Asuka zoomed down the slope weaving effortlessly between the flags. Her poles gripped in her hand and her eyes scanning the horizon for any obstacles or potential danger. She did not want a repeat of what had happened the other day.
Her ankle had now healed, she was actually feeling little pain in it yesterday but their instructor had not allowed her back on the slope. So her time yesterday had been spent watching them from afar, wandering the town and playing video games back at the lodge. It had been boring. She had even bought herself a hot chocolate from a café which had been pointless. It had been tasteless compared to Shinji's.
Last night Shinji had gone back to his bedroom as well, as she had expected the nightmares had come back. Only this time there was an addition to them. She was lost in the city streets and there was an Angel attack. She had to get to her Eva but she couldn't find it. No one was around to help her find it and when she looked up she saw Unit 01 fighting the Angel. She could hear Shinji inside it, saying how he'd protect them all and how he'd protect her.
He was fighting well but he was ultimately going to lose unless she got up there to help him. Yet she couldn't find the way to her Eva. Finally the dream ended with Unit 01 having a hole blown clean through it. It slumped to the ground as the Entry Plug ejected. Asuka went to the Entry Plug, yelling and screaming for Shinji to be alright. When she opened the Plug he was dead. A hole in his chest mirroring the one from the Angel's blast.
She rounded another flag trying to push the image of the nightmare out of her head. It was just a stupid dream. That wasn't going to happen. She wouldn't lose her Eva like that. Yet the thought of Shinji being hurt like that kept going around in her mind. She had never thought about it before but what would she do if Shinji got hurt like that? Hearing him talk about how he had been hurt before she arrived had been eye opening.
Asuka had friends her for the first time in her life. Shinji, Hikari, even Rei and the others in Shinji's class. She had done something she had never wanted to do, she had become attached and now the thought of any of them getting hurt disturbed her. If Shinji got hurt like he had been in the past she wouldn't be able to face that. For the first time she was actually scared of what could happen.
She rounded the final flag and continued on towards the base of the run. She came to a stop just after she passed the final marker. She turned just in time to see the figure in blue coming towards her.
"Not bad Shinji, a little bit slow compared to me but very good. You'll have to do better than that if you want to beat me in a couple of days' time."
Shinji looked up at the slope he had just skied down. Aside from he and Asuka there were no other people around.
"It's really quiet isn't it?"
"Well yeah of course it is."
"Yeah but why? The other day there were loads of people skiing, now it seems to be just us."
"Well isn't it obvious?"
"You're so dense! Because of the accident NERV/Section 2 are keeping the slopes we're on clear. Look you can see a few of them standing around."
Shinji scanned the horizon and sure enough he could see a few people stood around near the top and the bottom of the slope they were own. It was strange how he hadn't noticed them earlier.
"Oh. So how many times have you done this?"
"What skiing?" She replied, looking back up at the slope and removing her goggles for the moment.
"Yeah, I mean you barely needed any instructions."
"Well including today and the lessons the other day… none."
Shinji removed his own goggles, "None? But you said your pare-"
She shot him a glance, "Owned a place in the alps? Yes, but I never visited."
"So you have never done this before until this week?"
"Wow…" Shinji exclaimed. He had no idea that Asuka had never done this before. She had taken to it so naturally that he was certain she had done.
"You're really good."
"Well of course I am, that's what I do. Be good at things. Surely you've learned that by now."
"I guess… what were your parents like Asuka?"
He wondered if he should have really asked the question. He had been told not to ask about Asuka's past by Misato before. Yet Asuka hadn't said anything the other night when he asked about her parents being scared of her piloting. Nor did she seem bothered about mentioning them and their place. All he knew was that she called out for her mother in her sleep. He didn't know why, maybe she missed her. Maybe she was more vulnerable than she let on.
She froze as he asked the question. She had mentioned them too much already to him. She was in danger of letting her guard down, "My parents?"
She couldn't fault him for being curious, he didn't know after all but a part of her wanted to scream at him for even asking that question. She wouldn't do that though. He was curious and she didn't blame him. After all she hadn't told him the truth, she hadn't told him that her mother was dead. She hadn't told him that the parents she spoke of was just her father and stepmother. Nor had she told him how her mother had died and how she hated her father. She turned away for a moment and placed the goggles back on so that he wouldn't be able to see the change in her eyes.
