AUTHOR'S NOTE: MERRY CHRISTMAS

DISCLAIMER: DON'T OWN. HAVE FUN

[Prologue]

It was Christmas Eve. The entire infirmary was littered with the colors of the holiday and laden with the spicy smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, along with the ever-present pungent smell of fresh pine. In one of the conference rooms, a party was being held for the patients…well, those who were still alive to celebrate, anyway.

For the most part however, the hospital was empty except for a small redheaded little girl sitting in front of a pane of glass watching the patient inside.

"Asuka-chan...it's Christmas...can you hear all those people outside celebrating? But we don't get to celebrate, Asuka-chan, because Papa doesn't need us...Papa hates both of us. So why should we celebrate Asuka-chan?" The woman's cracked laughter echoed through the halls as she tightly held a ragged doll in her hands.

The little girl kept on watching.

"Do you know why we celebrate Christmas? It's because God was born on this day...but God's dead Asuka-chan. We'll see him in Heaven soon. Both of us will Asuka. Then Papa will miss us. Then Asuka-chan, we'll all have a wonderful dinner and sing songs in front of a...a..." The woman broke into crying as she held the doll in her hands. She buried her face into the harsh cotton of the doll's dress and it smiled back at her, sewn mouth curved upward in a meaningless smirk.

And outside, the conference room broke into laughter and singing as if to mock her pain. As if the entire world was completely deaf.

Like the sea gathering in strength, it rose in waves, ringing through the empty halls and soon blanketed over the inconsequential sound of ragged weeping from within.

Merry Christmas Momma...And through it all, through the laughter and muted sounds of crying...the little girl watched the woman through the pane of glass. Watched her until her tears soaked into the light green hospital blanket and her sobs subsided into weary sleep.

Merry Christmas...even though you're not the only one crying.

Christmas Cards or a-Riding through Tokyo-3

Ritsuko held the cigarette loosely in one hand, gazing almost longingly at the cream-colored wrapping and the burnished brown filter. It fit into her hand perfectly as she twiddled it around her fingers, calmly watching it disappear behind her knuckles and reappear as she flipped it around.

Any desire for nicotine-induced intoxication disappeared however, as her eyes flashed to the lighter lying on the console table in front of her. Someone had conveniently taped a thermometer onto it...one hundred and three degrees Fahrenheit and still on the rise.

Was it really worth lighting up and making the room even hotter? She was about to consult the Magi for a decision when the mercury rose another full degree.

Ritsuko sighed. "That's not fair..." She grumbled inwardly, sliding the pack of cigarettes back inside the drawer of her desk, "I really want a cigarette..."

The door slid open as Misato fanned herself with the NERV manual. "Now this is the only real use for this book I've found the entire year...cheh..." Flopping into the sticky leather seat next to the technical director, she groaned, "Air conditioning broke at home...but its just as hot here...what kind of weather is this Post-Second Impact era?"

Still sulking quietly to herself, Ritsuko consulted her clip-book. "Something about Second Impact disrupting Earth's orbit and slightly altering its rotational axis..." She tossed the board to the side and glowered at the lighter. "But it doesn't take a genius to figure out that its just plain hot."

"True, very true. Hard to believe this is the end of the year isn't it? Lucky bastards in the Sahara are complaining of five inches of snow." Misato sighed, "Well...doesn't look like it'll be a white Christmas HERE anytime soon though."

"There hasn't been a white Christmas here for fifteen years Misato...people get over it. And judging from the Children's synchronization rate..." She spun around to check the console, and then shrugged, "It doesn't look like the approaching holiday season is affecting them anytime soon."

"Rei and Shinji wouldn't care...and Asuka...well, I wouldn't go into her case. I think we can just let the Christmas spirit slide, Ritsuko, even though that makes me feel bad."

"I would hope they have more important problems to deal with, anyway." Ritsuko lightly began tapping at the keyboard as she motioned for a technician to alter the LCL fillibration. She calmly announced, "Begin neural disconnection...standby for further instructions."

She smiled as she turned back to Misato. "Buy Asuka and Shinji a nice present and you might make yourself feel better."

"That's only your way of thinking, Ritsuko..." Misato's voice grew a little wistful, trailing off as she stared sightlessly at the ceiling. "It's sad though; they deserve something better. Normal kids have parties...exchange presents...stuff like that. We're having these kids grow up faster than they should."

Ritsuko shrugged absently, "It's better that way. NERV can't afford to have 'normal' kids. They do what they have to and we'll accept the consequences later." She raised her voice a notch as she called into the microphone, "Good work all of you. That's all for today."

Asuka's cry of freedom, Rei's eloquent silence, and Shinji's stoic affirmation was her only response, as always.

Misato glanced at her. "That's a very straightforward way of thinking. They aren't objects you know. Everyone deserves something special, Ritsuko."

"What? Christmas spirit and joy? A glowing dinner, slow dancing music, or maybe a calming yuletide fire?" Ritsuko shook her head slightly and offered a brittle smile to ease the acidity of her comment. "It's not going to happen, Misato. In our day and age, no one appreciates that anymore. Not when you might as well be dead on the day God was born."

Misato laughed shortly, "Isn't that what miracles are for?"

"Miracles? I'll see one when I believe in one."

"I think you mixed up that quote Ritsuko."

Ritsuko shook her head. "Trust me...believing for me is in itself a miracle." Getting up, she patted the Major on the shoulder and walked out of the room. "Do your best and live the way you can live. No one can live the way they want to, but we can come close enough."

***

Most of the NERV personnel were still here. While some of them had decided to take advantage of their NERV holiday package and take a well-deserved vacation, quite simply, not many of them had the family or friends to visit. War did that to people.

Not that it mattered.

Asuka didn't care much for Wondergirl...that blue-haired albino that was now walking with her to the lockers. But for once, she appreciated her silence. It had been tiring enough to go through the entire day at school with every single boy and girl preoccupied with Christmas this and Christmas that, as if they really had something to be so happy about.

Not even the weather was Christmas-like. The heat baked the LCL coated on her plug suit into a thick sticky film. It condensed onto the strands of her hair and skin until she could almost feel it soaking into her scalp. She really needed a shower when she got home. Sighing, she preceded Rei into the locker room and walked towards her locker.

What the hell was so special about Christmas anyway?

And thus, when she pulled the metal door of her locker open, she was surprised when a small envelope tucked neatly on the first shelf fell out and fluttered down to the floor.

Asuka wouldn't have been too surprised if this was sixth period at school and she was changing for her Athletics class. She would've been surprised, however, that it was only one card in which to plant her foot down on and grind hard into the floor. But this was NERV...how could ANYONE slip a letter here?

Her eyes flashed as she turned her head to glance at Rei, who was in the middle of putting on her panties and slipping into her customary school uniform. Blushing uncomfortably at the blatant nudity, Asuka grimaced to herself. That girl REALLY had no sense of privacy or woman's modesty...but at least she didn't seem to be looking this way. Bending over, she slowly picked up the letter and examined it.

It was oddly anonymous without any hearts or cheap proclamations of love. She flipped it over for further examination. The envelope was completely white except for a gold filigree bordering.

Rei's quiet voice completely startled her. "Well, aren't you going to open it?"

Asuka swiftly turned around while simultaneously tucking the card into her book bag. Gritting her teeth into a defensive sneer, she glared challengingly at the other girl. "And I was just thinking how much more I liked you when you were quiet."

Ignoring the sharp retort, Rei shrugged. "Take it to Major Katsurugi. I'm sure it presents a security risk."

"Look, Wondergirl. It's just a card all right? So leave me alone."

In her characteristically quiet persistence, Rei continued softly, "Aren't you curious who sent it? Maybe it has something to do with this Christmas that everyone is so excited about."

Now that took the cake. Even Rei of all people was starting to get into the holiday spirit. Hell, boys sent her cards every day of the year, not only just for Christmas. "Heh...why are you so interested?"

Rei replied evenly, "What is this Christmas that everyone is speaking of? Is it important? Does it concern us?" She averted her eyes. "I don't understand much. But if it makes people smile, than it can't be too bad."

Asuka clenched her hand into a fist. "Oh, they're smiling...but none of them know what they're smiling for." She laughed bitterly. "This entire city...laughing like this precious holiday is going to solve all their problems. Christmas, Ayanami, is for the people that have a lot more than they should."

Rei's piercing gaze held hers, reading her like an open book. "Have you lost much then, to be so bitter about it, Second Child? If so, perhaps I am lucky...maybe it's better if I don't understand."

Asuka didn't reply until she had changed into her school uniform. Then, slamming the locker door shut, she snarled, "You have no idea Wondergirl!" She stormed to the entrance of the locker room and the door slid open with a silent hiss. Without breaking stride, Asuka kicked it viciously on her way out, shouting behind her. "You really have absolutely no idea!"

***

"So, since it's Christmas tomorrow, you want to invite any of your friends over tomorrow, you two? We can have kind of a party or something!" Misato cheerfully took a swig of beer. "We can sing songs, have fun...get drunk..."

Asuka bit out shortly, "It's all right...don't bother yourself Misato."

Well...that was expected...Misato winced before turning hopefully to Shinji, "How about you?"

Shinji seemed oddly out of it, a very perturbed expression crossing his face. He gave a short glance towards Asuka before slowly answering, "I don't mind. Whatever you want to do Misato-san."

And there goes the entire holiday spirit...Misato sighed and swirled the remaining liquid around in her almost empty beer can. "Well, than I guess neither of you will be surprised that we have synchronization tests then, right?"

"I'm done with dinner." Asuka interrupted abruptly and threw her bowls into the sink. She turned towards Misato, continuing calmly, "I'm just sick and tired of everyone trying to get me into the wonderful Christmas mood, Misato. I know you're trying your best," Her voice cracked, "but if you don't mind, will you just stop BOTHERING me?"

As she left the room, the other EVA pilot, the Major, and the penguin cringed as the door to Asuka's room slammed shut. With a silent sigh, Misato reclined in her chair and reached for another can of beer on the table. Popping it open, she sang mockingly to herself, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..."

Shinji quickly looked up, "Eh?"

"Forget it, Shinji." She shook her head and laid the beer can on the ground next to Pen-Pen. "I don't feel like getting drunk tonight. I dunno...maybe I'm getting old. Probably."

She rose up and grabbed her red jacket off the table, and Shinji watched her for a moment, before asking, "Where are you going Misato-san?"

"I was going to go out Christmas shopping and buy some kinky reindeer outfit to tease you with but I don't think anyone's really going to get a kick out of it."

Shinji averted his eyes. "It's not exactly the best time..."

"Yeah. I figured that much out. Don't worry about it. I just need to go outside and get a breath of fresh air before I go insane." She opened the door and gave him a wane smile. "Ah well, it's no one's fault. Don't feel too bad about it."

"Misato..."

"Yeah?"

"For all its worth, Merry Christmas."

"Wait until tomorrow before telling me that."

Shinji shook his head. "This is the only time that saying that feels right and tomorrow... tomorrow, I don't think I'm going to care."

***

It was these times in her life that Asuka really envied Shinji's SDAT. Like REALLY envied; it kept him from thinking too much. And right now, she didn't want to think at all. This stupid holiday...those idiotic jingles and tunes...really, what was the use?

God is dead...

That was the only thing that made sense. What kind of God would wipe out humanity and send Angels down to Earth to kill the rest of the pathetic masses who survived? Asuka stared at the ceiling. She was ten years wiser and half a world farther from those memories...

They didn't hurt as much...it just felt kinda dull...so dull it scratched her heart, even more so as the year approached this time. Oh, she knew why her heart ached, the saying misery loves company wasn't thought up by some random idiot.

It was jealousy; jealousy born of seeing so many happy faces around her, expecting her to share in their happiness. Children, lovers, family, and friends, they were all celebrating when ten years ago nobody was there to share in her sadness. No one was there to understand her pain.

They were just like those people from the ward: she risked her life to play hero and save the world and they just simply...existed. What do you expect Asuka? I'm such an idiot. Really...I didn't even like mother anyway. She didn't even want me...

"Ow...Ittai..." Something jabbed at her through her clothing as she twisted around her bed and Asuka grimaced, reaching into her pocket. "What is this...?" Pulling the offending object from her skirt pocket, she held up to her eyes.

It was the envelope from her locker.

She held it with unsteady fingers as she struggled between the impulse to open it and the impulse to rip it in half. To be true, a petty way to relieve anger, but damn, it might make her feel a lot better. It was probably just some prank, or another one of those damn Christmas cards...or something...

Inconsequential...right?

The decision was taken from her hands as someone knocked softly on her door. She sat up and quickly shoved the slip of paper deep beneath her pillow. Unable to hide all the shock at of her voice, she stammered, "S...Shinji? What? Leave me alone all right?"

Shinji's weak voice came softly through the door, "Ano...Asuka...I think I have something that belongs to you...but I'm not sure..."

Asuka half-snarled, "What is it Shinji? Did you really have to bother me? Look, I won't ask. Just GO!"

"It's not that..." Shinji swallowed and asked seriously, "Asuka...did you find something weird in your locker after the tests?"

Asuka's eyes widened, "Eh?" Walking to the door, she slid the door a quarter inch so she could see him. "What do you mean weird? Really, if something is weirder than you than..."

Her breath caught.

In Shinji's hand was a small envelope...with red, green, and gold filigree.

***

"It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...happiest time of the year..." Standing on the catwalk overlooking the EVA launch pad, Misato leaned on the railing and whooped loudly, "MERRY CHRISTMAS! Isn't it just SO great?"

The room was so expansive, her voice didn't echo very much. Unable to shake off her nagging frustration, Misato grimaced and stamped her feet on the metal catwalk. "Come on GOD...it's your BIRTHDAY tomorrow! Why don't you send an Angel down here and KICK OUR ASSES? COME ON!"

"Are you drunk again, Major Katsurugi?"

"GAAACK!!" Stunned that someone was still around the EVA pens at this time of night, Misato spun around too fast and tripped over her own feet. She landed unceremoniously on her butt. Rubbing her backside, she muttered, "That hurt..."

Rei looked at her coolly. "Really?"

Deciding that the catwalk didn't feel that bad and it really wasn't worth the effort to get up, Misato smiled weakly up at her on the floor as she brushed purple strands of hair from her eyes. "Something like that, Rei. So any reason why you're still here?"

Crimson eyes looked down at her curiously before shifting back to the blue EVA on the third hanger. "I don't have anywhere else to go, so I decided to stay."

"Heh...I have a place to go...but it's not worth staying." Misato leaned back against the railing, glancing at the younger girl dully, "You ever have the feeling, Rei, that you're trying to push against a wall? The harder you push, the more you're propelled backwards?"

"No. Not that I can recall."

"Ah...right." Misato blearily tried to get to her feet, but only succeeded in tripping again. She cursed as she landed hard on the metal grating again. "Damn...I must look like I'm dead drunk! This is probably the ONLY time I've ever been sober at nine at night and I'm tripping over everything..." She glared murderously around her. "Maybe you kids have the right idea. Maybe this entire Christmas thing is a whole damn joke."

Rei averted her eyes. "I wouldn't know. I don't understand things like this."

