Superwomen of Eva: Emerald Fury @orionpax09
The Dawn of Battle

Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to Marvel Comics or anything associated with it. I have written this story solely because I enjoy writing.

Superwomen of Eva: Emerald Fury

Chapter 13: The Dawn of Battle

"Aw, dammit! Not again!" Misato cursed, waving aside the smoke that was currently billowing from the stove. The purple-haired woman scowled hatefully as she opened up the stove door, only to grimace at the sight of the smoldering mess that once might actually have been called food.

"This just such a load of bull!" Misato grumbled, doing her best to rein in her anger and frustrations. She was tempted to breathe deeply, to try and let her anger fade somewhat in that fashion, but the smoke that was clogging up the kitchen put a damper on that idea. Instead, she did her best to swallow her frustrations before they could get the best of her and retrieved a set of oven mitts. Then she pulled the unsalvageable wreckage of her attempt at cooking, and gladly dumped it in the garbage.

Groaning once more before switching on the over fan in an attempt to vent the smoke, Misato fled the kitchen, trying to think of a way of venting her irritations that would not result in her completely losing it. At which point it would be a question of what happened first; the sleeping gas put her lights out for her once again, or…

Well, Misato really didn't want to think of the potential consequences of 'or'. So she decided to go with the traditional standby in a situation like this.

Taking a moment to brave the kitchen, NERV's resident gamma mutant held her breath as she went to the refrigerator and brought forth a couple cold ones. Mental note: Make sure to ask Ritsuko or somebody else for more beer! Misato thought as she cracked open the can of Yebisu and took several quick chugs from it. In no time at all, the alcohol began to dull her irritation, quickly reducing the possibility of a visit from a certain green-eyed, fully figured monster.

Just while she was considering the possibility of crashing on her couch and taking out some of her lingering annoyance on a video game monster or two, Misato jumped at the sound of the door buzzer. "What the -?!" the purple-haired woman demanded, turning about to face the door.

"Misato?" came Ritsuko's voice through the intercom. After a few moments, the Major saw her friend's visage through the small window in the door.

"Oh, geez!" Misato started, placing her hand over heart before she managed a tense smile. "Dammit, Ritsuko!"

"What's wrong? Did I come at a bad time?" Ritsuko wondered, her confusion showing in her face.

"Something like that," Misato commented, the smell of burnt food still wafting up her nose. With a reluctant sigh, she gestured toward the door. "Well, you might as well come in."

Not bothering to respond, Ritsuko went about activating the door locks. With a reluctant groan, the heavy door opened, allowing the scientist to pass in. The moment she was inside, Ritsuko sniffed the air, and wrinkled her nose. "What the…?" she started, looking about wonderingly. She then gave Misato a lopsided frown. "I haven't smelled anything this bad since Kaji blew up that chemistry experiment back in college! What were you doing, trying to make a new, improved stink bomb?!"

A vein popping out of her head, one of the last bits of annoyance sparking a deadly green glint in her eyes, Misato eyed her friend warningly. "Give me a break, Ritsuko! It's not like you're some kind of gourmet! Or have you forgotten the time you tried to make eel teriyaki for your old college boyfriend? Who was then your ex-boyfriend?!"

Wincing at the memory of that particular fiasco, Ritsuko brought up her hands in surrender. "Alright, Misato! I give up! You've made your point! Now put away the green eyes!"

"What?" Misato started, only to take quick stock of herself. Sure enough, her heart was still beating a little too fast for safety's sake, and Ritsuko's commentary had irked her more than she wanted to admit. Taking a moment to close her eyes, Misato took a slow, deep breath. She waited several seconds, feeling her gradually slowing pulse, and once again opened her eyes. Sighing, she shook her head. "Sorry about that."

"I understand," Ritsuko nodded. "I know it…hasn't been easy on you, down here, and…" Letting her words trail off, the faux-blonde shrugged helplessly before looking towards the kitchen. "So, uh, at the risk of pissing you off again…what happened? Did you mess up something Shinji made for you?"

Giving her friend a sour look, Misato answered, "No, I did not mess up something Shinji made for me!" Then, taking another slow breath, the purple-haired woman stood there, an embarrassed look shadowing her face. "I just…messed up something I was making for me."

The way Ritsuko's eyes rounded made it clear that she could hardly have been more surprised if Kaji had come into Misato's apartment wearing a leotard and started performing 'Swan Lake'. "You were cooking something? From scratch?" the doctor spoke, each word she said passing her lips with great difficulty. When Misato nodded helplessly, Ritsuko leaned back and scrutinized her friend's expression. "Why were you…I mean…?"

"Trying to cook something when I can barely boil water?" Misato asked, her words more strained than angry. When Ritsuko nodded, keeping a very close eye out for any sign of green, the Major sighed wearily, throwing her hands in disgust. "I don't know, Ritsuko. I just thought…I'd try and do something for myself, that's all."

Raising an eyebrow, Ritsuko studied her friend with an appraising eye, and Misato knew why. The purple-haired woman had more-or-less subsisted on instant foods or things she didn't have to cook herself throughout her adult life. This was mainly because she was a genuinely rotten cook, but also because she didn't like taking the extra trouble with the schedule she kept. The fact that she was now resorting to attempting to cooking her own meals could only lead the scientist to one conclusion. "Getting a little stir-crazy, huh?"

"A little?! Try a lot!" Misato groaned. Heaving a deep sigh, she lowered her gaze before turning about on her bare feet, moving towards the couch. "I mean…I know you went to a lot of trouble setting this place up for me and believe me, I really appreciate it, but…"

"You don't want to spend the rest of your life down here, Misato. I understand that!" Ritsuko told her.

"Do you? Do you really know what it's like for me, down here?" Misato asked, staring hard at her best friend. Staring with such intensity that Ritsuko was forced to take a step backwards before she was knocked down by the sheer emotional force behind Misato's gaze. "Ritsuko…I haven't been outside of NERV Headquarters since that mission against the 10th Angel. I haven't seen the sun, breathed the air up there...all I've been able to do is just…sit in here. Doing whatever I can to…keep busy. Keep going, and…" Falling silent for a time, Misato then mustered a faint shadow of her famous smile. "Despite what you might think, I do not enjoy just sitting around on my ass, doing absolutely nothing, day after day after day."

Looking at Misato, feeling like her own heart was sinking into her stomach, Ritsuko moved up to her friend and placed her hand on her should. "Misato, I truly am sorry about everything that's happened to you. You have to believe that," the doctor told her, turning so that her arm was draped across Misato's shoulder. With as much tenderness as she could muster, Ritsuko walked her friend to the couch. "And you're right. I can't imagine what it's like for you, having to live with all of this. But my people and I are working day and night, trying to find a way to cure you."

"I know, I know, Rits, but…" Misato returned somberly. Slowly sitting down, her gentle brown eyes followed her friend as she sat down on the chair opposite hers. "I feel like I'm…not really alive anymore! I'm just…existing down here. You and Shinji, you've both been so good to me, but…"

"Misato…" Ritsuko murmured, doing everything she could to remain calm, to keep her expression relatively free of emotion. And suspecting that she was failing completely.

"And that's not all," Misato said, drawing a more intent look from the scientist. Her gaze roaming about until it fixed on Ritsuko, the Major looked at her friend with worried eyes. "You know how I told you that…sometimes, I'd hear a voice whispering to me?"

Recalling that conversation, a conversation that had taken place just before Misato's nightmare had begun, Ritsuko nodded to her friend. "Of course I do," she said. When Misato lowered her gaze, the doctor frowned intently. "Why? Are you…still hearing it?"

"More than ever now," Misato admitted, heaving a heavy sigh. "I don't know why, but…every time it gets quiet, I can hear it. Hear that…that thing talking to me..."

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised," Ritsuko shrugged. When she was given a disbelieving look, the doctor explained, "We've already established that your transformation is triggered by rage, frustration, and other physical symptoms of stress. Things that would cause adrenaline to start flowing through your body. And when you're in your She-Hulk state, your more…primitive impulses are dominant. It could be just that your…prolonged isolation is increasing your normal stress levels."

The response Ritsuko got was a look of pure sarcasm. "No, really?" Misato grumbled, lowering her head as she stared daggers at the faux-blonde. "Ritsuko, you have no idea how much I want out of here! To…go and break something, to go for a drive in my car, to…!"

"Do something that would send your adrenaline levels through the roof?" Ritsuko guessed. Resulting in an even more annoyed look from her friend. "Misato, while it is an established fact that physical activity is excellent stress relief, the risk is just too high! If you were to injure yourself -!"

"I'd turn into a big, green monster and start smashing everything in sight? That is if the sleeping gas didn't stop me in my tracks first?" Misato asked, giving her friend a deep frown. "Ritsuko, I hate to break it to you, but right now, that sounds a whole lot better than just sitting through another soap opera, or losing another video game, or -!"

"Misato, I know it's tough for you down here, but you shouldn't even be thinking things like that!" Ritsuko told her firmly, an edge of fear creeping into her heart.

"What, you think I don't already know that?!" Misato growled, her frustration increasing. Wincing as she realized that her temper was once again getting the better of her, she balled up her fists, shaking them in impotent fury. "Ritsuko, I'm trying everything I can think of to remain in control here, but…I need something more! Something I can actually do! With my hands, my body! Something!"

A frown spreading across her face, Ritsuko considered Misato's request for a time. Any physical activity bore with it a certain amount of danger, with the possibility of sending her pulse through the roof, and her adrenaline levels along with it.

Then again, having Misato going nuts with cabin fever while down here isn't a good idea, either! Ritsuko decided, the image of her pent-up frustrations unleashing a green-skinned destroyer that was an easy match for Unit 01 at its berserk best running around loose within NERV. Something that could happen if Misato decided for some reason to hold her breath long enough for the transformation to run its course, rather than succumbing to the sleeping gas and allowing it to quell the beast within her.

"Well, I can't make any promises, but…I guess I can arrange for some…aerobic equipment," Ritsuko finally, reluctantly replied. "It wouldn't be a drive through the city, but…it'd be better than nothing."

Heaving a deep breath of relief, Misato then shook her head. "I can't believe I'm going to say this, but thank you for helping me get some exercise!" she said, a hint of her teasing air returning.

"It's the least I can do," Ritsuko said, her lip curling up. "After all, I can't let you go around, wrecking all my hard work!" This tease got the result intended as Misato chuckled, some of the tension draining from her. "And now that that's out of the way, maybe we can get to the reason why I'm here?"

"Huh?" Misato started, broken from her mirth. However, her impish nature did not abate so easily. "You mean you didn't come down here just to bless me with your company? Or make off with even more of my blood?"

"Not exactly," Ritsuko returned. "I've actually made some progress on our studies of your mutation."

"What kind of progress?" Misato wondered, leaning forward with growing interest.

"Well, we've increased our understanding of how the transformation process works, and we've successfully mapped out fifteen distinct genome sequences related to the mutation," Ritsuko slowly explained. Almost at once, Misato lowered her head, releasing a noise of displeasure. At which point the doctor smiled in a knowing fashion. "And…we figured out why you turned red after the destruction of the 10th Angel."

At these words, Misato once again looked at her friend, her eyes narrowing. "What?"

"Actually, looking back, the answer was staring us right in the face all along," Ritsuko spoke in a self-depreciating manner. "As we already know, your mutation is a two-part process. The exposure to Adam, which in turn enabled you to safely absorb the radiation from Jet Alone. Which means that your cells must have an internal mechanism that allows them to regulate that energy. If they didn't, you would have died from radiation poisoning a long time ago."

"And isn't that cheerful thought," Misato grumbled.

"Now, my point is, even with this capability, there must be some…outer limit, some maximum amount to the level of energy your body can absorb," Ritsuko went on. The part of her that was a scientist clearly warming to the subject. "Now, when that limit was reached, your body responded by expelling the excess energy levels in the form of intense heat. That's why you were setting things on fire, just by coming in contact with them."

Frowning as she tried to digest Ritsuko's words, Misato finally leveled a perplexed look. "In other words…I was sweating off the extra energy?"

"Essentially, yes," Ritsuko agreed. "Now, I know it might not seem like much, but this is actually good news, Misato." When the purple-haired woman just looked blankly at Ritsuko, the doctor smiled and tried again. "Since there's a natural, physical mechanism that allows you to expel excessive amounts of energy, then it's possible that we could find a way to use it to vent even more of the radiation from your body. Since you don't have an S2 organ to provide you with energy, then the extraction of the gamma radiation from your body might be enough to retard the transformation process. Maybe even cancel it out altogether."

"Uh, Ritsuko?" Misato started, raising an eyebrow at her friend. "I don't mean to sound negative, but that was a lot of 'maybes', 'ifs', and 'mights' in there. Now, I know that that's better than a zero or lower, but…"

"You'd like a bit better odds before we actually try to mess with your body," Ritsuko concluded.

"Yes, I would," Misato agreed with a wry smile.

Nodding, Ritsuko matched her friend's smile. "In that case, I should probably get back to work," she decided, getting to her feet. "That is after I talk to Hideki about getting some aerobic equipment for you."

"Yeah, you do that," Misato agreed smilingly. "And maybe later, you can drop by some reason other than just to talk shop."

