-This story will mostly be based off of the original Anime version of the story, as that's what I'm most familiar with. It takes place post Third-Impact because I couldn't resist taking advantage of the ambiguous nature of said event. Anything you read in the following chapters that doesn't quite match up with canon is just me putting my spin on my own personal vision of Instrumentally and it's aftermath. Hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1

Even from a young age, Shinji Ikari realized his life wasn't exactly what you'd call normal… Having been born post Second Impact was hard enough… His parent's roles on the front-lines of a war aimed at preventing a Third Impact, doomed any shred of hope Shinji had of living long enough to experience this seemingly mythical concept of a normal life. His acceptance of that fact only compounded the reality that was Shinji's life. A life from which he expected nothing good to ever come of, and so he spent most of that life waiting for the worst to happen. Normalcy?... No, being normal was not a luxury Shinji would ever be able to afford, and yet still, the level of bizarre he'd been forced to endure was just plain ridiculous. Sometimes, he liked to run through a few of those instances in his head, just for laughs.

Let's start off with his job that involved fighting otherworldly monsters while locked inside a giant bio-engineered robot… Sure whatever, this was the 21st century. Giant robot and monster movies had been popular even way back when his parents were still in diapers, especially in Japan. Voltron was destined to battle Godzilla over the ruins of what used to be Tokyo one day. It was more a question of 'when' than 'if'. Now, discovering that his mother's soul was trapped inside that behemoth he'd been piloting... That well… Sort of made sense after he analyzed the circumstances behind his mother's sudden death, and combined that knowledge with his seemingly unnatural ability to sync with Unit 01. Still a giant mind fuck, but at least he could wrap his head around that now. His father tossing him aside, ignoring his son's very existence, and Gendo's subsequent treatment of everyone that ever worked under him as if they were as disposable as toilet tissue… Yeah, Shinji could see that. Daddy dearest was a busy man, serving as the head of the most powerful organization in the world, seeing as the fate of said planet lay squarely in the hands of NERV's giant mechanized weapons. Finding out that his father had made certain that his son's life was hellish as possible in hopes that his little boy would grow to hate the world enough that he'd turn every person on the planet into soup? Just so the selfish bastard could live it up in his fantasy happy world with Shinji's Mother as, all the while, fairy's floated around their heads as Bigfoot strummed on his banjo while the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man danced a jig with Fat Elvis… If anyone else but his father had tried that bullshit, it might've surprised Shinji. Temporally becoming a God?… Well, how does one even possibly come to grips with something like that?

Yet, that's exactly the position Shinji Ikari had found himself in. He was given the power to decide the fate of everyone on planet Earth and promptly decided they could all die and burn in hell. Then he changed his mind, giving the human race a second chance, if for any reason just to give his father and the old goat-farts at SEELE a figurative double bird as Instrumentality was reversed. It was shocking really, to see how fast the human race had gotten back on its feet. A part of Shinji had always believed that, if the world ever did end like it did in one of those apocalyptic movies, he'd have given the human race about a week before they were eating each other. Not because they were Zombies either. Rampant cannibalism and the complete collapse of civilization never occurred thankfully. It helped that the world's infrastructure was still largely intact, and those in charge actually rallied behind the greater good for a change, rather than padding their pockets or cementing personal power. Now, nearly two years later, Tokyo 3 stood as the crown jewel of the Post-Third Impact world.

The Angel War was finally over, and appearing more and more distant in humanity's rear-view mirror. NERV still very much existed much to the chagrin of every major country without a strong NERV presence within its borders. China, in particular, called the loudest for NERV to be disbanded or at least majorly downsized now that the threat that the Angles posed was now gone. Neither was going to happen however. Even if the immediate threat of the Angels had been neutralized for the time being, there was still no telling when some other all-powerful being, whether it be God, Adam, Lilith, or Godzilla monster of the month might wake up cranky one morning and decide that the human race needed a good ass-whopping. NERV was a necessary evil, and now with 99% less actual evil seeing as much of the corruption that plagued Gendo Ikari and SEELE's regime had been weeded out. The last thing Earth needed was a Fourth Impact. As for Shinji, he was still very much reluctantly tied to NERV. The organization was squat without their giant toys after all, and Shinji's mother would still only accept her baby boy as the pilot of Unit 01. Thankfully, Shinji didn't really mind being part of NERV these days, not as much as in the past anyway. It sounded outright insane to him to even think this, but NERV was actually starting to feel like the one place on Earth he may sort of belong. Now that the Angels were gone and his duties were relegated to sync tests and training, life at the Geo-Front wasn't half bad… Didn't hurt either, that his bastard of a father was no longer in charge, nor did it hurt that his replacement wasn't trying to use him as kindling for Instrumentality.

That didn't mean everything was going swimmingly for Shinji either… He still lived with Misato, and if he were to answer honestly, there really wasn't anyone else's roof that he'd rather be living under. She adored him and Shinji couldn't have held more respect for her. She still wasn't the ideal guardian, likely never would be. Misato made up this parenting thing as she went, and luckily for her, the two children under her care weren't your typical teenagers. They'd been forced to grow up way too fast, and thus were both remarkably self-sufficient for their ages. What they still needed help with though, Misato did her best to be there for them when the need arose. She had certainly put more effort and interest into Shinji's upbringing than anyone else with the audacity to call themselves his guardian ever had, and she meant the world to him because of that.

As for Shinji's other roommate, well… She was another story entirely. Complicated wasn't a strong enough term to describe their relationship. Webster would likely have to come up with a new word for it. One day they'd get along fine, what passed for fine with them anyway, and the next Asoka was trying to devour his soul because she didn't like the way his eyebrows were trimmed. Of course Shinji was exaggerating, but this love/hate relationship he shared with his fellow pilot was liable to drive him insane where Angels, loneliness, and his bastard of a father had failed.

Okay, so calling their relationship love/hate was an exaggeration in itself. It was more like a barely tolerate/white hot hate relationship. For the life of him, Shinji couldn't understand where all the venom the German girl spewed his way came from. He understood on certain levels, he wasn't as stupid as his grades and that same certain German red-head would lead you to believe. There was a difference between being stupid and just plain not caring. He knew how important Eva was to Asoka, and he knew how jealous she could get towards anyone who threatened her imaginary status as NERV's top pilot. He wasn't trying to be mean or bitter when he thought that way either, but imaginary was exactly what Asuka's self-appointed title was. She was the most highly trained of the pilots, and there was no arguing with that. You could train a horse to run the Kentucky Derby it's entire life, but that horse could still very well finish the race dead last when the big day came. The stats don't lie. Shinji had killed more angels than she had, and by the end of the war, his sync rate was higher. In the end, it was feeble little Shinji Ikari who held the fate of the world in his hands, and ultimately gave mankind a second chance at life… Which may not have even been necessary if he hadn't decided to figuratively murder everyone in the first place… Of course, none of these details impressed Asuka, not that Shinji could really fault her for that. He never considered much of anything he'd done throughout his involvement with NERV or Eva remarkable. In fact, he was quite ashamed of his involvement in this entire war. Within the walls of NERV he was considered a hero, and since the return from Instrumentality, he had essentially become the poster child for everything right within NERV. Shinji wasn't sure if the irony of this made him want to laugh or vomit. He was no hero… Had they forgotten that he just sat around waiting to die as the JSDF descended upon the Geo-Front like a Mongol Horde with high-powered assault weapons, curled up in a near catatonic state a midst the screams and spilling blood of the same people who now called him a hero? Not to mention that he initiated Third Impact, and in doing so, basically told everyone else in the world to go fuck themselves. True that he did change his mind and by doing so opened the door for everyone to return from the LCL hootenanny, but that was beside the point. Doing the right thing at the very end of the story didn't wash away the litany of mistakes and sins he had committed on the road to Instrumentality, literally down to the last second.

So, Shinji turned the other cheek at Asuka's sarcastic and scathing remarks, denouncing the Third Child's supposed triumphs, largely because Shinji agreed with her for the most part. Still, it was quite aggravating to have someone belittle your every accomplishment, like somehow those deeds would have meant more if Asuka had accomplished them herself rather than he. This made no sense to Shinji, not that Asuka's attitude ever really did. He would never say this to Asuka's face, but he decided it was because of this part of her personality that Shinji had eventually proved to be the better pilot. As strange as this sounded to him, Asuka just never seemed to understand that they held the fate of the entire world in their hands, or maybe she just didn't care. When she should've been happy that another Angel was dead and she was still around to live for another day, unless she herself was the one plunging her progressive knife into the Angel's core every single battle, she was near impossible to work with. Shinji was fighting to protect himself and the people he cared about, while Asuka seemed to be fighting to prove to everyone how great she was.

