Subject: [PMFFML] [FFML-R] [Fanfic][Ranma/Neon Genesis Xover] A Couple of Angels, chapter 10
From: "Corwin" <ely7@inter.net.il>
Date: 3/27/2001, 9:47 PM
To: "FFML-R" <FFMLRefuge@listbot.com>
Reply-to:
"Corwin"

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I'll try copying the chapter to the email itself, since using an attachment
didn't work as well as I expected it too the last time. C&C would be very
welcome, of course. Also, in case anyone is wondering, chapters eleven and
twelve should be posted soon as well.

Disclaimer time: Rumiko Takahashi, Shogagukan, Kitty and Viz Communications
own Ranma 1/2. Hideaki Anno, Yoshiyuki Sadamoto, Gainax and ADV Films own
Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Big thanks to my pre-readers for this chapter: James Merritt, Jourdan
Bickham, Philip Chan, Thomas Hackwood.

Corwin (ely7@inter.net.il or corwin@virtuallyjeannie.com)

http://www.virtuallyjeannie.com/ranma.html

* Previous chapters can also be found at:

http://members.xoom.com/phu_lam/index.htm

http://tannim.anifics.com/rfics.html

http://ranmaxovers.tripod.com

--------------------------------------------------

--------------------------------------------------

A Couple of Angels

Chapter 10

Nabiki sat behind her desk, holding a report from one of her agents. Putting
it back on the desk, she closed her eyes and tried to relax. Unfortunately,
her recent conversation with Kaji rendered any relaxation techniques she had
learned over the decades useless.

Ranma had been hurt!

It wasn't easy to show nothing but casual interest in the information of the
recent battle with the Eighth Angel, and Nabiki was sure she fooled Kaji.
Her worst enemy was, like always, herself. While keeping her cool with the
government agent had been difficult, stopping herself from rushing over to
Nerv's hospital was infinitely harder. Only the certainty that she would
only harm Ranma rather than help him stopped her from rushing recklessly
into her adversary's headquarters.

Thinking about what Kaji reported to her, Nabiki had to smile. That idiot
managed to pull off a version of a Hiryu Shoten Ha in an Evangelion! Had it
been anyone else, Nabiki'd have been skeptical... but with Ranma, even the
sky wasn't the limit. She chuckled at the irony - Nerv had the best pilot
they could ask for, but their toys couldn't keep up with his potential!

Nabiki stood up and walked over to the window, looking down at Tokyo-2. The
twenty-sixth floor had a great view, and she could sometimes spend hours
just looking out of her window, thinking about the past.

'Management has its privileges,' she thought with a smirk.

Looking far into the distance, she was able to spot Tokyo-3 on the horizon.

'I have everything I ever wanted... but am I happy?'

Nabiki leaned her forehead against the cool glass, sighing.

'Was the price too high?'

After the... incident... she withdrew into her shell for several years, not
communicating with anyone. All she could do was hug her knees and mourn
everyone who passed away. Her family, Ukyo, Shampoo, the Saotomes... the
Saotomes.

Nabiki shuddered, thinking about what happened to Ranma. She had no idea how
he could live on after something like that, where he found the strength to
keep on going. Remembering his answer, she allowed herself a small smile.
The answer for these questions probably lay in Ranma's angel. But should
anything happen to Ranma's lifeline...

Nabiki forced herself to stop thinking about that. Everything will be
alright. She wouldn't lose him, not after finding him again. And maybe...
just maybe... he could bring back the others? A few points in Kaji's report
on Nerv - the edited version, no doubt - were an obvious cover up for
something bigger. An especially interesting hypothesis on Kaji's part even
suggested that the Commander was involved in secret projects designed to
reunite him with his deceased wife.

'Is this what Ranma's trying to achieve, working for Nerv?'

After examining that possibility for a few moments, Nabiki shook her head.
Ranma always preferred to do things directly. Had he known what she'd been
able to gather, he'd probably storm inside that bastard Ikari's office and
beat the truth out of him.

And so, one important question remained unanswered. Should she tell Ranma
what she'd found?

