Chapter Two

“One Step Closer”

 

            Shinji was still staring at the sight on the floor mouth agape when an arm reached out, grabbed the boxers off the floor, and quickly retracted.  After a little bit the arm went out again and grabbed an undershirt.  A couple seconds later, Ranma came out, clad in the aforementioned boxers and undershirt.  He yawned and stretched.  After he opened his eyes, he saw Shinji staring back at him.  Ranma quickly went on the defensive.  “It’s not what you think!”  He waved his hands in front of himself in warding gestures.

 

            Shinji raised an eyebrow.  “So you didn’t have sex with Misato?”

 

            Ranma thought for a second.  “Okay, maybe it is what you think, but it’s not what it seems.”

 

            The boy shook his head, not believing that he would ever understand adults.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

            Ranma began to stretch out his muscles.  “It’s not like we care about each other or anything, in fact I hate her guts.  It was just a hormone thing.”

 

            If Shinji had been anything like the author of this fic, he would have said something like, “Yeah, she was moaning all night…” but since he isn’t, he just smacked his forehead and groaned.  “So what are you going to do about it?”

 

            Ranma smiled.  “Train and forget it.  Come on, get something you don’t mind getting sweaty and we’ll go outside and I’ll show you a few more things.  Maybe this time we won’t have any female interruptions.”

 

            Shinji couldn’t believe that a man could sleep with a woman and try to forget about it so easily.  “Okay.  Let me get changed.”

 

            Ranma nodded and realized that he needed to put some clothes on as well.

 

            They both changed and went out to practice.  About a half hour into their training, Misato finally woke up.  She stretched out and felt a little sore.  Like the proverbial ton of bricks, the memories of what she had done and whom she had done it with came back.  She drove her head into her pillow repeatedly.  “I CAN’T BELIEVE I SLEPT WITH THAT EGOTISICAL BASTARD!!!”  That and variations on that theme kept on coming from her mouth. 

 

After a little while her disposition calmed.  She got up and put on a t-shirt and shorts and walked to her window.  She looked down on the city and saw Ranma and Shinji training.  Shinji was sitting off to the side watching Ranma run through his katas.  His movements slowly hypnotized Misato.  She watched as he moved with grace that only came from years of training, the act of making impossible movements of the body look like child’s play or a simple dance.    She leaned over and rested her arm on the windowsill and then her chin on her hand.  Her eyes had a far away look to them.  She sighed softly and continued to watch.  Somewhere in the back of her mind she remembered that she was mad at him, but it was buried by another thought.  “I can’t believe I slept with him.”  She thought with a smirk on her face.

 

She glanced at the clock.  “Time to go to work.  Might as well gather the boys and get them moving too.  Shinji’s supposed to go back in for testing and I’m sure Ranma is supposed to be working.  Or at least he should be, the lazy, arrogant, little…” Her words trailed off as she got dressed.

 

Ranma was finishing up his warm-up katas when Misato walked out the front of the apartment complex.  He shook his head and started another.  “What do you want?”

 

She put her hands on her hips and glared at him.  “Shinji’s supposed to go back in for testing, and I’m sure you should be going to work too!”

 

The martial artist smirked.  “I’m really not supposed to report until Thursday.”

 

Misato crossed her arms and smirked.  “Today’s Friday, you idiot.  You and Shinji were out for three days.”

 

Ranma stopped in mid motion and fell to the ground.  After pulling himself off the concrete he glared at Misato.  “Why didn’t you tell me that YESTERDAY?!”

 

“It wasn’t important!”  Misato rolled her eyes.  “Shinji, why don’t you get a shower and get dressed.  The doctors want to make sure you’re okay.”  The boy nodded and headed to the house.”

 

Ranma snorted.  “He said he’s fine.  Why don’t you just leave him be?”

 

Misato walked up to Ranma and jabbed a finger in his chest.  “He suffered through a lot in that cockpit!  He could have cerebral damage or worse!  Not that an insensitive jerk like you would care about the welfare of someone else!”

 

Ranma’s face hardened, his hand shot out and grabbed hers, and squeezed hard.  “I’ve cared more than someone like you would ever know.”  He said evenly.  “Now, I have to get ready for work, so stay out of my way.”  He strode off toward the apartment.

 

Misato wandered what she had done to set him off so severely as she massaged her hand.

 

 

 

Despite the rough morning, Misato was in high spirits for most of the day.  She went through all her duties with a spring in her step and a tune on her mind.  The day seemed to breeze by.  She met Ritsuko in the afternoon.  They had already found no physical problems with Shinji and so they put him into the EVA training.  Currently he was firing at angels that popped up in the city.  In reality he and his EVA were in a room firing a light gun at precise coordinates fed to the simulation computer.