"I'd like that," Ritsuko agreed as she turned and started towards the door.

Watching as Ritsuko left, the groaning of the door and clicking of the locks seeming to emphasize her friend's departure, Misato's smile faded. Once again she was alone. Completely alone…except for her.

Even now, she could feel the impulses, the base desires. Things that had plagued her in times of loneliness in the past, things that had led her to spending a week making out with Kaji, to make disastrous attempts at relationships that ended up as one night stands. Things made even worse by her mutation, the knowledge that a savage beast within her desired nothing more than to act on those impulses. Waiting for the moment that Misato let down her guard…and surrendered herself to her basest desires.

And then there was something else. Something that had emerged within Misato when Ritsuko had spoken of a possible avenue for a cure.

Anger. Fear. Hatred. A sense of being threatened, and the desire to destroy that which threatened her. And while Misato did not know how she knew, but there was one other thing that she was certain of. That these feelings did not belong to the She-Hulk alone.

"Hmm…let's see," Hikari mused, leafing through one of her cookbooks. "What should I make for dinner tonight?"

The middle Horaki daughter was standing in the kitchen, giving careful consideration as this evening's repast, having long since abandoned the practice of asking her sisters what they would like to eat. The answer was very rarely the same, and when Kodama and Nozomi didn't see eye-to-eye on food, an argument was the usual result.

Ever since Hikari's mother died, it had more or less fallen to her to oversee the day-to-day running of the Horaki household. As far as she was concerned, it was up to her to see to the needs of her family, and she did her duties diligently and without complaint. Still, that didn't mean that Hikari enjoyed playing referee for one of the arguments that frequently occurred between Kodama and Nozomi. As far as Hikari was concerned, her older and younger sisters argued too often as it was. The last thing she wanted to do was make her own job harder than it was.

Hmm…grilled salmon sounds good, Hikari finally decided, looking at the recipe in question. And I have everything I need to make it.

Smiling, Hikari set the book up on the kitchen counter so that she could easily reference it. However, before she could even begin to fetch the necessary ingredients, she was startled by the sound of the doorbell ringing. "I'll get it!" came the eager voice of Nozomi, which was followed by the sound of her feet against the floors.

Thinking that it might have been her father home from work early, Hikari took a moment to peek out from the kitchen. She watched as Nozomi opened the door and spoke, "Oh, hello there! Who're you?"

It certainly wasn't her father, Hikari now knew. A fact that was driven home by the response, "Uh, my name is Shinji. I'm a…friend of Hikari. Is she in right now?"

"Yes, she is!" Nozomi replied before turning on her heel and cupping her mouth. "Hey, sister! You've got a visitor!"

"Yes, so I noticed," Hikari replied, exiting the kitchen. As she approached the front door, she gave her sister a frown that she probably inherited from her mother. "But what have I told you about not shouting in the house?"

Blinking as her mistake was driven home, Nozomi smiled sheepishly. "Sorry about that, sister!"

Sighing in weariness, Hikari turned her attention to her unexpected visitor. "Hello, Shinji. How are you doing?"

"I'm…okay, I guess," Shinji decided, shifting about anxiously on his feet. Looking about the house, Shinji looked at Hikari. "Um…can I come in, please?"

"Yes, of course. I was just about to start dinner, though," Hikari admitted. Trying to express that she didn't like unexpected visitors around dinnertime without blasting Shinji with that fact.

"Oh, that's okay. I wasn't planning on staying very long," Shinji replied earnestly. Slipping his shoes off, the boy then entered the house proper. "It's just…there's something I need to talk to you about. In private, that is."

A slight frown curling her lips, Hikari looked at the boy before her. The very fact that he didn't want to talk over the phone already a very telling thing. "Alright, fine," she said, gesturing for the boy to follow her. "We can talk up in my room."

Nodding, Shinji started after her. Only to jerk uncontrollably when Nozomi asked, "Hey! Are you gonna kiss him?"

"Nozomi!" Hikari blurted, staring daggers at her sister. When Nozomi was properly chastened, the freckled girl turned her attention to Shinji. "I'm sorry about that."

"No, it's okay," Shinji assured her. With obvious anxiety, he asked, "Could we…just get going? I really do have to talk to you."

He got over Nozomi's joke, just like that? Hikari gaped, knowing how easily Shinji fell apart when it came to women and any matter relating to the more intimate aspects of life. It's official. Something is definitely wrong!

"This way," Hikari spoke, gesturing for Shinji to follow her. Every step the boy took betraying his anxiety. A fact that was solidified when they entered her room, where Shinji quickly closed and locked the door.

"So…what is it you wanted to talk about?" Hikari wondered, eyeing the boy as she sat down upon her bed. "Does it have to do with the Brigade?"

Shinji smiled almost bashfully at this. Ever since Toji's declaration after the group's first meeting, the name Teen Brigade, or just the Brigade as they usually referred to it, had stuck like glue. "Well, no. It's not that," he admitted. "But…it is important."

"Really? Then what is it?" Hikari asked. Shinji didn't answer, however. Instead, he stood there, his eyes falling to the floor. Something that only served to annoy the girl. Frowning, she stood and looked her friend straight in the eye. "Shinji, you said you had something important to talk about. Now please, could you just tell me what it is?"

Sucking in a quick breath, Shinji returned Hikari's gaze. Then, his visage hardened with a deep resolve, he answered. "Horaki-chan…I know that you're Spirit."

The instant these words penetrated her mind, Hikari was jolted with shock. Her entire body went rigid as she looked at the boy before her. A boy who now held her life in his hands. Her eyes flitting about wildly, as in search of a possible escape, Hikari tried to say something, but ultimately couldn't. Her vocal cords had been jammed shut, and her mind equally so.

Finally, after a long period of silence, one word escaped her lips. "How?"

His usual shyness returning, Shinji averted his eyes. "Back when you were fighting Misato – She-Hulk – you changed back to yourself for a while. And…well, I didn't get a really good look at your face, but…"

"But it was enough, wasn't it?" Hikari asked in a manner that showed she wasn't truly asking. Swallowing a breath, she felt her hands involuntarily clenching. "Shinji, please, you can't tell anyone about this! If NERV finds out that I'm…!"

"No, you don't understand! I'm not gonna tell anyone!" Shinji assured her, bringing up his hands in protest. "It's just…well…there's something important I have to tell you."

"You mean…other than you knowing that I'm Spirit?" Hikari asked, her already shocked heart all but stopping.

Nodding, Shinji looked at her hesitantly. "Dr. Akagi…she did an analysis of your wings. The ones that…" Shinji fumbled, clearly uncertain as to how to speak of that. As for Hikari, she just nodded, almost feeling the agony Misato's monstrous other had subjected her to. "Anyway, she said that they're…unstable."

"Unstable?" Hikari repeated with narrowed eyes. "What do you mean?"

"Well, she said that…you might lose control over your powers," Shinji explained tersely. He then went into greater detail about Ritsuko had said she had found, including the possibility that she would become as mindless as Misato did when she transformed. "I mean, I don't know if that'll actually happen or anything, but…I had to tell you."

Forced to sit down once again by the weight of Shinji's words, Hikari answered, "Shinji…thanks for telling me this, but…I haven't felt anything unusual. At least…not since I…first turned into Spirit, that is." Furrowing her brows, the freckled girl studied her friend. "Shinji, are you sure about this? It could…well…"

"Just be a trick?" Shinji gathered. When Hikari nodded, he sighed wearily. "I already thought about that, Horaki-chan, but…I still had to tell you. Just in case it wasn't."

"I appreciate that, Shinji. Thank you," Hikari responded somberly. "Is there anything else?"

"No, not really," Shinji admitted. He then gave an unhappy smile. "Actually, I have to get back home right now. I'm supposed to be making dinner soon, and Asuka will be mad if I'm late."

"That sounds about right," Hikari admitted. Though she did like her redheaded friend, she was fully aware that Asuka did like to be in charge. "You better get going, then."

"Right. Thanks, Horaki-chan," Shinji said. With a slight bow, he exited the girl's room, leaving the door open.

As she listened to Shinji's footsteps recede, however, Hikari found herself unable to do anything but sit there, thinking over his words. And while she was quite certain that at least half of everything that came out of NERV was a lie or close to it, she found herself wondering what would happen if this wasn't another of their tricks.

When she had first discovered her new powers, Hikari had been exalted and fearful at the same time. The feeling of power had almost been intoxicating, but she had also found herself inundated with questions. How this power got inside of her, what other effects would it have on her? Would she ultimately become as dangerous as the Angels themselves?

Though those questions had eventually been buried beneath her efforts to protect the city from the Angels, Shinji's words had rekindled those old fears. And despite the fact the NERV was playing all kinds of ugly games, Hikari knew Shinji didn't. And since it was his voice conveying those fears, they somehow became even stronger.

"Hikari?" came a voice from her door. When the pigtailed girl looked up, she saw her sister Kodama standing there, looking at her in confusion. "Shouldn't you be making dinner?"

Sighing heavily, Hikari lowered her gaze. "Do me a favor, Kodama," she got out. "Just order a pizza, okay? I'm not in the mood to cook right now."

One night, on the outskirts of Tokyo-3, a massive shipping truck sped down the dilapidated streets that were holdovers from when the city had been known as Hakone. Surrounded by crumbling buildings that were infested by the dregs of society, the transport vehicle continued on its way until it reached a ramshackle warehouse.

The truck stopped before the creaking structure, its headlights hazily illuminating the building's side. Then the trailer's door slid open, and several people donned in commando-style outfits spat forth, carrying machine guns and outfitted with night-vision goggles. With precision that would have made any military officer drool, the men fanned out, scouting the area, searching for any potential witnesses to their activities.

They crept about the area, searching the buildings, going everywhere their equipment indicated a warm body that did not indicate one of their own. And one by one, they found anyone who was unlucky to just be there. Junkies, looters, homeless, it didn't matter. It wasn't long before they were all found. And with a burst of gunfire, the commandos made sure that they were forever silenced.

After several minutes had passed, the air was cleared of the sound of gunfire, and the commandos gathered in the back of the truck, their eyes focused on the interior of the trailer. One of them at the center of the group held up his hand in salute. "Sir! The area has been secured, sir!"

"Then I take it that all prying eyes have been shut?" came a deep, grating voice from within.

"Sir, yes, sir!" the one commando declared with the same enthusiasm. "You are free and clear, sir!"

"Good," the voice's owner rasped out, his delight clear to those who heard him. Without hesitation, a figure leapt from the trailer, landing effortlessly on the ground before the commandos. The dark figure, wearing what appeared to be a cloak or cape of some kind, looked over his shoulder. "It is time, Rhino. Follow me!"

"You got it," came another, far deeper voice, which was then followed by a deep, reverberating impact from within. The impact was followed by another as the trailer shifted from one side to the other as the first figure and the commandos moved to a safe distance. Finally, a massive, armored figure stepped down from the trailer, his frame so huge that he did not have to jump.

With both feet on the ground, the Rhino stretched out, spreading his arms and he twisted one way, then the other. Sections of his mechanized armor made various hydraulic noises as he moved about, mechanisms whirring with each move he made. "Ah! It sure feels good to be out of that damned sardine can!" he growled, giving a quick shake of his massive, horned head.

"Indeed, it is," his companion agreed before gesturing at the decaying building the truck was pointed. "Now, come! Let us get settled in our…temporary abode, while we wait for the signal."

Turning to look at the warehouse, Rhino released a heavy groan before shaking his head in dismay. "Aw, not another abandoned warehouse! I'm tired of those!"

"To be sure, it is not the Ritz Hotel, but the best we can do, under the circumstances," his companion agreed congenially as he started towards the building in question. "After all, it is not as if people such as us would go unnoticed if we were to go parading around through the city."

"Terrific. The story of my life; another assignment, another damned abandoned warehouse," Rhino complained loudly as he stomped after his companion. "Do I at least get some breakfast before I have to go to work?"

"I'm afraid our timeline is not nearly so flexible," the other admitted. "You'll just have to…eat as you go."

"Damn," Rhino muttered.

As Rei Ayanami woke up, her brain becoming more active, she began processing the various sensory input she was receiving. The dull, grimy surfaces of her dwelling, the fetid smell that clung incessantly to the walls, the sounds of the building creaking, as well as whatever people that happened to be around moving about. All in all, it was a familiar thing for her. What she had been raised to expect her entire young life.

Getting to her feet, Rei stretched as she shed the covers, her bare feet finding the cold floor as she went about her morning routine. Going to her bathroom, she turned on the water for her shower. After twisting the knobs about, causing water to spout from the showerhead, the albino placed her hand in the path of the water. It was cold and showed no sign of warming.

Her lips pressing together, Rei got into the shower. Obviously, the hot water wasn't working, something that was wont to happen in such a neglected building. Although Rei would have preferred hot water, there was nothing she could do about it. So she bore up under the cold water as best as she could, and washed herself down. Then it was just a matter of toweling herself off and getting dressed. With these routine duties completed, the blue-haired girl went to her kitchen with the intent of preparing her morning repast.

