Quickening

Part 1 of 2: Sleepers Awake the Hell Up

Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion

\/\/\/\/

He stood outside the door, feet shuffling side to side in nervy indecision. His hand rose to knock once, twice, hesitating before contact. The third time his feet tripped over one another and he lurched into the door to produce a thudding bang.

The door opened. The boy, slumped against it, slid to the floor. He looked up, between her legs. She did not move, did not care as he turned red and sputtered apologies in her direction. He scrambled to right himself, stood before her and said he was sorry. He realized he woke her up and apologized yet again. The girl turned back to her hospital room.

"Wait!" the boy got out. "Can we talk?"

She did not pause or look at him. "Do as you wish."

Shinji Ikari didn't wait for her to change her mind. Not that he expected Rei Ayanami to be subject to capricious whims but rationality in her presence wasn't his strong suit. He followed her in.

There was a single chair at the bedside. He sat in it as she climbed back onto the bed.

"How are you?" he opened.

"Alive."

"I meant, have you been okay?"

"I am healing at a normal rate."

"Oh. Uh, good. I'm glad you're recovering." His fingers drummed a nervous beat on his knees. "I wanted to make sure for myself. That's why I came here today."

He looked everywhere but at her in an attempt to gain a degree of lucidity. Her hospital room was large, but empty. There were no flowers or get well cards. He wondered if getting such things would affect Rei, or would she disregard it like he expected.

Would she disregard his words, too?

"I came here today to see how you were doing," he went on, "because I was worried. Uh, about you. At school, in class, you haven't been there for a while. The empty desk is jarring. But no one talks about it. No one pays attention to it at all. I didn't want to be like everyone else. I want… to know more about you."

The windows were shuttered. The room was dim and hazy and comfortably warm. Shinji, for the first time since he woke up that morning and decided to try and work up the nerve to visit, relaxed. He looked back to Rei.

She was asleep.

"Oh."

He slumped on the chair. Did bravery still count if no one else saw it?

He idly watched her slumber. She was flat on her back, not even bothering to use a pillow. It looked uncomfortable but that fit his perception of her. She didn't bother with luxury or superfluous amenities. She accepted what she was given. He admired her ability to adapt and move on, her strength.

And yet she was so slight, physically. Looking at her now, taking his time without fear of awkward social reprisal, he appreciated how frail she appeared. Her hair was messy. Her coloring was pale, almost to a sickly degree. The limbs poking out of her gown were thin.

He wasn't disgusted, only worried. Was she eating enough? Did she have some kind of chronic illness? Didn't she merit better treatment?

He recalled staring up at her from the floor.

Or at least a pair of underwear?

He leaned sideways over the bed, in a guiltily causal motion. He leaned until he teetered precariously on his chair. All he saw was the pale smoothness of her calf and knee, the subtle incline of her lower thigh disappearing beneath the maddeningly flimsy hospital gown.

That was fine, he reasoned as he sat back up. This was a hospital treating an injured girl, after all. He contented himself watching her sleep again, her steady intake and exhalation of breath lulling him into lowering his guard. There was no danger here, no social combat required. For the first time since transferring into this city Shinji felt at ease with another person. Even if she was technically asleep. Even if she felt unknowable most of the time. But he wanted to know her, and surprised himself with being okay with that.

Shinji carefully rested his elbows on the bed, and his chin in his hands. He took his time admiring the gentle slope of her nose, her pristine skin, her long elegant neck.

She was pretty, even if no one else saw it. Like a secret only he was privy to. His classmates might deride or dismiss her but they could not or would not acknowledge what he knew to be true. Her allure was an understated but powerful one. One that drew him in before he realized it.

Her face swam in his view. He was leaning towards her. He struggled to redirect momentum and weight, and wound up clumsily brushing his mouth against hers. He pulled away, shocked back into conscious awareness. The contact was just a moment, a half-breath. It was the greatest thrill of his life. Her lips were not frigid shards of ice. She was warm, and soft, and yielding. And awake.

He forgot how to apologize, or speak, or form thoughts other than regret his impending death from shamed humiliation. He stared down at her and gaped.

Rei stared back up at him.

"Why did you stop?"

/\/\/\/\

"What the hell is this?"

Asuka sat in Misato's bedroom, alone, clutching the open folder on her lap. She went over the last few lines. They still didn't make sense. Not the usual chicken-scratch difficulty of what the Japanese called a written language. It was the content that refused comprehension.

She was aware enough of the two in question to immediately doubt the validity of what she just read. Too out of character to be true. Although newly arrived in Japan, Asuka was a keen, quick judge of peoples' moral fiber. Especially regarding her fellow Children. They were more than mere coworkers. They were entrusting their lives to one another. So far, the assessment was not in the favorable column. The Third was an untrained, undisciplined, unworthy roach in a plug suit. The First was a relative unknown. Either composed to a fault, or a mental case.