Nabiki sighed again. Getting in touch with the pigtailed pilot wouldn't be
difficult. And with sufficient planing, even the watchdogs from Nerv won't
be able to catch them together. However, she wasn't one hundred percent sure
in her abilities to manipulate Ranma once she got to him anymore. Whether it
was her conscience rebelling against using the last living semblance of her
family as a pawn, or something else entirely, Nabiki couldn't tell. And,
therefore, she wasn't going to endanger Ranma's life needlessly.

Endangering Ranma's life...

If only Nabiki could believe that sitting idly and letting things take their
course would be better...  Kaji had his suspicions about Ranma, and he
probably wasn't the only one. Pretty soon Nerv will learn of Ranma's
background and dual identity, if they didn't know that already. And
Commander Ikari wasn't someone who would let a wild element run free around
Nerv. If she wouldn't do something to help Ranma, Gendo will surely make
Ranma comply... or execute him.

Which immediately brought the question of whether Ranma could be killed.

Not without some serious weaponry, Nabiki decided. Even... before... Ranma
was a formidable fighter, but with the ability to summon an AT field at
will, he became unbeatable. Kaji's reports have shown Ranma going against
Angels without an EVA... and winning. Granted, he hasn't destroyed those
Angels, but was there really a doubt that he wouldn't have won had he tried?

Despite all that, Nabiki couldn't stop worrying about the pigtailed boy.
While physically unstoppable, Ranma could be harmed psychologically. And she
knew that Commander Ikari wouldn't hesitate to use whatever means necessary
to achieve his goals, whatever they are. The man was willing to detonate Jet
Alone near Tokyo-2! There was no question of whether the Commander would
even think twice before ordering the execution of Ranma's 'angel'. And even
Ranma could be killed, if he didn't try to defend himself. After all... it
already happened once, before...

Nabiki walked over to a small cabinet and took out an old, framed picture. A
few tears dropped on its surface, blurring the image on it. Closing her eyes
tight, she mentally counted the time left. Four days. Just four more days,
and she would have been thir...

No, best not to think about it.

Some wounds never healed, even after decades...

--------------------------------------------------

Kaji walked around the small lake in the GeoFront with a sack of watermelon
seeds, looking for a good spot to plant them. His mind, however, kept
wondering off to his conversation earlier that day.

Nabiki was one tough dame. Getting the truth from her was like trying to
understand an enigma wrapped in a puzzle. A lot of the things she said on
Ranma's martial arts skills checked out.

Of course, Nabiki's report also had several glaring holes in it. Namely, how
she knew Ranma in the first place. There seemed to be some connection
between those two. What made it even weirder was the fact that given their
age difference, Kaji couldn't see how they could've met at all, not to
mention became close enough for Nabiki to cover for him.

'Yes, only a blind man would've missed her concern for Ranma.'

Smiling, the unshaven man wondered how a kid barely half his age had so many
women after him.

'Not to mention the female pilots,' he mentally added a spilt-second later
with a smirk.

At least Asuka will ease off on him now and move on to the mysterious Ranma.
Along with Rei, who seemed to be around every time Ranma showed up, and
Ranko...

Wait.

Thinking back to all of Ranma's sightings, Kaji couldn't remember any single
one where Ranko was present. And that surely meant... that meant... that
they were sleeping together? Mutually trying to infiltrate Nerv? Actually
the same person?

Kaji put the small bag of seeds on the ground and massaged his temples. He
was definitely up on something here, but he'd be damned if he knew what it
was. Nabiki could probably tell him, but it would cost him. Kaji doubted he
could afford to give her the information she wanted. He was putting both of
them at risk as it was with what she already knew.

'No matter, I'll find out Ranma's secret soon enough.'

Ranma. What was his last name anyway?

--------------------------------------------------

Ranma-chan glared at the shadows in her hospital room. They surrounded her,
trying to overwhelm her with their numbers. Trying to take her with them to
the Abyss.

"Leave me alone! I hate you! I hate everyone! Everyone!" she yelled at the
top of his lungs. "Just die!"

The shadows taunted her, disappearing from his sight only to show up
elsewhere in the room. The pigtailed girl could see them out of the corner
of her eye, conspiring against her, plotting... plotting. To destroy her, to
deliver her the fate she escaped.

"Die! Die! Die! Die!"

They wouldn't go away, mocking her with their silence. Glancing at her
unprotected back... waiting to make their move. They could wait, for she was
already one of them. A ghost, living on borrowed time.