Just as she was opening the refrigerator door, however, Rei's eyes went wide of a huge crashing sound. Whipping about, the albino swung her gaze about, only to take in a surprised breath as someone landed before her, having affected entry by crashing through the wall.

"Greetings, 1st Child. Or would you prefer I call you Rei Ayanami?" the intruder asked, smiling wickedly as he looked her over. His smile became even crueler as he added, "Or perhaps even…Commander Ikari's pet project?"

Nonplused, Rei scrutinized the intruder, standing unflinchingly before him. "Who are you?" she asked as she examined him. For the most part, he looked like a normal human being, except that he was heavily muscled, and his skin had the color and texture of granite. He was garbed in armor that appeared to be made of the same substance as his body, and from his back sprouted a set of mechanical, bat-like wings. Clawed gauntlets adorned his forearms, with talons that were twin spirals of metal tightly woven together.

"Ah, forgive my ill manners! It was rude of me not to introduce myself, especially when I already know your name," the intruder smiled. He then bowed from the waist, placing his right forearm across his chest. "I am known as the Grey Gargoyle. And as for why I'm here…I have come for you, my dear."

Rei felt no fear as the Grey Gargoyle moved up to her. "What do you want of me?"

"A reasonable question. The answer to which is simple; I need bait for to bring out my intended quarry, and you are a piece of said bait," Grey Gargoyle smiled coldly. Before Rei could react, he then wrapped his right hand about her wrist, with Rei flinching at his cold, unyielding touch. "Don't bother crying out for help, my dear. Even if Section 2 was capable of stopping me – which I sincerely doubt - I'm afraid they are just a bit too busy to come to your aid this day. My associate is currently seeing to this."

Not wasting any breath on words, Rei tried to freeze herself from the Gargoyle's grip, only to frown at the discovery that his strength far exceeded hers. A situation made worse by the fact that her arm was going numb. She couldn't move her hand at all, and…

Then Rei realized that her arm wasn't numb at all. Before her eyes, grey spread from where the Grey Gargoyle's hand touched her own flesh. Grey that was the same shade as the Gargoyle's own body. And where the grey appeared, Rei lost all feeling in that part of her body.

Looking up at her captor, Rei saw the Grey Gargoyle nodding at her. "I see you have realized what my touch is capable of," he said as her flesh slowly changed to stone. "But don't worry, my dear. You won't die. Not just yet."

Unafraid of death, unafraid of the Grey Gargoyle, Rei just stood there and watched as her body was completely fossilized. With the last thing she heard was her captor saying, "Now, whether or not you will stay alive long enough to wake up…I'm afraid that depends on just how much value you hold to your creator's people."

The instant Rei's conversion was complete, the Grey Gargoyle effortlessly hefted her up in both arms, smiling deviously as he took in her image. Though he wasn't into little girls, he certainly appreciated the innate beauty the cloned child possessed. If this was an inkling of how Yui Ikari had looked, then he could definitely understand why Gendo would choose such a woman as his wife.

Of course, why Yui elected to marry Gendo was still a mystery, but then again, there was such a thing as bad taste in men.

Clearing his throat, Grey Gargoyle shook his mind free of such thoughts. He still had a mission accomplish, and while he was done with one part of it, he still had to check up on his partner. Swinging Rei so that she was held in just one arm, he tapped the com-unit that was hanging from his left ear. "Grey Gargoyle to Rhino. Come in, please."

There was nothing quite like the sound of women screaming in horror to get the blood pumping.

At least, that was how it worked for the Rhino.

During the hours before the sun rose above Tokyo-3, he had listened to the Grey Gargoyle had carefully laid out their plan of attack. The first part was simplicity itself, and a drill that Rhino had been part of several times in the past. Even before he had volunteered for the process that had transformed him into the Rhino. Namely, he would tear ass through the city, causing chaos and mayhem wherever he went while his partner went after whatever prize or hostage they needed to make the bosses happy.

Which was just fine by him, because it was probably the best part about his line of work.

His heart pumping deep within his chest and the sound of his ion boosters mixing with the horrified screaming of the people of the city, the Rhino charged down the streets of Tokyo-3. Everywhere he went, the citizens of the city fled before him, and why shouldn't they? He truly was a sight to behold.

Steel-grey armor plates covering his entire body, save for his face. Heavy armaments concealed within his armor, and the twin ion boosters affixed to his back, allowing him speed and maneuverability far in excess of the human norm, and a genetically enhanced musculature that made crushing anything in his path child's play. All of which was topped off by a spiral of metal atop of his head, it's design based on everything that had been learned from the Lance of Longinus.

As the Rhino charged along the streets, he spotted what looked like a very fancy, very expensive red sports car. Which to his mind translated as a target. Turning towards the car, the biomechanical behemoth lowered his head so that his horn lined up perfectly with his target. Targeting sensors on the sides of his head whirred about, feeding information directly into his brain, allowing him to aim even without using his eyes.

Finally, the Rhino heard the satisfying sound of metal shrieking in protest, his horn driving deep into the sports car's engine block. Lifting up with his head even as his ion boosters switched off, the armored behemoth tossed the car into the air before its alarm even had the chance to start screaming at him.

"Ah, nothing like a little exercise to start the day off right!" Rhino growled happily as he looked for his next target. Most of the people had already run away, but that didn't mean that there weren't plenty of opportunities to cause some carnage. Such as the gas station he had just sighted.

Giving a satisfied snort, the Rhino broke into an ion boosted run, his every footstep cracking the pavement as he rushed towards his target. Even as he drew closer, the Rhino directed a thought to his cybernetic armor, causing the massive plates of metal over his shoulders to slide open. A series of four missiles spat forth from these apertures, guided by his armor's targeting system so that they rained down upon the gas station. The result was a massive ball of fire erupting from the gas pumps, even as the Rhino once again lowered his head, with the side of a building his current target.

Ripping through the building wall like it was made of tissue, the Rhino smashed through wall after wall of the empty building, carving a swathe of destruction until he reached the other side. Exploding out into the sun once more, the biomechanical monster laughed manically as he continued to run.

Stopping to grab up another car, the Rhino heaved it up over his head and was getting to throw through somebody's window when he heard something. An irritating noise that was already coming closer, and then multiplied. A noise that could only be the sound of police sirens.

Rhino couldn't help but grin. The police showing up was just another one of the little bonuses to his line of work. Something that was reassuringly familiar and fun on just about every assignment handed out to him.

Sure enough, a lineup of about half a dozen police cars ground to a halt before him. As each car came to a complete stop, one or two little creeps in uniforms leapt out of the doors. One by one, they gave various noises of horror as they took in the giant they had been sent to beard, took out a teeny-tiny gun and pointed it at him. And despite the fact that they obviously knew their little peashooters were at best a joke, one of them shouted, "A-a-alright, you! Just…drop the car, and…place your hands in the air."

It was all the Rhino could do not to laugh. He had done this so many times, it had become a bad joke with him. And yet, somehow, it still remained funny. Give some idiot a uniform, a badge, and a gun, and all of sudden, he thought he was in a position to order around just about anybody.

Seriously, there was just one way to deal with someone just so stupid.

"Sure thing, officer!" Rhino grinned, and without any noticeable effort, he tossed the car right at the police. Predictably, they scattered, allowing the car to crash right into two of the police vehicles. And then they started firing on him. Little chunks of metal pinged into reinforced titanium-steel armor plating and bounced away. Leaving the Rhino not only unhurt but laughing uproariously at this pathetic attempt to stop him.

Deciding to have some more fun with the weak little morons, the Rhino stomped towards them, the thick rings about his wrists, looking almost like gears fitted with heavy blades instead of teeth, began to rotate. They kept gaining speed until they were a blur, even as the Rhino brought his fists down upon one of the squad cars. The grinders tore their way through the metal with ease, sending shards flying in every direction. Upon seeing this, the police quickly figured out what would happen if the Rhino was allowed to get hold of them, and so they scattered.

The thrill of the chase in his blood, the Rhino prepared to polish his horn with the officers. But before he could move, his armor's comlink came online. "Grey Gargoyle to Rhino. Come in, please."

"Huh?" Rhino fumbled, so caught up in fun and games that he had forgotten about his partner. "Oh, hey, Gargoyle! Yeah, I'm here!"

"I have secured the first of our targets," Gargoyle responded. "I will deposit her at the rendezvous point, and then I will retrieve the second target. Just make sure that you keep the local authorities busy."

"Not a problem! This job's a piece of cake!" Rhino returned, only to frown when he heard the deep rumbling of his stomach. He then cursed inwardly at the realization that, with everything that was going on, he had forgotten about breakfast.

That's the problem with these rush jobs, the Rhino grumbled inwardly. There's never enough time for the essentials. Damn.

"Very good! Then please, cause all the mayhem and destruction you wish!" Grey Gargoyle said enthusiastically. "Just be sure to keep away from the schools. We can't risk the other pilots being harmed, eh?"

"Sure. Right," the Rhino responded, only to hear the comlink click off.

Frowning in dismay, the Rhino shook his head at the prospect of his rampage being limited. Stomping through a school filled with kids was just about one of the most fun things he could imagine. Kids screamed really well, and squishing all those damn teachers who liked to make their students feel stupid was great for his own frustrations. And there was nothing quite like wrecking a school full of kids to get the kind of reaction that he was being paid to get.

Still, orders are orders, Rhino thought unhappily. Maybe I should stomp out a hospital or an old folk's home or something. That'll do the job. While he was considering possible targets, his stomach once again growled unhappily. Which was ultimately what decided his next course of action. That's it! I'll go wreck a mall! he decided with a smile. Those places always have restaurants or those little snack booths or whatever! And I can cause all kinds of chaos while I'm getting breakfast, too!

That settled, the Rhino set out, thoughts of more fun and a full stomach in his head as he ignited his ion boosters.

"Excuse me?" Gendo Ikari got out. He stared at the cell phone in his hand like he couldn't believe what he was hearing. "A man running around in…a rhino costume?!"

"That's what it looks like to us, sir," came the voice of Iwao Chiron. "He's very large, fitted with heavy armor and weapons, and has a horn sticking out of his head, sir. And he's been attacking everything in sight."

"What progress has been made in stopping this creature?" Gendo demanded.

"The police haven't been able to do a thing about," Chiron promptly reported. "It's completely bulletproof, heavily armed, and fast. I would say the threat posed by this creature is considerable."

"Have you notified Captain Ibuki?" Gendo asked.

There was a telling silence on the other end of the line. "No, sir, I thought it more important to notify you, first."

Furrowing his brows, Gendo considered the situation. Though Chiron was a capable officer, he frequently allowed his male chauvinist predilections get in the way of his better judgment. "Very well. I'll inform her," Gendo got out, his inflection making it abundantly clear that the Chiron would regret his decision. "Have Section 2 deployed, and prepare them for heavy combat. I want this creature stopped before it can impede our combat capabilities significantly."

"Very well, sir," Chiron answered before disconnecting.

Unable to hide his distaste as he speed-dialed Maya, Gendo tightened his grip on his armrest, the patent leather interior of his limousine suddenly of no comfort to him. Though it was suitably luxurious, and fitting a man of his position, it was not the seat of power. It was not the hub of control that was his office or his seat on the bridge, and it was these places that he dearly wanted to be.

His frustration mounting with each ring of the phone, Gendo finally heard the line connect. "Hello, Maya speaking."

"Captain Ibuki, this is Commander Ikari speaking," Gendo intoned. "The city is currently under attack. I want you to order an evacuation for all civilians. Have them go to the Angel shelters at once."

"Under attack?" Maya returned, her voice betraying her confusion. "We haven't had any indication as to an Angel appearing, and -!"

"It is not an Angel!" Not bothering with niceties, Gendo took a breath and continued. "Just do as I say, Captain!" he ordered, raising his voice just enough to let the young woman know that he meant business. "If you want further information, contact Captain Chiron. He already knows the details."

"Sir! Understood, sir!" Maya returned, her voice brisk and official.

"Good. I'll be arriving shortly," Gendo spoke. "Just make sure that –"

His words cut off by the sound of screeching metal, Gendo was then hurled against the restraint that was his seatbelt. Looking about wildly, the Commander of NERV focused his gaze up front. "Driver, what's happening?!" he demanded, but his only answer was the sound of smashing glass. Leaning forward, Gendo watched as a stone-grey fist reached in, touched the driver…and rendered him as of stone.

Realizing his peril, Gendo started to undo his seatbelt but was cut off by the sound of something impacting upon the roof. Which was then followed by two hands of stone ripping through the metal and peeling it open like a sardine can. "Sir? What's happening?! Sir, can you hear me?!" Maya continued to cry out as a man of stone leapt into the limo, grinning as he wrapped the fingers of his right hand about Gendo's throat.

While Gendo was squirming helplessly, trying to free himself, the man took his cell phone and smiled. "Hello, young lady," he spoke in heavily accented Japanese. "I'm sorry, but your Commander is currently…occupied."

"What's going on?! Who are you?!" Maya demanded even as Gendo felt his body going numb.

"I am known as the Grey Gargoyle, and as for what is going on, I am simply…borrowing your Commander. Just as I borrowed the 1st Child," he explained, grinning the entire time. His eyes widening at the mention of Rei, Gendo redoubled his efforts against his assailant, but to now avail as control of his own body faded. "As for how long they stay in my custody, well…I'm afraid that depends on precisely how cooperative you are."