But the two of them, fraternizing like this? And Misato knowing and reporting on it? In exhaustive, fictionalized, descriptively purple prose? And no one disappearing Shinji because of it? Highly unlikely. The remaining answer, that Misato made it up, was somehow even more disturbing than the idea of Shinji and Rei reaching first base in a secluded hospital room. Certainly, a mature adult carrying the responsibilities of the Captain wouldn't suffer from such deviant ideations.

"Right?" Asuka asked aloud.

She hadn't gone snooping in Misato's room to unearth such troubling machinations. Her new guardian, for keeping such an unhealthy diet, always smelled nice, lacing herself in enviable perfumes. Perfumes like the ones Kaji had pointedly avoided letting her buy in Germany. Asuka was sick of kid shampoos. The next boy who complimented her bubblegum hair would be coughing up teeth.

So while Misato was at NERV pretending to be an adult and Shinji was out being a painfully low-standard teenager with his moron friends, Asuka bravely embarked on the Quest to Smell Older, delving into the unknown, booze-misted dungeon of Castle Katsuragi.

Where she immediately stumbled upon a stack of surveillance reports on herself and Shinji. Meh. Expected. Misato was their commanding officer and guardian, not their best friend. Asuka congratulated herself on not getting angry, as well as the maturity not to sneak a peek inside. Realistically, what could Katsuragi say that Asuka didn't already know? How awesome and cool and pretty she was? Please, Captain, you'll make me blush.

Then she saw another folder jutting from beneath the mattress, with the author line filled out with the worrying name "Kaptain Katz." Shorthand? An oversight on spelling? Then she noticed the title.

Impact of Love.

Asuka toed the mattress up a dreadful few degrees. There were more folders. Many, many more. With dog-eared pages and bookmarks spilling out.

"Right?"

Penpen, waddling by the open bedroom door, offered a flippered shrug.

She replaced the folder and backed out of the room, back into the hall, back into the apartment proper. Back into a world where Shinji Ikari had not progressed further than her in terms of romance. To the world she thought she knew, that she made bend to her will, that was always under her control.

"Right?!"

/\/\/\/\

For once there was something to pay attention to at school. It was just before homeroom, the teacher yet to appear, and the students were trying to savor the last fleeting moments of relative independence before being crushed by instructive conformity. Asuka sat at her desk, still attempting to process what she read in Misato's room. A part of her hoped it was real, that her guardian was not some depraved aberrant freak. It would be horrifying to think her Kaji ever made eyes at such a thing.

To that end she spent the morning stealthily observing the two other Children, wanting to find some sliver of proof to Misato's fevered scribbling. Rei stared out the window at an approaching storm front, almost inhumanly still. It was impossible to see if she was breathing beneath her boxy uniform. Even her eyes weren't moving. Had she achieved some sort of advanced meditative state? Satori master Ayanami? Had she—

Asuka got bored and looked at Shinji. His heart was on his sleeve, as she had come to expect. Incoming rain meant incoming gloom from him. The two extra stooges had given up trying to coax him out of it, and were discussing something else among themselves. Probably who was the bigger perverted loser. Shinji's gaze was stuck on an undefined spot at the head of the class. He hadn't looked at Ayanami once all morning. She hadn't looked at him. There was no indication that they were anything but civil coworkers and school peers. But the idea of Shinji assaulting an unconscious, injured First in a remote hospital room seemed reasonable, given what she knew of him. It felt likely, on an instinctual level.

Conclusion: she had to read more. To brave another glimpse into Kaptain Katz's diseased mind. If it was truthful, at least in part, it might offer a hint of her fellow pilots' behavior prior to her arrival. That was the perfectly valid explanation she was going with.

\/\/\/\/

"Why did you stop?"

That was two days ago. Shinji spent the time in a state of anxious regret, assured Rei told everyone she passed by, and that they were all talking behind his back. Every whispered syllable he caught on the wind was a fragment of derision pointed in his direction. Each casual glance was a calculated study of his deviancy.

Even now, in school before homeroom began, all of his classmates were conspiring to demean and ridicule him for daring to find Rei attractive. This ocean of strangers he desperately tread water in was rising, impatiently waiting to swallow him whole and kill what little social standing he held.

So Shinji waited for the inevitable, for the familiar. To be labeled and treated as a pariah, to be even more alone than he already was. There was no use hoping against the natural order of the world.

Class began. Shinji only half-listened, his eyes fixed on Rei's empty desk. Was she still in the hospital, he wondered. He was too terrified to visit again. She must hate him. How could she not? He did his best not to remember how warm her lips were, how luxuriously soft. How furiously he wished to taste her again.

The classroom door opened. Rei entered, shut it behind her, and strode across the room. The teacher barely acknowledged the brief interruption in his lesson. She walked to her desk and sat without ado. She ignored everyone in class. Everyone in class ignored her.

Because they were watching him. Shinji realized he was standing. He blushed, a soft ripple of amusement spread over the other students, and he dropped back into his seat.

