looking man with brown hair and a thick mustache.

 

“We have constructed an electromagnetic containment grid that we believe should be able to restrain the angel and stunt its development.”

 

A man sat at the other end of the room wearing a large visor that covered everything on his face above his nostrils.  He seemed the apparent leader of this gathering.  “I just hope that we do not see a repeat of the last time we tried to study an angel in captivity, or do I need to remind you of second impact?”

 

Ikari frowned behind his bridged fingers.  “No, you don’t.  I assure you that we have learned our lessons since then.”

 

“Then proceed with the operation Ikari, but if you fail, not even God will be able to protect you.  Do you understand?”

 

“Perfectly.”

 

The leader smiled and leaned back.  “Then the meeting is adjourned.”  All the other people faded except for Gendou and his flunky.

 

Fuyutsuki looked down at Gendou.  “Are you sure we can do this?”

 

Gendou smiled.  “We will do what is necessary.  Captain Katsuragi is on her way to the site at this very minute.  Let’s go and see to our other projects.”  He stood and the two men left the chamber and walked down the hall for the elevator.

 

After the pair’s passing, Ranma faded into sight.  He face was creased in a frown.  He was torn between following Gendou to these ‘other projects’ and his desire to protect Misato at the volcano.  He looked down at the clipboard in his hand at the descriptions he had scribbled down and was satisfied that he had sufficient detail to find out who all the members of Seele really were.  That may or may not give him more insight into Human Instrumentality Project, but it definitely didn’t hurt to know who was backing and halfway controlling NERV.  Of course Ranma knew who was really in charge of NERV’s operations, and the scumbag had just taken the elevator to lower dogma.  Ranma tucked his notepad into his uniform jacket and turned to leave.  He rounded a corner and saw Kaji leaning against one of the walls.

 

“Been busy, I see.”  Kaji smiled a knowing grin.

 

Ranma gave him a dangerous glare and turned his gaze back to the hallway and continued walking.

 

“We can be enemies, or we can be allies.  It’s your choice.  We are after the same thing.”  Kaji commented in a matter-of-fact tone.

 

The martial artist continued to walk down the hall.  “Stop playing with Asuka’s feelings.  I don’t want to see the girl’s feelings hurt.”

 

“Paternal instincts?”  Kaji smirked his insufferable grin.

 

Ranma didn’t answer as he turned the next corner and strode to the elevator.

 

 

 

A couple hours later, Misato and Ranma were in the command center of the volcano research facility.  At the current moment, Misato was standing over the technician controlling a probe that was being lowered slowly into the depths of the lava.  Ranma stood at the back wall with his arms crossed.  Misato and Ranma’s faces were both deadly serious.

 

“Approaching five hundred feet.”  The technician was reporting.  “All systems functional.

 

“Keep going.”  Misato’s voice was controlled and even.

 

“Approaching one thousand feet.”  The tech reported a few minutes later.  “I feel obligated to tell you that this is crash depth for this probe.  Any further and it will be destroyed.”

 

Misato frowned at the man.  “Keep going.  NERV will pay for any damages.”

 

“You’re so sure of that?”  Ranma commented from the wall.

 

Misato turned her scowling face on him.  For the first time since he had met her, she looked dangerous.  There was a gleam in her eye that promised dire consequences for anyone who got in her way.  “NERV WILL pay for it.”  She turned back to the board.  “Keep going.”

 

Ranma shook his head.  He couldn’t figure out what had come over her.  “She can’t be that mad about this afternoon.  Can she?”  He thought.  “No.  I’ve seen her frustrated before; this is different.  Something else is wrong.”  He narrowed his eyes as he watched her closer.

 

“Twelve hundred feet.  The hull is failing!”

 

A sound like tin foil being wadded up came over the audio pickups, and the signal from the probe stopped.  Misato turned to where Hyuga Makoto had his laptop plugged into one of the interface terminals.  “Did you get the reading?”

 

The NERV operations officer nodded his head.  “Pattern: Blue.”

 

Misato turned back to the other occupants of the room. "This facility is commandeered by NERV.  We will begin operations to capture the angel at once!  Hyuga, signal Ritsuko and have her get the kids ready."  He nodded and did as she asked.

