What Do You Get For the Girl Who Hates Everything?

            She was playful, fun-loving, her heart full of mischief. For young Shinji Ikari, Asuka's behavior was something altogether different, and he liked it. Absent was her ever present case of terminal bitchiness (or as Toji and Kensuke had code-named it, her "TB"). Asuka didn't seem to mind her present state. Shinji didn't either.

            Suddenly, her fingers danced over his stomach, tickling him to the core. A devilish grin spread across her face, and, between laughs, Shinji couldn't help but notice how cute she looked. Struggling, his hands found her hair, and he ran his fingers through it, slipping off her interface headsets and tossing them onto the bed. His hands blazed their way down the length of her hair, somehow managing to keep on track despite Asuka's relentless assault on his belly. At length, he reached his target, his hands slipped under her arms and worked their counter-attack.

            Asuka exploded in a fit of laughter herself, unable to decide between re-doubling her efforts on Shinji or pulling back and using her hands to pry Shinji's away. At length, survival won out, and Asuka withdrew. Sensing this, Shinji indulged himself for another moment, then gave the red-head a reprieve. The two sat on the floor, breathing raggedly, each unable to look away from the other's eyes. Steeling himself, Shinji dove at Asuka, pushing her back against the floor, arms on her shoulders, face inches away from hers. Asuka smiled at him in her innocently naughty way. His hands found their way down her arms . Asuka intercepted them with her own, her fingers parted and before they were aware of it their hands interlocked. "Well," she asked in a coy voice, "what are you going to do now?"

            That was a good question, a good question indeed. What was he going to do? Was this really even happening? Was he really sharing so intimate an experience with *her?* What was he supposed to do now? Was she expecting him to.....to kiss her? Was that what she wanted? Or was she just setting him up for the ultimate tease? Should he trust her? After all of the things she had done to him? Yet........she seemed so vulnerable now......so beautiful........his heart started beating faster and faster. For a moment, he was certain that it was going to rip itself out of his chest in order to beat closer to hers.

            "Well?" Asuka asked him again, in a sweet voice that seemed so incongruous to the Asuka he knew. Shinji stared at her. With resolve, he brought his face still closer to her own, closer, closer, their noses touched. That was when his world turned upside-down.

            It took Shinji a few moments to realize that he was now the one being pressed against the floor. Asuka had somehow rolled them over, despite the fact that each of them was holding the other's hand prisoner. Shinji observed that he didn't mind this one bit. The sounds of heavy breathing continued. He could feel each of her breaths, her chest and stomach pressed against him. This couldn't last forever. Either he had to make a move or run away. Shaking, he attempted to pull Asuka even closer. His thoughts raced back to the night before their final assault on the 7th Angel, when Asuka had flopped down next to him quite unexpectedly, and he had all but kissed her. He could still feel her warm breath from that night on his lips, or was he feeling that same sensation again right now?

            "Idiot." The word was whispered, and then the two of them came together in that classic union which human beings have been practicing for thousands of years. Their lips gently pressed against each other, and, realizing that this was their moment of truth, all pretenses were dropped, they just allowed the kiss to happen, unhindered, unfettered. All the barriers were gone. Their lips parted for a moment, and Shinji found that he was trembling. Shaking, he drew in a deep breath, only to feel Asuka's lips upon his own, again.

            Heat, yes, there was heat. These were, perhaps, some of the best sorts of kisses one can hope to experience. The intimately simple kind, where neither hormones nor emotions have the dominant control. Sweet, addictive, full of life itself.

            However, this did not necessarily make things easy for one Asuka Langley Sohryu. Her slightly overloaded brain was having some serious trouble taking everything in. She realized, that some deep, dark part of her had come to feel something she never thought she could feel for Shinji Ikari, a four-letter word that made her blood shiver............FEAR.

            It was building now. She was genuinely frightened, of everything and nothing all at once. She felt lost, lost within this mysterious kiss that she was too scared to continue and too frightened to break off. Through the haze fogging her mind, she thought she could feel sweat gathering on her forehead. Asuka was unsure if she could find her way back, she wasn't even very sure of anything going on around her at the moment. Would she regret this? Shinji held her a little tighter and rolled them over again, Asuka thought she could dimly hear in the background a phone being knocked off the hook and the familiar beeping sound which accompanied it. Neither one seemed to care. She felt lost to this kiss. She was trying as hard as she could, but  her mind was unable to come up with a good reason why they should stop.

            Shinji was having a similar dilemma himself, but try as he might he couldn't think of a force powerful enough to carry him away from Asuka's lips. Misato could find them at any moment and quite frankly he didn't care. This was comfort, contact, assurance. A promise. He needed a break from the pain, and it no longer mattered to him how unlikely the source was.

            A voice of reason finally asserted itself within Asuka's mind. "Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop! STOP! STOP!!!!!!" She found her eyes opening, gazing at a young boy who was kissing her as though nothing else in the world mattered. With much effort, she wrangled her lips away from Ikari and gently rolled him off of her. Panting, Asuka lay there, staring at the ceiling and breathing heavily, the boy next to her behaving in a similar manner.

            "What.......did you.........stop for?" asked a confused Shinji between breaths.

            "You scared the scheisse out of me!" Asuka took a deep breath.

            "I scared you?!" he asked.

            "Geez, I wasn't expecting you to trap me in a freaking lip-lock!"

            "I'm sorry, I-"

            "Will you just relax?!!"

            "I.....sorry I-"

            Asuka took a deep breath and counted backwards from ten. She couldn't deal with Shinji's apologizing right now, and she couldn't blow up at him for it. Not after what they had just done.

            "Where.....where did you learn?"

            "I don't know, I just, I mean....."

            "Shhhhh." She placed a finger over his mouth.

            "But-"

            "Shut up. Kiss me." she commanded, planting her lips over his once more. "Not so hard this time." she added.

                Shinji did his best to accommodate her. If there was one thing he could understand about any of this, it's that it was both pleasant and confusing at the same time. He consciously kept watch over himself, making sure he wasn't trapping or pushing forcefully on Asuka in any way.

