Title: Numb (Revised edition)
Rating: K+
Series: Neon Genesis Evangelion
Part: Chapter 1
Summary: Shinji writes a poem to the person he loves, but events tend to work against him as usual.

Disclaimer: Evangelion, and the pilots are the property of Gainax, and they reserve all rights. The song Voiceless Screaming (used in the unedited version, not this one) is copyright to X-Japan, the poem belongs to me.

AN: This story is based off the opening scene (or close enough) of SlvrElement's story, The Look in Your Eyes. This story was inspired by the many possible outcomes of Shinji reading his poem to Rei. So please give that story a read to see where I got the idea, please note that I only borrowed the idea of the class assignment of a poem, nothing else. Everything else in here is mine, not counting the brief uses of dialog from the Anime/Manga.

AN2: Please note that this will also be a slight retelling of the episode where Shinji is absorbed into Unit-01, done slightly off Canon, originally it was the 12th Angel but I decided against that. I plan to base a lot of Shinji and Rei's relationship on the events of the fifth Angel from the Manga rather than the Anime, there is just so much more of a relationship between them in the Manga. Additionally the title of this is to reflect the trifecta of my Linkin Park story naming.

The falling rain met her eyes as she stared calmly out the window, the drops gently pattering off the glass. She felt at peace during storms, it wasn't something she was able to explain, she just knew that she was. Ever since she could remember, storms had brought her a sense of comfort; there was something about the beautiful, yet destructive lightning that would soothe her when she needed it.

Sitting, staring out the window, Rei could only watch as the rain fell past. Watching its descent she felt nothing; no emotions, and no feelings. All that she had, all that she ever knew was the long forgotten memory of a feeling of peace suppressed deep within her soul, hidden by the cold masks she had been taught to wear.

Masks; barriers to hide away the person that she truly was, a scared little girl caught in something that she could never truly understand, something that she didn't want to understand.

She couldn't remember any of her childhood, all she could remember was Commander Ikari teaching her to hide her emotions and feelings away behind a mask, to never let the world in.

'It's the only way to protect you from others Rei,' he had said on more than one occasion when she had questioned him. 'All anyone wants to do is hurt you, they will pretend to be your friend or tell you that they love you, but in the end they will only cause you pain. You can't trust anyone Rei, only yourself and me.'

And so she had, she had distanced herself from all others, keeping close to only the Commander. As she progressed through school she had become know as the 'Ice Girl,' not because of her skin pigmentation, but because of her cold attitude toward the other students. For eleven years she had been shunned by the others, ignored, and overlooked. For eleven years this had been her life, keeping others at bay with her mask of ice, she had no one and no one wanted her, but all that changed on the day that the new Pilot came to Tokyo-3. Before he had come she had nothing in her life worth waking up for, the only thing she'd had was her position as a pilot and even that held no future, that path would only lead to her death, as it would for all who pilot an Evangelion.

With the appearance of the younger Ikari, her life had been thrown into total chaos, for eleven years she had lived as an outsider and now here was this person that appeared to care about her. He didn't care about what she could do for him or how he could use her to his advantage, he merely cared about her for her, something she had never experienced in her life.

She knew that he cared about her, and that he cared about everyone; he had proved it time and again, but most notably when he had scarred himself on her super-heated entry plug, desperate to make sure she was safe. That day she had seen the true person that was Ikari Shinji; he wasn't the idiot or pervert that the Second Child claimed he was, instead she saw the kind, loving person that would give his life to save someone he cared about. In the brief moment when she had smiled at him she had been witness to his soul, laid bare through his eyes. Back then it had been joyful and alive, but now she could see it was withering and dying, soon the caring individual that was once there would be no more.

With this horrific thought in mind she succumbed to the tears that begged to fall, knowing that there was nothing she could do to save the boy that cared for her. Outside the rain continued to pour down as she slipped into the depression that had haunted her already fragile psyche since she had become a pilot. Sniffling slightly she allowed the onslaught of tears that burned behind her eyes to continue to fall, burying her head in her pillow, eventually falling asleep as her hot tears soaked into the case, adding to the ones that already stained it.

