Disclaimer: I do not own Neon Genesis Evangelion or any of the characters within, that would be Gainax.

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Angel in the Centerfold

Asuka was sitting in her apartment, legs up on the coffee table as she lounged on the couch and read. She was so engrossed in the magazine in front of her she didn't even notice the door opening until Shinji called out to her.

"I'm back!" he yelled, the door half open.

His sudden entrance surprised Asuka and she quickly fumbled with the magazine, flipping the pages. She saw Shinji approach the coach out of the corner of her eye.

"Hey, Asuka," he said. "What're you reading?"

"Just an article one of my classmates suggested," replied Asuka, trying to sound nonchalant. "Some story about the writer's grandparents in an American detention camp during the Pacific War."

"Sounds interesting, tell me if it's any good and I might read it after you," said Shinji, walking over to the kitchen table and depositing his school bag on it. He grabbed his cello case which he had been rolling behind him and rolled it into his room.

Asuka silently cursed herself for getting so distracted that she had forgotten that her roommate would be returning shortly. She picked up her bag from where she had dropped it on entering the apartment, and walked into her room. The former Evangelion pilot flicked on the lights and placed her bag on her desk. She put the magazine she had been reading on her night stand and flopped down onto her bed.

It had been seven years since the secret society SEELE had tried to become gods. Asuka had with the timely assistance of Shinji in Eva Unit-01 managed to destroy the Mass Produced Eva's of SEELE and foiled their plans. They had then fought off the Japanese Defense Force from NERV. Vice Commander Kozo Fuyutsuki had taken control of the situation and gotten the Government to realize they had been played.

With all of the Angel's destroyed, there had been no need for the Evangelions anymore and the project had been dismantled. The remaining Eva's had been detonated and the files destroyed by a computer worm designed by Doctor Ritsuko Akagi. She had been tried for terrorism and destroying government property, but Asuka had seen a triumphant look on her face as she had been taken away.

With the Evangelions now gone, NERV had gone back to its original function as a pharmaceutical company. The four surviving pilots of the project had been given handsome sums of money as compensation for their participation and the risks they had undergone.

The populace had moved back to Tokyo-3 and the task of rebuilding the war torn city had started again. A new influx of families from all over the world had brought in new markets and jobs. When school had been reopened for Asuka's first year of high school, the class sizes had doubled from their previous NERV regulated numbers. New teachers and staff had flooded the halls, and Asuka had found herself oddly disappointed at never seeing her old droning teacher again.

Asuka and Shinji had moved into a new apartment with Misato and finished up their high school years. When the time had come to pick colleges, Shinji and Asuka had picked the same one on the other side of the city. They had dipped into their large pools of savings and gotten a joint apartment near the school.

Asuka had already gone to college once, but she had figured getting a second degree couldn't hurt, and to try to spite the odds she had decided to get it in Japanese. Now she knew more Kanji then she had ever thought existed and was finally glad to be near the end of things. Shinji had gone in for a Music degree. While he still preferred his Cello, he was also a capable Piano player and had all around knowledge of how other instruments functioned, even if he wasn't too good at them. He had also taken up writing sheet music, and even managed to sell a short piece.

Asuka gave a small sigh as she remembered the past and everything that had brought her to the present. Looking back she had many regrets, but none of them were larger than the one contained in the magazine. Picking it back up from her nightstand, she opened it up to a two-page centerpiece.

Looking back up at her from the pages were a pair of mesmerizing red eyes. The woman, and she was definitely not a girl anymore, had grown out her hair since Asuka had last seen her. Pleasant blue locks fell and framed her face perfectly. Her white skin was brilliant and almost completely bare except for some patches covered in black lacey under garments.

Asuka marveled at the changes that her fellow pilot Rei Ayanami had undergone since they had last met. She found herself mesmerized and aroused as the once naïve and innocent girl without a mind of her own posed in picture after picture in seductive poses.

On the last page of the seven page article, Rei was sitting facing the camera and leaning forward, her legs spread wide and with her arms between them, teasingly blocking the view. On her back was a pair of brilliant white wings and on her face a flirtatious smile that kept sending Asuka's heart into a frenzy.

"My angel…," muttered Asuka as she stared at the page.

A sudden urge overcame her and before she could stop herself she was walking out of her room and confronting Shinji, who was just starting dinner. He seemed surprised by her sudden entrance, but recovered quickly.

"Dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes," he said, stirring something in the pot. It smelled great but Asuka had something else to do before she could eat.

"Do you still have Rei's phone number?" she asked.

"Uh, yeah," he stuttered in surprise, obviously not expecting the question.

"Is it her most recent? Are you sure it works?" pressed Asuka, feeling a strange sense of urgency.

"Uh yeah, I talked to her just last week."