 

Ritsuko gave him some instructions.  “Shinji, just center the target in the crosshairs and pull the switch.”

 

Shinji just moped in the cockpit.  He didn’t want to be here, but he was the only hope for humanity.  Ranma had told him that no one else could do it.  “Center the target, pull the switch.”  He repeated as he squeezed off shots at the computer image.

 

Misato walked in humming a merry tune as she picked up Shinji’s evaluation reports.  She continued to hum as she flipped through the pages.

 

Ritsuko shook her head.  She couldn’t stand the overly cheery mood that Misato had been in all day, and, from going to college with the girl, she knew the source of the blatant cheer.  “So which one was it?”

 

Misato blinked and looked at Ritsuko like she was seeing her for the first time.  “Did you say something, Ritsuko?”

 

Ritsuko stifled a laugh.  “I asked, ‘which one was it’?”

 

The dark haired girl gave the blonde a confused look.  “What do you mean?”

 

Ritsuko went back to looking at the readouts with a knowing grin on her face.  “You took two boys home with you.  I was wandering which one you slept with last night.”

 

Misato was shocked.  “RITSUKO!  How can you even imply that I’d sleep with Shinji?!”

 

“So it was Ranma. I thought so.  So was he as good as he looks?”

 

The dark haired girl turned beet red and tried to find something interesting around the room to look at.  “Heh, heh…uh well…it’s not like were a couple or anything…it was just a fluke…”

 

Dr. Akagi had a sly smile on her lips as she stared at Misato.  “That’s not what I asked.”  Misato’s face went even redder.  “That good, huh?”

 

Misato took a deep breath and glanced quickly to the console.  “So how’s Shinji doing?  Any bad after effects from the first battle?”

 

Ritsuko decided to let her off easy…this time.  She looked back at her notes.  “No serious damage to his cerebellum.  Sync ratio is increased over the first experience, but not by much.  We should be able to turn him into a decent pilot in no time.”

 

Misato looked over the readouts, finally able to adopt a look of professionalism.  “How is he emotionally?  I was worried that he wouldn’t pilot again after the first time.”

 

“Apparently he just does what he’s told.”

 

Misato looked at the glum picture of Shinji that the cockpit camera was sending.  “Poor guy.  It’s probably how he gets through life, his own self-defense mechanism.”

 

They both watched Shinji go through his practice shots with looks of concern on their faces.  After a few minutes, the door burst open.  A smiling Ranma walked in, he looked over the displays at the cockpit pictures of Shinji and the computer composite of what the boy was seeing.  “So how’s our boy doing?”

 

Misato rolled her eyes and sighed.  “He’s doing all right.  There doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with him.”  She poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot at the back of the room and took a large drink.

 

Ritsuko smirked.  “How cute.  Do you two already think of Shinji as your son?”

 

Major Katsuragi spat her coffee all over Ranma.  He rolled his eyes.  “At least it wasn’t cold water.”  He mumbled under his breath.  “It’s not like that, Dr. Akagi.  I’m training him to be a fighter.  I’ve taken the responsibility of being his teacher.”

 

Misato snorted.  “Personal trainer more like it.”

 

Ranma gave her a stern look.  “You obviously know nothing about being a martial artist.”  He walked over to the control board.  “Where’s the mic on this thing?”  Dr. Akagi pointed it out, and he depressed the button to turn it on.  “Shinji!  What are you doing?”

 

From the display from the cockpit camera they saw Shinji shake himself out of the daze he had put himself in.  “I’m practicing.”

 

“Practicing like that will get you killed when you go to real battle!  Do you honestly think the angel is just going to let you stand there and shoot at it?  Move around!  A moving target is much harder to hit.  Practice like it’s real, or you’ll be killed.”

 

Shinji nodded and willed the EVA to move around the confined area of the training room.  He worked on increasing his speed on drawing a bead on the angel.

 

Ritsuko had an annoyed look on her face.  “That isn’t the stage where he needs to be, Mr. Saotome.  This is just weapons training.”

 

Ranma toggled the mic off and gave her a cold glare.  “If he trains right from the beginning he’ll have a lot better chance of surviving.  You get him dependent on waiting for the computer to find the target and he’ll die.  Nothing will happen to him while I’m here to prevent it.”  He toggled the mic back on.  “You’re doing good, Shinji.  Just remember that you’re fighting for the lives of everyone on the planet.  You can do it!”  He toggled it back to the off position and turned to Misato.  “Misato, I need to talk to you about something.”

 

Ritsuko laughed and headed toward the door.  “I’ll give you two some privacy.  Try not to leave a mess!”

