Disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is owned by Studio Gainax animation, not me. Should they, or anyone affiliated with them, request it, I will remove all traces of this story from the web.  Also note that this story contains sexual elements.  If such material offends you, please stop reading now. Thank you.

The Third Side

Side 1

Chemistry

By Random1377

Dedicated to Arucard the Rogue Vampire

The balding man tilted his chair back and laced his hands behind his head.  "So tell me, Mister Ikari," he said casually, "why should I make you my dishwasher?"

Shinji Ikari shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  "I'm, umm, a real hard worker," he said hesitantly, "and I'm… I'm good at washing dishes."

"Washing dishes isn't rocket science, Mister Ikari," the man said blandly, "and my dog works pretty hard too."  As the boy flushed and dropped his eyes, Kenji Arima sighed.  "This is your first interview, isn't it?" he asked, leaning forward once more and rubbing the bridge of his nose in a pained fashion as the boy nodded, "I'll tell you what."

"Yes?" Shinji said hopefully, raising his head.

"You seem like a nice kid," Kenji said amicably, "and you sounded sincere when you said you work hard.  Sincere is good – I like that."  He smiled. "So I'll give you a chance to prove yourself.  You start tomorrow, three to eight, and if you do a good job in the next week, I'll give you more hours and make you permanent. How does that sound?"

"Thank you," the brown-haired boy said quickly, "that would be great!"

The restaurant manager chuckled.  "Easy, kid… you'll hurt yourself."  Rising to his feet, he offered his hand.  "See you tomorrow."

Shinji shook the man's hand enthusiastically, promising to do his best, and headed out the door, still thanking him.  On the street, he allowed himself a relieved sigh, turning to look back at the Golden Temple.  "Work," he said happily.

Practically glowing, he stepped off the curb and onto the street, sticking his hands into his pockets and heading towards Sadamoto Memorial Hospital, Tokyo-2's best care-giving facility.  Upon arriving, he presented his identification and made his way to the third floor, shaking his head as he entered room 302.

"Hey," he said softly, "Sorry I'm-"

"Late," the room's occupant, Asuka Langley Souryu, cut him off.  "I knew you would be… you're never on time for anything, Third Child."

Shinji blushed.  "Sorry," he reiterated, "I had something I had to do."

"More important than me?" the redhead teased, grinning as the boy stammered another apology, "Was it a date?"

"N-no!" Shinji exclaimed, "I was just…" he sighed, "I got a part-time job."

"Why?" Asuka inquired, now confused, "Because all that money the government gave us isn't enough for you?"

The brown-haired boy shook his head.  "No, I just," he bit his bottom lip, sitting in the chair by her bedside, "I needed to have something to do."

"Got bored playing with yourself?"

Shinji flushed brightly.  "Umm, Hikari said she'd come by tomorrow."

"Fine," the redhead sighed, quickly losing interest in teasing the boy, as he wasn't rising to the bait… so to speak.  "So what's your job?  And won't Touji-wouji miss his little roommate?"

"I'm going to wash dishes at a restaurant," the former Third Child responded, studying the backs of his hands carefully, "and Touji… he's fine with some time by himself – I think I'm starting to get on his nerves."

"I know you got on mine when we lived together, so I'm sure he's going crazy – and he doesn't have…" she trailed off, her diatribe coming to a halt as she whispered, "Misato."

There was a long, awkward silence, broken when Shinji rose slowly to his feet.  "I'll still visit every day," he said slowly, fiddling with the rail of her hospital bed, "and I talked to the doctors – they said-"

"Another month or so," the redhead interjected quietly, plucking absently at the front of her hospital gown. "I know."

"Yeah, well… feel better."

Asuka nodded as the boy leaned forward and carefully kissed her forehead.  "I'll try, Shinji," she said softly, closing her eye.

Since 'the return,' as they liked to call it, Shinji and Asuka had developed a rather odd relationship.  Too much had passed between them to ever say they were just friends, and yet, not enough had been said for them to claim that they were more.  Each knew that the other cared, yet neither was willing to probe and find out how deep the feelings went.  Essentially, they had returned to the situation they had been in before the Instrumentality Project, though there were two very important differences – Asuka had admitted that she cared for Shinji, and Shinji had reciprocated.

The problem was that admitting that you cared for someone is only a first step, and neither of them knew how to take the next.

Shinji smiled, patting her uninjured arm gently before bidding her farewell and slipping out the door.  As soon as he had gone, Asuka opened her eye, staring at the ceiling with a soft smile as she thought of his next visit.  No matter how tough she looked on the outside, she was still a little girl – a little girl who had lost much of what defined her in one awful stroke.  She had been half blinded, crippled, deformed, nearly killed, and had her purpose – her EVA – stripped from her… all in three minutes and forty-three seconds.

Taking all of this into consideration, it's a wonder she was able to smile at all.

**

Shinji spent the rest of the evening and much of the next morning and afternoon… worrying.  He knew he could do a good job (well, thought he could, anyway) but he was edgy about being that close to people he did not know.  That's why I went for this job, he thought, pulling on a clean pair of jeans and a plain, blue tee shirt, Misato told me once I should try to be more outgoing.  Well, if I'm washing dishes and constantly bumping into the cooks and the waiters, I won't really have a choice.

The logic behind the decision did not make him any more enthusiastic about the idea, though, as he was still going to be surrounded by strangers.  Slipping on his shoes, he decided that it would be like his first day of school – only he would be getting paid for it.  The thought of school made him pause, his hand on the doorknob, and glance at his currently napping roommate.

Next year, he thought, next year we'll all start high-school together.

Most of their friends were already attending Tokyo-2 high, but Shinji had chosen to skip freshmen year and enter as a sophomore with Asuka and Touji, after they had recovered.  The UN made sure that there would be no problems in that regard, and had even offered all three remaining Children honorary degrees.

Asuka had refused on the grounds that she already had a degree from the Institute of Berlin, and was only interested in the social aspects of school – and furthermore, she might drop out after junior year to pursue a career, as after that she would have a firm enough grasp of Kanji and Japanese customs to make it in the private sector.  