Ranma no longer shouted to keep the shadows at bay, having lost the strength
to do so by now. Curling into a fetal position and sobbing pathetically, she
begged them to stay back.

Ranma's pleas fell on barren ears, as the deadly dance of the shadows
continued all around her. The red-head could feel her heart been torn apart
continuously, as the torture continued. Giving up any hope for salvation,
she hoped that everything would be better the next day. After all, the
shadows always went away with dawn...

But this was merely a dream; a fantasy. Ranma knew that what she craved for
most wouldn't happen. She knew the reason for the increase in the intensity
of her nightmares. Not simply a punishment, it was also a reminder. A
reminder... of Her.

As if Ranma could ever forget Her! That memory would always be a constant in
her life, just like the warm embrace of the sun, just like the seven days of
the week, just like the deep red of her best friend's eyes. All constants,
none will change for as long as Ranma lived.

As the pigtailed girl lay on the floor, trying her best to maintain a grip
on her slipping sanity, she hoped that the shadows won't break her. Just as
she was about to pass out, Ranma reassured herself that as long as her best
friend will be there with her, everything will be alright...

Nurse Shiratori, a pretty blond in her mid thirties, entered Ranma's
hospital room a few minutes after the noise had stopped. Checking up on her,
she found the red-head sleeping peacefully with a smile on her face. Shaking
her head at the strange order that's been passed on from Sub-Commander
Fuyutsuki not to disturb the Fourth Child under any condition, the nurse
covered the petite girl with the blanket that lay on the floor next to the
bed, and left the room quietly.

--------------------------------------------------

Three days after the battle with the Eighth Angel, Ranma-chan finally showed
up at school. She looked like hell, but kept to herself the entire time, not
speaking to anyone. It suited her classmates, who still hadn't forgotten her
last showdown with Toji, just fine.

The only one to approach Ranma safely was a blue-haired girl, who wasn't
much better off on the social scale. The two girls sat together during
lunch, hardly exchanging a word during the entire time.

That in itself wasn't what worried the class rep so much. The female
Evangelion pilots have never been a pinnacle of mental health and stability,
but they always helped each other.

'I don't know what Asuka would've done against all those perverts without
Ranko's help...'

Hikari was pretty sure that Asuka was strong and skilled enough to beat up
all those boys, but doing it on a daily basis probably wouldn't have had a
positive effect on either her personality or temper. Unfortunately, even
Asuka's pushy and talkative attitude wasn't able to draw the other red-head
out of her shell. In fact, from what little Hikari had been able to observe,
Ranko's responses to both of her friends bordered on rudeness.

And for the life of her, the brown-haired class president couldn't see why.
What was the reason for Ranko's rotten mood? While there was a total media
blackout on anything related to the recent Angel attack, none of Hikari's
friends had been injured, and she speculated that civilian casualties were
avoided this time. Also, all pilots aside from Ranko showed up at school the
next day, unharmed, and reassuring everyone that the temperamental red-head
only had to stay in hospital for observation. Ranko's arrival seemed to
confirm her fellow pilots' story.

Something was terribly wrong with the red-head. Ranko was hurting inside,
just like... just like Toji had been, when his sister was injured during the
battle with the Third Angel. But Ranko didn't have any relatives... or did
she? Like the rest of her classmates, Hikari had no idea who Ranko really
was or where did she come from. That silly myth that the idiot duo - she
refused to put her Shinji in the same category with them - had spread
throughout school, about Ranko being a magical spirit captured by a
villainous sorcerer and bound to his will was so utterly ridiculous that she
refused to even consider it.

Hikari would've forgotten about the whole thing, if it hadn't been for her
duty as class president to maintain the peace. Besides, as hard as it was
for her to admit it, she just couldn't stay angry with the red-head. There
were times - very rare times - when Hikari could catch glimpses into Ranko's
psyche. Ranko was a good person, but something happened to her that changed
her... made her so angry...

Where did all that anger come from? What could've happened to that girl that
made so hostile?

And those... powers... the girl possessed...

Superhuman was the best word to describe them. Ranko was stronger and more
agile than Hikari would have believed humanly possible. And, on top of all
that, the girl could glow, and... and... throw those... energy blasts.

Hikari involuntary winced in sympathy as she recalled Ranko's recent
demonstration of power on Toji.