 

Ranma and Misato glared at her.  “IT’S NOT LIKE THAT!!!”  They both yelled at once.

 

After fixing her hair, Misato turned to Ranma.  “So what did you need to talk to me about?”

 

Ranma held up his ID card.  “It’s about security.  I’m going to need an ID for my female side.  After all, I might come to work and not look like the handsome devil in this picture.”

 

Misato rolled her eyes.  “Okay, but I’d suggest keeping the curse to yourself for as long as possible.  People around here have a tendency to dissect freaks.”

 

Ranma snorted.  “Not likely to happen.  The curse always comes up…”  SPLASH!  “..at awkward times.”  She finished.

 

Ibuki Maya looked sheepish as she looked at what she had done.  She had only come up here with her glass of cold soda to check on Shinji’s sync ratio when she tripped over a ridge on the floor that she had never known was there.  “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”  She finally noticed what had happened to the martial artist.  “Y-You-You’re a…”

 

Onna-Ranma sighed.  “A woman, yes.  It’s called a curse.  Gimme that coffee Misato.”  She splashed him with the remainder of her cup.  An irritated, but male, Ranma glared back at her.  “I didn’t need it all over my clothes, you know.”

 

Misato waved.  “The end result was the same.”

 

Maya fainted.

 

Misato looked down at the poor technician.  “I know exactly how you feel, girl.  Give me a hand, Ranma.   Let’s take her to the infirmary.”

 

Ranma resisted the urge to clap and helped Misato carry Maya down the hall.

 

Meanwhile, oblivious to everything on the outside, Shinji trained hard.

 

 

 

That evening, they all arrived home from their day at NERV.  Shinji retired early from the exhaustion that he was feeling.  Ranma stretched out a little to relieve some of the tension in his muscles.  He had had to work over the entire security force to test all their skill and see what level they were.  Of course the side effect of showing them all who was boss was also a perk.  He loosened up and sat down on the couch.

 

After sitting there for a while, a penguin walked across the living room in front of him.  It looked like an ordinary penguin except for the fact that it had red eyebrows and a tag around its neck that read, ‘Pen2’.

 

Ranma leaned forward to the point that he was eye to eye with the creature.  “What the hell are you?”

 

“SQUAWK!”  Pen-Pen replied.

 

Ranma raised an eyebrow.  “You’re not an enemy from my past that fell into Jusenkyo and now you’re trying to kill me, are you?”  The penguin gave him a confused look.  “Just checking.”

 

Misato walked in dressed in a towel using a second to dry her hair.  “I see you met your other roomy.  This is Pen-Pen.  He’s one of the new warm water penguins.”

 

The martial artist gave her a, ‘yeah right’ look.  “Who ever heard of a warm water penguin?”  Said animal raised its wing.

 

Misato wrapped the towel around her head and went toward the kitchen.  “A lot of creatures became extinct after second impact.  The warm water penguins are one nature’s way of compensating for the loss and change in the environment.”  She reached into the refrigerator, pulled out a beer, and opened it.  “A lot of things have changed in a surprisingly short time frame.”  She took a generous swig.  She was going to go slow tonight.  There was no way she was going to let herself get as drunk as she did last night.  Although she could have sworn that she only had enough to get a pleasant buzz last night…  “I’m going to make some dinner.  Do you think I should wake Shinji?”

 

The raven-haired man laughed.  “I think he’d rather sleep than eat your cooking.  I know I would.”

 

She glared at him.  “Now listen here bucko.  I’m not going to let you insult me in my own home!”

 

He smirked at her.  “Like that’s going to stop me.”

 

Misato put her hands on her hips.  “Listen, I know that you’re just jealous that you can’t cook any better than I can!  You’re just a self-centered man that expects everything to be handed to you.  Now if you think you can do any better…”

 

Ranma cut her off mid tirade and walked past her to the kitchen.  He said nothing as he took out some vegetables from the fridge.

 

She looked at him with a questioning glance.  “Where did those come from?”

 

He rolled his eyes.  “You’re not the only one that can do some shopping.  I was determined not to let another woman kill me with her poor excuse for cooking.”

 

Misato could only stand there and gawk as Ranma tossed various vegetables into the air and chopped them with a blur of his knife.  The pieces landed nice and neatly into the bowl.  He prepared each component of the meal with an efficiency that astounded the towel-clad girl. 

 

Ranma turned to see her still standing there in disbelief.  “You know, you might want to close your mouth.  Something might fly in there.  You might also want to put some clothes on.  Dinner will be ready in a little bit.”

 

She clapped her mouth shut and turned dumbly to her room.  He chuckled after her.

 

After about half an hour, Misato came out in her yellow shirt with the sleeves rolled up and her cutoff jean shorts.  She took a long sniff of the air.  “Mmm!  That smells yummy!”

