This is the result of another prompt I was given on Tumblr. Much like my Something For The Pain fic my intention was to just do something sweet and WAFFy to contrast the drama in The Catalyst. I had intended for this to be fairly short but it somehow ended up being a lot longer than I expected.
Asuka peered out of the window of the car as it rounded the corner. She had no idea where they were only that they were getting higher and they were far away from Tokyo-3. Surprisingly far considering only a couple of weeks ago she had been told that she and Shinji weren't able to go to Okinawa with their school due to their status as Eva pilots. Now earlier that morning she had been woken up far too early, whisked out to a car by Section-2 and was being driven to god knows where. All she had for company was a grumpy driver and whatever crappy talk show was on the radio.
She sighed and leaned back in the seat looking out across the horizon. The road was getting narrower, civilisation further away and the air colder. All she could see for miles around were lush forests and steep drops. She had already pulled on a hoodie but the cold was still managing to get in somehow.
'Stupid NERV, probably some ridiculous exercise or test they want to do. Misato could have at least told me where I was going, instead she just stood there with a packed back and a stupid grin on her face. What sort of irresponsible guardian is she anyway?'
She thought about where she had been earlier that morning. Wrapped up warm in bed and somewhat happy. Well warm at least. The nightmares had returned again that night. The same one it always was. Her chasing after a four year old girl through a hospital corridor. Getting closer and closer to a door. The door swings open and the same thing would always be there.
They had been occurring more and more recently, every night she'd wake up after them and find her pillow wet with tears. It made her feel sick. She had promised she wouldn't cry, that she didn't need to and definitely not over a stupid nightmare.
Her stomach growled. Another annoying thing about this morning. She had been rushed out of the apartment. She hadn't even had time to have anything to eat. Shinji was still asleep when she had left and she wasn't going to risk the stuff Misato called food.
As the car continued on its journey she shivered again and looked ahead of them. She could see little specks of white begin to hit the car windshield.
'Snow? That's strange, it doesn't snow in Japan anymore… just how high up are we?'
Shinji was gazing out of the side of the window watching the snow fall as the car drove into the small village. He had the headphones of his SDAT in firmly but was barely listening to the music instead he was entranced by the falling white specks all around him. The village was like something from a Pre-Second Impact postcard. Propped up behind it was more mountains, covered in snow and a series of lifts ferrying people back and forth.
'Where am I?'
It had been an unusual morning. Misato had woken Shinji up early and pointed him towards a suitcase and backpack. She had escorted him out to a car where a Section-2 Agent had been waiting for him and sent him on his way without any word of what was happening. At first he wondered if maybe his time with NERV had come to an end, if he was finally be sent away or replaced but he had received a message from Misato half an hour into the journey.
'Don't worry! Enjoy yourself! 3 Misato!'
What did she mean by 'enjoy yourself'? Where could he be going at this time? Weren't the pilots supposed to stay within Tokyo-3 at all times in case of an Angel attack? That was why he and Asuka couldn't go to Okinawa with the class.
His mind flashed back to Asuka. The redheaded German who had moved in with them, taken over his old room and flipped his life upside down. He didn't quite know what to make of the German or at least he wasn't sure what she made of him. Shinji was sure how he felt about her. She was loud, arrogant and obnoxious. She could be lazy and demanding. Yet he knew that wasn't all there was to her. She was beautiful, confident and intelligent. He was in awe when he saw her pilot her Eva, he couldn't help but smile when he thought of her. He also knew that she was just like him. He had heard her when they had to stay in the same room, talking in her sleep and crying. He could see the pain in her eyes when he looked at her. It was the same that lingered in his eyes.
He had overheard her once asking Misato if Misato knew about Asuka's past. Shinji had once asked Misato about Asuka. Misato had quickly told him to drop the subject and to not mention it to Asuka. That some things were best left alone. Yet a part of him did want to reach out to Asuka, to ask her but he knew he couldn't do anything. He was hardly capable of dealing with his own issues, never mind someone else's.
There was also the matter of how Asuka saw him. Asuka seemed to switch rapidly in her mood towards Shinji. Some days she was friendly towards him, helping him with schoolwork. Others she took delight in teasing him, calling him a pervert and demanding things of him. He couldn't figure her out. All he could figure out was what he felt for her.
Finally the car pulled up outside a small cabin. Shinji took the earphones out and looked around.
"We're here." Said the Section-2 Agent.
With no further words the man stepped out of the car, Shinji soon followed and took the opportunity to stretch his legs. A cold wind nipped at his fingers and through his shirt, he zipped up the jacket he was wearing and moved around to the boot of the car. The Section-2 Agent was bringing out the suitcase and handed it to Shinji. He looked around and observed the street he was on. His nose was filled with a multitude of different smells. Pleasant smells, something from what he had observed to be nearby cafes and shops.
Shinji looked around, "Where am I?"
A voice boomed out behind him, "Mr Ikari I presume?"
Spinning around Shinji saw the source of the voice. It was a short plump balding man with a remarkably bushy beard. His coat and trousers made him look like some strange version of Santa Claus.
"Major Kasturagi told me you'd be arriving soon. Welcome to our little retreat! Get yourself inside, all will be explained."
Asuka looked around the bedroom. It was a little bit larger than what she was used to back at Misato's apartment. In the middle was a large double bed, on each side was a bedside table. Along one wall was a window looking out to across the street below. On the opposite side of the room was a door leading to an ensuite bathroom that contained a basic shower, toilet and sink. Her suitcase lay on the double bed. It was opened and she had finished looking at what was within. Aside from the underwear she had packed herself it was all new clothing. A few sweaters, a hoodie and a green dress. This was weird, why had Misato taken the time to pack her a suitcase full of new clothing and send her to this place. Was this that break that she deserved or was it something else?
Since arriving she had taken the opportunity to shower. Then she had thrown on a pair of jeans and one of the plain t-shirts from the case. Throwing on one of the red hoodies she looked out at the window. It overlooked the street, it in many ways reminded her of a European town. The type that one would see when travelling through the Alps. Small cafes and shops, people walking and talking wearing warm winter clothing. The sound of children running around. Asuka had never been to one of those towns, she had had the opportunity to. Her father and stepmother had a place in one of the resorts but she had never accompanied them. Opting to stay at NERV, she had little interest in spending time with them.