Touji had almost accepted.  Then his friend Kensuke Aida pointed out that this would mean he would spend the next three years friendless (because HE wouldn't visit) and dateless – because he would make sure that Touji's current love interest found out about the 'Creamed Corn' incident.  Touji quickly agreed that maybe school wasn't so bad after all.

As for Shinji, he simply wanted to make it on his own, without having anything handed to him or receiving any special favors for being a former pilot – especially for being a former pilot.

"See ya later," he mumbled, shaking his head as the former Fourth Child rolled over on the couch, reaching out blindly for the television remote.

Stepping out of the building, Shinji quickly walked the two blocks to the train station, barely catching the 2:06.  He had deliberately chosen a restaurant on the far side of town, thinking: if you're going to get out of the house, why not get out of the house?  The rail system being what it was, he reached his destination in a little under forty-two minutes, smiling as he walked in twelve minutes early.

Now then

Looking around the spacious dining room, he spied a young girl in the restaurant's uniform, diligently wiping down one of the tables.  He raised his hand.  "Umm, excuse me."

"Can I help you, sir?" the girl asked cheerfully, setting the rag to the side and approaching him.

"I'm… supposed to start today," the former Third Child said hesitantly.

"You must be Shinji," the girl said, smiling kindly as she untied her apron and set it on the back of the closest booth, "I'm Sachiko, Sachiko Nataka.  Come on."  She turned away, gesturing for him to follow.

The brown-haired boy started walking, looking her over as she headed towards the back of the restaurant.  He guessed (correctly) that she was seventeen.  Her glasses framed light hazel eyes, and her shoulder-length black hair was tied back with a simple, green ribbon.  His first impression was that she wasn't a knockout, but she was attractive, and more importantly, she was polite and warm, two qualities that Shinji found incredibly appealing.

"Where are you from?" Sachiko asked as she pushed the kitchen door open, "You don't sound like you're from around here."

"I used to live in Tokyo-3," Shinji replied, looking around in wonder as the quiet of the dining area gave way to the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, "before…" he flushed slightly, "before."

"Ahh," the dark-haired girl said, nodding slowly, "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," the boy answered with a shrug, "at least I got out."

"And if you hadn't," Sachiko pointed out, "we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Shinji blinked, thinking that this was an odd statement.  Before he could comment on it, another girl approached them.  "Careful," she said with a grin, "Sachiko's got some strange ideas.  Hi," she stuck out her hand, "I'm Mizuki, nice to meet you."

As Shinji shook the other girl's offered hand, Sachiko stuck out her tongue.  "Mizuki thinks just because she's two whole years older that she has the wisdom of the ages," she said sarcastically, "but what she can't explain is why her infinite wisdom slipped and got her married so young – and just finished getting her a divorce."

"I'm sure he didn't want to know that," Mizuki said darkly, "I swear – you should learn what the word 'tact' means."

"Oh, I know what it means," the dark-haired girl said happily, "I just don't feel the need to use it with you, Takiama."

"Thanks," Mizuki said dryly.

Shinji stared at her curiously, trying to determine what color her hair was, but since it was covered by a large, red bandana, he could not quite tell.  He did notice that her eyes were a vibrant green, though.

Sachiko noticed him staring and tapped his arm discretely, waiting until he looked at her to shake her head slightly.  "Come on," she said lightly as he looked confused, "over here.  Later, Mitzu."

"See ya," the other girl replied, "and don't hog the newbie all day!"

Shinji blushed as he was led to the back of the kitchen.  "Sorry," he murmured once they were out of earshot, "I didn't mean to stare."

"It's ok," Sachiko said soothingly, "she's just kinda sensitive about it.  She thinks people are always looking at her – and if they don't know her, they are… it's only natural – people are curious, you know?"  She shrugged, "But you're gonna be working here, and it'll be awkward if you-"

"This is my new help?"

Shinji turned to find a middle-aged man with blonde hair looking him up and down. "H-hello," he stammered, unnerved by the man's deep blue eyes. Like Asuka's, he thought suddenly.

"Alexander Davies," the man said, offering his hand, "I'm the head cook here.  You're Shinji, right?"

"Yes sir," the former Third Child answered, wincing slightly as the man firmly gripped his hand, "Nice to meet you, Mister Davies."

Alexander grinned.  "Good," he said, his tone indicating satisfaction, "you already know how to address me."

Sachiko snorted.  "Alex's American – so he's got a pretty high opinion of himself," she muttered, amused, "and he likes to talk tough, but he's really a big softy."  As the man frowned, Sachiko added, "Remind me later and I'll tell you about the time we all went to see-"

"SO!" Alexander interrupted, grabbing Shinji's arm and yanking him away from the girl, "You'll probably want to get started."  He glared at Sachiko, who was laughing with delight.  "You, I'll talk to later!"

"Don't let him fool you, Shinji," the girl said with wink, "but do try to do what he says… he's been in the business a long time, and he knows everything."  She grinned, "Plus he's part-owner of this place, and the one who decides if you stay."

Shinji swallowed, taking another look at the man.  "Umm, what should I do first… Mister Davies…?"

Alexander grinned triumphantly at Sachiko, but she only laughed harder.  "First things first…"

As he was shown where everything was, Shinji nodded, making sure to memorize the locations of all the essentials.  Cleanser, towels, drying rack, hot and cold tap – he wanted to make sure that he did this right, not because very much was riding on it, but because he was tired of making mistakes.

Sachiko watched for several minutes, then headed back towards her station, wondering idly if the boy would make it past the first week.  He seemed smart enough, but washing was a lot harder than people thought.  His hands would be in a constant state of either prune-like sogginess or cracked dryness from the water washing away the essential oils that his skin produced.  Plus the fact that he would be on his feet almost the entire time, with only one ten-minute break.

"Good luck, Shinji," she muttered, tying her apron back on, "I think… you might just need it."

**

Three weeks.  That's how long it took Shinji to grow comfortable in his job.  The first week was spent in getting familiarized with his workstation and where everything went, and (much to his great pleasure) becoming a permanent employee. The other two were spent growing slowly more familiar with his coworkers.  Sachiko, he found, had a boyfriend of a year and a half named Domiyoji Miyazawa, and was very much in love with him.  He learned that Alexander was married and had two children, and was both a loving father… and a demanding taskmaster.  And he discovered that Mitzuki had been married for six months before filing for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.