Asuka felt a strange pang in her heart as Shinji admitted to talking to Rei so recently. She had figured he had kept in contact with the strange girl, but hearing it made her feel slightly jealous. The former pilot didn't know why she felt this way, but she knew that since she had recognized Rei on the cover of that dirty magazine a few hours earlier, she had only been able to think of her.

Asuka had been antagonistic to Rei throughout most of the time before defeating SEELE. Of course she had been antagonistic to pretty much everyone during that time period, but Rei had held a special place for her scorn. When they had first met, Asuka had just considered Rei a doll. In some ways she had been right. Rei would almost always follow orders, unless it had to do with Shinji. She had been very withdrawn and conserved her words. She hadn't been afraid of the world, she just hadn't seen any reason to interact with it more than necessary. Rei had turned out to be a clone of Shinji's mother fused with the 2nd angel Lillith, and brought along all the mysteriousness an upbringing like that could entail.

In the course of fighting the angels, Asuka and Rei had managed to bond slightly, or at least reach a mutual understanding. When the 15th Angel had struck though, Asuka had ended up in a catatonic state. Shortly after, Rei had given her life to defeat the 16th Angel. She had then been replaced by a clone, the third Rei Ayanami apparently. Asuka had snapped out of her catatonic state during the battle against SEELE, but due to the chaos of the day, she hadn't met the new Rei.

It had been a rude awakening to meet Rei III and find her almost back to square one in regards to her attitude. Shinji had filled Asuka in by then in all she had missed, which had helped in dealing with the girl who now didn't recognize her. Asuka had tried to be nicer, and had even succeeded a bit due to having a better attitude about herself, but something about the blue haired girl had still irked her. It had been like raising a child, one who you just had trouble relating to.

Distracted by her thoughts, Asuka only just realized Shinji had been asking her a question.

"Can you repeat that?" she asked.

"I asked, why do you want it?"

"I just do, is there a problem with that?" she replied more fiercely then she had intended.

"No, I was just curious. I don't think you've talked to Rei since we graduated from high school. It's just kind of odd."

"No," replied Asuka annoyed. "What's odd is what you let Rei do despite talking to her regularly."

She knew she was letting her strange feelings of annoyance control her, but frankly she didn't care at the moment. Shinji looked at her first in surprise then in confusion at her outburst.

"What are you talking about?"

"That magazine spread of her practically naked is what I'm talking about! Or are you telling me she didn't actually tell you about that?"

"How'd you find out about that?" asked Shinji.

"So you did know!"

"Rei called me up a few weeks ago asking me to accompany her to a photo shoot. Some scouts had been walking by and seen her. They had found her interesting and gave her an offer for a job."

"And you allowed her to go through with it?"

"She really wanted to try it out. Honestly, I had never seen Rei that excited about anything before."

"I bet those perverts tricked her with some lies. Why else would she be so excited?" muttered Asuka darkly.

"Seriously Asuka, why are you so angry about this?"

"I'm not angry!"

"Do you know what degree Rei is going to college for?" asked Shinji calmly. He stirred the contents of the pot one more time and then turned off the burner.

"No," replied Asuka, confused at the question. "Why?"

"Because she isn't pursuing a degree. She has zero interests. She's completed her general requirements and is just taking classes to see what interests her. Nothing has so far. When she approached me about this I was planning to convince her otherwise, but she actually sounded excited for once.

"Have you seen the pictures they took of her?"

"I did, Rei sent me an early copy of the magazine."

"They had her modeling in her underwear!"

"Did you read the article that went with the pictures?"

"No," replied Asuka.

"The article and theme of the pictures was about the sexualizing of women and the obsession with the appearance of innocence. A very well written and thought out piece. The place she went was very proper and professional. No one tried to take advantage of her, and they always made sure she was fine with something before modeling for a shot. There were even some stuff neither of us agreed on and they didn't force her to take them."

Asuka was still angry, she just didn't know at what exactly. Shinji had made some good points and she couldn't help but feel a small bit of pride at knowing how much her roommate had grown since they had first met. He grabbed two bowls from a shelf and filled them up with delicious smelling stew from the pot.

"Here's your food," he said, passing her a steaming bowl along with a spoon and napkin. She grabbed the food reluctantly and sat down at the kitchen table. The two enjoyed having meals together, probably due to their lack of family meals during their childhood. The company made things better, and Shinji was a good cook. Sometimes Asuka would help out, but usually she just left it to him. Shinji joined her at the table and they both ate in silence for a few minutes. The only sounds were the clicking of their spoons hitting the bowls and their blowing to cool down their food. Eventually Shinji was the one to restart the conversation.

"So how did you find the pictures anyways? They weren't exactly published in a magazine you read often."

"I was walking down the street when I saw Rei's picture on a magazine rack. There's not many people with natural blue hair and red eyes in the world. I bought a copy and brought it home."

"Ah, so that's what you were reading when I walked in."

Asuka felt her face flush a bit in embarrassment. It was usually her teasing Shinji, and the reversal was throwing her off.

