A full moon shone down on Lake Ashi, making Tokyo-3 glow in the warm autumn night. In the smallest bedroom of an apartment in a mostly empty building, an old SDAT tape player sat on the desk in a beam of moonlight, gathering dust in the silence. In the living room, dinner was over and the table cleared, but the room was still lively, largely by effort of one woman.

"You're such a good kid, Shinji-kun! You bring me beer and make dinner so good." Major Katsu- no, it was after 9PM and seven beers, so it was definitely Misato, not Major Katsuragi now, burbled happily at her young roommate. She patted her full belly and sighed. She drained the last of her eighth beer and looked at it suspiciously. "Hmm, out again. Get me another one, please?" She shook the empty can at him for a second before arcing it over her shoulder into the recycling bin without even a look.

Shinji sighed. At least he'd managed to train her that much. When he'd first moved in, he'd spent hours cleaning and collecting the cans that had been haphazardly piled and dumped all over the apartment, including some in places that just made him shake his head in confusion. In the shower, on top of the TV, all over the balcony... in the linen closet? He turned from washing the dishes and retrieved a can of Yebisu from the well-stocked refrigerator. "Here you are, Misato-san."

She grabbed his wrist and used the opportunity to pull him into a sloppy hug, her face buried briefly into his side as she sat at the table. "Such a good boy. Always taking care of us, me and Asuka. Say, where is she? I haven't seen her since I came in."

"She ate before you got here, and went to take a shower. She's still in her room." He looked towards their missing roommate's room for a moment.

Misato's eyes twinkled with mischief, seeing something in his expression. "Oh? Thinking about her in her towel, Shin-chan?"

Shinji reddened. "I wasn't!" He wriggled out of her grasp.

"You were! You totally were! Ha ha ha! Shin-chan's in looo~ve!" Misato giggled.

Muttering something at the floor and hiding his blushing face, Shinji finished up the last of the dishes in the sink. When he turned back from drying his hands, he found Misato staring at him more intently. "W-what is it?"

"You are a good boy, Shinji. And I think you do care about her. So I'm going to help!" Misato smacked her fist into her other palm. She pointed at the other side of the table. "Have a seat! I'm going to give you some helpful relationship adice... avdice... advice, on how to deal with women. And I'll tell you some secrets!" She took a deep pull on her beer as he sat down. "Okay! So!" She hiccupped. "Rule number one! 'Women are crazy'!"

Shinji blinked at her. "'Women are crazy'?" he echoed in confusion.

"Yesh! Totally crazy. Nuts. Bonkers. And I know, 'cause I ams one!" Misato nodded sagely. "Rule number two! Asuka is a woman."

"...And therefore she's crazy?"

"Bin~go! You jusht have to keep that in mind and ride it. Like, you think she's just yelling at you alln the time because she'z angry? Nope! She want to you pay attention to her! That's how she says it. Oh yeah, that's rule numnar three! Women aren't going to say everything they say, but you're supposed ta hear it all anyways. And not hear some of the things they do say, becauze they don't really mean them."

"I... what? Does... does that include what you're saying now?" Shinji's confusion only deepened.

"Of course not! Theses are the secrets I'm telling you, not me talking as a woman rights now. 'Sides, it's sweet that you look at me, but you need a girl your age, like her." Shinji blushed again. "Hee hee! I know you do!" She took another sip of beer. "I'm shurpised at you sometimes, Shiin-chan. Me and Ashuka running around in towels and short-shortz, and you still acting all shy. If Kaji spent all his time running around here in nuthin' but a towel, I'd... I'd... mmm... salty..." Misato trailed off, staring happily into space.

The silence stretched on for a while. "Um... Misato-san?"

Misato shook her head. "Er, right! Women! You gotta pay attention to all the things. You are already pretty housebroken, which girls really like once they think about it and settle down. I know I do!" She grinned at him and took another drink. "Rule numner four! Don't never be afraid." She leaned forward, planting her hands on the table, and stared at him carefully. "Tha's an importnant one, Shin-chan. Really listen to tha' one."