            Asuka relaxed a bit. This was better. She didn't feel as frightened anymore. She still held onto fear, but it no longer held such an intensity. She could now focus on the pleasure she was feeling and push her fear and confusion just far enough away so that they wouldn't overwhelm her. She slowly rolled the both of them over once more so that they were now lying side to side, a sort of compromise. Although a part of Asuka would have preferred to exercise dominion over Shinji, she had thought better of it. This wasn't about control at all. They were sharing something. She wasn't sure exactly what it was, but she thought she liked it, and that was what mattered.

            Shinji felt good. Perhaps things were happening to him quickly as of late, but right now he just felt good. Her lips were too warm, too sweet, too soft to allow the darkness to enter his mind. He found himself no longer caring about anything, he just wanted to continue enjoying this experience. He had no way of knowing how many more similar experiences he would have, and he wanted to hold onto this one. With each passing second, all doubt and confusion became less of a force in his mind. Certainly, they were there, he just chose not to listen to them. Their power was greatly diminished as long as he was in the warmth of Asuka's lips.

            Yet all too soon, he felt Asuka break the intimate connection, now pressing a rapid succession of quick little smooches onto his lips, then turning onto her back to stare at the ceiling once more. "Much better." she said softly.

            "I'm, er, uh......glad you approve." Great, just great. This was the last thing he wanted. Talk. He didn't feel hormone driven, nor a need to return to their kissing activity. But he didn't want to talk. Because if they talked, he was afraid they would have to talk about themselves. There were questions running through the young Ikari boy's mind right now that he wasn't even sure if he wanted answers to. "So, uh, how's your sync ratio doing?"

            Asuka blinked in surprise for a moment. "What kind of question is that? Of course I'm doing better than you and Wondergirl!" she smiled.

            "How's Hikari?"

            "Hikari? Still pining over your idiot friend Toji and dominating everyone with her Class Rep position, I suppose. But....she is a nice person, really."

            "Oh." Was all he could reply. Damn. Shinji was desperate, desperate to talk about something, anything, except what had just happened. He felt the need to leave, yet he knew that he couldn't. To do so would give Asuka the impression that he had just been using her, something that wasn't true in the slightest.

            "Say, Shinji?"

            Oh boy, here it comes. "Yeah?"

            "Do you think that we'll go to heaven?"

            "What?"

            "Heaven. You know, when we're dead?"

            "Ah, I....I don't know."

            "Do you believe in heaven?"

            "I think so."

            "Oh."

            A long, deafening silence passed between the two of them. Finally, Shinji decided he had better escape.

            "It's getting late. I should probably go back to my room and get some sleep."

            "Y-yes. That's a good idea. I should probably go to sleep as well."

            Shinji rose himself up off of the floor. "See you tomorrow?"

            "Yes." She nodded, getting up as well but looking down at the floor.

            The two of them continued to stand there like that for nearly a minute, before Shinji finally decided to speak. "Good. I'll see you in the morning Asuka." He then hurried out of her room and into his own. He was aware that there were now issues that begged to be discussed between them, but he was determined to go one more night without dealing with them.

            As Asuka stood, watching Shinji's door close behind him, she absent-mindedly wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. She sighed inwardly. Oh well. Tomorrow was another day. She could always ask him then......

            Lying down on her bed, she pulled the covers up around her and closed her eyes, but she knew that she wouldn't be getting much sleep this night, not at all....

            Time lost all meaning. He might have been in bed a moment or an hour, his internal clock had long since ceased to function. The boy tried as hard as he could not to think about it, but met with little success. He felt sick, naughty, as though he had just done something terribly wrong. He wouldn't be at all surprised if Misato stormed into his room, all self-righteous, telling him how disgusted and disappointed she was in his behavior. And she would be right.

            It was his fault. He shouldn't have allowed things to get so out of hand. Shinji continued to punish himself with mental smacks to compensate for the lack of physical ones that he hadn't gotten from Asuka. He knew better. Asuka was off-limits, that was a rule he had made for himself the moment he found out that they would be living together on a seemingly permanent basis. Since she usually treated him with a total disregard for his feelings, as though she couldn't care less whether he lived or died, this hadn't been a particularly hard rule to follow. Although a legally blind person could see that she was arguably the most beautiful teenage girl in Tokyo-3, her frigid personality quickly led most boys' ideals of dating her to the chopping block. Who would want to go out with her? She was, to put it bluntly, an out and out bitch. Better to focus your attention on someone else. Perhaps any other girl's looks would pale in comparison to Asuka, but no one, *no one,* could have a worse personality than the "Red-Headed Devil."

                He could forgive himself for falling prey to Asuka's good looks. That was the fate of just about every heterosexual man in the area. But he had allowed things to get too personal. Shinji had no doubt that Asuka was going to want to wring his neck the next morning. Why shouldn't she? Maybe he wasn't entirely to blame, but maybe he was. It was possible that Asuka hadn't felt the need to back away, after all, she could always count on reliable old Shinji to run away. She probably hadn't expected him to kiss her at all.

            "But she kissed me." He heard himself speak. Was that true? Who had kissed who? It had been dark, confusing, frightening, exciting....he remembered that she had rolled them over, she was poised over him at the time they had come together. After that he couldn't really remember much. Shinji rolled over and drew his light blanket over himself. "Asuka, what do you want from me?"

            "Shinji, what do you want from me?" Asuka rolled over for the umpteenth time in her bed, thoroughly frustrated. This sucked. Plain and simple. It sucked. She had lost her careful control she usually exercised and had done something that, although pleasurable, was downright stupid of her. She felt so confused, never had she felt so unsure of herself. This was inconvenient. The last thing she wanted in her life was the complications of a suitor, let alone such a complete and total wimp like Shinji.

            He had saved her life, once. That was the only time she could ever recall being impressed with him. All the respect he had earned from that selfless act quickly evaporated as she noticed how he had let Rei and herself completely control the situation during the blackout. Moreover, she had to get out of his debt. Maybe it wasn't the same, she hadn't really risked her life to save Shinji the way he had risked his, but her actions had to count for something. Besides, taking the defense position had made her feel a lot better about Shinji in the volcano, so that was all that really mattered.

            It had been a lie. Maybe her whole life was one big lie. She didn't care. She couldn't allow these kinds of slip-ups to get in her way. She existed only to defeat Angels, this was her purpose. To prove to the world that she was worth something. Anything else was purely a waste of her time. Was that really true? How many others would suffer for her own safety? How much more would she suffer to remain safe?