Misato sighed, giving up on getting up for the moment, "You're not the only one. I mean I've seen people go through Second Impact without looking as bombed as the kids back home. I might not have had the greatest home life, but even my dysfunctional family had a decent Christmas or two."

Nodding her head slightly, Rei mused, "I noticed Pilot Sohryuu was a bit more aggravated than usual today."

"Bleh." Misato made a face, and sighed, "I wouldn't be that surprised. When I was in Germany, she always went introvert around the winter quarter."

"Is that so?"

"Something like that..." Misato looked at her wristwatch and grimaced. "Look at the time. It's getting late and the Commander would have a fit if I let you walk home by yourself at this hour."

"The Commander actually doesn't seem to mind that much, Major..."

"No complaints. Hop in my car. I'll give you a ride home."

Rei's pallor grew much noticeably paler under the wane light. "You'll be driving... Major?"

Misato rolled her eyes. "Rei...I get enough complaints from my two charges. Not you too..."

"Of course not." Steeling herself and bracing the inner courage that allowed her to stare death in the eye without so much as batting an N2 mine, Rei nodded her head and stood straight. "Order recognized and affirmed, Major."

"Haha, very funny. You do have quite the sarcastic wit, Rei."

"I do beg your pardon..." Rei blinked in confusion. "I believe I was telling the truth."

"WILL YOU SAVE YOUR COMMENTS UNTIL AFTER WE GET INTO THE CAR?"

***

Shinji nervously sat on the floor facing Asuka, noticing the redhead seemed to be fidgeting uncomfortably on the bed. "After the training session...when I opened my locker..." He laid the envelope down in front of her. "This fell out. I didn't really know what to do with it...so..." He shrugged helplessly. "I kinda thought...since you always get cards...that someone might have made a mistake..."

Asuka shook her head. "We're in the middle of the top-secret NERV base, remember? Even I have trouble getting in...much less wandering around shoving cards into people's lockers."

Shinji suddenly raised his head and asked firmly, "Did you get one though, Asuka?"

Blanching white, she thought frantically and ten different answers rose to mind, She stammered out the first thing that rolled off of her tongue. "What are you? Stupid? Of course..." She swallowed nervously and forced herself to continue, "Of course not. I get all my cards at sixth period gym class where all you perverted boys sneak into my changing room."

Shinji blushed and averted his eyes. "Soka...is that so? Gomen..."

"Stop apologizing Shinji." Asuka huffed as she glared distastefully at him. "Don't get your hopes too much though, Shinji. A girl that wants to give you a card must be pretty desperate...might be pretty weird." She leaned over and asked, "So what does it say, Uberbaka?"

"I...I didn't open it...I kinda thought that...well..." Shinji meekly grabbed the envelope and began walking out the door. "I'm really sorry for bothering you Asuka. You're right. What was I thinking anyway..."

But...but I want to know...Panicking as he began walking out, Asuka suddenly jumped up and grabbed his shoulder. "Wait up Shinji!"

"Eh?"

What are you doing now, Asuka? Ignoring the voice in the back of her mind, she reached into her dresser and pulled out a short knife.

Shinji's eyes bugged out as he followed the blade of the knife with his eyes. "You're... you're going to KILL me?"

"NO, YOU IDIOT!" Forcing his fingers open, she slapped the knife into his palm and dragged him to her desk. "Here, open it."

Shinji warily looked at her. "Wait a minute...if it's my letter why are you standing over me like that?"

Asuka's mind completely blanked as she sought a reason for her intrusive curiosity. Very fortunately, pure instinct once again guided her actions as her palm smacked against the back of Shinji's skull solidly. "Anta Baka? Don't be a jerk! I'm letting you use my room and my knife. Don't be so thankless."

Shinji rubbed his head before dutifully sliding the knife through the flap of the envelope. "Hai Hai..."

Carefully slitting the edge and working the blade around, Shinji removed the seal and set the knife gently against the table. He reached inside and withdrew a small, flat card. Several lines had been written on it with a black ink brush, the Japanese characters drawn by a smooth, graceful hand.

Asuka grimaced. "I don't understand half of this...there's kanji everywhere. Hey Shinji, read it aloud for me."

Shinji's eyes quickly scanned the card and he coughed hesitantly before reading aloud:

This Christmas Eve,

Think only of me,

Be only with me,

And allow me to share your pain.

In return, if truly we are the same,

I will be only with you,

Think only of you,

This Christmas Eve.

And together,

If we stay together,

And stay true together,

This Christmas Eve,

We will be blessed with the most fortunate New Year.

His voice trailed off, and an eerie stillness set over the two who were still looking at the card with wide eyes. Asuka was the first to break the silence and she looked down at Shinji who was looking back up at her with the same confused expression. "Is that all?"

Checking the back, Shinji nodded. "But there's no name on the back..." His eyes flickered from the card to Asuka, "What...what do you think this means?"

If Shinji got one...and I got one...does it mean that...Unable to continue that line of thought, Asuka laughed haltingly as her own insecurities refused to let her believe anything. "I don't know...it's your card."

"But..."

Sitting down on the edge of her bed, Asuka said as sincerely as she could ever say, "Well Shinji, that's a very sweet idea...your card...and whoever gave it to you, obviously really likes you. So good luck..."

I hope Shinji...that this Christmas Eve won't leave you crying. But what happiness can you find on the eve that God died?

***

 "Car...Pedestrian...STATIONARY UNMOVING OBJECT! OH GOD!"

Looking at her cringing companion curiously, Rei planted her foot on the brake and spun the steering wheel hard right as she banked across the intersection. "I don't see why you're so nervous, Major Katsurugi. As part of my school curriculum I have received tutelage in fundamental driving education."

"As nice as that may sound on paper, TELLING THAT TO MAIMED CARCASSES ON THE FENDER WON'T APPEASE THEIR SOULS!"

Rei barely batted an eye as the Renault avoided almost certain doom and the highly audible cursing in the background reached a climactic pitch. "Is that so?"

Misato visibly restrained herself from strangling the EVA pilot and contented herself with huddling in fear in the corner of her seat. "Yes Rei. That is so!" Clutching the seat belt in a death-grip, she muttered, "I knew letting Rei drive was going to be a BAD IDEA! LEFT! LEFT!! BRAKE!"

"But my apartment is towards the right. Your directions seem illogical."

"I DON'T MAKE THE ROADS REI! I know you have a lot of repressed anger, BUT DRIVING THROUGH THOSE CROWDS OF PEOPLE ISN'T GOING TO SOLVE ANYTHING!!"

"Incorrect assumption. By utilizing this mode of transport, we will arrive at our destination three minutes faster than by conventional means. Besides, the people who have set up all these tents and booths in the middle of this road are violating many traffic laws."

"Rei...they're preparing for the annual Tokyo-3 Christmas Festival."

"Still, they are in direct defiance of many interstate ordinances."

"BUT THAT DOESN'T MEAN THEY DESERVE TO DIE! LET THEM CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS IN PEACE!"

"They are in fault for being in front of my fender. I am allowed to go sixty kilometers an hour in this region after all."

"Bad idea...VERY bad idea...REI!"

"Please control yourself, Major. Trying to wrest control of the steering wheel at this moment will not solve any of our problems."

***

"I still don't see how throwing glass bulbs, trees, and bricks at us would benefit them. It is fortunate, Major Katsurugi, that your bulletproof windows deflected most of the projectiles or we may have suffered severe injuries."

Misato stared disbelievingly at her Renault. It had survived through multiple Angel Attack, N2 mines, and random bouts of drunken driving. Yet now, it had reached the end of its mortal coil after just ONE trip with the Pilot of Eva 00.

Nodding decisively as the car puttered just outside of her apartment and clattered to a halt, Rei grimaced at the eviscerated pine tree lodged onto the front fender. "I will have to talk to the Commander after this. Planting trees in the middle of the road presents a serious risk to automobile drivers everywhere."

[Flashback]

"REI! STOP!!"

The sign to "Joe's Christmas Tree Lot" smashed in half as the Renault barreled through the road.

"REI! Christmas...where...what...WHERE IS MY CHRISTMAS??? WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS GOD!! TREES, REI! LOTS OF TREES! STOP!!!"

CRACK

"That may prove an inconvenience in the future, Major. I would recommend that after this, you lodge a formal protest to the Tokyo-3 ministries. Planting such a dense row of pine trees in this vicinity is quite dangerous."

[End Flashback]

Misato's neck cracked mechanically as she turned her head to face the albino. "Will...will you do that Rei? Is that so?"

"Most definitely." Rei cocked her head slightly in confusion. "Is there a problem, Major?"

With a loud clatter, the passenger side door dislocated and crashed to the concrete pavement with a deafening clang.

Rei blinked and commented, "Your Renault has a very interesting exit plan."

"C...Can...can I borrow your phone...Rei?"

***

No matter how much she refused to think about it...her mind refused to let it go. Over and over in her head, the poem...the stupid, idealistic poem echoed until she thought she would go mad.

"So basically, if two people think and be with only each other this entire Christmas Eve, they'll have a fortunate New Year..." Asuka turned over and smothered her incredulous laughter in her pillow. "Who knows...maybe Shinji might be that lucky."

"So are you the same then?" Fishing below her pillow, she withdrew her card and stared at it wordlessly. Reaching for the knife Shinji had left on the table, she slowly placed it along the edge of the seal and asked herself, "Asuka...do you think you might get that lucky?"

Her hands were trembling. Even in the dim light, she could see how her shadow was wavering into small circles. "Why? It...it probably might say the same thing as Shinji's...and its not like it would change anything, Asuka..."

It wouldn't...but still...

"I'm...I'm a coward like this..." Sighing, Asuka set the knife back onto the shelf and looked at the card in her hand. It wasn't that she was stupid enough to think that this was some kind of miracle in disguise...and she wasn't that dense to...to...

Something in her mind though believed it might be.

It would be nice...really nice to know that she was appreciated that much. It would be nice to have someone to think about and be with the entire Christmas Eve. It would be nice not to spend it all alone looking through a pane of glass watching a tired old woman lose her soul to a doll.

And it would be very nice if a blessing on the New Year were waiting for her.

But what would her card say? What if it was different? What if it was another stupid love letter...than what? Asuka said softly, "Shinji...even though it was your card, it doesn't mean it applies just to you, right? I mean..." She looked at her card and continued, "It's OK if I don't want to open mine...so I'll just borrow yours, alright?"

The silence seemed to confirm her response.

Reaching into her bag, she withdrew her cell phone and quickly dialed the number. The phone rang twice before a bleary voice came from across the line. "Hello..."

"Kaji-kun!"

The man laughed shortly and replied, "Asuka-chan...look at the time! Really..."

"I'm sorry Kaji-kun but since its Christmas tomorrow I just HAD to call you!" Even in her own ears, her preppy, hyper, singsong tone sounded strained...it sounded false.

"I feel honored. So how can I help you?"

Asuka gripped the phone nervously as her voice unconsciously dropped a few octaves. "Ano...Kaji-kun...would it be alright with you if we spent Christmas Eve together?"

"Why just me? You can ask Misato, Shinji, Ritsuko, and your friends together to have a party."

"No! That's not what I meant. Can you spend it just with me, Kaji-kun?"

Kaji sighed and said softly, "I'm really sorry Asuka-chan, but I have a lot of work to catch up on. I'm probably swamped this entire week...so...I don't think I can."

"But..." Desperately hanging onto a strand of hope, Asuka rushed forward, "But if you think only of me, and I think only of you, we can have a fortunate New Year together, Kaji-kun! Doesn't that mean anything to you?"

"Eh? Slow down, Asuka-chan! I don't understand a thing you're saying."

Asuka held her breath and said quietly, "Kaji-kun...I've had a lot of lousy Christmases...and I...I really...really...want to spend this one with you. It's really important to me Kaji-kun..."

"I'm sorry Asuka. But if you want, I'll make it up to you some other day..."

Unable to speak for a moment, Asuka slowly nodded and chuckled. "Ah...I understand, Kaji. Gomen for calling you so late...and...I..." Running out of words, she simply hung up the phone and bowed her head.

Lying there, crouched on the bed, Asuka gently felt her cheeks and smiled as she realized they weren't wet. She wasn't crying...and that was a good start. It was as good as anything she could've expected. "Busy? Yeah...he's always busy...except when he has a date with Misato..." She shook her head and laughed. "Always busy...even when all I'm asking is a single damn night...Why don't you just say no instead of making up some excuse?"

She smiled cheekily as she waved her arms into the air and tried laughing. "I mean...it's not like I'm surprised. I mean, it's not like Christmas means a damn thing to me...and it was just a stupid card. No problem at all...I can't change it..."

Then why did it feel like she couldn't breath...and why was the room getting so blurry?

"I'm not going to cry! I don't care at all..."

It was oddly poignant...it was...something...it was...it just was...

Raising her head, her eyes widened as she saw a reflection of herself on the mirror across the room. Her eyes were already swollen and streaks splashed across her face. Shaking her head slowly to deny it, Asuka flinched when a tear splashed onto her hand.

"No...I'm crying? W...Why? God why? It's...not..."

Her reflection stared disbelievingly back at her.

"Why...why can't I stop? No..." Asuka shook her head and gripped her face. "No... please stop. I...I don't want this...stop..."

Bowing her head into her hands, she cried, chest heaving painfully.

"God...am I asking too much? Do I always ask too much? Why? Why can't I ever be happy? Just...just one night...why do you have to be busy? All I want...Damn you Kaji...you jerk!"

Alone...again...Even though you're not the only one crying...

Christmas by yourself doesn't change the fact that you're still by yourself. Leaning against her doorframe, Shinji slid down to the floor and tightly wound his arms around his bent knees as he stared at nothing.

The sounds of her crying slowly subsided. Staying there until her sporadic breathing smoothed into restless sleep, Shinji looked at the card he was holding in his hand.

This Christmas Eve,

Think only of me,

Be only with me...

Wiping the tears out of his own eyes with the collar of his shirt, Shinji gripped the card tightly in his hand as he asked softly. "Really...does it really work like that...?"

***

"Look Misato, I know NERV gives you a nice insurance plan but the way you rack up the fees, we could buy ten times over what's left of Australia!"

"Hai, Ritsuko-san."

"I've told you once, I've told you a THOUSAND times, we don't even need to send the EVAs against the Angels. All we have to do is strap an N2 mine to your Renault and send you barreling across half of Japan. The only problem is that Third Impact might be a bit more cost-efficient!"

"Hai, Ritsuko-san."

"So would you PLEASE....PLEASE...just be more careful driving?"

"Hai, Ritsuko-san." The line clicked dead. Hanging up the phone, Misato groaned, "And there goes my NERV bonus package at the end of the year..." Flopping into the fold up chair, Misato sighed as she looked around her.

Bandages scattered across the floor with trash conveniently everywhere except for in the trash bin. The small kitchen looked like it hadn't been used or dusted in years and yet, the sink was still piled high with chipped and dirty dishes. The bed was crumpled and looked oddly damp, with the bedspread tossed around and badly unkempt.

In other words...

As Rei stepped out of the bathroom, Misato nodded appreciatively. "You keep your room pretty clean for living alone. Reminds me of home."