Lessons resumed. The other students diligently copied down what they needed to regurgitate for exams. Except Rei, who stared out the window by her desk, one slim palm delicately propping her chin up. And except Shinji, who watched her. He adopted the same posture, unconsciously. They sat, alone together, as the rest of the world flowed by.

"Daydream on your own time, Mr. Ikari!" the teacher scolded, rapping his desk with a ruler.

Shinji startled, slipped off his hand keeping his head up, and came crashing down on the edge of his desk. He fell to the floor, blood beading at the site of impact.

He was sent to the infirmary, mostly to assuage the teacher's fears of a lawsuit. The nurse patched his minor injury, but he feigned lightheadedness to skip the rest of the school day. He reclined on the narrow, stiff cot and allowed his eyes to flutter shut.

He woke to deep orange afternoon light spilling through the infirmary window. The nurse was gone. Shinji tenderly probed the dressing over his wound. It would be swollen for a few days. He sighed. Punishment for gawking after Ayanami.

"Are you recovered?"

Shinji bolted upright. Rei was in a chair beside him, partially obscured by a curtain. He pulled it back. She stared at him, untroubled, impassive. He looked away.

"Yeah. I'll be fine."

"Very well."

She closed the book in her lap, tucked it into her school satchel and rose to leave. She was under the infirmary threshold before Shinji forced the words out.

"Sorry I made you wait." He did his best to keep the longing from his voice. "And I'm sorry about, about what happened in the hospital. When I visited you."

Rei appeared to not grasp what he was apologizing for. Shinji sunk on the cheap cot.

"I'm sorry for kissing you."

She looked at him, then away as she turned.

"You are welcome," Rei said to him.

She left the threshold and was gone.

Shinji watched her go. He scratched his head. He didn't say thank you.

/\/\/\/\

Asuka closed the folder. She hummed in thought.

Maybe it was all a misunderstanding. Maybe she jumped to the wrong conclusion about everything.

She sat in Misato's bedroom, loose folders of Impact of Love scattered about her. Were the remaining installments nothing but bad melodramatic introspection, trying to better understand Shinji? Instead of simply beating the information out of him, Misato opted for an extremely convoluted way to get inside her ward's head. Then again, Misato was not the sharpest knife in the utensil drawer. She was more of a spoon. So perhaps this labored literary exercise was totally in line for her.

Asuka reached for the next folder, stopping as she noticed the alarm clock by Misato's bed. It was, for better or worse, late afternoon on Sunday. Shinji was out goofing off with Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumbass, and their guardian was due back before dinner. Coordinating a reading schedule was tricky in this household. Shinji was usually a homebody and Misato was an adherent of fluid time management. Meaning there was a degree of danger in being found at any given moment. At least Shinji called her before returning, as she now instructed, to ensure she was "decent."

With a sigh Asuka closed the folder, replaced the remaining ones as she found them under the mattress, and left Misato's room. Not that she wanted to read in lurid detail about Shinji and Rei getting frisky but it countered her intuition about where Impact of Love was headed.

She sat at the kitchen table, ruminating on the inherently stupid nature of everyone around her, when Misato returned. She looked a bit haggard, and went directly to the fridge for a beer. She was halfway done with the can before realizing Asuka was in the same room.

"Oh. Hey."

"Hey."

She finished the beer in one long swallow and crushed the empty can. "Where's Shinji?"

"Out."

"Then I'll talk with you, first." She sat at the table across from Asuka. She pulled out a data disk from her jacket. "You know how some days can start out great, then just go nowhere but downhill? And then when you're at the bottom, you fall into a ditch? And then the ditch collapses and you're drowning in a filthy sewer? And then—"

"You had a bad day," Asuka deciphered. "Got it."

"Well, this," she wagged the disk, "was the rat in the sewer that pooped in my hair."

"I'm not a computer. I can't access the contents."

"It's a progress report from your school."

"I can explain."

"I don't want explanations," Misato said. "I want some effort. I know you are smart, Asuka. So how can you have a college degree and still struggle with middle school homework assignments?"

"Learning biochemistry and combat tactics didn't leave much time for this useless garbage."

"I know it's a change of pace, but…" She paused. "Let me help. Tomorrow's Monday, so you have composition, right? Don't make that face. It isn't all bad. I have fond memories of the creative writing class at university."

"I bet that came in real handy."

"Huh?"

"… Well, I mean, don't you have to fill out all sorts of red tape paperwork for your job?"

"Oh. Yeah, I do. But it's not the same." Misato sighed. "So, what was the assignment, exactly? Go get it."

"I'm not going to—"

"Go get it."

So Asuka got it. She tossed over the sheet, littered with Japanese and German epithets, scribbles, doodles of Unit-02, erasure marks and tape holding the three torn pieces together.

"So…" Misato began. "What was the assignment again?"

