Disclaimer: I have no rights to Neon Genesis Evangelion, no rights to anything, not even the right to life. In any case, I'm not making any profit and all characters and situations are the property of the gods over at SEELE *cough* I mean, GAINAX. What's that? I haven't paid rent this month? You're going to do WHAT!? *ahghem* gomen ne ^.^

Author's Note: Alright yes, this is something of a departure from the main, but what if the first and third children had a chance to change their lives and choose their own destiny? Will they be free of manipulation, or run the rest of their lives, and never turn back? Will they experience love, or find themselves again forced to ignore such things? As for some minor details, I have messed a bit with the exact timeline, but this is roughly after the seventh angel, and I do make more allusions to the Japanese (rather than English) version of Eva. (i.e. "Miss Honor Student" instead of "Wondergirl" because I really dislike the English version.) Well, don't kill me, alright? And no, I do not consider Rei/Shinji to be related in any way, shape or form, except for the fact that their DNA is similar. Chances are MY DNA is a closer match to YOURS as Shinji's was to Rei's. Hope you understand. Arigato gozaimasu!

NERV Headquarters Facility

Tokyo-3

Beneath the layers of earth and metal that composed the top part of the megalithic Geofront, NERV existed. It was secret, and it was confidential. It was the most advanced weapons deployment facility in the world-the last stand for humanity in the face of such trying times for a world still caught in the potential death knell that was Second Impact. Here, the line between reality and dream and prophecy did not exist-by mandate of the powers that be. Because of this, precautions were always taken, and things accounted for.

The people on the main command center of NERV knew this quite well though they may have been oblivious to the prophecies surrounding their circumstances. It was here that the monitoring and deployment of the Humanoid Fighters called Evangelion was conducted. For each Eva a pilot, and for each pilot, a story, a life, and a need.

Ikari Shinji stood placidly near his guardian, Katsuragi Misato, his cool cobalt eyes staring with disinterest at the goings on of the place that he knew best these days. He was too tired and frankly too disgusted by what it meant to be a pilot of Eva to care anymore about the small details. Today the capable fair-haired scientist Dr. Akagi Ritsuko had carried out a synchronization test to keep track of the pilots' melding with their respective Eva units. Shinji found that he was getting better and better at becoming one with Eva-though he detested the feeling inside of him when he did so even more with each passing day. It was as if a small, yet important part of him was being consumed inside the entry plug every day, slowly leaving him helpless in the face of circumstance. He did *not* want to be here. It was his duty, they said. His obligation to the human race.

The youth turned and spoke to Misato, whom he desperately hoped would at least let him leave for the day and get the obnoxious odor of LCL off of him.

"Um.Misato-san?" asked Shinji quietly from behind the NERV Captain, who was speaking to the Lieutenant Ibuki Maya, the assistant to Dr. Akagi. He waited for a response from the dark lavender-haired Captain and had to repeat himself to be heard.

"Hai. Shinji-kun? What is it?" Misato turned away from Maya with a last nod of her approval as the head of planning and faced her charge, Ikari Shinji, with a warm expression, wondering what made the boy seem so on-edge this day. Oh, she knew he was on-edge, he always was. But this day he seemed different, as he needed to be away from NERV. She could sympathize. And the brooding presence of Shinji's father, Commander Ikari Gendo, staring coldly from his station, did not help matters much at all. Instead, they exacerbated them.

"Misato-san, I mean, Katsuragi-chii, can I go home now, please?" inquired Shinji pleadingly. He wanted to get back and listen to his SDAT and see if he could get out of this funk he'd been in for the last week. It seemed no matter what he did he was still feeling incredibly ill-at-ease.

"Alright. But be sure to have dinner ready by the time Asuka and I get home. I don't think Pilot Sohryu would appreciate having to wait for her dinner." Added Misato with a little bit of derision. It was somewhat fun to tease Shinji about the discord between what the students at Tokyo-3 municipal high school called a 'lovers' spat'. Shinji and Asuka's bickering seemed to prove an invaluable source of entertainment during the more boring days of working at NERV and Terminal Dogma.

Shinji nodded without much of a response to the obvious bait Misato had thrown him, but instead, turned and walked out of the command level and began to head for the showers.

Once he was out of the showers, no longer reeking of the copper-and-mercury bloodlike stench of the LCL, Shinji dressed into his school clothes and began the trek to the train station so that he could get home. The train arrived almost as he came to the station, providing little wait. From his backpack, Shinji produced his SDAT and began to tune the rest of the world out.

