Chapter Six

“Duet of Angels”

 

            Shinji, Toji, and Kensuke sat on the grounds of the schoolyard scowling.  All about them they heard the comments about the new student.  “Did you hear about the new student?” “She’s so hot!”  “She’s an overseas student.”  “She’s so cute!”

 

            Kensuke shook his head as he examined a sheet of film.  “You hear all that?  It’s all about her.  Asuka, Asuka, Asuka!”  He put down the first strip and picked up another.

 

            Toji took another sheet and looked over the thumbnail photographs.  “Yeah, you’d think they’d never seen a foreign student before.”

 

            “Well, you haven’t.”  The bespectacled teen kidded him.

           

            The larger boy shrugged.  “Hey, if all foreign girls are as much of a bitch as her, I’ll take good old Japanese girls anytime.”  He went through an especially candid roll and raised an eyebrow.  “Shinji, tell me again why are we sitting here looking at pictures of that female dog.”  His eyes fell on a shot of Asuka in her swimsuit.  “Not that I’m complaining of course, but these don’t show how much of a pain she is.”

 

            Shinji rolled his eyes.  “I’ve told you guys several times.  It’s just to piss her off.  We take a bunch of pictures and sell them to every pervert in school.  A, she becomes pissed off, and B, she has to beat back all the worst scum of the school.”

 

            Kensuke shook his head.  “This has got to be the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.  Where did you get it?”

 

            “I got it from a story that Ranma told me about one of his fiancé’s sisters doing it to him.  It annoyed him to no end even though he didn’t show it, so I thought we’d try it on Asuka.  Besides, we’re making a good profit, why are you guys complaining?”

 

            “I still think my idea was better.”  Toji murmured.

 

            “What?  The stack of love letters in her locker?  That was worse than this idea!”  Shinji sniped at the larger boy.  “She just stomped on them and left them on the ground.  I think it just fed her ego.”

 

            Kensuke held up his finger in a ‘Eureka, I’ve found it’ gesture.  “How about we put out an edict that anyone who wants to date her has to beat her in combat!  We’ll have every boy in school trying to beat her up.”

 

            “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”  Toji shouted.

 

            Shinji thought for a second.  “Wait, he might be on to something…”

 

            “Heelllooo, Shinji!”

 

            All three boys jumped as incriminating evidence disappeared like magic.  Shinji spun around to face Asuka.  “What are you doing here?”

 

            The auburn haired girl smirked and moved her face close to his.  “I’m the most popular girl in school.  You should feel privileged to be talking to me.”  She flipped him in the nose.

 

            “Just go away.  You’re not wanted here.”  Shinji scowled at her.

 

            “Well, you’re not the only one I can talk to.  Isn’t the other one here?”

 

            “Other what?”  Shinji asked.

 

            “The other pilot of course.”  Asuka threw her head aside, causing her hair to flow to the side.  “The pilot of Unit Zero.”

 

            “You mean Ayanami.” 

 

            “Of course, dumbkoff!”  Asuka turned and looked down the school steps and spotted a blue haired girl sitting on a bench reading a book.  “There she is.”  She turned and walked down the steps, stopping beside Rei.  She straightened up to her full height.  “Hello, I am Soryu Asuka Langley.  Let’s be best friends!”

 

            Rei didn’t even look up from her book.  “Why?”  She said in an unemotional voice.

 

            Asuka smirked a cocky grin.  “It would be convenient, of course!”

 

            The blue haired pilot still had not lifted her eyes from the book she was reading.  “If I’m ordered to, I will.”

 

            Asuka cocked her head with a confused look on her face.  “Freakazoid.”

 

            “Takes one to know one.”  Toji muttered from the side.

 

            Shinji jumped down from the railing above and landing between Asuka and Rei.  “Why do you have to bug people like this?  First your bugging me, then you’re bugging Rei!”

 

            Asuka harrumphed.  “I’m sorry I talked to your girlfriend.  What’s the matter?  Feel threatened?”

 

            “What the hell are you talking about?”  Shinji glared at her.  “And she’s not my girlfriend.”

 

            “Yeah!”  Kensuke shouted from above.  “He didn’t spend six hours in an EVA alone with her!”

 

            “You’re not helping!”  Shinji growled.

 

            The crowd that had been following Asuka around started whispering within itself.  Comments about ‘lovebirds’, ‘lucky guy’, and other more explicit comments were being made.

 

            Asuka was finally starting to lose that cocky grin she had.  “It’s not like that!  This idiot dumped us in the ocean!  We had no choice!”

 

            “Yeah!  I’d never do anything with such a bratty girl!”  Shinji shouted.

 

            The crowd came alive with comments about ‘denial’ and ‘lover’s quarrel’.

 

            At that point Asuka had had it.  She jumped down and jabbed a finger into Shinji’s chest.  “This is all your fault!”