What Shinji failed to understand was that Asuka's entire sense of self-worth was one hundred percent tied to her Eva. That bio-engineered monstrosity that she'd devoted her entire life to piloting and mastering. To be fair, both youths were guilty of never really making an honest attempt to understand one another. Who had time when giant squid monsters were trying to eat your face on a daily basis? If they had bothered to get to know each other, perhaps they'd actually have learned how to get along by now. And perhaps Shinji wouldn't be having this damn infernal dream he'd been having every other night for weeks now.

Shinji is spending what passes for a normal day inside the Katsuragi household, which basically means that he was cooking dinner and cleaning up after his two roommates. Yes, he was doing both at the same time. It was his dream damn it. He could have four arms and fart fucking fire if he damn well pleased. Anyway, seconds into the dream, Asuka comes storming into the apartment looking as pissed off as a badger with a mousetrap dangling from one of its testicles. She hurls her bookcase up against the wall before she starts shouting obscenities in German as she paces up and down the halls, that for some reason, go left and right as well as up and down in this dream. Warily, Shinji voiced his concern.

"Welcome home Asuka… Is everything okay?"

"No, everything is not okay idiot! Nothing is ever okay!"

"Um, sorry…" Shinji backs up a step, as for some reason she was now standing in front of him. "Any particular reason you're upset?"

"Well, I was expelled from school today for starters!"

"Expelled?! But, how did you manage that?"

"Why don't you ask your asshole friend Toji?!" Asuka sneered, as she encroached on Shinji's personal space until they were nose to nose. "That perv decided to grope me during lunch, so I broke every bone in that lecherous monkey's hand! I was simply defending myself, but they took his side and kicked me out of school! Do you have any idea how humiliating that was?!"

"No, but I'm sure…"

"Shut up!" Asuka cut him off by giving his ear a yank. "Not only was I expelled, but I ripped my favorite dress on the walk home, my sync rate is still crap, gnomes stole my panties, and every bit of it is entirely your fault!"

"How is any of that my…" Shinji was silenced as Asuka's bookcase struck him in the face, knocking him down on his butt. Shinji could've sworn he saw Asuka discard that thing earlier.

"I said shut up! You have no right to talk to me! It's entirely your fault, because everything is always your fault! My life was perfect before you walked into it and sent everything to hell!" Shinji crawled backwards on his hands, trying to escape Asuka as she slowly stalked him throughout that impossibly large kitchen. "How can someone as worthless as you… A spineless, selfish little wimp, destroy so many people's lives?! My life! I can't even stand the site of you! No one can! Your own father thought you were worthless and got rid of you! Those two idiots you call friends feel sorry for you and nothing more, and that doll Rei? You think she really cares about you? No, that cheap copy of your mother saw in you the only person she'd ever met that was more pathetic and inept at life than she was! She latched onto you to feel better about herself!"

"Asuka calm down… You're not telling me anything I don't already know…" Shinji received another smack across the face, this time with the palm of her hand. Finally, Shinji found a wall and tried his damnedest to find a crack he could crawl into but found none. It was odd… Asuka seemed to grow larger with each insult… More menacing, like a werewolf at the height of blood lust.

"What are you staring at Idiot?!... You gawking at my tits again?! Don't think I didn't see you undressing me with your eyes!" Shinji opened his mouth to defend himself, but was hushed and shocked when Asuka grabbed his hand and violently smashed it against her breast. "There you go! Grab it, squeeze my supple young chest! You like that don't you Third? You starting to get all tingly down there? Or do I have to be unconscious in order for you to get yourself off?!"

Asuka tossed the stunned boy's hand to the side. Shinji was now completely at her mercy, unable to defend himself, unable to even speak. He cowered there and readied himself to endure whatever torment Asuka had in store for him. In his mind, he deserved it. "I know what you want…" Asuka said suddenly and briefly disappeared into the kitchen Shinji never realized he'd left. She returned holding a large butcher knife. Fearing the worst, Shinji braced himself. This was it, the day all of his sins would come home to roost. He closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable. Instead, he was in for another shock, when Asuka roughly placed the knife handle into his hand. Shinji stared at the knife and then up at his fellow pilot with the unasked question brimming in his eyes.

"Use it! My jugular's right here, it'll be quick and easy for you… Why are you looking at me like that?! You want me dead don't you? To snuff out my life so I can stop being such a burden on yours?! To rid yourself of the only person who dares tell you the truth about yourself?! Well, have at it! I won't resist! I won't fight you off like I did the Eva Series while you stood by and watched me die… Well, finish what they started Shinji… Put me out of our misery!"

Shinji did nothing but sit there looking completely stunned. The knife slowly slid out of his hand and clanged as it hit the floor. Angrily, Asuka forced Shinji to stand up. She grabbed him by the wrists and forced his hands against her throat. "You prefer it this way right? It's much more personal when you choke the life out of someone… You tried this before, so here's your chance to finish the job! Choke me damn you, do it!"

Shinji did nothing of the sort, staring into her blue eyes. The rage was fading, filling with a sorrow that brought a steady flow of tears down her face. Shinji failed to grasp their meaning, entranced by the sudden change in her demeanor. Her body began to tremble, barley feeling the tips of Shinji's fingers pressed into the flesh of her neck. "Damn you, you idiot… Have a spine for once in your life… Kill me, kiss me, hold me, just do something! Anything!"

And here we reach the point when Shinji always woke up, and always with a start, breathing heavily as he sits upright in his bed. Always at that one part of the dream where Asuka practically begs him to kill her, but then she says something else… Something that didn't quite seem to fit in what was primarily a violent nightmare manifested from Shinji's tendency for self-loathing. He could never quite recall exactly what she said in the dream though, or why she'd change so quickly from white-hot angry to looking like a sad frightened girl calling out for help. Two things Asuka was certainly not, and another she would never do in a thousand years. Still, what had she said to him in that dream though? It felt important, like that one elusive detail would put the entire dream into context…

Oh well, no point in straining his brain trying to pick out a few scattered words from a complicated dream. All that would manage is to drive someone completely nuts. He'd have another chance to pick out those words the next time he drifted off to sleep, he was certain of that. He laid his head down on his pillow to do just that when he realized something… He wasn't exactly alone in his bedroom. Asuka's eyes were bearing down on him, and even in the darkness of the night he could tell she was annoyed. "Asuka? What are you?... Is it time to make breakfast already?"

"No, it's three in the morning noodle brain…" Asuka grumbled sounding groggy and irritable. "Somebody's whining and moaning in their sleep keeps waking me up! What the hell is wrong with you?!"

"Nothing… Just a bad dream and it's passed so… Let's just go back to sleep please…" Shinji yawned to emphasis his point, and thankfully Asuka wasn't up for an argument. Blurry eyed, she headed for the door, but before she made her exit, she looked back and asked him one more time. "And you're sure you're okay idiot?"

"Uh-huh…" Shinji mumbled, followed by snores. Asuka frowned in annoyance and then closed the door behind her. She was actually glad Shinji fell back to sleep so easily and likely didn't even hear her last question. She wouldn't want that doofus to think she was worried about him or something. Truth be told, Shinji really wasn't being loud enough to keep Asuka awake if she was really determined to sleep. She could hear him though, so sleep proved to be elusive. She knew he was dreaming and if anyone could empathize with living with nightmares, she certainly could. They stalked her every night from the moment her head hit the pillow. Oh well, now that Shinji was dealt with, she could go back to her own nightmares, so she headed back to her own room for some much needed restless sleep.