 

 

 

            Some time later back at the headquarters, Ritsuko was looking over the data on her clipboard and giving the details of the mission while Asuka changed into her new plug suit.  The auburn-haired girl depressed the button on her left wrist and the red suit sucked in to conform to the shape of her body.  “I don’t see any difference between this suit and my regular plug suit.”

 

            Ritsuko didn’t look up from her clipboard.  “Hit the button on your left wrist.”

 

            Asuka hit the button on her opposite wrist and the suit blew up like a crimson beach ball.  “Waaaaahhhh!!!!  I can’t move like this!!!!”  She screamed.

 

            “Calm down.  The suit is designed to compensate for the increased pressure you will experience when you will be lowered through the lava.”  Ritsuko took some notes on her board.

 

            “Shouldn’t we be more worried about the heat?  That IS molten lava down there!”  Asuka tried to waddle out from in between two lockers she had fallen back into.

 

            “You don’t have to worry about that with your AT field.  It can handle the heat and a lot of pressure, but not the amount of weight that a thousand feet of molten rock can put on you.”  She tucked the board under her arm and stifled a grin when she saw the child struggling for movement.  “Come on.  The others are waiting.”  She turned to leave and a dejected teenager followed behind her.

 

            Asuka didn’t like the fact that she was going to be the hero this time looking like the Goodyear blimp.  She mumbled a few curses about you’re supposed to look good when saving the world as the door opened where Shinji and Rei were waiting in their normal plugsuits and Kaji was leaning over a railing, smiling at her.  She looked around at her EVA and it had been incased in it’s own bulbous pressure suit.  It looked like the deep sea diver suits from the early twentieth century.

 

            “AHHH!!!”  She jumped back through the doorway and slammed it shut.

 

            Ritsuko rolled her eyes and opened the door back up.  “What is your problem?”

 

            “I can’t let Sh-, uh Kaji see me like THIS!!!”  She pointed at the overly inflated suit.  “And look what you did to my Unit Two!!!  He looks like a reject from an old underwater horror movie!”

 

            The doctor gave her a stern look.  “Well, you going to have to swallow your pride about your appearance and accept the type D equipment on your EVA.  Otherwise you won’t be going on this mission.”

 

            “I can pilot Unit Two.”

 

            Neither of the women had noticed that the blue-haired pilot had walked up on them.  Asuka looked at Rei and growled.  “No!  Unit Two is MINE!  You can’t touch it!”  She leapt to her feet, wavered a little, and wobbled her way to her Evangelion.

 

            “Ah, good.  I would have been so disappointed if I hadn’t have seen you in action.”  Kaji commented with a roguish smile from the landing.

 

            Asuka gave him a weak smile and walked by Shinji.  “So where will you be, third child?”

 

            “Hey, I paid attention to the mission brief.”  He smiled at her.  “Unlike you, obviously.  I’ll be your backup on shore.”  His face shifted to serious.  “I won’t let anything happen to you.”  Asuka got a brilliant smile on her face.  “It’s a martial artist’s duty to protect the weak.”

 

            Her smile quickly turned to a scowl as she turned and stormed up the ramp toward her EVA.  Shinji scratched his head in confusion.

 

 

 

            Everyone was transported to the volcano in the massive flying wings.  Several UN fighters flew over while the robots were being put into place.  Shinji watched from the cockpit of his evangelion.  “Well it’s nice to see the United Nations decided to work with us this time.”

 

            “They’re not here to help.”  Misato’s image appeared on his heads up display.  “They’re here in case we fail.  If anything goes wrong, they’ve been ordered to drop an N2 mine and pacify the area.”

 

            Shinji’s eyebrows shot up and his eyes went wide.  “That will kill all of us!  What kind of idiot ordered that?”

 

            “Commander Ikari.”

 

            The boy could almost hear Ranma’s teeth grinding in the background of the conversation.  “So are we ready to begin?”

 

            “I’m ready!”  Asuka’s image appeared next to Misato’s, large suit in all.  Her voice was a mixture of confidence and playfulness.  “Let’s get this over with.  I still need to show the third child what a REAL pilot can do!”  Shinji snorted at that.