            She suppressed the urge to go running into Shinji's room. "One more. Just one more. Does it mean anything? I have to know I have to know! Throwing her blanket off of her and jumping out of bed, she began to pace her cluttered room. "Ow!" she yelled, then quickly clasped a hand over her mouth. She didn't want to wake the whole house up, especially Misato. Containing her anger, she bent over to inspect the object she had stepped on. She was surprised to see her cellular phone beneath her foot, its readout indicated that it had been active for some time now. Apparently it had been a phone being knocked off the hook she had heard during her.....encounter......, but in this case it seemed that it was something that had triggered the call button. "Must have activated it with our weight." she mused, turning the phone off and placing it on her dresser.

            Fear, excitement, and disappointment all competed for chief emotion at the moment. She was afraid of what had happened, but was she afraid that it had been real or scared that it wasn't? She was excited over the prospect of connecting like that again........even with him, yes. There had been something.....something.....something undeniable.....something present....she wanted it again. She was beginning to feel like a naughty school girl. She noticed that she didn't care either, she hadn't felt like this in......had she ever? And the disappointment! The disappointment in herself for not keeping it going, the disappointment in Shinji for not pursuing her, for seeming a bit ambivalent about the whole thing. A part of her wished he would just come marching through her door now and.....

            It was all too dangerous, as though she could feel her control slipping away from her and she no longer cared. She had always been in control, for as long as she could remember. There was something mischievous and naughty about even slightly exposing herself, even to someone like Shinji. Was he all that dangerous to her? He obviously cared about her. It wasn't as though they were in love or anything, not at all. But the idiot actually cared about her even after all she had done to him. "That's his misfortune." She found herself saying, literally sticking her nose into the air. Perhaps it was, but was it also her fortune?

            She didn't want to get overly involved. Even if he wasn't extremely dangerous, she still had to protect herself. At the first sign of betrayal, she would not hesitate to dispose of this young boy.

            He had nice eyes. If he could keep from acting like a stooge, then she would endeavor to look into them more often.....

6 hours later

            That night, Shinji Ikari learned why he had not pursued any of the girls in his class since arriving in Tokyo-3. He had been up an entire night, just thinking, because of a few kisses. Kisses that, mind you, had come from a girl who was resting so close to him he had only open the door and walk across the hall. Most guys had to go across town or something to meet the object of their affections. But for Shinji, his "object" was easily accessible. This bothered him for a moment. Was Asuka really what he could call the object of his affections? He cared about her, that was certain. But he didn't feel as though he had those love kind of feelings, but then he hadn't ever had any before, so how should he know? He was out and out confused, that was for sure. Inwardly, Shinji was certain that he wouldn't feel nearly as torn apart inside if the girl had been any but her. He was afraid to confront her again, and afraid not to. Would he be saving himself a lot of unnecessary pain or robbing himself of something wonderful? He couldn't help but think about how much easier this decision would be if she had a personality that wasn't in the negative integers. His greatest fear of all was that they had both used each other last night, because they had been there and for no other reason. He didn't want that. Better for them to have just fallen prey to hormones than to have used one another. Shinji stood with his hand on his door handle, unable to slide the door open, for fear of what lay on the other side. There was, of course, a hallway, which had several doors coming off of it, including the one to Asuka's room and the bathroom. He wanted to get to the bathroom, a morning shower would do him wonders. However, stepping outside the door ran the risk of interaction with either Asuka or Misato, or possibly even both. Misato was nosy, though. It was likely that she would come to his door looking for him, even if he stayed put. That gave him enough resolve to risk his purple-haired guardian, because there really wasn't much he could do to avoid her. Asuka would want to get into the bathroom, there was no doubt at all about this. If this was going to be a usual morning, then Asuka would basically want him to stay out of her way and make them both lunch. No problems there, he'd be only too grateful to do both. On the other hand, he could open the door and find Asuka standing on the other side, wondering what the hell he had been doing all morning and wanting to talk. And so, Shinji Ikari stood in front of his door, and his door held in front of him, as though offering the boy a challenge.

            But as it turned out, Shinji didn't have to make this decision--it was made for him. "Hey, idiot!" He heard a rapping on his door. Great, just great. The last thing he had expected was for Asuka to be so forward about this that she would come to him. He figured that by now she would probably be grossed out and want to kick his ass because of the way he had touched her. Shinji chose that moment to thank himself for not letting things get too far the previous evening. "Don't make me come in there!" Shinji was having trouble pinpointing whether her voice was mischievous, playful, or angry. Perhaps all of them. Shaking just a little bit, Shinji got a grip on the situation, namely his door handle, and slowly slid it open.

            "Yes?" he asked, fearing the worst.

            "Do you want to go in the bathroom first, or should I?"

            Had Shinji been consuming a beverage of any kind, he would now have been choking on it.

            "Um, are you okay Shinji?"

            Okay? In less than 24 hours the terminally bitchy girl he lived with had seemingly transformed, for absolutely no reason he could see. He wasn't naive or egotistical enough to think it had to do with him. Not really.

            "Shinji you idiot! Are you going into the bathroom first or am I? I don't have time to waste on pathetic little boys like you on a school morning!"

            Whoops, maybe he had spoken too soon.

            "No, er, well, you see, I..........." Shinji tried to start again. "I'm going to fix breakfast and make our lunches. I'll get in after you, this way by the time you're dried and dressed, breakfast will be waiting for you."

            Asuka hmpfed in her usual manner, but neither moved nor really said anything.

            "Um, is that all?"

            "Yes, that's all. Geez, why do you have to be such an idiot all the time?"

            "I'm sorry, I just thought that maybe you wanted........you wanted to talk......."

            "Talk?"

            "About......about last night......."

            Asuka sighed, admitting some sort of defeat. "Look. I'm not unwilling to try something new, if that's what you're getting at, all right? Let's just keep it as it is and move on from there."

            "I.....think I can live with that."

            "Good. Now, let's get two things straight Third Child."

            "What?" The Third Child had absolutely no idea what to expect next from this unpredictable young girl.