Asuka was pissed. She had no particular reason for feeling that way, she didn't need one, and she'd just woken up that way. She blamed her lack of sleep entirely on Shinji of course, and let the boy know about it all the way through breakfast and on the walk to school. Shinji used to be intimated by her short temper and verbal outbursts, but lately he found he was feeling more annoyed but otherwise dispassionate over her antics. Perhaps he'd finally learned how to handle himself around her, or maybe he just stopped caring. Perhaps it was both, but whatever the reason, he had managed to tune Asuka out from almost the moment her gums started flapping. It took a while for Asuka to pay enough attention to Shinji to notice she was being ignored. When she finally did, bull-headed as ever, she sped forward, putting a couple dozen feet between herself and her roommate. She could ignore Shinji right back, despite the obvious redundancy of ignoring someone who was already ignoring you. Patience wasn't one of Asuka's strengths either, so the tactic was doomed to failure. The silent treatment lasted maybe two minutes before Asuka's temper boiled over again. If there was one thing she loathed more than spineless perverted idiots, it was spineless perverted idiots that ignored her. Shinji didn't notice her stop, and his obliviousness continued until Asuka spun on her heels and was standing nose to nose with him.

"Are you listening to me Third?!"

Shinji tried his best to look innocent. "You're the one who sped off without me… I assumed you were done talking…"

"I sped off because you were ignoring me jerk! Now explain yourself!"

"What is there to explain?..." Shinji said with a shrug, purposely not meeting her gaze. He knew if he did, he'd melt like butter under her hot demonic gaze. "If you had a shrill voice in your ear nagging at you and putting you down all the time, you'd tune it out too…"

"It's not nagging stupid! It's a public service as far as you're concerned! People like you need to be reminded what worthless idiots you are from time to time…"

"Believe me Asuka, I don't need you to remind me of that…" Shinji sighed, as he pushed passed the girl with her mouth agape. Shifting from stunned to angry in less than a second, she chased after him.

"Don't run off on me! Get back here!" She didn't get far before another voice invaded the conversation.

"What's this? Are the newlyweds having another argument? It's a shame how fast the honeymoon ends these days."

Asuka cringed at the sound of the ape's voice. Toji's smug grin bore into and directly underneath Asuka's skin. His little boll weevil of a friend, Aida, wriggled and squirmed just off to Toji's left. "I thought I heard knuckles dragging… I don't appreciate what you're insinuating stooge!"

Kensuke spoke up in Toji's place, a tad over excitedly perhaps. "He's not insinuating anything! He's just pointing out that you're having another lover's spat! Marital discord, trouble in paradise, all quiet on the western… Owe!" Kensuke yelped as Asuka's briefcase connected with his omnipresent camcorder, driving it backward into the lens of his glasses and then to his eye. The boy landed on his bottom but managed to catch his detachable appendage before it smashed against the ground.

"Hey, what's the big idea?!" Toji half growled and half smirked. Seeing Kensuke land on his ass was kind of funny, but this was Asuka he was dealing with. "Your beef is with your husband, so don't take it out on him!"

"That idiot is not my husband, nor will that gutless worm be anything of the like!"

"Awesome… We can only hope he could be so lucky." Asuka stomped closer to get in Toji's face, only for Shinji to cut her off by stepping in-between them. "You two cut it out! This nonsense is going to make us late for class! Toji, Kensuke, let's go… I've already been stuck with clean-up duty three times this month, and I don't want to be held after class again."

Toji quickly visualized the image of their angry class-rep and shivered at the prospect of her fury. Even if he was her boyfriend, Toji received no special treatment when it came to following school rules. It was almost scary the difference between Class-Rep Horaki and the sweet, down-to-earth Hikari who made him lunch virtually every day and giggled at holding hands with him as if it were as scandalous as making out in the middle of geometry class. As sweet as that girl could be, Toji had come to accept that you don't fuck with the class-rep when it came to school affairs.

"Yeah, let's get going… Later demon, we'll see you in class… Unless hell summons you back home or something before then, I don't care…

"Yeah, well maybe the lab will finally call looking for their missing chimp!" Toji simply shrugged his shoulders before the boys continued their way towards school. It took a second for Asuka to process that she was being left behind. "Hey, wait up! You can't ditch me Ikari! Dorks like you are the ones that get ditched!" Asuka's insult was staunchly met by the retreating backs of the stooges. She growled while deciding Shinji wasn't worth chasing after, yet still felt the need to punt the poor defenseless can resting near her feet halfway across Tokyo-3. "I don't know what's gotten into you that you think you can just blow me off Third Child… This isn't anywhere near over."

Shinji shivered as if someone's icy glare had dropped his body temperature about 20 degrees. He shook it off and addressed his friends. "Thanks for the distraction… Though I do wish you'd cool it with the newlywed jokes. All they end up doing is pissing Asuka off which causes her to take it out on me…"

Toji stared down at his friend briefly then shrugged his shoulders. "Kay, no problem… I just say it because I know it gets under her skin. I'm proud to see you haven't been taking her crap like you used too. Brushing her off like you did just now was borderline brilliant. I kind of wish I could've seen the look on her face."

"You say that like I've accomplished something… I haven't so much been standing up to her, as I've just been trying to avoid her as much as possible when she gets like that..."

"Which means you try to avoid her 24/7 huh?" Kensuke's joke went over like lead, causing the cameraman to sweat drop. "At least you're doing something now. Anything is better than being the demon's footstool."

"What exactly did you do to piss 'ole red off this time?" Toji wondered as he picked his ear with his little finger, showing all the manners and grace of your typical high school jock.

"She couldn't sleep last night, blamed me for it… Typical Asuka crap…"

"Sounds about right," Toji snickered. "That's all the reason she really needs to get the demon powers activated isn't it?"

"Let's stop talking about her please… I want to enjoy the fact that's she not hovering right over my shoulder while I have the chance…" Shinji knew he'd have to face the German born pilot in class. At least ignoring her instant messages would be a lot easier than avoiding the white-hot Soryu glare of death.

School sucked that morning. Not that this was any sort of jaw-dropping anomaly to Asuka. With a college degree already under her belt, attending this Far East snore factory known as the Japanese school system couldn't have felt more pointless, redundant, and just plain boring. Why was she stuck here again? Oh yes, she needed to learn how to write in kanji, that was the excuse they used to place a college graduate back in middle-school, and afterward, back in High School. Asuka wasn't ignorant though, she knew Kanji wasn't the only reason she was sitting at that desk bored halfway to insanity as she listened to this old codger prattle on about Japanese history. She had that college degree remember? A tutor would have more than sufficed, yet here she was. She didn't like it, but she understood why. It was to keep tabs on her of course, to make sure a hastily developing teenager didn't have too much free time on her hands. What better way for Section 2 to look after NERV's most valuable employees than by sticking them in the same dusty old classrooms for half the day? Both the motive and agenda were obvious.

Gott, how she hated this place, especially the incessant gossip and drama that dripped from the hormone soaked walls. She was so above all this… She certainly was above having to endure those ludicrous and completely unfounded rumors about her and the Third Child's relationship. She could accept the rumors in small doses, that kind of talk was somewhat expected. They lived together, they were both Eva pilots. It was only natural that a few brainless unimaginative nitwits would see a pair of lone clouds hovering in an otherwise blue sky and still assume this meant it was going to rain. Asuka fully believed that anyone with a brain could see how superior she was to the Third, so all such rumors should shrivel and die on the vine like a squash amid a summer drought.

This isn't what happened though. Rather than dealing with just a handful of whispers, it seemed that most of this idiotic damn school thought she and Shinji were somewhere between secretly married and boinking every afternoon in the janitor's closet. Today in particular, her imaginary relationship with Shinji seemed to be on the tip of everyone's tongues. Some, like Toji were mocking, some teasing, and a few idiots almost appeared serious. Here she was trying to enjoy her lunch when she got distracted by a pair of girls from another class gawking at her and giggling like a pair of baboons with brain damage.

"Do I even want to know what you two airheads are cackling about?" Asuka glared at them while seriously reconsidering sitting at the empty table across from them. Normally she'd have her lunch outside with Hikari and even stupid Shinji once in a while, but with the storm raging outside, Hikari having run off somewhere with Toji, and she herself being pissed off at Shinji, it appeared that it was table-for-one in the school canteen for Asuka Langley that afternoon.

One of the girls wisely stopped her giggling and did her best to make herself small enough that just maybe the terror of class 2-A would forget she was there. Her blonde headed companion did no such thing. Asuka was all too familiar with this girl. Reika Ishida, semi-official class tart and, more importantly, someone who'd gone out of her way to try and build a reputation for herself by butting heads with Asuka. As for how Asuka had managed to stay in the same area code with this blonde bimbo for two years and not have buried her fist into her face, Asuka wasn't really sure. Today could be the day though, you just never know.