Getting home proved to be an easy task and so did cooking dinner. Unfortunately, dinner meant more time with Asuka, who seemed to be in the kind of mood to rag on Shinji. Shinji, in turn, didn't so much as give her the chance to be exploited that day. Instead, he minded his own business and ate silently with his chopsticks and waited for Asuka to bring up the subject of the class trip to Okinawa.

"So, have you decided, Misato? Are you going to let us go?" Asuka was asking from across the major around a mouthful of food. Misato, for her part, was draining a Yebisu, looking quite distracted. At the mention of the trip however, her eyebrows lifted suspiciously.

"I'm sorry, but you're all on alert. What if an Angel-" Misato never finished.

"And what IF an Angel came? We could just leave a backup pilot to cover us while two of us went to Okinawa. Besides, I need a vacation! How can you Japanese live without vacations? I'm sure Kaji-san would agree with me." Asuka tried to justify herself by giving Misato one of her more haughty looks, almost turning away from her as if she could already see the rejection coming.

"Hmm. That's brilliant Asuka!" Misato began to grin fiendishly. By now, Shinji had lifted his eyes from the dreary vista of his plate and was paying closer attention. "Since the First and Third Children have been the ones working the hardest and have faced together ALL the Angels thus far, the majority of the strain, the Second Children-you-will stay behind as to protect Tokyo-3 from harm." Misato could barely keep from laughing at how easily Asuka had been cornered into that one. She knew she'd protest, but Ayanami and Shinji-kun hadn't had so much as of a break in the last couple of months. In fact, the only real resting time either had experienced was in the NERV hospital ward.

Asuka's eyes widened with horror as she realized her little ploy to get Shinji stranded in Tokyo-3 was backfiring. She sputtered, then regained her mental footing. "You mean that baka is going instead of me? I'm the best pilot out of the three of us! I should have the right to at least a class trip! Why is baka-Shinji getting to go anyhow, his synch rate is lower than mine!"

"Asuka." Misato chided in a parental fashion which served to annoy Asuka even more, "I took your idea and made a decision. You're going to be stationed at NERV while Shinji-kun and Ayanami go with the class. And they deserve it, they've been taking the burden since day one."

"Agh! Schiesse! And I was going to try to impress those idiot guys at school with my womanliness. Ah well. Damn." Asuka moved to get up, and then noticed that Shinji had the faintest of smirks on his face. She nearly went berserk like an Eva Unit on cocaine. Lots of it. "What are YOU looking at, Baka-Shinji? Get that stupid smile of your face!" Then Asuka's mind did a little flip, and her western European features became a bit more snide, and a grin spread across her face."Actually, go. I don't care. It just means that I'm going to be doing the real work. That's what the best pilots are for, right? You'll see, you little baka, I'm going to teach you a lesson in humility!"

Shinji hastily composed himself and even sat up straighter, but as soon as Asuka was turned he was already smiling. So was Misato. Secretly Misato acknowledged to herself that no, she wasn't being fair, but sometimes being nice and being fair were two distinctively different things. For now she didn't even consider what was *right*. She still needed the Commander's okay on this and that would be hard to get.

Terminal Dogma Upper Level - Office of the Supreme Commander NERV Headquarters - Tokyo 3

Ikari Gendo stared out from behind his reflective Hugo Boss sunglasses, the orange tint-none too far from that of the repulsive LCL-shading his view of the outside world while painting a noticeably sinister look to him. His face was completely blank except for the hammering, penetrating gaze that swept across the vast chamber and finally fell upon a certain subordinate. His hands were folded beneath his nose and he looked as if he could chew bulkhead and serve up metallic paste. However, something about Commander Ikari that was constant was that he *never* looked pleased, and angry was about the only thing one could describe him as. No, it was not the rage and fury of most men; his was the cold, ice ire that hung palpably in the air like a stale odor.

"Katsuragi-chii, am I being asked to allow two of our most experienced pilots-in fact, both of them-to be absent from duty for a week? That is unacceptable." Ikari said from behind his very well known pose. His tone was an icy gale in the already frigid chamber that was his office. He was obviously reluctant, considering that NERV itself was undergoing budget cuts by the UN at the time, and he himself was beginning to feel the impatience of the Committee. Not to mention SEELE itself. The old men were pressuring him for results on the Completion of Humanity project. Unfortunately, he was about 3 percent behind the scenario, at least in terms of keeping with the scenario provided him in the Dead Sea Scrolls by SEELE.