The other waiters and waitresses rarely talked to Shinji, so he did not have a chance to form an opinion of them.  They were always polite, but distant.  He suspected (and rightly so, in some cases) that they considered him an inferior form of life.

One evening as he was just finishing up, Sachiko came into the kitchen, walking straight up to him and waiting until he looked up before speaking.  "Shinji?" she asked hesitantly, "can you, umm… walk me home?  Domiyoji had to work late, and Mitzuki's already gone."

"I'm… not very safe," the brown-haired boy said slowly, blushing as he quickly added, "I mean, I probably wouldn't do much good if something happened."

The waitress smiled faintly.  "I think just having you with me would make me less appealing to any undesirables that might be lurking about," she grinned, "Of course, nothing you can do can protect me against Alexander, because-"

"I can hear you," the blonde man muttered, poking his face through the double doors leading to the dining area, "this is plastic, not lead!"

"I know," Sachiko winked.

Mumbling something about her being young enough to be his daughter, and snotty enough to be his wife's, the cook ducked back into the other room to finish his conversation with Kenji.

"So," the waitress said with a smile, "will you?"

Shinji wiped his hands on his dishrag and placed it carefully on the sink.  "Ok," he said quietly, "let me just call my roommate, and tell him I'll-"

"You can say Touji," Sachiko laughed, "I know you, Shinji."

Oddly, her light assurance didn't sit so well with the boy.  I don't think anyone does, he thought, frowning slightly as he called home, maybe Misato did.

The young woman waited while Shinji informed his friend that he would be a bit late, smiling as he stammered a denial, obviously being teased.  "All set?" she asked, cocking her head to one side and smiling as he hung up.

Since he was, they headed out into the warm night.  The walk was quiet and pleasant, and for its duration, Sachiko asked Shinji all about his life, finding the topic of Asuka greatly interesting.

"I guess I'm kinda clingy," the boy shrugged as they walked, "I just… she's one of the only friends I have left."

"I think it's cute," Sachiko said, nudging him in the ribs, "the gallant knight, vigilantly watching over his fallen love."

Shinji blushed.  "She's not exactly my love," he said softly, looking down at his feet, "I mean, I like her, but we've… never really been very close.  Emotionally, I mean."

"This is my place," the black-haired girl said suddenly, "thanks, Shinji."

Shinji nodded, relieved that the subject had been dropped.  He still wasn't quite sure what Asuka was to him.  Things had certainly gotten better between them, and he thought Asuka liked him somewhat, though just how much he did not know.  He also had a sinking suspicion that he loved her – but every time the thought came up, he pushed it aside, unable to deal with the emotions that the idea drew forth.

"Wanna come in for a sec?"

"Hmm?" Shinji blinked, "Into your house?"

"No," Sachiko replied immediately, jerking a thumb over her shoulder, "into my dumpster – it's cozy back there, and the smell reminds me of work."  She rolled her eyes as the boy gaped at her, "Yes, Shinji… into my house."  When he just stared, she sighed, grabbing his hand. 

"Come on."

The brown-haired boy let himself be led in, wondering what she wanted from him.  Once inside, he looked around.  "Very nice," he commented, "I like it."

"Thanks," the waitress replied, taking off her sweater, "Domiyoji helped me set it all up, he's really good at stuff like that – very creative.  I think you'd like him."

Shinji relaxed a bit more as she mentioned her boyfriend.  What were you thinking about? his mind teased, Asuka's right… you ARE a pervert.

"Have a seat," Sachiko said, gesturing to the couch, "I'm gonna change real fast."

"Wait, umm," the boy blushed as the girl paused, turning back to face him with a questioning look on her face, "I should get going… shouldn't I?"

Sachiko blinked.  "Well, if you want to," she said with a shrug, "I just thought maybe you'd like to hang out and talk for a while.  You do know how to talk, right?"  As the boy blushed, she giggled.  "You need to loosen up, Shinji," she said, heading for the door, "you're too tense.  Sit tight, I'll be right back."

Shinji tried to relax while she was gone, looking around the living room of the small house.  "You live here alone?" he called, unable to stand simply waiting.

His eyes lighted on an electronic keyboard as her answer floated to him through the door, "No, I have a roommate, but she works opposite shifts from me, so I hardly ever see her."  A moment later, she opened the door, coming back into the room with two cans of soda.  "We probably just missed her," she said with a shrug, offering him one, "just as well – she'd probably grill you until you wanted to scream.  She's really nice, but very, very nosy."

"You play?" Shinji asked, taking the can and nodding to the keyboard.

"No," Sachiko replied, sitting down on the couch – but taking the cushion furthest from him (to avoid giving the wrong idea), "that's Tsuzuki's.  I play the flute."  She popped the top on her drink and leaned back, further distancing herself from him, "What about you?"

Shinji boy opened his own drink, looking at her out of the corner of his eyes before answering, "I play the cello, but my roomma-, er Touji hates it, so I don't get much chance to practice.  He's home a lot."  He swallowed, looking away.  She looks different, he thought, fighting the urge to look again.

Indeed, in jeans and a loose-fitting tee shirt, Sachiko looked far different from the way he was used to seeing her – especially since she had untied the ever-present green ribbon and let her hair down so it could brush the tops of her shoulders.  She had also taken off her glasses, reminding Shinji that she wasn't blind, just a bit nearsighted.

"I always wanted to take a stringed instrument," the girl said, taking another drink and leaning forward to set her can on the small coffee table by the couch, "but I could never… something wrong?"

Shinji was sitting stock still, staring straight ahead.  "N-nothing," he managed, wondering just how red his cheeks were.

The nature of man being what it is, Shinji had been unable to resist the temptation to glance towards Sachiko as she leaned forward, and he had found – much to his combined interest and embarrassment – that she had not been wearing a bra.  He shook his head, trying unsuccessfully to rid himself of the almost burning image of her bare breast – the left, his mind insisted on noting.

Small, he thought, glancing at her from the corner of his eyes, she must wear a padded – ahh!! What am I thinking?!

"You ok?" Sachiko asked, frowning, "You look kinda pale."