"NERV doesn't make deals with terrorists!" Maya declared forcefully.

"Oh, but my friend and I are not terrorists. We are not in pursuit of money or power. Not this day, anyway," Grey Gargoyle assured her. "I'll be happy to explain more thoroughly…when the time suits me, that is."

Those were the last things Gendo heard before he slid into unconsciousness.

"What?" Shinji gasped, staring in disbelief at Maya. "Ayanami and…my father?! They've been kidnapped?!"

"It looks that way," Maya admitted, looking uncomfortably at the boy standing before her. She, Shinji, and Asuka were standing on the bridge, with Ritsuko and the rest of the bridge crew present.

"Here's what we know so far," Ritsuko spoke in her usual tone of voice. Activating a holographic display, she showed the two children images taken of the invader, as well as the battles that had been fought to stop him. "Early this morning, a heavily armored individual began attacking the city. Both the police forces and Section 2 attempted to stop him, but with no success."

"Look at the size of that thing!" Shinji gawked, staring at the heavily armored figure. Scenes of battle flashed by, with Section 2 even deploying helicopters armed with rockets. With none of their weapons even leaving a scratch on the biomechanical behemoth. "He must be as big as She-Hulk!"

"At least. And he has a substantial arsenal of weapons at his disposal," Ritsuko agreed, even as a picture of the metal madman deploying a set of Gatling guns from his forearms, sending down one of the helicopters in a blaze of destruction. "In any case, while the police were busy, someone else kidnapped both the Commander and Rei. We have no idea where they are now, but we were informed that the kidnappers would be contacting us later."

I don't believe this, Shinji thought wearily. He hadn't been all that concerned when Rei had not shown up at school that day. On more than occasion, the albino had been absent, presumably because his father had wanted her elsewhere. Then the order had gone out to have everyone evacuate to the shelters while Shinji and Asuka had gotten the call to report to NERV Headquarters. Leaving Shinji overwhelmed, with too much happening too quickly.

If Asuka felt similarly, she didn't show it. She just stood there, placing her hands to her hips. "Well, what are you gonna do about it?"

"There's not a lot we can do about it right now," Maya admitted, the strain of the situation evident. "We don't know where the kidnappers are, and we can't risk any harm coming to the Commander or Rei. At the very least, losing Rei would mean losing the use of Unit 00."

"We'll just have to wait until the kidnappers contact us first," Ritsuko agreed.

Though Ritsuko's words made sense, Shinji couldn't help but feel the weight of everything falling down upon him. Sighing wearily, his eyes fell to the floor. "Hey, cheer up, Third!" Asuka commented, drawing the boy's attention. "C'mon, it's like they said! They won't let anything happen to Wondergirl or the Commander! Besides, it's probably just a couple creeps looking to make a fast buck! No big deal!"

"I hope so, Asuka," Maya spoke up. When everyone looked at the young Captain, however, they could easily see the fear that lay in her eyes.

Her heart pounding in her chest, Hikari rushed to her house. Her hands fumbling nervously, she threw open the door and raced to her room.

Though she had no idea as to what was going on, Hikari knew two things for certain. That everyone had been evacuated, and that Shinji and Asuka had been called to NERV. Two things that were definitely indicators of trouble. The fact that she hadn't sensed an Angel or any other anomalous being was immaterial; it was obvious that trouble was brewing.

I'm just glad that it's not Misato on another rampage! Hikari thought gratefully as she retrieved one of her costumes from its hiding spot. A new one that she was certain would be thoroughly broken in by the time she was done. She's worse than an Angel when she's mad!

Doffing her clothes, the pigtailed girl prepared to don her costume…only to freeze. Several seconds passed in which she just stood there, staring at the fresh costume she had labored to create, thinking of all it symbolized. Her power, her other identity, the dangers such powers brought with it, both from without…and within.

If what Shinji said was true… Hikari thought, her heart clenching at the thought. IF she truly did lose control of her powers, did that mean that she would become like Misato? A mindless monster in her transformed state, a destructive beast?

Sucking in a deep breath, Hikari shook her head, trying to shake loose those errant thoughts. No, there's no time for this! I have to get moving! People could be in danger right now! I have to do this!

Doing her best to still the fears clutching at her heart, Hikari slipped into her costume. Her heart still thundering within her chest as she put her mask on. Fear still gnawing at her as she made her out the back of her home, making certain every step of the way that she was unseen.

Once she felt she was a safe distance away from her home, images of herself as a mindless destroyer lashing out at everything she loved doing their best to force their way to the forefront, Hikari thought, I have wings. And when she transformed, leaving gravity behind as she took to the sky, Spirit could only hope that she could also outrun her fears.

"Uh, Captain Ibuki?" Makoto sounded, his voice trembling somewhat as he spoke. When Maya turned to look at NERV's resident otaku, she was met with a wary face. "The MAGI just detected a red/blue pattern."

"Oh, great!" Ritsuko swore vehemently. "First the Commander and Rei are captured, and now Spirit's getting involved! This is pathetic!"

"Well, maybe she's just trying to help," Shinji pointed out. Trying to keep the relief he felt at the knowledge that one of his friends was out there out of his voice. Along with the fear he felt for her, knowing that the monstrous destroyer that he had seen displayed lay in waiting for her.

"Huh! We don't need that winged bitch's help!" Asuka sniffed, sticking her nose up in the air.

Turning to look at the redhead, Shinji couldn't help but wonder, Would you say that if you knew…she was your best friend?

"Asuka, please," Maya frowned. She then looked at Ritsuko, a hopeful gleaming to her eyes. "Anyway, it's possible that Spirit might be able to rescue the Commander and Rei. After all, she's done pretty well against the Angels."

"I must say, I'm disappointed to hear you say that, Captain Ibuki," came an older voice. A voice that Maya's eyes ballooning from their sockets while her jaw clattered to the floor.

"Fuyutsuki!" Ritsuko spoke as the old professor appeared on the bridge.

Shuffling about on her face, Maya slowly turned to face her superior. "Uh, Sub-Commander, sir!" she fumbled, trying to gather herself up. The wheels spinning about madly in her mind, the Captain finally hit upon a possible answer. "It's just…given our current situation, I would think that our top priority would be the safe return of Commander Ikari, and -!"

"I know that, Captain Ibuki," Fuyutsuki answered, placing heavy emphasis upon her rank. "However, if we are forced to be reliant on a self-appointed vigilante to do our duties for us, the long-term consequences will be substantial. The press has already been taking us apart because of Spirit's interference. If she was to save Ikari and the press got hold of it…"

"Boy, I'll say!" Asuka snorted. "Damned bitch is always butting in where she's not wanted!"

"But, sir…!" Shinji started, looking in protest at the people before him. However, before he anyone else could say something, the holographic display before them sputtered, degrading into a chaotic montage of light and static.

"What's going on?!" Maya gaped, her nerves already maxed out. Her answer was the holographic display shifting, resolving into a face. As Shinji studied the man displayed, his first reaction was that something was wrong with the color. The picture of the man was completely grey, leaving him looking like his skin was made of stone.

"Greetings, people of NERV," the man smiled, eyeing them menacingly. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am…the Grey Gargoyle."

Guess the color is working, after all, Shinji decided with ill humor as the man stood back from the camera.

"As you may have already realized, I am the one who currently holds the fate of both your Commander and one of your pilots in my hands," the Grey Gargoyle went on. "Now, is there anyone present in a suitable position of command for me to speak to?"

His eyes narrowed dangerously, Fuyutsuki stepped forward. "I am Sub-Commander Kozo Fuyutsuki. To my left is Captain Maya Ibuki, our Operations Director," he announced, tipping his head in Maya's direction. "I believe we qualify as being in a suitable position of command."

"Indeed, you do," the Grey Gargoyle agreed. He then leered in Maya's direction. "And you are quite a fair sight to my eyes, Captain Ibuki."

Her lips tightening, Maya looked up at the being of stone before her and gathered up her courage. "Where are Commander Ikari and the 1st Child?" she asked without betraying any anxiety. "Are they still alive?"

"Indeed, they are. Observe," the Grey Gargoyle replied, gesturing off to his side. The camera followed him and settled upon what appeared to be a set of statues. Statues of Rei, Gendo, and a woman that none of them recognized. Much to their surprise, the statues of Rei and Gendo were tied securely to a set of wooden poles.

"Statues?!" Asuka gaped in disbelief. "You think you're gonna fool us with a couple of statues?!"

"Statues they are…for now," the Grey Gargoyle agreed. "However, if you will watch closely…you may be surprised." He then placed his hand upon the statue of Rei, and before their eyes, a bizarre transformation occurred. The stone-grey surface softened, breaking apart into different colors. The transformation progressed until it was not a statue, but a living, breathing child looking about in shock. Taking in her surroundings as she found herself bound and helpless.

"Ayanami!" Shinji cried out as the others stared in awe. "Are you alright?!"

As surprised as he had ever seen her, Rei soon focused on him. "Ikari-kun," she murmured gently. "I…appear to be well."

"Allow me to explain what has just happened. My body has been infused with a specially devised nano-virus, which is capable of rendering anything organic, and even certain inorganic materials, as of stone. It is the presence of this virus in my body which is responsible for my…current appearance," the Grey Gargoyle explained, gesturing to himself. "As you can see, I am capable of transmitting this virus into anything I touch, thus rendering it stone as well. A very effective method of restraining one's victims, eh?"

Frowning dangerously, Fuyutsuki locked gazes with the Grey Gargoyle. "Assuming that is what happened, then I'm certain you would not mind reverting Commander Ikari as well."

"Ah, but I'm afraid I would," the Grey Gargoyle countered. "Your Commander is a bit too treacherous to allow any freedom. I would not be surprised to learn that he had some manner of tracking devices on his person that would allow you to find my companion and I. Something which, at present, I would prefer not happen." The stony being just stood there, looking at the NERV personnel mockingly, reveling in the silence. "However, that is not to say that I would be averse to returning your beloved Commander to normal, or to restoring him and this precious young maiden to your custody."

"What is it you want in return?" Ritsuko asked. "Money? Technology?"

"Technology is something I already have ample access to, as is money, dear woman," the Grey Gargoyle laughed. "No, what I want is for you to send us a very…special person."

"A…special person?" Maya repeated blankly. "Who?"

"I have heard tales of a great green giantess, a creature dwelling within Tokyo-3," the Grey Gargoyle went on. "A creature NERV has designated as…She-Hulk." While everyone there was registering shock at their antagonist's words, he nodded in delight. "In one hour's time, my companion and I will bring both the 1st Child and your Commander to a place of my choosing. Once there, we will signal our location, at which point you will have one further hour to deliver this She-Hulk to us."

He wants Misato! Shinji gaped, his mouth falling open in his horror.

Taking a deep breath, Fuyutsuki stepped even closer to the holographic display. "Listen, Gargoyle or whatever you call yourself, there is something you should know. I have no patience for games, political or otherwise. They're a waste of time, and at my age, I have precious little time to lose playing them," the professor began, projecting each word with utter authority. "I don't know how you learned about She-Hulk, nor do I care. But you clearly do not know what you are asking of us. The creature you are referring to is all but uncontrollable. Easily as dangerous as an Angel. To ask us to simply turn her over to you -"

"Oh, believe me, Sub-Commander, we are well aware of the potential dangers of such a beast, especially in transporting it," the Grey Gargoyle spoke with thinly veiled sarcasm. "And I do not ask that you turn her over to us. I merely wish for you to let her loose someplace near the arranged meeting place…so that my companion here can deal with her."

"Your companion?" Ritsuko demanded. Only to gape in horror at the biomechanical behemoth that strode into view. A being that looked far more menacing while moving about then in the still pictures Shinji had seen earlier.

"Please allow me to introduce you to my partner, the Rhino," the Grey Gargoyle hissed, gesturing at the monster behind him. "As you are surely aware, he is quite a formidable combatant in his own right. And a good match for this She-Hulk, wouldn't you say?"

Taking in the figure of the monstrous being, Shinji then directed his attention to the Grey Gargoyle. "You mean…you want us to send Mi- I mean, She-Hulk to you…so that...Rhino can fight her?"

"No, young one," the Grey Gargoyle responded. "I expect you to do this so that Rhino can exterminate her. With extreme prejudice, so to speak." Horror washing over the people there, the stone monstrosity nodded at them mockingly. "And given how…uncontrollable and dangerous you say she is, I would think you would be grateful to be rid of her, eh?"

Turning to look pleadingly at Fuyutsuki, Shinji was caught between fear for Rei and even for his father, and the desire to beg him to keep Misato safe. In the end, however, he could only stand there and watch as the Sub-Commander told him, "Very well. Just as long as you understand that she will be unrestrained. And dangerous."

"Danger is not a problem for us," the Grey Gargoyle assured them. "Your terms are most acceptable, Sub-Commander Fuyutsuki. I must say, I never expected you to be so reasonable."

"Reason has little to do with it," Fuyutsuki retorted, a deadly glimmer in his eyes. "It's just my opinion that you're about to get a whole lot more than you bargained for."