 

            Back at the command center Misato shook her head.  “Let’s get this show on the road, the clock is ticking.  We need to capture the angel in the electromagnetic cage or destroy it if that fails.  COMMENCE OPERATION!”  She shouted the last and everyone around her jumped into action.

 

            At the site, Unit two was being lowered by a huge crane into the red-hot magma by five massive cables.  The cable served a double purpose of coolant ducting as well as ascent and descent.  Unit One watched from the rim of the volcano crouched on one knee, ready for action.

 

            Back in the command center, Hyuga had taken over the seat the probe operator had used before.  “Passing five hundred feet.  Everything normal.”

 

            “Proceed.”  Misato had the grave look on her face again.

 

            A couple minutes passed.   “Passing one thousand feet.  Pressure is close to nominal.”

 

            “Keep lowering.  We’re not leaving until we hit angel.”  Misato crossed her arms and watched the video display.  “How are you doing, Asuka?”

 

            “I’m hot and I need a shower!”  She complained, but there was no need in her voice.  She acted like she was complaining about a summer day.

 

            Misato cracked a small smile.  “There’s a hot springs nearby.  I’ll take you there after we have an angel.”

 

            “Okay!”  The child’s voice came back excitedly.

 

            “Passing twelve hundred feet.  Pressure levels approaching redline.” 

 

Misato went back to a neutral expression.  Ranma, on the other hand, was starting to look a little nervous.  “Shouldn’t you be a little more worried about Asuka?  We don’t really know how much that suit can take.”

 

“Asuka will be fine.  Keep her going, Hyuga.”

 

“Approaching fourteen hundred feet.”  A crunch came over the audio from the Evangelion.  “The suit is taking damage.  She lost her progressive knife.”

 

“Asuka, are you all right.”  The captain’s voice did not communicate any concern for the girl.

 

“I can keep going.”

 

Hyuga cleared his throat.  “This is where the angel should have drifted to by our calculations.  We can’t find it anywhere, captain.”

 

Misato set her features again.  “Keep going lower.  We have to capture or destroy that angel.  We are not quitting until one or the other occurs.”

 

Hyuga nodded his head and turned back to the operation.  Ranma stepped up and put a hand on Misato’s shoulder.  “Can I have a word with you for a moment.”  He kept his voice low to make sure their conversation wasn’t completely public.

 

“Not now, Ranma.”  The words from her mouth sounded irritated and condescending in the same breath.

 

“It’s important.”  He insisted.

 

“I said, ‘not now’.”  She hissed.  “Nothing is more important than the angel right now.”

 

“Not even Asuka?”

 

“What do you mean?”  Her voice didn’t seem to lose any of its edge as she continued to watch the monitor.

 

“You can’t keep driving her lower like this.  She isn’t a probe you can crunch and have NERV buy a new one.  She’s a child.”

 

“She knows the risks.”

 

“Yes, but are you ready to sacrifice her?”

 

Misato’s teeth began to grind.  “Don’t bother me right now, Ranma.  I’ve got to take care of this.  We can talk philosophy later.”  The tone of her voice became a bit louder to where everyone knew that something was going on between the pair.

 

“Misato, I’m not going to let you kill Asuka!”  His voice rose as well.  “She’s just a child!”

 

The captain whirled on him and jabbed her finger into his chest.  “She’s a soldier!  She knows the risks and accepts them!”

 

“She’s just a little girl!”

 

“The angels must be stopped at ANY cost!  As far as stopping the angels are concerned, SHE’S EXPENDABLE AS LONG AS SHE GETS THE JOB DONE!!!”  She shouted the last, and immediately wished she could take back all the words of their conversation.

 

Ranma blinked at her as if seeing her for the first time.  His eyes went wide and his mouth formed a small ‘o’.  He took a step back as if she were carrying plague.  He turned and strode out of the room like a man dazed.

 

“Ranma.”  Her heart dropped as she reached for the door he had just walked out of.  She started to step forward to go after him, but Hyuga captured her attention again.

 

“We’ve got the angel chrysalis on our radar.  We’re only going to get one shot at this captain.  The currents will carry it away if we don’t get it now.”

 

“Go ahead with the capture operations.”  She managed to say in an audible enough tone.  She slowly drew her hand back to herself and placed it over her heart.  It suddenly felt cold and alone.