"So, do you still want Rei's phone number?" asked Shinji between bites of stew.

Asuka didn't know how to answer his question anymore. A part of her still wanted the number while another part was wondering why she had needed to call in the first place. Why should she care that Rei had been featured in a dirty magazine? Shinji had given her a well-spoken argument in favor of it, so why did she still need to contact Rei?

Shinji was right, Asuka hadn't bothered to keep in contact with Rei before so why now? The images of Rei posing on the pages of the magazine flashed into her mind. Every part of the blue haired girl enchanted Asuka, making her wonder why she had given up contact in the first place. She didn't know what she expected to happen, or what would actually happen, Asuka just knew that she had to make that call.

"Yes, I would," replied Asuka, resolve fueling her.

Two hours later Asuka was sitting on her bed with her cell phone cupped in her hands. She had finished dinner, done the dishes as per her chore assignment with Shinji, and gotten Rei's number entered into her phone. Doing all of that had taken around half an hour. The rest of the time had been spent staring at the phone, trying to convince herself that dialing the number on it was a good idea.

"Come on Asuka, you can do this," she muttered to herself. Trying to convince herself in her head hadn't been working, so what did she have to lose talking out loud? "Just push the button, dial the number, and casually say hi. No, wait. I should introduce myself first probably. Hello, this is Asuka Langely Soryu, is Rei there? Yeah, that sounds much better. But wait, it's her cell phone, of course she's going to be there. It sounds so stupid now that I'm saying it out loud…"

Asuka gave a sigh and flopped backwards onto her bed in defeat, her phone gripped in her hand. This wasn't getting her anywhere. The longer she took to dial, the later it was getting. Her window of decent times to call was shrinking and with it her confidence. Asuka closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

"Mein Gott! Just suck it up already Asuka!" she yelled frustrated. She opened her eyes and caught a glimpse of her phone. And it was dialing Rei's number. Asuka bolted into a sitting position with a yell. "Sheiss!"

She brought the phone to her ear and heard the sound of it dialing. It rang once, twice, three times… Asuka started to think that maybe this whole thing was a dumb idea and she should just hang up. As she was about to move her phone away from her ear and hang up, she heard someone answer.

"Hello?" asked the voice. Asuka felt her heart stop for a moment. The voice was soft, but not timid. It had a strange melodic quality to it that felt both enchanting and unearthly. Most importantly though, it was clearly Rei's voice. Asuka hadn't realized how much she had missed hearing that voice until she had heard it again. She took a second to catch her breath.

"Hello, yes, this is Asuka Langely Soryu looking for Rei Ayanami, is she there?" asked Asuka, her brain running too fast to catch its own thoughts.

"This is she," replied Rei calmly, not giving off any hint of surprise at the unusual call. "How are you today Asuka?"

"I'm doing great, how are you Rei?" asked Asuka, trying not to stumble over her words.

"Today was acceptable. Is there a reason for your call tonight?"

"Uh, kind of. I just uh realized today that I hadn't um talked to you recently, so I decided to give you a call. To talk. To you. Tonight."

Asuka was too relieved at getting the words out that she didn't even feel like mentally berating herself for sounding like an idiot.

"About what?"

"Uh, maybe we could go out together. I mean get some lunch together. Um, it doesn't have to be lunch, it could be coffee, and just catch up and talk. Would you be up to that?"

"I see no reason not to. I would be free to do so tomorrow at one, does that work for you?"

"Yes! I mean, yes, it would. Have a good night," replied Asuka, hanging up in a hurry. It was only right after that she realized they had set a time but not a place.

"Sheiss!" screamed Asuka in anger.

She heard a knock at her door.

"Uh Asuka, are you ok in there?" asked Shinji through the door.

"Just fine,"

"Did you call Rei yet?"

"What makes you think I was going to call her tonight?"

"Well, you seemed kind of hurried, so I just figured you would. Did you?"

"Yes, I just got off the phone with her."

"How'd it go?"

"Fine, except I forgot to set a freaking meeting place for tomorrow!" yelled Asuka, pissed at herself.

"Do you want the address for the place me and Rei usually meet? It's a nice coffee shop about midway between her apartment and ours. They have really good pastries too."

"Uh, thanks," said Asuka, feeling some of her anger leaving her. "May I have it?"

"Sure," replied Shinji. After a moment of quiet he spoke up again. "The name and address of the place is on a sticky note on your door. I bet if you text it to Rei now she won't care about you forgetting earlier."

Asuka got off of her bed and walked to her door. She opened the sliding door and saw that Shinji had already left for his own room. True to his word, a note with an address adorned the door. Asuka grabbed it and shut the door behind her. Within a few minutes she had a message composed and with a deep breath, clicked send. Rei responded almost immediately, sending a text back with a single word; 'okay'.