Laughing superiorly, the Grey Gargoyle held up his hands, his mechanical wings spreading somewhat in emphasis. "Ah, whatever your reasons, it is still refreshing, not to have to put up with the bickering and bargaining all too commonplace in such dealings," he told them. "Then, all you need to is wait an hour's time for our signal, and then leave her out for us."

"Agreed," Fuyutsuki agreed. "Just be sure you live up to your end of the bargain, Gargoyle."

"But of course! I am, after all, a man of my word," the Grey Gargoyle declared. A dangerous shadow then appeared on his face. "Of course, should She-Hulk not arrive in time, or if you were to send an Eva in her place…"

"Don't," Fuyutsuki cut in. His expression hardening to match even the Grey Gargoyle's stony demeanor.

"Don't?" the Grey Gargoyle repeated blankly. "Don't what?"

"Her," Fuyutsuki spoke, looking hard at the third statue. A young woman, whose face was frozen in fear. With the cybernetic nightmare called the Rhino standing behind her, a lethal smirk on his face. "Don't make her an example of what will happen if we don't comply. I've seen enough death to know what it looks like."

Blinking rapidly, the Grey Gargoyle studied the Sub-Commander for a time. After what seemed like an eternity, however, he smiled what appeared to be a genuine smile before nodding to the Rhino. "Very well. Leave her be, Rhino."

The Rhino's response was to gawk at his partner in shock. "What?!" he fumbled. "B-but you said…!"

"I don't think a demonstration will be necessary after all," the Grey Gargoyle explained. "And seeing as how our new friend Fuyutsuki is being so cooperative, I think he deserves a reward, eh?"

A sulky expression on his organic face, the Rhino looked at the stone woman with obvious disappointment, muttering various curses beneath his breath. Finally, much to Shinji's relief, he finally backed away from the woman.

Without betraying any emotion, Fuyutsuki bowed his head. "Thank you," he got out, his voice a ghost of itself. "Send your signal when you are ready. We will be watching."

"And when you fulfill your end of the bargain, we will gladly…uphold ours," the Grey Gargoyle smiled. The display once again dissolved into chaos, and finally disappeared.

"How could you do that?!" Shinji bellowed as he turned about. Staring hatefully at the Sub-Commander, he raised his fists up before him. "You mean you're just going to hand Mi -!"

"Not here, 3rd Child," Fuyutsuki retorted. Heading towards the door, he gestured for the others to follow him. While they exchanged several confused looks, Shinji, Asuka, Maya, and Ritsuko moved to follow. They walked in silence, following the Sub-Commander to an elevator for which he had pressed the down button. When the doors finally slid open, Fuyutsuki got on board and held the elevator open for the rest of them to join him.

As soon the elevator had closed up and was in motion, Fuyutsuki addressed them. "My apologies, Shinji. However, I didn't want any unauthorized personnel to learn about Major Katsuragi's…involvement with She-Hulk."

His expression one of surprise, Shinji just looked at the professor for a time. "Oh, right! Sorry, sir!"

"Okay, but what now?" Asuka wondered. "You're not seriously gonna hand Misato over to those two creeps, are you?"

"That is not my intention," Fuyutsuki answered. "What I will do is this; I will go down to Major Katsuragi's quarters. I will then explain the situation to her in full detail, and allow her to make her own decision."

"You do realize what her answer will be, don't you, sir?" Ritsuko asked in a manner of patent disapproval.

"Of course I do," Fuyutsuki answered sadly. Then he gave the doctor a smile, ten years seeming to lift away from him. "But as I said to the Gargoyle; I believe he and the Rhino are about to get a lot more than they bargained for."

"Oh, I'll do it, alright!" Misato growled fiercely, sparks of green appearing in her eyes as she spoke. "Just let me near those assholes! If Greenie doesn't rip them apart, then I promise you, I will!"

"I thought that might be your attitude," Fuyutsuki noted. He and the others were now seated within Misato's current home and prison, the old professor having just finished briefing her as to their situation. Resulting in a dangerously eager and annoyed Misato. "Still, I recommend you be careful. This Rhino is extremely dangerous, and if the hostages are anywhere near them when you go into battle, the chance of them being hurt or killed would be very high."

"I understand that, sir," Misato agreed unhappily. "But I don't think caution is going to be much of an option. In case you haven't noticed by now, She-Hulk isn't exactly big on playing it safe."

"I'm aware of that, Major," Fuyutsuki nodded. "However, the fact remains that, unless you appear, we'll lose any chance of retrieving Commander Ikari or the 1st Child."

"Um, excuse me? Isn't this really stupid?!" Asuka protested. As everyone turned to look at her, the German fixed them with a deadly gaze. "This has been in like a dozen movies! Bad guys take hostages, demand something, and when they get that something, they kill the hostages anyway! You don't actually think that this Gargoyle creep is gonna play along with us?!"

"Actually, there is a chance that he will," Fuyutsuki answered, taking them all by surprise. "I've dealt with terrorists in the past. Their chief desire is to inspire fear in their victims, to petrify them into doing whatever they want, and they'll use whatever means they can to do so."

"So?" Maya wondered.

"It's been my experience that terrorists will often execute one of their victims, or torture them in full view of those they intend to extort from. This is used as a demonstration of power, and as a way of undermining their enemy's resolve," Fuyutsuki explained carefully. "But all I had to do was ask him to spare that young woman, and the Grey Gargoyle agreed."

"So what are you saying?" Ritsuko asked, looking much like she was studying the situation like she would a cell sample beneath a microscope.

"That while this Grey Gargoyle is dangerous, I don't believe he is a terrorist of the kind we are used to," Fuyutsuki intoned, fitting very nicely into the role of a professor. "I don't think he's just after She-Hulk, in and of herself. He wants something more, and he's willing to play nice with us in order to get it."

"But what could that be?" Maya asked, looking more and more lost.

But Misato was not lost. She was looking square at Fuyutsuki, nodding her understanding. "He wants She-Hulk fighting mad, that's what he wants," the Major declared grimly. "He wants her to come in at full steam ahead and fight this Rhino creep with everything she's got."

Four sets of eyes bulged out at this statement, gazing hard at Misato. The only one unaffected was Fuyutsuki himself, his own eyes were narrow slits. "I agree, Major. That's the only explanation."

"Wh-what…?" Asuka sputtered out disbelievingly.

"But, sir, that'd be suicide! Even for the Rhino!" Maya protested, her mouth and eyes wide open with shock. "You saw what She-Hulk did the 10th Angel! And when she fought Spirit…!"

"Yes, we are all aware of that, Captain Ibuki," Fuyutsuki returned. "However, it's possible that our opponents are not fully aware of what She-Hulk is capable of." When his audience continued to look at her perplexedly, the old professor gave them a look like he was preparing to lecture at a college. "Think about the Grey Gargoyle's demands. He wants She-Hulk delivered to him and the Rhino, but he made no protest when I explained that she would not be restrained. Giving these things, I think the only possible explanation is that the real reason why they are doing is this that they want to test She-Hulk's power. To learn the full extent of her capabilities."

"But why?" Maya asked. "Why would someone do this?"

"Same reason Gendo wants to use my gamma green genes to power up the Evas?" Misato suggested, raising a finger towards them. She then gave them a wry smile. "I know the genetics company I used to work for would probably sell their souls for one little look at what's floating around in my bloodstream!"

"Makes sense," Ritsuko agreed with a nod. "A superhuman soldier would probably fetch a high price. Especially in one of the Third World nations."

As he looked at the doctor, Shinji had to admit that her words made a great deal of sense. Though he wasn't an especially avid student, he was aware of the world created by Second Impact, and the Impact Wars that had taken place in its wake. Of the many tiny empires that had been created across the globe, run by terrorist organizations and other cruel regimes whose laws were enforced by the cruelest of mercenaries. He could very easily see any one of them delighting in having their own Hulk or She-Hulk.

There was just one problem with that theory, and Maya was the one to voice it. "But…that Rhino looked pretty powerful to me," the Captain protested. "Why would these people be so interested in She-Hulk when they already have something like that?"

"I don't know," Fuyutsuki admitted. "These people may see She-Hulk as some sort of…competition, and want her eliminated. Or this whole situation could have been designed with the intention of obtaining a sample of She-Hulk's tissue, or even capturing her entirely."

"Makes sense," Misato nodded. "Rhino gets in there and keeps Greenie busy while this Grey Gargoyle creep moves in. Then he turns her into stone – however the hell he does that – and they take off with her in a packing crate." Then the purple-haired woman furrowed her brows and turned to her friend. "How can anybody possibly turn someone into stone, anyway?!"

"Well, humans are carbon-based life forms, and carbon is what coal and diamonds are made of," Ritsuko explained. "Theoretically speaking, if this nano-virus the Grey Gargoyle spoke of was sophisticated enough, it could -"

"All very fascinating, Dr. Akagi. However, the nature of our enemy's abilities is not our foremost concern. Safely retrieving Commander Ikari and the 1st Child is," Fuyutsuki broke in. "Now, we still have half an hour before the Grey Gargoyle said he would signal us. Let's use that time to prepare. I want to cover everything before you actually go out there." Letting this sink in, the older man looked hard at Misato. "At the very least, there's one very serious issue we have to address."

"What's that?" Misato wondered.

"Assuming everything goes well, and that you – She-Hulk - is able to defeat both the Rhino and Grey Gargoyle…what's to stop her from escaping Tokyo-3, possibly even attacking another city?" Fuyutsuki asked with deadly seriousness.

Her eyes widening, Misato then let a disgusted noise, "Sir, with all due respect, I really don't think that's important! I - !"

"I'm sorry, Misato, but Fuyutsuki's right," Ritsuko countered. When the Major gave her friend an aggravated look, the doctor sighed. "Besides, you already told me that you're feeling a bit cooped up. And given She-Hulk's more primitive impulses, there's a danger that she may try to escape without even trying to help the Commander."

"Hey! There's no way in hell that I'm abandoning anyone to those freaks! Him, Rei, or that other girl!" Misato snarled vehemently.

"I know you wouldn't, Major. But as you already conceded, She-Hulk is a more uncertain variable," Fuyutsuki reminded her. "We need a way to ensure that not only your other half does what we want her to do, but that she'll come back to us when everything's said and done."

"Well…can't we fit her with a transmitter or a homing beacon?" Maya suggested hopefully.

"We tried that the last time, Maya. And as you may recall, none of She-Hulk's equipment survived her previous mission," Ritsuko reminded them. "Considering the amount of chaos this Rhino has caused so far, I doubt that any transmitters we give her will remain functional long enough to us any good."

"Well…maybe if she were to swallow something…?" Asuka suggested tentatively.

"That may work as far as keeping track of She-Hulk is concerned, but it's still no guarantee that she will remain within the city limits," Fuyutsuki spoke, narrowing his eyes thoughtfully. Then, with a decidedly unhappy expression, he turned to at Shinji. "Pilot Ikari?"

"Uh, yes, sir?" Shinji responded.

"As we've already seen, She-Hulk responds quite favorably to you. Even following every instruction you have given her while on the testing range," Fuyutsuki intoned, never once looking away from Shinji. With every word he spoke, causing Misato's face to twist with horror. With her finally snapping when the Sub-Commander said, "This being the case, I see no alternative than to send you along with Major Katsuragi on this mission."

"What?!" Misato roared, brilliant green sparking in her eyes. Shooting to her feet, Misato rushed towards Fuyutsuki, emerald fury finding its way to her veins.

Seeing the catastrophe in the offings, Ritsuko got in front of her friend. "Misato, you have to calm down!" she declared, already witnessing bulges forming about her body. The beast within already trying to force its way out.

"Misato, please stop!" Shinji spoke up, causing his guardian to swivel her gaze at him. Panting heavily, Misato met the boy's gaze before swallowing deeply. Then she once again looked at Ritsuko, snorted loudly before turning around, stomping over to the wall. Her hands balled up into fists, Misato brought them, growling under her breath as she looked at them. Leaving everybody helpless to just watch her as she rode out her anger, waiting until she finally turned and faced them, her eyes brown once more.

While the danger was gone, however, Misato's anger clearly was not. "With all due respect, sir, what you are proposing is just goddamned stupid! You want to send Shinji out with me when I'm supposed to be fighting that monster?! Are you insane?! Do you want Shinji to be killed, is that it?!"

"That is not my intention," Fuyutsuki corrected her, forcing an air of calm that seemed beyond inhuman. "And as you may recall, I said that I wanted Shinji to accompany you, not She-Hulk."

"And there's a difference?" Asuka asked, squinting one eye at the Sub-Commander.

"A significant one," Fuyutsuki returned before once again looking at Shinji. "Pilot Ikari, what I intend is this. You and Major Katsuragi will be given a full Section 2 escort. As soon as we receive the Grey Gargoyle's signal, they will transport both you and the Major to the designated area." Not losing momentum, the old professor then turned to face Misato. "Major Katsuragi."

"Sir?" Misato spoke warily.

"As soon as you are in position, you will then use whatever means you feel necessary to provoke the transformation," Fuyutsuki spoke, being firm and understanding at the same time. "Do your best to remain undercover before you do so. As near as we can tell, our adversaries are currently unaware of She-Hulk's…other identity. I would rather that they remained unaware of this, and I'm certain you would, too."