Down the street she could see a few stores and cafes. It looked nice with the snow adding a nice touch to the atmosphere. She had never seen snow in person before. It didn't snow where she grew up anymore, not after the Second Impact. A childish part of her had always wanted to see it but as with all of her so-called childish urges it was supressed.
'Hikari would probably like this place. Shinji probably would as well, I'll have to take photos for him for when I get back.'
She raised her mobile phone and aimed it down the street and smiled as she took the photo. She saved it and shook her head.
'Wait… what the hell am I doing thinking of that idiot for!'
Asuka tried to force away the image of Shinji but it remained. She wondered for a moment him being here as well and wondered just what he would make of the snow. Much like her, he was brought up in a post Second Impact world. He would never have seen snow either. He'd probably be fascinated and confused by it. She'd probably have to explain to him how it formed and why it doesn't occur anymore. Shinji wasn't like her, he was an idiot. He was boring and yet she found herself thinking about him a lot. Especially since the eighth Angel.
'I still can't believe I owe that idiot for saving me, just what does he think he was doing showing off like that… he could have been hurt or… something…'
On first meeting Shinji he had been timid around her, she didn't really know what to make of him. He was boring and definitely not what she had expected. The so-called saviour of the world, the pilot of Evangelion Unit 01 was just a kid who had no idea about anything. He hadn't trained for years like her, he was just there because his father happened to be the commander,
She was going to show him exactly what an Evangelion pilot should be. She was going to elevate him just by him being in her presence. She was going to show them all just how good she was. She was going to show him especially just how good she was.
Shinji had his uses though. He was domesticated, he could cook and clean. All the things Asuka had no desire or need to do. Her focus was on being as good as she could for piloting not in anything else.
'He also helped the nightmares go away…'
Asuka blinked wondering where this strange thought had suddenly come from. She recalled those nights during their training. Forced to sleep in the same room. She had hated it but every night she had slept peacefully. She had told herself it was just coincidence but on the last night she had went back into her old room. Taunting him with some line about the impenetrable Wall of Jericho, almost daring him to cross it. On that night the nightmares had returned, even worse than ever. In a desperate attempt to return to sleep she cross back into the room and set herself down next to him. The nightmare went away.
'No! It was just coincidence… he did nothing. I didn't need him, it was nothing. It's not like he was holding me or anything, it's not like he was responsible for it. He was just there.'
Frustrated by her thoughts being occupied by Shinji she pocketed the phone and crossed to the door of the room. Maybe she could find out what this was all about and explore this town a little bit. She still hadn't eaten and there were a few cafes nearby that looked good.
On stepping out of the room she closed the door behind her and could hear the sound of another door closing just down the hallway. It seemed someone else was here besides her. This cabin didn't look like a hotel so she wondered just who it could be. She turned around and put on her best smile to meet this person. Upon seeing who it was the smile quickly faded.
"What the hell are you doing here?"
A part of Shinji wanted to say those exact words back to Asuka but he stopped himself. He was just as surprised as the redhead was to see the other here but he didn't desire any sort of argument with her. His second thought was how cute Asuka looked, he just had a feeling that the words about to exit her mouth wouldn't be quite as cute.
"I asked you a question Third Child! What the hell are you doing here?"
"I… I don't know! Misato woke me up early this morning, handed me a packed suitcase and sent me out to a car! You were still asleep, what are you doing here!"
"Well… isn't it obvious? I… She… Misato woke me up too you idiot! Handed me a suitcase and sent me out to a car. It was you who was still asleep, you weren't even around to make me breakfast!"
"I was still asleep? She said you were still asleep!"
"Well she must have been drunk because your door was still closed."
"No, yours was!"
This conversation was going nowhere fast. Shinji was hungry and tired with no idea what was going on, he had no energy to continue arguing over something silly. He conceded to Asuka.
"Fine, whatever you left first… so where are we?"
"How should I know? I know as much as you do."
"Well we're up a mountain, did you see the snow?"
She snapped back at him quickly, "No, I must have missed all of the white stuff on the ground! What do you think? Screw this I'm calling Misato now to find out what's hap-"
"Actually there will be no need for that."
Asuka and Shinji suddenly turned around and saw the man who had greeted each of them.
"If you'd both like to follow me Major Katsuragi has set up a video feed to talk to you both. You can both get food after that."
Shinji was slightly embarrassed as the man spoke. He wondered how much of the conversation between he and Asuka had been heard. He remained silent as Asuka questioned the man.
"Who are you?"
"I'm an old friend of Katsuragi's and the owner of this little lodge, my name is Franz Emmerich."
Excitedly Shinji spoke up, "You know Misato?"
"In a way, I was an acquaintance of her father's many years ago. That's a story for another time though, follow me."
All throughout the conversation the smile never left the man's face. Without any further words the two of them followed him into another room. A mid-sized living area. A flat-screen TV had been set up on a wall along with a sofa and couple of chairs. The windows on the other side of the room led out onto a balcony which gave a view of the snow covered hillsides.
As Shinji looked out he could see a number of ski-lifts in the back and a few figures gliding down the mounting.
The perky voice came through the speakers mounted on either side of the television. Both Asuka and Shinji turned to see Misato's face on the television.
"Oh hey Misato!"
"Misato, what the hell is going on here? Why am I here with this idiot?"
Misato laughed and waved her hand, "Now now Asuka, don't be like that."
She turned her head, "Thank you so much Uncle Emmerich for your help with this. I hope it wasn't awkward for you?"
Shinji watched as the man shook his head. Uncle? Misato was related to him?
"No problem Misato, any time. When am I going to get to see you again anyway?"
"Ah, I don't know. You know how things are here in Tokyo-3. I'll try to arrange something soon though. I promise."
"Make sure you do, the rest of the family want to see you."