Rei took a seat on the bed and inquired, "Really? Ikari-kun complains that no one could live in conditions like these."

 "He says that to me all the time. He's just like that; don't worry about it." Tugging at the lapels of her jacket, Misato sighed, "This weather though, is plain murder. Heh..." She smiled nostalgically, "Did you know, Rei...that when I was young, I would do nothing but complain how cold it was?"

"That was pre-Second Impact though wasn't it?"

"Yeah. Now, we're lucky if it ever hits below ninety these days...that's why Christmas trees don't sell as well as they used to. No matter how much you water it, with temperatures like this, they die in an hour." Misato smiled wanly. "Yeah, times have changed."

"Why do you sound so depressed?"

"Do I? It's not that I'm sad...I'm just tired. When I was young, even though our family was never that happy together, Christmas time was always happy. Even if my dad couldn't stay very long, I always loved Christmas Eve. While everyone else would open their presents in the morning, our family always opened presents at night...the night would make the snow so cold and slick...perfect for ice-skating or hockey."

Rei's eyebrow quirked, "It would snow?"

"Oh yeah. Tons of it...sometimes it would snow so badly, we'd be up to five inches of it by morning. It'd get everywhere...tie up the roads, choke the heater...yeah...cause so much trouble for my mom who was already struggling to keep her marriage from falling apart."

"So then you didn't like it?"

Misato smiled. "That's what I'd tell my mom. But secretly, I loved the snow. Even if I got a cold or pneumonia afterwards...when it snowed, dad couldn't leave for his job...so he'd stay home longer. Even though by the end of my parents' marriage, I hated him...I didn't hate him enough to want him to leave."

"I see..."

"It was the prettiest thing to see too...to watch the snow slowly pile along the driveway...always a little at a time. Small flecks of snow building into large piles...and then when it would freeze into ice overnight, when you woke up, sometimes...sometimes it would look like glass. So smooth, you could see your own reflection on it."

"I don't understand." Rei folded her hands into her lap, "Did these things make you...happy?"

Misato laughed. "Maybe they did...it was so long ago. But you've never seen snow, have you Rei?"

Rei shook her head, "No."

"It's been a long time since I've seen it too. It doesn't snow much in Japan anymore... amazing they once had the Winter Games in Nagano."

"When it snowed...was it cold?"

"Yeah."

Rei averted her eyes. "I don't like being cold..."

Misato smiled wistfully. "Yeah...but when it was that cold, everyone would try harder to get warm. Maybe turn on the heater, light a fire...but more often than not, everyone in the family would just bundle up and soak in body heat. So even if the temperature outside hit below zero, no one really felt it at all. That was the best part about the snow... everyone knew it was cold, but no one really felt cold. At least not on Christmas..."

"...How...how would it look?"

Misato smiled as she reached forward and caught a strand of Rei's silky blue hair. Running her hand down, she winked, "When it looked the prettiest, it looked exactly like this..."

Rei watched her with wide eyes.

Cocking her head, Misato groaned as she hard the loud honk of a car outside. "And that is probably Ritsuko, who is probably very pissed off at me." Ruffling Rei's hair, she laughed, "You know, talking to you did make me feel better. Thanks...thanks a lot, Rei..."

Watching her get up and walk towards the door, Rei suddenly called out, "If we can...can we go watch it snow somewhere, Major? I...I think I would like to see it...if what you say is true. It doesn't sound so bad..."

Pausing with her hand on the doorknob, Misato turned around and smiled. "It would be fun. Sure...we'll go watch it snow somewhere. You can come driving with me anytime. We'll go ice-skating alright?"

"H...Hai..."

Watching Misato walk out the door and the clattering of her high heels down the metal catwalk, Rei slowly traced a hand through her hair exactly as the Major had done. Curiously letting the ends twirl around her finger, she held a lock over her eye. It glinted pale blue and burnished silver. Rei whispered, "And it looks exactly like this...when it snows the prettiest..."

It's Christmas tomorrow. Miracles don't really happen in real life...but we don't really know what's real anyway. So just go for it. Believe in that miracle if nothing else.

It's what makes life fun.

So watch it snow...

Or think only of someone...

Or why not do both?

[END PART ONE]

EVANGELION NO FANFICTION WA GRAND NO SPONSOR NO TEKYO DE...OKARISHIMASU!

Hey...what sponsors do I have? Aargh...

[BEGIN PART TWO]

Thinking Only of You or A White Christmas

"Aren't you going to say Merry Christmas or something, Shinji? Come on...you love feeling spirited and all that crap, anyway." Glaring at Shinji, who was disinterestedly watching television, Asuka could feel her stomach knot itself with frustration as her left hand balled into a fist. "Say something dammit!"

"Gomen. Merry Christmas, Asuka."

Dangerously getting to her feet, Asuka walked in front of Shinji and interposed herself between him and the television. She growled, "What did you say?"

"I said Merry Christmas, Asuka." Shinji began edging back against the sofa as he averted his eyes. "It's what you wanted me to say isn't it?"

She slapped him. Hard. Watching it all unfold, Asuka felt the harsh sting of the blow as acutely as if they were connected. But to her, it didn't seem like it was this Asuka that raised her hand and brought it hard across Shinji's cheek. It was something else...something that was making her do all this.

Unable to resist, Asuka snarled, "Like hell, Shinji!"

Shinji clutched his cheek and slowly looked back up at her. "Gomen..."

"Is that all you have to freaking say?" Asuka felt something in her heart begin to crack. This...this was wrong. She was forcing Shinji to accept her responsibility...her pain...

Fighting despair, she screamed into his face, "Is that all you ever CAN say? Why do you say sorry when you can't do a damn thing to help? You weak, spineless...." All he did was look away...he didn't even flinch once. Damn, why was her vision getting blurry?

"God...damn...damn you!"

Watching her tremble in front of him with locks of red hair hiding her eyes, Shinji uneasily stammered, "Why...why are you like this, Asuka?"

"BECAUSE IT WAS YOUR FAULT!" Unable to control herself, Asuka grabbed the lapels of Shinji's shirt and pulled him to his feet. "Damn you, Shinji! Dammit! It was your fault!"

Choking, Shinji struggled as he pushed Asuka away. Stumbling back two steps, he gasped for air as he gently held his throat. "What's gotten into you? I don't even know what I did!"

Rage, blinding rage mixed far too well with sorrow, enveloped Asuka's senses. Lunging forward, she cocked her fist back and Shinji barely missed her punch to his face. Desperately trying to land a blow, Asuka screamed, "I asked him, you IDIOT! I did what your damn card said!"

Shinji's eyes widened. "Asuka..."

Her fist grazed his chin as he hastily backed away, and Asuka blindly swung forward again. She was crying...she could see clear drops of her tears spray across her eyes as she threw herself forward. "Why did you have to make me believe?! IDIOT! Why do I always have to cry? I HATE CRYING! I HATE IT!"

Her left hand managed to finally catch Shinji right on the shoulder. Unable to check her swing she lurched forward and toppled over, landing hard onto his chest as Shinji slammed against the wall.

Gasping for breath as the wind in his abdomen was forcibly knocked out, Shinji stared dazedly at the ceiling for a moment. His chest stung painfully along with his spine. Still in shock, he vaguely felt the front of his shirt grow damp as Asuka weakly clutched onto the collar of his shirt.

"I hate it...dammit..." Half crouched on top of Shinji, feeling all her rage and anger slowly implode on herself, Asuka whimpered softly, "It's all your fault...dammit... Shinji, you idiot..."

It was as if someone had taken her back ten years in her life and suddenly she was that little girl staring at that pane of glass, crying all by herself. The dull knife pressed harder against her heart, causing it to ache painfully as she weakly pounded his chest. "Damn you...damn you...I always have to cry alone...damn you..."

"No, you don't..." Raising her head, her heart skipped a beat as she saw a rivulet of tears course from Shinji's cheeks and splash onto the floor below.

Slowly, ever so slowly, he rested his forehead on her right shoulder and whispered, "I know...Asuka...I'm sorry...it's all I can say...I'm so...so sorry..." He sniffled, "Look what you made me do."

It was almost painfully poignant...watching through her own watery eyes, she looked down at the small boy who was crying onto her shoulder. Crying for her pain...with her. Why would he cry? He could be happy...he could...could...

Feeling a fresh wave of tears flush through her eyes, Asuka succumbed to the tide and accepted his feelings. Closing her eyes, she rested her chin on his head and let her chest heave all her tears until she couldn't cry anymore.

It felt bad crying by herself...

But it didn't feel any better crying with someone either...

So why was she holding him as tightly as he was holding her?

"You idiot Shinji...you damn idiot..."

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry..."

***

"I asked him, Shinji...I asked Kaji-kun if he would spend Christmas Eve with me. He said no...he said no because I'm not Misato...and I'm not the one he wants to have a fortunate New Year with."

Shinji listened to Asuka dully speak to him across the table. The skin around her eyes was still red and her shoulders were unaccustomedly slumped...but he knew he probably didn't look much better.

Asuka continued as she wiped her eyes with a rough tissue. "I thought that maybe your card would work for me too...but it doesn't. Nothing works. Kaji didn't want to spend Christmas with me...and I won't have a fortunate New Year."

"It was probably all a lie." Shinji scoff died on his lips as Asuka shook her head.

"No...it makes sense. Having someone think only of you...being only with you...it would make you happy if you could return that someone's feelings. It would make you very happy. But..." She smiled bitterly, "Here I am on Christmas, crying my heart out again. I'm a coward Shinji...I'm a weak coward."

"That's my line." Shinji reached into his pocket and withdrew the two by five inch card, still in its red, green, and gold filigreed envelope. "I should get rid of this...all it's caused is pain."

Asuka shot a glare at him. "Are you stupid or just retarded?"

"Eh?"

Getting to her feet, she slammed a hand onto the table. "You really are a damn idiot Shinji! What?" Snarling at his shocked expression, she retorted, "Is it bad enough that you made me break down in front of you? What else do you want from me Shinji? Do you need to rub my misery in my face in order to make you happy?"

"I don't understand, Asuka..."

"Of course you don't understand Shinji you fuckin idiot! You have to play the Hero Boy don't you? Have to make sure everyone always feels pity for you! At least you always have the chance!" Asuka pointed to the card, "Someone gives you a real chance to be happy and you're going to blow it! Aren't you Shinji! Just so you can be the damn martyr!"

"It isn't like that, Asuka! What do you want from me?"

"I DON'T KNOW!" Asuka screamed, suddenly cutting him off and silencing the room. She whispered, "I don't know what...but...dammit...even if I am a damn bitch Shinji, don't rub it in my face. Even if I'm selfish, don't be the one that makes me see it every time..." She smiled wanly and looked at him. "Like last time...accept me for who I am, Shinji. When you cried with me...be selfish with me. Be a bitch with me...just don't always try so hard."

"I don't understand."

Reaching across the table and closing Shinji's fingers around the envelope, Asuka whispered, "It was a mistake for me to ever try to take your card from you. I paid the consequence...but someone wrote it for you...which means someone wants to be happy with you. Don't let that girl down or I'll never forgive you."

Shinji averted his eyes. "That's not what I think it is..." He glanced at her before lowering his eyes, "I don't think you understand my feelings...Asuka..."

"It's Christmas. Isn't it the time of the year to open up the heart and all that crap?" Asuka sat down and buried her head in her arms. "I can't be happy, Shinji...I can never be part of this Christmas thing...because I am who I am. That's why we're alike, Shinji...I probably already blew my chance at happiness."

I couldn't open my card...I couldn't risk it...and now...now its too late. Now...I don't have anything left except to cry. At least...for the first time...I didn't have to cry alone...Shinji.

It's better at least...a lot better than nothing.

***

Rei uncomfortably compressed her plug suit, the annoyingly clingy fabric especially hot against her skin. It was odd...Ikari-kun and Pilot Sohryuu had yet to show up and the EVA tests would begin soon. Dr. Akagi was especially displeased when they showed up late.

She shook her head. It didn't concern her...all that mattered was that she performed her best so that...

So that...

She could save people she didn't want to be connected to...and so the Commander would do...what? Smile at her? Nod at her?

She had had these thoughts before and they were easy to shake off. It was so easy to slip on the mask of not caring and stare impartially at the other person until they would leave her alone. Sometimes it worked too well on the people she didn't want to leave her alone.

Contrary to what others thought of her...she didn't like being alone. But others left her... and when they left her, she didn't find it necessary to care too much. But she had enjoyed being with the Major and hearing her talk about something as foreign and as mundane as ice falling from the sky. It had moved her...somewhat. It had sounded so real.

More real than the fact the she was a fourteen-year-old child trying to save the world.

Sliding her book bag and school uniform into the locker, she wondered briefly why she had brought these things into the GeoFront. There was no school to attend...it was Christmas...whatever that meant. But no matter how she felt about it, Rei could sense it everywhere. Walking through the streets of Tokyo-3, it shone as tinsel, decorations, and people crowding around the area each day.

She supposed they were celebrating. They were alive...wasn't that enough?

How ironic...

Pilot Sohryuu didn't see it like that. She didn't know what Ikari-kun thought. She didn't even know what she thought...

But she learned something the night before. Something that she preferred much more than those views...

Major Katsurugi saw it like that. Christmas was something special to her. Being with other people...and living with other people was more than enough. In some ways, Rei had to agree. Even if she was connected to people she didn't want to connect to, like the Major had hated her father, she still wanted to be with them...like the Major had wanted to be with her father. They remained important to her.

When Misato had spoken to her of memories and of recollections. Rei had wanted to see for herself. Maybe not experience all those feelings the Major had described of...she doubted she could ever understand those feelings...but at the least, Rei wanted to see snow. Misato had said it looked like her hair when it was the most beautiful. She wanted to see that beauty.

If it was like that...maybe the cold wasn't so bad.

Walking out of the lockers, she stopped in surprise as she saw Misato leaning against the wall, looking at her with a small smile playing on her lips. Uncertain how to react, she froze and stared back. They stared at each other for the longest while.

Breaking the silence, Misato slowly looked down the hallway towards the EVA pens. "Are you ready, Rei?"

It was both relieving and disappointing. Falling back into routine, Rei nodded stiffly as she fought the uncomfortable emptiness in her heart. "I am ready for my tests, Katsurugi-san." It was just that...wasn't it...?

Rei had hoped there might be something more.

"Soka...but that wasn't what I meant..." Misato shook her head. "Remember what we talked about yesterday? I've been thinking, Rei...do you still want to see it?"

"It..." Rei slowly pronounced the word as if she was daring to believe.

"Yeah..." Misato smiled. "You still want to see it snow, Rei?"

"Why?" There was no reason she had to act this way towards her. It didn't benefit her. Either way Rei would still be Pilot-00. It didn't make sense. Clearing her throat, Rei slowly asked, "What would be the reason?"

"Because its Christmas, Rei. Christmas is special."

It was exactly what she thought of the Major. Unlike so many others, this woman was sincere. The Commander might call her naïve...but so? It didn't make her wrong. Rei blinked uncertainly. "Is that what they mean by...a Christmas Gift?"

"Almost Rei. Almost..."

"I don't have anything to offer in return though..."