"Yeah," Shinji said, "just… it's nothing, I just realized how late it is, I should-"

"Oh, don't start that 'I've gotta get going,' crap again," she cut in, blowing out a breath and making her bangs dance, "I'm not gonna bite you, I just wanna talk… get to know you a bit better."

"Get to know me?" the boy asked, still trying to fend off the images of her soft-looking skin, "How come?"

"Well, I…" the black-haired girl blushed faintly, "Ok, ok – I promised someone up at work that I would find out about you."  She shrugged as his jaw dropped, "I told her I'm not so good at quizzing people, but she made me promise.  Sorry."

"It's ok," Shinji said quietly, staring at his untouched drink, "but who-"

"Uh-uh," Sachiko cut him off, grinning, "that I can't tell you."

Why? he thought immediately, wondering why someone would ask about him.

The girl stretched, not noticing the brown-haired boy's sudden tension as the movement caused her chest to press up against her shirt, clearly outlining what he had already seen.  "Mm," she hummed, "now that you know, can I just ask questions outright instead of trying to work them into the conversation?"

Shinji blinked.  "Umm," he finally took a drink of his soda, "sure," he said, setting it down next to hers, "go ahead."  Dummy, he thought, you thought SHE wanted to know, didn't you? You are so stupid – and even if it WAS her that wanted to know, what would you do about it? She's got a boyfriend – and Asuka…

His thoughts trailed off as Sachiko went straight to the point.  "You seeing anyone?  I know you have the girl in the hospital, but you said she wasn't your girlfriend and you weren't emotionally close to her."  She grinned, "So are you just fucking her or what?"

Shinji flushed.  "N-no."

"Yeah," the waitress said, nodding, "didn't really think so.  Sorry to say this, Shinji, but I'm guessing you've never done it, am I right?  And you don't have a girlfriend at all, do you?"

The former Third Child sat silent for a long moment.  Well, he mused, I DID say she could go ahead and ask.  Finally, he sighed.  "No," he murmured, smiling faintly as he remembered a conversation he had had some time back, "I'm not too adept at, umm…"

"At what?"

Shinji's voice was low as he replied,

"Living."

Sachiko blinked, entirely confused.

"I need to go," the brown-haired boy said quietly, "thanks for the drink."

The black-haired girl got to her feet, leaning over him and putting her hands on his shoulders. "Wait!" she said quickly, running her tongue over her lips as she considered what to say.  "Don't leave, ok?  I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable, I just… I don't know how to talk to people sometimes, and I just go for it, you know?  I didn't mean to offend you."

Shinji forced himself to meet her eyes, trying to keep from looking down as he replied, "No, its ok, I just… I don't know how to talk to people either."

Sachiko slowly straightened.  "Will you stay?" she asked softly, "I won't say anything stupid."  She smiled suddenly, "Well… I'll try not to.  But I would like to hear more about you."

The brown-haired boy stared at his drink for a minute before nodding.  "Yeah," he said, trying to relax, "sorry I freaked out."

The waitress sank back down on the couch, sighing thankfully.  "It's me;" she said ruefully, "like Mitzu said the day you started – no tact… no tact at all."

An awkward silence fell.  Abruptly, they both reached for their sodas, their hands finding each other instead.  They looked down, then at one another, their eyes wide and startled at the unexpected contact.

Abruptly, they both laughed.

"I… I just thought of this old movie I saw," Sachiko giggled, "same thing happened in it, too!  But then they started kissing – and taking their clothes off!"  She blushed as she laughed, "I think they spilled the soda – while they were having sex on the table!"

Shinji's laughter intensified. "I think… I think I saw that one too!" he managed, "Oh… oh, man!  I haven't laughed this hard since Misato tickled me one day!"

The black-haired girl's eyes narrowed and a wicked grin spread over her features.  "Ticklish, are you?" she laughed, "Oh you are so in trouble now!!"

Shinji's eyes widened as Sachiko suddenly swung one leg over him, pinning him to the couch.  "What are you-hahahahaah!!"

His startled reaction was cut off as the girl dug her fingers into his ribcage, wriggling them unmercifully.  "You fool!!" she shrieked, "You revealed your weakness – and now you're mine! Wahahahahah!!" 

"Stop! Stop!!" Shinji begged, struggling to fight, but finding himself totally immobilized.

As gales of laughter filled the apartment, Sachiko smiled. At work he's always so serious, she thought, but when he laughs, he sounds just like Domiyoji.  Still laughing, she tickled him harder, keeping his arms firmly in place with her knees.  "You belong to me!" she shouted gleefully, "Tell me!  Tell me you're mine!  Tell me I own you, slave!!"

"Ok!!" Shinji panted, "You win!  You own me!!"

The black-haired girl giggled, letting up for a minute… then ticking him even harder.  As he writhed, she laughed, "Not good enough!!  Prove it to me!!"

"ANYTHING!!" he wailed, "I'll do anything!!"

She finally relented, breathing hard and keeping him pinned.  Still snickering, she said, "Ok, you stay here… and I'll go get the frilly pink panties I want you to wear!"  As his eyes widened, she burst into fresh laughter.

"Never!" he cried, suddenly feeling more alive than he had in months.

"You said anything!!" she protested, "Do I have to… tickle you more?!"

"No!!" he begged, trying to break free.

"You promised!!" she laughed, flexing her fingers menacingly and inching them closer, "You said anything!!"  God, she thought happily, this is so much fun… HE'S so much fun. Who would have thought?

It was exactly at that point that everything changed.

As Shinji finally recaptured his breath, Sachiko leaned forward and pressed her lips against his.  It wasn't in any way premeditated… it was more an impulse – just a knee-jerk reaction to the happiness she felt at that very moment.  She loved her boyfriend, truly and deeply, and she would never have consciously done anything to harm him – but seeing Shinji laughing, happy, and carefree, when previously he had been so glum and straight-laced… it simply triggered a reaction inside of her.

"Mm…" she hummed, holding the kiss and pushing her body up against his as laughter gave way to a soft, sub-audible gasp.  Slowly, she slid her right hand up and worked it into his hair, wanting suddenly to feel it between her fingers.  Soft, she thought, closing her eyes and tilting her head to the side, so soft.

