Part 1: Survival of the Fittest

Survivors | By: | Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama | Rating: M | Series: Evangelion | Status: Complete | Summary:

A seemingly routine mission to Germany goes horribly wrong, resulting in a very different end to the Evangelion story. Violence, language, and romantic/sexual elements. Pretty heavily skewed towards Shinji/Hikari. Completed in November of 2002.

Disclaimer: 

Disclaimer: Evangelion is owned solely by Gainax animation and not me. I will gladly remove this story from the Net and delete it from my hard drive rather than face legal action from them.

Shinji Ikari raised the heavy pistol to eye level and carefully edged around the corner of the door. He sighed, "I think we're ok for now..."

He turned to look at his shivering companion, Hikari Horaki, "Are... you sure?" She whispered, her eyes wide. Since this ordeal had begun, Hikari had been stoic and downright courageous... but the strain was starting to get to her - as was the presence of the dead body in the room.

Shinji looked at her steadily, "I said I would protect you, didn't I?" he said softly, "Come on... let's go." He held his hand out to her, "Don't look!" he commanded as her eyes tried to go to the dead man. In a quieter tone, he said, "Hikari... it's not your fault... you had to..." This was the fifth time in the last twenty minutes he had told her this.

Hikari met his eyes, "I... I didn't want to..." and this was her standard reply.

The gun still lay where she had dropped it (like it was electrified) after, -After I killed him...- she thought, trying to keep from bursting into tears.

Shinji set down the huge chrome thing he was carrying (found when he had searched the man... confusing him no end, -Why didn't he just use this?- he had thought at the time), and put both of his hands on her shoulders, "You had to..." he said firmly, "I would have been killed."

She had managed to pull the trigger three times before dropping it with a pained cry. The third had saved his life, taking the man in the temple and flinging him off of Shinji - whom he had been strangling.

"Come on... you'll feel better once we're away from here..." he said gently, pulling on her hand to get her moving. - At least... I hope she will...- he thought grimly. He was afraid that the kickback from the high-caliber pistol may have fractured her wrist... but he had no way to know for sure, he hadn't gotten to First Aid training yet.

They cautiously stepped out of the dilapidated building they had been hiding in when the man had found them and attacked, trying to choke the life from Shinji after slapping Hikari to the ground.

"What about the rest of them?" Hikari asked nervously, pressing up against his back, "Won't they come looking for him?"

Shinji frowned, "I don't know... probably. That's why we have to get out of here as soon as possible." He gestured with the gun, "I think if we can make it into the woods over there we can hide until morning... hopefully by then Misato will be able to track down the beacon in my plugsuit and get us out of here."

As they moved towards the forest, he thought back to how they'd ended up here in the first place...

"This is NeoPath Six-zero-five, calling Metro, come back" Shinji could hear the pilot radio in for a weather report over the huge transport ship's internal speakers.

-Why do we have to hear that?- he wondered idly, -Not like it means anything to us...-

"NeoPath, this is Metro, we've got you..." the response came back, causing Shinji to wince at the static, "looks like you've got an electrical storm between you and the City of Gold, captain... but command says the ship can take it, so go through..." there was a slight pause, "sorry..."

"Not your fault, Metro," the pilot sighed, "we'll get there... she's a tough bird. NeoPath out."

Shinji glanced at the other passenger and looked quickly away. Hikari was a pretty girl, and Shinji had even occasionally thought about what it would be like to be able to talk to her - or maybe even ask her out... but he knew she would never see anything in him

He had looked away because he had found her deep brown eyes staring at him thoughtfully... and her scrutiny made him nervous. To break the tension (the tension he felt, anyway) he said, "So... uh... we'll be there in an hour or so..."

She blinked, "Yeah... I guess so." She really didn't know what to say. Though she went to school with him every day, and was friends with his fellow pilot, she didn't know the quiet pilot of Unit 01 that well... and felt a little edgy around him. He seemed like a calm enough person, but she had heard Touji and Kensuke recount his fight with the fourth angel numerous times, so she knew he COULD be violent.

Shinji gave up trying to start a conversation with her, as she obviously wasn't feeling talkative, and thought instead of the (in his opinion, flawed) reason she was there - namely a certain other EVA pilot, Hikari's friend Asuka Langley Souryu.

Shinji could still hear Asuka's voice whining, 'Oh come ON Misato! I may never get to go to Germany again, PLEEEEEASE let me bring Hikari, I want to show her my old house... please?'

Misato had been hesitant - and rightly so, it WAS a military mission after all. Asuka had seen her reluctance and shifted to a logical attack so fast that it made Shinji's head spin, 'You said yourself that this was just a milk-run mission,' she pointed out in a reasonable voice, 'what's the big deal?'

Shinji had been stunned when Misato had accepted the girl's argument, but for the life of him he could NOT understand why she had chosen to put the brown-haired girl on the carrier with him instead of the one carrying Unit 02 and Asuka.

He would not get the chance to ask her until much later.

As they entered the cloudbank, the plane was buffeted, making Shinji glad for the X shaped harness securing him.

Hikari looked downright ill.

"I... have some motion sickness pills..." he said quietly, blushing, "if you want them."

She nodded gratefully, "Thank you..."

He unbuckled himself and went to the emergency preparedness kit stowed by Unit 01's entry plug. As he handed her the small bottle, the plane shook, throwing him against her. His face was only inches from hers.

"S-Sorry..." he whispered, getting hastily off of her. As he tried to right himself, the plane shook once more, harder this time... and alarms began sounding.

The speakers boomed to life again, "This is NeoPath six-zero-five, Mayday! Mayday! Have been fired on, repeat, HAVE BEEN FIRED ON! Damage to engines one, five, and eight! Cannot, repeat, CANNOT maintain altitude, preparing for crash-landing!"

Shinji felt the plane dip into a sharp dive, -Think... THINK!!- His training (limited though it was) took over, "Parachutes!" he said, "Hikari, come on!"

She looked at him, dazed, "Shinji? What's happening?" He almost froze as he realized she was on the verge of passing out from fear.

"Hikari!" he grabbed her buckle, unsnapping it, "We have to get off the plane! It's going down."

Her eyes met his, "Down? Going down?" She screamed suddenly, piercing his ears with her shrillness, "NO!!!"

He winced, "Hikari... look at me, LOOK AT ME!!" Once he had her attention he said, "Stay with me... I won't let you get hurt, do you understand? I'll protect you... ok?"

"You will?" The look of gratitude on her face was pathetic... and it made Shinji want to cry.

"Yes." he said, without pausing to consider just HOW he was going to protect her... or himself, for that matter. He knew that she needed him though, and he was going to do his best to help her. "Now let's get some parachutes on, ok?"