"That's ok. I've been wanting to see it snow for a long time too, Rei." She winked. "We'll count it as a present for both of us, OK?"

And Rei wanted to be sincere in return too.

"Really...Then you don't need to wait so long." Rei put a hand on her heart and nodded. "I want to see it snow...Katsurugi-san."

"I hoped that's what you would say." Misato grinned. "We still have a chance for a White Christmas, Rei. Be ready for it."

Rei nodded and clasped her hands together. "It would be much more preferable than this damn heat..."

Misato's eyes bugged out.

Rei replied innocently, "As you would say...sir..."

Grabbing her by the shoulder and pulling her against her waist, Misato half dragged her towards the pens. "You are so typical, Rei. You don't learn anything good I teach, you just pick up all my bad habits."

"I do try, Major."

***

"So today's Christmas Shinji...does it feel any different?"

Shinji shook his head as he preceded Asuka down the hill. "No...not really." He looked at his watch, "We better hurry. Ayanami's probably already in the middle of her test now. Ritsuko won't be happy."

Asuka did nothing to alter her pace, slowly and deliberately placing one foot before the other, firmly aware that Shinji was forcing himself to match her speed. Ignoring his last comment, she smiled. "But it really is miserable weather...if you look around. I almost feel sick just thinking of climbing into my sweaty, smelly plug suit and playing around in LCL for four hours."

"We got used to it."

"Yeah...we really did." Asuka slowly angled her head backwards and asked drolly, "Hey Shinji...what if I said that we play hooky on Ritsuko?"

"..." Shinji averted his eyes.

"C'mon Shinji. All NERV personnel are guaranteed a week off for holiday leave. Aren't we NERV personnel?"

"It's different, Asuka...we're different from them." Shinji shook his head weakly. "Besides, we told Misato we would show up."

Stuffing her hands into her pockets, Asuka suddenly stopped and turned around. "Fine, then let's try this from a different angle." She solidly planted her feet against the pavement. "I'm refusing to move from this spot, Shinji. What are you going to do about it?"

"Why are you being so difficult today?" Not especially disturbed or surprised by her actions, Shinji dug his hands deeper into his pockets, "Is it just fun for you?"

Asuka grinned wryly. "I don't know...might be the time of month. Might be just because I really want to know what you might do." She sighed, "You could try pushing me...in which case I'll probably scream rape and you'd get into tons of trouble."

"I could walk around you."

"You could..." Asuka shrugged, "But I'd just pull you back. I'm a strong woman, Shinji..." Her eyes narrowed, "EVA pilot or no, you don't have enough physical strength to square down with me."

A small smile played on Shinji's lips and he bowed his head. "Ah, you're right there."

Asuka smiled back. "So what are you going to do?"

Sighing, Shinji bent down against the curb and gingerly sat down on the pavement. "I'll probably sit here until you get bored of tormenting me and decide you don't have enough time to waste on a perverted, no-account, baka like me." Shinji turned on his cell phone and tossed it to Asuka. "Here. When Misato calls to rant at us, you can explain our situation to her. She'd just think the worst of me anyway."

Standing over him, Asuka conceded the point. "Yah, probably that's what would happen. But it's so damn hot, I really just don't want to go EVA piloting today."

"That's something I would never expect would come from your mouth."

"Don't get used to it." Smugly smiling, Asuka sat down next to him on the curb and watched another moving van cross the hill ridge and speed back down. "I'm still the best damn pilot out there. I was born to do it, Shinji."

"Maybe we all were. Either way, I don't have my SDAT with me so do your worst, Asuka Sohryuu Langley." Shinji grimaced, "But now that I think about it, I think I might regret saying that."

"Remind me to slap you over the head sometime..." Her face grew slightly mellower, "So have you given any thought about who gave you that card? If you're lucky, it might be Rei. But, what kind of chance is that? I mean, the doll looked even more clueless than you did. She probably doesn't even know what Christmas is..." She trailed off, "And you're going to tell me you still have not a damn clue right?"

Shinji amiably agreed, "Pretty much..." His face grew serious. "I looked through the envelope and checked the card five times. There's no name on it...so I'm starting to wonder if that person even wanted to meet me at all."

"Well, you have until Christmas Eve to find out." Asuka scoffed, "I wonder sometimes why I even give a shit. I don't know. I don't even understand myself. It's just a Christmas card and we're both carrying over like it's the Gospel." She smiled. "Humans are like that...we need to have hope."

"Why did you ask Kaji-kun anyway?" Shinji suddenly asked. "I mean...why Kaji-kun?"

"Are you kidding?" Genuinely surprised, Asuka looked at him in shock. "Who the hell else was I supposed to ask? Your stooge friends? You've got to be kidding me. Besides the fact that Kaji-kun's ten times the man you are, who else in Tokyo-3 was I supposed to look for?" She secretly added inwardly: And I'll be damned if I want to know what my card would've said...

"I would've said yes."

And the world froze for a heartbeat. Slowly turning her head to look at Shinji, Asuka fixed Shinji with an astonished gaze, "What?"

Unable to return her gaze, Shinji replied softly, "I would've said yes...if you asked me."

Flustered, Asuka turned away and growled, "Some nice girl sent you a card and this is how you thank her? You idiot! What the hell is wrong..."

Shinji coolly responded. "Some anonymous letter popped out of my locker with no identification and no address. Tokyo-3 has around maybe twenty to a hundred thousand residents..." Shinji shook his head. "Even if I wanted to ask her, where would I start, Asuka? It's what I've been trying to tell you...but...I was just thinking...if I had a blessed New Year, I wouldn't mind being with someone...even if it was you."

"Now what is that supposed to mean?" Still swimming through the uncertainty in her mind, Asuka tried to raise her anger front. "Well, you're not exactly the person I want to blow my Christmas with!"

"But who else do we have?" Shinji sighed. "I might as well just say it, Asuka...this year has been pretty bad hasn't it? Even if you're the glorious EVA pilot...even you get tired of all the crap we go through don't you?"

Warily eyeing him, Asuka cautiously answered, "And so what if I said yes?"

"I'm asking you if having a blessed New Year is worth wasting your time with me this Christmas Eve." Shinji reached into his pocket and laid the filigreed card between them. "I would say yes...but I don't know if you would say yes."

Asuka skeptically slid a finger across the card. "Come on Shinji...do you really think you OR even me could think and actually STAND being next to each other for twelve hours? I might not be the easiest girl to get along with, but you don't exactly make things easier on your side."

Shinji nodded his head. "But I wouldn't mind. What do we really have to lose...and I'm tired of it. You asked first if we could play hooky from NERV...so I'll ask you..." He looked at her solemnly, "Want to go play hooky with me?"

"B...Baka!" Stuttering as her emotional walls started to crack, Asuka flushed crimson. "It's like you're asking me on a date or something..."

"Is that a no...?"

"Will you just listen to yourself, Shinji? Will you...it's like..." Flustered, Asuka nervously averted her eyes. "Damn it Shinji...what kind of question is that?"

"It's a question you were willing to ask Kaji-kun. You told me I always had a chance at happiness...so now that the tables get turned, what do you want, Asuka?" Shinji smiled softly. "Besides, I've wanted to ask you for a long time."

Uncertainly counting all the cracks in the pavement as her mind furiously tried to come up with a conclusion, Asuka asked, "Are you serious about this, Shinji? Are you really serious about it?"

"I'm always serious."

"Let me get a few things straight...this is NOT...let me repeat, Shinji, so your perverted mind can catch onto the words coming out of my mouth. THIS IS NOT A DATE!" Asuka continued, "This won't change us in anyway...think of it as convenience. Understand."

"Hai Hai."

"So if you think only of me...and be only with me, Shinji..."

"In return I'll do exactly the same." Shinji beamed. "It's that easy."

"And in return, we'll both have good and fortunate New Years." Slowly enunciating the words, Asuka hesitantly eyes Shinji, "Right?"

"Right."

"Don't get perverted thoughts in your head."

"It wouldn't be the first time."

"F....fi...ne..." Asuka swallowed. "Fine. I'll...I'll do it than..." She turned away to hide her blush. "Alright?"

"Alright, Asuka." Shinji smiled.

Things in life are always unexpected. But hey, its what makes life fun. Take it as far as you can go and maybe, just maybe, happiness isn't that far around the corner.

Asuka smiled back.

No one said it would be easy though...

And then fast-forward a while...

What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? What is the meaning of life behind this?

IDIOT! IDIOT! IDIOT!

Shinji felt uncomfortable...and he could tell that Asuka was feeling the same way. Although were basically shoulder-to-shoulder, they seemed to be taking great pains to prevent tactile contact as much as possible. Hunching over more, Shinji tried his best to keep his eyes on the ground and as FAR AWAY from any possibly compromising situation that could run through his mind.

Tokyo-3...big city or not...was still part of a small world.

They had decided to skirt the GeoFront together and just walk around the park. It had seemed like a good idea...except after the fifth time it got pretty boring. Shinji mentally shrugged as they crossed over the lake again. If it worked, he wasn't one to complain.

Someone didn't seem to think the same way however. "How much time left?" Asuka sighed petulantly.

"You asked five minutes ago."

"I'm tired, hungry, my feet hurt and you can cut me some friggin slack you know, Shinji."

"Ah..." Shinji tried to sound understanding.

"So?"

Sighing, Shinji clicked his cell-phone on and checked the time. "It's 12:45 Asuka."

Groaning, Asuka plopped down on a park bench. "This bites so much! I'm so bored! Why did I ever agree to this stupid deal in the first place? What have I gotten myself into, God?"

"Don't say it like that..."

"Then what do you want me to do, Shinji?" Asuka shot a glare at Shinji. "Somehow, I really don't think walking around in a circle around the park for the entire Christmas Eve is what the card meant." She said sarcastically, "But great thought, Shinji. It must have taken you hours to come up with this idea."

Shinji shrugged helplessly, "I'm just coming up with this as fast as you are...don't expect so much out of me!"

Jabbing a finger into his chest, Asuka snarled, "Then, IDIOT, you should have thought LONGER before you got all eloquent and asked me out! It would have been REALLY nice if you put some thought here, Shinji! You know girls like crap like that right?"

"Gomen..."

"Do you understand?"

Very uncomfortably aware that Asuka was quite literally breathing right down his neck, Shinji also found himself pinned to the back of the light pole that just didn't seem to have been there a few minutes ago. "Yes?"

Asuka suddenly smiled brilliantly and pirouetted on her heel. "Good. So now, I'm going to do a favor and let you take me out to lunch and than dinner."

Completely disoriented, Shinji stammered dumbly, "You will? Gomen...I mean thank you so much! I mean gomen..." It suddenly hit him, "W...wait a minute..."

"I'm a great person aren't I? Come on Shinji, I have just the place I want you to take me out to." Half-dragging him through the park, Asuka ignored his feeble protests. "Trust me, this is more painful for me than it is for you."

"But..."

"Don't be so worried," Asuka softened a bit and smiled at Shinji. "Look, I'm still thinking of you right? So nothing's wrong..."

Shinji blushed, "Hai, but Asuka..."

Her face darkened, "You're doing the same thing right?"

"R...right..."

"I appreciate your sentiments Shinji, but that doesn't mean I'm going to walk around that damn park just to appease your sense of social insecurity." Asuka tugged his arm harder. "Besides, it's Christmas. If I have to spend it miserably again, I will never forgive you even if we do have the greatest New Year. I'm going to be happy whether you're thinking of me or rotting in hell."

"C...can you let go of my arm then? I think you're going to tear it off."

Asuka paused and let go. Turning around to face him, she slowly extended her arm and slid his hand into hers. She smiled weakly and whispered, "There. Is that better?"

Shinji's eyes widened as she felt Asuka squeeze his palm lightly. "What are you doing? I...I thought that..."

Asuka averted her eyes. "I dunno...I just thought that...well...it beats sticking our hands in our pockets and doing our best to ignore each other when I think we should be...I MEAN..." Stumbling over her choice of words, Asuka hastily corrected, "I mean when that damn card of yours says we should be thinking of each other..." She stole a glance at Shinji. "Right?"

Shinji felt the hot blush return to his face. Haltingly nodding, he scratched his head and muttered, "I don't understand..."

Asuka's face fell slightly and her grip loosened. "Really? You don't understand I guess..."

Completely bewildered, Shinji clasped her hand tightly and began walking forward. "I don't understand how in the world you can change temper so quickly. You're not an Angel right?"

"Huh?" The light pressure on her hand knocked Asuka out of her stunned stupor as she realized that he wasn't letting go as she thought he would. This was different...it felt soft...his hand...and reassuring. It felt nice. Asuka stared wordlessly at him. "Idiot..."

Oblivious, Shinji turned his head. "What did you say?"

Asuka smiled and increased her pace to match his. "Never mind." She winked. "Don't be getting any wrong ideas, alright?"

"What?! Did I do something wrong again?"

"No, I just like reminding you. Remember that it's your treat too! I'm going to pick the most expensive restaurant in Tokyo-3."

"I...I'm just fifteen! What do you expect from me?"

Asuka laughed and listened to the sound of her laughter echo in her ears. It had been a long time since she had laughed at Christmas...it wasn't a miracle...yet. That might come later tonight...

But for now, she didn't want it to stop. Grinning widely at Shinji, she watched him complain as she interrupted with an acidic comment, enjoying how his face grew steadily redder with each passing jibe. But he was smiling too, and he was smiling at her...which made all the difference.

Yeah...don't stop now. It's a lot better if we don't stop now. Nodding her head, Asuka tugged a half unwilling, half very willing Shinji around the corner and pulled him away from view.

The tape clicked shut and began rewinding automatically by itself.

Lowering his camcorder from his eyes, Kensuke looked curiously at Touji whose eyes were as big as saucers. "Well...this is unexpected..."

"With SATAN'S woman...?" Touji shook his head. "We gotta save Shinji, Kensuke!"

"And here I thought they might want to stay alone this Christmas."

"YOU'RE KIDDIN'! COME ON!" Grabbing Kensuke's collar, the two stooges followed in hot pursuit.

***

"MERRY CHRISTMAS SEMPAII!"

"Uh...really...?" Something definitely was disturbing Ritsuko's perfect world today.

Maya beamed and twirled in her Santa's helper suit. "I bought it at the sale at the supermarket yesterday. By some coincidence, I met Aoba-san and Hyuga-san there too. We went shopping! Aren't our costumes cute?"

Ah...that was it. Ritsuko sipped her steaming cup of coffee as she tried to keep the skepticism away from her eyes as she glanced at the other two technicians at their command posts. "I...I see...and that would explain why you two are dressed as...leprechauns?"

Hyuga and Shigeru both dully muttered, "For the sixth time today, we're elves."

"I...I see..."

Ignoring them, Maya suddenly scrutinized Ritsuko. "Sempaii, you're not wearing any Christmas colors."

This did not bode well. Fighting the insecure feelings starting to form at the pit of her gut, Ritsuko tried reasoning, "I find it very counterproductive to start my day looking like a figment of a Christmas imagination. Maybe later, Maya."

"But you'd make such a kawaii reindeer, sempaii!"

"I see..." Edging further away on the edge of her seat, Ritsuko chuckled, "Well Maya... maybe...ummm...later?"