He said his goodbyes to Asuka and Shinji and excused himself out of the room. Misato's smile remained as he left.
"Misato, who was that?"
"Oh! He's an old family friend. Used to be a friend of my fathers! I always called him Uncle, dunno why just one of those things. Anyway you're probably wondering what's going on at the moment."
Asuka jumped forward, "Well yeah of course we are! I mean you tell us a few weeks ago we can't go to Okinawa because of an Angel attack and then in secret you send us up some mountain together. What the hell is going on?"
"Well… after your synchronisation training for the seventh Angel there were a few discussions on arranging further training for the two of you. We unfortunately got hit hard in the last couple of weeks so it never developed past that."
Shinji looked on as he saw Asuka's eyebrows twitching at the mention of the synchronisation training. It was probably not her happiest memory of fighting alongside him.
"However things seem to have quietened down at the moment so we've arranged a seven day training exercise for the two of you here. You'll both be living together in this lodge for a week. You'll have to take care of the place, cook, clean and work together for a week. We've arranged special training exercises for the two of you as well."
Shinji flinched involuntarily at the mention of training exercises. He could still remember the embarrassment of wearing those uniforms and the dancing last time. The only time he had mildly enjoyed it was when he had to practise the slow dancing with Asuka, even then he was fearing for his safety throughout it.
"We… don't have to dance again do we?"
She laughed, "No you don't have to dance again. No this time you'll be skiing together."
Shinji looked outside the window again at the people coming down the slope and he swallowed. He almost wished it was dancing again, almost. He turned to look at Asuka, her expression had changed somewhat too. Her skin noticeably paler. She wore a half-hearted smile and just simply nodded.
"Yup, I'm sure you'll both do fine! First session is tomorrow, you've also been left a generous balance from NERV so take today to go sight-seeing. Enjoy the village and its sights. It's one of the few places left in Japan that has Snow, so make the most of it. Bye!"
The video feed went off leaving the two of them in silence.
Shinji said the word again wondering if maybe this was a strange joke. He looked out of the window again and saw people coming down the mountain one more time. Misato wanted him and Asuka to do that, together. He had never skied before, he had never seen snow before. How could they expect him to do something like that? He could be hurt, or worse!
She stood looking out the window in complete silence, her eyes wide and following the people out there. Finally she snapped out of it as he called her name.
"A-Are you alright?"
"Yeah, fine why?"
Shinji managed to stutter out something resembling a sentence, "Just… Misato… I don't know how to… and…"
A smirk crossed her face, "Are you scared Third Child?"
"Well… I've never skied before and…"
She laughed, "It's easy, my parents had a place in the mountain where they went all the time! Anyone can do it, even you."
With those words she pushed her way past him, "I'm going out into the village to get something to eat."
"But Misato sai-"
"Misato said what? She said we have to stay in this lodge together. Not that we have to go everywhere together. Unless you're unable to handle being on your own, I guess you could tag along."
Asuka swiftly moved past him and exited through the door closing it firmly behind her. She began to move down the corridor and stopped for a moment wondering if he would follow her. She wondered if it'd be just like last time. She'd dare him to do something, to cross that line and see what he'd do. Maybe he'd surprise her and tag along. Maybe he'd take the hint and join her. A minute passed and she contemplated going back into the room and grabbing him.
'Hah, like I need him to come with me. Fine I'll just go on my own, without that idiot.'
Asuka looked across at Shinji as the two of them stood at the top of the slope. The instructor had taught them both the basics. Important things like how to turn, how to stop and how to use those strange ski-lifts that you tuck between your legs. It had been quite amusing to watch Shinji try to get the hang of that.
Asuka had, of course, gotten to grips with things fairly quickly. She had always been a fast learner and this was no exception. In her mind if she could pilot an Eva she could do something simple like ski. She had not of course told Shinji that she had never skied before. She hadn't told the instructor that either instead repeating what she had said to Shinji yesterday that her parents owned a place in the Alps and they visited.
She had of course neglected to mention that she had not in fact visited said place.
'It's only one little lie, what does it matter! It's not like this is going to be difficult.'
She looked across again at Shinji in his ski jacket and trousers. In a move that was surely made to amuse only the people at NERV the gear the two of them were wearing was colour co-ordinated to match their plug-suits. Which meant Asuka had a red jacket, trousers, skis, goggles and boots. Shinji on the other hand had trousers that were a mixture of blue and black, a jacket that was blue around the middle with white across the shoulders. His boots were blue and his skies were half blue/half black.
Shinji, much to his surprise, was actually enjoying himself. Much more than he thought he would. He had suffered a bit of embarrassment when attempting to use the lift but beyond that point he had been enjoying the experience. He had had to ask a few times for clarification on certain things, unlike Asuka who seemed to take to it all very quickly. Of course she had mentioned her family having a place. He suspected she had probably done this before so of course she had taken to it quickly.
Now they were on their way up to a slightly more difficult slope. Nothing too demanding but a bit longer and with a bit more to watch out for on the way down. Shinji could see as they went up the lift the few boulders and trees scattered around. He eyed it carefully, if he took things carefully then he should be alright. He'd just let Asuka go first and go at his own pace.
So Shinji watched on at they finally reached the top of the slope. He readied himself to go down and watched as the instructor went first. Asuka turned to him with a devious smile.
"I'll race you down."
"Why? Are you stupid because it'd be fun! What are you scared I'll win?"
"W-What? No! I'm not scared of that!"
"Then race me! Come on I'm going!"
Without giving him a chance to reply Asuka pushed away and started her way down the slope, slaloming effortlessly as she did. Shinji called out to her pushing himself down, "H-Hey wait!"
He carefully turned trying to follow the path she had made. Not quite matching her speed but going at a fair pace. He felt the ski's glide effortlessly through the snow as he rounded one of the small rocks. In the distance he could see the red of Asuka's jacket and he wondered if he should try to gain speed to catch up to her.