Shinji tried, he really tried not to stare at the perfect shot down her cleavage that Misato's position and loose tank top offered him. He lost the struggle. After a long pause, Misato started giggling and snorting at how red his face was turning and sat back. "Cat got yer tongue, Shin-chan? Hee hee! But did you hear me? Tha's a big one."

Shinji gulped and shook his head to clear it. "Bouncy, bouncy..." he mumbled. "Er! Yes! 'Don't be afraid', you said! Or something like that."

Misato nodded, somewhat wobbly. "Tha's right. Bein' 'fraid can stop you cold, and make you mess up a good chance. I was afraid, and ran away from Kaji once. Took eight yearz before I got another chance, eight years of being lonely and missing him, and ifn I'd still been 'fraid, I coulda messed it up again. So don' do tha'!" She polished off the beer. "You and Azuka are young, but I can shee the way you look at her sometimez. And..." She dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and leaned in closer. "I've sheen the wayz she looks at you sometimes, when she thinkz no one's lookin'. She even smiled once, after I told her your liddle jump into tha' volcano was agains' orders!"

Shinji stared hard at the table and tried not to turn red again. Again, he lost. He mumbled something too quiet for Misato to hear.

Misato smiled at him, patting him on the head before flopping back into her chair. Her head sank into her arms on the table. "So don' be afraid, Shin-chan. Azuka makesh a lot of noise, but she'z a good kid too. You two are a lot alike, you knowz? You don' have nobody, but try so hard to be Pilots... She pushes herself so hard to be the besht, because she doesn' wan' anyone to think she'z useless or weak..." Misato pulled her head up to give him a beady stare. "You be real good to 'er, you hear me? Women are crazy, but we need hugsh and stuff, too. Do nice things. I know!" Misato sat up straight again. "You should make 'er dinner!"

"I make us all dinner every night, Misato-san."

She waved this inconvenient fact away. "I mean make 'er a special dinner! All Yuro... Euroo... German foodz and stuff! Let 'er know it's for 'er! Tha's the kind of thing tha' gets a girl'z attenshun! I'll get Kaji to take me out for the night and give you two time alone!" She wiggled her eyebrows suggestively at him before slumping back down, her head pillowed in her arms again. "Mmm... make him take me someplace nice 'n private. 'N stay the night."

"I don't know if a dinner is what will get Asuka to stop calling me 'baka-Shinji' all the time."

"I tol' you, don't just lissen to wha' she sayz. Lissen to the thingz she dossen say and stuff..." Misato mumbled into her arms. "'Cuz wimmin 're crazy. Ashuka, me, Rits... erryone... She sayz 'baka-Shinji', I sez 'Shin-chan'... iz all the same. Iz how we say we care... 'cuz we get scared to say it out lou'... Kaji..."

Shinji stood up and walked around to her side of the table, helping her rise. "I know, Misato-san. I know. Let's get you to bed."

She leaned heavily on the young Pilot as they slowly wobbled her towards her bedroom. "Okay... but r'member: crazy."

Shinji rose from tucking Misato into her futon and walked to the door. He stopped and turned in the doorway to look back at his passed-out guardian. She snored peacefully, occasionally mumbling Kaji's name. He shook his head. Who was looking after whom here? "'Women are crazy', huh?" he muttered.

His face froze and his body stiffened in shock as a pair of pale, slender arms snaked around him from behind to embrace him. A warm and very definitely female body pressed itself up against his back and a soft pair of lips nibbled teasingly at the back of his neck. "Mmm, yes, we are. How else would we put up with men?"

Despite himself, he couldn't entirely suppress a groan of happiness, closing his eyes and tilting his head to give her better access. "Nnn... Asuka... the door is still open... she could see us..." His hands still rose to cover hers and squeeze back.