She moaned low in her throat, leaning up slightly to free Shinji's hands, then pressing herself tightly up against him, flicking her tongue across his lips until he parted them and exploring the inside of his mouth with its tip.  Good… Lord… she thought dizzily, struggling to form a coherent thought as an unexpected rush of adrenaline and endorphins flooded her bloodstream.

Her attempt at reasoning failed completely as Shinji slid his arms around her waist, pulling her closer to him, and all of her higher brain functions seemed to shut down as he tentatively slipped his right hand up under her shirt.

If you've never been in a situation like this… you cannot understand just what happens.  You can comprehend on a purely scientific level – the baser instincts take over, blood flow is redirected from the brain to other parts of the body (primarily the erogenous zones) and rational thinking becomes harder.  But unless you've experienced it yourself, you cannot truly know what it FEELS like, or how it is nearly impossible to stop once you reach a certain point.

Sachiko's heart rate shot through the roof as the brown-haired boy leaned forward, laying her on the coffee table and urging her to put her legs around him.

Neither of them noticed that the soda cans had spilled.

As Shinji pulled the dark-haired girl's shirt off, throwing it carelessly to the side before crushing her lips against his once more… his cell phone rang.

Sachiko pushed him back abruptly, breathing hard.  "I… that's your phone," she panted, her cheeks flushed with color.  Before he could reply, she twisted out from under him and rose to her feet, covering her chest.  "You should… get that."

Shinji fumbled for the device, his face a brilliant shade of crimson.

Fuck… Sachiko thought, shame replacing lust in the blink of an eye, what am I doing?!  As Shinji finally dug the phone from his pocket, she grabbed her shirt, rushing into the other room.  She leaned up against the door, her body shaking with a mixture of desire, embarrassment, and just a touch of fear.

What if Domiyoji finds out? she thought frantically.  She shook her head, To hell with that! she added mentally, What NOW?  I just nearly FUCKED Shinji!  Hot, confused tears began coursing down her face as she realized it was true.  Another five minutes or so and she was sure they would have been doing it.  How am I going to face him when I go back in there – let alone at work every day?!

She stayed in the other room for several minutes, trying to collect herself.  Finally, she donned her shirt and opened the door, determined to just talk to him about what had happened and make sure that he understood that it had not been her intention to lead him on.

The living room was empty.

"Great," she whispered, slumping back against the wall and sliding down to the floor, "just great."

Closing her eyes, she rested her head back against the wall, letting herself fall asleep right there, one word echoing in her mind and following her relentlessly into her dreams,

Whore…

**

"Shinji here yet?"

Alexander looked up from the grill, shaking his head. "Nope," he said, "called in – friend of his got in an accident.  Won't be here tomorrow, either, and since Friday and Saturday are his days off…"

Sachiko sighed as he trailed off.  "Thanks, Alex," she murmured.

"Sure sure," the cook replied, waving a hand, "he did say he should be back on Sunday, though."  He grinned.  "Why? He owe you money or something?"

Sachiko forced a smile, knowing the man would pick up on it if she just said 'nothing.'  "Yeah," she said as lightly as she could, "we played rock paper scissors for fifty cents a pop.   Punk owes me ten grand."

Alexander laughed.  "Well," he said with a wink, "I won't tell him you're looking – I don't wanna scare him off."

"Thanks…"

As she got ready for work, Sachiko sighed.  Four days, she thought, God, I'm such an idiot!

"How did it go?" an anxious voice asked her.

Great, the black-haired girl thought darkly, when it rains it pours.  "He's single," she murmured, not raising her head, "go for it."

"Thanks Sachi!!"

Sachiko found herself feeling ill as Mitzuki hugged her from behind.  Sure! she thought bitterly, Hey, when you call to ask if he wants to go out, can you ask him if he had wet dreams too – because I needed to change my panties when I woke up. Can you do that? I really want to know.  She almost laughed out loud, but she knew it would have sounded mad.

"He's cute, isn't he?" Mitzuki giggled, "And so sweet! Yesterday…"

As the other girl gushed about her hopefully-soon-to-be-boyfriend, Sachiko sighed.  She doubted that any of Shinji's friends got hurt – no, she was sure he was avoiding her, and she couldn't blame him. If HE had been the one to start what they had done the night before, she doubted he would EVER come back to work.

At least we didn't go all the way, she thought tiredly, sure fucking DREAMT about it, though.  She blushed, feeling that it was bad enough that she had kissed him in the first place, but the dreams she had afterwards had been… vivid.

She wondered idly if she had some sort of disorder.

"Anyway," Mitzuki was saying, "I hope he says yes," she blushed faintly, "and I hope he isn't, you know, freaked out by…" she trailed off.

"He won't be," Sachiko said gently, looking at the other girl's ever-present bandana, "he's not that kind of guy.  That won't bother him."

"You think?" the other girl asked hopefully.  She smiled as Sachiko nodded.  "I hope you're right," she grinned mischievously.  "I feel kinda shameless," she admitted suddenly.

"Why?" the black-haired girl asked, confused, "For asking a boy out? That's not-"

"No, no!" Mitzuki interrupted. "Because of his age, stupid!"

Age? Sachiko thought, How old is he, anyway?  Seventeen? Eighteen?

Mizuki leaned back against her locker, sighing softly.  "I guess four years isn't all that much, but still, I-"

"He's twenty-three?" Sachiko asked, knowing even as the words left her mouth that this was not the case.  He CAN'T be fifteen, she thought dazedly, he just can't!!

"You're so funny!" her friend giggled, "Come on, we're gonna miss our whole shift if we stay here chatting like this."

The black-haired girl nodded, her eyes wide and staring.  Fifteen, she thought wonderingly, What the hell happened to you, Shinji?  What happened to make your eyes look so old…?  Sighing, she rose to her feet, tying her apron on.  Sunday, she thought, pushing thoughts of his blue eyes out of her mind, Sunday.

**

Asuka frowned slightly, biting her lower lip as she asked, "So… shouldn't you be at work or something?"

Shinji leaned back in his chair, sighing softly.  "Yeah," he said softly, "but I just didn't feel like going in today.  Too much on my mind, I guess."

The redhead studied the boy's face for a long moment, trying to summon up some of her old attitude… but therapy had been hard that day, and she couldn't quite manage it.  Instead, she met his eyes levelly and whispered, "Do you want to talk about it?"