            "First, when we're at school, no, strike that. When we are out in public, even in the presence or vicinity as anyone else, don't even think about it. Our usual relationship will stand in these situations. I'd rather not advertise to the whole world that I'm actually even considering playing around with someone like you. Do you understand?"

            "I.....guess so......when I think about it, I don't think I'd want Toji or Kensuke to know about this anyway....."

            "Wunderbar. But there's still that one other thing......."

            "And that would be?" Ikari asked, rolling his eyes.

            Asuka leaned right into Shinji, as the boy bent himself backwards and she continued to follow. Her expression reminded Shinji of a snake about to eat its dinner. "I'm the jealous type, you got it?" she asked, pushing Shinji even farther back. He looked as though he were about to break in two.

            "Y-yes! Crystal clear!"

            "That's that, then." She smiled, planting a very sweet and all too brief kiss on him. Drawing herself upright, she smirked and jabbed the boy with her index finger, just hard enough to knock him onto the ground. Satisfied with her work, she gave an airy sigh and walked off to the bathroom, shutting the door behind her.

            That settled it. He needed to talk to Kaji, immediately. If he could do it sooner, he would appreciate it. Kaji was the only guy who seemed to know the secret of dealing with this girl on a general basis and not looking black and blue all the time. And if he was supposed to become even remotely involved with Pilot Sohryu, he needed someone with all the answers on women, and in a hurry...........

            School had been about as wonderful as could be expected. Nothing to differentiate it much from any other day, except that Rei had actually stopped looking out the window in order to fixate on something different. She turned in her seat to face the cupboards on the opposite side of the room, and had continued staring the rest of the day. None of the students had said anything. They were all too shocked. And, as usual, Rei had said nothing either. And so, they had all just sat there, Rei staring at the wall, the class staring at Rei, the sensei too engrossed in his own lecture to even notice.

            It was now late. Shinji sighed as he let himself into Misato's apartment, removing his shoes and dropping them beside the door. He was tired. The sun had gone down awhile ago. It had been a hard afternoon of doing absolutely nothing worthwhile with the guys, just the thing he had needed. Stretching and letting out a loud yawn, Shinji got a soda out of the fridge for himself. He found a note from Misato on the kitchen table, saying that she was working late and wouldn't get in until around 2 AM. Shinji wandered down the hall to his room, knocking on Asuka's door first to see how she was doing. "Asuka? I'm back. What's going on? Did Misato leave any instructions or anything besides her note?"

            Shinji received no answer, but he could tell from the light flowing underneath the door that Asuka was indeed home. So, Shinji knocked his hand on a wooden plank of the door again. "Asuka? Is something wrong?"

            The door suddenly flew open in front of him, revealing the girl in question. She looked him up and down several times, as though she was trying to memorize his characteristics for a police report.

            "I'm home."

            "Hmpf." was the only response he received. Upset, Shinji reached out to find out what was wrong with Asuka. She pushed his hand away, scowling. "I knew you would do something stupid. It hasn't even been 24 hours yet and you're already treating me like an old hat!"

            "Huh? What the heck is that supposed to mean?"

            "It means that I didn't appreciate you standing me up this afternoon! Or didn't you remember that you had promised to teach me Kanji today?"

            Shinji felt himself slip down an imaginary spiral. Whoops. He had forgotten, and he now felt awful about it. "Asuka, I'm sorry, but..."

            "I don't want to hear it! We have another test tomorrow and I know that I'm going to fail it because I won't be able to read the majority of the questions!"

            "Don't worry! Look, I'll tell Misato that it was my fault. So she shouldn't get too angry over this one.....

            "No, she'll just tell me that Kanji isn't very hard and that since my IQ is so high I should be able to learn it with ease......

            "Well......can't you?"

            "Of course!"

            "Oh."

            "Asuka, I--"

            "I don't want to talk about it right now, Shinji! You just abandoned me today! You proved to me that I can't even depend on you!"

            "But.....I'm sorry.....I--"

            "I don't want to hear your excuses! Just leave me alone right now, all right?!"

            "I--I--Okay." The door slid shut in his face, bumping into the wall and bouncing back just a tad. He could hear angry and sorrowful noises coming from the other side of the door. Tears? No, she wasn't crying. She was.....he couldn't really tell. He thought that he could hear the girl mumbling, and there were other noises that he couldn't quite make out. He felt his heart sink, and the bag in his hand dropped to the floor loudly, the books inside all falling over one another. "But.....it was just an accident. I didn't do it on purpose." He said to the floor. Turning towards his own room, Shinji realized there was nothing that he could do to make it up to Asuka at the moment. Picking up his own bag, he crossed the hall to his room, sliding the door shut behind him.

            "Ouch. Sounds really rough, kid."

            "Tell me about it."

            Shinji had gotten up early that morning to find Kaji down in the GeoFront. It had been convenient enough, because he had wanted to avoid Asuka that morning anyway. Getting Kaji's schedule from Misato hadn't been too difficult, his excuse had just been that Ritsuko had given him something to hand deliver to Kaji personally. When Misato had pressed him why it had been entrusted to a 14 year old boy rather than herself, he had blurted out that it was all a surprise for her.

            Kaji and Shinji were now sitting on a bench in the GeoFront, talking man to man during one of Kaji's all too few periods of downtime. "So what are you planning to do about it?"

            Shinji turned to look at his superior, a look of exasperation on his face. "What do you think I should do?"

            Kaji pursed his lips for a moment, then came up with a response. "First off, I'd like to personally congratulate you for coming as far as you have. I consider you a lucky young man, you know. To even have been able to attract that girl's attentions is a miracle within itself. Unfortunately, you've come just come across one of the oldest conflicts for us men, fun with the boys versus paying attention to your girl. I guess the boys won out, this time."

            "But I told you Kaji, it was an accident!"

            "That may be true, Shinji, but it wasn't from her point of view. She doesn't trust people very easily, you know, much like Katsuragi. And she feels as though you've betrayed whatever trust she put in you, even if it wasn't very much."

            "Well, I....I can't please everybody!"

            "Very true indeed. He who tries to please everyone ends up pleasing no one."

            "So what am I supposed to do to get Asuka to talk to me again? Apologize? She doesn't want to hear that!"

            "When it comes to a headstrong person like Asuka, sometimes words just aren't going to cut it. So you have to prove to her with your actions that you weren't intentionally trying to hurt her. Actions speak louder than words, as they say."