Holding the paper before him, he read the words for the hundredth time. Assignment: Write a poem expressing your feelings about one of the following subjects...

Shinji frowned as he set the paper down on his desk. What could he write about? He really didn't have an opinion on any of the topics.

... a sport you enjoy ...

No can do, he's never been a jock so therefore never played a sport, heck he didn't even know what any of the balls were called.

... a musical talent you have ...

Once again, not something he could do. While he was adept at playing the Cello, he didn't think he could write about that, it would just be too boring.

To be honest, he had no real feelings toward any of the topics. He could always just write something, but that wouldn't be fair to him or the teacher. No, he had to write something that came from his heart, something that appealed to him and spoke true of his feelings, but this meant he had to find a topic that grabbed him, and none of the ones on the page did that.

With a sigh, he leaned his head against his hand as his elbow rested on the desk.

'What could I write about?' He asked as he stared out his window at the falling rain, the pattering of the drops relaxing his soul. He could always write about the night or how he always felt alone, those types of poems always went over well, plus they were easy to find material for, just look at his life and boom, you've got some material. Parental abandonment, depression, suicidal thoughts, inferiority complex; a wealth of content lying hidden in his mind and all he had to do was look for it.

With a sigh he let his mind wander, hoping that it would find a topic worthy of writing about. After sitting, staring, and watching the rain for several minutes his mental wandering journeyed down a very interesting track.

'I wonder what Ayanami is doing right now?'

With a slight jump he realized what he had asked himself, a slight blush coming to his cheeks as he remembered the small smile that she had given him after the fifth Angel, a memory that always surfaced when thinking about her, one of the few pleasant memories he had. Shaking it from his mind he concentrated on trying to find something to write about.

With a sigh he placed his head on the desk in defeat.

Maybe if he closed his eyes and thought hard enough an answer would come to him.

"Release the cryo-freeze on Unit-01" Gendo barked.

His reply was a flurry of activity as the technicians worked to free Unit-01 from its lock down.

After a few short minutes they reported that Unit-01 was free, Misato didn't even have to think before ordering the launch.

Shinji burst to the surface, his gun coming up even as the whiplash from the catapult settled.

"Rei," he whispered as he stepped off the platform and towards the thin, rope-like Angel that was trying to invade Rei and Unit-00.

"Shinji … stay back," she said weakly when she noticed him.

"Hold on Rei," he said as he began to run toward her, weapon raised to fire and draw the Angel's attention away from her.

Just as he was about to open fire Rei's voice over the comm. Caught his attention.

"Shinji … I'm sorry," with those words the channel went dead, only to be picked up by Misato calling out a warning to him.

"Shinji, she's activated the self-destruct, you have to get out of there!"

Shinji immediately knew that whatever was happening was bad as soon as Misato said 'activating.' Throwing the rifle to the ground he began to rush forward, time seeming to move in slow motion as events continued as pre-ordained.

He was reaching for her, or where the Entry Plug would be, even as the Eva's engine went critical. He was thrown back by the explosion, his AT field preventing him from being caught in the blast.

As he was hurtled through the air there was only one thing on his mind and lips; "REEEEEEEEEEEEI!"

Shinji sat up as though a bolt of lightning had struck him, his body covered in sweat, the silent scream fading into the darkness. Peeling the now drooled on assignment from his face he looked around.

"A premonition? A dream?" he asked himself as he slowed his breathing to a normal level.

He was still in his room, and from the paper in his hands he was still trying to find something to write about. He silently thanked God that it was only a dream, he didn't think he would be able to handle that actually happening. With a sigh he decided to return to his work, maybe he'd be able to get an hour's sleep tonight.

Glancing at the paper once again he came to the inescapable fact that in truth there were actually...

He sat up straight, his eyes wide and fully awake as he realized he had a specific topic that he could write about; the very last one on the paper, located beneath the drool. At first, his mind didn't register the significance of the topic, not until he made the somewhat random correlation to her, thanks in part to his nightmare. With his muse firmly in mind, he set about writing his poem, hoping that it would say everything he had always wanted to say. While it may be risky in the present, the long-term possibilities far outweighed the negatives, hopefully.