Asuka was ready to shred the paper again, burn the pieces, flush the ashes, then bomb the waste treatment plant. "We had to write a haiku about ourselves. The teacher demanded 'uncharitable honesty.'"

She sat in thought a moment. "Redheaded female / Garbage disposal stomach / Eating my paycheck."

"Your crude attempts at humor only reinforce how useless you are to me."

"If you want help, Shinji could—" She almost finished the sentence before the derisive laughter. "Okay, fine. You could at least ask to see what he wrote."

"I already stole his," Asuka replied, flinging it across the table as well. "No help."

Misato was going to strongly discourage theft between roommates but she wanted to see his.

"Following footsteps / In the shadow of the past / Looming over me." She frowned. "What a downer."

"And of zero aid to me."

"At least he wrote one."

Technically, that was true. Shinji managed to arrange words in the proper syllabic order to constitute a haiku. Good for him.

"Fine…" Asuka muttered. She jotted down three quick lines in shaky, uncertain kanji.

Older in nature / Proved by everyone else / Devoted reader

Misato was gave her a look. She got one back, plus a shrug.

"The teacher never said who the uncharitable honesty had to apply to."

Her guardian sighed again. "You and Shinji could at least try to take this seriously. No buts. I don't want more excuses. You two will sit down and complete assignments like actual students. Being a part of NERV doesn't mean you can handwave all outside responsibilities."

More exchanged looks. Another shrug.

"And, it would be good to get to know him better," Misato said, glancing over his haiku again. "You two are living under the same roof. Doing some homework together could facilitate a more comfortable environment. To say nothing of when you two pilot."

She said some other stuff, then was yelling, then was pleading, then was drinking, but Asuka was over it. If getting to know Shinji was indeed an order, she'd follow it. On her own terms. On her own time. Alone. In the privacy of Misato's bedroom. Without anyone else knowing. Except maybe the bird if he wandered in. And if he tattled there would be avian blood.

But orders were orders. And like everything else NERV-related, Asuka would complete it, in record time with flying colors while making everyone else look dumb. Which, admittedly, wasn't hard to do. Especially when her closest competitors were the favorited First and Shinji. So, she would learn about them. Via bland, boring, even tamer fictionalized versions of themselves.

\/\/\/\/

The train car was a sardine can. Shinji was all but carried into it with the crowd of humanity. He was thin enough to inadvertently squeeze through the throng as the train lurched forward. Pushed and pulled against his will he eventually stumbled out into a pocket of space by a door. And came face to face with Rei.

"Hi," he blurted.

She looked at him, but did not respond.

He immediately felt foolish for wanting a reply so badly. He should know better by now. Rei was not a bubbly chatterbox. But he had to admit that was okay. Even preferable. She didn't feel the need to fill the air with meaningless babble. Her words were deliberate and composed. Hearing her voice was a gift, one he was learning to be patient for.

So he tried his best to relax. Crammed in a humid tram car, face to face with Rei. He looked up. It felt more awkward. He looked to his left and saw his own nervy, twitching reflection in the door window. His right was the armpit of a sweaty man in a suit. Down was Rei's chest. He looked back to her face quickly. She still stared at him.

He swallowed with an effort. He could feel her slight breath against his collarbone. How long was this commute?

The train stopped at another station and more people piled in. The crowd pulsed towards them. Shinji tried to shield Rei from it, effectively trapping her against the wall as other passengers swarmed their position.

"Uh, sorry," he murmured.

Rei was silent. She watched his face as he looked anywhere but her.

The train staggered forward again. The crowd shifted, pushing into Shinji. He fell forward and reflexively brought his hands up to catch himself. He wound up groping Rei's chest as they were pushed together, shoulder to shoulder. He frantically pried his hands away, hiding them by his sides.

"Sorry, sorry," he prattled into her ear.

There was no way to separate. There were people everywhere, blocking any chance to run away. Shinji stood in the crammed train car, all but on top of Rei, and burned in frustrated shame.

He felt slim fingers close around his wrists. It was so unexpected he gasped. Without a word Rei pulled up. His knuckles brushed the hem of her skirt. Her thumbs delicately pressed his palms, moving them parallel to her. She guided his hands under her pinafore, down, then up under her blouse. His fingertips met the smooth, hot skin of her stomach.

For a moment he thought she trembled, then realized he was the one shaking. The situation was surreal, and inescapable. He was too stunned to properly react or even enjoy the moment. He couldn't see her face, and couldn't see any tells to gauge what she was thinking. She was silent, slowly guiding his hands up her abdomen, her luxuriously smooth skin dewy with perspiration from the humid train car.

Her hands left his, poised on her upper stomach, maddeningly short of her chest. He could not move, to venture further or pull away in terror, too dizzily entranced. So he waited as she leisurely moved on her own.

The snap of her bra unclasping was like a boom of thunder in his ears.

Her hands gently slid around his wrists again. She directed him upwards. He experienced supple warmth and instinctively squeezed.