Asuka breathed a sigh of relief, flopping down on her bed again. She didn't know what had come over her all day, but she was glad to be done with it for now. A sudden tiredness came over her, and within a few minutes she was fast asleep. Her dreams that night were of her past in the days after defeating SEELE. Throughout her dreams she smiled and laughed along with Shinji and Rei as they learned how to enjoy life.

The last memory for the night was a girl's only sleep over. Asuka's friend Hikari had invited both Asuka and Rei over to her home. They had spent the whole night talking and doing the things normal girls were allowed to experience. Disastrous attempts at teaching Rei about fashion and makeup. Talking about all of their classmates, especially the boys. The activity had been too much for Rei and she had been the first to fall asleep. Asuka had found herself thinking how cute that was, right out of nowhere. Hikari had followed Rei into dreamland shortly after.

Asuka had found herself staring at her friends as they slept. Her gaze had been drawn to Rei's sleeping face. The blue haired girl had looked like an angel, illuminated by the light coming from streetlights from outside. Asuka had moved closer and closer to Rei, until eventually they were face to face. Her thoughts had then caught up to her actions and she had lurched backwards, away from Rei. Suddenly Rei's eyelids opened, revealing blood red irises, and staring right at her.

Asuka woke up in bed, her eye's opening in shock. She tried to remember what she had been dreaming about, but couldn't manage to recall it. Sitting up in bed, she looked at the digital clock on her nightstand. The display read 3:28am, prompting a sigh. Asuka flopped back down onto her pillow, pulling the covers over her. She closed her eyes and managed to fall asleep again.

Several hours later, Asuka was awake and tearing apart her room. Lifting up outfit after outfit and mixing and matching each and every piece of clothing. She mumbled to herself as she did so.

"This blouse would go nice with the blue skirt, but maybe that's too fancy for something like this. But the red skirt might be too short, I don't want to come off as indecent..." Asuka but her hands up in frustration. "Aagh! Why am I even trying so hard? This is just a normal outing with a friend I haven't seen in a while. I don't even know why I'm treating it like a date. I'll just think of it as if I'm meeting Hikari. Yeah, that'll work…"

As Asuka looked for an outfit to meet Rei in she was getting more and more frustrated at herself. Usually she knew what she wanted and could pick an outfit instantly.

"God damn it, why is this so difficult!" Her face gained a determined expression. Jeans and a t-shirt should be fine for today. She thought to herself. I can worry about wearing nicer clothes on the second date.

The thought blindsided her from nowhere. Before she could beat herself up about it though, an alarm rang on her phone, signaling that it was time to leave. Asuka threw on the chosen shirt and pants and exited her room. The young woman rushed to the front door, put on her shoes and left, locking the front door behind her.,

Hopping on a nearby bus Asuka headed to the meeting spot. The new Tokyo-3 transit system was one of the best in the world. Trains, buses and trams ran all around the city frequently, always on time. Traffic was run efficiently and as such congestion on the roads was almost none existence except for the busiest times of the day. As the bus swayed and rocked down the road, Asuka sat sandwiched between an old lady smelling of medicine and reading a book, and a large man listening to music with his eyes closed. She could faintly hear the sound of some popular song playing through his headphones, but she had other things on her mind.

How should I greet Rei? Asuka wondered. What is her exact a relationship to me? An old colleague? A friend? Should I just act casual and aloof? No, that's the old Asuka, I'm not going to hide from things under a shell anymore.

Asuka's thoughts were once again interrupted before she could sort things out. The bus stopped and the two people next to her both departed. Looking up Asuka saw that she was at her stop. She quickly stood up and left the bus, the doors closing behind her.

The coffee shop Shinji had suggested was just on the corner of the street a few stores down from the bus stop. Looking at her phone Asuka saw that she was twenty minutes early for meeting Rei. She entered the busy shop and looked around, getting her bearings. The place looked like any other coffee shop she had entered and nothing about it caught her interest, nothing except for a lone patron sitting with her back against the far wall and staring directly at the door.

Asuka felt an electric charge run through her as she spotted Rei staring right at her. The woman's red eyes seemed to pierce right through her. Rei looked much like she had in the magazine, although wearing more clothes. Her shoulder length blue hair framed her heart shaped face. Her white skin instead of seeming pale practically glowed. Although just wearing a t-shirt and jeans like Asuka, the same look on Rei seemed like an angel's brilliant robes.

Before Asuka could approach Rei's table, two young men, each holding a cup of coffee beat her to it. They surrounded the table in a flanking pattern just like several Asuka had seen performed before when a man was about to hit on a woman. Asuka ignored the counter and its inviting smells of coffee and baked goods. Instead she made a straight beeline to the table.

"-so beautiful," complimented one of the men casually. "You must be a model or something."

"Yes, I am," replied Rei simply, seemingly unbothered by their presence or even aware of what it meant. The pair seemed briefly taken aback by her response, but the second man recovered quickly.