 

            “What’s all my fault?”  Shinji asked with a confused look on his face.

 

            “First you put MY Unit Two into the ocean, and then you ruin my reputation at school!”

 

            “Did not!” was Shinji’s extremely mature response.

 

            “Ahh!”  Asuka threw a jab into Shinji’s face, which he easily stepped out of the way of.  Not daunted in the least, Asuka started raining punches on him.  Shinji dodged most of them and knocked the others aside with his hands.

 

            “What are you trying to do?”  Shinji asked.

 

            “I’m trying to teach you a lesson in respect!”  Asuka continued her assault, in which she still didn’t land a blow.

 

            “Whoa, Shinji’s gotten pretty good.”  Toji commented aside to Kensuke.

 

            “Aren’t you glad you became friends with him instead of fighting him like Ranma suggested.”

 

            The taller boy just nodded his head.

 

            “WHY WON’T YOU FIGHT BACK, YOU SPINELESS WORM!!!”  Asuka shouted in fury between punches.

 

            Shinji stepped away from another blow.  “Ranma told me not to fight people weaker than I am.”

 

            Asuka’s eyebrow twitched.  “Weak, am I…”  In the middle of her flutter of punches, she hauled back and unleashed a powerful kick to Shinji’s groin.

 

            Shinji managed to avoid most the blow, but sometimes a clip can hurt worse than the full thing.  He dropped to his knees holding his crotch.

 

            “Now you should know how to give me proper respect.  Humph!”  She turned with her nose in the air and started to walk off.  She stopped when she heard an angry growl coming from behind her.  Her eyes went wild when she saw that Shinji was back on his feet.  Granted he still had a hand on his crotch, but his other hand was clinched in a fist.

 

            “That’s IT!”  Shinji leapt forward and the battle was on!

 

 

 

            Half an hour later, a battered and bruised duo of Asuka and Shinji sat in the principal’s office.  They both had matching black eyes and their clothes and hair were a mess.  Across the desk, Misato was leaning back in the principal’s chair rubbing the bridge of her nose.  Ranma was leaning against the wall behind her with his arms crossed.

 

            Misato lowered her hand and looked over at the two pilots.  “Tell me again why we’re here?”

 

            “It’s all his fault!”  Asuka pointed an accusing finger in Shinji’s direction.

 

            “My fault!  You kicked me in the NUTS!”  Shinji clenched his fists again.

 

            “ENOUGH!!!”  Misato shouted.

 

            “Shinji,” Ranma finally spoke up.  “What have I told you about fighting people weaker than you?”  Asuka started a slow boil from her seated.

 

            “You not helping…”  Misato hissed aside to him.  She turned back to the two kids in front of her.  “Now who started this?”

 

            “He/She did!”  They both pointed at each other and announced at the same time.

 

            Misato put a hand to her head and groaned.  She stood from the chair and turned to the man leaning against the back wall.  “Ranma, hold up your right hand.”

 

            Ranma held it up.  “Okay.  What for?”

 

            Misato slapped the hand and leaned against the wall.  “Tag, your in.”

 

            He gave her an uplifted eyebrow and shook his head at the professional wrestling reference.  “Oh well,” he thought.  “Might as well dole out some discipline.  I really don’t want to hear the whole story.”  He cleared his throat and addressed the pair in front of him.  “Asuka, You’re going to doing nothing but janitor work with your free time for the next week.  Shinji, you’re going to be training four extra hours a day on your martial arts.”

 

            “Hey!”  Asuka shouted.  “Who are you, and why do you think that you can order me around?”

 

            The older man narrowed his eyes.  “I’m Saotome Ranma.  I’m in charge of training NERV personnel, and I can dispense discipline as I see fit if it’s to the betterment of the organization.”

 

            “Ranma?  I thought that Redheaded woman on the ship was Ranma!”

 

            He rolled his eyes.  “It’s a long story.”

 

            “You’re a cross dresser!”  The girl exclaimed.

 

            Misato giggled from her spot on the wall.  Ranma turned and glared at her.  “Now, who’s not helping?”  He turned back to the teenaged girl.  “It’s a magic curse, and I’m not a cross dresser.  Now you have Janitor duty for the next two weeks.”

 

            “Hey!  How come I have to do hard work and Shinji gets to have fun?!”  She asked with a whiney tone to her voice.

 

            “You don’t know Ranma’s training…” Shinji trailed off.

 

            “I still think it’s not fair!”  She shouted at Ikari.

 

            Misato leaned up beside Ranma.  “You should probably train her as well.  She won’t shut up otherwise.”

 

            “I have a feeling she won’t shut up no matter what we do.”  He turned back to the kids.  “That’s enough out of you two!  Shinji, I want you in the gym and Asuka I want you on a mop.  Both of you will be there immediately after school.  Understand?”