He heard a soft, nearly imperceptible sigh escape her, breathed against his neck. A microsecond of sound that was immediately branded into his memory.

Which was almost immediately drowned by the train's warning bell, announcing they were close to their destination, returned to reality, humanity, and all the real-world human judgment therein.

The train screeched to a halt. The doors by them opened. Passengers flowed out. Shinji retrieved his hands, furiously clutching only air now, and scrambled away with a mumbled apology in Rei's direction. He ran back to civilization, hunched over, grasping at his thumping chest without looking back.

/\/\/\/\

The apartment's front bell rang.

"Asuka," Shinji called from the kitchen, "could you get that? My hands are full."

That was a loaded statement. Currently his hands were indeed full, clad in heavy oven mitts clasping a sizzling saucepan and a tray of colorful baked vegetables. Not the pallid, sweaty flesh of the First.

So, Asuka was proven wrong again. Misato was not simply trying to better understand Shinji. That bizarre effort did not require him reaching second base. It didn't require writing of any kind. It wasn't required to begin with. Understanding him was a fool's errand, in that he was a fool. Case closed.

Misato could pretend to be magnanimous about the subject but Asuka knew better now. She knew how twisted, how deviant, how perverse, how corrupted she was. How abnormal. How strange. How unaccountably gripped by a singular obsession that absorbed and transfigured all other aspects of her mind. How fantastical.

The front bell rang again.

"Hey, Asuka?" Shinji tried again.

Misato emerged from her bedroom, changed into after-work attire. She eyed Asuka in the living room, who eyed Shinji, who eyed their meal. She sighed and answered the front door herself.

"I was wondering if I had the wrong day," Ritsuko said as she came inside, slipping her shoes off in the hallway.

"My wards are a bit lacking in common courtesy."

"Isn't it part of your job to teach them that?"

"Not without a massive pay raise."

They passed through the kitchen, Ritsuko lingering a few steps to admire the aroma. "Smells lovely as always, Shinji."

His smile was reflexive but true. "Thanks. Sorry; I'm running a little behind. Please make yourself at home."

She joined Misato and Asuka in the living room around the low table used for meals when guests were over. They relaxed over small talk, office gossip and the latest NERV scuttlebutt. Asuka tried to follow along, really she did, but every time one of the adults brought up HQ it forced her to remember the First existed, and then recreate all of Impact of Love's tawdry details. Unbidden, the idea of Rei and Shinji sharing a meal tainted her mind. He'd make awkward chitchat; she'd blankly kind of listen maybe. He'd try to point out a grain of rice sticking to her wan cheek, she'd guide his hand to get it, then guide it lower to another cheek and—

"…said, how is school, Asuka?"

"Huh?" she mumbled, remembering she was in the presence of adults in positions of authority and not in the relative safe confines of Misato's room, her mattress partially propped up like a fortress wall to block out the rest of the world. "Oh, uh, yeah."

Ritsuko waited for elaboration. Asuka just sort of stared through her. Misato shook her head.

"She's been spacey for days. I'd say it's jetlag but she's been in Japan for weeks. And she arrived by boat."

"Well, living with roommates can be an adjustment."

"Five minutes!" Shinji called from the stove.

Penpen waddled into the living room, veering towards the group on his way to his own dinner for a friendly pat on the head from Misato.

"Getting awfully crowded here," Ritsuko remarked. Her nose drew her back towards the kitchen. "If you need some extra space, my apartment has a spare room—"

"Like hell you're stealing Shinji. I haven't eaten this well in years."

"Or ever. NERV's cafeteria fare barely qualifies as edible. Or the university's, for that matter."

"Don't try to use nostalgia to save yourself. Get your own chef."

Dinner was served. They ate. Asuka quietly inhaled her food, trying to think about anything but what she was thinking about. Shinji wound up sitting beside her, politely following along as the adults blathered on. Asuka was tuned out.

She kept constructing possible scenarios Impact of Love could use, trying hard to prepare herself for what she would read next, and found her mind veering into increasingly bizarre places to keep pace. Not that she was an expert in matters of romance. It was a low, private shame of hers. Most of her fantasies involved tight hugs, maybe a kiss, then a fuzzy cloud of indefinite implications. The biological mechanisms were not a mystery, she was a college grad with two years of anatomy to her credit, but the actual ins and outs were total unknowns. Fuzzy.

She shifted on the cheap living room carpet. She'd been feeling fuzzy quite often lately. Ever since she started reading about the First and Third.

Asuka blinked and refocused. Shinji was talking to her. Everyone around the table stared, waiting for a response.

"Yeah?" she finally, dazedly replied.

His brow knitted and she realized he was reaching out for her. She was too hazy to react.

His index finger closed the distance between them and used the utmost delicate care to remove a small broccoli floret from her lower lip. The edge of his nail made split-second contact during the collection and Asuka's body remembered it had nerve endings.