Shinji wasn't competitive by nature. He didn't really care much for sports or any sort of game but sometimes being around Asuka that competiveness of hers rubbed off on him. He smiled as he used the poles to give himself a bit more speed as he cornered around a tree. There was something about competing with Asuka that was fun, he would rarely win when they played video games together and he probably wouldn't win here but at the end of it she always smiled. He'd compliment her and he'd get to see her smile. He wouldn't lose on purpose of course and would try but losing didn't feel so bad when it made her happy.
That's what she was right now, that's what he was now. They were somewhere completely away from their normal environment. He watched as she took another corner and started going straight. He followed her path and continued behind her as she began to reach the flat section of the slope where their instructor was waiting.
He watched as she turned to shoot him a smile. He smiled back but the smile quickly turned to horror as he watched the other person come across Asuka's path.
He yelled out as she quickly tried to stop herself from hitting the person but it was no use. She collided with him letting out a scream as she fell over him and landing face down in the snow.
"SCHEISSE! ARSCHLOCH! DUMMKOPF!"
The person stood up and began apologizing profusely to Asuka for getting in her way. Shinji quickly rounded up and stopped himself near to her. He hurried over to her watching as she unclipped the ski's and rubbed her ankle tenderly.
"Asuka are you alright?"
"No! My goddamn ankle! What the hell were you thinking?"
Flustered the man looked towards the small café nearby. He was aware of the glares fixed on him from Asuka and their ski instructor. He was stuttering out some form of apology, "I… I'm sorry… I… I…"
"Don't just stand there! Go and get some help then!"
Asuka raised her head in surprise at source of the yelling. For a moment she forgot about the pain in her ankle as she saw Shinji glaring at the man. Shinji had thrown his goggles to the ground and the look in his eyes was almost frightening. It was a look she had never seen from Shinji before.
Through the pain she was able to think one thing.
'Guess he does have a backbone after all.'
Asuka sat on the couch with her legged propped up by a cushion on the other end. Her ankle still throbbed occasionally. She had had it looked at, nothing serious just jarred a bit from where she went over after the collision. She had a few bruises along her body as well but in truth it was her ego and pride that had been hit the most. She had been doing so well, she had been showing off her skills to Shinji and the others and for it to come crashing down like that.
Although she was fully aware that it wasn't her fault, the other guy wasn't watching where he was going it still stung. It was a black mark on the day and now she had to be looked after by the idiot Shinji. Although she was content to let him do things back at Misato's this was different. She could easily do things herself there she just chose not to. She was having to rely on him now, if she wanted to get up her would have had to have helped her. If she needed to use the bathroom she'd have to ask him to help her. It was humiliating and something she wasn't going to do anytime soon. She had refused any offers of food or drink for that reason.
Yet right now her mouth was dry and her stomach rumbled. She changed the channel on the television to a music channel. It was showing what appeared to be an old concert, she recognized the track from her own album collection and decided to leave it on. The song itself was one of those lengthy pieces. Music made for people to think about, not the dumb and trashy stuff that you'd hear on the radio. Complex instrumentation from all three members of the band. A song that moved through multiple phases.
The track had a story to it, telling of a creature that was born following a volcanic eruption and fought various enemies in its travels before being defeated and encountering a new entity. She leaned back and listened to the lyrics.
'Have you walked on the stones of years?
When you speak, is it you that hears?
Are your ears full?
You can't hear anything at all.'
As she song moved onto its next phase. A busier section with a dramatic drum/keyboard duet she heard the door to the living room open. Almost immediately a chocolatey smell filled her nostrils. She turned as much as she could and saw Shinji entering the room with two cups he moved towards her and knelt beside her placing one of the cups on a table within her reach. The other he placed nearby.
"I... I made you some hot chocolate."
He smiled as he said it. She observed that it was a sweet smile. It did nothing to help her though. She knew it was a nice gesture but he didn't realize the damage it was doing to her pride. He genuinely thought he was helping. Asuka simply nodded as he set it down near to her.
"Is your ankle feeling any better?"
The answer was delivered quickly and with such a sharp tone Shinji quickly realized that asking any follow up questions would be futile. Instead he sat watching the concert that Asuka had put on screen. He wanted to do something for Asuka but any attempt he had made at conversation since the accident had been met with a coldness that matched that on the mountain. He had done what he could, he had helped her and made her comfortable. He had asked if she wanted blankets, if she wanted anything to eat or drink. She had said no to everything.
He figured that it might be nice to just do something spontaneous. So he went and made them hot chocolate. Wasn't that what people drank in these sorts of places. Yet she hadn't even thanked him for trying. He understood she was angry but he wanted to help.
"What is it Third?"
"Are you sure there isn't anything I can do?"
"You can shut up and let me watch this."
He promptly shut his mouth and watched the concert as the band on screen continued to play their song. He could make out a few of the lyrics, his English wasn't great but there were subtitles in Japanese for him to follow. He was impressed with the musical talent on display though. The keyboard player in particular was very noteworthy. It was making him want to play his Cello again, maybe try something away from the classical pieces he was used to playing.
Minutes passed as the song progressed through its various stages. Asuka continued to watch on as the final lyrical passages progressed. Carefully she reached over to take the mug of hot chocolate that Shinji had set down.
'Were you there to watch the earth be scorched?
Did you stand beside the spectral torch?
Know the leaves of sorrow turned their face,
Scattered on the ashes of disgrace.'
She sipped from it, it was just warm enough to not burn her lips as she drank it. Her sip was immediately followed by another and she raised her eyebrows in surprise. There was something about this hot chocolate that she couldn't quite put her finger on. It tasted nice, it tasted really good actually but different to what she was used to.
"Shinji… what type of hot chocolate is this?"
He turned to meet her gaze, "Oh, is it not very good?"
She shook her head, "No you idiot! It's really good, what type?"
"It isn't… I made it myself."
Of course he did, perfect little Shinji wouldn't lower himself to buying from a store. Of course he'd make it himself. It was on the tip of her tongue to thank him but again she stopped herself. Why should she thank him? It was probably easy. It's not like he had to do it anyway.
The silence fell between the two of them again. Shinji continued to watch the television as the band moved onto another song. He was aware of Asuka shifting behind him and he slowly turned around. She had closed her eyes with her head resting awkwardly on the head of the couch. He wondered if maybe he should go and get her a blanket or a pillow but instead he knelt just looking over her.