"Ok..." she agreed, finally focusing on him. To his relief, her eyes cleared, "Yeah... yeah! Let's get out of here!" She got up and moved quickly to where the parachutes were kept and grabbed one, thinking as she slipped it on, -Asuka was wrong about him... he's not weak - not at all!-

Shinji caught the backpack she threw to him and donned it quickly, "Grab a survival pack, too!" he called as he snapped the pack in place.

She nodded, grabbing one of the red packs, "Let's go!"

She moved towards the hatch and prepared to open it when Shinji yelled, "Wait!" He ran to Unit 01's entry plug and tapped a long sequence of keys on the access panel, "There!" he said triumphantly as he was rewarded with a series of beeps. The plug spun through the fuselage of the plane and into the giant mecha, and Hikari heard a loud whirring sound... then the plane lurched.

"What did you do?" She asked as he ran over to her and grabbed the hatch's handles.

"I let her go..." Shinji said, bracing himself and twisting sharply to the left.

Before she could ask what he meant, the hatch popped open and they dove out of the plane... and the earth was rushing up to meet them...

**

On the ground, a group of twenty men watched as the purple mecha detached itself from the huge plane and began a graceless decent to the ground.

"DAMN!" the leader said, "You," he pointed at a rough group of ten men, "go to the plane... make sure no one made it." He turned to the rest of the bunch, "The rest of you, with me..." he smiled broadly, "let's go get our prize..."

They cheered as they mounted their various vehicles and headed towards the downed EVA.

**

They had made it to the woods without incident, and Shinji had started a small fire to keep them warm... trying his best to conceal it so the light was not too obvious.

Hikari shivered, "It's... cold." She said, hugging herself, "I've never... never been cold before."

He looked down at his plugsuit, "Hang on..." he took the survival bag and headed towards the woods, "I'll be right back, don't worry... just like last time." He assured her as she rose, looking nervous. A moment later he reappeared, wearing a simple khaki jumpsuit, "Here..." he said, blushing deeply, "it will keep you warm, it's designed to." She tried to protest, but he thrust the plugsuit at her, "Please," he said, begging her with his eyes, "please let me protect you..."

She nodded finally, "Will it fit me?" she wondered, taking the white and blue suit.

"It... form-fits..." he whispered, then blushed deeper, "but you can't, umm... you can't wear your... your underclothes... with it..." He felt vaguely ill... but not necessarily in a bad way.

She nodded, turning a similar shade of red, and went off into the woods... but not so far that she couldn't see the fire's small glow.

When she returned, Shinji bit back a gasp. His plugsuit had been designed for a male pilot, and while it fit her... it left nothing to the imagination. "Put your shirt on over it..." he whispered, "it'll... help block the wind..." he averted his eyes, hoping she had not seen him admiring her... but he kept shooting tiny glances her way.

Hikari was oblivious to the boy's discomfort as she marveled over the suit itself, "No..." she said absently running her hands over her hips and sides (much to Shinji's chagrin), "this should be fine..." -I can't believe how COMFORTABLE this thing is!- she thought, smiling, -it's so light, it's like I'm wearing nothing at...- Her thought cut off abruptly as she looked down at her clearly visible body, and then at Shinji's beet-red face.

She put her shirt on quickly.

"So," she said, trying to change the subject as quickly as possible, "what's for dinner?"

He smiled thankfully, "Well," he said holding up two cans, "you get your choice... canned, dried beef - or canned, dried chicken."

She frowned in mock-contemplation, resting her chin on her palm and tapping her forefinger on her lips, "Hmmm..." she said, closing one eye and assessing the cans carefully, "I think I'll take... chicken."

"A fine selection, madam, the chicken is excellent... tastes just like chicken." He tried a smile on her as he handed her one of the cans and a plastic fork, trying not to stare at her as he did so. She blushed faintly, trying to ignore his eyes as they kept traveling to hers, then shooting away. They ate quietly, both famished and finding that they had nothing really to talk about. When they were done, Hikari reached up and touched her hair, frowning.

"Damn," she whispered, pulling a broken rubber band out of her hair, "I don't suppose there are any hair clips in the survival kit, are there?" She waved her hand as he began searching, "Oh stop! You know just as well as I do that there aren't!"

She stopped berating him abruptly as he dropped the bag with a muttered apology, coming to a realization. - That's it,- she thought as she studied his downcast face, -Asuka's always talking about how he's doing stupid things...- to her, looking in a survival kit for hair clips was VERY stupid, -but just now he was trying to be helpful. I wonder how many other 'stupid' things like that he does for her in a day... I wonder if she even sees it?-

He interrupted her thoughts quietly, "Umm... do you want me to braid it... for you...?" he asked hesitantly.

She pulled the other rubber band out, looking at him out of the corner of her eye, "How is it that you know how to braid hair?" she asked curiously, suspecting the answer even as she asked the question.

He blushed, "I... Asuka makes me do it sometimes..."

Hikari figured that he didn't really need to be forced into it... he seemed so eager to please that she suspected he would go find a hive of bees and get stung a dozen times if she said honey sounded like a good idea for the toast. "Ok..." she said quietly, "just... be careful, alright? My hair is all tangled up..."

He nodded and walked over to where she was, sitting down on the log she was leaning against. "I'll be careful..." he promised.

She frowned, his words echoing in her mind... reminding her of the catastrophic descent and what came immediately afterwards...

Air... rushing past them... ripping the breath from their lungs and making their eyes tear up.

Shinji yelled over the wind, "Pull the cord! THE CORD!!!" He hoped she had heard him as he yanked the cord on his own chute, his downward motion arresting suddenly.

He looked for her... and his heart stopped.

Below and to the left of him, Hikari was still falling... her parachute strings hopelessly tangled with the survival kit's shoulder strap.

"No... NO!!!" Without thinking, he pulled the release on his main chute, once again accelerating towards the ground.

-I'm going to die... I'm going to DIE!!- Hikari thought frantically, tugging on the strap desperately. She looked down, her eyes widening at the approaching earth. She began to pray... knowing that deliverance was as unlikely as her sprouting wings and flying away to safety.

Her prayer was answered... though not how she thought.

Her breath exploded from her lungs as something slammed into her from the side. She would have screamed had she been able... as it was, she could only gasp feebly as she felt hands tugging at her vest. "NO!" she screamed after her lungs refilled, trying to bat the hands away, -Without a parachute I'll fall!!- Fortunately for her, she was unsuccessful and the tangled chute suddenly broke away.

Together, they plummeted faster...

"HIKARI!!" Shinji screamed, "Pull the red cord on your vest!!" She didn't (or couldn't) hear him... she had her eyes pinched tightly closed as she flailed against him frantically.

-No time...- he thought as he looked at the ground coming up fast. He wrapped his left arm around her waist and yanked the cord for her, hoping that one chute could support them... unwilling to let her go.