Shinji was almost sweating blood as he stood before the class, hands damp as he gripped the paper, feeling as though his life depended on this presentation, and depending on how Rei reacted to the words it very well may, for all he knew he could lose his only reason for staying in Tokyo-3.

Taking a deep breath, his eyes swept the room. Asuka was ignoring him as he spoke about the topic he chose, she was probably writing how stupid she thought his poem would be in the note she passed to Hikari. The teacher was totally focused on Shinji and his poem, oblivious to Asuka's note passing. Taking a calming breath he began to read the poem, his eyes finally landing on his muse.

After scanning the room, his eyes landed on Ayanami Rei, her red eyes were no longer staring out the window at the world passing by, but were now focused on him and his poem. Eyes are said to be the window to the soul. Often we are unable to discern what a person's eyes are saying due to the barriers and mask that we put in place to protect ourselves from pain and yet Shinji needed no mystic to divine the confusion and shock, or could that possibly be disbelief, that was visible in her eyes. Taking another deep breath Shinji began reading the poem, all his feelings, and emotions flowing out as he read, his eyes locked with Rei's the entire time, begging her to accept his words.

The room was in absolute silence as he finished the poem; even the teacher was too surprised to say anything. As one, all the student's eyes, as well as those of the teacher, turned to Rei, awaiting any reaction.

'What's she gonna do?' A few were asking themselves and each other, their whisperings adding to the seriousness of the situation.

'What if she rejects him? He'd be devastated!' Was the common thought amongst the girls, along with that they wished they had received a poem like that.

'Baka!' Was all that Asuka thought as she too awaited Rei's response, although she would never admit that to anyone, not even herself.

Before Rei or anyone else could say a word, the bell rang, signaling the end of class. Shinji let out a relieved sigh as the room quickly emptied, he himself not far behind the others. From the brief snatches he could hear of their conversations he knew they were discussing his poem.

'Saved by the bell,' Shinji thought as he made his way to the roof to eat his lunch. 'I don't think I could have handled her rejection in front of the entire class.'

"Shin-man! Hey Shinji!" Touji called when he noticed Shinji approaching the edge of the roof, his lunch in hand.

"Huh?" Shinji said dumbly as he looked in their direction. "Oh, hey guys."

"Man, how'd you do it? How'd you get the courage to tell her how you felt?" Touji asked as he stared off into the cloudless blue sky.

"I don't know," Shinji replied after a moments thought. "I just had a feeling that if I didn't say something soon that I'd never get a chance to."

"What makes you say that?" Kensuke asked as he looked up from his computer.

"Just a feeling," Shinji replied as he stared off into the horizon, "just a very bad feeling."

Returning to class after lunch, Shinji was mildly surprised to not see Rei in her seat. As far as he knew there was no Angel attack, and there were no Sync tests scheduled.

Realization dawned on him with all the forced of a runaway freight train; this was the rejection that he had been waiting for. He finally had the answer to whether or not she could ever feel for him the way he felt for her; it was a plain as day 'no'.

Quickly composing himself he threw on a fake smile, shrugging the incident off as he took his seat, hoping that no one saw the shattering of his soul or that the light in his eyes had gone out, leaving him an empty shell where a man once stood.

He only hoped that he would be able to go on now that his hope had been shattered.

The falling rain soaked into his clothes, adding its dampness to his already depressed soul. Rain was a rarity in these post-Second Impact years, so for it to rain twice in as many days was something of a miracle.

The blackened sky told him that it was well past sundown, the freezing wind that blew against his face, chilling his already ice-cold body confirmed it, not that he truly needed the confirmation. He knew what time it was and he didn't care, he had no reason to care, except to put on a show of living in order to fool those around him.

After leaving class he had wandered around the nearly abandoned streets of Tokyo-3, eventually ending up on top of Misato's apartment roof. From his position leaning against the wall that surrounded the roof he had watched the sun disappear behind the horizon as the storm clouds had moved in.