"Wow a model, that's pretty impressive. It's kind of surprising though. An angel like you doing a job like that."

"How do you know classified information?" asked Rei in all seriousness. Asuka could almost have laughed if she hadn't been busy pushing past a couple to reach the table. The two men were once again taken by surprise, but even Rei's seeming insanity didn't deter them.

"Hey, how about you join us for a little fun. We could show you a few cool places around town, and maybe you could show us some of your work," suggested the first man, completely accepting Rei's weirdness.

"I'm sorry, but she's busy with me," said Asuka, finally making it to the table.

Her voice drew the attention of both of the men who turned to look up at her. Maybe it was her German roots, but Asuka stood taller than the men did. At roughly 182 centimeters tall, she stood either as tall as or taller than most men she encountered in Japan. With her long auburn hair and tall stature she suspected she looked quite impressive to the pair. Up close, she realized they were both actually quite short.

"Hello Asuka," greeted Rei simply. "Would you like a seat?"

"Sure thing," replied Asuka.

She looked sternly at the pair in front of her, just daring them to continue trying to flirt with her friend. They briefly looked like they were going to start hitting on her also, but decided against it. They left gracefully with a smile and a wave which Rei mechanically replicated. Asuka felt both captivated by her smile and a sudden urge to throttle the two retreating men. Stamping down on the feeling, Asuka took a seat.

"How's it going Rei?" asked Asuka, fighting the urge to just sit and stare at the woman in front of her. Talking was her best defense against gaping.

"Everything is going well. How are you this afternoon?"

"I'm doing pretty well," responded Asuka. She felt an urge to reprimand Rei for getting hit on and not realizing it, but luckily her brain realized how ridiculous of a thought that was before her mouth managed to say it.

"Do you not want to get something to eat or drink?" asked Rei, a cup of tea and a half eaten scone in front of her. "The pastries here are very good in my opinion, and Shinji seems to agree with this analysis."

"No thank you," said Asuka. "I'm not very hungry right now."

"If you are sure. If you change your mind though you could have some of mine." Rei lifted the scone to her mouth and took a bite. A smile appeared on her face. "If there is any left."

The combination attack of Rei smiling and cracking a joke was almost too much for Asuka. It was as if her every action summoned up a radiance to blind her. Asuka's mind raced with the implications of an indirect kiss from Rei's scone, and she felt like a middle school girl again, embarrassed and blushing at every action. Rei either didn't notice her companion's distress or just decided not to comment on it.

"I must admit, I was surprised to hear your voice over the phone last night," said Rei.

Asuka hadn't noticed anything the night before or even currently that indicated the blue haired woman was surprised by her sudden call. She decided to take Rei on her word though. If Rei had no reason to lie she wouldn't, and Asuka couldn't see any reason she would lie about this. Even seven years of tutelage and interactions with society hadn't made Rei seem any less unearthly. Asuka was surprised to realize that it didn't bother her as it once had, and instead seemed endearing.

"I just realized yesterday that we hadn't talked to each other in several years, even though we both talk to Shinji," replied Asuka honestly. "I decided I didn't want to stay out of touch."

Rei just nodded in response, seeming to accept her statement. The movement attracted Asuka's attention to Rei's neck. It looked just as soft, smooth and white as the rest of Rei.

Distractions be gone! Thought Asuka, mentally shaking herself back to reality.

"So, how has college been going for you?" asked Asuka.

"It has been an enjoyable experience so far," replied Rei.

"Do you have a degree you're aiming for?"

"I have been recently thinking about the merits of a degree in Gender Studies."

"They have one of those?"

"The college I attend offers a wide selection of degrees, it is why I chose to apply there."

A period of silence grew between them as Asuka thought about what to ask next. Rei just sat there, perfectly content with waiting for the next question to answer. She took a bite of her scone and washed it down with some tea.

"What made you chose Gender Studies as a major, did you take an interesting class?" asked Asuka, fishing for an answer she suspected she knew.

"It was actually due to an article I read in a magazine. The article was about the objectification of women, a subject that had never occurred to me before. It got me thinking about a lot of issues I had never thought about before."

"That sounds interesting. Maybe you could show me the article later."

"I can do that."

Conversation drifted to other topics for a while. Rei would answer Asuka's questions in her mechanical seeming way and then ask Asuka the same question. At first Asuka had been disappointed by how emotionless and robotic Rei had seemed, but as the conversation stretched on she realized something. Rei was learning. Something close to a usual human's level of emotion started to infuse her voice. She developed facial cues and hand gestures. Her responses became less one sided answers and turned into an actual dialogue.

"-and I suspect the reason there are so many feminists who are misandrists is because everyone expects them to act like that. Eventually the expectations and bigotry aimed at them turn them into what people expect them to act like," said Rei, finishing up a very long lecture on feminism. Asuka had found herself riveted by the dual combination of Rei's mesmeric voice and the earnestness flashing in her eyes.