The former Third Child smiled wanly.  Six months ago, I would have fallen out of my chair hearing you say that, he mused, averting his eyes, now I don't have the energy.  Why do I keep going?  He looked back, but Asuka's eye was focused on her right hand.  "Is it bad today?" he asked gently, choosing to push thoughts of Sachiko aside for the time being.

The German girl looked up at him, unsmiling as she replied, "It's bad every day… but yeah, it's worse today than it was last time you were here."  For a very long moment she said nothing, then she cleared her throat and whispered, "On the beach… when I touched you."

Shinji tensed, leaning forward.  "Yeah…?"

They had not talked about it before, and Shinji sometimes wondered if it had been a dream.  He had been so full of rage, lying on top of her… trying to kill her… crying like a baby when she had touched him.  When they had been found, gently embraced in the soft sand, Asuka had been on the brink of death.  The wounds that the lances had caused her were deep and cruel, and they had both been sure she was going to die.

They had not spoken as they lay there, too frightened that breaking the silence would somehow ruin the bond that had formed between them, and too frightened that every breath might be her last.

Asuka closed her good eye, taking a deep breath.  "Well, you know that I get out of here on Saturday, and I… want to stay with you… if that's ok," she said, obviously having trouble asking for that favor. "You're the only person left that knows what really happened," her eye opened and she smiled at him weakly, "and you're the only one who puts up with my shit."

Shinji leaned back, crestfallen.  "Of course," he said as levelly as he could.

He was the only person that knew what happened.  Oddly enough, everyone else seemed to have forgotten – whether deliberately or just because it was too painful to remember – what exactly happened when Instrumentality was executed.  He was more than happy at the promise of her living with him again, but he had been hoping she would tell him why she had touched him that way.

It was one of his best memories.

"I'll let you get some rest," Shinji said quietly, getting to his feet, "I'll come back tomorrow and-"

"Shinji," Asuka cut him off.

"Hmmm…?"

She looked at him for a long moment, wanting him to stay for a little longer, but not knowing how to ask without seeming needy.  Finally, she smiled faintly, pushing her concerns aside. "Don't go yet, ok?  Stay and talk to me some more…?"

Again, Shinji was taken with the change in her.  Instrumentality had changed them both – he was not as weak as he used to be, and she was not as prideful – but they were still essentially the same people.

Change takes time, he thought, returning to his seat, but she seems to be taking less time than me.  He studied the girl's face closely, She always was stronger.  He blushed, looking down at the floor, And I'll bet SHE never would have let something like THAT happen – she would have told the guy to get the hell away from her.

The incident with Sachiko was like a dark shadow that he kept looking away from.  He knew it was there – could feel its cold touch on his skin – but he did not dare face it, because he was afraid of what he might see in its dark confines.  Would he find that he was as weak as he had always been?  Unable to stop, even though he knew she was seeing someone?  Would he see that he didn't love Asuka?  Why had he kissed Sachiko back?

Too many dark questions – with answers he was not quite sure he wanted to hear.

He had pondered telling Asuka about it, but had immediately discarded the idea.  She would definitely hate him if she knew how brazen he was, and any chance that they could ever have would disappear in a nanosecond – she had told him during Instrumentality that she only wanted him if he was hers alone.

"So are Hikari and Touji hitched yet?" Asuka asked quietly, glad that he had not run away.  He's changed too; she thought happily, now if we could both just change ENOUGH, I think… she let the thought trail off, unprepared for maybes just then.

"Not yet," Shinji answered, glad to have something to talk about, "but I think he'll ask soon – I mean, I hope he'll ask soon. I think it would make them both happy.  At least then they'd have each other."

"Awww," Asuka said, letting a note of gentle sarcasm creep into her tone to try and lighten the mood, "how sweet."

Shinji laughed, feeling some of the tension leave him.  "Well," he pointed out with a grin, "Hikari does say he has that 'sensitive side' to him."

Asuka answered his laugh with one of her own.  "I keep telling her that she's making a mistake dating him, but she's stubborn."  Her laughter subsided, and she plucked at her bed sheets, not really knowing what to say next.

There was an awkward pause, then Shinji sighed. "I'm sure they'll be fine," he said firmly, "and I'm sure Touji will ask soon – he's… stronger than he looks."

Asuka nodded slowly, deciding to change the subject before her former (and soon to be) roommate went into a swift decline thinking about how lonely his friend was.  "How's the job?"

Shinji paled slightly, as if she had just asked if it was his secretary that she saw him with at the movies the other night when he said he was working late.  "It's going good," he said uneasily, "the people are really nice, but my hands get all dry and-"

"Shinji…"

"Yeah?"

"Are you… waiting for me?"

"What do you mean?  I'm waiting for you to get better, is that-"

"No, are you waiting for me…?"

The brown-haired boy blushed, not expecting her direct question.  "Should I…?" he asked, barely breathing.

Asuka looked away, fighting to say what she wanted to say, and not exactly knowing what that was.  "Would you…?"  How long they sat there in silence, she did not know, but it felt like forever.  Finally, Shinji got to his feet, putting his hand carefully on her injured one and smiling uncertainly.

As he opened his mouth to answer, his cell phone rang.

"You should get that," the redhead murmured, blushing faintly as he reclaimed his hand, "I'll wait."

Shinji nodded, reaching into his pocket for his ringing phone (advances in shielding had ensured that man never had to go without his cell phone while doing something as menial as having surgery). 

"Hello?"

"Shinji! Hi!"

"Mitzuki?" the former Third Child said, confused, "Is something wrong?"

Asuka frowned slightly.  Why is she calling him? she thought, confused, Is there a dish-related emergency they just can't handle?  She grinned as Shinji listened on the phone, I can just see it now, 'Mister Ikari! The sink is plugged!  Only your expertise can save-'

"You mean like a date…?"

The redhead's blood froze in her veins.

NO!

Shinji hesitated. "I don't…" he glanced at Asuka, "no, I'm not, but… uh huh…" he stared into the former Second Child's blue eye, hoping she would protest this.  Now, he thought desperately, tell me now, Asuka… should I stop?

Asuka looked away, saying nothing.