Now he stood under the rain, letting it fall onto his face and wash the silently cried tears away. He knew he should go in before he caught pneumonia, but figured what would be the point. If he got ill and died, so what, no one would mourn him; he'd learned that early on, a fact that was driven home by the incident with Rei this morning.

Rei not returning from lunch forced him to think about his place with those around him, those that he once thought of as friends and family.

Asuka viewed him as a pervert and an idiot, maybe she was right, after all only an idiot would do what he had today and expect to have his feelings returned. With all the fights and arguments he and Asuka had, and all the times that she had beat him up, Shinji was positive that Asuka would be much happier without him, she may miss his cooking in the long run, with Misato cooking who wouldn't, but she wouldn't miss him.

Kensuke and Touji, well they were his friends but even then they had their own lives, as did everyone he knew. Since Touji had more or less begun dating Hikari now, he really didn't need Shinji hanging around, he'd only get in the way, Touji didn't need a third wheel hanging around throwing off the balance of the other two wheels. Touji and Kensuke seemed to get along better when Shinji wasn't there, bringing everyone down with his self-pitying depression and their need to cheer him up and lighten the mood surrounding them, all the comfort they've given him has been to make their lives easier, nothing more. Kensuke still had his war games and his survival training; Shinji knew that he had given up his time in training to spend it with him and Touji. He was sure that he would be happy to return to his games, and Touji wouldn't even miss him with Hikari by his side. So his friends would be better off without him in the long run. Add to that the fact that they were friends long before Shinji ever showed up, and he knew that they'd be far happier without him, not to mention the only reason Kensuke hung around Shinji was to learn more about NERV.

Misato, well she was an interesting case. While she was like a mother to him, he was just being used by her, just like his father, just like everyone else at NERV. It was never a question of how they could help Shinji, but of what he could do for them. Her lack of culinary skills was almost legendary among those back at NERV, as was her near permanent inebriety, he had heard horror stories about both in the short time he'd been a pilot, not to mention all the first hand accounts he had since moving in with Misato. So there in lay her need of Shinji, he could cook and bring her beers, a handy thing for a young boy his age to know. To be honest she could get someone else to cook and fetch beers for her, so she wouldn't miss him either, not unless she planned on paying for him to go to bartending school once the war was over.

Gendo Ikari, now that was a subject that he wasn't even going to touch. His father had been using him ever since he had come to Tokyo-3, and possibly before that. As long as Shinji was still useful, Gendo would fake concern, if you could call it concern, as long as Shinji could pilot. But in reality he didn't even bother to fake the concern, just made sure Shinji was still useful, no signs of emotions towards his son, no emotions other than anger and disappointment that is. Even if Shinji was gone, Gendo still wouldn't miss him, once he was past the point of usefulness, he was expendable. Shinji had no doubt in his mind that when that time came his father would have him 'removed' from NERV, a thought that didn't sit well with the younger Ikari.

After going through the list of all the people that he knew, Shinji arrived at the last and most important person on his list ... Rei.

Shinji sighed as he thought about the beautiful, enigmatic albino. He could feel the cold retreating as he was warmed by thoughts of her large red eyes that spoke volumes if you knew how to read them, he was one of a few that actually could. Her hair was a natural, yet unnatural shade of pale blue; complimenting her alabaster skin and making her appear as a snow angel come to life.

Shinji's heart stopped beating when he remember the rare, yet exquisite smile that Rei had graced him with those many months ago following the fifth angel, it was the same smile that had inspired his poem. Her smile, her eyes, everything about her was enough to make him lose coherent though and become the babbling idiot that Asuka thought he was.

Once again his dreams came crashing down on him; she had not shown him any emotion since the day she smiled at him following the defeat of the fifth angel. The deciding factor in his knowledge that she wouldn't even miss him if he were gone, were her actions today. After he confessed his love for her, she left the school, shattering what remained of his heart, just when he needed the reassurance the most. No, a person that cared about you would never do that, even if they didn't understand their emotions, he now knew for sure that no one would ever love him.

Leaning against the rooftop railing, Shinji stared at the ground below. The falling water rushing past him in its haste to meet its demise at the hands of the cold, merciless, concrete below.