"Yes, sir," Misato got out hurriedly. Her expression reflecting her determination to regain control of this situation. "But, sir, Shinji -!"

"The reason I want him there is the same as when we were performing those tests on She-Hulk," Fuyutsuki explained. Once again looking at the boy, the older man continued. "Pilot Ikari, as soon as the Major has transformed, I want you to give She-Hulk instructions as to what we need her to do."

If it were possible, Shinji would have looked even more surprised. "Y-you want me to tell Misato…to go fight that monster?!"

"I'm afraid that is correct," Fuyutsuki told the boy. "I also want you to tell her to come back to you as soon as the battle is over. I'm certain she would be far more likely to return of her own volition if you did so."

"Sir, with all due respect, are you sure this is necessary?" Ritsuko wondered nervously.

His lips tightening, Fuyutsuki eyed the faux-blonde grimly. "I believe so, Dr. Akagi. Though in all honestly, I wish it weren't."

"But sir -!" Misato protested.

"Major Katsuragi," Fuyutsuki broke in, fixing her with a formidable glare. And while Misato was unafraid, and did not back away, she did stop in her tracks. "Even forgetting the potential damage She-Hulk is capable of causing if she were to escape, something none of us here can afford to forget, and even if everything goes right with this operation, there is one very important matter you have to consider."

Furrowing her brows in confusion, Misato just gazed at the Sub-Commander. "Which is…?"

"What would happen if She-Hulk were to escape, and were to change back to you while outside of the city limits. Beyond our area of influence," Fuyutsuki spoke. His words setting everyone aback, leaving them all silent. And while Misato was shaken, her eyes shifting one way, then the other, the old professor painted in the blank canvas he had just set up for them. "Even assuming that She-Hulk was to end up in the middle of nowhere, with no one to see her change back into yourself, you would still be alone and possibly exposed to the elements until we were able to locate you and affect a rescue. That is, assuming she didn't find her way to another city, and someone were to find you when you reverted."

Her lips parting as if in protest, Misato then closed them, her expression signaling her comprehension of the situation. "I…I understand, sir," she finally spoke, her reluctance painfully clear. "And I'll accept this decision, but only under two conditions!"

With an unyielding face, Fuyutsuki asked, "And those would be?"

"First off, if Shinji goes, it's because he wants to. No coercion, no arm-twisting. None of that crap," Misato stated evenly. Turning her eyes towards the boy in question, her gaze shown with signs of mourning, not green. As Shinji took in the look aimed at him, the Major's visage once again hardened as it shifted once more to Fuyutsuki. "Second, I demand that the agents accompanying him be fully armed and armored. And that as soon as She-Hulk is out and ready, they get him as far away from the danger area as soon as possible."

Nodding curtly, Fuyutsuki returned, "I can accept your terms, Major." With that, all eyes fell upon Shinji, who felt the weight of these collective gazes. "Well, then, Pilot Ikari? What do you have to say?"

Confusion and a hint of fear weighing on his features, Shinji looked from one face to the next. Searching for answers and reassurances wherever he looked. Until finally his eyes found Misato's, even as she spoke. "You don't have to do this, Shinji-kun," she murmured. "If you don't want to do this, I swear, I'll understand. I…"

"No, Misato, it's…alright," Shinji finally spoke, looking deeply into her eyes. "I…I want to do this. I mean…you're going out there. To rescue Ayanami and Father, right?"

Nodding, Misato spread her arms out before letting them fall back to her sides. "I don't know how much of the actual rescuing I'll be doing, but…yeah. I'm going."

"Then…I'm going, too," Shinji assured her. Darting a sideways glance at Fuyutsuki, the boy gave Misato an earnest look. "Because…I want to make sure that…you come back. I…"

"Shinji…" Misato murmured, taking a deep breath.

"Well, you sure chose a great time to grow a spine, Third!" Asuka sniped with her hands on her hips. "Hope it doesn't wind up getting you turned into a statue!"

"Asuka…!" Misato spoke, this time with a more menacing tone.

"Well, unless there are any objections, I suggest we get moving," Fuyutsuki stated. "I want everything ready to move as soon as that Gargoyle sends his signal."

"Actually, sir, there is one other thing you haven't considered," Maya broke in. "Spirit's out there somewhere, possibly looking for the Rhino. What if she finds him and the Grey Gargoyle first, and…"

"That's why we have to be ready to mobilize the instant we receive the signal," Fuyutsuki responded. Darting a look at Misato, the professor saw the disapproving look she shot him. "Major, I know you disapprove of NERV's decisions regarding that girl, but in this case, Spirit's interference can only make things worse. Even is our opponents didn't kill Ikari or the 1st Child, they may choose to make an example of the third hostage after all."

"Or they might clip the dumb bitch's wings," Asuka commented with a superior smirk. "I know I wouldn't mind that!"

"Asuka, be quiet. You're being obnoxious," Ritsuko grumbled. When the redhead stuck up her nose in response, the doctor looked hard at Fuyutsuki. "And if Spirit somehow sets off a battle before we can get into position? What should we do then?"

With an air of grimness, Fuyutsuki looked at the faux-blonde. "We pray, Dr. Akagi," he answered simply. "Right now, I'm afraid that's all we can do."

This said, Shinji looked down at the floor, feeling as cold, clawed fingers were seizing hold of his heart…

Feeling the wind whip at her face as she soared above the streets of Tokyo-3, Spirit felt as free as humanly possible. Her wings easily allowing her to defy gravity and rise above it all, she found her worries and concerns fading away. Even the fears Shinji had stirred within her lost their power over her with each flap of her wings.

Too bad NERV has it in for me, Spirit thought sadly. I'd love to be able to get out like this more often. Just forget all my troubles and fly…

Smiling wistfully, Spirit returned her attention to the matter at hand. Over an hour had passed since she had taken flight, scanning the city for any anomalous activities. Any sign of what had caused so much death and destruction in so many different places. And while she had found some ways to pass her time, such as investigating a water main break or scaring some looters determined to take advantage of the evacuation, she hadn't found any sign of whatever was responsible for the destruction seen that day.

But I can't give up! Spirit thought, recalling Rei's absence from school that day. If whatever attacked us had something to do with her being missing, then I have to find her! And fast!

So Spirit kept searching, looking about the skyscrapers of Tokyo-3. Searching for a sign. Much to her surprise, she got one.

A dull boom echoed in Spirit's ears, causing her to give a sharp gasp as she looked around for the source. Then she caught sight of the sparkling remnants of a firework of some kind, hanging above one of the older towers of Tokyo-3, in the area left over from when it had been known as Hakone. Even as she hung there, another firework flew forth to detonate and was soon followed by another.

With a grim tightening of her face, Spirit gave a flap of her wings. Might as well check it out, she thought. Though the way my day is going, it'll probably just be some dumb jerk who decided to send up fireworks where no one would catch him.

Setting into an easy glide, Spirit approached the building in question, carefully scanning her destination. It wasn't long before she spotted five figures atop the roof. One was a fairly large man, decked out in high-tech armor, with another much smaller man with grey skin and mechanical wings.

Hmph. Copycat, Spirit thought disdainfully. Then she took a close look at the remaining three figures. All of them appeared to be tied up, with two of them were immobile. The third was a scantily clad female, and though Spirit couldn't make out her face from a distance, she could definitely make out the girl's blue hair. Rei. And it looks like those two creeps kidnapped two more people while they were at it. Bingo.

Quickly considering the matter, Spirit decided that there was no way to be subtle about it. With the two creeps on the lookout, it seemed inevitable that they would see her before she get close. My best chance is to come down between those two goons and the others, Spirit decided. Set up my AT-Field and blast away at them both before they do anything to stop me.

Though she wasn't too fond of her plan, Spirit knew that there wasn't much time to be really fancy. Every second she waited increased the chances of her being detected, and the kidnappers using the captives as shields. Or therapy bags, for that matter. So the winged girl eyed the target area, took a deep breath, and dove down. The wind rushing past her face, Spirit watched as the concrete drew closer and closer, until the last minute when she spread her wings, effortlessly breaking her descent. The two creeps heard the wind rushing off of her and turned about, but it was too late as she landed, spreading her AT-Field.

"Alright, you two! It's all over!" Spirit cried out, deadly white energy appearing in the palm of her hand. "Now, unless you want this to get ugly, I suggest you -!"

"Ah, you must be Spirit! I must say, I was wondering if you would put in an appearance!" the winged man commented with a devious grin. To Spirit's surprise, he was a big man. Easily a foot or so taller than her.

Wait…but that means… Spirit thought, a drop of sweat rolling down her face as she turned to look at the creep's companion. At first, all she saw was his legs. And then she looked up. And up. And up until she saw a small, eager face set into large plates of metal, with beady eyes gleaming out at her. Gears and servos hissed as the giant brought his hands together, laughing as he cracked his knuckles in anticipation. Topping off this horror was a massive horn of spiraling metal, the very sight of which sent terror shooting up and down Spirit's spine.

"Oh, shit…" Spirit got out as the giant took a step forward.

"Yes, Rhino does have that kind of effect on people," the smaller man commented. Small being a relative term, for his companion would make just about anyone look like a midget. "Now, then, would it be safe for me to assume that you have come on some ill-thought mission of mercy? Perhaps to relieve us of our hard-won captives, eh?"

"Uh...something like that," Spirit got out lamely, trying not to sound as scared as she felt. All the while thinking that she was failing miserably at this.

"Well, while I appreciate the excitement that such heroics naturally provide as anyone, I'd say there were two very large problems with your plan," the smaller man commented.

"Yeah, and I think I just met one," Spirit noted grimly. "Nice horn, by the way."

"Glad you like it," Rhino rumbled happily. "Maybe I'll get the chance to introduce you to it more personally."

"Which brings us to the other problem," the grey-skinned man went on. "May I direct your attention to the hostages which you hope to rescue. Something that, I assure you, will be more difficult than you realize, eh?"

Frowning in confusion, the winged girl looked over her shoulder. "Statues?" she got out as she looked at Rei and the immobile figures she had seen from above. "What the -?!"

"They are not statues," Rei spoke, giving no sign that she was at all distressed by her captivity. "Commander Ikari and the woman have been infected by a nano-virus. Just as I was."

"A nano-virus which only I can cure, my adventurous young friend," the other man informed her. "So, even in the instance you are somehow able to escape with our guests, something I am extremely doubtful of, it would them very little good."

"Yeah, so why don't you just fly back to whatever little chicken coop you came from, girly?" Rhino growled menacingly. "Before I give you a harp and halo to go with those wings of yours!"

Gulping loudly, Spirit continued to stare up at the Rhino. Not so long ago, she had put all of her faith in her AT-Field to keep her safe from these two. But as she looked at the horned monster before her, she once again felt a dull ache on her back where her wings met her body. Remembered the pain she had felt when She-Hulk had gleefully torn them out. And then there was the horn, the sight of which still sent chills running up and done her spine.

Feeling the quaking of her flesh and doing everything she could to stifle it, Spirit looked at the winged man. "Who are you anyway?! And what do you want?!"

With a smile as cold as the stone he was made of, the Grey Gargoyle looked at the girl. "I am the Grey Gargoyle, young lady. A name I suggest you treat with respect. And as for why Rhino and myself are here…let's just say that we have some business in Tokyo-3 that needs to be attended to."

"What kind of business?" Spirit asked.

"Business that's none of your business!" Rhino snarled. "Now back off before -!"

"Now, now, Rhino! We do not want to start a fight now. Too much danger to our valuable hostages." the Grey Gargoyle chided. "And as for you Spirit, I would strongly recommend that you behave yourself. I have no objections to you remaining here, but I suggest you refrain from acting on aggressive tendencies you may be feeling." When Spirit gave a questioning look at the Grey Gargoyle, his smile became even more deadly. "After all, it would certainly be tragic is I were for some reason unable to counteract my touch. Especially within the next…three to four hours."

Goosebumps forming her skin, Spirit eyed the Grey Gargoyle. "What happens in three to four hours?"

Chuckling deviously, the Grey Gargoyle looked hard at the girl. "To be very blunt, in three to four hours, those trapped as stone will asphyxiate. Despite the partial suspension my touch causes, they still need a modicum of oxygen. Which is something that, tragically enough, they are unable to partake in right now."

Once again fearful, Spirit looked at the three figures near her. While she was still uncertain about what the Grey Gargoyle said, how those statues were actually people, Rei's assurance that this was the case was more than enough to force her to take this possibility seriously. "Well, if you're so worried, why don't you cure them?" Spirit asked pointedly. "Assuming, of course, that you can."

"Rest assured, that is not a problem," the Grey Gargoyle smiled darkly. "However, I'm afraid that NERV will have to provide me with the proper…incentive to do so."

"Incentive?" Spirit replied. Narrowing her eyes, she then looked hard at the creature of stone. "In other words, they either give you whatever you want, or you let them die."

"A crude way of putting my grand scheme, my dear, but essentially correct," the Grey Gargoyle returned. "However, if you're so concerned about the fate of our guests, then please, feel free to wait with us."