It was strange looking at her like this. With her eyes closed she seemed calm and peaceful. A completely different one to the Asuka who always snapped at him and told him what to do. Different to the Asuka who would call him an idiot and a pervert. Yet his mind always went back to that night they shared the same room. Her calling out for her mother in her sleep. A few moments past and she made a small noise in her sleep. It sounded like a whimper and he was sure he saw a tear forming in her eye.
The word stung him as she spoke it. He wasn't sure why he was doing it but he felt his right hand slowly rise up and edge towards her. It edged closer and closer until the palm of his hand was resting softly on her forehead. With his thumb he stroked gently. Her skin was soft and smooth just as he had expected. Almost immediately the girl stopped making noises and settled down.
Shinji kept his hand there for a few moments more just gazing at Asuka and stroking her hair and forehead gently. It was then that it happened. The concert had ended and now adverts were being shown. As is always the case the adverts seemed to be significantly louder than the shows and at that moment one advert talking about explosive deals was being aired followed by the sound of an explosion.
Asuka's eyes flickered open instantly. Everything in Shinji's mind told him he should remove his hand but he didn't. He kept it in place his thumb still stroking her forehead. For a moment Asuka didn't move, her gaze met Shinji's. Her eyes then looked upwards towards the hand on her forehead and then back to Shinji. Her eyes then widened as she realized what was happening. She could remember it, she had fallen asleep and was starting to have a bad dream. Suddenly the nightmare had vanished. She could already make the connection. She knew she talked in her sleep from time to time. Kaji had mentioned it once but she hadn't expected it to happen around Shinji.
He must have heard her and he must have started doing this to calm her down. She should have thanked him. She wanted to thank him but she couldn't. It was just another jab to her ego. She couldn't even fall asleep without needing someone to help her. Yet this was what she had wanted. She had dared him to cross the line, to hold her and now he nearly had done. He had actually done what she really wanted.
"What… are you doing?"
He finally pulled his hand away.
"I'm sorry I… you fell asleep and I heard you… you made a noise… so i…"
"So you thought you'd just take advantage of me?"
"No! You were… you were crying!"
'I know, I'm pathetic.'
"Like I'd cry in my sleep! What sort of excuse is that?"
"It's not an excuse!"
Without realizing it Shinji had risen to his feet, he was standing over her his face red with embarrassment and him profusely trying to defend himself.
"I… I just wanted to help you!"
"Yeah well I don't need your help! What makes you think I'd need your help of all people? I don't need to rely on you for anything!"
"B-But your ankle?"
"My ankle is fine! I'm fine! I don't need yours or anyone else's help! I don't need you to watch me while I sleep or to make me feel better, or make me hot chocolate or anything. I'm capable of doing things on my own!"
"B-But Asuka I…"
'No don't go!'
He looked at her wondering why she was suddenly so angry at him. Why she had turned like this. He wanted to argue back and say something else but instead he hung his head down.
'Please don't go.'
Asuka glared at him as he made his way out of the room. His barely touched hot chocolate was still on the table near to them. Her empty cup next to it. As the door closed she sighed and threw herself back onto the couch. Why had she snapped at him like that? Was that not what she had always wanted, for someone to actually give a damn about her? To be genuine about it.
It was true her pride had been hurt by the events of the day. She hated having to rely on people to do anything. She hated it more than anything, she swore a long time ago that she wouldn't have to rely on people. Yet for some reason she found a part of herself wanting to reach out to Shinji of all people. Maybe it's because she knew his background, she knew he was similar to her. She knew that she wasn't alone. Yet she couldn't let herself fully reach out to him, she kept on finding ways to push him away. Maybe it was fear that he'd betray her somewhere down the line and hurt her, maybe it was fear that she'd hurt him.
She sighed, wondering if he'd come back. Wondering if maybe he'd be waiting outside for her like she did for him yesterday. Most likely not.
'Great… now I need to use the bathroom.'
Shinji stormed back to his room and threw himself down on the bed immediately putting his headphones on and pressing play on his SDAT. Music immediately filled his ears as he replayed what had just happened in his head. He had been nice hadn't he? He had tried to help her and do what he thought was right so why was she so angry with him. Was it because of him reaching out to stroke her forehead while she slept?
'No, she was being snappy with me before that. I don't understand her. Why do I have to be here with her of all people, what was Misato thinking?'
He regretted the thought. He didn't not want to be here with Asuka, he just wished she could be a little bit kinder to him sometimes. He didn't know what he had done to earn her scorn but he had also seen another side to her. He marvelled at her when she piloted. He had seen her determination when they thought together and he had to admit she was beautiful. He felt something for her, it was different to how he felt to other people he had a connection with in the world.
He sat up and looked out of the window of the lodge to the cabin watching the small amount of traffic and people moving below. He wasn't sure how much time passed of him watching this whilst listening to his SDAT. After a time he felt a vibration in his pocket and removed the mobile phone and his headphones. It was Misato, he answered it and immediately heard his guardian.
"Hey Shinji! How are things going?"
"Misato! They're going good, we had our first lesson today."
"Yeah I know, how did they go?"
He decided to not tell Misato about Asuka's accident. He wasn't sure why but it felt like the right thing to do, if Asuka wanted her to know she could tell Misato herself.
"They went fine! I… I think I got the hang of it."
"I'm sure you were a natural! Just like piloting the Eva."
"I don't know, I'm sure I have a lot to learn Asuka was far better than me."
"You're too modest Shinji, I bet you'll have been great. So are you used to the cold yet?"
"Sort of, I've never known anything like it but it's nice to see."
"You know before Second Impact we used to get it a lot. It's rare for kids your age to see it nowadays anywhere in the world."
Shinji stopped himself before finishing his question. Misato would have been a teenager when the Second Impact occurred, did that mean she remembered what it was like.
"Do I what?"
"I… was just wondering if you remembered it. What was it like before Second Impact?"