As the secondary chute popped, Hikari opened her eyes... understanding flooding through her in an instant. "Shinji!" Her hand shot out and grabbed the front of his button up shirt, tearing it slightly, as his grip on her waist was almost pulled free from the force of the chute jerking them back up as it caught the air.

She looked into his eyes as they continued their (much slower) approach, seeing fear and relief starkly contrasting. "Hang on!" she said, bunching her fist tighter as the fabric tore further.

After several desperate minutes (with Shinji's shirt tearing more, and his grip slipping steadily), they hit the ground hard, trying to roll with the impact but ending up severely bruised anyway... but better bruised than the alternative.

Shinji lay a few feet from Hikari, panting for breath and trying not to cry, -I need to be strong...- he thought, -I need to... for her...-

Hikari felt no such inhibition, and wept openly. When she finally got herself under control, she gasped, "Sorry... I... I panicked..."

"No..." he said as he sat up, wincing slightly, "you don't have to apologize." He blinked in outright shock as the survival kit (still tangled in the parachute) thumped down not fifteen feet from where they were. He smiled faintly, "Maybe someone IS watching out for us..." he mused. His smile disappeared as he looked down at his pants... and the wide wet spot in the front.

He got to his feet, "Sit tight for a second," he said, trying to sound as nonchalant as he could, "I'm going to put on my plugsuit..." he pulled his shirt away from his body as explanation.

She closed her eyes, flushing slightly, "I... ok... sorry..."

"It's really ok..." he said, then paused for a moment as he pulled the suit out of the survival pack, "you saved my life you know..." he said quietly, "if you hadn't grabbed my shirt I would have fallen... you don't have to apologize for my shirt."

She avoided his eyes, "You saved mine by pulling the cord, I would have d-"

"Hikari..." he cut her off, flushing himself, "we can argue about who saved who for hours... but I think maybe we should get going before the people who shot us down find us," he smiled to lighten the mood, "I think they would agree with me that you saved my life, but I don't really want to be around to ask them..."

She answered her smile with one of her own, "Ok... but change fast, ok? I don't want to be alone out here..."

He nodded and walked into the forest.

When he retuned (feeling much drier and less shameful) he said, "I think I saw an old house over the hill about a mile from here... we should go there and hide."

She nodded and climbed to her feet, shouldering the bag, "What then?" she asked as they started walking, "We can't just live there..."

"I know..." he nodded, "I think we should head for Unit 01... It'll be just fine."

Something tickled her mind at this comment, but she couldn't pin it down.

They walked in silence to the rundown building, never noticing the four wheeler hidden in the brush to the side of the building... or the fact that the lock had been recently broken.

They carefully emptied the survival kit onto the floor, finding basic survival goods... and a nine-millimeter pistol, complete with two clips. Shinji slid a clip into the gun with inexperienced hands, and chambered a round. - Where's the safety on this thing?- He thought.

It looked similar to the one Misato carried and had trained him with... but it didn't have the small lever by the finger guard, but rather a small push button (which was currently pushed to the left, exposing a red end) He set the gun down with exquisite care, hoping the safety was on...knowing he would have to find out soon for their protection... hoping he would never have to use it on a person.

"We need to be careful," he said quietly, "they could find us at any t-"

That was when the man leapt out of the small closet, backhanding Hikari and grabbing Shinji around the throat

Hikari cried out as she hit the floor. Looking up in a daze as Shinji was shoved against the rotting wooden wall hard enough to break several of the boards. He gasped, trying to pry the fingers off of his throat.

Hikari fumbled back behind her for something - ANYTHING - she could use to help Shinji... a can... a jumpsuit... a StickLight... nothing useful... until her fingers closed on the cold, bushed steel of the pistol.

-Oh God... oh God...- she thought, bringing the firearm around to bear, -Oh God...- her mind kept repeating it over and over like a dual-syllabic prayer as she held the gun in both hands and pulled the trigger...

She closed her eyes to block out the memory as she felt his hands begin to run through her hair. She frowned, expecting to feel rough fingers yanking her hair out by the roots. Her eyes opened wide as instead she found him gently parting the strands, taking great care not to pull too hard. - Asuka...- she thought, leaning further back against his legs, -you've been holding out on me...-

She wondered if Asuka meant all that she said about Shinji. So far, he had been everything Asuka said he was not: he was kind, thoughtful, strong, courageous, and very, very sweet. She felt bad for believing all that her friend had told her rather than finding out for herself.

"Shinji?" she asked suddenly, leaning forward as a thought hit her, "Why didn't we just get into Unit 01? You said that it would survive the fall, couldn't we have gotten in and activated it?"

His hands stopped moving and he mumbled something too low for her to hear before he continued, moving slower than before. When she asked him to repeat himself he sighed deeply, "I... didn't think of it..." he admitted in a tone that screamed 'I am such a loser!' "I just wanted to get us out of there, and well... when a plane is crashing you jump out." He sighed again, disgustedly, "That's why Asuka calls me an idiot all the time... because I am."

"You've kept us alive this long," she whispered, "I don't think that's the sign of an idiot..."

"We've been lucky..." he said angrily, "we could have been killed a hundred different times."

"Yes," she admitted, "but Shinji... we weren't. And that's thanks to you."

He began carefully braiding her hair into a long ponytail down her back, "Well... I just hope we can survive long enough that Misato and Asuka can rescue us..." he said quietly, thinking, -I would never forgive myself if something happened to you.-

Hikari closed her eyes as he kept stroking her hair, fighting the temptation to just fall asleep against him as he finished up, "I wonder where they are, anyway..." she whispered.

**

"What the hell do you mean, you can't fix it!?" Misato screamed, "I have a downed plane, a missing Evangelion, and a pilot that I think of as my own son trapped in the forest somewhere probably freezing to death, and YOU CAN'T FIX IT?!"

She looked at the huge black plane with disgust as the technician confirmed that NeoPath Five-two-three was not going anywhere... ever.

She looked past the plane to the other craft on the runway, -None of them can carry Unit 02,- she thought bitterly, -and we can't exactly just leave it lying around here, now can we!?- Her eyes picked out Asuka's red plugsuit moving towards her.

"No." The redhead said flatly as she got close enough to her guardian that the woman could hear her, "There are absolutely no EVA facilities at this site," she paused for emphasis, "none."

"DAMN!" The purple-haired woman yelled, "This SUCKS! What good is an emergency base if it's not stocked for an emergency?!"

"Misato?" Asuka asked quietly, looking out at the rough terrain, "Do you... think they're ok?"

The older woman tired to gauge the Second Child's mood, but finally gave up as she found her calm mask impenetrable, "I think so..." she said slowly, "Shinji's a smart boy..."