 

Ranma smirked and put the food on the table.  “So what does Pen-Pen eat?”

 

The penguin was squawking to the side trying to point at the food on the table.

 

Misato smiled.  “The same thing we do.  Just give him some food and a can of beer and he’ll be good.”  Pen-Pen nodded in agreement.

 

The martial artist’s face screwed into a looked of disbelief.  “You give beer to a PENGUIN?!”

 

She shrugged.  “So?”

 

“You don’t give alcohol to animals, you moron!!!”

 

Misato shoved past him to the refrigerator and pulled out a beer for her and the penguin.  “He’s done just fine before you came along.  Here, Pen-Pen.”  She sat the opened beer and a plate of food down for the penguin.  The penguin took a tentative taste of the food.  His eyes went wide and he started digging in with enthusiasm.

 

Ranma smiled at the display.  “Obviously he hasn’t had anything good to eat in a while.  He probably doesn’t need the beer to dumb down his taste buds like he did with your ‘cooking’.”

 

Misato sat down at the table grumbling.  “How good could it be?”  She took a bite and her eyes lit up.  “This is great!”

 

The martial artist sat down, brushing some hair out of his eyes.  “Told you.  Jealous indeed.”  He picked up his chopsticks and started laying waste to the food on the table.  In short order he had eaten everything in front of him.  He was considerate enough to leave Misato’s plate alone.

 

The NERV Captain’s jaw unhinged again as she sat there in opened mouth disbelief.

 

Ranma wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his uniform shirt.   “Now that’s home cooking!”

 

Misato grumbled and finished off her meal.  She had to admit, it was a lot better than she could ever make.  “So he can cook.”  She thought to herself.  “No big deal.”

 

The martial artist couldn’t simply let sleeping dogs lie.  “Yep, much better than anything that a brainless idiot like yourself could ever hope to make.”

 

Misato’s eyebrow started to twitch.  “DIE!!!”  She jumped across the table and knocked him to the ground, choking him.

 

Ranma shot his arms between hers and knocked her hands off his throat.  “You’ll have to do better than that.”

 

“You jerk!”  She took a swing at him.

 

They started trading blows as the rolled around on the floor.  Ranma rolled on top and then forward, over Misato’s head.  He rolled back to a standing position and laughed.  She got up off the floor and slapped him.  “You insensitive, egotistical…”

 

“Brainless, stupid, fat…”

 

The two continued to trade verbal blows until Misato jumped on him and started kissing him.  In an instant their animosity turned to passion, just like the night before.  Also like the night before, they made their way to Misato’s bed, shedding clothes the whole way.

 

The next morning Ranma awoke, looked to his left and saw a nude Misato cuddled up to him.  He rolled his head back to stare at the ceiling.  “Shit.”

 

 

 

The next three weeks proceeded much the same way.  One of them would start a fight and they’d always end up in bed together.  Ranma always awoke an hour before Misato and grabbed Shinji for morning training.  Shinji started school toward the end of the week.

 

Shinji was having a tough time.  He was in a new school full of strangers and no one was really interested in talking with him.  Occasionally he’d look over and watch Ayanami Rei as she gazed out the window.  She still had bandages on her head; one covering her left eye; and her right arm was in a cast.  She’d sit there hours on end staring out the window, completely non-responsive to the world around her.  Shinji was staring at her again when the laptop in front of him beeped.  A message scrolled across the screen.  “Do you pilot the robot? Y/N”

 

Shinji looked around to try to find the source of the message.  He saw three girls at the back of the classroom crowding around a terminal.  One of them waved and the message repeated itself on his screen.  He slowly typed in Y-E-S.

 

“WHAT?!?!?”  Came the immediate response from the classroom around him.  They all crowded him, asking questions about the EVA and how he came to pilot it.  He tried to fend off the questions the best he could without giving away any major secrets.

 

All the class was around him except for three exceptions.  One was the class representative that was trying to get everyone back in his or her seats.  Two was Rei, who was staring out the window, showing no interest at all.  Finally was a tall boy at the back of the room with close-shaven jet-black hair.  The boy Suzuhara Toji just sat and stewed at the newcomer.

 

After class Shinji was knocked to the ground.  Toji and his bespectacled friend Aida Kensuke stood over the fallen Shinji.  The larger boy cracked his knuckles.  “Sorry newcomer, but I had to clobber you.  Because of you I’ve had to spend the last week at the hospital taking care of my little sister.  She was hurt while you were taking a joy ride in your giant toy.  Now that honor is served, you can go.”

 

Shinji got back to his feet.  “I didn’t want to do it!  I was forced into it!  I had no CHOICE!”