Maya was staring at her with those innocent large brown eyes full of Christmas naiveté and hope. Those eyes...THOSE EYES...they bore into her very soul...

There was no other choice.

Succumbing to the inevitable, Ritsuko groaned and muttered, "Well slap a hollowed carcass on my back and call me a reindeer. Where's your costume, Maya?"

"And we can put on a cute red nose too!"

"Don't push your luck."

***

"Well Ritsuko...it's not exactly everyday that I see you looking like a stoned fur coat. You have to cut me some slack." Trying to remain civil and failing utterly, Misato wiped the last of the tears of laughter from her eyes. "Thanks though. I needed a laugh like that."

"A laugh that only took what? Ten minutes?"

"Sorry, sorry!"

"Can we just finish these stupid tests so I can go home and get drunk and FORGET this entire miserable day?"

"Nah...cause today's gonna be special today Ritsuko." Misato leaned on the table and grinned. "Can't you feel it?"

Ritsuko grimaced as she took off her glasses and began wiping them on her lab coat. "All I can feel is this tail digging into my ass. Does that count?" Picking up her cup of java, she grumbled, "And isn't this great? My coffee is freezing. How can it get this cold so......" She stopped dead on and stared wordlessly forward. "Cold?"

Misato smiled.

Slowly getting up, Ritsuko ran a hand over the observation glass in front of the pens and whispered, "What the hell..." Her eyes widened as she rubbed her fingers together. "Frost? Frost in a middle of a heat wave? What the hell is going on here..." Trailing off, she walked towards the thermometer still taped to her desk and held it up to her eyes. "Forty degrees...and falling?"

Ritsuko turned around and stared at Misato. "Ok...I don't think I'm crazy but this is pretty damn close. What are you up to, Operations Director Major Katsurugi?"

The PA suddenly crackled on and Rei's clear voice echoed across the speakers. "Coolant tanks four and five emptied. GeoFront reservoir cleared. First stage complete. Requesting more orders. Over."

Silence was almost palatable. Glaring at Misato, Ritsuko took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, watching her breath condense almost immediately in the air, leaving a small cloud of water vapor behind which turned into ice crystals against the glass. She took off her glasses and slid them across the command table until it came to a stop against Misato's right hand.

"My glasses are fogged and I can see my breath in the air. Now, right before I came down here, the temperature was a hundred degrees. Can you explain to me what, barring an Angel or an act of God, could cause the temperature suddenly drop sixty degrees without me noticing until just now?"

"A miracle, Ritsuko." Misato quirked an eyebrow, "Yeah...I think that's what it would be."

Ritsuko's eyes narrowed. "Really?"

Misato smiled. "Why bar an act of God, Ritsuko? This is Christmas. Hell... anything can happen."

"Let me explain this miracle than." Ritsuko crossed her arms, "I believe we had a cache of liquid oxygen left over after that positron rifle incident at Mount Fuji. Liquid Nitrogen was a bit hard to come by at the time so we used oxy as a secondary coolant. Now I know that you're not stupid to contaminate the entire water reservoir of the GeoFront, that's why you're using the oxygen, but still, you're turning the entire GeoFront into a giant ice cube aren't you?"

"Something like that."

"Explain."

"Isn't it obvious?"

Ritsuko opened her mouth to retort then shut it as she nodded her head. "Never mind...you're right...Well, this is going to stop right now." Walking towards the door, Ritsuko shook her head, "I've heard of some pretty crack brain stuff but come on Misato! How the hell did you think you were going to pull this off?"

"Just luck I guess."

"Luck my ass!" The door slid open and Ritsuko almost fainted.

The entire EVA hanger pens were already half frozen with the EVA-01 and 02 pens completely solidified into ice as freezing oxy coolant splashed over the surface, raising icy tendrils of steam into the air. In the 00 pen, the LCL stasis fluid was being pumped out as water rushed in from what looked like a very shoddily constructed intake valve.

Directing the flow, EVA-00 stood waist deep in the water holding the valve over the pens. Rei's in on this too?

On the sides of the pens, NERV technicians were rolling carts filled with containers suspiciously labeled O(2) and the catwalks crisscrossing the area were filled with men and woman carefully monitoring the progress.

And if it wasn't right before her eyes, Ritsuko would've sworn the cold was starting to affect her eyes. Because right in front of the LCL pump was a blushing Maya Ibuki with a clipboard in one hand and a pen in another. Looking up to meet her sempaii's stunned gaze, she called out, "You do make a kawaii reindeer Ritsuko-san...eto..."

It was a diversion...getting me to wear this stupid costume. I wondered why it was so hard to put on! AND IT WAS MAYA...damn...I took this entire thing hook, line, and sinker.  Ritsuko cleared her throat and replied, "Et tu Maya?"

Maya blushed harder.

Turning around Ritsuko bowed her head in admiration. "Efficient as always, Misato. Correction. You're pumping water from the reservoir directly into the EVA pens, freezing the water with oxy coolant, and, just in case I forgot, TURNING THE EVAS INTO POPSICLES!!" She groaned. "What the hell are you doing, Misato? You know how much trouble we're going to get into? This is delicate equipment we're freezing here! EVA's aren't toys to go through stuff like this."

"It seems to do quite well when Angels conveniently fry, decimate, burn, and nuke them. Think of this as going retro."

"Point taken. However, did you tell everyone here how much trouble they're probably going to be getting themselves in?"

Misato grinned. "I asked every man and woman out there if they were willing. Not one of them protested, Ritsuko. Think about it...I'm sick of the damn heat. It's Christmas and I, for one, would appreciate a white one. No one ever said it had to be a naturally made white one, though. Besides, we couldn't have done this without Rei and her EVA-00. She's the one who lifted the pump from the reservoir and attached most of the intake pipes to the pens. We had to do a direct manual pump because..."

"I am aware of fluid mechanics, Misato."

"Than think really carefully over what that means." Misato patted her shoulder gently. "Come on Ritsuko...even Rei agreed to this. I didn't order her ...doesn't that tell you something?"

Ritsuko bent her head and triggered the microphone on her lab coat. "Rei, is she right?"

A pause and then Rei's soft voice came across clearly over the suddenly very silent EVA pens. "That is affirmative Dr. Akagi. I did this of my own volition."

"I see...really..." Changing tack, Ritsuko stepped onto the catwalk and called out to all the NERV employees in the hanger. "And I suppose all you people are willing to turn NERV into a giant refrigerator right?"

"YEAH!"

"HELL YEAH RITSUKO-SAN!"

"LET IT SNOW BABY!"

"HAI, SEMPAII!"

This is fuckin crazy...ah...man...Ritsuko chuckled weakly as she leaned on the metal railing of the catwalk. She turned towards the smiling purple haired Major who had followed her out and shook her head. "I can't approve of this...give me a break...I want to live to spend my Christmas bonus..."

Misato started singing, "Cause there's no where else to go..."

Following her lead, every person in the pens took up the chorus line and chanted, "LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW, LET IT SNOW..."

Let it snow indeed. The chorus line faded and all eyes were directed towards the reindeer/lab coat dressed scientist who was slowly massaging her temples, deep in thought.

"Dammit...you're insane. All of you." Gendo is going to be so pissed...

Wait a minute...that didn't sound too bad...

As if reading her mind, Misato smiled, "But it'll be a lot of fun doing it. I would say it would be really worth it."

Point much taken.

Ritsuko lifted her head and grinned. "Then what the hell are we waiting for? All I see is ice! If you guys want to make it snow than get ready for some fireworks cause you aren't going to get anywhere without me! We're going to have a damn blizzard in this hellhole before I'm done!"

And the room erupted into cheers.

Enter Research Operations Director Doctor Ritsuko Akagi.

***

"Do you think they miss us back in NERV, Asuka?"

"Come on, it's dull-by-the-book Ritsuko. The most excitement I've ever seen there is Rei blinking twice in a synchronization test. What can they possibly be doing that is anyway interesting?"

"You're right..." Shinji chuckled. "It is Ritsuko after all."

Asuka nodded. "Exactly. The chain-smoking scientist couldn't think of anything fun if it came out of the Magi and bit her in the face."

Somewhere, back in the EVA pens, Ritsuko sneezed thunderously. Looking blearily around the room, she groaned, "Damn cold...I'm going to get my jacket."

Misato shrugged. "Probably someone smack talking you."

"What's the chance of that happening? This isn't an anime you know..."

[END PART TWO]

EVANGELION NO FANFICTION WA GRAND NO SPONSOR NO TEKYO DE... OKARISHIMASU!

I'm sure I sponsor myself...so does that mean I'm thanking myself cause that's pretty...lame...isn't it...

ANYWAY!

[BEGIN PART THREE]

Snowy Christmas Operation or Just Being with You

Asuka stretched her hands out in appreciation. "I always think best when my stomach is full. Ne?"

"It used to be a penny for your thoughts...now it's three thousand two hundred fifty yen." Shinji sighed as he tucked his significantly lighter wallet back into his pocket. "Really... is it just being with you or does inflation really bite along the holiday season?"

"Trust me Shinji, it was worth every yen you spent." Asuka neatly hooked her arm in his and bent his head down to whisper in his ear, "Because if all those thoughts are about you, isn't it lucky?"

"Well...I guess if that's what you always say."

Asuka smiled as she leaned against Shinji's shoulder and chuckled softly. "I say that a lot to you don't I? Teasing you...making fun of you...it's why you don't believe me when I'm being sincere."

"Eh?"

"I don't like telling the truth, Shinji." Asuka smiled at her own revelation. "You must think I'm an awful person. Maybe I am."

"You aren't a good liar though, Asuka."

Asuka's eyes flickered to Shinji's. "Why?"

"I know when you're lying." Shinji smiled. "So you can lie to me all you want...I don't mind much. You're not a horrible person...it's part of who you are. I can accept that of you, Asuka. I do the same thing...I'm not even true to myself."

"But you'll have to." Asuka shook her head. "Be true to me this Christmas Eve Shinji. Think only about me. Stop being that wimpy Shinji I can't stand sometimes."

"Is it that difficult to accept that part of me?"

Asuka said gently, "I've been living with that part of you for six months now. Humor me this night Shinji." She laughed. "Am I telling another lie?"

"No...I don't think so." Shinji shook his head and chuckled. "No, I think you're not telling a lie right now."

"You can read me that well?" Asuka's eyes glimmered slightly as she stared up at him.

"You said it. I have been living with you for six months, Asuka..."

"True. True." Asuka pointed upwards. "Than what would you say if I told you that if you looked up there was a mistletoe right on the ledge above us?"

Shinji's mind completely blanked as he stared right into the blue eyes that reflected his astonished face right back at him. "M...Mistletoe?"

Grinning at his discomfiture, Asuka looked up and nodded as she studied the ledge above. "Yeah...kinda small leaves with maybe two red berries on the stem...I think that's a red and green ribbon wrapping it all together." Drawing a hand around Shinji's neck to keep him from looking up with her, she smiled at him as she drew her face closer to his. "Don't look...just tell me if you think I'm lying right now."

Shinji's mind raced. They were standing here, holding each other right below a low overhanging ceiling. He hadn't taken a good look above to make sure though...but...He swallowed, "You're...you're not teasing me are you, Asuka?"

"You tell me Shinji." Asuka smiled craftily. "But if you take my word on it I'm going to kiss you."

"K...Kiss...me?" This...this was almost too weird...

"Yeah. Except that I'm not bored right now so let me see..." Closing her eyes, Asuka slowly opened them to crescent slits. "You're a bit taller than I am so I'd probably have to go on a tiptoe. You might need to lower your head or I'd pull it down anyways. Should we close our eyes, Shinji? It's what they do in the movies..."

"Really?"

Asuka nodded. "That's what they always do. But tell me if I'm lying or not."

"We...we shouldn't be doing this...Asuka?"

Asuka smiled cutely. "Why not? The card said I had to think only about you this entire Christmas Eve. Right now I'm thinking about kissing you...how it might feel...look... maybe even taste." She brushed her lips against his cheek. "I'm not breaking any rules, Shinji. And if I do kiss you, I won't complain." She backed away slightly and looked into his eyes. "I'll be true to you about it. It'll be a real kiss. I won't hold your nose or anything. It'll be a real...sincere...kiss."

Shinji was blushing deep red...it seemed he was doing that a lot this night. It didn't help that Asuka was a bit too close for comfort. In fact, saying she was draped across him like a tapestry didn't seem that far from some...kind...of....truth...what am I thinking again?

Standing here, watching her...Shinji realized something. Asuka was a very beautiful young woman. Not classically beautiful like Rei...but altogether beautiful just the same. And she was asking him whether he wanted to kiss her or not.

This really had to be Christmas. Dreams ended way before it got this far...

"Ok..."

"Made up your mind?"

Shinji took a deep breath and slid a hand around her waist. "I don't...I don't think you're lying, Asuka. That's what I think..." He smiled weakly. "Am I right?"

Asuka shook her head. "You made your answer." She smiled and leaned forward. "So I don't think you get to back out that easily."

"You're serious? You're absolutely serious?" Shinji asked her completely disbelievingly. As if in response, Asuka drew nearer still and closed her eyes. A soft puff of her breath brushed against his chin made his skin tingle. His voice came out hoarsely as he whispered again through a dry throat. "You can't be serious."

Still with her eyes closed, Asuka moved her other hand around his neck to join with the first one and whispered, "I was right."

"About what?"

"I would have to tiptoe."

This girl...Asuka Sohryuu Langley was going to kiss him. Swallowing nervously, Shinji closed his eyes and leant forward as well. It was strange though...he didn't think he would be trembling so much again. But this time, he was too nervous to breath...too nervous to think actually.

Asuka's right heel slowly left the ground and her head tilted ever so slightly until their lips were millimeters apart.

I'm going to kiss Asuka... I don't believe I'm going to kiss him...

"HOLY FREAKIN SHIT!! THEY'RE GOING TO KISS!"

"If I wasn't recording it...I still wouldn't believe it..."

Breaking away, Shinji and Asuka's eyes both flashed to the right as their eyes widened. Standing in the bushes, a very angry jock was accompanied with a very astonished geek holding a camera at the two.

Irrational fury pulsed through Asuka's veins as her first impulse was to grind her fist so deep into their faces that she could use their jawbone as a bracelet. Those...FREAKING STOOGES! I was going to get KISSED!!

Touji growled and began walking forward. "Shinji, what the hell are you doing?" He pointed at Asuka, "WITH HER? Are you kidding me??"

"Calm down, Touji. I'm sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation for this." Grabbing his arm, Kensuke gasped. "Oh god, they're still holding on to each other."

Looking down, the couple blushed as they realized any denials were compromised by the fact that Asuka's arms were still around Shinji's neck, and Shinji's arms were wrapped around Asuka's waist. Hastily disengaging, the pilots of EVA-01 and 02 found themselves completely speechless as they stared at the ground.

"Hey Shinji! What's going on! Why didn't you tell your best friend?" Touji affected a pained expression on his face as he clasped his heart. "I thought we were buddies man!"

"It's not like..." Looking up, Shinji began to form an answer.