"Is there any proof to support your theory?" asked Asuka. She had been learning throughout the conversation how to interact with Rei in these situations, and was purposely feeding into the next lecture.

"I have not seen any studies or surveys to prove or disprove the idea. Right now it is more of a personal assumption based on my experiences with humans than an actual scientific theory."

"I'd love to hear more about it," replied Asuka.

Before anything else could be said though, her phone started to ring. Checking it she saw that it was a text message from Shinji. He was going to be eating dinner with his girlfriend and some friends of hers so Asuka would be on her own. Tacked on the end was an apology for bailing on short notice. Asuka had lost track of time and hadn't realized how late it was. Her stomach started to rumble, now conscious of how hungry it was.

"Hungry?" asked Rei, apparently having heard Asuka's stomach.

"A little," she admitted. "Shinji just sent me a message saying I'm on my own for dinner tonight. I'm glad we got together and talked like this, it was very nice."

"I agree. We should do this again sometime," replied Rei, surprising Asuka with her initiative. "Would you like to move to my house right now? I can show you that article and we could discuss it over dinner."

"Sure!" responded Asuka quickly, practically jumping out of her chair. Rei didn't seem taken aback by her reaction and just stood up.

"Let us go then," she said, throwing away the empty tea cup and scone wrapper.

They walked out of the coffee shop and to the bus stop. It arrived within a few minutes and in less than half an hour they were outside Rei's apartment. Her original apartment had been destroyed during the Angel attacks and after everything was sorted out she had moved into a new one in a nicer part of the city.

Rei fished a key out of her pocket and opened up the door, gesturing Asuka inside. Asuka took off her shoes in the doorway and looked around. The apartment was small, and minimally furnished. A simple, small bed rested against the wall. A dresser sat beside it, a black sock sticking out of the top drawer. A small kitchen with a sink, stove, refrigerator/freezer and microwave stood open to the main room. Asuka glimpsed a sterile bathroom behind a partially open door.

"You may take a seat," said Rei, gesturing to a small kitchen table with just two chairs.

Asuka took a seat in one of the chairs, and gathered her thoughts. At least she's keeping things clean, thought Asuka. Shinji had told her about the mess her apartment had been the first few times he had gone there after first meeting Rei. The blue haired woman in question walked over to her dresser and pulled something from one of the drawers. She walked back over to the table and handed Asuka a familiar magazine.

"Here it is. The article is on page thirty-three. I will start on the meal."

Rei walked into the kitchen and started to rummage through the refrigerator. Asuka opened up the magazine to page thirty-three and was again greeted by images of Rei in seductive poses. Fighting the urge to just stare, Asuka directed her attention to the article. As she read more and more of the article, she found herself having an easier time of ignoring the pictures.

Shinji and Rei were right, this is pretty interesting. Asuka finished the article just as a plate landed on the table in front of her followed by a fork. The food smelled good and when she looked up she was greeted by the sight of a plate of omelet rice in front of her. Jammed onto the yellow surface of her meal Asuka saw her full name written out in kanji. Across from her, Rei had sat down with her own plate of named omelet rice.

"Thanks for the meal," said Asuka, picking up her fork.

Asuka used the side of her fork to cut off a piece from the end. Picking it up on her fork she was about to take a bite when she saw Rei staring expectantly at her. The blue haired woman's food was untouched, her fork where she had first put it. She looked like a girl who had just made a confession and was eagerly waiting for a reply. Not wanting to stall, Asuka stuck the food into her mouth.

"Hey, this is pretty good," said Asuka, honestly surprised to find that Rei could cook. She didn't really seem like the type of person who could cook.

"Thank you," said Rei, blushing slightly at the praise. "Shinji taught me how to cook this and I have been waiting for a while to get another opinion on the food."

"Well you did a good job on mine. You should eat also." Something occurred to Asuka. "Wait, aren't you a vegetarian?"

"I do not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter. I do still partake in the consumption of milk and free-range eggs though."

"Huh. Even so, that must make figuring out meals difficult."

"As long as I plan in advanced I am fine. Shinji is also aware and makes sure we meet up to eat at restaurants with appropriate meals."

"What other meals can you cook?"

"So far I can only make omelet rice," replied Rei, looking down slightly in embarrassment.

"That's not too bad, I know many people who can't even cook this much," comforted Asuka.

Asuka finished her food in silence and found herself staring at Rei. The blue haired woman was eating slowly and methodically. The action of her eating was strangely mesmerizing.

Ever since I saw her picture I've found it impossible to stop looking at her, Asuka thought to herself. Why can't I get her out of my head? This feeling is weird, when I look at Rei I just feel right. I wonder, why do I only feel like this now? Or is it new, maybe I've always felt like this….