 

“Engaging electromagnetic cage.”  Asuka’s voice snapped her back to the operation at hand.  “Angel is detained.”

 

The captain mouthed a quick prayer of thanks and went back to the console.  “You all right, Asuka?”

 

From the display screen, Asuka gave her a thumbs up  “Everything is A-Okay!  We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”  She exclaimed triumphantly.

 

“Bring it back up.”  Misato sighed in relief of at least one burden.  “The sooner we get the angel up, the sooner we can go to the hot springs.”

 

“OKAY!!!”  Asuka’s excited voice was followed by the sounds of everyone beginning the extraction process.

 

A loud groan came over the audio pickups.  Hyuga excitedly began typing away at his computer.  “We’ve got a problem.  The angel is hatching!”

 

“No!”  Misato cried as she put a hand on his shoulder to look onto his screen.  “Can we contain it?”

 

“No, Ma’am.  The containment field is strained as it is!”

 

“Asuka, jettison the cage!”  Misato yelled into the com.

 

“No, I think I can hold it!”  The girl protested.

 

“JETTISON, NOW!”

 

“Okay!  Releasing electromagnetic cage.”

 

On screen they watched the cage drift away through the EVA’s external cameras.  The cage shattered, and the angel was free.  It looked like a cross between a squid and a porcupine.  It didn’t waste anytime as it immediately shot forward toward the Evangelion.

 

 

 

Below, Asuka dodged aside in time to miss taking the brunt of the angel’s attack.  Unfortunately, the angel passed close enough to sever two of the coolant lines.  “Asuka!”  Shinji’s voice shouted over her communications array.

 

“I’m fine.”  She said hurriedly.  “But I lost my prog-knife!  I don’t have anything to fight it with!”

 

“Hold on!  I’ll send you mine!”  Shinji concentrated and felt where Asuka was.  He wasn’t sure how he did it, but he was sure that this was what Ranma was talking about when he talked about Chi-senses.  He hauled back and threw his progressive knife into the lava, straight at her.  “Incoming!”

 

Asuka deftly dodged several more attacks, but eventually the angel got past her defenses and latched onto her face plate and wrapped its tentacles around Unit Two.  If it wasn’t for the pressure suit, her EVA would have been crushed immediately, but even so, the structural integrity was failing fast.  “Where’s that knife?!”  She asked excitedly.

 

“It should be right above you!”  Shinji exclaimed.

 

Asuka checked her sonar and saw the knife was almost in her grasp.  She reached out and grabbed it.  “Ah-HA!”  She quickly plunged the knife toward the angel’s core.  Unfortunately, the blade snapped before it penetrated the dense heart of the beast.  “IT BROKE!!!”  She shouted with panic in her voice.

 

“The shell must have developed because of the high pressure of its incubation environment.”  Shinji conjectured.

 

“Thanks, Einstein, but could you skip the biology and find some way to help!”

 

“Einstein!  That’s it!  Physics!”  Shinji exclaimed animatedly.

 

“Thermal expansion!”  Asuka’s done reflected his own.  With her EVA’s spare hand, she reached and grabbed one of the loose coolant lines and jabbed it into the angel’s core.  The dark sphere contracting on itself, and the monster started flailing wildly.  She pulled the conduit out of the angel’s heart, and it expanded quickly, so fast that it started to form stress fractures on it.  Asuka quickly stabbed the remaining blade of the progressive knife into one of the cracks.  Again the abomination flung its tentacles around wildly.  With its last strength, it managed to sever the remaining cables on the Evangelion.

 

The EVA unit was being raised the whole time the fight had been occurring.  Asuka knew that she wasn’t far from the surface, but she might as well have been at the bottom of the volcano for all the good it did her.  She looked down and saw the lifeless angel drifting away from her.  “I’ve done it, but I’m done for.”  Her voice was detached and hollow.  She knew she would die someday, she had just hoped it had been later rather than sooner.

 

Unit Two began to follow the angel into the abyss, but was suddenly halted.  Asuka dazedly looked up and saw Unit One hanging with one hand above the surface and the other grasping the remains of the coolant tubing.  She smiled a warm grin.  “Shinji, you idiot.  Quit showing off.”  Her voice had no hint of spite or tease.  It contained nothing but gratitude and affection.