            "With my actions......."

            "Yes. I would try getting her a little something, a gift. Now here's the tricky part. Don't leave any note attached to it, or give it to her personally and say anything. Just leave it in a place you know she'll find it. She'll know it's from you. Then, maybe show her how you want to make it up to her by doing her chores or something....."

            "But...Asuka doesn't have very many chores....I have to do most of the work around Misato's apartment....

            "Well, I'm sure you'll think of something. Shinji, the point to all of this is that you are able to show her that you do care about her and that you want her in your life. You don't have to make her think you want to marry her or anything, but you just have to show that she is important to you. Let her see that you are sad by doing the things you usually do when you feel sad. After all, you're sad that things aren't they way you want them to be between the two of you, right? Is any of that making sense to you?"

            "Well.....yes....I....I don't want Asuka to feel as though I've hurt her....I....don't want to be associated with pain. I'll be honest with you Kaji. I don't know if I'm in love with her. But....I want to help take care of her, since she doesn't seem to take very good care of herself on the inside."

            "Heh. Thanks for the honesty. Look, Shinji, if you treat that girl right, then she'll grudgingly do the same for you. She probably only blew up at you because you were gone all afternoon and evening, and her anger festered. I'm not saying she didn't mean what she said at the time, but I don't believe that your problem is insurmountable. Just be prepared to give it a little time, and when you do make up, tell her that it was just an honest mistake and that you would never intentionally ignore her like that. You understand?"

            "I...I think so. Thanks for all your help."

            "Hey, no problem. You picked a hard target, after all. Takes a lot of balls to try your luck with someone like her. Just remember that men and women are different in so many ways, but at the core we are all fundamentally the same. It's not a contest, or a competition. Be tender with her, but also know when to stand up for yourself. Don't let her think that you're a wimp."

            "I......I won't. Thank you Kaji."

            "Good luck, kid!"

            The two men rose from their bench and headed off in separate directions, when Shinji suddenly turned back towards Kaji. "Hey!"

            Kaji spun around. "Something wrong?"

            "I forgot to tell you. In order to get your schedule out of Misato, I had to tell her that Ritsuko gave me something to give you. As a surprise. So you should probably look into getting Misato a gift and saying it's from the two of you."
            "Err....thanks. But next time, try to find an excuse that's a little lighter on my wallet?!"

            "I promise. See you later, Kaji!"

            "So long, now."

            Turning back towards the road ahead of him, Kaji smiled. "That boy will go far......" And then he was faced with the more difficult problem of figuring out what he was going to get Misato in order to cover up for Shinji.

            Classes that day were not easy on Ikari. The school day had started out relatively normal. Shinji had caught up with Toji and Kensuke as soon as he had arrived, and they had just chatted about the usual. Asuka came in just before the morning bell rang, walking right past the "Three Stooges" without saying a word or even looking at them. Rei was not in attendance that morning, causing Shinji to wonder what she could possibly be doing, and willing to bet his lunch that it had something to do with his father.

            As it almost always happened, the morning history lecture turned into a Second Impact lecture. This frequently occurred with the language and science lectures as well. For awhile, Kensuke had a pool going as to how many minutes it would take for the sensei to get off on a never-ending tangent regarding the Second Impact, but unfortunately the Class Representative had caught wind of it and it met with a swift death. Not that Shinji had been paying much attention to any of it. He was too preoccupied with trying to figure out what exactly he could get for Asuka. They weren't a genuine couple, which left out anything fancy. That was fine by him, he really couldn't afford to go into debt at this point. There was always the oldest gift in the book, flowers. But how was he to know if she would like that? Candy? Again, too classic. He needed something that would at least show he had put some thought and effort into the gift. He remembered Kaji's cardinal rule about never buying a woman clothing, so that was right out.

            That was when it came to him. A book. He was supposed to have gotten together with her to help her with kanji. So why not get her a simple book, one for children, to practice with? It was perfect. Resisting the urge to jump out of his seat at his cleverness, Shinji instead snuck a glance in Rei's direction, only to be reminded that Ayanami was absent that day. He opted instead to risk looking at Asuka, who was sitting straight up in her seat, her eyes glaring towards the front of the room. If she was aware that Ikari was looking at her, she gave no indication of it. Shinji had never seen her looking so serious before, not while in school. *Probably trying to avoid looking at me.* he thought to himself. She had good reason to, after all. Shinji sighed. He had obviously upset her quite a bit. From now on he was going to have to keep a planner, make sure he didn't make the same mistake twice. Assuming that there was going to be a next time. He missed her already, the softness of her hair and the sweetness of her voice that contrasted to her usual tone. A week ago he wouldn't have even been thinking about her in such a manner, it never would have crossed his mind. But were things really that different now? He definitely enjoyed her company, that one night she had made him feel so alive. Even before things had taken this unexpected turn, she had rarely angered him with her constant complaining and insults. He had learned early on that if he was going to be living in close proximity to her, than he would have to just take her as she came. Shinji could have happily thought about Asuka all afternoon, but his thought train was suddenly interrupted by a blinking --Message-- signal on his computer.       

            *Who could have sent me a message?* Shinji took a quick glance around him. Asuka seemed to have not even moved, so he seriously doubted that it was from her. There was no one else sitting in his immediate field of vision that he knew very well, save for Hikari. And it wasn't like the Class Representative to send messages during a lecture. Curious, Shinji decided to see what it was about:

From: Aida Kensuke

To: Ikari Shinji

ARE YOU JUST BROWSING, OR DO YOU SEE SOMETHING YOU LIKE?

            Shinji started, then blushed heavily. Had he really been staring at Asuka that intently? Whoops! Shinji did his best to try and salvage the situation and gave a quick reply.

From: Ikari Shinji

To: Aida Kensuke

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

            Asuka glowered as she faced forward rigidly, not wanting to look at anyone else. She was too angry for that. Stupid Shinji. Stupid Stooges. Stupid teacher and his stupid lecture. She needed an outlet. Some way to let out her frustration. How could she have been so stupid? To think that Shinji could actually be counted on, even for something simple. Maybe it was all that time she had to spend with him since they lived together. Was his softness rubbing off on her? No, she refused to accept that. But she would have to have a discussion with him in the very near future about recent events.