'How easy would it be for me to do the same?' He asked himself as he yet again contemplated ending his existence.

Yet, just as with every time he came anywhere close to ending it, his conscience woke up and began calling him a coward and a quitter, telling him that he must not run away. So he then had to prove himself to not be a coward and continue living. But every day it became harder and harder for him to do that, now with Rei's rejection he knew it would only be a matter of time before he finally took the long drop into the never ending night, becoming one with the abyss.

Standing up he took one final glance up at the sky, letting the rain caress his face. With a sigh he turned and made his way into the building and to the apartment below where the devil, the drunk and the penguin were awaiting him.

"Where the hell is that Baka hentai!" Asuka's yell was clear even to Shinji who was slowly opening the door to the apartment. Hell it was probably audible to everyone back in Germany too.

"He said he'd back shortly, calm down," Misato said as she worked on adding yet another beer can to the Leaning Tower of Barley and Hops that she was creating in her bedroom. At present the tower now stood about two-feet high and was a good four cans across, held together by judicious use of duct tape, the handy man's secret weapon, or so Misato called it. Of course this was to compete with the model of the Eiffel Tower that she made last month. Next month she was thinking about doing the Coliseum.

"Calm down?" Asuka yelled, her anger now focused on Misato. "I'm hungry and I want my food NOW!"

Shinji cringed as he tried to slowly sneak into the kitchen to start dinner, unfortunately Asuka saw him.

"About friggin' time you showed up Baka!" She said as she pinned Shinji against the fridge, her finger in his face as her other hand rested on her hip. "You'd better make something fast or I am going to make it so that no one recognizes you tomorrow in school, not even your little girlfriend! Got it?"

Shinji could only nod, her mention of Rei having sent his mind off on a tangent; with thoughts of how he had embarrassed himself in front of the entire class and possibly made Rei hate him more than she already did coming to the fore. He was so lost in his thoughts that he didn't even register the fact Asuka had called her his girlfriend. His body working on autopilot he set to making dinner, his mind going over his epiphany on the rooftop. He knew, deep in his heart, that he would always love Rei no matter what, even if she never wanted to see him again.

Taking the beef from the meat drawer, he walked back over to the stove, the vegetables for the stir-fry in a bowl in his other hand. Absently Shinji considered the fact that he hadn't had a chance to dry off, and it was at this moment that he stepped in a puddle of water left from his drip-drying. So far away was his mind that he didn't even register the fact that his feet slipped out from under him, sending him back into the stove and the wok with the hot oil in it. It wasn't until he felt the oil eating into his flesh that he realized something had happened, at that point he let out an almighty scream of agony that would have awakened the dead, had a convenient corpse been present.

Misato and Asuka came running, alerted both by the crash as his head connected with the stove as well as his cry of pain. Misato's eyes were full of concern at his burns and possible head injury, not to mention the blood that was pouring from the gash on his scalp, while Asuka just kept muttering about her dinner being ruined, and then Shinji knew no more as darkness took him.

'Does he truly feel that way?' Rei asked herself as she sat in her apartment. 'If he doesn't, then why did he say he did?'

Because he is the Commander's son. her self-doubt answered back. It was the same doubt that told her that she was worthless and no one would ever like her or need her; let alone love her as Ikari claimed he did, it was the same voice of doubt that lies within all people.

Rei thought about that fact for a while. Gendo Ikari may be using her for his own means and purposes, but she knew that Shinji would never do that.

How can you be so sure? If the Commander uses you what stops Ikari, he is his son. Like father like son they say.

'No, he wouldn't do that. He ... he said he loves me.' Rei countered hesitantly; still doubtful about whether Ikari truly meant what he said in the poem, yet silently hoping beyond hope that he did.

Hesitant are we? Do you know how often humans say they love one another and not mean it? Did he actually say he loved you, or are you just hoping that's what he meant? Intent is different than actions, you of all people should realize this. Doubt paused a moment in consideration, speaking before Rei had time to answer the rhetorical question. If you are so sure that he feels that way, then why did you not return to class? Last night you yourself did say that he cared for you, what happened to that rationalization?