How can a normal human do that?

But, then again, Evangelion pilots were hardly normal humans.

A disturbing thought occurred to Hikari at that time. What if Ranko wasn't
human? The mere concept might've been amusing, but with the arrival of the
Angels it became pretty clear that humans weren't the only sentient life
form in the universe. And no one outside Nerv knew what those Angels really
looked like.

Hikari thought back to a few anime that she'd watched recently. Every time
the Earth was threatened, whether by magical beings or from an
extra-terrestrial source, it seemed that the only way to beat the menace was
to recruit the invaders or at least turn their technology against them.

People died in those shows.

Shinji was one of the pilots.

Hikari sighed, lowering her head into her hands. The bell rang, signaling
the start of yet another class. It was probably about the Second Impact...
again... but the teacher was always right.

--------------------------------------------------

"Man, if I have to listen to one more lecture about the Second Impact..."
Toji grumbled, stretching out his hands behind his back.

"Would you prefer to actually study?" Kensuke asked him innocently.

"Studying? In school?!" Toji exclaimed incredulously.

The two boys shared a hearty laugh at that. A couple of minutes later, when
the laughter finally died down, Toji leaned against the railing, letting his
eyes sweep over the roof's surface.

"It's been a week since Shinji and Ayanami had their little chat, hasn't
it?" he asked his friend with a wink.

Kensuke chuckled in response.

"That wouldn't be their private, with just the two of them around chat,
would it?"

"Two pilots, all alone on the roof. Some people probably find it romantic."
Looking at the bespectacled boy, Toji asked, "How about you? Does this place
turn you on?"

Backing away nervously, Kensuke stuttered, "C-Come on, T-Toji, you k-know I
only like girls!"

Toji jumped from his perch and smacked his friend's forehead.

"No, dumbass! I wanted to know if you think Ayanami likes the roof. It's
kinda lonely and quiet... well, most of the time. Y'know? Perfect for
someone like her."

"Oh," Kensuke replied, visibly relaxing. "I suppose. Anyway, I think she's
taken, man. Why don't you chase Misato-san instead?"

"Misato-san..."

Both boys stood still for a few long moments, just content to drool in
peace.

"She is divine, isn't she?"

Toji nodded, sighing.

"If only she were a red-head..."

"Are you crazy or something? All red-heads are mental cases, man!"

"Is that so?"

"Well, duh! There's Asuka," - both boys cringed at that name - "and there's
also Ranko. Two borderline psychos that just happen to be the only red-heads
around."

Kensuke noticed that Toji stopped listening to him sometime after he'd said
Ranko's name, and quickly figured out what was on his friend's mind.

"Toji, you can't be serious?! That chick told you she'd fry your family
jewels the next time you tried something with her!"

"Dominate me, Ranko-sama..."

A hard slap woke Toji from his daydream.

"Ranko-sam... Hey, you're not Ranko!"

"How nice of you to notice," Kensuke retorted, putting as much sarcasm into
his words as he could.

The gibe was ignored by Toji, as he grabbed the bespectacled boy by his
shoulders and shook him roughly.

"What have you done with my pigtailed goddess, foul cretin?!"

Two additional slaps, courtesy of Kensuke, were able to bring Toji's old
self back.

"Sorry for spacing out like that, man," Toji apologized, rubbing the back of
his neck nervously.

"That's ok," Kensuke assured him, "I've gotten used to it by now."

A few moments later, the silence that descended upon the two boys was broken
by Kensuke's question.

"Toji, are you going to visit your kid sister today?"

Frowning slightly, Toji replied, "Nah, Kensuke. I would go, but I just have
too much homework for tomorrow. It's weird, you know? All we ever seem to
study is that Second Impact, anyway."

"That's funny, I guess. Say, when is she coming out of the hospital,
anyway?"

"I dunno," Toji replied with a shrug. "She wants Shinji to come and visit
her, but I don't think he'd feel comfortable with that."

"Yeah... who would, in his place? After all, he's the one who put her there,
during that Angel attack back then..."

--------------------------------------------------

Unnoticed by both boys, Ranma-chan growled quietly, clenching her fists.
She'd been meaning to thrash the couple of perverts when she heard them talk
about her, but something stopped her, freezing the red-head in her tracks.