There was a pause and Shinji wondered if he might have said something wrong. The adults he knew had a tendency to not speak about life before the Second Impact, aside from the teacher at their school. Finally the response came, "Yeah, I remember but I'm sure you don't want to hear about that. It's all ancient history now, not worth talking about."
The tone in her voice told Shinji that it would be best to not pursue the subject any further. It was clearly not something Misato wanted to talk about. "Oh…"
As if sensing his discomfort her voice perked up immediately, "So are you both ready to take on the slopes again tomorrow?"
"Asuka's ankle should be healed by then as well I presume?"
"Y-You know about that?"
A laugh came from the other end, "Of course I know about it Shinji. You'd think a potential injury to one of our pilots wouldn't go unnoticed here? We've got Section 2 posted watching you guys when you're out there for any trouble. How is she doing?"
"She… She is doing alright I guess…"
"Have you two been fighting again?"
"Y- Well no, not exactly. I just… I tried to help her and she yelled at me. You know the way she is, I just thought…"
"Well I tried to make her comfortable, and I made her hot chocolate and she kinda…"
"Yelled at you that she didn't need any help?"
Shinji wondered if he should really be telling Misato about this. He felt in a way that he was betraying Asuka by telling her. He didn't want Misato to be mad at Asuka or anything. To his surprise all he heard was another laugh from her.
"Well that's Asuka for you!"
"I don't understand, she has no problem telling me to make dinner when we're in the apartment why won't she accept my help now. She needs it now!"
"No you're right you don't understand. Asuka values her independence and having some control. When she tells you to do those things here she has control over that, she's the one telling you to do it and you can choose whether or not to do it."
Shinji nodded continuing to listen to her.
"But now she doesn't have that control. She doesn't have the independence she is stuck having to rely on you. While what you are doing is nice it's just reminding her of that. In other words her ego has taken a beating and your actions no matter how well intended are bruising it further."
"I… I'm confused."
"People are confusing."
"So what should I do?"
"You're really concerned about her aren't you?"
There was a teasing tone to her voice, Shinji was glad she couldn't see him blushing.
"I just don't want her to get worse."
"Sure you don't! Just be near her but don't-"
Shinji couldn't hear the rest of the sentence as just at that moment there was a mighty clattering sound from somewhere else in the lodge.
"What was that?"
"I don't know, I'll go check it out. I'll call you back later Misato… thank you."
Asuka slowly pulled herself up to the kitchen chair and looked at the shards of the mug on the floor. The puddle of water around it from where it had dropped. She balled her hands up into a fist letting her nails dig into the palms of her hand in frustration. She couldn't even get a drink of water without help.
Her ankle throbbed from where she had put too much pressure on it and nearly fallen. It throbbed from the walk she had made from the living room to the bathroom and now then to the kitchen. It throbbed from her own stupidity.
If only she hadn't have let herself fall asleep and have that stupid nightmare it might have been different. She wouldn't have snapped at Shinji like she did. Actually as she thought about it that was likely to happen anyway. That was what she did, she didn't rely on people. Even thought everything was telling her to keep him nearby she felt that need to push. Almost like it was some sort of test.
Just as she put her head down on the table the door to the kitchen opened. She heard Shinji entering and could almost imagine the look on his face. It'd be concern for her followed by a feeling of smugness at her failure.
"Asuka, are you alright? What happened?"
"Leave me alone."
Shinji ignored her and looked around, he immediately spotted the fallen mug and collected a dustpan and brush from a nearby cupboard. Within moments he had swept it up and made sure it was discarded safely. All the while he was aware of Asuka's eyes burning into him. He remembered what Misato had just told him. If Asuka had felt bad before this was only going to make it worse.
"Can I get you anything?"
"Is your ankle hurting?"
"Idiot! What do you think?"
She shot him a glare as he sat down next to her. She waited for the 'I told you so' and the 'Why didn't you ask me for help' but as moments passed with their silence she realized Shinji wasn't going to say anything.
"I bet you're happy this happened aren't you?"
"What? No! I'm not."
"No I'm not."
More moments passed without any of them saying anything. Her mouth was dry but after what had happened she wasn't about to ask Shinji to get her anything and she knew she wouldn't be able to get anything.
"Misato called me before."
"That must have been nice."
"She asked about your injury."
Asuka felt her stomach drop on hearing those words. She guessed that Section 2 might have been watching them but for her injury to have become knowledge to them already caught her off guard. She remember what this was supposed to be, training for her and Shinji. It was an exercise for the two of them to train together, of course with Asuka being injured that wouldn't be possible. They said she'd be better tomorrow but what if they knew something she didn't?
If she couldn't continue that'd be the end wouldn't it? They'd just replace her like they have threatened to before.
"So they know about it do they? What are they going to do? Fly me back and get Wondergirl up here to replace me?"
"No, of course they aren't. Why would you think that?"
"Because this is a training exercise you idiot, what use is a pilot who can't train. Do you not remember Misato's threat when we had to train together, that she'd replace me with her?"
"She didn't say anything like that Asuka! Besides I… I don't want that."
It was hard for Asuka to hide the look of surprise on her face when he said those words. He didn't want her to be replaced? If he did she wouldn't have blamed him. Yet still she twisted the knife in trying to get a reaction from him.
"Like you'd have any say in it. Besides wouldn't you rather have Wondergirl here with you? I've seen the way you obsess over her."
He shook his head, "I… It's not like that. I just… I wonder why she spends so much time with my father."
It always came back to his father somehow. Shinji obsessed about his father and it had always annoyed Asuka. She wondered why Shinji cared so much about gaining anything from his father when his father clearly didn't care. Shinji should just grow a backbone and move on. Yet she pried further, if anything to take her mind off of the pain.
He nodded, "Yeah, he talks to her, they smile when they're together. I just…"
"Why do you care so much about your father?"
"I… I don't know."
"Idiot! What sort of answer is that?"
Without realizing it she had stood up and was putting weight onto her foot. She grimaced in pain and stumbled. Shinji immediately stood up to stop her from falling.