            "You're going to buy her a book?" Kensuke asked.

            "Yeah. I thought since learning kanji was so important and all, I should get her a book for younger readers. Something she can practice with." Replied Shinji.

            "But why would you want to do something for her? She's the enemy!"

            "Because I have to live with her. Would you want to live with Asuka angry at you?"

            "I wouldn't want to live with the Demon period! Of course, on the other hand, there is Misato to consider. . ."

            Shinji rolled his eyes as he and his companion entered the bookstore. This area of the city had seen better days. It didn't retract into the GeoFront, so consequently it had seen its fair share of battle scars, mainly splash damage from explosions. Still, there were people walking around, keeping the small business sector alive, for the time being.

            The local bookstore was really a small hole-in-the-wall kind of shop. Books were a novelty that were slowly going the way of the dinosaurs in their world. In the years immediately following Second Impact, people did not have time to read. Reconstruction and survival were the biggest concerns of the day. Writing a fictional story was not considered the greatest way to contribute to society during those times. Books were something meant for children, or for educational purposes. It was fortunate though, that the book culture hadn't died altogether. As Shinji and Kensuke walked past the shelves, Shinji couldn't help but smirk at the biography section, teeming with people's memoirs of people's post-Second Impact experiences. But memories weren't what Shinji was after. He had already decided the kind of book to buy Asuka. Something familiar and easily recognizable, a story commonly known as Little Red Riding Hood.

            Several versions of the book were available—Shinji chose the simplest and most efficient telling and quickly proceeded to the checkout, Kensuke in tow. As soon as they were back outside, Aida turned questioningly to his friend. "You shop like a real man."

            "What?"

            "You shop like a real man. You know exactly what it is you want and you go right for it. You don't waste any time. You realize you didn't even say anything the whole time we were in there? It was like you were on a mission!"

            Shinji blushed slightly. "Well, I just...I had decided what it was I wanted to get, and I didn't want to start doubting my decision. I've got a good feeling about this."

            "Right." Kensuke agreed. "So. . .you never did get around to telling me how you and the Red Devil got together in the first place."

            Shinji's blush deepened noticeably and he looked away. "Do I. . .have to tell you?"

            "Of you course you do! Inquiring minds want to know, Shinji! Sooner or later you're going to have to explain it to someone!"

            "I. . .well. . .okay." Shinji sighed. "It was just a few nights ago. Misato was working late and Asuka and I were doing are homework in the kitchen. . ."

A Few Nights Ago

            "That's it, I've had it!" Asuka screamed as her history book went flying through the air, colliding with the wall and emitting a satisfyingly loud rapt. Shinji's head followed the trajectory of the textbook as it sailed into the wall. "What the hell are you staring at?" Asuka growled.

            "I'm sorry. I—are you having trouble?"

            Asuka started to laugh uproariously. "Me? Have trouble? You've got to be kidding me! I've got a university degree you idiot! I just don't see the point of having to learn all the intricate details on the history of your country! Hmpf!"

            "Because. . .it's history, Asuka. I've read text on histories from a lot of countries, yours included. It's interesting to see how different the governments and cultures can be. Didn't you take any history courses in college?"

            "A few, but only to fill my requirements. I prefer to live in the present, and let the past be the past. I might have an interest in learning a little more Japanese history, if I could make sense out of the stupid book."

            "So you are having trouble-"

            "Shut up! I don't have to justify myself to you! Is it my fault that your stupid country can't have a normal language like everyone else. Trying to read most of this kanji is like trying to read Braille!"

            "Do you want some help? Maybe. . .maybe I can find a way to help you recognize some of the kanji easier."

            "No I do not want your help, Third Child. I don't need an idiot like you to hold my hand through school!"

            "Okay fine, but you're the one Misato is going to yell at when you come home with another rotten report card."

            Asuka slammed her fists down on the table in frustration. "Alright fine. I'll give you a chance to explain this to me. I guess I don't really have anything to lose."

            Fifteen minutes into the "lesson" found the Children progressing respectively. Once Shinji explained to Asuka that kanji was really a faster way of expressing something, a few of the pieces began to fall into place for her. But she still had a long way to go. A long way. Fortunately, her aptitude was up to the challenge.

            At 9 o'clock Asuka yawned and closed the book. "Enough." She stated. "It's television time. We'll pick this up tomorrow after school, alright?"

            "Sure." Shinji smiled briefly and followed Asuka into the living room. She turned the set on and stretched out on the floor in front of the TV, Shinji opted for a chair and slumped into it.

            The programming seemed to be a standard formulaic show—a group of teenagers in high school trying to juggle the complexities of teenage life while trying to find true love. Shinji supposed it was entertaining enough, Asuka certainly seemed to enjoy it. Then again, it was a program geared towards a female audience, and Asuka was definitely in the targeted demographic.

            "How can you keep track of everyone on this show?" Shinji asked during one of the commercials.

            "Well, I don't do it all myself. My schedule tends to keep me from being able to tune in every week. I swear, Dr. Akagi purposely finds the most inconvenient times to haul us in for sync tests! But I have Hikari tell me what happens on weeks when I'm not around to watch it. Of course, sometimes they don't even air it at all when networks get blacked out because of an Angel attack. Don't you have anything you watch regularly?"

            "Not really. Sometimes I'll watch a game show or something when there's nothing else to do. I've never been much for getting involved with television. I used to live with my teacher, and that meant I had to watch whatever he watched. Most of the time I would just listen to my music in my room. We didn't really have similar tastes."      

            "Oh come on, Shinji, try something new. You're never going to impress a girl if you don't start learning their tastes. Unless of course you really are fixated on Wondergirl."

            Shinji sighed. "It's not like that at all. You wouldn't understand."

            "Then what is it like?"

            "I don't know! I. . .don't know how to explain it, to you or anyone else. It's like she's important to me, but I'm not looking to be her boyfriend. But sometimes when I look at her, I feel like I've always known her. It's weird."

            Asuka sighed. "Nothing about you is normal, Shinji. It scares me, but I think I'm beginning to get used to it."

            "I'm sorry."

            Asuka glowered and threw her pillow at him. "Stop wasting apologies or you won't have a good one when you really need it! Idiot!"