Wuss-Boy and Rei didn't... they couldn't have... it was just impossible!
Ridiculous by all counts! So funny, that by all means she should've laughed
out loud...

Damn that perverted little nobody! If he seduced poor, innocent Rei, who
obviously didn't know what all the boys Shinji's age wanted, there'd be
literally hell to pay!

And then, when that sick bastard couldn't have possibly sunk any lower, he
managed to do just that!

So, Shinji sent a little girl to a hospital? And she was only in the second
grade?!

Ranma always considered herself a fair person. Therefore, Shinji would
receive a few seconds to explain his transgressions, before she pulled his
practically nonexistent spine out through the excretory opening at the end
of his alimentary canal!

--------------------------------------------------

Here he was, walking casually to the classroom, as if nothing was wrong...
Ranma had to stop herself from lashing out at that piece of human trash
right away.

"Shinji!"

Her yell got his attention, as well as anyone else's within a fifty meter
radius. The students sighed in relief that they weren't the target of the
red-head's rage, before scurrying off to find something important to do
elsewhere.

"W-What is it, Ranko?" Shinji stammered, suddenly finding himself all alone
in the corridor with the pilot of Unit 03.

"Did ya put that idiot's sister in the hospital?" Ranma asked in a
dangerously low tone of voice.

Backing away until his back hit one of the walls, Shinji asked dreadfully,
"W-What are you t-talking about?"

Ranma took a step towards the terrified boy, cracking her knuckles
menacingly.

"Did you hurt Toji's sister?!"

"That... that wasn't my fault!" Shinji shouted desperately, his guilt
overwhelming the fear he felt at the moment. "Father sent me out to fight
that Angel, and..."

"Excuses, Shinji! I don't wanna hear any excuses!" Ranma barked, getting
closer.

"Now..." The red-head's lips curled into a nasty scowl. "Did you, or did you
not put Toji's little sister in a hospital?!"

"Yes," Shinji replied timidly.

The pilot of Unit 01 mentally steeled himself for what he was sure to be the
beating of his life.

"How could ya do that?! She's just a second grader!"

Seeing as he had nothing to lose, Shinji shouted, "I... I'm sorry, ok?! I
didn't want to pilot the damn EVA in the first place! Father made me do
it..."

"And has your father also forbidden you to visit this poor, little girl?"

The red-head was almost upon him, glaring at the shivering boy from her cold
blue eyes.

Moving his eyes aside, Shinji mumbled, "N-No. It's just..."

"Just what?!" Ranma snarled, balling up her right fist.

A faint blue aura surrounded the red-head's form like some mystical flame.

Squeezing his eye shut, Shinji cried out, "I can't meet her! I'm so
ashamed... I can't stand to look in her eyes!

"Coward!" Ranma spat, roughly shoving Shinji's left shoulder.

The boy's back impacted against the wall painfully, and he had to bite on
his lower lip to prevent a scream.

"All you ever think about is yourself! Your kind disgusts me!"

Immense amounts of adrenaline flooding his system, Shinji found the power
within him to turn his head back towards the red-head and locked his eyes
with Ranma's own.

"Oh..." he squeaked, before regaining his voice. "Oh yeah? Like y-you are
any better?"

The words came out mumbled, but Ranma heard them and her battle aura flared
with a new intensity that put the previous one to shame.

"What did you say?" she asked slowly, using the full effect of her glare on
Shinji.

The pilot of Unit 01, however, stood his ground bravely. With every passing
moment, he found it easier to defend himself. His firm belief that his
situation couldn't possibly get any worse strengthened his resolve that if
he were destined to receive great bodily harm, he might as well say his
piece of mind to the red-head.

"You, Ranko. You are the biggest hypocrite of them all! Going through life,
moaning to everyone about your pain. Why don't you just grow up?"

Smirking nastily, Ranma muttered, "So you do have a shred of spine in ya,
Wuss-Boy..."

"D-Don't call me that! Stop picking on me, or I'll... I'll..."

Shinji struggled to control himself, balling his hands into fists so hard
that his nails drew blood.

"You'll what?" Ranma asked haughtily.

"I'll tell Rei what you said after the first activation test of Unit 03."

Confusion quickly gave way to recognition that dawned on Ranma's face, mixed
with a bit of something Shinji never expected to see on the red-head's
face - fear.