 

            “Yes, sir!”  Shinji sounded off smartly.

 

            Asuka still looked indignant.  “You’re not my father.  Or should I say mother?”

 

            Ranma’s eyebrow started to twitch, and Misato decided it was her turn to tag back in.  “That’s enough, Asuka!  You’ll do as HE says.”

 

            The brunette just crossed her arms and scowled.

 

 

 

            Later that day, back at NERV headquarters, Ritsuko was toiling away at her computer terminal, trying to finish going through the data from the battle on the Pacific.  She still hadn’t puzzled out how Shinji was able to take control from Asuka so easily.  The Evangelion should have not listened to him since it was programmed for the young German.

 

            She continued on until she felt a pair of arms encircle her.  She turned her head to see Kaji behind her.  “What are you doing?”

 

            He gave her a roguish grin and replied, “You've lost some weight.  Let me guess, you’re suffering from unrequited love.”

 

            “Don’t be so sure.”  She had a smug smile on her face.  “Besides, you might not want to try anything with an audience.  She pointed to the observation window where Misato was standing, glaring at the pair.

 

            The captain entered and glared at Kaji.  “Oh, don’t mind me.  I’m just passing through.  I’m going to collect my report from Ritsuko and be gone.”

 

            Kaji smiled at her with his self-confident smirk.  “Feeling a little bit of the green-eyed monster?”

 

            “Hardly.” Misato scoffed as she collected the reports off of Ritsuko’s desk.

 

            The doctor had an evil grin on her face.  “She doesn’t need you any more Kaji.  She already has a lover that takes care of her needs.  Whether she wants male of female.”

 

            Kaji got the same grin on his face.  “So, I guess I’m outclassed.”

 

            “We NEVER!!!”  Misato started up, but before she could continue the alarms went off.  “Angel attack!”

 

 

 

            The troops were rallied quickly.  They moved the intercept operation to the coast as the city had not finished rebuilding or reloading since the attack from the pyramid shaped angel.  The city was only at twenty-six percent of its defense capability, so Misato (who was in charge in Commander Ikari’s absence) chose to intercept the angel at the shore.

 

            Two flying wings carried Units One and Two to the edge of the sea.  They were dropped and each landed at a knee several yards inland.  Large trucks pulled up, carrying weapons for each of the EVAs.  Shinji took up a rifle while Asuka grabbed a large glaive that was almost as tall as her EVA.

 

            “I don’t see why I couldn’t handle this by myself!  You’ll only slow me down!”  Asuka complained over her radio to Shinji.

 

            “Misato’s only following procedures.”  Shinji replied with an edge of anger in his voice.

 

            “But two on one isn’t fair!”  She went on further.

 

            “It’s a matter of survivability.  Two EVAs are more likely to succeed than one.  Of course they didn’t take into account an inexperienced pilot like you into that equation.”  He scowled at the image of Asuka from the communications net.

 

            “Head’s up, you two.”  Misato’s voice came over the system.  “The angels going to surface in ten seconds.”

 

            Asuka had a cocky grin plastered on her face.  “I’ll take care of this!”  She pushed her controls forward and charged toward the sea.

 

            “What are you doing?!”  Shinji demanded.

 

            “I'll handle this angel.  Ladies first after all!”  She cut the line of communication off from the other EVA.

 

            “Don't talk like that you dumb rookie!”  Shinji shouted over a dead line.

 

            The angel broke the surface and Asuka’s battle cry could be heard over all the general channels.  “CHARGE!!!”  Unit Two rushed in and held the glaive double handed over its head.  The enormous blade came down in a devastating downward blow, cleaving the angel in twain.

 

            “We'll I'll be damned.”  Shinji whispered, careful to make sure that none of the audio pickups caught it.

 

            Asuka’s face appeared on his comm display again.  “A fight should be clean and elegant without waste.  Beat that, third child!”  She started to laugh maniacally.

 

            “It’s not over!”  Came Ranma’s voice over the system.

 

            Asuka looked at the angel where it was motionless and cut in half.  “What are you talking about?  It’s not going to do anything in two parts.”

 

            The brunette spoke too soon as each half of the angel began to writhe with life.  The two halves transformed into two separate angels.  The last thing Asuka saw was a bright flash of light as the angels opened up on her with powerful blasts.

 

 

 

            Several hours later, Shinji, Asuka, Kaji, Fuyutsuki, Ranma, and Ritsuko were in one of the debriefing rooms listening to Maya give the report of the records of the fight.  The kids were looking even more beat up and, if possible, more mad at each other.

 

            The images scrolled through showing each of the Evangelions face planted, Unit Two into the bay and Unit One in a nearby field.  Maya went through each of the humiliating details of the unsuccessful mission.  Even up to the point where the UN had to step in to halt the angel’s progress by dropping an N2 mine.  The angel was in a regenerative state, but it was far from being harmless.  Another operation had to be launched within the next week.