            "I know! I'm—I'm trying." Shinji breathed a sigh of relief that he managed to cover up his reflex."

            "That's a little better."

            "Thank you."

            "So if Wondergirl isn't the target of your affections, then who is?"

            "I don't know, I've never really thought about it. I've never had any girls pay attention to me before I came here. They all like me because I'm an Eva pilot. But. . .I don't want to date someone who only cares about that. I guess that's why I've kind of ignored it all so far."

            "Hikari is the Class Representative. I'll bet I could ask her to find someone suited to you."

            "Wouldn't that be an abuse of her power? She's not a dating service!"

            "I know that! But she knows people, Shinji. Besides, I think she's got a crush on that stooge friend of yours, Suzahara. She asked  me to ask you if you could put in a good word with him on her behalf. She said she'd be willing to return the favor with anyone you want."

            "I-I haven't really thought about it. Hikari and Toji? I don't know, it sounds kind of weird to me. But. . .I guess maybe it could work. I have seen Toji get kind of gushy where his sister is involved, so he can't be all tough guy. I'll. . .see what I can do. I know he's fond of Hikari's cooking. But he also thinks she can be a little bossy sometimes. . ."

            "That's her job! The nerve of that idiot! Hikari has to keep stooges like you three in line! It's a lot of hard work and there's not much reward to it, so he should be grateful for how hard Hikari works to make out classroom the best."

            Shinji sighed. "If people keep moving away, pretty soon it's going to be the only one."

            "Don't I know it. But I guess we really can't blame them. This is our fight, not theirs. We're the only ones with the means to strike back against the Angels. I just wish we could go on the offensive for a change."

            "So what about you?"

            "What about me?"

            "Been seeing anyone since you ditched that Med Student?"

            "You've got to be kidding me! I never dreamed of how many duds there were in this town until word got out that I'm on the "available" list. Like just because I'm not seeing anyone means I owe it to all those loser boys out there to see some of them. Unbelievable!"

            "It's not like we could keep up with a significant other anyways, Asuka. We're too busy with Eva and school. We didn't even get to go away on the class trip. What kind of boyfriend or girlfriend would want to put up with that?"

            "That's true. Besides, who needs the complication? It's just going to make a whole bunch of problems you wouldn't have if you weren't involved in the first place. So there's really no point to any of it. When you stop and think about it, it's pretty amazing that the human race has survived for as long as it has."

            "Then again, look at Misato and Kaji. They both have pretty full plates but they find time for each other."

            "Yeah. . ." Asuka sighed as she thought of her beloved Kaji in the arms of her guardian. Some things just weren't fair, not at all! "Maybe to have any sort of love life, you do have to be involved with someone you work with. . .when you're in our line of work, I mean." Asuka blinked. Shinji blinked back. "Not that I'm suggesting-"

            "No, of course not."

            "I mean the very idea is. . ."

            "Couldn't be done."

            "Out of the question."

            "I still think about it."

            Asuka took a deep breath. "Look, Shinji, I don't. . .I've made enough mistakes in my life already. I don't want any more."

            "Who said anything about a mistake?"

            "Anything that happens here is my choice, not yours."

            "I never said otherwise. It was. . .your idea in the first place."

            "You really want to do this again?"

            Shinji laughed. "Why not, are you scared?"

            "Scared? Ha! I'll show you something! By the time I'm done with you, you won't know what hit you."

            As Shinji looked Asuka over, he noticed something different. She was playful, fun-loving, her heart full of mischief. For young Shinji Ikari, Asuka's behavior was something altogether different, and he liked it. Absent was her ever present case of terminal bitchiness (or as Toji and Kensuke had code-named it, her "TB"). Asuka didn't seem to mind her present state. Shinji didn't either. . .

The Present

            "And that's it?" Kensuke asked.

            "That's it." Shinji responded. "I guess we just wanted to try something different. I'm not even supposed to be telling you any of this! She made me promise not to let anyone know. Especially since it's still kind of on a trial basis. And if I can't fix this bump I created, I'd say the trial is going to end with a guilty verdict for me."

            "And you think this book is going to help fix that, huh? Who's idea was it?"

            "Well, it was Kaji, Misato's boyfriend, who came up with the idea of a gift." The latter part of that sentence was lost on Kensuke.

            "Misato has a boyfriend?! Since when?! Oh man, this is awful! Who is this guy?"

            "You met him before, on Over the Rainbow. There seems to be some kind of long history between them. I think they used to go out years ago but broke up, and now they're getting back together. He's really a great guy. He seems to know a lot about. . .people in general, I guess."

            "I've got to tell Toji about this right away before it's too late and we're completely shut out! Um, good luck with the book and all Shinji. If you live through the experience, I'll see you tomorrow!" With that Kensuke took off like a shot down the street, in search of his usual cohort.

            Shinji sighed and began heading home. "Yeah. Good luck. I'm going to need it."

            Misato was sitting at the kitchen table when Shinji opened the door to the apartment and announced his arrival. "Where were you? Asuka got back over an hour ago?"

            Shinji looked at the clock. 6:30. Too early for Misato to be hitting the booze really hard. No wonder she had noticed. "I, uh, had to stop and pick something up."

            Misato's eyes were drawn to the paper bag Shinji held in one hand. "What is it?"

            Shinji let his backpack fall to the floor and slid the bag onto the table. He had to find a way to tiptoe around the issue—Asuka would kill him if Misato found out they were even slightly involved! "I, uh, well, two days ago I forgot about a study date with Asuka and she got really upset with me. More than she usually does. So I thought about how to make it up for her and decided to buy this book to help her study."

            Misato removed the book from the bag and thumbed through it briefly. "Little Red Riding Hood?"

            "I thought a familiar story would be a good way for her to practice. This was the only version I could find that actually has some kanji in it, though."

            "It is a thoughtful gift. I sure hope that she appreciates it, Shinji."

            "Me too. Is now a good time to, um-"

            "No, you'd better wait until after dinner. Besides, I'm starving, and it's your turn to cook."

            "Right." Shinji sighed as he put his gift back into the bag and set it inside his backpack. "What do I have to work with?"
            "Well, we're out of meat and I can't afford to pick us up anymore until I get paid on Friday, so you'll have to improvise. Again."