Of all the things Spirit could have imagined the Grey Gargoyle saying, this hadn't even come close to being on the list. "What? she got out. "Y-you just…?"

"Why not? After all, it's not as if your appearance was unexpected by us, eh?" the Grey Gargoyle explained deviously. "Rest assured that we are more than capable of…dealing with you, should you decide to resort to violence as a way of solving your problems." His face splitting open into a deadly grin, revealing teeth that were as solid stone as the rest of his body. "And to be honest, it would please me to have you here."

"It would?" Spirit got out.

"Indeed. My…partner here can be somewhat temperamental unless he is suitably amused," Grey Gargoyle explained, gesturing at the Rhino. "However, if the guest of honor should fail to make her appearance…well, I'm certain that you provide ample entertainment for us, eh?" The stone monstrosity then chortled as Spirit's mouth slid open. Her eyes once more flitting towards the mechanical beast standing before her.

"Yes, I think your struggle for survival would be most entertaining," the Grey Gargoyle nodded. "And in the meantime, you can keep your young friend over there some company, eh? I'm afraid Rhino's social skills leave a certain something to be desired."

"Are we there yet?" Misato asked, looking somewhat irritable as the armored personnel transport hit yet another bump.

"Almost, Major Katsuragi," the Section 2 man at the wheel replied, speaking through the partition between himself and the vehicle's rear compartment. Both he and his partner displaying signs of wariness as they drove along. Every second bringing them closer to the building indicated by the fireworks. "We'll be there in just a few minutes."

"Don't worry, Misato," Shinji murmured as reassuringly as he could. "I'm sure everything will be fine."

"Yeah, I know. I'm just worried, that's all," Misato grumbled, folding her arms across her chest. She gave a remarkable impression of a very cranky patient waiting for her doctor to get done with her, an image helped by the loose medical gown she was still wearing. "Are we still picking up Spirit's pattern?"

"Yes, ma'am," the agent riding shotgun answered. "There's still no sign of combat, though."

"Misato, it's okay," Shinji told her, trying his best to look hopeful. "I mean…I'm sure Spirit wouldn't do anything to hurt Rei or Father."

"I know that, Shinji. But if she's there, why hasn't she done anything?" Misato wondered helplessly. "It's too quiet out there, and I don't like it!" Shaking her head in barely constrained frustration, the purple-haired woman looked up at the driver's section. "Dammit! I wish Fuyutsuki had let me drive!"

Almost laughing at Misato's ire, Shinji just looked at her for a time. She was acting far more lively and more like herself since leaving NERV. Even her righteous indignation was warming his heart. And helping him put aside his own fears.

I hope you're alright, Horaki-chan, Shinji thought, feeling his own concerns for his friend. Who was presently facing two horrible monsters given human form.

Then the APV hit another pothole, causing Shinji and Misato to fly up out of their uncomfortable seats before once again landing harshly. "Ouch!" Misato squawked angrily. She then turned to look through the partition with green spitting from her eyes. "Hey, watch it, asshole! What, are you trying to hit every goddamned hole in the road, is that it?!"

"Sorry!" the agent at the wheel cried out, his voice dripping with fear. "It won't happen again, ma'am!"

"It better not!" Misato growled with a bit of a roar to her words.

Fortunately for the driver, he successfully avoided striking another hole in the neglected roadways. The minutes passed slowly, until finally the other agent announced, "We're approaching the target, sir!"

"It's about time!" Misato declared. "Honestly! You drive like an old lady!" While Shinji was laughing at this description, the Major's features were taking on additional fierceness. "Now, remember! Under no circumstances are you to allow Shinji anywhere near the battlefield! And if I find out that he got so much as a scrape because of you two screwing up -!"

"You don't have to worry, Major," the agent riding shotgun explained. "Our orders are to protect the 3rd Child. Rest assured that we will carry out those orders."

"Yeah, well, you better!" Misato growled. "Because if you don't, then God better help you, because divine intervention will be the only thing that will keep me from shoving my fists down your throats!"

Though Shinji didn't have the best view of the two agents, he could have sworn that they were both paling at Misato's threat. Well, the Sub-Commander did say that he'd lock them up with Misato if they messed up, the boy remembered with a certain fondness. His own opinion of Section 2 having been rather low since his own first encounter with the Morons in Black.

Taking a moment to picture the agents he had met with Kensuke all trapped with a hopping mad She-Hulk, Shinji almost missed it when the APV came to a gentle halt. "We're in position, Major," the driver told her. "There doesn't appear to be any sign of anybody up there."

"Are we still reading Spirit up there?" Misato asked with furrowed brows.

"Yes, ma'am," the other agent replied. He then looked over his shoulder at her. "Would you like me to go and look? See if I can confirm the enemy's presence?"

Frowning, Misato seemed to consider this for a moment. "Alright, fine," she finally said. "But be careful and keep covered. Don't be a hero."

"No worries there," the agent said as he undid his seatbelt. "I don't get paid enough for that."

As he swung open the door, Shinji gave Misato a concerned look. "Are you sure about this?"

"As sure as I can be," Misato answered. "Besides, all we know right now is that Spirit is up there. And I'm not taking a chance by transforming until we confirm the creeps in grey are up there as well."

Pursing his lips as he saw the logic to Misato's words, Shinji then looked up front when he heard the other agent speak. "They're here, Major," he announced.

"You're sure about that?" Misato asked.

"I just saw the big one," the agent responded. "That thing they called the Rhino."

Heaving a deep breath, Misato quickly thought out her next move. Between Spirit and the hostages, she couldn't just transform and go nuts. Her next few moves had to be done just right. "Call out to Rhino. See if you can get his attention," she ordered. When the agent hissed in surprise, she cut him off before he could speak. "We have to find out if the hostages are here first, remember?"

"Oh. Right, ma'am," the agent replied with all the enthusiasm of going to have a root canal done.

"How are you doing?" Spirit asked. The winged girl was sitting next to Rei, a reassuring hand upon her shoulder.

"I am unhurt," Rei answered. The albino then shot a curious look at Spirit. "Why did you not leave? You are in danger here."

"You're in danger here, too, in case you've forgotten," Spirit reminded her.

"True, but you are currently unable to help," Rei countered, her eyes going over to where the Grey Gargoyle stood watching. His stony eyes taking in their every movement. "It makes no sense for you to stay here. Especially since you know my abductors mean you harm."

"Well, I have to admit that I'm not too happy about that part," Spirit conceded. "But…I don't know. I just…thought you shouldn't be alone, that's all. And if worse comes to worse…"

Her eyes narrowed in an analytical manner, Rei asked, "You intend to fight them?" Spirit said nothing to this. "If there is a battle here, it is likely I and the others will die anyway. And you as well."

"Hey, you just let me worry about that," Spirit assured the blue-haired girl. "In the meantime, we just have to hope that…"

Though she was unsure of exactly what she was about to say even as she trailed off, Spirit was cut off before she could make something up by a cry of delight from the Grey Gargoyle. "Ah, it looks like NERV has finally delivered our quarry to us!"

"It's about time!" Rhino grumbled as he moved over to the edge of the roof. "I'm practically rusting away here!"

"I very much doubt that, but still, tedium does take a toll on one," the Grey Gargoyle returned.

"I just hope this bitch lives up to her rep!" Rhino growled.

"Huh?" Spirit got out before once again looking at Rei. "What are they talking about?"

"They demanded that NERV deliver She-Hulk to them," Rei explained in her usual quiet voice. "They did this with the intent of having Rhino fight and defeat her."

"What?!" Spirit got out, goggling at the albino girl. She then shot an incredulous look at the biomechanical abomination.

"Yeah, that's right. You got a problem with that?!" Rhino growled, pointing a massive finger at the winged girl. Then a thoughtful look spread across his face. "Hey, wait a minute. Ain't you supposed to have fought that green lady yourself?"

"Uh, yeah," Spirit slowly answered. "And I barely got away with my life! Why?!"

"Tell me something; is that broad really as tough as they say?" Rhino asked with genuine curiosity. "See, I haven't had a really good fight in the longest time, and I'm really looking forward to this."

"You're…looking forward to this," Spirit repeated numbly.

"Yeah, but…it ain't no fun if she's just gonna fall over with one punch!" Rhino complained, holding up his hand in emphasis. "So is this She-Hulk just a lotta tabloid hype, or does she got some real muscle?"

"Wait, wait, wait!" Spirit countered, struggling to keep her face under control. "You mean to tell me…that you came all the way to Tokyo-3, and went through all of this…because you want to fight She-Hulk?"

"Yeah, that's right," Rhino answered earnestly.

"You're not looking for some kind of exchange of prisoners or anything, you don't want her locked up and sedated," Spirit went on, greater shock showing with each word she spoke. "You really, honestly want to fight her?! As in with you hitting her and her hitting you?!"

"That's exactly how it is!" Rhino told her. "But seriously, do you think she's gonna go down with one lousy punch, or is she gonna make this interesting for me?"

That was the last blow to Spirit's self-control. The very idea of someone actually wanting to fight someone capable of ripping apart an Angel with her bare hands, who had survived an N2, an Angel exploding, and a fall of thousands of feet through the air was just too much for her. Unable to stop herself, Spirit snorted with laughter, laughter that quickly built up.

"Hey, what's so funny?!" Rhino demanded, his question triggering an even larger burst of laughter from the winged girl. Falling over on her back, Spirit curled up on the roof, guffawing madly as she wrapped her arms about her stomach.

"What is your problem?!" Spirit asked, tears of hilarity rolling down her face as she somehow managed to look up at the Rhino. "What, do you just want to die, is that it?! Are you into having your limbs ripped off or some kind of S&M shit?!"

Raising an armored eyebrow, Rhino then looked at Rei. "What's her problem?"

"I am not sure," Rei admitted. "However, to answer your question, She-Hulk has been determined to be extremely strong and destructive. I believe she will provide you with a sufficiently difficult fight."

"Oh, good, good. That's all I wanted to know, okay?" Rhino spoke, casting a dubious eye on Spirit. Who remained helpless with laughter.

"Rhino! Please bring the 1st Child over here!" the Grey Gargoyle spoke. "It would seem that NERV's people want to ensure that we have our promised goods before they will unshackle our prize."

"Works for me," Rhino answered, easily hauling Rei to her feet.

Instantly recovering from her laughing fit, Spirit rose up. "Hey, be careful!"

"Don't worry. I'm not gonna hurt the kid, Chuckles!" Rhino grumbled as he dragged her over to the roof's edge.

"Indeed. If NERV is truly delivering our prize, then the last thing I want is to respond by giving them damaged goods in return," the Grey Gargoyle commented, striding towards his two victims. Bowing down between the two of them, the stone beast placed his mechanical claws upon the seeming-statues and hefted the both up. "Alright, Commander Ikari, young lady. It's time to present you to our guests."

This declaration sent Spirit's eyes wide open. "Commander Ikari?!" she blurted as the stone monster hauled his victims to their feet.

"Yes. I understand that you've had a quite a bit of trouble because of him," the Grey Gargoyle commented. "Now, I would strongly recommend that you do not try anything to interfere with me. For I will brook no interference in my affairs. Is that understood?"

"I understand," Spirit retorted, watching as the Grey Gargoyle hauled the two stone figures to the edge. Feeling helpless to do anything but watch, even as Gendo and the woman shifted from stone to flesh.

"They're all there," the Section 2 agent whispered into the APV. "Grey Gargoyle and Rhino, along with all three hostages."

"Are they alright?" Misato demanded.

"Looks that way," the agent. Then he gave the transport's occupants a sarcastic look. "The Commander sure sounds alright, at least."

Quirking an impish smile, Misato looked over at the 3rd Child. "Well, Shinji-kun, it looks like it's time for She-Hulk to put in an appearance."

"Uh, okay," Shinji answered, giving her a pensive look. "Just…be careful out there, okay, Misato?"

"Well, I don't think I've got a choice there. It's She-Hulk that's going to be dealing with those creeps, not me," Misato commented sourly, taking a deep breath as she got to her feet. "And speaking of which, I think it's time to give Greenie her wake-up call!"

"Are you gonna use that provoker you had last time?" Shinji wondered as he stood as well.

"Nope!" Misato answered, grinning brightly as she balled up her fists. "Trust me, Shinji-kun, after being stuck in NERV all this time, I've got plenty of pent-up anger just waiting to go! I just need to stimulate some high-octane adrenaline to motivate it!" Giving Shinji a concerned look, she added, "You better get back, though. I don't want to take any chances."

"Hey, what about me?!" the driver protested, looking through the partition.

"What are you complaining about? You've got this nice, thick wall between us!" Misato grinned. "Now I suggest you shut up before I get pissed with you! Because you really don't want me pissed at you, got it?" Effectively silenced, the driver could only watch as Misato cast one final look at her ward. "Wish me luck, Shinji-kun."

Blinking once, Shinji then nodded. "Good luck, Misato. To…both of you."

With a nervous, yet appreciative nod, Misato faced the wall, looking at the dull reflection of herself in the metal. "Okay, you lime-green bitch! Time to come out and do some good for a change!" And with that, the Major fired off a punch that cracked upon the metal. She then cried out in pain, withdrawing her fist and shaking it.