The brown-haired boy's heart sank.  "Yeah," he heard himself murmur, "I'll talk to you about it Monday, then… bye."  He hung up the phone, putting it back in his pocket, "Asuka, I-"

"I'm gonna get some sleep," the redhead cut him off, yawning expansively, "see ya."

"But-"

"Goodbye, Shinji."

As Asuka closed her eye, Shinji bowed his head.  "Bye," he said, his voice thick.  I would, he thought, heading for the door, if you want me to, Asuka, I'll wait… do you want me to? He paused, hoping she would call him back, but the only sound was her deep, even breathing.

Silently, he opened the door and walked out.

Had he waited a moment longer he would have heard her quiet, frustrated tears.

**

"He said yes!"

Sachiko paused for a moment, then continued wiping the table she was working on.  "That's great, Mitzu," she said softly, "really great."

"He was so shy!" Miztuki giggled.

Not the other night, the black-haired girl thought wryly, unless shy guys are in the habit of-

Her thought broke off as a strong pair of arms slipped around her waist.  "Hey babe…"

She shivered slightly as one of the hands moved up and discretely covered her right breast.  "Domiyoji," she gasped, feeling her body react instantly to his touch, "I told you – not in the restaurant!"

"It's after hours," her boyfriend whispered, "and Mitzuki's not gonna tell, are you?"

"Nope, my lips are sealed."

Sachiko looked around, seeing that none of the other workers were in the area.  "Not now, ok…?" she breathed, moving his hand gently down to her stomach.

"Aww," Domiyoji muttered, disappointed, "it's just a little feel – it's not like we're doing it on one of the tables or something."

"You'd like to, though, wouldn't you?" Mitzuki chimed in, giggling, "Sex fiend."

As his girlfriend blushed, trying to finish her work, the young man grinned.  "Nothing wrong with sex, Mitzu… not when you're in love."

Sachiko froze.  God hates me, she thought darkly, that's what it is – God just hates my guts.

"Don't you worry about chafing?" Mitzuki asked lightly, "I mean, I assume you know about lubricant, but really, as much as you two-"

"You're just jealous," Domiyoji cut in, "how long has it been since you got any, Mitzu?  Five months? Six?"

Mitzuki grinned.  "Well, that might change soon," she said happily, "I asked that new guy out."

"The kid?"

Sachiko bristled at her boyfriend's description of Shinji.  Why is it, she thought tiredly, that I'M the only person that didn't know he was that young?  "He's a good guy," she said, tossing the rag to the side, "you'd like him."

"You guys should go with us!" Mitzuki said suddenly, "We're gonna go see a movie, probably next weekend."

"You're on," Domiyoji replied enthusiastically before Sachiko could say a word, "he's always busy or just leaving whenever I drop by, and I wanna see what he's like."  He grinned, letting his hand once again climb up his girlfriend's shirt.  "And if my honey says I'll like him, I definitely want to meet him."

Sachiko sighed softly, letting him touch her.  Go ahead, she thought a touch bitterly, let's never forget you get everything you want.  She blushed, knowing this was an unfair thought.  Their relationship was actually very well balanced, with compromises on both sides, so to say he always got his way was entirely untrue – and she knew it.  But it felt good… it felt good to be able to feel angry with him.

It certainly beat feeling angry with herself.

"Do you want to go home?" the dark-haired boy whispered, kissing the back of her neck gently, "I haven't gotten to see you for four days. I've missed you."

Damnit, Sachiko thought, biting her lower, why am I such a loser?!  I came THIS close to cheating on him, and now…

"Yeah, let me finish cleaning up my station."

Domiyoji kissed her earlobe lightly, lowering his hands to her stomach.  "I love you," he murmured, "do you want me to help?  Make it go faster?"  He dropped his voice lower, so that it was for her ears only, "I want you… right… now."

"I can… do it," she breathed, more affected by his words than his touch, "and you can have that anytime you want it."

"Have what?" Mitzuki inquired curiously.

"It's a secret," the boy grinned, stepping back from Sachiko, "I'm gonna go talk to Alex for a few while you finish up, ok?"

Sachiko nodded, staring off into space as he walked off.  I'm so shameless, she thought, I should tell him what happened, but I'm just going to shut up and go back to my place, or his place, and… and…

"You ok, Sachiko?" Mitzuki asked, grinning slightly, "Or are you just thinking about getting off… so you can get off?"

Sachiko laughed.  "You're a pervert!" she admonished, "We're not going to run off and have sex!  We're just gonna go home and talk, maybe watch a…" she trailed off as her coworker leaned forward, pulling on an imaginary pair of boots.  "What are you doing?"

"Getting my hip-waders on," Mitzuki replied dryly, "because suddenly – I'm knee-deep in bullshit!"

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, then Sachiko burst out laughing.  "Oh shut up!" she giggled, "You're just mad you're not getting any tonight – now get out of here so I can clean up!"

"Not tonight," Mitzuki grinned, "but soon."

The dark-haired girl sobered slightly.  "You don't know that," she said softly, "I don't think he's done very much, Mitzu.  He might not be ready to-"

"Ooo!" the other girl cut her off, winking, "So I get to be the teacher?"  She smiled as her friend started to protest again, "Calm down, Sachiko," she said, turning to walk off, "I'm not going to just tear his clothes off on our first date." She averted her eyes. "But he's really nice, you know?  And if he wants to…" she trailed off, shrugging awkwardly.  "Know what I mean?"

"Yeah…"

Sachiko watched Mitzuki wander off, wondering why she should even care.  Not like he's MY boyfriend, she thought, I just… I dunno – the way he kissed me.  She shook her head, moving to the next table to be wiped down, I think he's pretty mixed up right now, and after what we did… I don't think her offering herself to him – or even just making it known that she's willing – will be a good thing.

She sighed, finishing her cleaning duties and removing her apron… and trying to remind herself that, really, it was not her business.

**

The walk to the taxi was painfully silent.  Asuka had not spoken much in the past three days, and Shinji had not made much of an effort to start conversations.  He had visited her, as promised, but they had not talked about anything deeper than the weather or their friends.  The only real interesting topic was Kensuke, who (Shinji informed Asuka) was seeing some girl, and apparently doing well, though he had been really busy when Shinji had tried to call him, and he had not wanted to be a bother, so he had not gotten much detail.