 

She could hear his smile as his voice came over her speakers.  “I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to you.  Come on, Misato owes us a trip to the hot springs!”

 

 

 

Sometime later, the two Evangelions were stowed and shipped back to NERV headquarters.  Ranma came over and congratulated Asuka on her victory.  The two kids noticed something was immediately wrong when Misato joined them.  There was a coldness between the couple that hadn’t been there this afternoon.  Misato gave much the same praise that Ranma did, but her tone was a little more subdued.

 

The tension built up thick enough to cut with a knife, so Shinji thought of a way to escape.  “Hey!  Let’s get to that hot spring!”

 

Misato nodded.  “Yes, I did promise.  Let’s go.”

 

They all started to walk away, except for Ranma who just stood where he was.  Asuka gave him a pleading look.  “You’re coming too, right?”

 

Ranma looked between her and Shinji and slowly nodded his head.  “Yeah, I’m right behind you.”

 

 

 

Later, at the nearby hot spring resort, Shinji and Ranma were getting ready when the owner called out that there was a package for them.  Shinji went over and signed for it.  “Who even knows we’re here?”  Ranma shrugged.  The boy read the label.  “It’s from Kaji.”

 

“Better make sure it’s not ticking.”  Ranma commented aside.

 

Shinji popped open the top of the box and Pen-Pen’s head popped up.  The boy rolled his eyes and pointed toward the water.  “The hot springs are that way.”  The penguin squawked a thanks and made his way there as fast as possible.  The other two males just shrugged and followed.

 

Shortly they were all out in the hot water.  The girl’s side was uncharacteristically quiet and the boys had no conversation of their own.  Shinji couldn’t help but keep staring at the scar that traveled down Ranma’s chest.  The thing started just below his collarbones and traveled down past his bellybutton, widening to over two inches wide over his solar plexus.  The older man noticed the attention and absently ran his finger down the length of the old wound.

 

Shinji swallowed.  “How did…?  Uh, what I mean is…”  He fumbled for his words.

 

The martial artist sighed.  “How did I get this?  Is that what you want to know?”  Shinji nodded.  The older man took a deep breath.  “There was a swordsman named Kuno Tatewaki.  He was easily one of the top ten percent of the martial artists in the world.  Unfortunately the other nine percent lived in his district, including me.  We had many fights over the years, most of them one-sided to my advantage.  I left Nerima and I thought that would be the last I ever saw of him.”

 

He took a labored breath and continued the story.  “Sometime after second impact, he caught up with me.  I thought he’d still be a pushover so I didn’t give him my full attention.  My mistake.  He had acquired a powerful magic blade that increased his skill exponentially.  I moved and fought as hard as I could, but he managed to slice my chest open.  If I hadn’t been so skilled, it would have been more than just a large gash, but as it was I was starting to lose blood fast.  I knew I would have to do something quick or I would die.  I drew out all of Chi and concentrated it into a Moko Takabisha.”

 

“Moko what?”

 

Ranma held up his hand and a ball of light formed.  It shot forward and exploded on the surface of the water, scaring poor Pen-Pen half to death.  “It’s a Chi blast.  When your training comes farther along, I’ll show you.  Anyway, I shot out a blast that I knew would kill him.  It destroyed the sword and swordsman in one blow.  I was bleeding bad afterward, if it wasn’t for Ukyou I would have been a goner.”

 

“Who’s Ukyou?”  Came Misato’s voice from behind the wall that divided the women’s from the men’s side of the hot spring.

 

“An old friend.”  Ranma’s voice was a little louder with a note of irritation.  He was a little annoyed that the girls were eavesdropping, but he shrugged when he should have known.  He continued on in his normal tone.  “After that I mourned his death.”

 

“But he was your enemy!  He was trying to kill you!”  Shinji pointed out.

 

“He was still a life.  All life is precious to me.  At that point I had only killed one other being and that was to save the life of the woman I loved.  This time I had killed for no other reason than to selfishly save my own hide.  That night the boy Saotome Ranma died and became the man.”  Ranma drew back his loose hair to the base of his skull in back.  His hair came to a perfect flat end there.  “When I was younger, I used to wear my hair in a pigtail, it was my trademark.  When I became a man, I put childish things behind me.  Sometimes when my hair gets too long I catch myself putting it back into the braid, but I cut it off again to remind me of what I had done.  A human life is precious Shinji, I don’t want you to ever forget that.”