"He's an idiot," Asuka whispered softly, almost out of reflex, "and he's going to get himself killed."

"You're worried about him, aren't you?" Misato said softly. As the redhead whirled to protest, her guardian put a hand up, "Save it... it's ok, you know... they're both your friends."

Asuka's mouth snapped shut, and Misato saw the briefest flash of concern cross her face, "I'm just worried that he'll try and do something to Hikari... the pervert."

Misato smiled, "Ok, Asuka... you worry about that, and I'll worry about everything else..."

Asuka looked at her out of the corner of her eye... and smiled softly.

**

Hikari woke suddenly in the middle of the night to an odd clacking sound, "Shinji?" she whispered, trying to look everywhere at once.

She stole a glance at the watch built into the back of the plugsuit's hand, and saw that it was three in the morning, -Great,- she thought, bringing herself up into a crouch and feeling around on the ground for the big chrome gun, -he can tell everyone that I was eaten by a wild animal at exactly three-ten... if he doesn't get eaten too!- She stopped looking for the gun as she identified the source of the sound.

Shinji's teeth were chattering in the cold air.

"Oh, Shinji..." she whispered. The survival kit had been missing the thermal blanket that it should have contained (along with matches... Shinji had had to start the fire with two sticks) and he was as close to the guttering fire as he could get, shivering fiercely.

She stood undecided for a moment, absently running her hand up and down her (not at all cold) arm before coming to a decision. She quietly crossed the small clearing and lay down beside him, -Forgive me Touji... it's just one night...- she thought, carefully wrapping her arms around Shinji.

His shivers slowed and finally stopped as the plugsuit began generating more heat. To Hikari's surprise (and slight consternation) Shinji rolled to face her and put his arms around her, sighing contentedly and resting his face on her shoulder.

Hikari had never been this close to a boy... except for Touji. She thought of her boyfriend, or rather, the boy she liked. She couldn't properly call him her boyfriend as he refused to call her his girlfriend. Some days, he even refused to see her when she came to visit him.

She thought about the time she visited him and told him how she felt...

"Why do you keep coming here?" He asked her. She knew his therapy had been hard that day, because he was sweating profusely... but she told him anyway.

"I... because I love you, Touji..." she confessed.

His reaction had not been what she had hoped for, "You love me?" he echoed, frowning, "Look at me, Hikari!" he threw back the bed sheet, revealing his missing leg, "Even if I wanted to, I could never love you the way you deserve to be loved... you should find someone else... someone whole."

She practically dove onto his bed, "I don't want anyone else," she cried, "I only want you... I've always wanted to be yours... please... don't push me away..."

But push her away is exactly what he did, "Don't visit me anymore, Hikari..." he said, "you're wasting your time."

She tried to kiss him, but he turned his head away, "Please..." she whispered, crying as he pushed her back again, "I love you so much... don't make me leave..."

He turned his head further and said nothing.

Finally she could take no more, and she ran sobbing from the room...

In spite of his harsh words, she still kept visiting him... her insides twisting in agony as he became more and more withdrawn from her.

She looked at Shinji's sleeping face, "Do you still blame yourself for him?" she whispered quietly, "He doesn't, you know... he knows it wasn't your fault..."

Shinji frowned in his sleep and burrowed his face deeper into her shoulder, mumbling something about making breakfast in a minute. She sighed, realizing that she felt safe just then.

Hikari wasn't a stupid girl... she knew that this feeling of closeness was generated from the constant tension and fear of being on the run.

But right then, with his arms around her and his breath warming her neck, it didn't matter... all that mattered was that this boy was close to her, and that she liked it. She closed her eyes and held him tighter, knowing that she would probably never hold him again, and closed her eyes... drifting off with a small, content smile.

**

Martin did not consider himself to be impatient... but he was starting to lose his cool as his man gave a run down of where everyone was - in intricate detail. They had made it to the Evangelion Unit in a reasonable amount of time, but had found (at the cost of one of his men) that it had been locked down with a rather nasty security system... and only the pilot had the code.

His mind wandered as the man rambled on, -I knew it wouldn't be a walk in the park,- he thought, -but this is fucking ridiculous!- They had not been able to scrape all of the man's remains off of the purple mecha...

His ears perked up, "Back up," he said, "what happened to Klaus?" He asked, not quite believing what he had heard.

The man paused, "They found him in a run down shack... bullet in his head."

Martin blinked, "KLAUS??!" He asked, stunned, "Twenty years in the military, benches two-fifty, can kill with a bamboo-shoot, Klaus?"

The other man described the situation (in painstaking detail), and Martin started to get the picture. - Careless...- he thought, -Klaus always DID like the feel of the kill too much... guess he found out that savoring it's a bad idea...- He shook his head as the man finished, "Ok... so we know they're headed towards the EVA." He smiled, "So all we need to do is sit tight and wait for them to come to us. What about the plane and its crew? Taken care off?"

"Well," the man hesitated, "one of the pilot's survived the crashed... and he's holed up in the plane..." he swallowed, "and he killed Gustav..."

Martin sighed in aggravation, "Am I dealing with fucking rookies??" He stood from where he had been sitting on a rock and the man flinched but stood his ground (he had seen Martin beat men close to death for making stupid mistakes - though he never killed them. He believed that that would be wasteful...), "Why hasn't someone tossed him a grenade to think about, hmm?" Martin asked, frowning deeply.

"W-well..." the man stammered, "Hans thought that we should save the plane, and-"

"Tell Hans to stop thinking with his wallet," Martin cut him off, "blow the damn thing up! We're here for one thing and one thing ONLY! Clear?"

The man nodded and hurried off to find the long-range walkie-talkie that would put him in touch with (the soon to be in severe pain) Hans.

Martin sighed once more, "Morons..." He walked over and regarded the face down EVA that was the source of his growing headache. "Your pilot's coming... soon this'll all be over..."

The EVA, of course, had nothing to say on the matter.

Martin leaned up against the giant mecha's shoulder, and waited...

**

Shinji held Hikari's hand tightly, "Watch out... the rocks are slippery..."

She nodded, letting him lead her up the small mountain they were climbing (though it was less a mountain and more a large hill).

He frowned. She had been curiously silent since this morning, when he had awakened to find her staring at him from her spot on the log across the now-dead fire with an odd look on her face.

Hikari's mind was also revolving around that morning, though for different reasons. - Why did I do that?- she wondered, -I love Touji... why did I DO that!?- She thought of the soft, warm feel of his sleeping lips against hers. It was a small thing, really, barely more than a peck, given as she had woken from her restful sleep. Just a small infidelity... but an infidelity nonetheless. She blushed at the memory of pulling him close to her, -He was freezing...- she told herself, -I had to keep him warm...- But she still felt like she had somehow cheated on Touji.