"Hai, Commander Ikari, I believe that a vacation is in Rei and Shinji-kun's best interest, in terms of mental and physical health," replied Misato unfazed by the coldness in the other's stare.

Gendo seemed to consider this, however, he'd already come to a conclusion. The idea had been previously discussed with Dr. Akagi, and personally concluded that Captain Katsuragi was indeed correct-but for different reasons. This would also give him opportunity to examine the abilities of the Second Child first hand. So he agreed.

"Very well then, Katsuragi-chii, they may go. Consider it an order. And inform the second children she is to report to Akagi-hakushei for today's synchronization test." He finished, dismissing the captain. Afterwards, when the woman was already out the door, Sub-commander Kouzou Fuyutsuki spoke up from behind him.

"Are you sure that was wise, Ikari-kun? The scenario says---" the elder man began but was promptly silenced with an offhand wave of a gloved hand and a stern comment.

"That we need not overestimate the power of the 8th and 9th angels." Gendo leaned back in his chair slightly, giving Fuyutsuki a sidelong glance.

*One day you're going to have to realize you're fallible, Ikari.* thought Kouzou to himself behind a mask of dissatisfaction. The only problem was, that day would mean his own end too.

Departure Terminal

Tokyo-3 International Airport

The next two days were spent in packing and preparation for the trip to the island of Okinawa on the western Japanese coast in the East China Sea. Swimwear needed seeking, and packing needed doing. Misato needed to organize the section 2 team that would watch over Rei and Shinji-kun, and she had to make sure that the facility was running at top standard to allow for the absence of two thirds of their active pilots. This meant that there was a large amount of work that needed to be done to bring the entire installation up to speed.

Commander Ikari had been surprisingly pliant with the request, and approved it with a wave, explaining it away as a need for 'pilot morale' and silently congratulated the major on a rather ingenious way to smite the arrogant redhead girl. She would become a threat one day to Instrumentality.

With this in the mind of Ikari Gendo as he watched from the tinted glass of his Bentley as the group of students from Tokyo-3 Municipal High School disembarked from the charter bus and disappeared into the airport. A few VTOL aircraft could be observed in the distance, part of the intensive security arrangement the JASDF had with the airport in conjunction with NERV and the UN. However, Ikari managed to put as little support into it as possible. It was deemed 'non-essential' from early on.

The Commander watched as his son, Pilot Ikari, and Rei got off last and began to walk into the airport. Neither even really acknowledged the presence of the other, as they were supposed to. Fraternization between pilots was a potential problem no commander particularly liked, and Ikari was adamantly opposed to any fraternization that was non-essential. Especially between *these* pilots.

He would have to wait and see,

Due South West of Tokyo-3, Elevation, 10,000m

Shinji had never actually flown before. He really never had reason to. His life had consisted of a simple existence where he just 'was' for long periods of time, in small apartments, with various teachers throughout most of the time leading up to his residence in Tokyo-3 and work under his father. *Father*, he thought somberly, *why is he so distant with me? And why does he treat Rei so familiarly?*. He knew he'd never get an answer to that one as he looked out to the clear blue skies.

As fate would have it, the flight was a crowded one, even if one didn't factor in the presence of the school students and their teacher-chaperone and their class representative, Horaki Hikari. Furthermore, an unexpected twist happened. While he'd been hoping that maybe he'd wind up sitting next to Touji and Kensuke, he found himself sitting in the most unlikely of locations: in the seat next to Ayanami Rei.

The girl was still wearing her school uniform, prim and proper, but apparently without much beforehand consideration on the issue. She stared blankly at the seat back ahead of her unerringly, her crimson eyes fixated. Her attention seemed to be nowhere, and Shinji didn't dare disrupt her, afraid to offend her or make her angry. So he simply squeezed into his corner as far as he could from the ice-blue haired young woman with pale, creamy skin and watched the clouds roll by below with boredom. Flying, as he'd discovered, was overrated. He wasn't allowed to use his SDAT on the flight because it was one of the various kinds of electronic devices whose use was prohibited during active flight.

If Shinji was agitated, Ayanami was definitely the visage of passivity. From time to time Shinji caught himself sneaking a look or two at her to find the girl still staring blankly, blinking from time to time.

Eventually, when they were breaking past the mainland and into the East China Sea, Shinji worked up the nerve to actually *talk* to her. The experience was terrifying yet exciting. He'd barely spoken a few paragraphs' worth of words to her since they'd met months ago. He was interested in finding out more about her, and perhaps, about his father.