 

“Yet you seem to value every human life, but your own.”  Misato’s voice came again from the other side.

 

Ranma angrily rapped his forearm against the partition.  The wooden wall shook, but did not collapse.  He heard two splashes of water that he guessed was the girls retreating away from the wall.

 

Some time passed and Misato’s quiet voice came through again.  “I got my scar in Antarctica when second impact occurred.  My father was working on the project when it blew up and destroyed the world.  I hated my father because I thought that he loved his work more than his family.  Then he used the last of his energy to make sure I was saved.  I was wounded, but he still gave up everything for me.  He did love me, but I never returned it.  I vowed to destroy the angels that day.”  Her voice trailed off and Ranma’s face hardened.

 

 

 

Over the course of the next few weeks a tension built up in the apartment they all shared.  Ranma’s shift’s suddenly changed to where he and Misato were never at home at the same time.  Whenever she worked days, he worked nights, and vice versa, even when Misato’s schedule ‘suddenly changed’.  It seemed that Ranma was always two steps ahead of her and never working anywhere near her.  The kids were beginning to wonder what was going on.  They deduced that the two had fought, but they couldn’t imagine what could be so bad that the pair couldn’t ‘kiss and make up’.

 

            Ranma still continued their training, in fact the training seemed to be harder than ever.  All of the sudden they seemed to be able to jump to heights they could only dream of before.  Shinji had already been well on his way, but Asuka was closing on him fast.  Ranma pushed himself ten times as much as the children.  He threw himself into his work and his training.  Yet sometimes he would disappear for days at a time.  Everyone started to get worried.

 

            About a month after the magma dive, Ranma was pacing down the corridor.  He was looking straight ahead like a man with a lot on his mind.  Today had been a fairly lazy day.  Everyone else for the most part were out taking care of chores like laundry, etc that had been stacking up in between crises.  He walked up to the elevator and pressed the down button.

 

            “Ranma!”  Came Misato’s voice from over his shoulder. 

 

He continued to ignore her until the elevator opened and he stepped in.  He turned and faced her with a hard look.  He jabbed the ‘close door’ button.

 

Just before the two doors could meet, Misato’s fingers caught in between and the doors opened.  She stood in the path of the doors with her arms crossed as he tried stared her down with a glare.  He stepped forward trying to walk out around her.

 

“Oh no you don’t!”  She put a hand on his chest and shoved him into the elevator.  She followed shortly after and the door closed.  She hit the button for central dogma command level and turned back to him.  “We’re going to talk this out.”

 

“Talk about what?”  He was still glaring at her.

 

“About us.”  She cried out.  Her voice contained a bit of desperation.  “Ranma, I’m sorry I said what I did, but this is hardly fair!”

 

“How can there be an us when I don’t know you?”  His voice had an edge that cut her to the core.

 

“What are you talking about?!  Of course you know me!”

 

“I’m not talking in the biblical sense, I’m talking about you as a person.  You were willing to sacrifice a child in your ambition to destroy that angel.”  His voice was almost a growl.

 

“I don’t know what came over me!  Ranma, I’m sorry!  I’ll make it up to you and Asuka, just give me another chance!”

 

“Another chance for what?  Your obsession to get us killed again?”

 

“What are you talking about?”  Her voice was genuinely confused.

 

He glared down into her eyes.  “Your obsession with killing the angels.  When you were talking at the springs I finally put two and two together.  You’ve been obsessed with angels since your father died.  You’ll do anything, hurt anyone to kill them!”

 

“But they have to be destroyed!  They’ll kill us all!”  She cried out desperately.

 

“What happens when you kill them all, and there is no one else left afterward?  What do you do when you killed everyone else to save the world?  Do the ends justify the means?  Can you honestly tell me that the life of the many, or even one, is worth it?  Is it worth the life of a child?”

 

“Yes.”  She choked out as tears started to roll down her cheeks.

 

“You’re no better then Gendou.”