She readied herself to yell at him for touching her again but there was too much pain for her to say anything. Instead she let him hold her up and put her arm around him. His touch was so delicate around her body, his hands so warm.
In the end she just snarled at him, "I hate this."
"God, you're annoying. Apologizing for something that isn't your fault! You're not the idiot who crashed into me are you?"
"No… I know."
"Just help me into the front room again."
Slowly he guides her out of the kitchen into the corridor.
"So they aren't going to take me back to Tokyo-3 then?"
He shook his head, "No, besides I… I don't want them to."
"I actually had fun today, it was fun skiing with you."
"I guess I had some fun too, until that idiot appeared."
"We're going to continue that race when I'm healed you know and I'm going to win."
"I imagine you will."
"Again with the being annoying! Where is your spine Shinji? Don't you want to beat me?"
"I just… I'm not as good as you."
She sighed, "Of course not but you can't just give up. Would you give up fighting an Angel because you aren't as good at piloting as I am?"
"Well no but that's di-"
"No it isn't! You shouldn't just give up, you should at least try before letting someone write you off."
"Look tell you what, when I'm healed I'll help you out and then one our last day here we'll race. Deal?"
Shinji thought about it for a moment. He was sure he couldn't compete with her but he didn't want to make her mad at him.
"Good, now put me down on the couch again."
They entered the living room and he helped her onto the couch. He was still so delicate being careful to not touch her anywhere that wasn't necessary. She watched him as he sat down on the couch near to her.
"I'm sorry for making you mad earlier Asuka."
She let another sigh escape her mouth with this apology. She knew that if anything she should be the one apologizing when he was only trying to help. He had annoyed her but it was only because of her own ego that she had allowed it to happen.
"Forget it. You just wanted to help right?"
"I'm not used to getting help from other people, you understand that right?"
"I hate asking people for help, even if I am hurt. It's a matter of pride, I'm an elite Eva Pilot. I'm one of the few chosen ones in the world and I don't want to be seen as being weak."
"But I don't think you're weak… I just-"
"I know you don't you idiot. It's just you're… I guess what I'm trying to say is don't take it personally when I snap at you alright?"
"I… I'm sorry."
"Again with the apologizing! Will you stop it!"
Shinji was only just able to duck out of the way of the cushion being flung at him. He watched as it sailed softly onto the floor behind him. Asuka in the meantime was trying to figure out the best way of phrasing her words. Letting Shinji know she needed his help without actually telling him. She didn't want to repeat earlier. It was starting to settle in that she wanted him nearby.
Shinji was thinking about what he should do to help. He thought about what Misato told him earlier and Asuka had pretty much confirmed that. He was trying to be nice but it was just making Asuka feel bad about herself in some way. Shinji understood that, he had never liked relying on others to do things for him either. It didn't manifest itself in the same way it did for Asuka but it was there.
He looked across at Asuka, she had her hands wrapped around her shoulders and was rubbing them gently. He wondered if maybe he should go and get her a blanket or her hoodie from another room. His stomach rumbled and he wondered if he should ask her what she wanted to eat. She must want something but she wasn't about to ask him for anything and if he asked her she was probably going to say no. If he just did it she'd probably complain about that too.
He looked across at her, "Huh?"
"I want pizza. Go and get me a menu."
"And bring me a blanket too, it's cold."
He smiled and nodded, "Okay. I'll be back in a moment."
Shinji carefully opened the door and slowly led Asuka into her bedroom. The pain in her ankle had eased up but not enough that Shinji didn't have to help her around. She sat on the edge of the bed and stared up at him.
"You can leave now."
"Oh… and thanks I guess for the help."
She watched as he moved towards the door, as she did so the image of the nightmare she had had last night popped back into her head along with a bolt of pain through her ankle. She wanted to sleep tonight, she had been in pain most of the day and nightmares weren't going to help that. She looked across at Shinji, the only time the nightmares had gone were when he was nearby. She swallowed her pride and called across.
He paused opening the door.
"Stay in here tonight."
She spun around his eyes widened in shock, "W-What?"
"What if I need something in the middle of the night? I still can't really walk on this and well… as much as I hate to rely on you I probably have to right?"
He wondered if maybe this was some joke but the expression on her face told him it wasn't. She was serious, there was no trace of teasing in her voice or on her face. Of course she was probably right. He stammered out a reply, "B-But… my pyjamas and… I… there isn't any space."
Sighing she shot back, "God you're an idiot, go and bring your pyjamas in here and this is a double bed. Just don't face me or touch me, keep to your side and don't hog all of the sheet and we'll be fine."
Shinji nodded and left the room leaving Asuka to sigh. She carefully slipped off her jeans, making sure to make as little contact with her ankle as possible. Her nightclothes were piled up neatly next to her allowing her to put them on with ease. After doing so she slipped under the covers just as Shinji came back into the room with his own nightclothes in his hand. She looked across at him as he stood there blankly.
"Could you… while I get changed?"
She smirked, "Yeah sure."
"She turned away from him and closed her eyes and listened to the sound of him getting changed. At one point curiosity got the better of her.
'Hah, he'd probably do the same to me, how could he not?'
Silently she rolled over still keeping her eyes shut, she slowly opened one eye and took a look at Shinji. She almost giggled in surprise as he pulled up his pyajama bottoms over his exposed backside. She was tempted to move a bit further to sneak a look around the front but restrained herself. It would be unfair for her to see that as well. She had to admit, he did have a cute backside. She quickly brushed away the thought of her cupping it with her hand.
'So he doesn't wear underwear with his pyjama's… interesting to know.'
Her eye wandered up to his chest as he unbuttoned his shirt. The urge to giggle quickly went away as she caught a glimpse at the numerous scars and bruises on his body. Now both of her eyes were open, she saw a mark on the front of his chest.
Without realizing she wasn't supposed to have her eyes open she questioned him, "Where did you get that scar?"
He jumped at the sound of her voice, "A-Asuka! You were… looking?"
He spun around and quickly put the pyjama top on. His cheeks burning red.
"No! Well… you take so long to get changed I thought you were done! Besides it's not like I imagine you have anything worth seeing anyway."