Unbidden memories of her time with Rei flooded her mind. Before third impact she had hated Rei, hated everyone. After though, she had lowered her guard, allowed herself to truly make friends. Hikari, Shinji, Rei… even Kensuke and Touji had been bearable company. Thinking back she recalled how she had felt around Rei; the night where she had stared entranced by her beauty. It occurred to her that she had always had these feelings around the blue haired girl.

It can't be, am I attracted to Rei…

"Are you okay Asuka?" asked Rei. Asuka found herself startled out of her thoughts and fell out of her chair in surprise.

"Ow…" said Asuka. She looked up and saw Rei had got up and was bending over her.

"Are you okay?" repeated Rei. Asuka could feel the heat rising in her face in embarrassment.

"Uh yeah, I'm fine…" she said, standing up.

"You have been distracted, is something wrong?" asked Rei, getting closer to Asuka.

"Everything is fine…" she replied, backing up from the approaching woman. Her retreat was stopped by Rei's bed, tripping her. Asuka's head slammed into the wall that the bed was against, eliciting a curse. "Verdammt!"

"Your face is really red, are you sick?" Trapped by the wall and the throbbing in her head, Asuka wasn't able to flee as Rei rested their foreheads against each other. After what felt like a lifetime, Rei stood back up. "Your forehead is very hot, you should have told me you have a cold. Lay underneath the covers of my bed and I will call Shinji about what to do in this type of situation."

"No don't!" blurted out Asuka. "I'm fine, it's just…I have a lot on my mind I guess…"

"Would you like to talk about it, I find telling Shinji my problems helps, and while I might not be as good at this as him, I am willing to try my best."

Asuka could feel Rei's words and the sincerity in them grabbing a hold of her heart. Now that she had realized how she felt everything was starting to make sense. Unfortunately, even though she was ready to admit her feelings to herself, admitting them to Rei was a completely different matter.

"Thank you for meeting up with me today and for dinner, I enjoyed your company, I'll be going now," said Asuka.

She tried to stand up, but Rei stuck out her arm and held her down. The blue haired woman's face had an expression of worry on it. The combination of her head, Rei's arm and her expression kept Asuka down.

"I want to help Asuka, please, just tell me what your problem is."

"You want to know what my problem is," said Asuka, distressed at their close proximity and getting agitated. "My problem is you! Just leave me alone!"

Rei took a step back, a stunned look on her face. Asuka instantly regretted what she had said and how she had said it.

"I will let you get on your way then," said Rei, turning away from Asuka. "I am sorry for causing you distress, I hope you get home safely without any trouble."

"Rei," said Asuka, reaching out and grabbing the woman's arm. Rei turned around to look at her, tears in her eyes. Asuka could feel tears growing in her own eyes. This wasn't what she wanted, she was lashing out again at the people she cared about. "I'm sorry Rei, I didn't mean to say that, it's just…"

"Just what," said Rei; emotion filling her voice. "Despite what has been said of me, I cannot read minds. I am still inexperienced at reading people. I am sorry for causing distress and I just want to help. If you do not clearly tell me what you are thinking then I can never know."

Asuka just sat there, unsure of how to continue. She didn't want to hurt Rei anymore, but she was afraid. If she opened up and admitted she was attracted to Rei, possibly even in love with her, how would the blue haired woman react? What if she reacted in disgust and rejected her? Even worse, what if she didn't, what if she accepted Asuka and her love. Asuka might have been in a healthier state of mind then before Third Impact, but loving someone, having an object of all of her feelings, and reciprocating and opening up, wasn't something she was sure she could do.

Rei looked at her, sadness on her face.

"I am sorry you feel like that," she said, interpreting Asuka's silence as refusal to speak. "You should get home and sleep, rest might do you good right now."

The blue haired woman turned and started to walk away again. Asuka's body rebelled though, and gripped her arm tighter. Rei looked back in surprise. Seeing the tears streaking down Rei's face was all she needed to make her decision.

"Rei, I have something I want...no, need to admit to you."

"Yes?"

"I…I'm…I'm in love with you!" yelled Asuka, forcing out the words. Surprise filled Rei's face, she had obviously not been expecting that answer.

"You are in love? With me?"

"Yes…I mean….I think I am." Asuka looked down at her lap in helplessness. She took her hand away from Rei and covered her face in distress. "I saw you in that magazine the other day before I called you. It's what made me feel I needed to call you. I didn't realize it until just now, but I am attracted to you. I think I always have been, just not aware of it. It might even be love, but I don't know, I don't experience in these things. I didn't know what you would think, I just wanted to get away and sort my feelings out…"

Asuka felt the bed bounce as Rei sat down next to her. The other woman didn't put a comforting arm around her like others might, but her voice showed her concern.

"I was not aware of your feelings, I am sorry."

"It's not your fault!" yelled Asuka, looking up at Rei. "I didn't know myself, I'm sorry for taking out my problem on you."