 

            At the end of Maya’s debriefing, Fuyutsuki addressed the pair of pilots.  “So what do you two have to say for yourselves?  Could you please tell me why you decided to embarrass us in front of the global community.”

 

            Shinji’s jaw went slack.  He looked over to Ranma for support.  The martial artist’s eyebrows arched as he shook his head, indicating that he would not aid the child here.  “He’s right, Shinji.  That was embarrassing.  I’m almost ashamed to say I trained you.”

 

            “It was all his fault!”  Asuka blurted as she pointed to the brown haired boy.  “He messed up the entire operation!”

 

            “Me!”  Shinji yelled defensively.  “Who’s the idiot that charged into combat all half cocked and ignored procedures?!”

 

            “Oh yes, the great Third Child always does what everybody tells him!”

 

            “Shut up, you stupid bi-“

 

            “THAT’S ENOUGH!”  The acting commander cowed his young soldiers.  “You two WILL learn to work together!”

 

            “Why should we?”  They both asked simultaneously while glaring at each other.

 

            Ranma buried his forehead in his palm and shook his head.  “Please tell me I wasn’t that bad when I was younger.”

 

            “I believe you were worse.”   Kaji smirked at him with a knowing grin.

 

            The martial artist gave the slob a narrow glare.  “You know too much, and you have a big mouth.”

 

            “Don’t worry.  There’s still a lot about you I don’t know.  Like your reasons for leaving three fiancés behind and hitting a world tour.”

 

            “That’s for me to know and you to never find out.”  Ranma turned and left the room.

 

            “Mister mysterious, eh.”  Kaji chuckled to himself.  “I can see why Misato would be infatuated with you.”

 

            Shinji stopped arguing with Asuka long enough to ask Ritsuko where Misato was.  Ritsuko gave him a shrug.  “As the operation commander she has to deal with the paperwork associated with it.”

 

           

 

            Several hours later, Misato was still pouring over all the bills and complaints from the UN, Tokyo-3, and the world in general.  Ritsuko poked her head over one of the smaller stacks of paper.  “Still sorting through all the red tape, hmm?”

 

            Misato sighed heavily.  “Yes.  All of them written by different people, but saying the same thing, ‘if you’re going to fight like that, fight somewhere else.’”

 

            “Such is war.”  The blonde doctor commented matter-of-factly.

 

            The captain looked up at the other woman and smiled.  “But you’ve come here with a brilliant idea to solve my problems, right?”  She smiled her most winning smile.

 

            “Oh…Maybe.”  Ritsuko absently tapped a data disk on her cheek.

 

            “Thanks, so much Ritsuko!”  Misato grabbed quickly and held it like it was the most precious object in the world to her.  “I owe you one!”

 

            “You don’t owe me one.  You owe Kaji.”  The blonde smiled at her.

 

            “What?!”  Misato gawked.

 

            “It’s his idea and operation plan.”

 

            The captain started a slow boil.

 

           

 

            Back the already crowded apartment, it was getting even more so.  Shinji walked in and weaved through all the boxes that had appeared in the place he called home.  “What the?”  He commented.

 

            “Why are you still here?”  He heard a female voice to his side.

 

“It couldn’t be!”  He thought.  He turned to see his worst nightmare standing a few feet away.  “What the hell are you doing in my home?!”  He demanded of the girl.

 

“I live here!  I’m going to be living with Misato now!  You've been dumped for the new model.”  She started going over the apartment.  “Why are Japanese houses so small?  And how can anyone have any privacy without locks?”  She asked as she slid one of the doors back and forth.

 

“It’s the Japanese way to consider other’s needs before your own.”  Misato comment as she and Ranma walked in the door.

 

“How can one person own so much shit?”  Ranma commented as he looked disbelievingly at all of Asuka’s possessions.

 

“What’s he doing here?”  Asuka asked as she pointed at the raven-haired martial artist.

 

Misato smiled.  “He lives here.  You, Shinji, Ranma, and I are all going to be living together.  You two will be undergoing training to move in harmony with each other.  We’re going to launch a dual attack with Units One and Two that’s in perfect sync so that the angel can’t gang up on each of you again.”

 

“And you think this is going to work?”  Shinji directed the question to Ranma.

 

The older man harrumphed.  “The idea is sound.  Which is pretty amazing considering the source…” He trailed off the last statement aside.

 

Misato smiled and handed each of the pilots a paper wrapped package.  “Here are your new training clothes.  Go ahead and change into them.  Your training begins immediately and we strike in six days!”  The kids nodded and turned to leave the room.  Shinji went to his room and Asuka went to the restroom.

 

Ranma stepped up beside Misato.  “So where are we going to put her?”

 

“She’s going to be sleeping in your room.”  Misato smirked at him.