"We were amused to see that the great Asuka Langley Soryu eating all by herself again," Reika responded, wearing a smile so conniving that it made Asuka want to stab her in the face with her fork. "Where's your little boy-toy Shinji? Is 2-A's favorite couple bickering again?"

"We're not a couple!" Asuka growled through gritted teeth. "How many times do I have to say that, to how many idiots?! There is nothing special between us!"

Of course Reika was well aware of this, as much so as she was aware of how the topic of Asuka's fellow Eva Pilot was the hottest of hot button issues for her. Oh how Reika loved it when she could so easily irritate Asuka. She hated how popular the foreigner still was with the boys, despite all her obvious personality flaws. She wasn't about to let up the attack now. "Awe, it's so cute how you guys try to hide it… I've heard some juicy gossip on what goes down in your apartment when your Guardian isn't around. How is Shinji in bed anyhow? I bet he's not half-bad."

"Like I would ever let that perverted idiot lay a finger on me!" Asuka slammed her tray down on the table, very visibly shaking. "Get this through your empty blonde head… The idiot and I are not a couple, and never will be! It's only because of fat mouthed gossips like yourselves that anyone even thinks we're a couple!"

Reika laughed at this, stunning the red-headed German enough that she couldn't muster an immediate comeback. "Asuka, you're just hilarious. You act like such a child at times, and just because someone teases you about liking boy… It would be adorable if it wasn't so pathetic…. You think people like me spread those rumors, yet somehow you fail to realize that it's the way you act around him that gets those rumors started. I don't understand why you get so defensive about dating Shinji anyway… He's an Eva pilot and he's cute… You could do way worse."

"Obviously, my standards aren't as low as yours," Asuka snarled, though the light blush on her face nullified any intended veracity. "I'm not some airhead in a dime-store romance novel who just has to fall in love with some guy because he's the only male pilot in the story! Especially when that moron is a perverted wimp!"

Reika's eyes thinned as her grin widened. "Oh, that response didn't sound rehearsed at all. No one understands why you're so determined to deny your love Asuka, but you can't fake chemistry and you can't fight fate. Just be careful okay? We don't any little Shinji's or Asuka's clinging to your ankles during our graduation ceremony do we?"

Asuka's mouth opened to retort but someone beat her to it. "Asuka's not lying, you know…" Asuka's head whipped around to find Shinji standing next to her, flanked by his fellow stooges and Hikari. Shinji couldn't have looked more indifferent, while his three companions had various ranging looks of mortification on their faces. They were all completely stunned that Shinji had willingly injected himself into Asuka's conversation. Typically, the boy avoided confrontations of any kind, not unlike a Sasquatch avoids any camera with any type of decent picture quality or focus. Especially when Asuka was involved… Meanwhile, the red-head glared his way as if debating whether or not to bite his head off for interrupting her, but instead decided she was too interested in hearing what he had to say.

"Shinji?..." Reika mouthed his name, knowing that his presence was going to shorten her little chat with the German girl. Just when she had gotten the upper hand too.

"Asuka and I are not a couple. Never have been, and never will be. Asuka and I are just fre…" Shinji paused in the middle of the word friend, and briefly glanced at Asuka. He doubted that he could even consider her that much, nor be sure how Asuka would react, so he amended his words to reflect what he felt was the safest response. "We're just roommates, and occasionally coworkers. That's it, nothing else."

With his attention on Reika and her friend, Shinji didn't notice the strange glare Asuka was currently giving him. He couldn't quite decide if they looked surprised because of what he said, or that he'd spoken at all. Reika appeared as if she wanted to say something but Asuka wasn't having any more of this. She'd remained silent long enough. "Nobody asked for you to butt in Third! I was handling this!"

"Just trying to help… They didn't seem to be taking you at your word, so I thought I'd back you up. No one seems to believe us when we insist we're not a couple individually, so maybe if we start denying it as a pair, people will start taking us seriously."

"Idiot, even if we tried that, it would still look like we were denying it as a couple! Besides, I wouldn't ask for your help cleaning the gunk out from beneath my toenails, let alone trust you with protecting my reputation!"

"Stop being stubborn Asuka… Whenever someone teases you about us being a couple, you get angry and then take it out on me, so I have a vested interest in getting these rumors to stop."

"If you weren't such a gutless jellyfish, I wouldn't have to be so embarrassed about being associated with you! At least you're pinned to the arm of one of the hottest girls in school, so as far as I'm concerned, you don't have a right to be bothered by it!"

Reika smirked, thoroughly enjoying watching the two Eva pilots bickering back and forth. Pushing their buttons was as easy as working one of those pop-up door games you used to play with in preschool. "Oh, ease up on him Asuka… I think it's sweet that he's trying to defend his girl. I can see why you're so crazy about him!"

Asuka stared daggers at Reika. Shinji was only partially surprised when that hair-trigger temper of Asuka's deflected right off of Reika and bounced back towards it's favorite target, him. "Crazy about him!... I'll show you exactly how I feel about this sniveling little insect!"

Before Shinji got the chance to brace himself, Asuka had grabbed him by the arm and went all Judo on his ass. He felt himself being flipped into the air until he came crashing down onto the very table Reika and her friend were seated, sending food flying in all directions. Shinji rolled his way to the ground, turning the table over in the process. Two trays of food slid from the other side of the round table, one landing square on his head, and the other disgracing his backside. Shinji's groan was the only sound heard as the lunchroom had suddenly gone silent. The commotion Asuka had caused garnered the attention of most of the lunch room. A few students snickered though most just looked on in stunned silence.

Reika dropped down to a knee to check on Shinji as he pushed himself up. She snarled upward towards Asuka. "You really are as crazy as everyone says, aren't you?!"

Asuka may have retorted if she hadn't nearly been knocked over as two bodies went streaking by. They belonged to the other two stooges Kensuke and Toji, and the contact was only partially incidental on the taller one's part.

"You okay Shin-man?" Toji asked as he helped his friend to his feet.

"Yeah, I'm fine…" Shinji groaned as he rubbed the back of his head, and came down with a handful of noodles. Physically, he was relatively fine. His pride was hurt more than anything. How he even had any of that shit left to be hurt, he had no clue.

As Shinji quickly gathered himself, his fellow stooges felt that now was the appropriate time to go off on a certain red-head. Toji went first. "What the hell is wrong with you?!"

"Yeah, he was 'defending' you!" Kensuke added. "Though I'll never understand why…"

"Oh, get over it dorks! He shouldn't have been standing around looking like an idiot! He got what he deserved!"

"Do you even hear yourself when you talk?! This was a bitch move even for you!"

"Excuse me! You mind repeating that jock?!" Asuka stepped up to get in his face, but was cut off by an unexpected source. That would be her good friend Hikari. The stern look on her freckled-face was one she'd seen many times from the class-rep though it was rare for that look to be directed towards her.

"That's enough out of you Asuka! You too Toji!"

Asuka looked aghast. "But he just called me…"

"I know what he called you! I also know that you're the one who instigated this conflict, and I'm ending it now, so both of you back up!" Ignoring Asuka's glare of disbelief, Hikari walked over to Shinji who was trying in vain to shake rice out of his hair. "Shinji, are you okay?"

"I'm fine class rep, and please don't blame Toji or Asuka for this… It was obviously all my fault for sticking my nose in what Asuka regards as her business. She was just trying to get a point across…" He gave Asuka a pointed glare before he finished. "And she most definitely succeeded."

Shinji said nothing more, nor did he wait for anything else to be said before exiting the lunchroom on his own. Kensuke and Toji soon followed after him, the latter glaring back at the red-head with a look of absolute disdain Asuka scowled, folding her arms in annoyance as she walked over to Hikari who was examining the mess that had been made.

"Can you believe those idiots?" she snorted, playing it off as if she were the victim in this situation.

"They weren't the ones acting like idiots!" Hikari looked at her disapprovingly.

"Hey, what did I do?!"

"Oh please, you can't be that self-righteous Asuka! You just assaulted another student with no provocation whatsoever! You understand that I'm going to have to report this don't you?!"

"But it wasn't my fault! If anyone should be reported, it's that Reika bimbo!"

"She shouldn't have been teasing you, but I would expect someone with a college degree to be mature enough not to attack someone because a third-party is teasing them over having a crush on that person! We're not in the third-grade anymore Asuka, the cootie rule doesn't apply in High School!"