Getting more and more confident as the pigtailed girl continued to pale,
Shinji glared at her, saying, "That's right! I'll tell Rei... no, not just
her, but everyone else too, and..."

Ranma screamed in rage, cutting Shinji in mid-sentence. She punched the wall
Shinji was still leaning on close to his head, driving her fist through the
concrete barrier.

"If you ever say that to anyone..." she growled quietly, her dead eyes
piercing his and shocking the boy to the depth of his very soul.

Shinji fell to his knees, holding his left cheek. A thin trail of blood made
its way down his face, dripping onto his school uniform, from the cut that a
piece of shrapnel caused him. He stared dumbly as a few drops of his blood
landed on the corridor's floor, entranced by their beauty.

Their classmates pooled out into the corridor, shocked and fearful
expression marring their faces. No one dared to approach neither Ranma nor
Shinji... no one, aside from a blue-haired girl.

After examining the scene for a few long moments, Rei quietly said, "Ranko,
we have to talk."

"Rei, we still have school..."

"Now."

Seeing the grave expression on Rei's face, Ranma nodded and followed Rei to
their apartment building, ignoring all the hushed whispering among their
fellow students.

--------------------------------------------------

Ranma-chan waited a few minutes for Rei to start talking, but after they
reached their destination, she simply entered her apartment and sat on the
bad, staring off into space. The read-head tried to give her friend as much
time as she needed, changing back to her male form in the meanwhile. After
finally despairing of Rei starting the conversation, the pigtailed boy
called out her name.

"Rei..."

"You are very angry, Ranma," the blue-haired girl stated, cutting him off.

"I... yes... It's a bad day for me, and..." he stammered, trying to quell
his ire. 'It's not Rei's fault!'

Looking into his eyes, Rei asked, "Why are you angry at Ikari Shinji-kun?"

"Why?!" Ranma practically exploded with anger. "He hurt that little girl!
Toji's sister is only in the second grade!"

Rei nodded. Without a trace of emotion in her voice, she said, "Countless
others have also been injured during the battle with the Third Angel. There
have been several fatalities as well."

After pausing slightly, she added, "Ikari-kun had not been given that
information."

"Then you see...!" Ranma exclaimed, doing his best to calm himself. 'Rei is
my friend. She is on my side.'

"See what?" the blue-haired girl asked, tilting her head to the right
slightly. "Tokyo-3 had been saved from total annihilation, as well as the
entire human race."

Ranma was sizzling with anger by that point. He was angry at Shinji for
causing all this, at Rei for failing to understand, and at himself for not
able to get the point across.

"Rei, you can't use math with these issues! Each and every human life is
precious and should be saved!"

She blinked, restoring the eye contact immediately.

"And that was the reason you wanted to hurt Ikari-kun?"

"YES!"

"Isn't his life just as precious, then?" Rei questioned, stopping Ranma in
his tracks.

"Don't go around and twist my words! I... Shinji... how dare he bitch about
his life, when I... especially today, of all days! And he..."

"So that is why," Rei said softly, looking downwards.

Ranma paused, and no one talked for quite some time.

Eventually, Ranma whispered in a voice completely devoid of life, "Yes! I...
I've lost so much..."

Shaking with barely controlled anger, he continued in the same eerie tone of
voice, "My entire family had been murdered right in front of my eyes! The
sadistic bastards enjoyed torturing me, and there was only so much a
five-year-old could do... and when I finally got the chance to strike back,
it was too late. They were gone... all gone. And Ryoga; the only one I
considered my rival..."

Ranma spoke louder, driven by his anger and hatred, "So you see? Shinji has
no right whatsoever to feel sorry for what he laughingly calls his poor
life!"

Rei got up from the bed and walked over to her dresser, taking a case that
contained the Commander's broken glasses. Holding them to her heart, she
said, "Ikari Shinji-kun is my friend."

Ranma snorted in response.

"Big freakin' deal! You've got me, an' Asuka... you don't need that sorry
piece of..."

"No."

The word was whispered, but in the resulting silence, it had a thunderous
effect.

"N-No?" Ranma repeated shakily, when he regained control of his senses.
Something about Rei scared him. She'd changed somehow; it was so subtle that
most of their classmates wouldn't give it another thought. However, as he
briefly locked his eyes with hers when she turned to face him once again,
Ranma flinched and looked away.