NO! Asuka's breath caught as she saw Shinji's lips move out of the corner of her eye. NO! YOU ONLY GET TO TALK TO ME! Lunging forward she clapped her hand across his mouth, cutting off anything else he was going to say. No...Shinji...think only of me! Me...Her heart raced with apprehension as she stared back at Shinji's shocked blue eyes. "Don't...idiot!"

Touji shrieked, "What are you doing to our friend? You're trying to kill him!"

Shooting the jock a glare volatile enough to liquefy EVA-grade armor, Asuka suddenly spun around on her heel and grasped Shinji's arm in hers. "Let's go, Shinji!"

"Eh!"

Breaking away, Asuka sprinted right past the stunned stooges and raced down the street with Shinji in tow, brutally ignoring the surprised cries of the stooges behind her. Not really knowing where she was going next, all she cared about was the feel of Shinji's arm on hers and the sound of his footsteps in rhythm with her.

They must have looked so strange...a red headed German dragging a Japanese boy all around town...they must look so strange. But Asuka didn't care. She didn't care just as long as this night remained hers...all hers.

She skidded left at the intersection and raced across the pedestrian walk, only partially aware of the angry screeching of hastily applied car brakes behind and in front of her and the cursing that naturally ensued. Sparing a look behind, she breathed a sigh of relief as she saw no one following them. A quick glance saw that they were in the Tokyo-3 pavilion. The night sky had started to fade from burnished red into silky-blackish blue.

"We're almost there...almost." Asuka whispered to herself. The heat was still there and running so hard had brought sheen of sweat over her forehead. "Almost there."

"Asuka! What...what are you doing?" Panting behind her with exertion, Shinji felt his lungs burn in his chest as the iron grip Asuka had on his wrist made his fingers feel slightly numb. "What are we..."

"DON'T!" Spinning around, Asuka put two fingers on his mouth and repeated, "DON'T." Standing there, keeping his mouth shut, Asuka placed a hand over her heart. "Don't talk to anyone but me, Shinji. Not even to your friends. Only me..."

Shinji stared at her wordlessly.

"Because I want a happy New Year...and I want you to think only of me. At least this Christmas." Asuka looked up at him and slid her fingers off his mouth. "So don't forget Shinji. Be a part of my happiness... like I want to be a part of yours. Be true to me like I am with you."

"But they thought we were kissing and they might have gotten the wrong idea..."

Asuka smiled. "Thought? Shinji...I was going to kiss you. Where's the thinking in that?"

"EH!"

"I don't care what they think. Not tonight. Not right here...right now. I couldn't care less what they think. And you shouldn't either Shinji. You shouldn't at all..."

"I know. I know Asuka...you shouldn't be the one always reminding me." Shinji nodded his head. "I shouldn't care what they think because tonight, all I'm thinking about is you."

"So are you?"

Shinji smiled. "All the time."

It was Asuka's turn to blush. "EH!"

"THEY'RE DOWN THERE TOUJI!"

"WHAT! GET THEM!"

Grabbing Asuka's hand, Shinji took the lead and pulled her with him into the crowd. Matching his pace, Asuka stammered, "What do you mean, Shinji?"

"Isn't it obvious? I'm happy...I'm happy that I'm here with you." Shinji squeezed her hand. "These are my feelings. This is the way that I feel."

Pausing just to look at him, Asuka smiled. "Ah. And don't you ever forget them."

"STOP!"

"SHINJI! MATTE!"

***

It was already getting cold. Even within the entry plug of the EVA, Rei could feel the nipping cold bite at her ears and nose. Rei couldn't see a single thing outside. The liquid oxygen had completely fogged all her sensors...she was completely blind to the world.

There was a reason why she didn't like being cold. When it rained, Ikari-kun would share his umbrella with Pilot Sohryuu. She walked home alone. The cold made her feel alone. The cold was like her blood dripping onto her bandages that littered her room.

It was cold now.

She didn't like it...she didn't like this at all. Misato had said it was all right to be cold because no one ever minded.

Was she lying?

Rei shook her head. Best save those thoughts for later. Focusing at her task in hand she watched as the last of the LCL stasis fluid was sucked up through the intake valve.

Consulting her notebook, Ritsuko smiled. "Great! This is just great!" Adjusting her thick woolen jacket firmly around her body, she grimaced, "Getting cold though. Make sure everyone's bundled up."

Misato nodded. "Hai Hai. What about Rei? All she's wearing is a plug suit."

"Don't worry about Rei. These kinds of temperatures won't even dent an EVA. She's probably a hell of a lot warmer than I am." Smugly grinning, Ritsuko reached into her pocket and withdrew a cigarette. "Not too hot now! Finally. I needed you for a long time my dear. Where's my lighter? Let me see... AH DAMMIT ALL!" Reaching into her left pocket, Ritsuko cursed as she realized the lighter fluid had had frozen stiff. "Yeah? Well screw you too, God." She glared gloomily down the catwalk as she tossed the cigarette to the side. "Some things never change…"

"What was that, Ritsuko?"

"Never mind." Ritsuko nodded. "Ok, if I'm correct, you want to make it snow right?"

"Yeah."

"Then you're a complete idiot. You won't get squat out of just freezing all this water here into ice. Sure you might lower the temperature and make things a lot more slippery but by the end all you have is a giant slab of frozen water."

Misato blushed. "Err...didn't think that far ahead..."

"Naturally. That's why I'm Tech Ops and you're Field Ops. Not everyone needs guns and mayhem to get the job done you know." Ritsuko smiled. "So here's what we're going to do. First we'll saturate the area with water vapor by steaming up the LCL stasis fluid left in the pump. It's basically 99% water anyways so we can use that."

"Ok...I think."

"When it's all settled, we'll super pressurize the liquid oxy and spray it out as a mist all over the pens." Ritsuko snapped her fingers. "We'll have an instant temperature drop and all the water vapor should condense into falling ice." She smugly crossed her arms. "Which you simpletons call snow."

"Good plan...but how are we going to super pressurize oxy?"

"Simple." Ritsuko pointed downward at the gurgling machine down in the pens. "With the same pump we're using to suck up all the LCL stasis fluid. All we have to do is modify the intake valve and have it spray across the pens."

"Whoa...wait a minute. That pump isn't built to handle that kind of psi Ritsuko." Misato eyed the scientist skeptically. "Hell, its not even designed to withstand that kind of temperature."

Ritsuko snapped her fingers and winked. "Miracle, Misato. Remember? Trust me...we can pull this off."

Misato quirked an eyebrow. "Did I just hear you say what I thought you said? Are you really Ritsuko? Or a mutilated reindeer with a nicotine problem?"

Ritsuko glared at her. "Yes, you heard the words that came out of my mouth."

"Well, will wonders never cease to amaze me." Grinning Misato toggled the radio. "Ok Rei, here's the plan then. You'll have to move the pump over to point B. We'll have to..."

OPERATION TIME: 55 minutes and counting.

For the fifth time in as many minutes, Ritsuko wiped the fog off her glasses as she observed the pens through the command deck above. "Can you do anything about this steam?"

Maya shook her head. "Negative. Steam rising at expected rate however. 67% of all stasis fluid converted to water vapor. Excess material filtered out as per orders."

Hyuga scanned his console. "The last of the liquid oxy is being gathered next to the pump..." His head tilted as the radio in his ear beeped. "What is it Shigeru? Huh...well find more than! What do you mean we might not have...COME ON AOBA! You can scrounge a guitar in a junkyard! How hard is it to find some frozen air?"

Misato placed an arm on his shoulder. "What's the problem."

Hyuga sighed. "We're running low on oxy. Shigeru's down there in the pens...he says we might not have enough."

Ritsuko shook her head. "No. There's enough. Proceed with operation."

"Yes ma'am."

OPERATION TIME: 5 minutes and counting

"Hey Rei...daijobou?"

Rei slowly nodded as Misato's comforting voice came over the PA. "Yes, Katsurugi-san?"

"We need you in EVA-00 to spray the oxy mist around the pens. Keep it simple though. We don't have enough oxy to go wild so just be sure to keep it even all right?"

"Yes. I see."

"Maya's also computing the stress the pump can take. With the pressure the pump can take and taking in temperature factors, we estimate we have maybe 2 minutes before the pump collapses. Can you do it?"

"I think so."

Misato smiled. "That's good to hear, Rei."

"Ano...Katsurugi-san?"

"Yeah?"

"It's getting cold." Rei paused. "Will it get better?"

"A lot better. I guarantee it Rei. Trust me." Misato watched EVA-00 slowly lumber towards the pump. "I didn't lie when I said snow is AT LEAST as pretty as your hair. Don't worry about it."

"Understood."

Operation Timer Activating...

2:00:00 ONE HUNDRED TWENTY SECONDS

Operation Time Activated.

Maya held a hand up. "Water Vapor saturation complete."

Hyuga held his hand up. "All instruments checking out."

Shigeru held his hand up. "Pressurization complete."

Ritsuko nodded her head. "Operation commence! Timer Activated. 120 seconds and counting." She spoke into the radio, "The Technology Department transfers command to the Operations Department. Misato, its your ball now."

Placing a hand against the pump and receiving the thumbs up from the head mechanic, Misato smiled. "Home run, Ritsuko. Rei, start it!"

With a thrum of electricity the pump activated and EVA-00 grasped the valve and hoisted it above. The motor whirred as the liquid oxygen churned within the intake and rushed through the valve, spraying across the area as a fine mist.

Misato whistled in appreciation as she followed the trail of the mist over the pens, giving everything an almost ethereal look. Bending her head down, she spoke into the radio, "If I had the choice Ritsuko, I'd promote you."

"If I had the choice Misato, I'd promote myself too." Ritsuko sighed, "But hell…all I want is a damn cigarette."

"Underachiever." Misato shivered slightly as she wrapped the purple scarf on her neck tighter. Looking up, she ducked slightly as EVA-00 turned towards the right and began spraying the other two pens. "I think it's working."

Ritsuko shook her head. "We won't be able to tell until all the oxy is sprayed. But don't lose too much hope. That'll have to go when I bill the UN for all the damages we're probably doing."

"You go Ritsuko. Destroying hope for many while preserving it for a few. You make me proud sometimes, you know?"

Maya chirped, "That's not a very healthy statement...Christmas is hopeful for everyone."

Hyuga shook his head. "I think they're being sarcastic. Don't worry too much about it." Rubbing his reddening nose, he sniffled. "90 seconds and counting. All pump equipment is nominal. No problems here…"

Which had to mean only one thing in the slightly distorted EVA universe.

On cue, suddenly a bolt shot out of the intake valve and with a loud clang buried itself against the side of the EVA pens. Inside the command center, stunned silence lingered before simultaneously, all eyes centered on the hapless techie sitting over his console.

"WHAT? I JUST READ WHAT THE COMPUTER SAYS!"

"What does it take to get some decent help these days?" Ritsuko rubbed her forehead. "Status report?"

Maya grimaced, "I don't know...Aoba-san report!"

Aoba's voice crackled over the PA with the sound of cracking in the background. "Kuso! We're losing pressure in the tank and the valve is cracking apart."

Hyuga swiftly added, "65 seconds on timer..."

Down by the pump, Misato pointed at Shigeru. "Is it going to hold? Is the valve going to hold?"

"I don't think so! In fact..." Two more bolts ruptured from the valve as mechanics ducked for cover. "I think we're already losing oxy!"

Ritsuko sighed. "Well, this isn't good...Rei, cut flow. We'll take it from the top again."

"Negative." Rei shook her head inside the entry plug as she focused to keep her hands from shaking.

"What?"

"She's right, Ritsuko." Misato chuckled. "This is a hit or miss thing we got ourselves into here. I'm not backing out. Go for it, Rei!"

Maya shouted, "Oxygen pressurization rapidly decreasing!"

Hyuga muttered, "45 seconds..."

Then the crack on the valve splintered and with a groan, began breaking in half. Misato's eyes widened as liquid oxygen began spraying out of the distended crack. "Shimata..."

Ritsuko sighed, "And so much for miracles." Decisively, she closed her manila folder and turned around from the observation window.

It shouldn't end like this... Rei shook her head. It shouldn't end like this...

IT WON'T!

Lunging forward, 00's right hand caught the rapidly breaking valve and clamped over the crack. The freezing cold bit at her hand through the EVA neural feedback system, and Rei bit back a scream, gripping her right wrist tightly as she hunched over.

Hearing her muffled screams over the radio, Misato spoke gently, "Rei...Rei. Ignore the cold..."

"I can't. I hate the cold."

"Ignore it. Listen to me. I'm here right with you. Rei..." Misato urgently spoke into the radio. "Listen to me! Listen to my voice!"

"It hurts. I can't feel my hand..." Rei numbly stared at her hand, her eyes quivering with her pupils completely dilated in pain. "Katsurugi-san..."

Misato's voice softened. "Rei?"

"H...Hai?"

"We're going to go ice-skating. You and I...we're going to go ice-skating after this just like I promised."

Hyuga yelled, "10 more seconds..."

"Promise?"

"Yeah."

"Why...why did you make that promise?"

"Cause. You were the only person out there that thought like me. You and me Rei...we're alike. We both want to see a miracle...I envy you though." Misato smiled. "You're the one who can make it come true. Thank you."

OPERATION TIMER: 0:00:00

OPERATION COMPLETE 

"Katsurugi-san?"

"Eh?"

"Merry...Christmas." Rei breathed softly. "Is it enough? Did I do it right?"

"More than enough Rei. Far more than just enough."

***

Misato vaulted over the railing as she sprinted towards the ejected entry plug by the third hanger. Breathing hard, she came to a stop as the plug hissed open and the LCL drained out. Slowly, Rei gripped the side of the plug and hoisted herself over, unsteadily standing on the metallic catwalk.

Her left hand gripped the numb right one tightly at the wrist as she squinted her eyes and looked uncertainly at the frozen pens. Ignoring the towel handed to her, she stumbled two steps forward and gazed upwards. The foggy air made it difficult to see anything and the liquid oxy mist in the air probably chaffed at her skin.

Rei whispered, "It's cold...still..."

Smiling, Misato unwrapped her purple scarf and walked up to the albino girl. "Ah. It still is..." Looping the fabric around Rei's neck, Misato slowly tied the scarf into a loose knot and brushed her hair tenderly. "That's why you should bundle up...and stay close to me."

Nuzzling the warm fabric, Rei nodded, "I see."

Enfolding the small girl into a hug, Misato whispered, "And so can I. Thank you."

"Can we go ice-skating now?"

Misato smiled. "Soon...real soon."

Rei closed her eyes and rested her head against Misato's shoulder. "That's good. That's very good..."

"AHH!!! KIREI! LOOK AT THAT!"

"IT WORKED! LOOK!"

Startled exclamations alerted the two as they looked up. Slowly, but there...small flashes of white were reflected off the lights, drifting towards the ground. Small flecks of icy white that rained over the pens and settling into piles over the catwalk and ground.

"IT'S SNOWING!"

"YATTA! RACE YOU!"

Looking up, Misato held up a hand and neatly caught a piece of ice that fluttered onto her palm. Lowering it down to Rei, it sparkled iridescently for an instant before dissolving away.

Blinking, Rei looked up at her. "It's gone..."