"You're seriously going to stand there and accuse me of being immature?! I think the teacher's pet role is starting to go to someone's head!"

"Don't even Asuka! You can't pass the blame on to anyone else this time! As your class-representative, I'm required to tell you that this behavior towards your class-mates isn't going to be tolerated! And as your friend I have to say…" Hikari's expression shifted from angry to one of disappointment. "That was just plain mean Asuka… And totally uncalled for…"

Asuka's itch for a fight evaporated the moment Hikari's expression downgraded. For some reason, Asuka would've much rather had Hikari be furious with her rather than for her friend to give her *that* look. Sensing the situation was no longer in her favor, Asuka responded the only way she knew how when defeat was imminent in a social setting. She snorted and walked away. Frowning, all Hikari could do was shake her head. She recalled a few things Suzahara had told her at least a dozen times concerning Asuka… She prayed that they weren't true.

Asuka decided to take a pass on the remainder of the school day. This would've been recognized as cutting class for any other student, but in Asuka's mind, she could still successfully convince herself that she attended that school optionally and it was their privilege to have her as a student. She had also managed to successfully, almost convince herself that she wasn't skipping class in order to avoid Shinji. Asuka Langley Soryu didn't avoid confrontation, she charged towards confrontation head on like a blood-crazed frothing bull. No, she wasn't avoiding that dork, not at all… To prove this to herself and everyone else that she imagined watched and analyzed her every move, she hung around close to the school grounds, determined to confront Shinji as he left the school that day. Only trouble with her plan though, she hadn't the slightest clue what she was going to say to him. This just wouldn't do. Asuka Langley was never lost for words, and had backup plans for backup plans to her backup plans. She could most certainly handle the gutless boy wonder who would, in all likely-hood, crumble into dust the moment she batted her eyes at him. She had to be making confronting him seem harder than it actually was…

To be fair, she was willing to admit that she might've overreacted, just a small tiny tad, in the lunchroom. The human jellyfish was actually showing some backbone for a change, so putting him through a table probably wasn't going to encourage him to man-up again in the future. She had to do something though, to make it loud and clear to Reika and other idiots like her, where her relationship stood with Shinji. That misconception was entirely Shinji's fault anyway. If the idiot would act more assertive and not like a scolded puppy all the time, then maybe people would stop teasing them about being an old married couple. Still, even though this entire situation was no fault of her own, she decided she needed to try and smooth things over with Shinji before anyone tried to hold this incident against her somewhere down the road. This would be easy. Shinji would buy almost anything she said to him just as long as she put a little sugar into it. It should be easy to apologize without making it look like she was apologizing or admitting to any wrongdoing whatsoever. Of course, to anyone else with any common sense or dignity, that wouldn't be an apology at all, but when Asuka was involved, this was the best you were going to get.

So, Asuka waited… And waited some more, twenty minutes or so after school had let out, and still no sign of stupid Shinji. Asuka began grumbling to herself, wondering if Shinji had clean up duty and hadn't bothered to tell her. Asuka was ready to give up and leave for home, but before she could, she noticed the retreating form of the boy she'd been waiting for. Somehow he had managed to sneak past her. Asuka frowned, determined he wasn't going to slip away.

Asuka didn't know it, but Shinji hadn't just simply slipped past her. It had taken a gargantuan effort on his part to avoid being seen by the wily red-head when he noticed her waiting outside of the school. Shinji had no interest in a confrontation, and if he could find a way to put that encounter off until they got home, he was going to give it a shot. Sadly, he realized all his effort was for naught when he heard the accented voice of Asuka calling his name… And then again, though baka replaced his name the second time she called out to him, leaving little doubt that the very person he was trying to avoid had spotted him. Ignoring her calls, Shinji continued his march towards home, though had the presence of mind to maintain a normal speed so not to make it quite so obvious that he was ignoring her.

It didn't work, because Asuka knew damn well he was ignoring her. Of all the things that moron was, hard of hearing certainly wasn't one of them. How dare he ignore her! More determined than ever, she surged forward showing no issue with pushing through anyone and everyone that was too slow or too stupid to get out of her way. She was only a few feet behind him when she started berating him again. "I know you can hear me baka, so stop ignoring me! You realize this is just another form of running away don't you?! This is almost a cliche with you now!" Still no response… With a growl, Asuka practically lunged at him, managing to grab Shinji by the shoulder. "Listen to me damn you…"

Asuka's intent was to turn Shinji around to face her. She got what she wanted, but only after Shinji swatted her hand away with his arm, and none too gently. "Keep your hands off of me! Just stay the fuck away from me Asuka!"

Asuka took a step back, and then another… Not out of fear, but more from shock at who it was that was literally screaming in her face. The shock lasted barely a second before anger took over. Shinji turned his back to her, but Asuka would be having none of that. "Don't turn your back on me! Who the hell do you think you are, talking to me like that?!"

Shinji had barely taken a step towards any potential escape, and now found himself facing Asuka again, shockingly of his own volition. That voice in his head that typically tried to steer him towards avoiding any situation that could potentially cause him pain was uncharacteristically silent. His eyes looked heavy, as if he hadn't slept in days. Asuka had never seen Shinji like this before, and even in the midst of all her greatness, the sight of him advancing on her made her nervous. "Why don't you tell me who I am Asuka? As long as I've know you, you've never wasted an opportunity to tell me who *you* thought I was! So, go ahead and tell me who am I?! An idiot, a pervert, a wimp, a coward, a boring little boy?! Come on, tell me Asuka! Would it be easier for you if I lie down on the ground and put my face underneath your shoe so you can start stomping away? Or is it too much fun for you beating me down first?!"

Asuka had a good retort, and oh how she would've loved to uncork it on this insolent little boy… If only her damn brain could get her tongue to work properly, and while her brain was at it, put a stop to that twitch in her eye. She'd appreciate that too. "What the hell has gotten into you?!..." Her voice was cracking now too… This was getting ridiculous. "You're acting like a complete psycho! Is this really over what happened in the lunchroom?! Mein Gott, it was your damn fault anyway! If you'd just have minded your own…"

"Shut up Asuka! You're the only person I know who can completely destroy someone for no good reason, and still find a way to make it that person's fault!"

"How dare you talk to me that way!" Asuka growled, feeling much more like herself again. "Destroyed? Don't be so over-dramatic idiot! Is little baby Shinji so fragile that he has to pout incisively over getting a little bit of food in his hair?"

"You're the idiot Asuka… You're the one who can never see the forest for the trees. The fact that you'd think I'd be this upset merely over something like what happened at lunch today just goes to show how lost you are in this little universe you've created that revolves solely around you!"

"Bastard, you listen here…"

"No, you're going to listen to me for a change!... I know I'm not perfect, even without you constantly reminding of it… Maybe I do bring a lot of the abuse and grief you give me upon myself… I am the one that allows you to walk all over me after all…Maybe you're right about me being an idiot. I was stupid enough to think that maybe there was something inside of you waiting to be drawn out that might make it worth putting up with all the crap. I never really believed I was deserving of being the one to pull that out of you, but now I'm not even sure there's anything inside of you to find… Asuka, I'm done… I'm done with it…"

Having run out of words, Shinji intended to end the conversation there. Asuka still had plenty to say however, and wasn't about to let their discussion die while Shinji was still in control. "Don't you take a single step Third! We're not done until I say we're done! You may be finished talking, but I'm sure as hell not!"

"You don't understand Asuka," Shinji said, a calmness in his voice that had been lacking to that point. "When I said I was done, I didn't mean I was done with our fun little conversation… I meant I was done with *you*… I'm done trying to understand you… I'm done being your doormat! I'm done being mindlessly nice to you, I'm done trying to win your respect, I'm done trying to get along with you!... I'm done trying to be your friend…" All his anger seemed to have evaporated, and now he just looked sad as he shook his head. "I'm just done… Just stay out of my way, and I'll stay out of yours."

This time, when Shinji turned his back to her, she didn't stop him. Her mouth hanging open served as her only response as he walked away. For the first time since she met him, Asuka Langley Soryu had lost a verbal battle with Shinji Ikari. Hell, if you could even call it a battle considering how one-sided the argument was. Her stupor was temporary, as the familiar sensations of anger and shame began pumping through her veins, and thus jolting her lips and tongue back to life. "You think you're done with me stupid?!" She screamed after him. "You're lucky I allow you to bask in my presence you little prick! I hate you Shinji! Just go to hell! Go to hell you little bastard!"