Rei was struck dumb by this question. Why had she reacted the way that she did? Thinking back on it now, she had no reason to have not returned. She wasn't embarrassed by his poem, she was actually surprised by it, in fact she welcomed the things that he had said. It had provided the validation of her previous assumption that he cared for her. She never thought that he'd ever be able to say anything like that to any girl, let alone her.

'I ... I don't know.' She answered after a moment's consideration.

Interesting, was all that Doubt said, but Rei could detect a hint of sarcasm as well as annoyance.

'What do you mean by that?' Rei asked sharply, her back stiffening as she took offense against Doubt's tone.

What do I mean? You are a silly girl aren't you? You truly are a doll, suitable only to sit on a shelf and gather dust, just as Asuka says. Doubt gave a small sigh as it continued on, this time with an explanation. You would have no way to know whether you cared about Ikari or not, while you may know that he cares for you, your own emotions are confused. After the Commander drilled all emotion out of you, you who have never experienced love in any form would have no way to know if you were in love. The only care you have ever been shown has been from Commander Ikari and Ikari, but as you said, the Commander doesn't care for you, he's only using you. He's using you just like everyone else does.

Rei was silent as she pondered this fact.

Don't think about it too hard.

'What is it that you want?' Rei asked as she watched the setting sun still visible through the gathering storm clouds, her will to fight ebbing as Doubt's logic sank further into to her mind.

Normally what I want is to make your life miserable. That is my only purpose, I am your Self-Doubt, I exist in all sentient beings I exist merely to make you doubt yourself, nothing more and nothing less. But, no matter who or what I am, I have come to the realization that it would be in my own best interest if you remained alive. Therefore I logically became interested in Ikari, since he seems to have such an effect on you.

'How would you know what effect he has on me?' Rei asked, slightly confused by the comment.

Because I am your own mind, I know everything you do, I know all that you feel. I was made aware of how he makes you feel last night during your soul searching, you desire to be loved by Shinji, am I wrong?

Rei was silent, knowing that that was indeed what she had wished before she had finally fallen asleep. She frowned a bit upon realizing how Doubt had said his name in the familiar tense. Somehow it just sounded ... wrong. She, Ayanami Rei, was the one that should say his name like that, not her Doubt, not the most hated portion of her own mind.

Now, Doubt went on as though it was now unaware of Rei's musings, or perhaps this time it didn't care. I would never dream of doing anything good for you as that contradicts my entire purpose. But if I can arrange something that will keep you alive longer and therefore benefit me, then I will do it. That's why I'm here tonight; to force you to come to a decision, for tonight think of me as your conscience and take heed of my words. Will you approach Shinji about his feelings or will you ignore it and sink further into your depression, eventually taking your own life?

'I do not know, at least not yet.' Rei softly admitted after several minutes of silence.

You had better decide soon, time is running against us, the pieces are already in motion and the game is playing itself. It's your move Rei.

Shinji was aware of the faint beeping of machines, a sound he had become familiar with over the last few months. He knew, almost instinctually where he was; NERV Central hospital.

Before he even opened his eyes, he registered the faint sound of people talking out in the hall. He couldn't make out what they were saying, but one of them sounded like Misato, and she almost sounded concerned, but that couldn't be, not considering his rooftop realization.

Normally, when he found himself a patient in this same room, he would mutter something about 'unfamiliar ceiling' but he didn't this time, for several very good reasons; the first of which being that he'd been here so often that he'd counted almost all the cracks in the ceiling, there were 247 major ones that he had counted so far, but that didn't include those in the bathroom. The second reason was that the last time he'd said it, shortly after fighting the Third Angel, he had gotten up and wandered into the hall, just in time to watch Rei being rolled past on a gurney.

Their eyes had locked, and for a brief second he thought he saw gratitude in her eyes, but the moment was broken when she was wheeled past and stopped for a brief conversation with the Commander.

With a sigh he pushed that memory to the back of his mind. Was he ever going to be able to forget her? She didn't love him and he knew it, so why then did every little thing remind him of her?