"Misato!" Shinji cried out, even as his guardian snarled. Green sparking in her eyes.

"Don't distract me, Shinji!" Misato growled before firing off another punch. Another noise of pain escaped her lips, this one with a more animalistic sound to it, the Major's breathing deep and hateful. "Alright…once more…with feeling!" And Misato Katsuragi slammed her fist into the metal with all her strength, only to fall over in pain as she clenched her wounded hand.

"Misato!" Shinji gasped, rushing over to her even as she rolled about on the floor. Only to be stopped when she looked up at him, with eyes glowing a brilliant green. Green that spilled into her blood, causing massive growths of muscle to bulge from her body, bones to crack as they grew. Snarls of hatred tearing free of Misato's lips as her body sought and found She-Hulk's dimensions, causing several provocative rips to appear in her medical gown.

Finally, the transformation complete, She-Hulk got to her feet, roaring in triumph as she flexed her massive muscles. With Shinji standing before her in awe, completely unafraid.

A few seconds passed as Shinji just looked into the emerald irises of the transformed woman, taking in every detail of her. Then he remembered why he was there. That he had a job to do as well. "Misato, please listen to me!" Shinji spoke up, causing the beast-woman to look more intently at him. "Rei, Father, and another girl have been captured by those creeps we told you about! Remember? The Grey Gargoyle and Rhino?"

"Bad men," She-Hulk rumbled, her lips drawn into a snarl. She then cocked her head at the boy in a questioning manner. "Shinji want She-Hulk smash bad men?"

Huh? Shinji started, taken by surprise. In the past, She-Hulk had only used one or two words at any one time. Her latest statement was almost a sentence.

Shaking himself from his stupor, Shinji nodded. "That's right, I need you to smash the bad men, and save Rei, Father, and that woman they captured," he told her. "And when you're done with that…I need you to…come back to me. Please?"

The green she-beast nodded while a low snarl rumbled in her throat. "She-Hulk will come back to Shinji," she told him. She then looked about the APV. "Where bad men? Where Rei and others?"

"This way. I'll show you," Shinji told her as he moved towards the exit. Still off-balance by She-Hulk's relative chattiness, but working with it, nonetheless. Opening the doors of the APV, the boy gestured for She-Hulk to follow as he carefully stepped down to the streets.

Once again in awe that such a powerful being would obey him so unquestioningly, Shinji watched as She-Hulk looked about the sun-filled world outside the Geofront, sniffing the air as she moved about, her eyes following every move he made. With almost grim satisfaction, the boy pointed up at the roof of the target building. "There they are! Right up there!"

"Glad you could make it, green-stuff!" Rhino called out from his perch. "I was starting to think you'd chickened out or something!"

Growling hatefully as she locked gazes with Rhino, She-Hulk brought her arms down, roaring in defiance as Shinji eyed the two monsters above. "Ayanami! Father! Are you alright?!"

Gendo never had the chance to reply, for the Grey Gargoyle threw up his hand and cut him off. "They are unhurt, little boy. Which is more than what can be said of you if you do not distance yourself from this place," the stone monstrosity replied. He then looked at his partner, who was cracking his knuckles in anticipation. "Well, Rhino, your playmate for the day has arrived! Quite an impressive specimen, eh?"

"She sure looks tough," Rhino agreed, nodding happily. "But let's see how tough she is when I'm done redecorating her face!" With a savage cry, the cybernetic man-beast rushed forward, leaping from the top of the ten-story building. Unsurprisingly, he landed squarely on his feet, the impact forming a large crater in the middle of the street.

"Shit!" the Section 2 agent at the wheel cried out, even as his partner hurriedly got back in the APV.

Wisps of steam hissing from the various joints of his armor, the Rhino stood up straight, a huge grin almost splitting his face as he took a step forward. And then another step. And another following that, even as he brought up his arms and gestured at himself. "C'mon, bitch! Show me what you got!"

That was all the incentive the green beast needed. "She-Hulk smash stupid horn man!" she snarled, leaping into a full-out charge towards her enemy. Growling viciously, the Rhino ignited the ion boosters on his back, launching himself at his enemy. The two behemoths slammed into each other at full force, with She-Hulk taking the Rhino by the horn as he rocketed down the streets, ramming her into the side of a building.

"And the battle begins!" Grey Gargoyle chortled approvingly. He then looked at his former hostages. "I wish to thank all of you for your cooperation. I -!"

"A little less mouth, you creep!" Spirit cried out. The Grey Gargoyle cried out as the winged heroine grabbed him by the waist and hefted him over her head. "A bit of advice, jerk! The next time you take hostages, make sure you keep your hands on them! Or something like this might happen!"

Grunting in effort, Spirit jumped several feet up and tossed the Grey Gargoyle into the air. While light forming in her hand, she then launched a cross-blast at her adversary. The devastating bolt caught her enemy in the midriff, sending flakes of stone flying from the point of impact as the rock monster was sent flying away.

Looking back down at the roof, Spirit cried out, "Listen, you have to get to safety! Right now!"

"But what about that monster?!" the woman asked.

"I'll take care of him!" Spirit assured them. "There's a NERV vehicle down on the street. They'll make sure you get out of here safely! Now go!"

"Commander, we should leave," Rei murmured, looking up at Gendo.

The Commander of NERV didn't respond right away. He just stood there for a time, glaring hatefully at Spirit. Pure malice beaming from his eyes as he finally moved away, following Rei and the woman to the fire escape.

It must really piss you off, having me save your life, Spirit thought sourly, making a note not to make a habit out of that. I swear, Shinji must take after his mother. Those two are about as different as night and day!

Spirit was then startled from her thoughts by the sound of an engine of some kind. Whipping about in mid-air, the teenaged defender saw the Grey Gargoyle return, his metallic, bat-like wings spread with razor-edges glinting in the sun's light.

"That was an impressive display of power, little girl," the Grey Gargoyle said. His body showing no sign that he had been hit. "But as you can see, it will take a good deal more than that to dispatch me."

"Yeah, I kinda figured it would," Spirit replied, forming another bolt of light in her hand. "But somehow, I doubt you're gonna be as tough without your big, ugly friend!"

"On the contrary, this is a perfect opportunity for me!" the Grey Gargoyle countered, bringing up his hands. Strange, coiled claws stretching out into daggers. "After all, my employers wish to see your death as well, Spirit. And when they get word that we have dispensed with two nuisances instead of one, they will be most pleased with me."

"So I'm just a nuisance to you, is that it?!" Spirit growled, her eyes narrowed in hatred as she spread her AT-Field. "Fine, then! Let's see what your bosses think when this nuisance kicks your ass in!"

"Your funeral, little girl!" Grey Gargoyle snarled, flexing his wings and shooting towards her, even as Spirit launched another cross-blast at her enemy.

Author's Notes: She-Hulk versus Rhino! Spirit versus the Grey Gargoyle! There's going to be a whole lot of property damage by the time this is done! Please, read and review! And maybe check out some of my other stories while you're at it, please?

Now, let me take a moment to say that I normally don't like long chapters. They're a bit unwieldy and they take that much longer to edit, and sometimes when I'm tired I still don't get it right. But there was just so much I wanted to get done with this one, and the fallout from this is gonna be something else.

I've also been doing some reworking of the previous chapters of this story, most notably Chapter 2. Please, check it out.

On another front, I will soon be doing some heavy tweaking to "Vengeful Devil". I know that my own deep dislike for Asuka has sabotaging my own effectiveness there, and I apologize. The fact is, I have been working on writing out an outline of the NGE series, an outline I have been using to help increase the accuracy of my writing. For those of you who have read the latest chapter of "Lilith's Herald", and the last couple of "Treacherous Web", those are stories I have employed this method with.

The downside to this is having to watch all the episodes of NGE with a very deep eye, and going over every part of them, word for word. Now, I don't know about you, but I have my favorite episodes and my least favorite episodes, and I do have a tendency to mute or fast forward past the parts I don't like. But for this project I'm working on to work, I can't do that. And I have to rewind many scenes many times over, just to make sure I get them down right. Which means I can't mute Asuka, and I have to replay scenes like her being a brat in Unit 02 during the battle with the 6th Angel, or all when she takes such delight in kicking Shinji out of his room and that he's been tossed out of his home, or how she wastes all that time arguing with Rei when the 8th Angel attacks over and over again.

For someone who already dislikes Asuka, it has been like learning to hate her all over again. And when I've been called on it, even when I'm not intentionally bashing her, it's made my mood regarding the Red Devil even worse. Still, it's no excuse for my failure in this regard, and I apologize.

Now, in regards to the formation of the Teen Brigade in the previous chapter, this is actually a nod to the Golden Age of Marvel Comics. Rick Jones recruited a bunch of teenage ham radio operators, and they worked together, keeping track of the Hulk's movements, and even summoning help from the Fantastic Four when the Hulk went out of control. They were known as the Teen Brigade.

As for why I decided to use this in this story, it's quite simple. At one time, in the classic Marvel comics, Loki blocked one of the Teen Brigade's broadcasts from getting to the FF, and instead sent it in Thor's direction. Loki's plan was to use the Hulk to kill Thor, but it backfired because the message was accidentally received by three other heroes as well. Namely, Iron Man, Ant Man, and Wasp. And by the time it was all said and done, all five of the aforementioned heroes formed the first incarnation of the Avengers. Since it was one of the Teen Brigade's broadcasts that were partly responsible for this, I think they deserve a nod in this story.

Mike313, Maya's not dealing with her new job at all well. We'll be going into that in future chapters. And as you might recall, the member of SEELE who brought in Rhino was discussing the plan he had for dealing with Spirit, not She-Hulk. Thus, Rhino wasn't allowed to knock down any schools in this chapter. As for Asuka's being so stubborn, I have to figure that she feels that, as long as NERV is top dog, she's basically got it made. So anything that makes NERV look bad or reduces its authority is bad for her.

Major Mike, Commander Galos, the fate of Adam will have to remain one of life's little mysteries for now. Let's just say Gendo is scheming a big one this time, and leave it at that.

SM02, home alone with Asuka is truly beyond scary.

Whew! What a beast of a chapter! Time to relax with some omakes!

Omake 1

"Ayanami!" Shinji cried out as the others stared in awe. "Are you alright?"

As surprised as he had ever seen her, Rei soon focused on him. "Ikari-kun," she murmured gently. "I…appear to be well."

"Allow me to explain what has just happened. My body has been infused with a specially devised nano-virus, which is capable of rendering anything organic, and even certain inorganic materials as of stone. It is the presence of this virus in my body which is responsible for my…current appearance," the Grey Gargoyle explained, gesturing to himself. "As you can see, I am capable of transmitting this virus into anything I touch, thus rendering it stone as well. A very effective method of restraining one's victims, eh?"

Frowning dangerously, Fuyutsuki locked gazes with the Grey Gargoyle. "Assuming that is what happened, then I'm certain you would not mind reverting Commander Ikari as well."

"Ah, but I'm afraid I would," the Grey Gargoyle countered. "Your Commander is a bit too treacherous to allow any freedom. I would not be surprised to learn that he had some manner of tracking devices on his person that would allow you to find my companion and I. Something which, at present, I would prefer not happen." The stony being just stood there, looking at the NERV personnel mockingly, reveling in the silence. "However, that is not to say that I would be averse to returning your beloved Commander to normal, or to restoring him and this precious young maiden to your custody."

"Say, I have a question," Ritsuko started. "If you change Gendo back, can you leave just a part of his body as stone?"

"A part?" the Grey Gargoyle repeated blankly. "Why would I do that?"

"Well, I was kind of hoping you could leave his outdoor plumbing as stone," Ritsuko confessed. When the others there just stared at her, the scientist shrugged. "What? It's probably the hardest his toothpicks have been in his entire life! How he ever managed to father a child, I'll never know!"

Wow. I sure hope I take after someone on Mother's side of the family, Shinji thought.

Omake 2

Of all the things Spirit could have imagined the Grey Gargoyle saying, this hadn't even come close to being on the list. "What? she got out. "Y-you just…?"

"Why not? After all, it's not as if your appearance was unexpected by us, eh?" the Grey Gargoyle explained deviously. "Rest assured that we are more than capable of…dealing with you, should you decide to resort to violence as a way of solving your problems." His face splitting open into a deadly grin, revealing teeth that were as solid stone as the rest of his body. "And to be honest, it would please me to have you here."

"It would?" Spirit got out.

"Yeah. See, with all the excitement today, I wasn't able to have a big breakfast," Rhino explained. While Spirit just stood there, looking blankly at him.

"Okay. Just for the record, I have had some pretty embarrassing things happen to me, but this one tops them all!" Spirit complained as she gently landed on the roof, with several slender boxes in hand. "I'm a Superwoman of Eva, for crying out loud! Not a pizza delivery girl!"

"Hey, is it my fault trashing a city gives me an appetite?" Rhino wondered as he took the boxes in hand. "And there better not be anchovies on these!"

"No. No anchovies, jerk," Spirit grumbled. Watching as Rhino opened up the box and shoved half the pie in his face. Only to smile sadistically.

I wonder how long it'll take him to figure out that I asked Misato to bake those pizzas? Spirit wondered, waiting for the inevitable explosion.

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