Asuka stomped off in the opposite direction, refusing to acknowledge several tiny raindrops that landed on her face, yet seemingly nowhere else on that cloudless Tokyo afternoon.

It took several hours for Asuka to cool down/work up the nerve to finally go home. Shinji's words ran continuously through her head, though in a jumbled mess Asuka couldn't fully comprehend as of yet. She couldn't quite decide if she was still angry about what he said, disappointed, or experiencing some other emotion she'd dare not even think aloud, 'less it might serve as an admission she had said type of feelings towards the idiot. Either way, she composed herself to a point that she felt she could face Shinji and stand firm enough that the turd couldn't so effortlessly manhandle her as he had after school that afternoon.

Asuka was a bit annoyed to find Shinji was not at home when she arrived, able to tell for his shoes weren't in their usual place. She cursed him for avoiding her, and in doing so, ignoring the irony that she'd been doing her best to avoid him. Shinji's absence, by no means, meant that she was home alone in that apartment. Asuka was shocked to find a stern looking Misato seated at the dining table, caught completely off guard as her guardian's shoes weren't found in their usual place either. At first, Asuka thought that maybe Misato had just gotten off of work at NERV on time for a change, but that hope was quickly erased when the Commander motioned for Asuka to take a seat across from her. "Ah, this day just keeps getting more and more awesome…"

Asuka tried her best to look indignant as she marched to her likely death, plopping down in the spot Misato had requested. Misato sat their quietly at first, her eyes fixated on the girl as if trying to figure out a puzzle that had been confounding her for years. Asuka's stone-face stayed true to her, not at all hinting that on the inside, Misato's silent glare was fraying her nerves down to their very tips. No longer able or willing to wait, Asuka initiated the conversation as only she could. "Can you quit it with the whole peering into my soul bit, and tell me what the hell you want already?!"

Misato was in no mood to placate her teenage ward, and remained silent until she was damn ready to speak. "I'd like an explanation for starters."

"Explanation for what?! The effects of the over indulgence of alcohol on the human brain?"

Misato ignored the comment, still refusing to play Asuka's game. "I'd like you to help me understand why I received a call from your school, on the heels of an important meeting I might add, to inform me that you assaulted another student in the lunchroom today. Then imagine my shock when I heard that this particular student just happened to be your roommate and fellow Eva Pilot!"

Asuka appeared unconcerned. "Yeah so…"

"That's seriously all you have to say for yourself?!" Misato snapped, but quickly composed herself. Asuka's indifference had almost succeeded in unraveling her. "You better have a damn good explanation for why this happened, Asuka… And why it was worth getting yourself suspended from school for the next two weeks!"

"Suspended?! Two weeks!" Asuka looked stunned, and started to argue when she remembered something important. Judging from the look on Misato's face, her guardian knew exactly what Asuka was thinking.

"Yes two weeks… Though you probably would've know that already if you hadn't cut the second half of the school day, which was the reason they added an extra week to your suspension, and as I was made aware that this isn't the first time you've skipped classes. Luckily, I was able to pull the NERV card and got your punishment reduced to a week's worth of detention. Now, I'm going to ask you again. Explain to me how this all happened?!"

"There's nothing to explain! Shinji was acting like a perverted idiot and got what he deserved!"

"Wrong, try again! The principal told me that a couple of kids were prodding you and Shinji about your relationship. That hardly justifies assaulting Shinji in the cafeteria!"

"Oh please, it was hardly an assault!" Asuka spat, defiant as ever. "Even a wimp like him, I couldn't have hurt that bad. So, poor wittle Shinji got a little food dumped on his head… Leave it to that idiot to go crying about it!"

Misato slammed her fists down on the table, effectively shutting the red-head up. "It doesn't matter if you caused him physical pain, or how much! The point is, that you humiliated him in front of half of your school, and why? Because the other kids teased you a little, accused the great Asuka of dating shy and quiet Shinji Ikari?! It doesn't sound to me like Shinji was the one acting like a thin-skinned wimp! What is it with you and taking out all your frustrations on him anyway?! Does tearing Shinji down really make you feel so much better about yourself?! I swear Asuka, sometimes I think you're no better than a common bully…"

"A bully?! Oh please, don't lump me in with that crowd like I'm some sort of common Neanderthal! I'm far more mature and better adjusted than some clod making ogre noises as he tromps around the playground…"

"Don't play the mature card with me Asuka! You're far too petty and insecure to be considered mature… Your little stunt today proved that running away."

Misato knew attacking Asuka's maturity would cut her deep. Misato understood Asuka's desire to be viewed as an adult, as the girl strove for that distinction as long as Misato had known her. Little did Misato know that her cutting remarks acted more like a grenade exploding in the girl's face, as her facial expression would attest to. It had to be done though, as one day Asuka would have to learn to understand that, while she did have a place in this world, that place wasn't high atop some pedestal as everyone else wriggled in a mindless mass beneath her feet. Yes, Asuka did possess a lot of mature qualities, and Misato had little doubt the girl could function relatively well living on her own, better so than a lot of adults even. Hell, Misato was probably included in that group, at least when she was younger. The problem Asuka always had, and would continue to face, was that it was difficult for people to consider or view a young teenage girl as mature when she carries herself like an entitled brat. Yet, this was exactly the dynamic Asuka was trying to pull off, and she just couldn't make it work. Then again, who could? It was this trait of hers, more than anything else that rubbed so many people who knew her the wrong way.

Case in point, the way she responded to Misato's piercing remarks. "How dare you! Who the hell are you to question my maturity?! Miss drunk off her ass from the moment she rolls out of bed to the moment she passes out face first in the gutter the next night!"

"I'll kindly remind you of who I am Asuka. I'm your guardian! Since you obviously have no respect for that, maybe you'll respect that I'm also your commanding officer! You want to be treated like an adult Asuka? Start by showing some respect to your superior instead of acting like a childish brat!"

This tactic seemed to work, though Misato hadn't really intended it to be used as such. Asuka bit her lip to silence her tongue, though she could not conceal the rage burning hot red all over her face. Once Misato was satisfied that Asuka wasn't intending to continue to fight, Commander Katsuragi stepped aside, allowing Misato to step forward and so Asuka's guardian took over. "This is the way things are going to go Asuka… If you and Shinji are determined to hate each other, then fine, whatever! I'm done hoping you two will one day learn to get along. Don't talk to each other, don't even look at each other, pretend the other doesn't exist for all I care! This garbage with the two of you being at each other's throats all the time is going to *stop*!"

"What exactly are you going to do if we don't?" Asuka asked smugly.

Misato wasn't messing around, and immediately unleashed the big guns. "If I have to, I'll prevent you from piloting your Eva. You'll be decommissioned as a pilot and placed on semi-permanent standby except for the most extreme of emergencies."

"You can't do that!" Asuka's voice cracked. "And you wouldn't dare do that even if you had that kind of power!"

"Oh, I do have that kind of power Asuka, and I won't hesitate to use it if I have too. I sincerely doubt I'd get any resistance. We're not at war anymore… The Eva's have been idle for months, and with any luck, they'll never have to be used in combat again. There are those within NERV and the UN who might consider deactivating one of the Eva's as a practical and cost-effective idea. Especially considering we'll still have two active units ready to go if needs be, with two pilots who are far less difficult to work with and have proven themselves to be every bit as capable as you. Heed my warning Asuka, don't test me on this."

Asuka would've loved to test her on it. Test her right upside her pompous purple head. Showing tremendous restraint, by her standards, she kept her butt in her seat and her mouth shut. Losing Eva, the one purpose she had on this world, was not something she was willing to risk even for the sake of her pride.

"Well Asuka… Do you understand what's expected of you?"

"Loud and clear, Commander!" she growled through gritted teeth.

"I certainly hope it is…" Misato sighed, as did her body from the release of built-up tension. "Now that this unpleasant mess is done and over with, may I ask you a personal question Asuka?"

"Why? Will I have to hand over my A-2 clips if I refuse?"