 

“So where the hell am I supposed to sleep?”  He asked with a scowl.

 

“Oh, shut up.  You haven’t slept in your own bed since you got here.”

 

            “These outfits are pretty unusual for training.”  Came Shinji’s voice aside.

 

            “The silk feels pretty good against my skin though.”  Asuka’s voice came from the other side.

 

            Ranma turned his head and got the shock of his life.  The two kids were dressed in Red Chinese style silk shirts with wooden ties, black kung-fu pants, and black slippers.  His jaw dropped and he turned to Misato.  “What?  How did?”  He couldn’t seem to get an entire sentence out.

 

            Misato held up another package.  “I’ve got one for you too, if you like.”

 

            The martial artist’s face hardened.  “I don’t wear those types of clothes.”

 

            “You used to.”  She commented as she held up the picture of him when he was younger that she got from Nabiki. 

 

“They’re not me anymore.” He commented coolly.

 

The black/blue haired woman gave him a questioning look at his sudden demeanor change.  She shook her head and pushed the thoughts of what he meant by that statement.  “Anyway, I thought they looked good on girls or guys.”

 

“Although I look much better in them than Shinji does.”  Asuka teased the boy.

 

“Yeah, you’re also more of a pain in the neck!”

 

“Less talk, more training!”  Misato yelled at them.  They immediately snapped to.  She explained out the battle plan and started them on their synch drills.  She started by making each of them listen to the music chosen for the operation and do simple tasks in synch.  Their first task was to find a place to put all of Asuka’s belongings.

 

Ranma was slightly disturbed as he moved his few clothes into Misato’s room.  He had no possessions past the clothes that were given to him.  His mind wouldn’t get off the fact that this was a commitment.  Not a legal one to be sure, but it was a commitment.  When he had his own room he could convince himself that his relationship with Misato was a mistake.  Now he was moving into her room to sleep with her on a permanent basis (well, at least as permanent as his stay in Tokyo-3).

 

He took his things to Misato’s closet.  He noted that she had very few clothes and possessions of her own.  He marveled at how much alike they were, and yet world’s apart.  He pushed the thoughts aside and hung the clothes.

 

He turned and regarded paper wrapped package that was lying on the bed.  He knew what was inside.  A set of clothes like the ones he discarded so long ago.  He absently ran his hand over his shirt, tracing the length of the scar that bisected his torso.  “That’s not me.”  He turned his back on the package and walked out the door.

 

He walked back in to see most of the living area cleared out.  He shook his head while Misato shouted step-by-step instructions at the kids trying to get them to coordinate lifts and steps.

 

“How will this affect Shinji’s training?”  He asked the Captain offhandedly.

 

She turned to him.  “His training will continue.  You just have another student in the mornings.”

 

“But she can’t…” He started.

 

“Can it, Ranma!  She can, and she will.  I saw her in combat.  If she learns half the discipline that Shinji has, she will live a lot longer.  It’s no longer Shinji against the world.  Rei and Asuka will be with him the whole way.  Now swallow your macho pride and join the twenty-first century!”

 

Her statements took him aback.  They rang familiar in his ears.  Memories of the strong woman fighters he had known over the years.  Then he remembered the source of his male chauvinistic attitude.  “You’re right.  There’s no reason why she can’t be just as strong a fighter.”

 

Misato was amazed at his quick reversal.  Deciding not to look a gift horse in the mouth, she went back to giving orders to the working teens.

 

 

 

Three days later Toji and Kensuke were walking to Shinji’s apartment complex.  He hadn’t been at school and they were starting to get worried.  They hadn’t seen him since the last attack even though the news had said that the pilots were okay.  They were so lost in their own speculation that they nearly ran into Horaki Hikari.

 

“Class rep?”  A confused Kensuke asked.

 

“Two out of three stooges?”  She asked back.

 

“What are you doing here, class rep?”  Toji inquired.

 

“Asuka hasn’t been to school for three days.  I was coming to check on her.  What are you guys doing here?”

 

“We’re here to check on Shinji.”  Kensuke answered.

 

            “What a coincidence that they live in the same apartment complex.”  She commented aside.

 

            They reached the floor for the apartment.  They both stopped in front of the door and stared at each other.  “Why did you stop here?”  The boys asked Hikari as she simultaneously asked them.  All three of them proceeded to press the door buzzer at the same time.

 

            “Coming.”  An eerie double voice came over the intercom.

 

            The door opened to reveal Asuka and Shinji wearing identical red and black outfits with identical pathetic looks on their faces.

 

            The other teens’ eyes went wide.  “What’s going on here?!”  Hikari demanded.

 

            “This is all Misato’s fault!”  They both complained in unison.  “We have to eat, sleep, train, and breathe together!”

 

            “You’re living in sin!”  The class rep pointed an accusing finger at them.