"I think we're almost there," Shinji said, making his voice light, -I wonder if she had a nightmare...- he thought suddenly, -I know I did...- He smiled faintly as he remembered the end of that dream. It had started with him stranded on a snow-covered mountain, trying desperately to find shelter before he froze to death. In the dream, (as the wind blew harder, making his eyes feel like they were freezing), he had finally found a cave and stumbled into it... his shivers finally fading and disappearing as he went deeper into the warm, safe darkness.

He wondered idly if the dream held any deeper meaning - if it meant that he was starting to feel something for the girl that was with him... or if he had ALWAYS felt something for her. He looked at her as she made her way up the hill a little ways ahead of him and sighed sadly, -Doesn't really matter what *I* feel,- he thought morosely, -she loves Touji...-

He recalled visiting Touji briefly...

"Stop moping!" Touji said, a forced smile on his face, "It's so annoying! No wonder Asuka is always complaining." Shinji opened his mouth to apologize, but Touji cut him off, "And don't tell me your sorry!"

"I..." Shinji's mouth closed and he cleared his throat, "so, umm..." he changed the subject, unknowingly picking the worst one possible, "I hear that Hikari visits you a lot... that's-" He stopped abruptly as Touji's eyes became hard.

"What?" Touji said coldly, "Did she tell you how she comes to see me all the time, smothering me in her pity? Saying she loves me?"

Shinji blinked, "No, I-"

Touji cut him off, "I don't want pity, Shinji! Not from her, OR from you!"

"I..." Shinji was at a loss for words. He focused on Hikari so he wouldn't have to deal with his own guilt, "But... what if she really DOES love you?" He asked, trying to find a way out of the conversation.

"What if she does?!" Touji shot back, "I don't love her - I CAN'T love her!"

Shinji was shocked at the anger and hurt in his friend's voice, "Why...?" he asked softly, "Why can't you?"

Touji's anger fled in an instant, "I can't explain it to you, Shinji..." he said tiredly, "just trust me... it wouldn't work out."

Shinji didn't know how to reply, so he just nodded. The visit lasted another ten awkward minutes before Touji said he was tired and asked Shinji to leave...

"Do you know what I would be doing right now?" Hikari spoke up suddenly, breaking Shinji from his reverie, "If we were home, I mean..." he shook his head and she went on, "since it's Thursday, I would be having tea with my sisters right now. We always have tea on Thursday afternoons..."

He smiled at the image of her sitting and laughing with two other girls that looked (he imagined) like younger versions of herself, "I'd probably be making dinner for Asuka and Misato right now..." he mused.

It was her turn to smile as she imagined him (quite accurately, actually) in a little white apron, cutting vegetables as the two women he lived with nagged him to hurry up. "I'll bet you're a good cook." She said with a small laugh at the image still in her mind of Shinji shaking a big butcher knife in a motherly fashion as the two girls argued about some inane thing or another.

He grinned, "Yeah," he said with a shrug, "I guess I'm ok..."

"Well," she said, letting go of his hand to climb to the next plateau, "you certainly make a mean can of dried chick-"

She was cut off as gunfire erupted below them.

**

Martin smiled as his men opened fire on the two teens above them, "Remember," he said as the two scrambled for cover, "just scare 'em... and DON'T hit the one in the bodysuit!"

**

Hikari hugged the rock face, "AHH!!!" she cried out as bullets peppered the hillside.

Then she was falling, her fingers unable to maintain their grip.

Shinji's hand flashed out and caught hers, "Hikari," he gasped, sprawling full length on the hard ground, "don't... don't let go!"

But it was a failing proposition. The slippery plugsuit fabric made a firm grip impossible for either of them. He met her eyes as she slid through his fingers. "NO!!!" he screamed as she fell down the hill, rolling to the bottom amidst a group of hard looking men. His only consolation was the fact that she sat up and shook her head... alleviating the fear that the fall had killed her.

Martin smiled down at his prize as the boy scurried back into the rocks, "Hi there, pilot..." he said softly.

The girl glared up at him, ignoring the blood running down her cheek from a long scrap on her forehead.

Shinji moved carefully around to a better spot, trying to keep low, -Hang on...- he thought, frowning deeply as he hefted the gun in his hands, -just hang on, Hikari...-

Martin spoke quietly to the girl, "You and your friend up there have been quite busy... we expected you to come through the woods, not over the hill. We almost missed you." He smiled as she continued to glare at him defiantly.

"Hey," one of the other men said, "I thought the pilot was a guy?"

Martin frowned, looking at the 01 imprinted on the girl's chest, "Maybe this is a backup pilot... or maybe the test pilot for the new Unit," he shrugged, "I don't know. She doesn't fit the profile of any of the pilots we have information on, but she's wearing a plugsuit and is the right age... maybe she's a new recruit."

Hikari blinked, -They think I'm the pilot...- she thought, -maybe if they keep thinking that, Shinji can get away.- She folded her arms in front of her and sat in what she hoped was a regal position, continuing to glare menacingly.

"Yeah," Martin smiled, "she's a pilot." He crouched down and drew his pistol, brandishing it in front of her eyes (which widened, though she made no sound), "Now," he said softly, "let's take care of your, what? Boyfriend? No... not on a military mission... guardian? Maybe..." He laughed, "Guess it doesn't really matter... you two have been quite the nuisance."

Shinji leaned up against the rock, -Think... THINK!- He knew he had to kill at least one of them, then maybe he could get Hikari out in the confusion, especially if he shot, "The leader..." he whispered, pulling the large hammer back to allow for quicker firing. He took a deep breath to steady his nerves as his mind raced, -I don't want to kill ANYONE!!- Half of his brain screamed, -I have no choice...- the other half whispered. His internal argument was interrupted as a booming voice called out to him.

"Hey there!" Martin said jovially, standing and putting his gun gently against the back of the girl's head, "Why don't you give it up son?" He said reasonably, "All the cards are in my hand, and I'd hate for anything... bad to happen to your little pilot here."

Shinji blinked in surprise as the man's next comment hit him harder than he thought it would, "You're her guardian, right? Don't you think the best way to protect her would be by following the path of least resistance? She's awfully pretty... it would be a shame if I had to spoil that."

Shinji closed his eyes tightly, then opened them with a frown, -Yes,- he thought with a trace of guilt at letting her be captured in the first place, -I AM her guardian now... I said I would protect her... and I WILL!-

He made his move, bringing the huge gun to bear as he sprang up from his hiding place. He aimed quickly at the leader, standing behind Hikari with his gun at her head, and fired.

"Remember," Misato said as they stood on the pistol range, "squeeze - don't pull... the trigger needs a light touch."