 

Toji turned back punched Shinji again, sending the smaller boy flying.  He bounced a couple times before settling to the ground.

 

“Real big man there, aren’t you?”

 

Toji turned to see a man in his mid-thirties crouching on the top of the fence of the schoolyard.  He was wearing a gray NERV uniform, and his hair was parted down the middle and hung forward enough to cover his face in shadows so only the afternoon sunlight reflecting off his eyes was seen.  Toji was a little intimidated.  “W-what do you want?”

 

The man kicked off the fence and flew through the air, turned a somersault and landed, standing directly in front of the boy.  “A real big man you are, picking on the weak.  Why don’t you try something more your size?”  He glared at the boy who took a step back.  “Did you ever stop to think about your actions?”

 

“W-what?”

 

“Did you ever stop to think about what you’re doing, boy?”

 

Shinji was amazed that anyone could make the term for a young male sound so derogatory.  Never in all the time he had known Ranma had he called Shinji that.  He always called him by his given name.  Now he called this bully ‘boy’ and it sounded worse than any of the insults he had thrown at Misato.

 

Toji took another step back.  “W-what are you going to do?  Beat me up?”  His voice seemed to crack with the last sentence.

 

Ranma stepped forward.  “No.  I’m not a bully who picks on the weak to make himself feel better.  I’m not a man who takes out his frustration on people who have no ability to fight back…yet.”

 

“Y-yet?  Yet as in you are going to beat me up, or yet as in the newcomer could beat me up?”

 

Ranma smiled an evil grin.  “You’ll find out.  Now what would your parents think about you picking on scrawny little kids?”

 

Toji’s expression fell.  “My mom and step-father wouldn’t like it.  I never knew my real father.”

 

Ranma saw the sad expression on his face.  “So why did you punch him?”

 

The boy looked down.  “He hurt my sister.  She may only be my half-sister, but I still love her like she was a real sister.  A part of a building hit her in the explosion and crushed her.  She’s been in the hospital ever since.”

 

Ranma’s expression hardened again.  “So did you think that beating up Shinji would make your sister heal faster?”

 

“N-no.  I just had to do something.”

 

Ranma knelt down to eye level with the boy.  “Back to my original question, did you ever stop to think about your actions?”  He said it a little softer than before.

 

“N-no.  I guess not.”

 

Ranma narrowed his eyes.  “Then think about this.  By hurting your sister, Shinji saved her life.  He saved her, you, Tokyo-3, and quite possibly the entire world; and you’re thanking him with a fist to the face?”  Toji’s shoulders fell.  “Now go to the shelters and think about what I’ve said.”

 

The boy looked up at him.  “Shelters?  Why not home?”

 

“Because another angel is on its way.  You all need to get to safety before someone else’s little sister gets caught in the battle.  Now go!”

 

Toji grabbed Aida and started running away.  The brown haired boy with glasses just waved as he was being dragged away.  “Sorry about all this!  He’s usually not a bad guy!”

 

Ranma turned back to Shinji.  “It’s time to go, Shinji.  Misato and the others are waiting.”

 

Shinji rolled over and sat up.  “Do I have to?”

 

The martial artist knelt in front of him.  “You could always refuse, but that would cost many lives.  I’m asking you to do this as a fellow martial artist.  I’d do it myself if I could.”

 

“I’m not a martial artist!  I’m just a weakling!”

 

Ranma slapped him.  “What have we been doing every morning for the past three weeks?”

 

“Practicing?”

 

“Practicing what?”

 

“Martial arts?”

 

“Exactly.  That makes you a martial artist.  It’s a martial artist’s duty to protect those that are weaker, to protect those who cannot protect themselves.  Now, I’ve tried.  I tried and failed.  I don’t have the power to do this, but you do.  You have the power to stop these angels.  I’ve done and I’ll continue to do everything within my power to help you.  It’s still your choice Shinji, but I would really encourage you to protect the people of this city.”

 

Shinji nodded.  “I understand.”  He pulled out his cell phone.  “They haven’t called yet.  How do you know an angel is coming?”

 

Ranma looked toward the bay.  “I can feel it coming.  It’s giving off enough chi to light up Tokyo-3.  It’s even stronger than the last.”

 

“Chi?”

 

“Life energy, the living power that every living thing radiates.  The more you learn what to look for, the better you can see it.  Also, the stronger you are the more you radiate.  Here’s an example of what you can do when you become a strong enough martial artist.”  He held out his hand, and a small ball of blue energy formed in it.    “This is chi. When you’re in your EVA you give off enough chi to match the angel’s.  The fools in the science section call it an ‘AT Field’.  I know exactly what it is, and it’s not some man-made power.  It’s the power of life.  It’s time to use that power Shinji.”