She exploded out of her seat with a shriek. More of a shuddering moan. It sounded unfamiliar and uncouth in her ears. And her leg was asleep from sitting on it. She collapsed back to the floor by the couch.

She took a quick scan of the room to gauge the social damage. Shinji looked wounded. Ritsuko, ever the analyst, calmly observed, albeit with a surprised expression. Misato was fighting back a smirk, a joke, a laugh and a company-wide email to the rest of NERV and Tokyo-3.

Before anyone could react Asuka announced she wasn't hungry, despite all but licking her plate clean, stood, and made a dignified hobble to her bedroom on her dead leg. She managed to get in and slide the door shut as Misato began guffawing.

"Didn't know Shinji had that effect on women."

"Sorry," he called after her, sounding bewildered.

"Don't apologize," Misato scolded him. "You asked her permission. If anything she should apologize. She was staring at you through the whole meal."

Asuka collapsed in bed and pulled a pillow over her face. She screamed into it. Her mind whirled in too many directions. The hand that fictitiously groped the First just touched her. Her oversaturated imagination connected it a few extra steps. It was too close to her earlier fantasy.

Which she blamed entirely on Misato. Enough was enough. With the dinner party's humiliation lingering after her, Asuka vowed that she was finished with the weirdly affecting literary world that Shinji and Rei were a part of. She was done with Impact of Love.

\/\/\/\/

The school roof was a favorite hangout for the upper echelons of the popular cliques. They used the space to exchange crib sheets, phone numbers, gossip and cigarettes. It was a long, narrow area, the only cover from the sun the shallow eave over the door.

On normal days. When it rained there was no place for a crowd to avoid getting drenched, and the student body's best and brightest and brattiest invaded the sheltered quad and cafeteria. When it rained there was no escape from harassment and humiliation indoors.

So Shinji quietly ventured up the three flights of stairs to the abandoned roof. There was a sense of trespassing on forbidden ground; he held no consideration among the in-crowd save for opportune bullying. It wasn't exciting, just a temporary reprieve from social horror.

He opened the roof door to a curtain of rain. It fell all around him in noisy sheets, splashing off the eave and covering the floor with a thin layer of water. The door shut behind him and he breathed in deeply, trying to relax in solitude.

Until he noticed Rei beside him under the eave. He strangled the cry in his throat as anxiety took hold. Maybe she didn't notice him yet. Escape tempted him. But he realized it would be incredibly rude to leave without a word, especially since she let him feel her up the other day.

He breathed out, trying to rid himself of the enormous arousal the memory sparked. He shuffled on his feet.

"Sorry, I didn't think you'd be up here," Shinji said, not expecting any explanation.

"It is peaceful," she replied.

He stumbled in place in surprise. "Am I bothering you? I can leave."

Rei glanced at him. Her expression was unreadable. "Do as you wish."

He stayed. He stayed and wondered why he did. He wondered why she did what she did, not just on the train the other day, but every day. The why gnawed at him. The idea she liked him was utterly unthinkable. It never crossed his conscious mind. Because he wouldn't allow it to. Was she playing with him? Like a pet? Was she secretly laughing at him behind his back?

He studied her profile under the rain. He didn't believe she had that kind of cruelty in her.

He stood listening to the rain with her. It did possess a natural calmness. He lost track of time.

"Why did you come here?" she asked.

He was surprised all over again. He secretly thrilled at being asked a question by her, being engaged.

"I came up here to listen to some music." His SDAT weighed heavily in his back pocket. Shinji paused. "Do… Would you like to listen, too?"

He waited in numb shock. What had he just uttered? He felt oddly entitled to a degree of boldness with her now but this was treading into sacred emotional territory. He prepared to weasel out of his offer.

"If you wish," she responded.

Shinji pulled out the SDAT before she changed her mind. He was a little dizzy as he handed her an ear bud and she fitted it. This felt incredibly intimate. Rei showed no signs she cared one way or the other. As expected. He tried not to disappointed, and then worried about what kind of music she liked. If any. But it was too late to back out. He pressed play.

They stood side by side under the eave, their shoes getting wet together as they listened. Rei stared ahead through the rain during the song at something only she could see. Shinji followed to avoid gazing at her.

The song rose and fell, and concluded with a lingering note he found achingly wonderful, filling him with emotions he had no access to in normal, everyday life. A sense of spiritual comity, a cusp of understanding himself and others just a little bit better, of becoming something else. Something more. Something he wanted to be. Translating it into exact words was a disservice. That reduced it, lessened its impact. And trying to explain all that out loud would only earn, at best, incomprehension and blank stares.

Rei turned to him. "That was agreeable."

He stared at her. Despite the slashing rain, it was humid. She was finely misted with precipitation, giving her pale skin an ethereal glow. Her clothes were damp, clingy. Her hair was mussed as always, but framed her elegant features more exactly.

All around them the rain continued to pour, blanketing them in sound and color, shielding them from the rest of the school, the city, the world. It felt like they were the last two people on earth.