 

            “IT’S NOT LIKE THAT!!!”  Asuka and Shinji chimed together.

 

            “This is pretty creepy.”  Toji commented aside to Kensuke who nodded in agreement.

 

            “It’s part of their training!”  They all turned to see Misato and Rei with Ranma behind them carrying groceries.

 

            Explanations were made and they all went inside.  The non-trainees were treated to sandwiches and tea.  They watched as Asuka and Shinji tried to match steps as they moved on what looked like a twister board.

 

            “Why didn’t you explain that it was synchronization training?”  Hikari asked.  “It would’ve saved us a lot of grief.  So how’s the training going?”

 

            The monitor behind Asuka buzzed with an error as she missed a step.

 

            “Not very well.”  Misato remarked dryly.

 

            “How am I supposed to work like this?!”  Asuka started her tirade that she had been repeating for the past three days.  “No one can work with this idiot!”

 

            “Hey!  Uberbitch!  Switch to decaf and maybe we can do this!”  Shinji’s biting rebuttal came.  He was getting sick and tired of listening to her repeat herself.

 

            “What did you call me?!”  Asuka demanded.

 

            Misato cleared her throat, causing the kids to look at her.  The captain turned to the blue haired girl beside her.  “Rei, why don’t you try it with Shinji?”

 

            “Yes, ma’am.”  Rei replied without any emotion to her voice.  She went up and took Asuka’s place.  She put the headphones on and waited for Shinji to match the pose.

 

            The music started and the pair began to move in perfect harmony.  Every step was perfectly in synch, much to the chagrin of Asuka.  “Fine!  See if I care!”  She turned and ran out of the apartment, tears coming from around her eyes.

 

            Toji looked on in amazement.  “Wow.  Even the devil may cry.”

 

            Shinji looked dumbfounded after the departing brunette.

 

            “Go after her!”  Hikari demanded.

 

            His head snapped around to the class rep.  “What?  Why?”

 

            “You made her cry!”

 

            The boy shrugged and started to leave.  Ranma put a hand on his shoulder.  “Let me go first.  Then you can apologize.”

 

            He nodded dumbly.  “Okay.”

 

 

 

            Ranma left the apartment complex and followed Asuka’s chi signature.  It was easy to find these pilots.  Especially when they were upset.  He wondered if second impact had something to do with it.  He found her at the convenience store next door (the place where Misato usually buys her beer).  The pilot was crouched in front of an open freezer door, staring blankly at the cans of beer beyond.

 

            She felt another presence behind her and thought whom it might be.  “Let me guess:  I've got to pilot the EVA, I've got no choice.”

 

            “You do have a choice.”

 

            She jumped when she heard the older man’s voice.  She had expected Shinji to come running after her.  After all, wasn’t she the damsel in distress?  Wasn’t he supposed to say he’s sorry?

 

            “You can walk away right now and no one will think any less of you.  Especially me.  Shinji’s told me how rough the piloting is.  I wouldn’t make anybody go through it if I could do it myself.”

 

            “So, it’ll be up to wonderboy and wondergirl to save the day.”  She moped as she stared back at the wall of alcohol.

 

            “I know you want a beer, but you’re not in Germany any more.  You can’t have a beer until you’re older.  Now close that door and come walk with me.”

 

            She slowly nodded her head and followed his instructions.

 

            They walked out of the store and down the street into a local park where small children were playing, oblivious to the danger of the angel.  Their parents were standing to the side nervously looking about, listening to hear the sirens that would cause them to take their children to safety.  Ranma led her over to a bench and told her to sit.  She sat down and stared at her feet.

 

            He sat heavily beside her.  He had watched the fire that burned in her and it reminded him of himself.  The outfit didn’t help.  He could almost see himself sixteen again in girl form.  Granted Asuka was a couple years younger than that, but the same burning desire was there.  He took a deep breath.  “Why do you pilot EVA?”

 

            She looked up, startled at the question.  “To be the best of course!”

 

            “The best at what?”

 

            She looked at him like he was crazy.  “The best at piloting, of course!”

 

            He shook his head.  “Nothing about saving the Earth or defending your loved ones?”

 

            Taken aback by the question, she turned an embarrassed look to the ground.  “Yeah, that stuff too.”

 

            “Don’t say things you don’t mean.  You’ll regret those words later.”  He looked up into the sky.  “I used to be like you.  I was determined to be the best martial artist in the world.  I fought a lot of battles and not always for the right reasons.”

 

            “You won all of them, right?” She asked hopefully.

 

            He turned a sad look to the young pilot.  She was startled at the weary expression he wore on his face.  This was not the face of the overconfident man she had been around the last three days.  This wasn’t the same man that argued with Misato until she or he dragged the other to the bedroom to keep her and Shinji up all night by making love at obscene volumes.  This was a man who had seen too much conflict, too much pain.  Suddenly she knew that he had more scars than the one on his chest.  He let out a heavy sigh.  “I always won when it counted.  Most the times when I fought to prove my own superiority, I lost.  I always had to fight them again to keep them from taking advantage of others by their win over me.  The whole cycle could have been avoided if I hadn’t of fought for the wrong reasons in the first place.”