 

Shinji nodded and his phone went off.  A slight figure stepped around the building.  The blue-haired, red eyed, Ayanami Rei stepped forward.  “There’s an emergency.  We’re being called back to headquarters.  I’ll go ahead.”  She turned and fled.

 

Ranma held out his hand.  “Come on.  It’s time to shine.”

 

Shinji took his hand and stood up.  They both turned and ran toward NERV just as the city’s alarms were going off.

 

 

 

Several minutes later, after seeing Shinji to the entry plug, Ranma walked into ops.  “It’s out on the bay.  How long until it gets here?”

 

Gendou scowled from under his bridged hands, and Fuyutsuki narrowed his eyes.

 

Misato turned to face the martial artist.  “What are you doing here?  You’re not authorized to be here!”

 

Ranma scowled at her.  “I think I have a personal stake in this.  He’s my student and I’m going to be here for him.”

 

Ritsuko shook her head.  “We don’t have time for this!  The angel is getting closer.”

 

Misato turned around and her expression became all business.  “EVA LAUNCH!”

 

The catapults sparked at EVA 01 shot up through the shafts toward the surface.

 

 

 

Through the water of Tokyo-3 bay, the angel glided through the obstacle course of sunken buildings that used to make up the old city.  It looked like an elongated manta ray with a large red ball in its chest.

 

 

 

At the shelters, Toji sat around while Aida looked through his camera/TV.  The only thing he picked up was a ‘National Emergency’ message.  “Censorship!  I knew it!  They never let us know what’s really going on!  I wish I could see the battle!”

 

Toji rolled his eyes.  “No you don’t.  You’d just get yourself killed.”

 

“Don’t you want to see what’ll happen?  I mean you could have really shaken the new kid really bad.  He might not be able to fight because of you.”

 

Toji gulped.  “I guess you have a point, but I still don’t think it’s safe.”  Aida gave him a pleading look.  “Okay, okay!  We’ll go.  We just have to give the class rep an excuse.”

 

They stood up and walked over to the class rep, Horaki Hikari.  Toji pointed over his shoulder.  “Hey, class rep, Aida and I need to use the bathroom.”

 

She scowled at him.  “You were supposed to go before you came here!”

 

“But we were here so long before everyone else!  It’s been too long since we went last.”

 

She shook her head.  “Why were you guys here so early?  The alarms hadn’t even started going off.”

 

“Some guy from NERV told us to get moving, so we did.”

 

She shrugged.  “Okay.  Just hurry back.”

 

“Sure thing!”  They chimed in, left the room, and made their way to the shelter doors.

 

They made their way away from the shelter and into the woods on the mountainside around the doors.  They were in time to see the mountain open and an Evangelion unit rise from the Earth.  Aida pulled up his camera and started taking footage.  “COOL!!!”

 

The bay erupted as the angel broke the surface.  Shinji brought his rifle to bear.  “Center the target, pull the switch.”  He opened fire, doing minimal damage to the target.

 

“MOVE!!!”  Ranma’s voice came over the communications array.

 

Without thinking, Shinji jumped out of the way, dropping his rifle in the process.  A flat ribbon of energy shot out from the monster and severed the rifle in two.  If Shinji had been a second slower, it would have been him.

 

The angel attacked again, Shinji was on the defensive, dodging the repeated stabs of energy ribbons from the angel.  The EVA unit rolled and found it’s back against the mountain where the two spectators were watching.  The robot’s hand came down and barely missed them.

 

Misato saw the profiles of the boys come up on her readout.  “Those are Shinji’s classmates out there.  We’ve got to get them to safety.”

 

Ranma raised an eyebrow.  “How do you propose we do that?”

 

“We’ll have to let them into the entry plug.”

 

Dr. Akagi looked at her like she was mad.  “Are you kidding?  That’ll kill the synchronization between Shinji and the EVA!”

 

“We can pull Shinji in and get them to safety and send him out again.  No problem.”

 

Ranma shook his head.  “Couldn’t Shinji just carry them back?”

 

Misato scowled at him.  “Not everyone can take the gees of the boom tube like you can, idiot.  They’d be squashed!”

 

“Good point.”

 

The Captain scowled and pressed the intercom button on the console.  “Shinji, we’re going to open up the entry plug.  Bring those two into the entry plug and get back to the launch gantry.  Understand?”

 

“Yes, Misato.”  The boy chirped back.

 

Outside on the battlefield, the back of the EVA opened up and the entry plug came out.  Shinji yelled for the two boys to join him in the plug.  It was crowded in the entry plug, but Shinji was still able to control the robot.  The blue EVA turned just as the angel had come within striking distance again.  A ribbon of energy shot out once more and barely missed beheading the robot, thanks to Shinji’s quick piloting.