"Like any others I guess. Let's go again."
Asuka looked at the ingredients spread out before them. Shinji was measuring out a quantity of milk in a jug while she just watched. It was one of the few moments in her life where she didn't actually know what to do and so was content to just watch. The kitchen was Shinji's domain, she had never bothered herself with learning how to cook anything while growing up. She had no doubt that she could probably make these but part of their arrangement here had been to do things together and making dessert together seemed like fun.
"So then Chef Shinji, what do we do here?"
He finished up his measurements passed Asuka a large bowl.
"Flour and eggs in the bowl, then we add the milk."
"Seems simple enough."
She took the bowl from him and also grabbed the measured flour pouring it neatly into the bowl. She then grabbed one of the eggs rolling it over in her hand. She held it over the workbench before holding it over the edge of the bowl. She mimed hitting it against either surface for a moment before speaking aloud.
"Okay so I just…"
"Gently tap it against the side of the bowl and then open it up-"
"I know how to crack an egg!"
Her hand hovered over the edge of the bowl and she brought the egg down against the edge of it gently feeling the shell cracking. Immediately she held it over the middle of the bowl and used her thumbs to pry open the rest of the egg and watched as it fell into the bowl. She then grabbed the other egg and repeated this and passed it over to Shinji.
Shinji looked into the bowl and could see a few fragments of shell within.
"There are a fe-"
She pulled the bowl away from him and looked into it spotting the small fragments of shell.
"It happens to me too, eggs can be-"
"I was just testing you! Making sure you're aware! Glad you spotted it, wouldn't want to eat crepes with shell in would we? So what's next?"
Shinji took the bowl back and with a small spoon began to remove the small bits of shell.
"We just mix it together and then add the milk."
"Like I said before, seems simple enough. I'll do it. You go and… get whatever you want on it ready. What are you having anyway?"
She looked across at the ingredients, bits of ham and cheese lay near to her selection of ingredients. Shinji was going for a savoury option with his. Different to her choice of strawberries and chocolate sauce.
She went to work whisking the mixture as he moved over to the fillings. She watched him from across the room as he chopped the strawberries in half. His fingers nimbly positioning each one and the knife sliding through it. It may have been simple but he carried out his movements in this kitchen with a confidence she had never seen from him before. He wore a smile and a look of comfort that she hadn't known. Was he always like this when he cooked for them or was it something else?
She realized as she herself whisked the mixture she felt happy too, like she was actually able to forget about who she was for a moment. That they were just two people making supper for that night and having fun. Thoughts of Eva and Tokyo-3 far away from her.
She finished her job of whisking just as her phone began to vibrate on the counter. She picked it up and remarked to Shinji.
"Misato! Hold on I'll be back in a moment."
She grabbed her phone and moved out into the hallway.
"Hey Asuka, how are things going? Is your ankle better?"
"Of course it's better! It was fine the day after it happened but they wouldn't let me back on the slope. I thought contact from you guys was going to be minimal while we were here?"
She heard a sigh on the other end of the phone, "Well it was but we had contact from your father earlier today. I don't know how but he heard about the accident, he wanted us to put you in contact with them."
"I thought that might have been your answer, are you sure Asuka?"
"Yes. I'm sure, I… I don't want to."
"Okay well we'll just send along a regular report. Say you're fine and that you can't contact them right now. Security regulations but Asuka… you're going to have to contact them sooner or later. I know you… I know how you feel…"
Asuka let out a sigh. She had heard this speech a number of times from different people. When she had left for college, when she was with Kaji and when Misato looked after her in Germany for a time. It was always the same, they just wouldn't understand. It wasn't that Asuka hated her father and stepmother. It was that she just couldn't be attached to them. She had to push them away, she couldn't risk them being there.
Besides they didn't understand her. They didn't understand why she had to be a pilot and why she had to prove herself.
"Just… tell him I'm fine and not to worry alright? They worry too much, the pair of them. I… I'll try to contact them."
"Okay fine. I'll pass the message along. How are you two doing anyway?"
"Good. Misato can I ask you something?"