She stood behind him, her hands resting lightly over his. Oddly, it was the closest they had been in weeks, as work and school conspired to keep them apart. And they never really got VERY close, it just wasn't the way either of them was... but each of them knew on a very deep level that there was love in every touch - even when she was showing him how to shoot.

"Misato?" He said, hesitating before firing, "Will I ever need to use this training? I mean - I shouldn't have to, right? I'm just a pilot..."

For a moment, her arms tightened around him in a genuine hug - though she would not have admitted it to anyone had she been pressed (except maybe him). "No... you shouldn't have to," she said softly, "but you need to be prepared for anything. As much as I want to, I might not always be able to protect you..." she paused before continuing in an even softer voice, "and I want to make sure you're safe."

She shook herself, "Now," she said briskly, "exhale as you squeeze, it'll make your shot more accurate..."

The roar of the gun was deafening as all of the magnum round's cordite burned true, hurling the slug down the gun's long barrel at over fourteen-hundred feet per second and producing a long tongue of fire that proceed the bullet out. It was so loud that it masked the loud snapping sound of the radius in Shinji's right wrist giving way. He dropped the gun with a cry as it jammed, the slide colliding with the shell as he failed to control the discharge.

**

Martin barely had time to blink as the boy popped up and fired. If the boy's aim had not been sullied by the kickback, he would be dead. As it was, the bullet whirred by his head, two feet off the mark.

He smiled at the boy's guts, -He must know there's more than seven of us down here... and I doubt he's ever fired anything that big in his life...- this suspicion was confirmed as the boy dropped the gun and clutched his wrist, loosing a wretched cry of pain.

Martin's smile faded and he sighed regretfully, -Sorry, kid...- he thought.

He inclined his head slightly at the boy, just a little sign of respect at his bravery. "Take him." He said quietly.

Two seconds later, the air was filled with screaming lead.

**

Shinji was still reeling from the fiery pain in his arm when he heard the staccato rhythm of automatic gunfire. Desperately, he tried to throw himself to the side as a multitude of bullets swarmed his way.

Two found their mark - one nicking his shoulder... the other slamming into his chest on the right side.

"Ahhh!" he cried out as he hit the ground, temporarily shielded by the rocks.

He gasped as his body reported flaring agony from three locations, "Hikari..." he whispered, struggling not to black out.

**

"Shinji!!" Hikari screamed as she watched him go down, "NO!!!"

"Shit!" Martin said angrily, recognizing the name, "Cease fire! STOP SHOOTING, DAMNIT!! HE'S the pilot!"

"Very clever..." he said admiringly as he looked at the girl's downturned face, "very clever indeed..."

-I'm sorry Shinji...- she thought miserably as she stared at the ground.

"Go get him - ALIVE." Martin ordered, "He's the nice young man that's going to open that purple can for us so we can finally go the fuck home!"

He dragged the girl to her feet, "And he WILL help us," he whispered to her quietly, "oh yes... he will..."

He allowed himself a small smile as he felt victory tiptoe a tiny bit closer.

**

Shinji scrabbled up to a sitting position, groaning as pain assailed him from every side. He reached behind him with his left hand, holding his shattered right one up against him, and pulled out the other gun (retrieved when Hikari was not looking... just in case). Awkwardly, he pulled the hammer back with his left thumb, gasping as another wave of pain washed over him.

As he waited for them to come for him, he thought about his conversation with Hikari as they walked towards Unit 01...

"Hikari?" Shinji said suddenly as they made their way through the woods, "Why were you on the plane I was on? Why weren't you with Asuka?"

She paused, "You don't know?" She asked, blinking.

He shook his head, "No..." he said, confused, " why would I?"

She stopped, "Because..." she said, growing confused herself, "Misato said that you didn't want to be alone, and she had to stay with Unit 02... and that you wanted to know if I would ride with you..."

Shinji shook his head, laughing a bit, "Misato said that?" He could easily believe it from the purple-haired woman. Behind the fa??ade of 'careless, beer-swilling party girl' that she liked to project, she was actually a very kind woman. Shinji was glad she was his guardian... and friend.

Hikari frowned, "You... you didn't want me to keep you company?"

Shinji's laughter choked off, "No..." he said, putting a hand on her shoulder, "that's not it at all, I just..." he searched for the right words, finally giving up and choosing a different path, "I'm glad that you were there with me..." he said, letting his hand fall away from her shoulder and shoving it deep in his pocket, "I really don't like being alone. And I..." he flushed and looked away from her face, "I'm glad you're here with me now. I don't think I could have done this alone... you saved my life."

She looked at the ground and flushed also, remembering how nice it had been to hold him while he slept... and how alone he must be the rest of the time. "You saved mine too-" she cut herself off as she realized they were starting the same argument as last night all over... she laughed, feeling for the first time that things MIGHT turn out ok.

"Come on," Shinji said, putting his hand on her shoulder again and resuming their march, "I think once we get over that hill we'll be able to see her."

She felt no urge to remove his hand...

Shinji brought his attention back to the present, swinging the gun from left to right as he realized that only his back was covered. - DAMN!- he thought, angry with himself for being so careless, -Guess that tactical training didn't take...- he thought absently as he settled on the left side to cover, hearing the scrape of boots on rock from that direction.

A face peeked around one of the rocks and Shinji pulled the trigger twice, screaming out his fear. The face pulled back quickly... not that it would have mattered, as his shots both went wide and to the left.

Injured... out of breath... panicked... shooting with his off-hand... Shinji never had a chance.

He heard a sound behind him and whipped around - too late. He was just in time to see a meaty fist rushing towards his face. It landed with the force of a jackhammer, knocking his head back against the rock he was leaning against and sending him rushing into unconsciousness.

"He's out," the man said, "help me carry him." Another man came out from behind the rocks and grabbed Shinji under one arm while the first man got his other one. Together they carried him down the hill, leaving the gun where it fell from his limp fingers.

As they returned, Martin frowned at the bruised eye, even now swelling shut. He shrugged after a moment, -Well,- he thought, -at least he's alive...- he looked at the wounds on the boy, -don't know how long though...- To his men, he said, "And how is our little pilot?"

"He's all kinds of fucked up, boss..." the man holding Shinji's left arm said, "no way he'll last more than four, maybe five hours like this..."

Martin nodded as the girl moaned in despair behind him, "Well," he said, "let's get to the Unit... it's only twenty minutes away - which gives us a good three hours to get the codes out of him," he looked at the quietly weeping girl, "not that we'll need that long I think... but why dally?"

It ended up taking thirty, as the girl kept breaking down and crying every time she looked at the unconscious boy. Finally, one of the men had ended up slinging her over his shoulder, helping himself to a feel as he did.