"Don't worry." Misato looked up at the billowing cloud of snow that was raining for above. Smiling, she tilted Rei's chin up. "There's a lot more." Together, they watched the snowdrift all around them, turning the pens frosty white. Small snowflakes joining with other ones and settling onto the ground, grouping into small piles that quickly turned into large ones. Like watching a world through a pane of glass. "A whole lot more."

Misato looked down at the girl holding on to her. "I was right wasn't I?"

"Ah." Running a hand through her hair, Rei smiled and nodded her head. "Thank you...Misato-san."

***

"I think we lost them...great friends you have, Shinji." Asuka sucked in breath as her heart threatened to pound its way out of her chest. "Just keep them to yourself and away from me."

Leaning on the redhead, probably as hard as she was leaning on him, Shinji shook his head. "Maybe you do have a point. What time is it?"

"8...8:30. They've been chasing us for two hours. What is wrong with them?"

"They probably did get tired though..." Slowly peeking around the corner to scan the area, Shinji heaved a sigh of relief. "I don't see Touji or Kensuke anywhere."

"With all that screaming those two idiots make, how do they have enough breath to run? It goes against any laws of physics I learned in college!"

"Maybe they did get tired."

"Maybe they did, maybe they didn't...God, I'm running from stooges," Asuka groaned, "I feel so tarnished." Getting up, she dragged Shinji to his feet and proceeded into the crowd. "Anyway, I need to go to the bathroom."

Adjusting his slightly crooked collar, Shinji warily looked around. "We might get caught again though..."

"And then we'll do what we've been doing every time that happens. We'll run." Asuka shook her head sarcastically. "Come on, Shinji. There's probably a thousand people here and they have a lot more things to worry about than us." She sighed. "They always have more things to worry about."

Shinji agreed. "EVA pilots or not, we're still part of a big world. It's not that hard to be alone."

"No. It's not at all."

They walked together down the packed sidewalk of the pavilion in silence. Shinji held her shoulder to prevent Asuka from getting lost in the crowd as Asuka unconsciously pushed herself against him to tether herself.

"Hey Asuka..."

"Hm? Nani?"

"Ano..." Shinji blushed as he rubbed the back of his head. "This is so embarrassing...how do I ask this?"

Intrigued, Asuka quirked her eyebrow and looked at him. "What?"

"Were you..." Flustered, Shinji looked away. "Never mind. It's a stupid question anyway."

"No. Really." Placing a hand against his chest to stop him, Asuka asked, "Go ahead."

"You're going to laugh at me though..."

"Yeah? So?" Confused, Asuka asked, "Don't I laugh at you all the time anyway? You should be used to it by now."

"Err...you don't have to put it that way."

"Just ASK!"

"OK." Shinji swallowed. "Were you lying?"

"Lying? About what?"

Shinji stammered, "About...about the mistletoe. Back there. When we were about to...ummm...yeah...were you lying about that?"

"Mistletoe...OH!" Asuka smiled as she chuckled softly, "Don't tell me such a small thing is STILL bothering you."

"It wasn't that small though..."

Asuka pointed at his chest. "If you say I was lying, I was lying. If you say I was telling the truth, I was telling the truth. It was all up to you anyway."

Shinji replied weakly, "But...were you?"

"Maybe."

"MAYBE??! WHAT KIND OF ANSWER IS THAT?"

Asuka grinned broadly. "A fun answer. A really fun answer. Did you really expect me to let you off that easily?"

Bowing his head, Shinji grimaced. "It is you Asuka...really. What was I thinking?"

Looking forward, Asuka resumed her pace as she smiled softly. "But really though, it probably wouldn't have mattered."

"What wouldn't have mattered?"

"The mistletoe. It probably wouldn't have mattered if it was up there or not."

"Doesn't matter..." Shinji's eyes widened. "Then you would've...kissed me...anyway?"

"You're the one who said it. Not me." Asuka blushed as she averted her eyes. "If you say that's the truth, then it's the truth. If you're lying, then it's false. That's the way it's always been. No one can really change how you think if you're already set into it." Asuka sniffed. "Stubborn jerk."

Shinji mulled over her words in silence, slowly digesting the impact as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

Blushing hard, Asuka turned around and smacked him across the head. "BAKA! YOU'RE THINKING TOO MUCH!"

"Since when was that a crime, Asuka?!"

"I know you! You perverted, eechi, moral-less creep! You're going to deliberately come up with exactly the wrong idea! I can't stand you! Stop thinking so much!"

"S...STOP THAT, ASUKA! OK! OK! I'll stop! I'll stop!"

"And where's that damn bathroom?!"

***

"Really...that Shinji is such a pervert. He's Shinji. Doesn't he know he doesn't get to think for himself?" Asuka sighed as she looked into the bathroom mirror. The girl reflected on the glass with the red hair and LCL electrolytes clipped on shook her head as well in agreement. "What have I gotten myself into?"

But she was smiling. The girl in the mirror was happy.

She was happy.

"Yeah, I know. I know we're happy...but don't tell Shinji. It's our secret. We do have a reputation to keep after all." She looked at the clock on the wall. "10:00...heh...and in two hours, we can do our best to forget all the bad things that happened today."

Who was she kidding? She didn't want to forget today...this was the first Christmas ever that someone had ever stayed with her. Had ever sacrificed everything else just to be next to her. True, she hadn't planned that that person be Shinji, but...it fit. It fit like a well-worn glove.

Asuka blushed and lightly slapped herself across the cheek. "Oh come off it, Asuka. Christmas is just Christmas. Nothing too special. Nothing too much." She sighed and combed her hair with her fingers. "And it would serve me just right if the card was lying and I had the most miserable New Year ever!"

But...actually...to be truly honest...to be very honest with herself, how bad could it really be. She had this memory...that in itself was half the blessing.

A sharp nudge pushed her none too gently to the side as a girl rushed past her. Grimacing, Asuka bit out to herself, "Everyone's always in a hurry this time of..." And whatever she said died on her mouth.

The girl was crying. She leaned hard on the sink with both hands, tears streaming from her eyes and sobs racking her small frame. Her hair was a nice burnished black and her skin was smooth and pale and she would have been very pretty if tears hadn't run the mascara down her cheeks. She was maybe two or three years older than her...but the tears completely ruining her makeup made her look ten years older.

At least.

Doubling over in pain, the girl's fist pounded against the polished granite counter before she crumpled to her. "Damn him...damn him to hell! He left me! He didn't even call...that bastard! CHIKUSO!"

Asuka averted her eyes to keep from prying.

"He probably likes someone else! SOMEONE ELSE! IT'S ALWAYS SOMEONE ELSE! It's...CHIKUSO! CHIKUSO!" Raising her head slightly, the girl sniffled. "My feelings...aren't they important? AREN'T THEY? He rejected me! Even after I said...even after I told him that...that...I loved..." Breaking into another bout of tears, her weeping filled the room as outside, the sounds of laughing people could be heard.

Laughing...happy people...

It was like watching ten years of her life flip past...watching this girl. Watching this girl cry in front of a pane of glass.

Reaching into her pocket, Asuka numbly felt a small envelope yet to be opened that she had kept besides her this entire night. Pulling it out, it was crumpled and tired. But it was her card. The product of her neglect and fear. It hit her, someone out there...someone out there had given this to her.

And Shinji's card...

Yes. A girl, maybe much like this one in front of her, had given a card to Shinji. It was a product of that girl's feelings. Her precious feelings that Asuka knew all too well were far too difficult to express.

Asuka whispered to herself as she gazed at the filigreed envelope in front of her, "Shinji's card...wasn't for me. It wasn't for me...what am I? What have I done?"

The card in her hand asked the same question.

Slowly walking up to the girl still lying on the counter, Asuka reached across and lightly placed an arm on the girl's shoulder. Flinching, the girl reared back as if stung, staring up at her with eyes shining with sadness. She gazed up at Asuka for a second, before her face crumpled and she threw herself into Asuka's arms, burying her head into the red fabric. "DOUSHITE? DOUSHITE!? What did I do? I...I don't know!"

I don't know either...I don't know anything at all anymore. Asuka closed her eyes and held on tightly to the girl as she shook her head. "It wasn't for me. Shinji...I'm so sorry. I'm so...so sorry. It wasn't for me at all. What have I done? What have I done?"

This happiness...it shouldn't have been mine. It wasn't mine at all.

Somewhere...somewhere out there...is someone whose happiness I have stolen.

What do you do? What can you do?

***

"She's been in there for a long time." Shinji mused to himself absentmindedly as he sat on the bench in front of the bathroom entrance. A couple other guys were there too.

Yah...it was much nicer to spend it with someone you wanted to be with. Shinji smiled. Much nicer.

Asuka slowly stumbled out of the bathrooms, her hair matted over her blue eyes. It was oddly disconcerting and there was a wet mark on her red sweatshirt. Getting up, Shinji walked towards her worriedly. "Asuka, are you all..."

Freezing, Asuka tensed up and yelled at the top of her lungs. "DON'T GET NEAR ME!"

Stopped in his tracks, Shinji looked at her in confusion. "What?"

"Don't come near me Shinji...don't..."

Slowly inching forward, Shinji asked quietly, "Why? I don't understand? Did I do something wrong again?"

"No..." Asuka vehemently shook her head. "You didn't do anything wrong Shinji. Nothing! I was so happy being with you...I was happy for the first time on a Christmas Eve."

"Than why?"

"Because." Asuka looked at him desperately, "I don't deserve to be happy. This isn't my happiness. THIS ISN'T MINE!" Her voice trailed off. "You aren't mine."

"What are you talking about Asuka?"

"That card...that card you got, Shinji."

Shinji nodded his head. "I know! I'm still following it. I've been thinking of no one else besides you. This entire Christmas Eve...I swear it."

"THAT'S NOT THE POINT!" Asuka felt her hands clenching into fists. "Someone Shinji...someone wrote it for you. Someone wanted you to think only of her."

"..." Shinji gazed wordlessly at Asuka who seemed dangerously close to crying herself. Swallowing he asked, "What are you trying to say?"

"IT WASN'T ME! IT WASN'T ME, SHINJI!"

"But..."

"I didn't write you that card. I didn't even think about asking you to spend Christmas with me. I asked Kaji! I asked someone else! I don't deserve being here with you! I don't deserve any happiness! I DESERVE TO BE CRYING ALONE AGAIN!"

Shinji shook his head and took another step forward. "No, you of all people deserve to be happy, Asuka." He swallowed. "I asked you to spend Christmas with me. It's my fault...not yours." Slowly he placed an arm on her shoulder. "And I'm happy it was you. Only you."

Asuka could feel his words twist her resolve into rationalizations of why she should stay, and why it was all right, and of every reason why she could be happy. But through it all, in her mind, she could see that girl crying on the counter and that small red-headed girl crying for her mommy ring through her head.

"I made her cry, Shinji. That person out there...If she's crying, it's my fault. I hate crying...and I hate crying alone. But it's my fault." She looked at him. "That makes me the bad person. That makes me wrong...I hate that even more."

"But I told you it's not your fault. It's mine..." He held her softly with both arms. "It's mine..."

"THAT DOESN'T MAKE IT RIGHT! LET ME GO, SHINJI!"

"No." Shinji shook his head. "There's a reason why I asked only you Asuka. There's a reason I've been thinking about no one else this entire night except for you."

Asuka weakly struggled in his grasp. "But it wasn't supposed to be me...it wasn't me."

"But it was. That's all that's important to me right here."

"NO!" Pushing him away with all her strength, Asuka reached around with her left hand and slapped him hard. Feeling his lip split from the force, Shinji stumbled over his own feet and fell hard to the ground. His shocked gaze was mirrored by Asuka's stunned façade as she looked at her arm disbelievingly. Turning back to meet Shinji, she took a step towards him and reached out hesitantly. "It's...it's not..."

Unable to finish her sentence, she shook her head and suddenly broke into a sprint as she ran away.

Staring after her, unable to react, Shinji winced as a pair of arms pulled him to his feet. "WHAT ARE YOU AN IDIOT! WHY THE HELL ARE YOU JUST SITTING HERE!"

Stunned, Shinji turned around and found himself face-to-face with an irate Touji. Noticing his shock, the boy grimaced.

"GO AFTER HER IDIOT!"

Shinji stared at his friend for a moment before nodding his head and running after the redhead who rapidly disappeared into the crowd. Shaking his head, the jock muttered, "Really...who would have thought?"

Smiling, Hikari came up from behind him and slid her hand into his. "Mmmm...but it's so romantic isn't it?"

Touji sniffed and crossed his arms. "I've been chasing those two this entire day and when they're finally alone, the demon has to break it apart. Well, it's none of my problem now. I've done my part. And it's not like I did it for her sake..."

Hikari leaned up and kissed him lightly on the cheek. "Of course not. That's what I like about you after all. Merry Christmas."

***

"Right foot slides Rei. Right foot! Right...no! You're other right!"

Slipping on the ice and dumping them both into an inglorious pile, Rei rubbed her head as she winced. "Major Katsurugi...somehow I don't think it's me who doesn't know her right from left."

"Don't get cocky with me kid. I can't even see straight." Dazedly pulling the albino to her feet, Misato gently eased her right skate from the crease in the ice and whimpered, "That hurt."

"Maybe you need someone else to teach you to ice-skate Rei." Grinning at them, Ritsuko slid up to the two and slowly came to a stop. "It's what you get when you ask a woman who can't even drive to teach you how to skate."

"IBUKI CUTS TO THE LEFT, DEKES OUT AOBA, CUTS ACROSS THE FOLD! SHOOTS...GOAL!!! DID YOU SEE THAT! SHE JUST HUMILIATED THE OPPOSITION! THERE WAS NO CONTEST! I STILL THINK HYUGA'S TRYING TO CALL OUT FOR HIS MOMMY AFTER GETTING WIPED OUT AT THE BLUE ZONE!"

"s...shut up..."

Misato winced. "He's gonna feel that in the morning."

The EVA-01 pen had been converted into a makeshift hockey rink while skaters like Rei and Misato populated the frozen 02 pen. On the side, playing with the freshly fallen snow, little NERV-men popped out of the ice, some suspiciously looking like the Commander with an icicle through his head.

And judging from the demonic howling, it looked like Maya was still celebrating her victory.

Rei nodded her head. "I believe so..." Slipping, she barely grabbed onto Misato just in time before falling onto the ice again. Wobbling weakly on her ice skates, she blinked. "But somehow, this is much more difficult to do than it looks."

Ritsuko scoffed, "It's simple."

Looking at her skeptically, Misato laughed. "Then let's see you do it Wonder Woman."

Glancing at her, Ritsuko suddenly launched herself from standstill and began breaking towards the center of the rink. Pivoting her left heel she jumped and pirouetted in the air three times before landing on her right foot and extending her left perpendicular to the surface as she spun around in a circle on the ice, holding her hands above her hands until slowly, she came to a stop and affected a pose.

"Triple Loop into a Double Toe." Rei nodded. "I've seen some Olympic skaters on the television do that."

Noticing what remained of Misato's ego shattered across the ice, Ritsuko leisurely skated towards the purple-haired woman and shrugged. "Physics makes it easy. What can I say?"