"Uh, Ayanami?" his voice was tremulous.

A cool, soft, somehow melodic voice responded immediately, completely aware, "Hai, Ikari-kun, nani?" *what is it?*

"Ayanami, why did you decide to come to Okinawa with us? I mean..um.You never seem to like doing things outside of NERV. Why now?" Shinji asked in all honesty. It puzzled him how she could suddenly be such a contradiction. All he knew of her mandated that she adhere to her norm and stay put, alone at NERV. *Not to say that's what I want.* he reflected soundlessly.

Her deep crimson eyes had turned to face him, filling Shinji with a sense of nervousness as he awaited her answer. She seemed so far removed from the airplane itself, so far detached from Shinji and the others-as if she could not possibly care what he thought or had asked-but Shinji knew better, or rather, hoped for better than that as he sat in a moment of silence before the First Children answered.

"I like water, Ikari-kun. It is comfortable, soothing, is it not?" replied Rei with her soft, sweet whisper of a voice, unblinking.

To this Shinji couldn't help but give a nervous chuckle and avert his eyes from her solid stare, those crimson eyes focused so intently upon him. He shook his head as if to disagree. "Humans weren't meant to float," he tried to keep the grumble out of his voice.

"You are afraid, Ikari-kun?" Rei asked simply, intrigued with the boy's answer. She'd always felt a certain amount of kinship with the Third Children. She even once vowed to put her own life above his own. But if that had been done purely as a fellow pilot of Eva she did not know. Perhaps she'd done it out of some mistaken instinct that maybe she could have a friend. She did not know that either. She had no answers to those types of thing. Seeing as they did not pertain to what she needed to do day in, day out, to follow the Commander's orders, she regarded these things as irrelevant to her existence. She was not concerned nor needed to be concerned about friendship. However, there were moments such as this one when she pondered the 'ifs' she kept negating. Was her internal.suffering.this unnamed emotion inside of her, this emptiness, somehow related to how she lived? Again, that was unexplained to her, and there was no way she would dare approach the commander with such questions. Yet somehow, she still felt this strange.. connection to Ikari-kun. Ikari Shinji, pilot of Eva Unit 01, boy, student, son of the Commander. It occurred to her she did not know much about him except what was in his file. She decided that she'd like to know more.

By now Shinji was blushing profusely, long having broken eye contact with the enigmatic Ayanami Rei. He'd known her for several months now, and it seemed to him that he knew absolutely nothing about her. He gave his answer to her rather personal question willingly, though with some reservations. He did not like discussing himself with others, it made him uncomfortable, vulnerable. But for some reason he felt a bit less restricted, a bit more comfortable telling this to Ayanami. "No, Ayanami, I'm just..I don't know, I just don't like water. I.can't swim either."

Rei's eyes widened a noticeable fraction before returning to their original state. How interesting, that a boy his age did not yet know something as necessary as to how to deal with water. Then again, such an inability could easily drive fear into someone of water. She nodded her understanding with a knowing glance at him, noting his discomfiture. Ikari-kun was always so ill-at-ease, as if he was at odds with his own existence. Rei smiled inwardly, if that could be actually imagined, at that thought. 'Perhaps we are not so dissimilar as I have been led to believe, Ikari Shinji', thought the sky-blue haired young woman.

"I did not know that, Ikari-kun. I apologize, it has apparently upset you." Said she with a small frown, almost undetectable to all but the trained eye.

"Don't worry about it, Ayanami. You.didn't mean to, and I'm fine." Shinji smiled at her warmly, as he always tried to do to people. He saw no reason to be false to others. He literally had nothing to lose at this point in his life. Reflecting on it, his life.for lack of a better word.. sucked. He really tried to get over that, but felt himself slowly being dragged back into the retro-depressive thought chain that could be birthed from such things. Silently, in his mind, looking away from the ghostly beautiful Ayanami, he repeated his internal mantra.'I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away..'

"Ikari-kun?" Rei's voice penetrated his circular train of thought several minutes later.

"Hai?" he asked with a bit more apprehension than usual.

"That time.when you retrieved me from my Entry Plug after we defeated the Fifth Angel, why did you do so? You were crying also." Her soft voice floated over to his ears like a breeze that sent a slight shiver down his spine at how close she sounded, though he knew that she was well enough away that she was using a normal speaking voice.