 

            He lifted her face so that her eyes looked into his.  “Asuka, if you’re fighting for personal glory, stop now.  You’ll only get others killed and you’ll slowly kill yourself.”

 

            Tears started around her eyes.  “But, what else am I going to fight for?”

 

            “Fight for those you care about.  Fight to defend your family.”  He answered simply.

 

            She started to cry harder.  “M-my father left my mother and I a long time ago.  M-m-my mother killed herself on the day I found out I was going to be a pilot.  I-I-I was so happy to be chosen, that when I saw her I swore I would be the best there is.”  Her blurry eyes bored into the martial artist.  “I’ve got no family left!”

 

            Ranma smirked at her.  “How about if we give you a new family?”

 

            “You can’t just GIVE me a family.”  Her head dropped again.

 

            The martial artist’s face took on a seldom-used soft expression.  “Well, I just happen to know of a dysfunctional family that could use a daughter and a sister.”

 

            Asuka’s head snapped up.  “Who are you talking about?”

 

            “You’ve been living with them for three days now.  Me and Misato have raised Shinji more than his father ever did.  He’s as much our kid as his.  I don’t see why you can’t join us too.”

 

            “I-I don’t know.”  She looked back down in doubt.  “Shinji hates me.”

 

            “He doesn’t hate you, but you could be a little nicer though.”

 

            “Huh?” She looked at him with yet another surprised glance.

 

            “Yes.  I used to be like you.  I was horrible to others to try and push them away, but I came to care for them even as they cared for me.  The further you push people the harder it is to get closer.”

 

            “Thank you, captain obvious.”  She commented wryly.  “I still don’t know.”

 

            “Then think about this.”  He pointed at the children at play.  “See those kids playing out there, all happy and carefree.”

 

            She looked up.  “Yeah, what about them?”

 

            “Pilot for them.  Pilot the EVA to defend their happiness.  Defend their right to live without danger threatening them.  Help them to keep their smiles.  I’ll tell you this.  If I had been fighting to defend happiness, I would be a lot happier now.”

            Asuka nodded in understanding and stood up.  She got a smug look on her face.  “Aren’t you happy with Misato?”

 

            “Hey! This isn’t about me!”  He got defensive, and then started laughing when she started to crack along the edges of her expression.  “Come on.  You’ve got training to complete.”

 

            “Let’s go!”  She held up her hand with a fist in the air and then charge back toward the apartment.

 

            Ranma smiled after her and took one last look at the children.  “Fighting for happiness…man, I’m becoming a sap in my old age.”  He leapt up and bounced across a couple rooftops and started bounded up the wall of the apartment complex.  He was already back in and seated when Asuka came in the door.

 

            Shinji saw Asuka and bowed slightly to her.  “I’m sorry, for whatever I did.”

 

            “Come on, Third Child.  Stop groveling, it’s time to kick butt!”

 

            They both went back to their training with renewed vigor.  Two more days flew past with leaps in their progress.  On the eve of the angel attack, they were ready!

 

 

 

            It was the night before D-day and all through the house, not a creature was bitching, not even a louse.  Shinji was amazed how well Asuka and he were getting along these last two days.  She hummed as she came out of the restroom in her bedclothes. Shinji looked up and noticed that she was actually quite a beautiful young woman.  He was amazed at how sexy she looked.  He squashed that thought and cleared his throat.  “Misato and Ranma are going to be at headquarters all night.”

 

            “Really?”  She smiled at him with her cocky grin.  She went to grab her futon to haul it to her room, but stopped as she touched it.  They still had to do everything in synch if everything was to go well tomorrow.  She just lifted the blanket and climbed in.  Shinji quickly rolled over away from her.  “Shinji?”

 

            “Yes?”

 

            “Do you hate me?”

 

            His brow furrowed for a second.  “No.”  He replied in a confused tone.

 

            “Good.”  She turned over and went to sleep.

 

            Shinji rolled back over trying to see her face, trying to figure out what kind of game she was playing, but all he saw was her back as she slept peacefully on her side.  “Weird.”  He shook his head and rolled over to go to sleep himself.

 

 

 

            At that moment at NERV headquarters.  Kaji was in an elevator with Misato.  Currently he was standing behind her with one hand around her waist and the other holding one arm over their heads.  Obviously he had countered one of her slaps with a deep passionate kiss.

 

            “Stop!”  Misato finally pushed him away.  “It’s over between us!”

 

            He smiled his roguish grin that had won her heart in college.  “But your lips didn't say no.  Which should I trust, your lips or your words?”