"I'm sorry for all you've had to suffer in your life, Ranma."

"Rei, I..." Ranma stuttered, gesturing randomly with his hands in a futile
attempt to help his cause.

Ignoring him, the blue-haired girl continued, "I truly am." Her tone of
voice softening slightly, as added, "And I understand your pain, perhaps
better than anyone else at Nerv, and that is not an idle statement."

Seeing Ranma's surprise, Rei elaborated, "I believe you were not aware of
this part. You haven't seen your colleagues' personal files, have you?
Commander Ikari, Ikari Shinji-kun, Asuka, Major Katsuragi..." Pausing
briefly, Rei added with a touch of anger, "Even Dr. Akagi."

When Ranma didn't say anything, Rei glanced at his face sadly.

"To feel better with himself, one often needs to find another who is at an
even worse position, correct?"

"All of you had real families; families that loved you. Even if that was
only for a little while. You have memories that you can forever treasure.
You will be missed, if you were gone. You... any of you cannot be replaced."

"All of you... except for me."

"Rei..."

Ranma's hand reached out for Rei, but the blue-haired girl took a step back.

"You can even die," she said quietly.

"What?!"

"No one at Nerv is very good at living. But when life gets too difficult,
you can end it."

As Ranma stared at her, Rei continued, "You will not be brought back. Your
soul may be allowed to rest."

Finally, her words got a reaction from the pigtailed boy.

"It can never rest! I failed... failed! Failed my friends, failed my
family... failed Akane! This is my punishment, my hell..."

"Everyone's hell, Ranma. You have been a chance to change your destiny...
you can still hope..."

"Big deal!" he raged, knocking down Rei's dresser and sending white lingerie
flying everywhere.

"It is." Rei's voice didn't waver. "You have free will. You are not a tool
to be used."

"Damn it! It's all Shinji's fault!"

"Why?" Rei asked softly. "Because he suffers, just like you?"

Ranma roughly grabbed the case of glasses that Rei had been hugging to her
chest, and threw it against the floor.

"Rei, stop talking crazy! You're supposed to be my friend, to always listen
to me, to take my side..."

Rei slapped Ranma, immediately silencing him.

"No."

As he looked at her in horror, the blue-haired girl continued to stare at
him, a stoic expression on her face. "If that is what it means to be your
friend, then I refuse to be one."

"R-Rei..." he stammered, at a loss for words.

"You wanted me to chose. Very well. I choose Ikari Shinji-kun."

"Shinji?" Ranma repeated in disbelief.

"Ikari-kun's heart is in the right place. And you, Ranma, seem to have
forgotten yours."

"Rei, you can't leave me... you are my friend... the only true friend I have
left in the world..." Ranma all but begged, his voice shaking. "Without you,
my suffering..."

"My only purpose in life is to destroy that world. What suffering may you
have that rivals that?"

"But... I am a failure..."

"I wish I were one..." Rei said sadly. "I wish for that a lot. I also wish
my life could be ended, sparing humanity."

Her voice picking volume, she added, "We all have our demons to face. Before
you preach to Ikari Shinji-kun, you should stop running away and face your
own!"

Ranma stared wide-eyed at who'd been his best friend just moments ago. His
mouth opened a few times, with nothing coming out, as the realization that
he'd lost Rei's friendship sank in.

"I didn't mean... Rei... give me another chance..."

"You have been bullying one of the kindest people I've ever met in my life.
The only person aside from you or Asuka who wasn't terrified of me."

A tear made its way down Rei's cheek.

"A bully..." Ranma repeated sadly, lowering his head.

Right in his line of sight was the glasses case, now open from the impact
against the floor. The glasses themselves lay next to it, one of the lenses
shattered and the other a cobweb of cracks.

"I... I'm sorry! Oh, God, I'm so sorry... Rei... I..."

Ranma leapt out of the window of Rei's apartment and quickly disappeared
from view. Rei was left alone, an uneasy feeling at the pit of her stomach.

Covering her face with her hands, she felt tiny droplets of liquid fall onto
them and slide slowly down her wrists.

"Are these tears? Am I crying?" she mumbled quietly, as more tears spilled
from her eyes.

"Why am I crying?"

--------------------------------------------------

End of Chapter 10.


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