He swallowed.

"May I kiss you?"

The rain fell.

"If you wish."

Shinji tucked away the SDAT and leaned towards her in slow motion. He pecked her gently. On her right cheek. She was warm, and silky, and wonderful. He pulled away. She tilted her head slightly, watching him, but remained silent. He leaned back to her. She shifted her face to him, minutely, so delicately he would have missed it had he not been watching her so intently.

Arousal begot boldness. He touched the side of his mouth to hers. Twice. She did not turn away, or laugh at his clumsy effort, or tell him to stop. She patiently stared at him the whole time. Waiting.

Shinji turned fully to her. Shaky hands alit on her shoulders. He inched near. He was so close he could feel her slight breath against his neck. He paused, waiting for the certain refusal from her, the call to stop.

She was silent, watching him. Waiting.

He kissed her. He kissed her, gently, making the barest contact possible. He ordered his hands not to stray from her shoulders. He did not hug her, or feel any bare skin, or obey what every instinct demanded. He kept himself in check, afraid of doing something beastly to her.

And he was utterly unable to communicate the longing and confusion and desire for her company and body and voice he felt since they met. To let her understand how powerfully he needed to know her better. He was silent as his tensed, stiff lips met hers, straining to hear her again over the roar of the rain, the soft, thrilling reaction from the day on the train.

She was silent. She did not move. And he was lost. He pulled away. His hands left her. He was ashamed at his failures, now and everything in the past. A lifetime of bungled interactions and ruined chances dragged his shoulders and head low. He stared at the rainy floor between their feet, oceans apart.

She stepped closer. "You are welcome," she spoke. And she waited.

And he kissed her again. Again and again, erasing the gap between them. He kissed her neck. He ran his tongue over her lips. The cold damp sleeves of her blouse turned hot under his grasp. Until he hugged her tightly, until he felt her heart beat against his. He ran a hand down her arm, then up to cup her face. He felt her through her blouse. He kissed her.

And she made a noise against him, a soft, muffled sigh from her throat that excited him like nothing else. More than seeing or feeling her body, or getting permission to kiss her. It felt like his fascination with her got through.

The school bell rang, ending lunch period. The sound shocked Shinji back to reality. He retreated a half-pace to regain his breath. She was breathing hard, too. He blushed in furious mix of emotions.

"W-We should go," he muttered distantly, wiping at his mouth.

He turned to the door. He felt resistance. She held the edge of his shirt sleeve to stop him. He turned back.

Rei glanced down. He followed her eyes. He blushed harder.

"Sorry," he told her.

Her fingertips lazily fell on his belt buckle.

"You cannot return to class like that."

/\/\/\/\

Her cell phone rang.

Asuka fumbled the folder shut, hid it under Misato's mattress, and snatched at her phone. She recognized the number and realized they hadn't spoken in over a week. She hadn't thought of him in over a week.

"Hi, Mr. Kaji," she answered.

"How are you doing, kiddo?"

Normally, that was preamble to a half-friendly verbal jousting match. Asuka was no kiddo. And Kaji should know that by now. And they'd go back and forth debating the merits of the term, the meaning behind it, what constituted an adult, age being a flexible ultimately meaningless number in modern society and that philosophically speaking they were both human beings in the grand scheme of things. Normally.

"Fine," she responded.

The line was silent for a good three seconds.

"… Ah," Kaji recovered. "Glad to hear it."

"Yup."

"… Since we haven't talked in a while I was curious. And a bit worried."

"No cause for concern."

"… How is school going? Katsuragi mentioned you had a composition assignment a few days back."

"Yeah."

"… Went well, then? I could lend an ear. The university had some fun lit classes back in the day…"

"No thanks."

"… Then… what are your plans this weekend? I actually have some spare time. Tokyo-3 has a decent shopping district…"

Asuka sighed without a sound, her eyes darting to the digital clock on Misato's floor. "I'll have to take a rain check. Listen. It's been great talking and all but I am slammed with, uh, homework. No, I don't need help. Just, you know, I should attend to that. Homework. It's important. Very, very important. To get it done as quickly as possible. Yeah. Uh huh. Talk to you later. Bye."

She hung up before him. She dropped the phone.

She reached for another chapter.

\/\/\/\/

"Sorry. It probably doesn't taste good."

"But it is warm."

/\/\/\/\

Asuka stared wild-eyed at the latest installment. Shaky hands closed the folder carefully. She replaced it in the pile as she found it.

People did that sort of thing together? And then wrote stories about it?

She needed to stand. So she did. She paced over Misato's mattress once, twice. A dozen times. She sat down again. Her foot tapped a frantic staccato on the dirty carpet. She couldn't sit still. Her whole being was dripping with a raw, itchy anxiety.

Asuka fidgeted. She reached for another chapter.