When they arrived, Martin had the men prop the pilot up against the mecha, observing the blood that smeared on the purple finish as the boy slid slightly to the side, -Four hours my ass...- he thought, -I give him an hour and a half - tops.-

He had one of his men bring him the survival kit that they had found by the boy, rummaging in it until he found some smelling salts. He cracked the vial open and held it under the boy's nose.

Shinji awoke with a start, groaning in pain as the sudden movement made his wounds throb. He looked around in a daze, seeing well over a dozen men. He looked around frantically until he found Hikari, on her knees with a gun pressed to her head... but alive.

He fixed his uninjured storm-blue eye on the man that had wakened him, the leader of the group, "What do you want?" He asked coldly.

"Ahhh!" The man said, obviously pleased, "Right down to business... I like that attitude, Mister Ikari."

Shinji shivered. They knew his name... they knew he was a pilot. He became aware of the fact that he was leaning against something metal and turned his head, gasping as he saw an expanse of purple behind him and everything came together.

They wanted the EVA.

Shinji smiled, feeling a very brief stab of pride, "Having trouble opening her hatch?" He asked softly.

"OOOO!!!" The man said, laughing, "And he's cool under fire! I LIKE it!" He grinned at the boy, "Yes, actually..." he said, speaking as if he was asking for Shinji's advice on a girl problem, "she seems uncooperative... thought you might be able to help us out with some codes, my young friend."

"I'm not your friend," Shinji whispered, his eye shooting daggers, "you make me sick!"

"Don't be a sore loser," the man said, his smile broadening, "it ill becomes you."

Shinji looked away, his eye finding Hikari's, "I'm sorry you had to be here..." he said, ignoring the man for a minute as he spoke directly to her, "you should have ridden on the other plane... then you would be safe. I failed to protect you... I'm sorry..."

Martin blinked as the boy finished and brought his attention back to him, "That's a very noble sentiment," he said softly, "I must say I respect you for your strength in the face of adversity... and your chivalry for trying to protect what I now see to be a friend of yours."

"What would you know about chivalry?" Shinji whispered angrily, "You're a jackal... preying on the weak for your own personal gain."

"It's a rough world out there, Mister Ikari," Martin said with an almost sad smile, "survival of the fittest." He shook his head, "Me and my men just happened to be fitter than you and your little girlfriend here... though I will admit you made a hell of a run of it." His smile became admiring, "HELL of a run!" He stepped back and pulled Hikari to her feet, his smile falling away, "Now give me the override code, or she dies..."

"Survival of the fittest - HA!" Shinji spat, knowing he was going to die if he gave them the codes or not... and he had nothing more to lose - nothing except the life of the girl he had sworn to protect. "Looks more like a group of mercenaries beating up on a couple of kids to me... at least in school the bullies had the guts to fight you one on one!"

Martin cocked the gun and pressed it against Hikari's neck. Her breath quickened, but she made no sound... staring into Shinji's eye the whole time for strength. "Look, kid..." Martin said, "call it what you want to. I've had a long day, and you've led us on a merry chase... but it's over. I don't want to kill her, she seems like a nice girl." He shook his head, "I don't want to kill you either, but judging by that hole in you... it's probably too late."

At this, Hikari let out a small whimper. Martin ignored her and went on, "I'll tell you what... give me the codes, and I'll let her go free."

"NO!" Hikari yelled, "He's lying, he'll-" She was cut off as the gun was pushed softly but insistently tighter against her neck.

"I never lie," Martin said coolly, "now make your choice, Mister Ikari - the EVA, or the girl."

"If I give you the codes..." Shinji said quietly, holding the man's eyes with his good one, "she gets out alive - untouched by your men."

Martin nodded, smiling slightly, -Come on, kid...- he thought with an interior smile, -you get what you want, I get what I want... everyone goes away happy. Well,- he added to himself, -YOU get to be happy as long as you live... which ain't gonna be long.-

Shinji looked from the leader to Hikari, trying to make up his mind. Finally, he settled on the man's eyes and whispered, "Ok... the code is 8s89f92g96y3..." as he rattled off the entire code sequence, he averted his eyes trying to ignore the man's triumphant smile.

When the boy had finished Martin said, "Thank you, Mister Ikari... now as I promised." He pulled Hikari back so her ear was in line with his mouth, and whispered, "If you put your hands on the top and the bottom of that wound and push inward, you'll give him another twenty minutes or so... go on... go to him."

Hikari looked at him uncertainly for a second, then ran to Shinji and pressed her hands against his side as she had been instructed.

Martin smiled sadly, -Too bad...- he thought, -the kid had spunk.- he turned and walked back towards his men ,"Bring me the interface set." One of them ran forward and handed him a black headband. He held it up, "See this, Mister Ikari?" He said, aching to tell someone who would understand, "Duplicates the brainwave pattern of your friend, the Second Child. Kind of like your 'dummy plug system' - only this allows ME to control the Unit."

Shinji's eye widened as he finally grasped the depths of this theft.

Martin nodded, "I see that you get it... I'm glad," he said, "I would hate for you to die without knowing what all of this was about."

Shinji nodded, "You didn't care..." he said softly, grimacing as Hikari kept the pressure on his side, "you didn't care WHICH Unit you got... you just wanted-"

"No, Mister Ikari..." the man cut him off, "we cared very much. Unit 01 was to be captured at all costs... Unit 02 was to be captured if possible, destroyed if not - including any pilots or support crew." He smiled, "You see... I'm disobeying orders by letting you live."

"Thanks..." Shinji whispered sarcastically.

Martin was about to respond when his ears picked up the dull throb of a plane's engines, "No..." he whispered, "there's no way they could have gotten it back off the ground..." He raised his voice, "Get ready! Rocket launcher on standby!" One of his men broke out the soviet made rocket launcher and prepared one of the two remaining rockets, dropping to one knee and propping the weapon up on his shoulder.

The throb became a roar as the huge black plane came into view. Numerous dots detached themselves from the ship and began to descend, preceded by a huge red shape.

"Fire now!" Martin ordered, knowing it might already be too late. The rocket arced skyward, but exploded in front of the red shape that was fast approaching the ground, deflected by a glowing octagonal shield. The second shot would have been wasted, as the plane continued its flight, rising out of range. Unit 02 continued its drop as the carrier cruised past, overshooting the landing zone and crashing to the ground five miles beyond the site.

Martin looked at the sky in dismay, seeing that it was filled with falling men... all of them armed. "Fuck it..." he said softly, then yelled, "open fire! Take as many in the air as you can and we'll take the rest on the ground."

He looked back to the pilot and his friend, "Hate to have to go back on my word, young man," he said, his voice showing actual regret as he brought his pistol up and trained it on Shinji, "but the situation's changed, you see."

"I don't FUCKING think so!" A strong female voice said, directly over his head.