 

“Get back to the gantry!”  Misato yelled.

 

Another energy ribbon just missed hitting the EVA.  Toji shook his shoulder.  “Come on, new kid!  We’ve got to get moving!”

 

The angel shot out another ribbon and severed the power cable to the EVA.

 

Shinji clenched his fists.  “I mustn’t run away!  I mustn’t run away!  I mustn’t run away!”  He repeated in his mind.  Finally, he seemed to snap.  “AAAAAHHHHH!”  He jammed down on a button on the console.

 

“Progressive knife engaged!  Power cable’s been disconnected.  Only five minutes left of power!”  Maya announced.  She blushed a little as she turned to see Ranma.

 

“WHAT IS HE DOING?!?!?!”  Misato shouted.

 

Ranma grinned.  “He’s fighting.”

 

Gendou couldn’t help but smile as well.

 

The EVA pulled its vibrating blade from its casing on the robot’s shoulder.  The angel lanced out with another energy ribbon.  Shinji caught ribbon and pulled the angel forward.  The robot thrust its knife into the angel’s core with both hands.  The boy in the cockpit continued to scream his battle cry as pushed harder on his control stick.

 

The minutes ticked away as the angel writhed on the blade of the Progressive Knife.  Sparks flew from the core as it was cleaved in two.  When five minutes had passed, the angel and EVA were both silent.

 

Misato slammed a fist on the console.  “Get crew out there to collect the EVA. Get Shinji back to the debriefing room.  I’m going to have a few words with him!”  She turned on her heels and stormed off toward the door.

 

Ranma turned and followed her out.  “What are you doing?  Are you going to yell at him for doing his job?”

 

Misato turned around and got in his face.  “He disobeyed orders!  He has to remember that I am his commanding officer!  The decisions I make are what’s best for him!  What if that hadn’t worked?  What if having those two kids in there had caused the EVA to lock up?  The odds of him actually pulling that off were too low!  Do you understand?!”

 

Ranma took a half step back.  “I understand, but still, shouldn’t you cool down before talking to him.  You might push him away by yelling at him.”

 

She took a deep breath and backed away.  “You have a point, but I still need to talk to him about taking orders.”

 

“Okay, just don’t get carried away.”

 

Sometime later Misato and Ranma walked in to the debriefing room.  It looked like a dark cell with the NERV logo on the wall.  Misato stepped forward with her arms crossed while Ranma stayed back and leaned against the doorjamb.  The captain stepped forward.  “What do you have to say for yourself?  Do you know how much trouble your in?”

 

“Yes.”  Shinji was still in his blue skintight plug suit, staring at the ground.

 

“Do you remember who your superior officer is?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“So you know that you should follow all my orders.”

 

“Yes.”  Shinji’s answers were starting to have some sarcasm in them.

 

“Don’t ever disobey me like that again!”

 

“Yes.”

 

Misato pointed her finger at the boy.  “Don’t think that you can get out of this by agreeing with everything I say.  What have you got to say for yourself?  You could have gotten yourself and those two boys killed!”

 

Shinji sighed.  “I know.  Look, I beat the angel.  That’s all that matters isn’t it?”

 

Misato scowled.  “That’s not the point!  You have to follow my orders Shinji!  I’m telling you what to do that’s in your best interest!”

 

“Yes.”

 

“OH!”  Misato huffed up and turned toward the door.  “Just get dressed and come home.  This isn’t over mister!”  She stormed off.

 

Ranma watched her go and turned a smile to Shinji.  “By the way, Shinji…Good job, kid.”  He gave the boy a thumb’s up and kicked off the wall to follow Misato.

 

Shinji just smiled as Ranma left and the door shut.

 

 

 

Later that night, after Ranma and Misato had gone to bed AND fallen asleep, Shinji packed a small bag and walked out of the apartment.  He managed to get a couple blocks away from the apartment building before he heard Ranma’s voice over his shoulder.  “Where you going, Shinji?”

 

Shinji turned in surprise to see Ranma leaning against a wall.  “How’d…?

 

Ranma shook his head.  “I can sense chi remember, even yours.  I lost feeling of you and it woke me up.  I thought you were in danger, little did I know you were running away.  Now you’re disobeying my orders.”

 

The boy’s shoulder’s fell.  “I keep letting people down.  If I keep going this way, I’ll kill someone.  I never wanted any of this.  I just wanted to be left alone.  It’s horrible in that cockpit.  The fluid smells like blood and the pain from the angels is nearly unbearable.  I don’t think I can do it.”