 

As if to punctuate his statement, the lights dimmed and the elevator stopped in the shaft.  The only light came from the self-illuminated emergency lights.  Misato fell to her butt and hugged her knees to her face to hide her tears.

 

Ranma looked around wildly.  “What’s going on?  This shouldn’t happen!  We’ve got backups for the backups, don’t we?”

 

“Yes.”  Misato choked out.  “It should come on any minute.”  She paused a little bit and spoke again between her tears.  “Take it back.  Please, take it back.”

 

“What?”  He wasn’t even looking at her anymore.

 

“Please.  I’m not a heartless bastard like that.  I care about Asuka and Shinji.  I won’t leave them out in the cold.”  She looked up at his back.  “It was a mistake to talk like that at the volcano.  Ranma, give me another chance, please.”

 

“I don’t know…”  He shook his head.  “I can’t overlook something like that.”

 

Misato’s expression quickly turned to anger.  “What?  You can’t overlook MY obsession, but you expect me to overlook ALL of YOURS?!?!?!”

 

He spun around on her with his brows furrowed.  “What are you talking about?”

 

She stood up on her tiptoes and glared into his face.  “You and your obsessions!  Your martial arts, your stupid marriage arrangement, and your inability to spend money!  Everything you do has to do with martial arts!  You eat, sleep, and breathe it!”  He took a step back as she continued her tirade.  “And that STUPID arrangement your father made!  You had no choice in the matter!  Why do you let that get in the way of your being happy?  Of us being happy?!  And don’t get me started on your money!  I did a little digging and found out you make four times as much as I do!  You almost make more than the commander!  After looking a little further, I found out what Kaji had been talking about that ‘sizeable amount’ that you had been paid off to never compete in a martial arts competition again!  You have over ten million American dollars!  Why are you sharing an apartment with three other people and living in a warzone?!”

 

Throughout the rant Ranma had been steadily backing until his back hit the elevator door.  He opened his mouth to respond, but she cut him off.  “Don’t talk to me about the splinter in my eye, when you ignore the two by four in your own!”  He dropped his gaze and looked away.  “What so important?  Why do you keep doing these things?  You could run away and live happily anywhere else.  Why do you stay here and live like this?”

 

“Honor.”  He breathed out.  He slowly met her eyes again.  “My true obsession.”  He managed to get out before she could say any more.  He stepped out from in front of her and sat down against the opposite wall.  “Shouldn’t the lights be operational again?”  He asked absently.

 

Misato sighed.  “They should have.  Something must have happened.  The facility has three backups and only one possibility comes to mind.”

 

“Sabotage.”  The one word seemed to sum it all up for both of them.

 

Misato sat down opposite Ranma and tried to relax.  The silence seemed to stretch into hours.  The elevator seemed to get a little warmer as the air ceased to circulate.  Ranma stirred a bit.  “Things just got worse.”

 

“What?”  The captain looked up at him.  His head was still down.  “What could possibly be worse?”

 

“There’s another angel coming.”  He stood up.  “We can’t stay here.  We have to do something.”

 

Misato did the hardest thing she ever had to do in her life.  She stood, walked forward, and pulled Ranma back to a sitting position.  “Please, stay.”

 

He looked into her eyes.  “Why?  Don’t you need to be up there commanding the battle?”

 

She took a deep breath.  “I’m trying to take the first step here.  We’re going to stay here and trust everyone else to do what is required.  The kids have emergency manuals and we have battery packs for the EVAs.  We’re going to sit this one out.  I’m going to try and get past my obsession and so are you.  Please?  It’s important to me.”

 

He nodded his head.  “Okay.”  He relaxed a little.

 

Silence reigned again, and the heat seemed to increase.  Misato took her jacket off and laid it aside.  More time passed and Ranma removed his shirt.  She fought desperately for something to talk about.  “Why don’t you spend that money?”

 

Ranma looked up at her.  “How DID you find out about that?”

 

“You’d be surprised how many sites on the Internet idolize you and every event in your life.  Most people out there thought that when you disappeared off the martial arts scene that you had taken that money and bought an island off the coast of Japan where you were training your own personal army.”  She took another breath.  “You didn’t answer my question.”