"It's about Shinji…"
"Ooh wanting to know about Shinji are we? Getting a little bit curious."
"Shut up! It's nothing like that. I just wanted to know how his mother died."
"Ah. Can I ask why?"
"No reason, I just thought it might be worth knowing a bit more about my fellow pilots. I mean we are supposed to work with each other but…"
There was a pause at the other end of the phone.
"Why the sudden interest?"
"He asked about my parents the other day. I… just wanted to know about his past I guess and he said he can't remember."
"I see… well look Asuka I don't know much about it myself. I mean it was years before I was at NERV. I only know this because of what Ritsuko told me when I became Shinji's guardian but it was… his mother died during a contact experiment with the Eva. He was only four when it happened and he was there in the room when it happened. Apparently it was so traumatic he can't remember it though… that's all I know though."
Asuka felt a chill run through her spine. There it was, another parallel. Disaster striking during a contact experiment. He had lost his mother, she may as well have lost hers on that day.
"Look Asuka, I probably shouldn't have told you that alright. So just try to forget about it, it's all in the past right so just leave it there."
"Y-Yeah… I… I have to go Misato, supper's ready."
"Yeah. See you soon Asuka. Enjoy the rest of your time there."
"Sure… bye Misato."
She hung up the phone and wandered back into the kitchen trying to forget about what she had just been told. It was beginning to hit her. Shinji was just like her. He was one of the only people in the world who could probably understand her. Except he couldn't remember losing his mother, only that she had died. The trauma had sealed it away. Was he lucky for that or unlucky?
As she entered the kitchen she saw him stood there with two plates prepared. On his was the savoury crepes laid out, an appetising mixture of cheese and ham in them. On her plate were hers, strawberries lining the edges with chocolate sauce running around the edge. In the centre she spotted a giant '02.'
He was smiling at her, a cute expectant smile. She shrugged off what she had just learned about him and returned the smile.
"Very nicely laid out Shinji."
"Shall we eat then?" She said as she walked over to his plate, stealing one of his rolled up crepes and shoving it into her mouth.
Shinji rolled over and looked at the clock on the bedside table. It has just passed midnight yet he couldn't sleep. For once it wasn't because of worrying about piloting the Eva or his father. It was about something else entirely. It was about Asuka. The past few days together had been strange. He felt he had grown closer to her yet he still felt there was a huge wall between them.
She was playing on his mind. When he closed his eyes he saw her. His heart lightened when he thought of her. He thought about how she smiled at him more this week. He thought about how she had fallen asleep with her arm around him the other night. He thought about how he had helped her on that day.
She had been different this week. She had started off the same but as they had spent more time together something had started to change. She seemed more relaxed her, she wasn't as bossy nor did she yell at him. Sure she was still capable of it, she would still tell him what to do. She would still boast when she was out on the slope with him. She was still Asuka but it felt different somehow.
He rolled onto his back and took the headphones out of his ears. Just as he did he saw his door open, standing in the doorway he saw Asuka standing there wearing a baggy nightshirt. He closed his eyes pretending to be asleep as he heard her shut the door behind her and move into his room.
He listened as she moved closer into the room.
"Are you awake?"
"Can I stay here tonight?"
She didn't wait for an answer, instead she immediately rounded to the other side of his bed and climbed in. He finally opened his eyes and turned to see her back to him. A part of him wanted to reach out and put his arm around her but he stopped himself in fear that she might react negatively to it.
"Asuka are… are you okay?"
She sighed as she lay there staring at the curtains. It was another nightmare, similar to the one she had the other night. She had been wandering Tokyo-3 looking for her Eva while Shinji was fighting an Angel. Only this time she found her Eva and she was finally able to join the fight. When she got up there ready to help Shinji she saw the Angel had somehow combined with Unit 01. She could hear him screaming from inside, begging for her to help him.
She froze up in the dream but her Eva took on a mind of its own attacking Unit 01 and eventually defeating it. It dropped the Entry plug and Asuka had ran to it. Yelling and screaming for Shinji to be alright. On opening the Entry Plug just like the other times Shinji had been lying there motionless, a hole in his chest.
Only this time it went on longer. She remembered watching in horror as the hole sealed itself being replaced by red sphere resembling an entry core. Shinji's eyes had flickered open and he lurched forward grabbing her by the throat.