"Give me your hand," Shinji said quietly, opening the taxi door and stepping in front of her, "I'll help you."

Asuka opened her mouth to snap that she didn't need his help, but she closed it again and reached out with her good hand, frowning slightly as he carefully helped her up out of the wheelchair.  "Thanks," she mumbled, grimacing slightly in pain as she arranged herself in the backseat.

The brown-haired boy nodded, handing the wheelchair over to the nurse that had walked them out and sliding into the vehicle.  After giving his address to the driver, he leaned back, looking out the window and thinking; Well at least she didn't decide to live on her own.

As if reading his thoughts, the redhead muttered, "This is just temporary, you know – just until the doctor says I can live alone."

Shinji continued looking out the window.  "Yeah," he whispered, "I know."

"And I don't need you following me from room to room, either," Asuka added, "I'm not an invalid."

"Ok."

The former Second Child scowled.  "Are you even listening to me?!?"

The brown-haired boy turned to face her.  "I am," he assured her quietly.  Seeing her brow drawing further down, he quickly changed the subject.  "I put some of your old things in your room for you," he informed her, smiling as he added, "and Touji said, 'Tell her not to expect me to treat her any different – she's not the only one who's messed up!'"

"He's a stooge," Asuka snorted, "I hope he doesn't expect me to get things from upstairs for him. Fruitcake."

Shinji sighed.  "He's got a prosthetic."

"He'll still try and take advantage – he's a goober!"

Heaving another sigh, the former Third Child looked back out the window, wondering if having two injured, short-tempered ex-pilots in the same house was such a good idea.

Since the incident with the thirteenth angel and Unit 03, Touji Suzuhara had become a slightly more bitter person.  To his credit, it was only slightly, and only those that knew him well would have been able to spot the difference, as he had always been somewhat caustic and hard to approach.  His girlfriend, Hikari Horaki, had declared her love for him while he was in the hospital, and had stood by him tenaciously, refusing to let him get away from her after it had taken so much to bring them together.  Shinji found their relationship both endearing and incomprehensible.  Half of the time, they acted like love-struck fools, unable to keep their hands off one another (though to his knowledge, they had not slept together as of yet) and the other half, Hikari acted like a love-struck fool, and Touji acted vaguely annoyed.

What was most curious to Shinji about the second behavioral pattern was that when Touji was in his 'darker' mood, Hikari seemed to want to hold his hand, kiss him, and whisper to him even more – even smiling when Touji tried to push her away.

I'll never understand that, he thought, shaking his head as the taxi turned onto his street, it's like she's DARING him to try and get rid of her.

"What time do you work tomorrow?" Asuka asked softly.

"I don't leave home until one-thirty," Shinji replied, meeting her eyes in the reflection off the glass, "did you want to do something?"

"I wouldn't want to upset your girlfriend," the redhead replied sarcastically.

"She's not my girlfriend," the brown-haired boy said tiredly, rubbing the bridge of his nose, "when she called me, that was the first time I even knew that she liked me."

"Sure, Shinji," Asuka whispered, "sure."  She sighed as the taxi came to a stop, "I was just… oh never mind."

"No, tell me, please?"

"I… haven't been to Misato's grave yet," the redhead whispered.

"You gonna talk all day?" the driver asked, slightly amused, "It's ok by me, just let me know so I can turn the meter back on."

Both Children gave a start, and Shinji shook his head. "N-no sir, thank you."  He opened his door as the man laughed, reaching in his pocket for some bills and handing them over.  "Come on," he said softly, offering Asuka his hand once more.

For a long moment, Asuka stayed motionless.  Then she reached out with her right hand, watching Shinji's face closely as her partially metal fingers grasped his.  "What is it like?" she whispered, "am I cold, Shinji?"

Shinji boy looked down at the appendage, blushing faintly.  The damage to her arm had been extensive, and simply binding the wound had been ineffective, so the doctors had chosen to augment the limb with cybernetics.  Starting at her elbow and running down the back of each finger was a series of segmented carbon-alloy strips, housing a complicated array of the smallest, most sophisticated nanofiber wires that technology could offer, backed up by a series of miniature servomotors implanted under the skin in the elbow, wrist, and shoulder.  Though the assemblies were built in flesh-tones, they were still visible – especially when taking into account the fact that they did not tan or take in makeup.  Eighty percent of her arm was still flesh, but the rest was pure machine.

And there was no way to hide it.

"No," Shinji said softly, smiling as he deliberately grasped her hand, "you're not."

"Yeah you are," a voice behind Shinji spoke up, "maybe not your skin, but you are definitely cold, Devilgirl – and I love the bandage… nice and hospitally."

Shinji boy flinched as Asuka unconsciously tightened her grip, levering herself out of the taxi with a slight grunt and resisting the urge to touch the bandage covering her damaged eye.  "Cold like your bed, Stooge?" she shot back, "I talked to Hikari – she said you keep trying to get in her pants."  She made a pouting face, "Poor baby," she said consolingly, "guess your hand will have to do for a while longer."

Touji shrugged, leaning a bit more on his crutch.  "Yeah?" he replied lightly, "Least I can pretend it's a human I'm with.  What about you, Souryu?  When you're lying in bed, fantasizing about me, are you going to pretend I'm a robot so it feels right?"

Asuka smiled sweetly.  "Why would I have to pretend?"  She tilted her head to the side, looking thoughtfully at his left leg, "Though I might pretend you can dance…"

The former Fourth Child rolled his eyes as he turned away.  "Welcome home," he muttered, heading back into the house.

The redhead watched him go, grinning broadly at her triumph.  Abruptly, she realized that she was still holding Shinji's hand.  Releasing it, she started up the stairs to the sizable building, her smile becoming softer as Shinji followed her, still blushing.  Opening the door, she whispered,

"I'm home…"

Continued…

Author's notes:  ya know… as long as this chapter is – I got no notes!  That's right, nada! :P

Pre-read and constant hounding for updates courtesy of Ryoma, and LeperMessiah.  Ok, Ok!  I'm working on Chapter 2!! Geez!!! Get off my back!!!

Feedback is always welcome at random1377@yahoo.com