            Dinner was about as unsophisticated as it gets that evening. Ramen with vegetables. Shinji took pride that none of it was instant though. He chopped the loose vegetables floating around the fridge himself. The noodles were of course simple, and while they cooked he had time to do the dishes so the three of them had something clean to eat out of. Asuka had made her appearance and looked none the worse for wear after emerging from her room. She didn't even seem very upset with Shinji, at least, no more than usual. A small amount of discussion passed around the table during dinner, most of it about sync test schedules and what nights Misato wouldn't be around because of night shifts. Shinji breathed a sigh of relief that it didn't seem like Misato would be having to go out of town again for awhile. He hadn't been thrilled with the way things had turned out last time.

            Misato did the diplomatic thing and tried to make herself scarce after dinner, calling Kaji up and asking him to meet her for a drink. Not only did it get her out of the Children's way, but it also got her out of doing dishes, or even feeling guilt over dirtying them. As usual, the cleaning was left for Shinji.

            And so it was around 8:30 that Shinji casually walked into the living room and stood next to Asuka, who was in her usual position on the floor, munching on a bowl of snacks and passively watching the television. She let him squirm for thirty seconds or so before acknowledging his presence.

            "What do you want?"

            "I, um, I got something for you." Shinji wince for a moment. Kaji had suggested he leave it somewhere for her to find, but Shinji had decided to not let the situation fester any longer than necessary. It was a calculated risk, but one that he had been willing to take.

            "Like what?"

            Shinji proffered the paper bag out to her. Asuka stared at it for a moment, rolled her eyes upward to meet Shinji's nervous expression, then quickly snatched the bag out of his hand. "This had better be good." The bag went flying to the other side of the room as Asuka removed the object inside. "What's this, a stupid book? I-" Shinji didn't even have time to feel disappointment as Asuka's expression turned from one of annoyance to surprise. "How. . .how did you know?"

            "Know what?"

            "Little Red Riding Hood." This was my favorite fairy tale when I was little. I remember. . .Mama read this book to me."

            Shinji took a deep breath. "I didn't. I just knew how upset you were about my not showing up the other day, so I thought I'd get you something to help in your studies. There's some kanji in here. And since it's a classic story, I figured you would have a good frame of reference."

            "I. . .don't know what to say."

            "You don't have to say anything, Asuka. I'm sorry about the other day. I truly just forgot. I'd never blow you off just to hang out with my friends."

            It was Asuka's turn to breathe deeply. "No. I-I was wrong Shinji."

            "What?"

            "Don't get the wrong idea. I was really angry with you. But. . .I also used it as an excuse to get of. . .you know, us. And now you have to go and do something as. . .as un-jerkish as this!"

            "I'm sorry, I-"

            "Will you just let me apologize for once? I wronged you, okay?"

            "It's alright. Hey, no one ever said we had to get all deep. Can't we just. . .take it really slow? I don't expect you to love me. How about just. . .hating me a little less?" Shinji smirked at his roommate.

            "Maybe I could try to do that. You're not as big an idiot as those friends of yours. You're not completely hopeless."

            "Does this mean you aren't mad at me anymore?"

            "That depends. Are you going to read this with me or not?"

            Shinji smiled and sat down next to her, as Asuka sat up, opened the book, and sat it in her lap.

            It was a start. A beginning. There was no guarantee that it would ever be any better than this, but perhaps neither of them needed it at the moment. The future was always uncertain, tomorrow an unwritten chapter. But the present was theirs to command.

END Author's Notes

            Since this is being submitted for Ryoma's WAFF (Warm And Fuzzy Feeling, for the uninitiated) contest, I'm afraid I can't reveal my identity at the moment. Needless to say though, it was enjoyable to write a fic of this type. There was definitely some OOC( Out-Of-Character)ness, especially on the part of Asuka. I tried to minimize it as much as possible, but the very nature of WAFF in Eva pretty much denotes OOCness as a necessity. The goal at the end was to illustrate that perhaps she jumped down Shinji's throat earlier because she was looking for a way to sabotage any relationship between them before it really got started. I don't know how well it came off in the story, but I was still trying to work within the approximation of the 10,000 mark. Even though Ryoma lifted this restriction, I felt a need to adhere to it because mine is not the only fic in the contest. I want to see the best fic win, regardless of whether or not it is mine. Keeping to a reasonable file size means that more of you are likely to read this (as well as other stories out there). So for better or for worse, here it is.

            If any typos or other errors wormed their way into this presentation, it's because I did not share the story with any pre-readers because it is meant for the contest. Win or lose, a cleaned up version will be submitted to EFO and any other site I choose to display it on after the contest has ended. I'm pretty proud of this story, and I feel it's helped me to grow as an author, even if it may not be the best WAFF out there.

            That said, I hope that you enjoy this, and remember, vote for me!

8/28/02

Revised Author's Notes

            I decided to leave the original notes in there instead of deleting them. As far as I can remember, this story has never seen the light of day outside of that WAFF contest. It came in just one place shy of the top three, and until now, I just didn't feel it was good enough for my readers. But while writing the 11th chapter of RPF, an idea struck me, and it prompted me to go back to this story and just read through it. I couldn't really find anything that I was disappointed in, so I've decided that its failure in the contest was not that the story wasn't good enough, it was just up against insurmountable competition. This fic was an experiment, I think, so I'd appreciate some feedback on it from my fans. No sequel, tie-ins, off-shoots, or side-stories are being planned, mind you—how do you ever expect me to finish RPF if I did that? Nevertheless, like I said, please tell me what you think. As for RPF 11. It's coming. I know, I promised a chapter every month, and I'm about two days away from the end of said month at the time of this writing. Bear with me, February is short. It's coming, in fact, I expect it to be out in a matter of days. Just cut me some slack of it's a day or two late—you'll still get another chapter at the end of March, I promise! To those who have noticed—internal problems forced the Swead Entertainment website to close down awhile back. Fortunately, my work is still archived here, but I haven't decided where to put my main repository as of yet. APV versions of RPF are still being generated, and in the meantime are available only directly from me, but I do hope to find a location for them I'll be happy to call home soon.

Okay, end of the file, ladies and germs. LM will return very soon, I promise!

2/26/03

Lord Malachite