'Because, you said it yourself, you love her.'

With a sigh, he realized that that was true. There was no way to escape the conclusion, no matter how hard he tried; he loved Rei with all his heart and soul and would never be able to stop thinking about her.

Shinji knew without a doubt that he would do everything in his power to protect Rei; he'd even give up his life, not that she or anyone else would appreciate it.

Closing his eyes he focused on the beeping of the machines, hoping to fall back asleep, the pain from his burns making him drowsy, or was that the medication? His pain and drug numbed mind couldn't figure out which it was, not that it really cared. His hopes of rest were dashed as the door was thrown open and a concerned Misato came rushing in, Asuka trailing along behind her, bored out of her mind.

"Shinji!" Misato said as she rushed forward and wrapped him up in a hug, heedless of the rather serious burns he had received.

"Argh, Misato," he cried as she squeezed a particularly bad burn on his shoulder and neck.

"Gomen," Misato repeated over and over again as she released him, afraid to compound his injuries.

Shinji just smiled a weak smile, too tired to offer much more.

"Its fine, Misato," he replied as he softly patted the hand that still rested gently on his shoulder. Deciding to change the subject he broached the question on his mind.

"Misato? What happened?"

"Don't you remember?" She asked, confused by his question.

"Not really," he answered with a shake of his head, letting out a small hiss when the move pulled at the still damaged skin buried somewhere under the bandage surrounding his skull. "All I remember is slipping and then a sharp pain and burning, then everything went blank."

"Well," she began as best she could, trying to block out the memory of Shinji bleeding to death on the floor, "you slipped in a puddle of water and fell into the stove, knocking the wok with the hot oil onto your face, neck, chest, and shoulders. When you fell you hit your head pretty hard on the corner of the stove. Oh, God, there was so much blood Shinji, so very much blood." Misato began to break into tears.

At this point he had to look away, her tears were too much for him to handle in his pain filled state. The salty drops running down her face and onto the bed were enough to make him want to comfort her, but his realization of her limited need for him as a person and not a tool prevented him from doing so.

After a few more sniffles, Misato was able to compose herself in a limited fashion. Shinji glanced at Asuka, only to see that she too had the beginnings of tears in her eyes, which she quickly wiped away when she noticed Shinji watching her.

"We weren't sure if you would make it to the hospital," Misato said as she continued, having pulled herself as together as she was going to get.

Shinji merely took a second to absorb this information.

"And what did the Commander have to say about my injury?" He asked with venom in his voice, his tone making the title a curse of the highest degree, reserved only for the highest sinner in Egyptian culture. This change was so unlike him that it took Misato a moment to reply.

"He wanted to know if it would keep you from being able to Pilot Eva Unit-01, I told him no, beyond that he said nothing."

Shinji just snorted, knowing that was exactly what the Commander would say. Aside from that one exhalation he showed no other signs of acknowledgement, this alone made Misato worry.

"So when will I be able to Pilot again?" Shinji asked, breaking the silence that had fallen after mentioning his father.

"A week, maybe longer, just to make sure that those stitches hold," Misato said as she studied his face for any sign of emotion. She found none; it was almost as if he were turning into Rei, that in and of itself worried her beyond words.

Shinji yawned, not realizing how tired he actually was.

"I don't mean to be rude," he began, not showing any of the timidity that he would normally exhibit. "But could you leave so I can get some sleep? I'm very tired."

"Huh? Oh, yeah, sure thing," Misato said as she stood and grabbed the arm of the equally shocked Asuka, dragging her from the room. "We'll be back to check up on you later."

Shinji gave a weak smile at her parting shot, typical Misato, making promises that she wouldn't be able to keep.

Yawning again, he placed his head on the pillow and was soon fast asleep, dreaming of a time when Evangelions would no longer be needed and he could be with Rei. He was dreaming of a perfect world that would never exist.

Darkness quickly fell upon the Geofront, swallowing Tokyo-3 in its inky velvet. The black hand of night closed around Shinji's hospital room, casting its sole occupant into the absolute oblivion of night. A single, solitary shaft of moonlight cut across the room, bisecting it and throwing a milky-white strip across the sleeping form.