\/\/\/\/

She wondered when it began. When another person's existence affected her. Why another person's existence affected her. For as long as she could recall she was alone, if not by choice then by luck. Other people passed by, peeked into her life, then left without influencing her, no different than if they never stopped to begin with. And that was fine. That was familiar. That was ingrained into every facet of her being.

And he was the same at first. He was a mild irritation at worst, a new non-presence, nothing meriting consideration. He looked at her, watched her, but even that was not terribly unusual. Other people often gawked and stared for various reasons in various ways, but that was the extent. The brave foolish few that did approach were either scared away or demoralized by their own inadequacy.

And he was the same at first. But he refused to be discouraged by her, or by himself. He kept watching her. His gaze was an earnest desire to learn, to know. Something she was not well acquainted with. His fascination with her made her wonder why. It made her fascinated with him.

The change was not an abrupt revelation, a bolt from the blue. It was so gradual it felt like it had always been that way. Before she realized it, when she caught him watching her and he blushed and turned away, his presence, his existence was of notice. She pondered at his gentle persistence, and the curiosity slowly grew. What was so interesting about her? Why did he bother? She began thinking of him when he was not present. He began to affect behavior as well as thought. The influence he grew to exert on her was unfamiliar, and nervous, and perplexing, and expansive. An unknown intensification of living, mentally and physically. And to gain control back over herself, of this new unknown, she began to test the extent of his fascination with her, and hers with him.

It was not unpleasant to try. He was pleasing to look at. A deceptively beautiful boy. From a distance he was easy to overlook, something she was skilled at. People were, for the most part, all the same. Nothing to demand her attention. And he tried to fit in. He wanted to fit in. But he couldn't. They wouldn't let him. Like they wouldn't let her.

His eyes, the eyes that furtively watched and waited, were a deep stormy beguiling blue. His hair was dark and clean, looking silky to the touch. She appreciated his lean frame and hints of definition in his features.

She enjoyed how warm he was when they made contact. An alien, wondrous heat. His touch was unexpectedly stimulating, even when guided.

He made intriguing noises and reactions, things no one else had access to. Private secrets between the two of them.

He made her make intriguing noises and reactions, things no one else had access to. More secrets.

That any of it was physically enjoyable was secondary, at best. Testing their mutual interest was full of new experiences, thoughts and sensations but it was on her terms. She produced a stimulus, she learned his reply. It was not as crass as simply controlling another person. She was finding what was worthwhile about him. Maybe through it she would find what was worthwhile about herself.

"Ikari," her voice flashed from her lips in a twisting lightning exhalation that drained her lungs. She was, later, quite surprised she was capable of making a sound like that. She did not mean to. Her voice exploded out, along with her conscious thought process, abandoned under an inexorable electric current shuddering through every nerve ending. Control suffered a little death.

The electricity subsided, licking in waves as it departed, leaving her exhaustedly exhilarated, hazily aglow, wondering at the intense, new reaction she gave him, very conscious of the fact she was alive.

She caught her breath, her toes uncurled. She regained control.

"That was agreeable."

He lifted his head up, face dripping. She saw her fingers clawed through his hair. It was, indeed, silky.

"Maybe, you can call me Shinji from now on?"

He smiled at her. She never saw that before. That too, was agreeable. More so, even. He felt good that she felt good, and that made her feel even better. It was a warm, liquid, tickly feeling, a sensation she had no experience with. Yet another new reaction.

She wanted to see him smile. To trigger that reaction again, and again. She wanted it to a degree that was startling. To feel such desire for such a simple gesture was bizarre, but true.

"Shinji," she tried.

He smiled again, freer and truer than before.

It was scary sometimes, it was unfamiliar and awkward, but it was real. It was not the numb fog she existed in before she met him. The endless eternity of watching days crawl by, each the same as the next, never hoping for better because life was painful and lonely and bewildering. It still was, but learning to understand another, to share the burden, as she helped to share his, was a step to make it less so. To decipher what may well be undecipherable was not a waste of time and effort if she was not alone in it. The journey might justify whatever destination they arrived at together. If he was willing, to travel with her, to learn as she learned, to feel as she felt.

He made her feel alive. He made her feel.

That was the impact he had on her.

/\/\/\/\

"… Okay?"

Asuka blindly reached for another chapter as she skimmed over the end again. She paused. Her hand fell on something unfamiliar. She pulled it from the depths of the mattress underside. It was a bright pink, slim tube with a tapered end. It looked like an electric toothbrush, but without any bristle attachment.

"What is this?" she asked aloud.

There was a dial on the base. Without thinking, Asuka turned it. The toothbrush erupted in a shiver of powerful vibrations. Startled, she dropped it into her lap.

Oh, she thought.

Oh?

Oh.

OooooooooooooooooooooooOOOOOOooooooooooooooooooooOOHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

/\/\/\/\

To be concluded in Quickening part 2: Electric Toothbrush Boogaloo

Author notes: Should this be rated M? Should I care?