 

The martial artist put a hand on his shoulder.  “Why not?  What makes you think you can’t succeed?”

 

Shinji was almost in tears.  “Because!  I’m a weakling, and a coward, and a sneak, and a cheat…” He started rattling off many other demeaning self-accusations.

 

Ranma slapped him, for the second time that day.  This one sent the boy reeling and falling on his rear end.  He just looked a little stunned at Ranma as he rubbed his cheek.

 

The man got down in the boy’s face.  “Now you listen here, Shinji!  You are not any of those things, and I never want to hear any of that crap coming out of your mouth ever again!  Do I make myself clear?!”  Shinji dumbly nodded.  “Why would you ever think anything like that?!”

 

“If I’m not all those things, then why would my father send me away?”

 

Ranma hauled Shinji up to his feet by the front of his shirt.  “Now you listen to me, your father is a FOOL!  Your father is the one that all those insults described.  He’s the one who is the coward and sneak!  You are a man with worth that has the power to save the Earth!  You are worth something Shinji!  When you believe that, then there will be nothing you can’t do!  Understand?”

 

Shinji nodded.  “Yes, sir.”

 

Ranma let go of the front of his shirt.  “Now what say we do something to take our minds off this whole angel business?  We’re already outside and you’re already packed, what say we go for a camping trip?”

 

“Won’t Misato be worried?”

 

“We’ll be back in the morning, she’ll be okay.”  He put his arm around the boy and headed toward the forest.  “An overnight campout is what the doctor ordered.  I’ll show you how me and pops used to camp out when we were on our training journeys…”

 

 

 

The next morning, Misato awoke to an empty bed.  That she was used to.  The sounds of training coming from outside being missing, that she wasn’t used to.  She jumped up and saw that there was no trace of Ranma or Shinji.  She looked at the clock and saw that it was well into the afternoon.  She didn’t have to be at work until late, but still.  Her usual alarm clock wasn’t there.  She went and knocked on Shinji’s door, no answer.  She opened the door and saw the note on the table.  She read it and collapsed on the floor.  “Oh no.  He’s run away.”

 

The doorbell went off and she opened the door to Kensuke and Toji.  They were both awestruck by Misato’s beauty.  Toji managed to interrupt his drooling to talk.  “Uh, Shinji wasn’t at school today.  So we’re here to bring him his homework assignments.  I, uh, also came to apologize to him.”

 

Misato jammed Shinji’s note into her pocket.  “Well, uh, Shinji’s in testing now, he’ll probably be back later, okay?  Okay.”  “Shinji, you idiot.”  She thought.  “You have two guys willing to be your friends and you’ve run away.”

 

“Hey, I guess testing is over, eh?”

 

Misato looked up to see a smiling Shinji and Ranma.  Ranma continued talking.  “We just had an overnight campout, something to take our minds off of things.  So what are you kids doing here?”

 

Kensuke gave Shinji a stack of papers.  “We brought your homework, and…”  He elbowed Toji.

 

The taller boy bowed.  “I came to say I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have hit you.  We saw how hard piloting was on you, and we understand how you feel.”

 

Shinji smiled.  “Thanks guys.”

 

Kensuke chuckled to the side.  “Yeah, you should have seen it.  Toji’s sister chewed him out for hitting you.  It was hilarious!  She said basically the same thing that Ranma told him about you saving her life and the rest of the city.  It was really embarrassing being chewed out by a second-grader.”

 

“Hey!”  Toji shouted, his face turning red.

 

Ranma smiled at the trio.  “Why don’t you guys run along and hit the arcade or something? Go have some fun.”  Ranma handed Shinji some yen.  “Go enjoy yourself.”

 

The boys nodded and ran off from the apartment.  Misato smiled at Ranma.  “I thought we had lost him.  I found this on his bed.”  She handed him the note.

 

Ranma read over the note.  “Not to worry.  He knows where his home is, his role here, and apparently he has some new friends to help him out.”

 

Misato nodded her head.  “From what I heard you have the intelligence of a second grader.”

 

He turned to her.  “What the?”

 

“Kensuke said that Toji’s little sister gave him the same speech you did.  I kind of thought that’s as far as your intelligence went.”

 

Ranma tensed up.  “What the hell?  You stupid, idiot!  I just kept Shinji from running away!”

 

Misato stepped up into his face.  “You want to take this inside mister?!”

 

He grabbed her arm and drug her into the apartment, slamming the door shut.  “You bet, you sexless tomboy!”

 

“Sexless am I?”  She grabbed his head and hauled him in for a kiss.

 

“And you can’t kiss worth a damn either!”  He said once he recovered his breath.

 

Things proceeded from there to the inevitable conclusion…all according to Misato’s plan.