 

He sighed.  “Actually all my obsessions are related.  Martial Arts has always been the core of who I am, and what my family is.  The marriage was supposed to reunite the Anything Goes School of Martial Arts.  I walked out on that.  I couldn’t go through with the commitment, but I couldn’t spit on it either.  I couldn’t destroy both of our families’ honors.  I can’t marry anyone else, or it’s gone completely.  As to why I’ve been hoarding all my money and not spending more than I have to, well, to be honest I’m trying to buy out the obligation.”

 

Misato gave him a puzzled expression.  “What?”

 

“I figured out how much a great dojo brings in over the lifetime of one teacher and multiplied it by ten.  That’s how much I intend to make and give back to the Tendos.  If I give them that, I’m hoping they’ll release me from my obligations.  Then I can do as I want.”  He looked up and she saw pain in his expression.  “I just want to be free.  I’ve broken the rest of the chains that bind me.  I only have the largest to go.”

 

The woman with the blue/black hair crossed over and hugged him close.  “You carry a great burden.  I’m sorry.”

 

“I’m sorry too, but we all have our baggage.”

 

She lifted his face to meet her eyes.  “Ranma, I’ll ask one more time.  Can you please forgive me?  I’ve missed you so much.  I love you, and being without you really hurts!  I don’t want to be alone anymore.”

 

He looked back at her with a neutral expression.  “You’ll have the kids.”

 

She took his head in both her hands.  “They’re OUR kids.  We’re raising them.  They are as much ours as their biological parents.  Gendou has signed over all of Shinji’s rights to me, and Asuka has no other family.  Ranma, forgive me so that we can be a family again.  You don’t have to marry me, just be there for me and the children.”

 

The stone around his heart began to crack as tears lined her purple eyes.  He ran a hand through her hair.  “Misato, I forgive you, but I won’t let anyone endanger the children needlessly again.”

 

            She smiled back at him.  “Fair enough.”  She kissed him slowly and lovingly on the mouth.  “It’s been over a month.”

 

            Ranma smiled.  “We may be letting them handle things, but don’t you think that’s carrying things a little too far?  The angel is right above us, and I haven’t felt anything from the Evangelions.”

 

            “You can feel them as well as the angels?”  She asked.

 

            He nodded his head.  “I’ve been doing some extra spying while we’ve been apart.  The EVAs are alive somehow.  They aren’t just simple machines.  Otherwise I could never sense them.”

 

            She nodded her head.  “What can we do?”

 

            He shook his head.  “I don’t know.  I don’t know where the kids are and I don’t know how we’ll get the EVAs going.”  A smile crossed his face.

 

            “What?”  She asked at the curious smile.

 

            “It just became a moot point.  Three EVAs just activated.”  He chuckled a bit.

 

            Misato looked pleased.  “Rei is with them too?”  A smile crossed her face as well.  “With three to one odds they can’t lose!”  Her grin took on a more seductive look.  “So…can we?  It’s awfully hot in here…”

 

            He returned the lecherous smile.  “It IS rather hot.  I think we need to get out of these hot clothes…”

 

            A few hours later the lights came back on the elevator traveled a few floors.  Ranma had felt the angel die, and it only served to keep him even more motivated.  Ranma and Misato were basking in the afterglow of making love when the door suddenly opened.  They made a mad scramble to get back into their clothes.

 

            Ritusko and most of the rest of the NERV ops staff just stared.  The blonde doctor shook her head and hissed, “Sex fiends.”

 

 

 

            Later on, they learned of how the children had stopped the angel from boring into central dogma with dropping acid.  Asuka had come up with the plan.  They had dropped their rifles, Asuka shielded while Rei passed a rifle to Shinji who fired and destroyed the threat.  Through perseverance and teamwork, the kids had succeeded.

 

            Ranma and Misato beamed pride at the children when they got home that night.  They congratulated them until they were blue in the face.  The children went to bed with happy smiles on their faces.

 

            After they had gone to bed Misato crawled into Ranma’s arms.  “Maybe we should fool around more when the kids are out.”

 

            He chuckled and shook his head.  “I don’t think we should push our luck.  They are kids after all.  Let’s just take one day at a time.”

 

            She gave him a deep, passionate kiss.  “One day we’ll all be free.”