"She is completely dead to the world and you know it, Third Child. Has she noticed a thing about how the two of us have been carrying on for the last two months? We could probably pull off half the Kama Sutra right here and she'd sleep right through it." Her arms loosened enough to let him turn around in her embrace and stare right into her sparkling blue eyes. "Now, are you coming to bed? It's cold and lonely without you, and you promised me I'd never sleep that way again."

Shinji didn't even try to conceal the warm smile that spread across his face. "Asuka, has there been a single night since the first time you kissed me where I have slept anywhere else but right next to you? Of course I'm coming." He closed the door to Misato's room as quietly as he could and let his fingers intertwine with hers as they walked across the living room towards her bedroom. Her hand was tiny and warm in his.

"Well, yes, there's the occasional rare night where our esteemed guardian is not knocked out cold from beer or overwork," Asuka retorted, but without any heat. "I don't like those nights. It's much better when she's tired, full of beer, or Kaji keeps her out late."

"I still manage to sneak over into your room after she falls asleep those times... if you don't sneak into mine first," he pointed out.

Asuka smiled. "I get impatient, you know that. I want my warm baka-Shinji. It's a good think you always get up before anyone else, too. We don't want to get caught, do we?"

Shinji's smile faded a little as they reached her... no, their room. He hadn't slept more than a handful of nights in 'his' bed since the night Asuka had asked him if he wanted to kiss. A night that had spiraled out of all expectations for either of them and become the beginning of a dream more wonderful than anything else he'd ever experienced in his whole life, all because he'd put his arms around her and answered her kiss. "I still feel a little bad hiding us from everyone, Asuka. We can't even go out on a weekend on a normal date or anything, and I'd really like to do that."

She slid the door open and pulled him inside after her. "I know. But if Misato found out, she'd make us stop doing this. 'We're too young!' or some other excuse, like we're not soldiers who could die any day." She pulled her t-shirt, all she wore, over her head and threw it to the side. "And I refuse to even think about that. You know I haven't had a single nightmare I can remember since we started sleeping together? I used to have them almost every night. I could love you for that alone, if nothing else, Shinji. Not that the rest isn't nice, too." She sat on the bed and scooted over to leave him room. "Besides, no one would believe you and me together." She snorted. "Us? In love? Truly, madly, deeply? Never."

"Hikari might, if you told her. And I'm pretty sure Ayanami figured it out in the first few days, given how much she stares at us." He sat down next to her and neatly folded his shirt up after likewise removing it.

"And she hasn't said anything?"

Shinji shrugged. "It's Ayanami. She's not exactly a chatterbox or the school gossip. Who's she going to tell?"

"Mm... still, you should do something nice for her as a thank you, from both of us. If I did it, that'd be even more suspicious."

"You could try doing it yourself. People change. They might accept that." He took her hand with a smile and kissed her fingertips.

She stroked the side of his face after he released her hand. "It's hard enough pretending to everyone that I'm still constantly angry at you and we're still at each other's throats all day long. I prefer to be at your throat this way." She leaned in to nibble and suck gently at his neck. "You're so much more amusingly sensitive there."

He hissed in pleasure. "Eee... gentle! Misato's going to notice I'm using a lot of her concealer one of these days!"

Asuka's lips curled in a smirk. "Good thing she can't see your back, then. Those would be even harder to explain."

"No apology for tearing up my poor back?" He smiled anyway.

Asuka snorted. "Not one bit. I'm marking my territory. You're mine, Third Child. You promised me that the first night." Her arms wrapped around him tightly as they lay down. "'Together, forever and always'."

Shinji pulled the sheet over them, nodding. "Until the end of the world, you and me, against Angels and anything else that tries to hurt us." She pressed herself into his side, purring contentedly. He pressed his face into her hair and inhaled the strawberry-balsam scent of her shampoo. "Love you, Asuka."

"You better, Third. You're stuck with me for good," she murmured happily, squeezing him. "...and I love you, too, baka-Shinji."

In the room across the hall, an old SDAT tape player sat on the desk in a beam of moonlight, gathering dust. It hadn't been touched in two months; retreat and escape from the world were no longer needed.