She blinked the image away, that wasn't really Shinji in that dream. He wouldn't do that, he couldn't do that. Yet the first thing she had done was got up and ran to his room. She had to see if he was alright. She rolled over so see him still lying on his back, he was looking across at her.
"W-What are you looking at?"
"N-Nothing... I was just concerned."
"Well don't be, I'm fine. I just… I just wanted some extra warmth that's all."
She rolled away from him and stared ahead at the curtains, she daren't close her eyes yet lest the images from the nightmare come back into her head. She had become more attached then she had intended to. She had let him into her head and into her heart. It was something she had never wanted to do. She wasn't supposed to let anyone in. She hadn't meant to need anyone. She couldn't let anyone rely on her nor could she put her trust in people. She had tried to push everyone away so she wouldn't have to end up feeling the same thing she had with her mother again.
Her feelings for Shinji weren't like what she said she felt for Kaji. That was just an infatuation and she knew it. Some silly crush because she felt that was what a real man should be. Shinji was in her heart though. From the start he had been there, she wanted him to hold her. To love her and she hated it. Even now she was lying there, him a distance away from her and all she wanted was his arm around her and his voice to tell her that everything would be alright.
She knew it wouldn't come though. She had already managed to push him away from her. He was too scared of her to do anything like that. It was her mistake. She had managed to let him into her heart but also push him away at the same time. She would have to ask for it but then he'd just do it because she asked wouldn't he? It'd mean nothing. Why did everything have to be so complicated?
Suddenly she heard him call out to her, his voice quiet. "Asuka…"
"Do… do you have nightmares?" he asked her, she could hear the concern in his voice.
She was about to lie and say no. Retort back with how stupid it would be but she knew he had heard her before.
"Sometimes, doesn't everyone?"
He looked across at her form his hand half way across from touching her on the shoulder. He wanted to reach out and rub it gently, to give her some sort of affection. How would she react if he had touched her? Would she snap at him?
His hand hovered over her should and finally came down to rest on it, with his thumb he stroked it ever so gently.
"What are you doing?"
He pulled his hand away.
"Sorry! I-I thought…"
"I didn't say stop."
He nodded and his hand went back to her shoulder gently rubbing it.
"Shinji… you asked about my parents the other day didn't you?"
"Y-Yeah… I was wondering what they were like."
"I… I asked Misato about your mother on the phone earlier. I… Well, I had to know something if I was going to tell you anything."
She swallowed feeling a burning in her eyes. She had never been this open with someone before. Shinji didn't say anything to what she had told him. Was he mad at her for prying into his life like that? She technically knew more about his mother's death then he did now.
"The truth is Shinji my mother died… when I was four. I lived with my father and stepmother before I come here."
"Oh… I didn't know, sorry."
"Not many people do know. My file is top secret like yours and only Misato and Kaji know the truth anyway."
She paused and rolled onto her other side and stared at him. In the dim light she could just make out some of the features on his face. His eyes were open and looking at her. His mouth open ever so slightly. She edged closer to him.
"After my mother's death my father remarried one of the nurses from the hospital. It happened really quickly and I… don't get me wrong… I don't hate them or anything but I just… I couldn't get attached to them. So I put everything I had into piloting, Eva is all I have. I had to be the best at it and everything I do. I had to be away from them."
She watched as his hand come across to her should again. It started slowly and then trailed downwards towards her hand. She didn't resist instead allowing their fingers to intertwine. A part of her was still wanting to pull away, to scream out.
'I'm confiding in Shinji… I'm letting him in… how low have I sunk?'
She blinked the thought away.
'No… I have to do this… I don't want to be alone anymore.'
"My mother… was involved in the development of Unit 02. She… there was an activation test and something went wrong. She was hospitalized and she…"
"Your mother was involved with Eva?"
She nodded, "Yeah… just like yours. Shinji, I know you don't remember but… I know what happened to your mother. We're… we're the same."
"My mother was involved with Eva too wasn't she?"
"Yes, activation experience. Misato told me, apparently you were there too."
She watched as Shinji raised a hand up to his face, presumably to wipe away a tear. She heard him sniff. At the start of this week she might have mocked him for crying in front of her. She didn't feel like that now, not when she too could feel a lump in the back of her throat.