"No Asuka…" she sighed. "I'm just curious about something…"

Feeling she had nothing really to lose, Asuka just nodded her head bitterly. "Fine, ask away… I don't care…"

"Thank you…" Misato took a moment to collect herself before getting started. "I've been trying to wrap my head around the reasons behind this little feud you have with Shinji… I mean, I get it for the most part. You guys have polar opposite personalities, and you see him as a rival for your top spot as an Evan Pilot, I get all that. Still, the amount of hate you direct at that boy seems to go far beyond what's necessary. Instead of beating around the bush, I'm just going to come out and ask it. Why do you seem to hate Shinji so much Asuka?"

Asuka's lips curved into one of the most reproachful snarl's Misato had ever seen. The red-head was clearly agitated, as if this was the stupidest question she'd ever been asked in her life. With her blood boiling and the buildup of venom now swirling through her veins, ready and desperate to come spewing from every pore in her body, Asuka's guard lowered just long enough to respond to this most moronic of questions. She seemed all too willing to be perfectly honest, as if she'd be rehearsing for this moment for quite some time.

"Why shouldn't I hate that idiot? Besides the fact that he's a weak, no account doormat? Maybe it's because he's a sniveling, selfish little worm whose response to any form of adversity is to stick his head up his own ass and feel sorry for himself! My Mama died, and my Daddy doesn't love me! Nobody cares about me, boohoo!... My father couldn't give two shits about my well-being either, and I doubt I have to remind you what happened with my mother! I wasn't about to crawl into some hole and wait to die, or pout and moan like that was somehow going to make everything that sucked about my life any better! I improved myself damn it! I received a college degree by the time most kids my age were even done with middle school! I worked my ass off to improve myself and excel at everything I do! Where the hell does Shinji get off acting all miserable, like he's the only one of us whose life has been shit! We were living in post Second Impact! An apocalyptic cataclysm that wiped out billions of people, everybody's life sucked!"

By then, Asuka had slammed her hands against the table and was practically screaming into Misato's face. Misato held firm neither challenging nor shying away from her young ward, allowing Asuka to vent as much as she needed. Shock might've also been a factor as Misato hadn't been expecting Asuka to uncoil like she had. She needed this clearly… And Misato needed to hear it as well if she had any hope of one day solving the red-headed enigma now standing across the table from her.

"He's a goddamn Eva pilot too for fucks sake! Without us, the human race wouldn't even have a future! Can't he take even a little pride or dignity in that?! No, all you have to do is say boo to him, and he runs off to find a corner to hide in! Weak men disgust me! Why am I forced to tolerate the presence of a spineless wimp like him?! What good does it do me? Sure guys find me attractive, even more so in Japan since my red hair and European features are considered exotic here! Some guys even like me for my intellect, or respect me for my work as an Eva pilot… What happens once they get to know the real me though? The person who bristles then lashes out whenever someone gets too close… Are they still going to think I'm so pretty once they find out how fucked up and twisted I really am on the inside?! I need a strong man who can fight through it and see past all my crap, not some wimp who is too stupid to see when I'm pushing him away or what I really want! I need someone who… Why does it have to be him?! I refuse to do it! I will not allow him to get close to me… I will not fall for that idiot!"

Asuka's lips parted as if to continue but quickly snapped shut, a look of horror coming over her face as if she was just then realizing what had just spilled out of her mouth. Misato looked completely floored, as if Asuka's train of thought had abruptly switched tracks and was now speeding towards her. By the time she managed to sidestep the onrushing train, just to watch as it whizzed by her, Misato had yet to formulate a suitable response to what she'd just heard. She could swear she saw tears in Asuka's eyes though, as the red-head fled the kitchen for the sanctuary of her bedroom, slamming the sliding door behind her.

It would take a few minutes more for Misato to fully process what she'd just experienced. She crept towards Asuka's room with purpose, as well as a small trace of trepidation. She was still relatively new at this surrogate mother thing, and situations like this one she found particularly perplexing, at least when it came to Asuka. Shinji was far easier to deal with as Misato found him much easier to read, at least more so than the fiery German. All Shinji really needed was a little encouragement, and often times, even the smallest display of affection seemed to suffice. It was not a cure all for his ills by any means. Shinji's scars ran far too deep for Misato to likely ever completely understand. She understood enough about human nature though, that she could understand why that troubled adolescent would crave something he'd been denied throughout most of his young life. If Shinji was an algebra equation though, then Asuka was full blown calculus. Misato had proven over time that her maternal instincts were stronger than anyone would've dared give her credit for without snickering once her back was turned. She was not a natural mother by any means though. She'd be the first to admit that. If anything, she was the slightly air-headed older sister that you would reluctantly allow too babysit your younger kids out of desperation, deciding that hey, at least she hasn't gotten any of them killed yet. To her credit, Misato never once lamented her lack of parenting skills, and openly accepted the challenge of caring for two teenagers who, by no stretch of the imagination, were normal teenagers. She'd grown to care deeply about those infuriatingly stubborn and troubled kids, and she'd sworn on her father's grave that she would never turn her back on them. Too often in their young lives had they been shoved to the side or just simply thrown away like so much disposable trash.

Misato stood in front of Asuka's bedroom, feeling her heart wrench as the silence emanating from the other side of the door was almost suffocating. She took a deep breath before she gently rasped her knuckles against the wall beside the sliding door. "Asuka honey, we're not done talking yet. Please come back into the kitchen…"

There was a brief, excruciatingly long silence that followed before Asuka responded in exactly the manner Misato would expect. "No! I'm done talking!"

"Asuka… There's nothing wrong with the way you're feeling, and keeping it bottled up isn't healthy… If you'd just…"

"NO! I have nothing to say to you! I hate you!... I hate Shinji!... I hate everything about this place! I should've gone back to Germany, I hate it here!"

Her curses were hardly audible, as it was easy to tell how hard Asuka was working to keep from crying, but somehow Misato managed to make out every word. She didn't so much as flinch at them for those words had no real meaning. They were a reflex, Asuka's first line of defense against anyone who happened to creep to close. In this case, Asuka's stubborn determination to have the last word had forced a slip of the tongue, and as a result, Misato now possessed information she was never intended to have. Information she could potentially hold over Asuka's head or use to hurt her if so inclined. Misato would never do either of course, but the lonely insecure girl hiding deep inside the headstrong Eva Pilot was already thinking the worst. "I understand… If you decide you want to talk, I'm here…"

Misato decided to leave her charge alone for the moment, quickly analyzing the potential consequences she could incur by forcing Asuka into a heart-to-heart. Misato walked back to the kitchen and opened up the fridge, craving the magic liquid famous for making all of life's troubles go away, at least for a time. This was Misato's own personal self-defense mechanism. She grabbed a six-pack from the fridge, and then sat down at the table. She popped the first top and downed half the can in one gulp. She wiped her mouth dry before placing the can on the table where it would remain as she stared wistfully into seemingly nothing. She was determined to be in that very spot whenever Shinji finally found his way home. Only an act of God or an urgent demand from her bladder was going to make her move from that spot.

It was well after dark when Shinji finally arrived back at the apartment, though he couldn't wager to guess how late it actually was. He was kind of surprised that Section Two hadn't scooped him up yet, but then Misato had scaled back any actual interference in the pilot's daily lives to the absolute minimum. It wasn't guilt or fear that lured him back home. He knew he'd still likely have to deal with a brilliantly pissed off Asuka and likely have to listen to a long lecture from Misato, but quite frankly, he was just tired of trying to avoid either. It was time to head home, take his lumps, and then hopefully find a corner to crawl into, hit play on his SDAT player and then drift off into oblivion. Perhaps this time he'd get lucky and finally get lost in that serene abyss for the rest of eternity. Finally accepting that the door he'd been staring at wasn't going to open itself, he sighed and finally forced his body through the threshold, headlong into the raging storm he feared awaited him inside.

The sight that greeted the boy was that of his slightly buzzed Guardian seated at the kitchen table, surrounded by four empty beer cans. The look on her face displayed no hint of relief, apprehension, or anger. It was simply intent. In fact, it wasn't the face of Misato Katsuragi, Shinji's easygoing and somewhat doting surrogate mother/big sister. It was the face of Commander Katsuragi, the head of NERV who took no bullshit from her subordinates, not even from her pilots. Shinji wasn't exactly sure how to interpret the rare appearance from his commanding officer in the family home, but understood that it couldn't mean anything good.

Misato took a sip from her fifth cold one, and spoke without turning her eyes up at the boy who was busy staring at the floor as if he were a puppy waiting to be scolded. "Do you have any idea what time it is Shinji?"