 

            She slapped him across the face.  “Never do that again.  I’m in love with Ranma now.  There’s nothing more we have to say to each other.”

 

            “But has he said he loves you?”  He asked in a confident tone.  He had a very good idea of what the answer would be.

 

            “In not as many words.”  Misato replied.

 

            “How many less words can you get than three?  Three simple words.”

 

            She scowled at him.  “Well, you could never say those three words.” 

 

            The elevator opened to Ranma.  He saw the disheveled look of Misato and the handprint on Kaji’s face.  The martial artist’s face hardened into a look of pure hate.  He lifted his right hand and the palm began to glow.  Suddenly, Misato remembered what Ranma had done on his first day to Tokyo three.  He had used this power to pierce an AT field!

 

            “Stop!  Don’t kill him!”  Misato tried to pull his hand down to no avail.

 

            “Why?”  Ranma quizzed her with a cold voice.

 

            “My paperwork is still in the floor of the elevator.  I don’t want to have to redo those reports!”

 

            That wasn’t the response that Ranma was expecting.  He lowered his hand and looked her in the face with a confused glance.  His mistake.  He saw the smile on her face, and the anger bled away.  They both started laughing.

 

Meantime, Kaji had taken the opportunity to pick up the papers.  He handed them to Misato.  “I’m sorry, you’re right.  I’ll never touch you again.”  He stepped back into the elevator.

 

“You get a reprieve this time, you won’t be so lucky next time.”  Ranma growled.

 

Kaji smirked back at him.  “I’m always lucky.”  The doors shut cutting off any further conversation.

 

 

 

            The next day, Units One and Two were loaded onto the catapults, ready to rumble.  Misato looked at the two on the view screen with a proud look on her face.  Ranma stood at one side of the room, alternating between glaring at Kaji at the other side of the room and smiling at the children on the screen.

 

            Misato stood tall.  “Don’t forget to spread your AT fields as soon as the music starts.”

 

            Asuka smiled back.  “Don’t worry, we know.  Full power!  Maximum performance!  You got everything, Third Child?”

 

            “I’ve got everything, ‘Second Child’.  We’ll be done in sixty-two seconds.”

 

            Misato smiled at her two charges.  “All right.  EVA LAUNCH!”

 

            At her shout the two Evangelions were launched to the surface.  At the same instant the cats shot the robots upward, the music that the pair had been listening to all week began playing over all the P.A.S.  Ranma smiled his cocky grin in anticipation.

 

            The angel, one mass once more, was walking toward downtown Tokyo-3.  Just as it approached the two EVAs were launched into the air.  They each threw long energy blades that split the angel in half.  It quickly reformed into the two separate angels.

 

            The robots landed in front of the monster and delivered an uppercut followed by an axe kick.  The angels landed, righted themselves, and opened fire with energy beams at the EVA.  The pair leapt up and over the beams ala Saotome School leaping techniques.

 

            In the control room Kaji looked at Ranma.  “That wasn’t in the script.”  The martial artist just shrugged and smiled.

 

            The Evangelions landed to either side of the angels and double hammered them toward each other.  The original angel formed again.  The EVAs did a back flip to the top of a building and then leapt straight up in to the air.  They began to twist in the air on descent.  Both of the EVA’s feet impacted on the reformed angel’s core.  Striking both halves at once.  With a shower of sparks, the angel’s core exploded!

 

            Asuka’s and Shinji’s moves were in perfect unison.  They had danced to the music in a perfectly harmonized step.  They had done it.  Unit One stood over a knelling Unit Two.  The remains of the abomination’s corpse were laying flat below.  Unit One offered Unit Two a hand up.  The red Evangelion took the hand, even though it wasn’t really necessary.

 

            The two pilots maneuvered their robots back into the launch gantries for retraction.

 

            The command center became a roar as everyone cheered the overwhelming success.  Even Fuyutsuki cracked a smile.  Ranma saw Kaji and smiled from the other side of ops.  “I’ll let you live…for now.”  The other man just grinned that cocky smile of his.

 

 

 

            That night at the Saotome/Katsuragi/Ikari/Soryu residence, they decided to have small celebration.  Misato was getting blitzed and Ranma decided to have a beer as well.  The two children were chattering away.

 

            “It was all thanks to MY Unit Two that this victory was made possible!”  Asuka was bragging.

 

            “Hey!  You didn’t do it by yourself, you know!”  Shinji got up in her face.  “If I wasn’t there you would have been planted in the ground again!”

 

            “I would not have!”

 

            “Yes, you would!”

 

            “NOT!”

 

            “WOULD!”

 

            The situation just degenerated from there.  Both Ranma and Misato took long pulls of their drinks.  “Welcome to the family.”  Ranma commented in a low voice.

 

            Misato looked at him.  “What?”

 

            “Nothing.”