"You...YOU..." Screeching, Misato stomped away. "I give up! Screw you! In fact..." Bending down to the side of the pen, she scooped a handful of snow and rolled it into a ball in her hands. "SNOWFIGHT!!!!" Quickly aiming at the lab coat scientist, Misato tossed the projectile with all her might.

Like an ignited fuse, suddenly the entire pens erupted into pandemonium as balls of ice hurled through the air, some hitting their targets, most of them not. A spectator would latter comment that she swore that there were definite sweatdrops on the EVA's brow. 

No one believed her of course. This isn't an anime.

Sighing, Rei shook her head and softly skated across the rink murmuring to herself, "Right foot slide...left foot slide...bend knee slightly..."

"FOR THE HONOR OF THE RESEARCH DIVISION! FEEL ICY JUSTICE KNAVE!"

"ET TU MAYA!!! AGAIN!!"

"GOMEN SEMPAII!"

***

Asuka knew she had probably lost Shinji already. He had tried calling after her but she had held her hands over her ears so she wouldn't listen. She probably had knocked a lot of people out of her way and she had run so fast...her chest hurt. Yeah. Probably.

It would explain why her heart was beating so fast.

It would explain a lot of things...

It would. But it didn't.

She couldn't stay here forever...and sooner than later, she would have to face Shinji. Slumping on the side of the building, she covered her eyes at the thought. The worst part was that she knew how he would act...knew it so precisely. He would barely glance at her before turning away...acting as if nothing had happened.

Because to him...because of her...nothing had happened. They would continue living. Nothing could change that. Nothing would change if nothing would start.

People...lots of people walked past her. Some dressed lightly in the warm night, others wearing jackets. There weren't many people alone though. Women holding on to their boyfriend's hands as they dragged the oftentimes-unwilling men through the streets. Others were blushing self-consciously next to their mates as they slowly walked by. The ones who were alone however, simply watched.

Asuka wondered how many people were looking at her and Shinji while they were together.

God...even know...even when she had ruined everything, she was still thinking about him.

The pavilion square was still packed even though it was nearing 11:30 at night. Some Christmas Carolers were strolling across, singing for a cup of tea, or change, or something so ridiculously foolish like that. Asuka had to smile. At least they were listening to their hearts. She had been listening to a card and she couldn't even do that right.

The speakers positioned all across the pavilion square softly blared music. The sound made her light-headed and dizzy...it made her think too much. She wanted to just walk up to Shinji, grab his hand, and drag him away from all this hoopla just so she could listen to the sound of her voice and his complaining. She wanted to.

She wanted to be with him. She wanted to have a Happy Christmas...with him. But he wasn't hers. He was someone else's.

At the center of the pavilion, a crowd was drawing, gathering people together. Absentmindedly watching the masses drift towards the square, Asuka wondered if she should just leave.

The music stopped and static crackled over the speakers as someone began speaking slowly.

"I don't understand Christmas at all. It's confusing and it sends all the wrong messages. I never liked it at all..."

Good-natured boos rained from the crowd as the Christmas carolers begin striking up another tune. Wouldn't they shut up? Sighing, Asuka muttered under her breath, "But this year, everything went right and everyone's happy. Doesn't it work like that?"

She listened.

"I spent this entire Christmas thinking about this special girl that I like..."

Asuka's eyes widened. Turning around, she slowly began walking towards the center of the pavilion square.

"And I have a confession to make. I haven't stopped thinking about her. Not for a second. We fight...in fact we fight a lot. And somehow, I think she misunderstood something I said, and she ran away. I'm such an idiot...I should've ran after her, but I let myself lose her."

It was impossible. This was too good to be true...it had to be. Disbelievingly, Asuka slowly nudged through the crowd, ignoring the looks she received, making her way through.

"I got this card from someone else, and that girl I liked got really upset. I probably made her cry. But these are my feelings. " He took a deep breath before continuing. "I like that girl...I still like that girl. I haven't stopped thinking about her this entire night. I'm selfish. I am. And to that person who gave me that card, I'm sorry, but I still want to stay with that girl. I...I want to have a happy Christmas Eve with only her." He sighed. "I want to have a happy Christmas Eve with you...so come back."

Is that what Shinji feels? Why? What have I ever done for him? Shaking her head, Asuka nudged a body to the side and made her way to the front of the crowd, her heart in her mouth as she pushed the last body aside. Whispering, she called out softly, "Is that you Shin..."

The sandy-blond haired boy on the stage swallowed and took a breath. "Elaine...come back."

E...Elaine? Asuka looked at the boy for a moment in shock. It had been too good to be true. But...Turning around to hide her tears that were probably going to fall, Asuka didn't notice a figure rushing towards her until it was too late. Someone roughly bumped her from behind in her hurry and, together, they fell into a heap onto the ground.

Barely feeling the pain from the harsh impact, Asuka was still lost in her own thoughts as a tear flowed down her cheek and dripped down her chin. It wasn't Shinji...it wasn't my Shinji...

"You..."

That voice. It sounded so familiar. Opening her eyes, Asuka came face to face with the girl with the green crystal hairclip she had met in the bathroom. Blinking in shock, Asuka stared back at her.

The other girl was not so static. Rushing to her side, she enfolded Asuka in a hug and exclaimed, "Thank you! Thank you so much! Thank you for not leaving me alone there...god I wanted to thank you so much."

"Eh?"

The boy on stage suddenly looked their direction and gasped, "Elaine? Is that you?"

Ecstatically looking up at the boy, a bright smile lit up the girl's face as she looked from him to Asuka. "He...he likes me! I didn't know what to do but you helped me! I thought I was all alone but you were there! I...I don't know what to say."

Asuka looked at her in awe. This girl...this girl was thanking her when she was probably causing another girl to cry. Asuka blinked. It was her...this girl in front of her. This girl chose to be with someone she liked...because that someone wanted her. No one else but her.

She was selfish...like her.

"ELAINE! ELAINE!"

Looking up, the girl uncertainly gripped Asuka's shoulder. "I'm...I'm sorry...I have to go...I..."

Why should a girl like this have to go through so much pain? Why was this girl wrong in being selfish?

Asuka smiled. She wanted to be with Shinji. Wasn't that reason enough? Wasn't it good enough?

It was enough.

Reaching into her pocket, Asuka pulled out the white envelope she had carried like a sore this entire Christmas and slowly placed it in the girl's hand. Bending the girl's fingers over the card, Asuka smiled and whispered, "Go and give that someone you like your own card."

"But...but you..."

Getting to her feet, Asuka shook her head. "I have to go find someone that I like. That special person to me."

"That person?"

Asuka nodded.

Smiling the girl kissed her on the cheek and whispered in her ear, "How could he say no to an Angel like you? Go find him." Giving her a gentle push to start, she waved as Asuka stumbled away, "Go! Merry Christmas!"

Pushing back the crowd that was eagerly watching on, Asuka smiled as she wiped the tears from her eyes and waved back. Not really knowing where to start, but knowing it was out there, she began running away from the crowd of onlookers.

Her heart felt lighter than it ever had, and her body felt lighter without the card weighing down her body. Without her fears and without her tears.

The clock edged towards 11:45.

There's still time for another miracle. It is Christmas after all.

***

"Maybe...maybe I'm trying too hard." Shinji slowly walked down the street, the soles of his feet far too sore to even move. Checking his cell phone watch, he sighed. "Ten minutes until a Merry Christmas Eve comes to an end. Great, just great."

Fate had a sense of humor...albeit a tad on the dry, ironic side. It was almost enough to make him just want to break down and start screaming.

He smiled ironically, "Ah. And to think it sounded so easy from the start. Owww..." His feet complained bitterly with each step he took. Slowly stumbling towards one of the convenient benches scattered throughout the city, the Pilot of EVA-01 collapsed on it.

"I'm too tired to look...I'm just too tired of it all." Shinji cupped his face in his hands and took a deep breath, letting it linger in his lungs before blowing it out in a rush. "Tired of it all..."

It had been a perfect Christmas. It had been.

"Dammit Asuka...dammit all..." He was too winded to cry. "I wanted to spend it with you Asuka. Not with some other girl I don't even know! I've been thinking about you...it seems like everyday since you got here! Isn't that worth one Christmas? ISN'T IT?"

His voice raised and echoed off the still night.

Shinji shook his head. "I don't understand. I don't understand at all..." His hand slid into his shirt pocket and withdrew the card that had fallen from his locker. He had carried it with him the entire Christmas because he had believed in it. What was there to believe now? He was alone...

He was still thinking of her.

Holding it with two fingers, he slowly withdrew the card from the small envelope and let the wind blow the cover away. In a twinkling of filigree, the envelope tumbled down the road and blew away. Ignoring it, Shinji smiled and read from the card.

This Christmas Eve,

Think only of me,

Be only with me,

And allow me to share your pain.

In return, if truly we are the same,

I will be only with you,

Think only of you,

This Christmas Eve.

And together,

If we stay together,

And stay true...

"CHIKUSO! CHIKUSO!" Unable to finish, Shinji slammed a fist into the bench. "It was just a damn card! What the hell was I doing thinking about it? What the hell was I thinking? I should've ripped it up as soon as it fell from my damn locker!"

"But that would make me sad Shinji..."

Shinji's eyes widened.

Asuka looked at Shinji tenderly as she stood slightly to his left, watching him softly. "That would make me very unhappy."

Refusing to meet her gaze, refusing to let himself get duped again, Shinji snarled, "Why the hell would you care? It's not your card anyway!"

"It's not Shinji. But that's all right...that's quite all right."

"You're not making any sense!"

"You asked me to share this Christmas with you. You asked me to stay with you Shinji. You asked me to share that card with you...and I did. I did because I wanted to be with you too Shinji."

"THEN WHY DID YOU LEAVE?" Yelling out the question, Shinji raised his head and glared at her. "If that was what you wanted, why did you leave?"

"If I had stayed I would've kept on thinking it was someone else's. I wouldn't have been honest with you...like I'm going to be with you right now." Asuka asked, "Can I be honest with you? Will you accept the feelings I'm going to tell you?"

"I don't know! What do you want from me Asuka?"

Asuka sighed and took a seat next to him. Folding her legs against her chest, she looked up at the sky. "This was the first time I've ever been happy in Christmas Shinji. I was so happy tonight...so happy. I couldn't tell you how happy I was because I was afraid it might all end. That if I opened my mouth again, everything would come crashing down on me...in a way, I guess I was scared of losing you."

"..."

"I was so happy that I wasn't even thinking about a happy New Year or anything else. I was just thinking about you." Asuka looked at him. "And that scared me too."

"What should I say to that?"

"I want to be the girl who gave you that card Shinji." Asuka placed her hand over his. "I want to be selfish like that...because I like you. I...I'm not good with words. I can't come up with poems." Asuka look flustered to the ground. "I can't tell what's really in my heart but I like you Shinji...and I've been thinking about you this entire Christmas..."

"I was too Asuka." Shinji still didn't meet her gaze as he crouched on the bench, holding the card in his hand. "I was too."

"Don't tear that card Shinji. Keep being with me...even if it's wrong, just stay next to me."

Shinji slowly shook his head. "I can't just do that Asuka..."

"..." Asuka smiled softly. "I understand." Slowly getting to her feet, Shinji's arm caught hers. Stunned, she looked down at him in surprise. "Eh?"

"Because even if I'm next to you or not, I can't stop thinking of you." Shinji clasped her hand tightly. "Never."

"Never?"

"Ah."

Stunned, Asuka asked, "Even when I'm yelling at you?"

"Ah."

"Even when I hit you in front of your friends and call you an idiot?"

"Ah."

Asuka gaped at him. "Why?"

"Because you're that special girl I like. Because you're the special girl I wanted to spend my entire Christmas with...the one I want to have a blessed New Year with." Shinji smiled. "You're the only one I can be completely true to...because I like you."

Asuka's heart skipped a beat.

Sliding the card into her hand, Shinji nodded his head. "These are my feelings. This is the best I can do."

Asuka's face softened as she held onto his hand tightly, looking down at him still sitting on the bench. Holding the card against her chest she shook her head and brushed the tears from her eyes. "Look...look what you made me do...you...you idiot!" She smiled. "I'm...I'm crying! Don't you know I cry every Christmas? Baka...you baka..."

"Gomen Asuka."

"Idiot! You idiot...you damn, sweet, moronic baka...don't you know what that does to me?"

"Gomen."

The LED displayed 12:00:01 AM.

And together,

If we stay together,

And stay true together,

This Christmas Eve,

We will be blessed with the most fortunate New Year.

Merry Christmas.

Don't forget the New Year.

[END PART THREE]

EVANGELION NO FANFICTION WA GRAND NO SPONSOR NO TEKYO DE... OKARISHIMASU!

OK...maybe this wasn't exactly the best intermission quote to put...but they do this for every episode of Inu-yasha.

I'll shut up now and let those of you left read.

[BEGIN EPILOGUE]

Auspicious Beginnings

"Rei...what is non-alcoholic beer doing on the table Misato built in the apartment that Misato built?"

The blue-haired albino glanced at her and shrugged. "I made a list of New Years Resolutions for you Katsurugi-san. I figured that inebriation was one of those small things that might change."

"But..."

"You did tell me that change is good." Arranging the non-alcoholic beer cans on the table, Rei shook her head. "Something's just missing..."

"When did I say that?"

"When you were passed out."

"THAT DOESN'T COUNT!" Misato stomped after Rei who disappeared into the kitchen to grab more snacks. "THINGS I SAY WHEN I'M DRUNK DON'T COUNT! OI! REI! REI!!!"

Jumping onto the couch, Asuka plopped besides Shinji and flicked the TV on. "Really, I don't understand at all why Misato had to bring along Wondergirl."

Shinji shrugged. "Ayanami isn't that bad."

Asuka glared at him darkly. "Now what does that mean?"

"N...nothing..."

Misato slid into the opposite sofa as Rei slowly knelt on the ground in front of the table. "All right...snacks check, soda check, NON-ALCOHOLIC BEER..." She shot a venomous glare at Rei, "Check. All things set up to welcome in the New Year!"

Asuka smiled and squeezed Shinji's hand lightly. "Blessed New Year Hero Boy..."

Shinji blushed. "Yeah."

Misato clapped her hands, "All right! Countdown time! 5 seconds left until the New Year! Everyone count down! FIVE! FOUR! THREE! SHINJI!"

Shinji sighed, "Two...One..."

"HAPPY NEW YEAR!"

"Happy New Year."

The lights all suddenly went dead.

"Happy Ne...uummmph..."

Misato yelled in the darkness. "What the hell! Y2K is way passé!"

Rei grimaced and replied, "Someone must have pulled the plug...Pilot Sohryuu move out of the way please...here."

The lights turned back on.

Sitting ramrod straight, Shinji had the most incredulous expression on his face as he slowly ran a hand over his lips. Glancing at Asuka, the redhead was blushing fiercely as she looked at the ground with a grin plastered on her face. Smoothing out the wrinkles that had mysteriously appeared on his T-Shirt, Shinji stammered in a whisper, "I think this is a good start."

Smiling, Asuka nodded. "Yeah. I think so too."

Have a great New Year all you crazy people.

~Owari~