"I-I don't remember anything… and my… my father destroyed everything."
There was a pause as the two of them wondered who should speak next. Finally Shinji did speak.
"W-What happened after the experiment?"
"My mother was in hospital and she… she didn't recognize me anymore. I just watched as she… as things happened. That's what I have nightmares about Shinji… I had one before I came in here. I'm fed up of them. I hate them so much, I hate what they've done to me, I hate that I can't sleep properly, I hate myself for being so weak."
She released his hand but instead of pulling away flung herself towards him burying her head into his chest and wrapping her arms around him.
"I-I don't want to be alone anymore Shinji… I don't… I can't take it… I don't want to lose anyone…"
Shinji brought his head down and gently snuggled his cheek into the top of her head. He put his arms around her and stroked her back softly.
"Y-You aren't going to. Asuka, you're not alone. I'm here for you."
"Shinji I… I had a nightmare about you… you had… promise me you won't die."
He relaxed his grip slightly in shock at those words. "Asuka, I'm not going to die. I… I promise."
He tightened his grip again holding her to him her head buried in his chest. Every so often she'd let out a small sob and he'd stroke her hair to try to comfort her. Finally through a sob she looked up at him.
He could make out her smile in the darkness, "Don't you dare tell anyone you saw me like this."
She nodded and put her head back onto his chest and closed her eyes whilst listening to the steady rhythm of his heart. She felt his arms around her and she was safe and protected. It wasn't like her nightmares, he was alive and he wasn't going to leave her.
Shinji rounded a rock as he continued speeding down the slope towards the bottom. He glanced across to his right and saw the red figure rounding a flag. Was he ahead of her or was she ahead of him? At this speed it was hard to tell. He felt a little pang of excitement as he gained speed trying to keep pace with Asuka. He was sure he could see a wide grin on her face and he grinned himself.
He continued down a straight path before beginning to curve to the left to make his way around another flag, he came inwards to slalom his way through another series. His heart was racing as he kept his speed up trying to ensure he stayed level with her.
Shinji had never been competitive by nature, he wasn't even bothered about beating Asuka in this. What he was bothered about was getting to the bottom of the slop as quick as he could so he could talk to her again, so he could spend more time with her and see her smile.
They had woken up that morning in the same positon they had fallen asleep in. Asuka was still snuggled into his chest and his arms were around her. As their eyes had opened and adjusted to the light there had been a hint of surprise for both of them. Like it wasn't real. Shinji had expected her to yell at him or to just silently get off and leave the room. Yet that hadn't happened, instead she had remained there looking up at him before bringing herself up to his level and whispering thank you into his ear.
They hadn't spoken about what had happened yet Shinji didn't feel they had to. Instead he had made them breakfast, they sat and watched television together until it was time to go out on the slope and time for their race.
She had winked at him and told him she wasn't going to go easy on him and that she was going to win. Shinji wouldn't be bothered if she did win, what he cared about was being here with her. He wondered if she felt the same.
Asuka rounded the tree and gazed across at Shinji, he was still managing to match her speed. He had gotten good but she was sure she was just that little bit better. She knew though that Shinji could do amazing things when he was determined. She had seen that the day he had reached into that volcano and saved her life. She wasn't going to lose though, he had no idea what she was capable of.
She passed one of the small flags and tried to gain a little bit more speed to edge in front of him. She felt lightened by the events of last night, as if a weight had been lifted from her chest. She knew things wouldn't be easy going forward, when they went back to Tokyo-3 tomorrow she wasn't sure how things would go. The Eva would be waiting for her there as would the expectations of everyone else. She'd have to raise those walls again ever so slightly to protect herself, yet now she had something. She had someone who she could lower them to when she needed to. Someone who would be there for her.
She didn't quite know what this made her and Shinji now. She didn't quite know how far to take it, did she want a relationship with him? She had thought about it, thought what it might be like to always have that warmth of him holding her. What it'd be like to hold his hand on the way to school and NERV and what it might be like to kiss him. They were pleasant thoughts.