Silently a form materialized itself from the portion of shadow that was the doorway. Two red orbs directed to the figure in the bed. Slowly their owner stepped forward, gradually revealing themselves as they moved toward the bed, scared to awaken its occupant.

As soon as she heard about his accident she vowed to check up on him for herself, just to prove that he was still with her, that they still had time to be together.

Standing over him, the figure just watched him sleep, his breathing in a near normal rhythm, despite the somewhat severe burns on his chest and throat. Taking the risk she raised her hand and placed it gently on his face, careful to avoid the minor scarring from the hot oil, caressing it as though they were lovers, a true smile gracing his lips at the contact. Her mind was thrown back to his words during and after the fifth angel, the turning point in their relationship, even if they didn't know it at the time.

'The same as being dead? Well, then…I guess I was like that before I came here. I hated everything. I was totally apathetic. I just didn't care! But I put up a quiet front, playing the good little kid. I…I guess I was just going through the motions of living.'

His final words, motions of living, had haunted her for days, replaying over and over in her head. It wasn't until recently, following his poem that with a startling realization she knew that that was exactly what she had been doing all her life.

Ikari didn't know it, but at that moment Rei had felt a connection with him. She herself felt that way, as though she were going through the motions of living, that night she had found a kindred spirit in Shinji Ikari, the only person to ever try and be her friend, never quite being, just existing, even if she didn't know it until recently.

After following her orders to protect him, Rei had waited for the inevitable to come, she waited for her turn to die. It never came, instead came a further connection to, and understanding of the injured young man before her.

'Ayanami! I-I'm glad…glad you're alive. Real glad.' As he said this he had tears in his eyes, a fact he said was normal when you were extremely happy.

When she had asked him why he cried, she was shocked to hear his reasoning, he didn't cry from the pain of the burns he received in opening the hatch, scars that were still visible to this day, she noted absently as his hands gently curled into themselves. He cried because he was happy that she was alive.

'Dummy…that's not it! I'm crying because I'm happy…happy that you're alive.'

He may never know it, but at that moment she felt the flicker of a long suppressed feeling, a feeling that she had only the faintest wisp of, love. Unsure of what she was feeling she had covered it up with her admission that she truthfully didn't know what expression she should be making. She was happy, she knew that, when she told him that she meant it, she was truly happy that someone actually cared about Ayanami Rei the girl and not Ayanami Rei the First Child, Pilot of Eva Unit-00.

With a reluctant sigh she removed her hand and began stepping back into the shadows, her eyes always on the bed. Her retreat was stopped when his breathing took on a more rapid, almost panic filled tone. Swiftly retracing her steps she was at his side in moments, her pale hands clutching the railing of the bed.

"Rei ..." he called as he began to toss.

She was startled, how could he know she was here? After a moment her common sense reasserted itself, he couldn't know, he was merely reacting to the events of a dream. She had little time to ponder this revelation as his next words violently broke her from her thoughts.

"Rei... don't leave me... don't go, don't die...I need you," He mumbled as he continued to toss, his arms beginning to flail.

Rei was torn between concern for him and the desire to leave before someone came to check on him. In the end her concern won out.

At this point her body began moving on its own, long unknown desires and instincts took over. Placing her hand on his forehead she began to gently massage the nightmare away, careful not to wake him. Leaning close to his ear she began whispering to him.

"Shhh," she soothed in her soft voice, his body instantly growing calmer. "It is alright, I am not going to leave you Ikari. I shall not die, do not worry. Ikari … Shinji I love you."

After admitting her true feelings for the boy before her she leaned down and placed a tender kiss on his lips. She stiffened at the jolt of energy that passed between them as well as the fact that she didn't intend to kiss him, at least not on the lips. Pushing the effects to the back of her mind she slowly pulled away, her eyes watching his now still form as a smile once again graced his lips as he slept in peace.

Reluctantly pulling away from him, she was finally able to retreat into the shadows and vanish into the night, the feeling of his lips on hers still tingling in the back of her mind.

(To Be Continued…)