Quickly trying to diffuse the situation before he could protest further, "Anyway, the scar on your chest."
Shinji turned out the light, in the darkness she could make out his form moving across to the other side of the bed to her. She couldn't tell if he was angry or upset with her. It hadn't been her intention to do either of those things.
"It's not like you wouldn't have sneaked a peak at me! Remember what happened when we met?"
"No I wouldn't! And that wasn't my fault that was a gust of wind."
"Alright fair enough, but what about when I was getting changed into my plugsuit! You sneaked a peak at me then. Don't deny it!"
"I didn't… I didn't mean to see anything. You were just…"
"Taking a long time?"
"Well so were you."
Shinji didn't quite believe her, he knew he hadn't taken that long to change. He just sighed and closed his eyes.
"Alright I'm sorry. Maybe I was… just curious okay? You got me. So what's with the scar?"
"It was before you got here… when I fought the fifth Angel. It hit the Eva with an energy beam in the chest and that got me as well."
"A lot... They said they extracted me just in time."
She lay there for a moment wondering what she had missed before she arrived. She had heard of Shinji before meeting him, the rookie who had taken on and beaten three Angels. He had no training before hand and no experience yet he had somehow managed to beat three Angels by himself.
"Of course if I had been there that wouldn't have happened you know."
He smiled to himself, not knowing if that was strictly true but a part of him wished that Asuka had been there from the start, "I know…"
She rolled over to face his back and was suddenly intrigued in learning more about what had happened before she arrived here.
"Hey, so what about the other two Angels? You beat them right?"
"I… well the first Angel I fought I don't really remember it. I just remember going out in the Eva and being hurt badly. It nearly broke my arm and I nearly got a concussion from it. So after I blacked out in the Eva I don't remember anything until I woke up in the hospital."
"And the other?"
"I kinda… defied Misato's orders on that one."
She propped herself up and was unable to hide her surprise, "You defied orders?"
"Yeah, she wanted me to retreat but… Touji and Kensuke had somehow gotten out to where the Eva was and… something happened I just had to defeat it. I ended up nearly burning my hands because of the Angels… tentacles."
He let out a short laugh, there was a lot more to that story but he figured Asuka probably wasn't interested in what had happened afterwards.
"So when you said to me the Eva only caused you pain you meant it literally?"
"A little bit but until I fought alongside you I had nearly died twice, burnt my hands, nearly gotten a concussion, broken arm and had a number of bruises and scars on my body."
"So why did you continue?"
"No one else could I guess, and I was needed."
"So why continue now? I'm here, I can do it."
"I've been trying to find out the answer to that… I guess in a way I want to now. I used to do it for my father's approval but that changed. I don't like fighting or piloting the Eva but it doesn't cause me as much pain and I kinda like where I am. I have friends now and I like living with you and Misato. I don't like it but I don't hate it anymore."
"Well that's good at least. I don't think I'd be able to pilot alongside someone who hated it especially now that I've raised the standards here. Now you and Wondergirl actually have someone who knows what they're doing."
He laughed, "I guess… hey Asuka?"
"How were you picked to be a pilot?"
"I was chosen for it."
"Yeah but how?"
"They just selected me at a young age, isn't that how you were selected?"
"No, I just got a letter one day from my father asking me to come to Tokyo-3. I didn't know anything about Eva until I got in one."
"That probably explains why your subpar performance then. I was selected when I was four, I've been around the Eva ever since."
"Selected when you were four? Weren't… weren't your parents scared?"
Her eyes shot open at the last question. Kaji and Misato had been true to their word and not told anyone about her past. She was a little bit relieved at that, no one needed to know and no one should know. It should stay buried. She replied, aware of the shakiness in her voice.
"N-No… My parents… were proud of me."
Shinji hadn't noticed the shakiness and if he had he didn't say anything to her thankfully. Instead he just replied quietly. "I see…"
She hear the tone in his voice and cursed herself at the choice of words. Parents were going to be a touchy subject for the both of them. She knew that. In truth her father and stepmother had tried to dissuade her from piloting the Eva but she had defied them. It was what her Mama had wanted and what she wanted. She quickly tried to shift the subject away from her parents.
"Do you still care about what your father thinks?"
"I try not to… he doesn't seem to care. Since mom died he…"
Asuka quickly cut him off. This conversation had not taken the turn she had wanted it to. She had learned something she didn't know before though. Shinji's mother had died when he was young too, just like hers had. They had something in common.
"Forget about him, think about how privileged you are to fight alongside me instead."
A smile crossed his face and he nodded, "Yeah, I guess. I… I've enjoyed fighting alongside you Asuka."
"Hah, we make quite a team don't we?"
"Yeah… we do."
She closed her eyes but immediately reopened them looking at his back. For a moment those memories she tried to suppress came back to her. She had only been four when it had happened. Her mother had been involved in an accident and the person who had come back from it wasn't her mother anymore. Asuka might have been young at the time but she could remember standing there watching as her mother sat in that bed clutching that doll talking to it as if it were her own daughter.
'No, not now. I'm not remembering that now.'
Asuka felt a shiver run up her spine and a burning feeling in her eyes. She felt cold and despite the warmth of the room felt very good. She looked across at Shinji, he was there because she felt he might help the nightmares go away but their conversation had brought them across into reality. It wasn't his fault, it was hers for asking about him. She had to get rid of them though, she didn't want to remember and she didn't want to cry. She needed something more though than him just being there.
'No I don't… I… look at him.'
She looked across and spotted he was on the edge of the bed as far away from her as possible. Asuka wondered if Shinji was really that scared of her. As it was if he moved from that spot he'd fall off the bed.
'He's pathetic, look at him lying there. He won't even look at me.'
In a swift motion Asuka reached out to his shoulder. She pulled and Shinji was on his back, his eyes shot open to look at her.
"Urk… Asuka what are you…"
"Idiot. I said keep to your side, not lie halfway on and off the bed. It's distracting me."
"Just go to sleep."
Shinji lay on his back and closed his eyes. As he drifted off he was aware of her arm still draped over his chest.