"No, that was a perfectly understandable response. You were in a stressful situation and I was pushing you into a corner."

They sat in an awkward silence for a few minutes as they both tried to gather their thoughts. It was Rei who broke the silence.

"I am sorry Asuka, I keep thinking but I cannot figure out how to respond to your confession," admitted the woman. "I have never been confessed to before and as such I am lacking the necessary experience."

"No one has ever confessed to you before?" asked Asuka in surprise.

"Never," replied Rei. "What am I supposed to do in this type of situation?"

"I don't know," admitted Asuka. "I've received confessions before from guys, but no one I was attracted to." She gave a slight chuckle. "I guess I know why now."

She sat for there for a moment before speaking up again.

"I guess the first question to ask would be, how do you feel about me?"

"How do I feel about you?" asked Rei. She looked intensely at Asuka for a moment, thinking. "You are a dear friend. When I was born, you took me in and raised me along with Shinji. Without you two, I would not know how to interact with the world. You two became my friends and helped me make several others. We lost contact for a few years, as we were both busy with our new lives out of high school. Even so we kept a link in Shinji."

Rei locked eyes with Asuka and Asuka returned the gaze, blue eyes staring into red.

"He would tell me stories about you, about how you were doing and growing. I must admit, I did find those tales of interest. Today was also very nice. Seeing you again was comforting and entertaining. I suspect that if we stopped talking again after tonight I would feel very distressed."

Rei broke the eye contact and averted her gaze.

"I do not know if these are feelings of love, but I do know I have feelings for you. I do not know how to continue, but I think I would be willing to explore these feelings more if you want."

Asuka just sat there surprised at Rei's response. This had been the most she had heard Rei speak. It had been both the answer she had most wanted and feared. Now the ball was in her court and Asuka wasn't sure she could return it correctly. She took a deep breath.

"Well, we both enjoyed spending time together today, I guess that would count as a date. I guess if we really want to check, we could…uh…."

Asuka's face burst into a huge blush at the thought she was entertaining. Rei looked back at her, curious now.

"We could what?"

"Kiss," replied Asuka. She stammered a quick apology. "I mean, you don't have to. We could take things slower, maybe go on another date or somethin-"

Asuka was cut off as Rei's lips pressed against her own. At first stunned, she quickly responded. They broke off the kiss, and sat staring at each other. Their breath came out as pants and gasps. After a few seconds they had caught their breath again.

"Wow, that was just…wow," said Asuka, lost for words. "I really enjoyed that. Um, what did you think?"

"What did I think?" asked Rei, tilting her head. "I must agree with your assessment. That was quite enjoyable. May I try a second time?"

"Sure, go ahead."

The words were barely out of Asuka's mouth before Rei practically tackled her. They fell onto the bed, mouths pressed together and hands groping each other's body. Rei's skin was cool under Asuka's touch like the other side of a pillow on a hot night. They broke off their kiss again, panting. Rei straddled Asuka and looked down at her.

"Your body, it is so warm. It feels nice. You are so full of life and vitality. I want to feel more."

With that, Rei started to kiss her once again. Asuka returned the kiss with passion. Rei's hands started to snake under Asuka's t-shirt, stroking her chest and slowly pulling off her shirt.

It feels so good," Asuka thought to herself. This feels so right. But why does it also feel so wrong? I just confessed, and Rei admitted she thinks she feels the same. But is this really love? Are we just caught up in the moment?

Asuka forced herself to focus past the passion. She pushed Rei gently away from her. The blue haired woman looked surprised and hurt at the rejection.

"We should stop this right now," said Asuka staring up at Rei.

"Why? Did you not enjoy it?"

"I did," admitted Asuka. "But this is just passion, lust. We know we're attracted to each other, but I don't want to get any further until we know for sure if we love each other. Do you get what I'm trying to say?"

"I am not sure, but if it means that much to you, than I am willing to wait and discover love with you," responded Rei, a gentle smile on her face.

"Thank you," said Asuka, smiling. "Um, could you get off me now please? If we stay like this I'm not sure I'll be able to resist any more…"

"Okay," said Rei, getting off Asuka and standing up from the bed. "I will go clean up the dishes now."

Asuka pulled her shirt down and stared at Rei as the woman walked into the kitchen. She picked up the plates and taking them to the sink started to rinse them off. Asuka leaned back against the wall and smiled.

She didn't know how things were going to turn out in her future. But what she did know is that she wasn't confused or lying to herself any more. When she saw him next, she would tell Shinji the situation and ask him for advice. She would have friends to back her up.

Most importantly, she would share this next stage of her life with Rei, and she would not allow a second separation. Even if they didn't work out as lovers, she would try her best as a friend. No matter what, they would be together, through the crisis of life, Asuka would protect her guardian Angel. If a time to let her go ever appeared, she would do so with tears in her eyes. But until that moment, she would hold on and fight.