He looked up in time to see a set of legs come crashing into his chest, knocking him backwards as the woman the feet were attached to cut her chute loose and came in for a landing. She rolled to her feet and aimed her gun at him, scowling deeply, then moved slowly over to check on the pilot of Unit 01.

"Man down!" Misato yelled into the com device on her wrist, keeping her gun trained on the big man, "Get me a medical team on the ground now!" She listened to the reply from the huge, circling plane, "I don't care if it's a hotspot!" She said furiously as gunfire chattered all around her, "It's the Third Child! He's been hit! Now you get a team down here now or I will personally kill every last one of you!!"

A black ball detached from the plane and began to drop to the ground, a parachute popping open and slowing its descent.

She nodded in satisfaction as the med team began its approach, then stood and walked over to the leader of the men that had done all of this noting with some satisfaction that the NERV special forces team was making short work of the mercenaries. "You fucking bastard," she whispered fiercely, "this is for my boy!" She planted the gun flat against his chest and pulled the trigger twice in rapid succession.

He winced, but did not go down. Before Misato could react, he snatched the gun from her with his left hand and drove his right into her solar plexus.

She gasped as the air left her lungs in a rush. She looked up with dazed eyes as he brought the butt of the gun down on her forehead, knocking her several feet back. Her eyes rolled back as darkness filled her vision.

Martin felt his chest, grimacing as he felt the broken ribs under his vest. "Careless-" he looked at the stripes on the neck of her uniform, "Major... never let personal feelings get in the way of doing your job." He had felt the vest under her jacket as his fist dug into her, and he would not make the same mistake. He carefully drew aim at her forehead, "Hope you don't hold this against me..." he said.

He froze as an inhuman roar echoed through the forest. He looked up in time to see something huge and purple streaking towards him, and he closed his eyes, sure that he was about to die. When he was still breathing a moment later, he opened them. Covering the unconscious woman was a huge hand... connected to a huge arm... connected to a huge Evangelion... that was staring him down.

"Fuck..." he whispered. Not being a stupid man, he turned to run... only to find a red counterpart to the purple mecha coming into the clearing. In an instant, its hand flashed out and seized him, carrying him into the air.

"Asuka, NO!" Shinji yelled as Unit 02 grabbed the leader, "Don't kill him!"

Asuka's entire body was shaking. Rage and fear tore through her body in equal doses - rage at this horrible man now clutched in her EVA's hand for what he had done... fear that the boy she secretly looked up to was beyond any hope of survival (she had heard Misato's frantic call... she knew how badly he was hurt...).

His was the only voice that could have stopped her.

Her hand twitched, and Unit 02's did as well, making the man within wince, "Why?" Her voice trembled, "He deserves it!"

"Because we're not like them..." he answered gently, "we're not killers."

She gasped as his image appeared, "Shinji..." she whispered.

Blood ran in a trickle from the corner of his mouth, and his right eye was swollen shut. Asuka thought for a moment that something was wrong with the camera in Unit 01, as everything had a slight red tint... until she realized that the LCL was hazy with his blood.

"Please, Asuka..." Asuka became aware of two hands on Shinji's chest, and followed them up to find Hikari sitting behind Shinji's pilot seat wearing his plugsuit and trying to stop the flow of blood from a large wound in his side.

She met her friend's eyes as she continued, "You can't do this. You don't..." she shivered, "you don't know what it's like to kill someone..." her voice dropped to a whisper, "you don't want to know, Asuka... you don't..."

Asuka looked from her friend to the man wrapped in the red fist that was an extension of her will. - So easy...- she thought, every bit of her crying out to close the fist, -it would be so easy...-

"Asuka..." she met Shinji's uninjured eye reluctantly as he spoke to her softly, "it's me that he hurt... don't I deserve to say what happens to him?"

"Yeah..." she said slowly, looking back to the man and getting her rage under control, "I guess, but-"

"Asuka?" he cut her off quietly, making her look at him once more, "Thank you," he said honestly, smiling at her, "thank you for coming for me... I knew you would..."

Her face turned the color of her plugsuit, "I... it was Misato's idea," she sniffed finally, turning away from the screen, "she made me come... I wanted to just leave you here." But he saw the small smile that danced across her lips.

It was the last thing he saw before he passed out.

**

As the medical team loaded Shinji into the black sphere, Hikari spoke quietly to Misato. "Can I ride with him?" She asked quietly, "And... will he be ok?"

Asuka was already on the NeoPath Four-one-eight (the plane Misato had finally gotten rerouted to the base where they were stranded) with Unit 02, Unit 01, and their captive... who refused to say more than his name: Martin.

The NeoPath plane could handle the stress of both EVAs, the pilot assured Misato... but they would have to press straight through for home by the most direct route to ensure that they didn't run out of fuel - on many levels it would be the tensest flight any of them would ever endure. Getting the massive thing off of the ground with no runway was going to be the biggest nail biter, Misato thought... at least, she thought that before they got airborne and the very real threat of a fiery crash bore down on her.

Before she left, Asuka had hugged her friend tightly, whispering, "I'm glad you're ok..."

It was the most sincere emotion Hikari had ever gotten from the redhead... and she didn't have the heart to tell her she was far from ok.

The purple-haired woman sighed deeply, holding an icepack against her throbbing forehead as she responded to Hikari's question, "They say he's stable enough to move," she said, keeping her voice level, "barely... and it's a long flight home." She met the girl's eyes, regretting her honesty, "Of course you can ride with him," she said gently, "you've come this far..."

"Thank you..." Hikari whispered softly, stepping away from Shinji's guardian and moving to follow him. She paused at the entrance to the sphere and turned to face Misato. "Does anyone know what a good person he is?" She asked without preamble.

Misato blinked, "Yes... yes of course we do..." she said, surprised by the hollow quality of the young girl's voice... and the question itself.

Hikari met her eyes steadily, pausing for a moment before asking in a voice that barely reached the older woman, "Does anyone ever tell him?"

She didn't bother waiting for a reply. She climbed into the sphere and waited for it to be picked up, tentatively holding Shinji's hand one last time... knowing that everything would go back to the way it was before - with him being reclusive and shunning the outside world, and her trying to win Touji's heart.

There was no other way... she loved Touji, not Shinji.

But if that was true then why did she feel that they had shared more than just terror in the last twenty-four hours? Why did she feel like she would be losing something precious when she finally let his hand go? Why could she still feel his arms around her?

And why was she weeping as the huge plane lifted the medical sphere into the sky and began winging its way homeward?

Why?

Continued...

Author's Notes: 

Author's notes: thanks to Lord DeathScythe and JobFaust for pre-reading and making some excellent suggestions on this fiction. Muzzle velocity and feet per second conversions for the .50 caliber Desert Eagle (the gun that broke Shinji's wrist) came from this site:

Feedback is always welcome at

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