Shinji recalled the moment when he'd seen the toppled Evangelion Unit 00 toppled on one side due to the stress of the Fifth Angel's concentrated assault, how he'd practically jumped out of his Entry Plug and bolted to the ejected plug of his comrade..his friend. How the tears in his eyes as he pried the still blazingly hot hatch open, and scrambled inside to see if she was alright.A slight lump in his throat had formed now, as he remembered the dread experienced that time, that he'd lost his friend, Ayanami..Rei.

"I." he couldn't bring himself to begin speaking properly, swallowing hard against the lump, feeling the despair of ejecting from his own Eva to rescue her from injury or worse, "I wanted to protect you, Ayanami..I was afraid that.that I'd lost you. That I'd lost a friend. I couldn't bear the thought.of not helping you. I was afraid for you, Ayanami."

Rei's eyebrows arched in surprise, as she thought, 'He considers me his friend. I did not know that. Is this kinship I feel friendship? What is this emotion that rises inside of me when I think back to the face in the Entry Plug, and His tears?'. Rei could feel something different about how she felt inside when she heard the words of Ikari-kun. He was genuinely grieved to think that there could have been the possibility of her death. Someone had.cared about her. Commander Ikari cared about her, and had raised her, she knew, though she had few memories of that time. There was a certain detachment about the commander, in her mind at least. Ikari- kun..openly showed his distress at the thought of such loss.

"Gomenasai.Ikari-kun." she cast her eyes downwards, then over Shinji's shoulder and through to the blue sky..'Sora Aoi' thought the girl, 'blue sky. A comfortable thing. Is Ikari Shinji comfortable?' "I made you worry.I only wished to protect your life. I could let no harm come to you. I could not then. I will not now."

Shinji was taken aback by the statements from the First Children. The way she said those words, though with a cold efficiency, a soft wind, he could *feel* the conviction behind them. She was.adamant. Something about that made him smile on the inside, feeling a warmth spread through him. "I'm happy you didn't get hurt, Ayanami, because of me. And I hope I don't get you into trouble. I.want to protect you too. That was why I rushed to your Entry Plug.because I wanted to protect you."

"I see." Rei gave him a sort of sideways glance as she shifted slightly into a more comfortable position in the seat and looked over at him with her unflinching gaze. "You made me smile too. I..appreciated that."

"You should smile more, Ayanami. You have a pretty smile." Said Shinji without an iota of thought behind those words, only the truth he felt inside of him, bubbling up to the surface. He watched as Rei's cheeks turned pink with embarrassment, yet her eyes never leaving his, the tiniest of smiles on her thin lips. She looked absolutely angelic like that, illuminated by the light behind him, her eyes seemingly so bright.

"..Arigato.Ikari-kun."

"Please, Ayanami, call me Shinji. We've known each other for a while and we're friends." Shinji corrected, a smile of his own crossing his boyish features, sheepishly observing her reaction to his statements.

Rei thought this over for an instant. 'Am I his friend? He says I am. Is this what friendship is, shared memories, shared feelings?'. The albino girl nodded in acceptance and agreement, and continued to favor him with that faint smirk. "Then, because I am your friend, I will call you that, Shinji-kun."

"Arigato, Ayanami." Shinji replied happily, his face flushed too. He was only so ecstatic that the other passengers of the plane were a few seats ahead and behind him, unable to hear the exchange. If Touji or Kensuke got wind of this, they'd have a field day. The teasing would never end.

"Please, Shinji-kun, call me Rei. We are friends, are we not?" she granted him a questioning look, her eyes nailing themselves to his and staying there.

Shinji was caught a bit off-guard but continued smiling nonetheless, "I will..Rei-kun." 'Gee that sounded..nice.'. Then he concluded, "Yes, we are friends."

Rei smiled at him with something approaching a feeling she could not name, but certainly felt good about. She was warm inside, not cold as she always felt. Her soul did not shiver, but rejoiced somehow. Was this feeling called happiness? She did not know. Isolation had created this void within her, which she could not fill, and she knew not why. She didn't even know the void was because of isolation. All she knew was that Shinji-kun had made her feel.good.

The flight went on without further incident, but rather, a light air of contentment amongst the two pilots.

Author's Note: Alright, there's chapter one, and there will be more coming, I promise, and I'll try to churn it out as fast as I can while maintaining quality. It will be hard since much of my writing time is dedicated to my novel. Well, I hope to hear some kind of criticism, hopefully constructive. Until next time, ja ne.

Kazuhiko Kazuki