Without looking up from the floor, Shinji responded. "Honestly no… Just that it's late…"

Misato nodded her head before taking another sip of her beer. "Now, would you mind explaining to me why you were out past midnight, and why Asuka's been locked in her room all night, trying everything she can not to cry her eyes out? Anyone else would've given in by now, but you know how stubborn she is…"

Ever so briefly Misato noticed Shinji's eyes widen and his lip quiver, though he quickly composed himself and continued on with his staring contest against the tile of the kitchen floor. Misato couldn't tell if that was guilt or simply surprise that she glimpsed briefly on Shinji's face, but decided this was a good sign. "Nothing out of the ordinary… We had a fight and I needed to get away from her for a while… I'm sorry for getting home so late, I really didn't mean to be gone so long…"

"We'll deal with you breaking curfew at a later time… The more important issue is what's been going on between you and Asuka… In all honestly, I don't understand what the deal is with you two. You've lived under the same roof for nearly three years and have literally walked through hell together. Explain to me how it's possible that you two still can't get along?!"

"It's not my fault," Shinji snapped defensively though almost in a whisper. He finally lost interest in the floor and tilted his head slightly to the left, shifting his focus to the wall. "What am I supposed to do? I've tried being friendly with her, but she hates me! I think she hates everybody…"

Misato sighed and set down her beer. Major Katsuragi all but transformed on the spot, as Misato lacked the desire or energy to continue acting like a hard ass. "Shinji… Have you ever stopped to think that maybe Asuka doesn't hate you and is simply trying to push you away? Asuka does have a history of this kind of thing."

"That's an excuse for her to treat me like dog crap?!" the boy spat. After three years of excuses being made for why Asuka was the way she was with him, he was understandably tired of hearing them. "I've never been able to do anything right by her…Even when I've tried to be nice to her she finds a way to throw it back in my face!"

"Shinji… I know this doesn't make it right, but of course she's going to act more hostile towards you… You two live under the same roof! Asuka can't just dismiss you like she does with other people. You're too involved in one anothers lives, and you've actually gotten closer to her during these past couple of years than she's ever allowed most people to get, and that scares her. She wants to keep just the right amount of distance between the two of you, enough that she feels comfortable."

"She can have all the distance she wants…" Shinji grumbled, drawing a sigh of resignation from his guardian. "What you're saying doesn't even make sense Misato… It's like you're saying that she's a bitch to me because she likes me… We're not in grade school… That just sounds stupid…Besides, if being close with Asuka means getting treated like this, then no thank you… "

Misato sighed as she circled her finger along the rim of her half-empty can of beer. She had planned out this conversation well ahead of the point the two were presently at, but was now second guessing the direction she decided to take it. It was times like this that she had to remind herself that she wasn't actually the kid's mother, and probably shouldn't beat herself up for accepting that she had no idea how to act like one. Neither Shinji nor Asuka really needed her to take on that roll anyway. They needed her to be what she'd always been to them. That older sister type character with just enough life experience to actually sound like she knew what she was talking about once-in-while, as far as life lessons go and all that.

"I'm sorry that you feel that way Shinji. I'm sorry Asuka feels the way she does, but I've had enough of playing peacemaker. I'm done trying to get the two of you to get along. If you're determined to despise each other, then there's little I can do to change that, so as long as I can keep you two from killing each other, I guess I've done my job. I'm still not going to tolerate the constant bickering, but I'm not going to make you guys be friends either."

Shinji's only response was to continue staring at the wall, as Misato had expected. Her head lowered tiredly, as if exhausted from the effort she was putting forward. "I'm going to ask you something Shinji, and I want you to be completely honest with me. Forget about how Asuka treats you for a second, and that fight the two of you had earlier today. Be honest, do you care about Asuka? Don't tell me you hate her either, because I know that's a lie."

Again Shinji's silence was deafening. His eyes never left the wall, and his lips refused to move. Misato didn't need his words though. His silence was his answer and it spoke volumes. "I thought as much… Look, as I promised, I'm not going to play peacemaker between the two of you anymore. I will tell you this though. If you want to achieve getting Asuka to truly hate you, completely giving up on her is the best way to go about doing it… Don't forget that."

"What exactly would you suggest I do?"

Shinji's question was distant and rhetorical, hinting that he'd already given up on her. Misato understood that but answered him anyway. "For starters, don't take any shit from her."

Shinji's head snapped around to stare at Misato as if her brain was trying to escape her skull through the hole it had just created in her forehead. Finally, a reaction from him! "Don't misunderstand me, I'm not telling you to be an ass or mistreat her. You don't even have to be nice to her either, just be civil and try to at least coexist if you find you two still just can't get along. Then when Asuka… Well, starts being Asuka, stand up for yourself! At least don't make it so obvious to her when she's getting under your skin. You don't have to act like a jerk not to be doormat you know?"

Shinji seemed to process what his guardian was saying, but slowly began to shrink back into his shell, his eyes returning to the floor that so seemed to fascinate him. Once again, Misato found herself unsure of how to interpret his demeanor. Was he still considering what she had said, or did her words go in one ear and fly right out the other. "Just to be clear, whatever you do from this point on is up to you, I'm done sticking my nose in your guy's business. I do have one last piece of advice to give to you. Don't forget that, as difficult as your life has been, Asuka's life has been every bit as hard as yours. Losing your mothers at a young age, feelings of abandonment, the war with the angels… She's seen everything you've seen, maybe even more."

Without elaborating on whatever point she might've had for bringing all that up, Misato dismissed herself from the conversation and soon disappeared into her bedroom leaving a stunned Shinji to wonder what she meant by it. It's not like Asuka's past wasn't anything he wasn't reluctantly aware of already. He was simply too short-sighted, and perhaps just a smidge in denial of how those very facts connected him with Asuka.

Misato meant it too when she decided she would no longer attempt to bring her two young charges together. That last piece of advice given to Shinji was her last fleeting attempt at making peace between them. The primary reason for her decision was because she knew Asuka was right. Shinji just wasn't strong enough for Asuka. She'd built a virtual fortress around her heart, and it would take nothing short of a small army of Eva's to break through its defenses. Misato hated to think anything negative about Shinji, but she couldn't deny that all it would likely take to scare the boy off was a toy solider with a cork gun. In fairness, Asuka wasn't strong enough for Shinji either. She couldn't offer the tenderness Shinji desperately needed as she was either unable or unwilling to understand that her constant demeaning and abuse of the boy was what made him shy away from her in the first place… Or maybe that was the point? Misato wasn't quite sure anymore.

It was a shame too, because Misato had always felt the pair would've been good for each other, on any level really. Hell, they didn't even have to call themselves friends if they didn't want to, but imagine the benefits of having someone to talk too that was in the unique position of sympathizing with certain issues you were going through that literally no one else on the planet could even come close to understanding. Their personalities may have been in stark contrast to one another, hell they were in different hemispheres. Still, if you had to read their backstories cover-to-cover without so much of a hint of their personal and emotional traits, you might swear you were reading about the same person. They had both lost their mothers at the age of four while both being very present around the time of their demise, were sub-sequentially abandoned by their fathers, fought toe-to-toe with messengers of Adam bent on Mankind's destruction, and had both almost literally been through hell and back. One of these instances standing on its own could've spawned a lifetime of therapy bills for any average person. What primarily separated these two pilots was the way they handled the trauma. Asuka ignored it entirely, masking her insecurity and loneliness behind contempt, anger, and exaggerated self-confidence. Shinji, on the other hand, allowed himself to be buried by it, and 'till this very day was still struggling to dig his way out. He'd caught a glimpse of daylight a time or two, but always seemed to lose his footing and plummet back down to the bottom of the hole. They were truly extreme ends on completely opposite sides of the spectrum. Shinji was passive and feeble until pushed to the brink, while Asuka was always aggressive and had to be beaten into submission. Misato could only hope that those kids would mature as they got older and hopefully learn to appreciate one another, if they could manage not to kill each other before they reached that point, if ever. Whether they liked it or not, they were linked by circumstance, and admit it or not, they both craved the same thing. Acceptance from others, particularly from those that they cared about. Asuka was simply too prideful to admit it and Shinji was too lost within himself to ever believe another living soul could possibly give a damn about him. It's quite the shame that neither could see that the person in the best position to truly understand them was living under the same roof.

End Chapter 1