Something tugged at her though, a fear that he'd abandon her or that something would happen to him. She knew the reality of what they did and that one day one of them could be seriously hurt or even killed doing what they do. Shinji had come so close so many times already, Asuka had once. If she did let him in could she face that risk?
Maybe she shouldn't do anything, maybe she should follow the path she was on before and raise those walls completely. Hide herself behind them and ensure no one got in. Chalk this up to a one-off moment of weakness. It'd hurt him but that'd be temporary, what could happen was far worse.
She took a moment to gaze across at him, he had somehow pulled in front of her and was heading towards the finish line. She had been so wrapped up in her thoughts to not notice. Almost immediately she straightened up and started trying to gain speed.
'Stupid Shinji… thinking he can beat me.'
She pulled alongside him, the finish line was approaching. The two of them stealing glances at one another as they both tried to stay ahead of one another. Asuka in front, then Shinji then Asuka again and then Shinji. Pure determination on their faces as they kept this up until finally they reached the end. Asuka brought herself to a stop and saw Shinji doing the same. She took off her goggles and called towards the instructor.
"Well who won? I mean as if that wasn't obvious, you did a good job though Shinji, second place is nothing to be ashamed of."
The two of them rounded the instructor as he was looking at the stop watch.
Asuka felt her heart dip at his words. She couldn't have done, she was so sure she was in front. She narrowed her eyes. She unclipped her boots from the skies as Shinji did the same.
"What do you mean, 'well actually'? Don't tell me he won!"
"Actually Miss Soryu, it looks like neither of you won. You both hit the finish line at the same time. Exactly 62 seconds."
They both cried out in unison, "Sixty two seconds?"
"Yes, now if you'll excuse me I have a class to teach so enjoy the rest of your day."
The instructor walked off leaving Asuka glaring back up the slope, an angry twitch forming on the side of her mouth.
"Sixty… two seconds… you!"
She pointed a finger at Shinji, "You!"
"Asuka… I'm sorry…"
She took a step towards him as he immediately backed off and raised his hands in defence. She shot him her best glare, sixty two seconds for them both to get down the slope. For both of them. The significance of it wasn't lost on her at all. They had been in perfect sync the entire journey down save for a few parts where they pulled in front. Just like last time.
"Asuka I'm sorry, I…"
"Wait Asuka… it was a race…"
"I don't even know why I'm apologizing!"
"Don't hurt me…"
"You think you can humiliate me like this?"
"I didn't mean to! I… it's not my fault!"
"A draw! And sixty two seconds? Is that a joke?"
"I… I don't know…"
"You're going to suffer for this…"
Shinji kept on backing away as she kneeled down. Without warning she sprang towards him and wrapped her arms around his waist forcing him down to the ground. He attempted to struggle but she grabbed his wrists and pinned them down. Straddling his waist she looked down at him. Finally she broke the glare and started to laugh.
"A-Asuka… are you alright?"
"Sixty two seconds? You really don't get it do you…"
He shook his head, "No?"
"That was how much time we had to defeat the Angel when we were in sync! We did it again Shinji, perfect synchronization and we didn't even mean to. It's amazing."
He replied back in total confusion, he had thought she was mad at him but now she seemed anything but. "W-What? Really?"
"Of course it is you idiot! Don't you see? I mean I have to take some of the credit, if it wasn't for me you wouldn't have been able to keep up with me but you did. We're a team, we're unstoppable against the Angels. We're…"
He smiled up at her and started to laugh, "Yeah… I guess we are…"
She leaned in towards him, "Shinji I… I just wanted to say thank you for last night. I… There is still a lot to tell you, I don't know when I will tell you or if I will but… thank you."
He nodded, "its fine… I… you've helped me too Asuka, besides we're a team right?"
"Yeah… although I don't think many teams do this."
"Close your eyes."
He closed his eyes and felt her shift slightly on top of him. Suddenly he felt something close to his face, it was her. He could feel her breathing. Slowly he opened his eyes, she was close to him and her lips open slightly.
"You're tickling me with your breath idiot."
She leaned in and pressed her lips against his, her gloved hand softly caressing his cheek. With his hands now free he placed one on her side softly stroking it and the other on her head. Eventually she broke the kiss.
She smiled down at him, "Don't ever leave me."
He looked back up deep into her blue eyes, "I won't."