Chapter One

"Ashino Lakes Two and Three, I hope we won't have many more holes to fill," Second Commander Fuyutsuki said as he looked out the side of the helicopter, hanging onto the outside edge with his hand as he leaned out. Below were the two new lakes created during one of the previous Angel attacks. His brown uniform and his short-cropped, gray hair rippled in the wind blowing by him. He pulled himself back into the helicopter and turned to the commander. "Which reminds me, Chairman Keel came to see me yesterday, complaining about the delays. He was pretty steamed, and he even hinted at your dismissal."

"Adam is going well," Commander Ikari said as he rested his chin on his folded hands, "and work on the Dummy Plug for the Eva project is proceeding. What are the old men at SELEE complaining about now?"

Fuyutsuki glanced at his former student who was now sitting beside him as they rode through the air. "The fact that the Instrumentality Project is behind schedule," he said.

"The projects are all linked together. There are no problems," the commander said, a hint of annoyance creeping into his voice.

Fuyutsuki rose an eyebrow. "Including Rei?" When he got no answer, he lowered it and sighed. "Well, I won't press you. So, how will we deal with you know who?"

The commander seemed to consider something for a moment. His eyes never moved behind the orange-tinted glasses he wore. "Let him do as he wishes, the same with the Marduk Institute."

Fuyutsuki nodded. "I agree. We can make use them, for a while."

Commander Ikari continued to stare out over his white gloves. They flew the rest of the way in silence.

"Class dismissed," the old teacher said as the bell rang.

"Yes!" yelled Shinji, Touji, and Kensuke as they leapt up from their seats. They grabbed their stuff and headed for the door.

"Just a minute, Suzuhara, Ikari," said the class rep as Touji Suzuhara and Shinji Ikari were about to exit the room. "Aren't you forgetting something?"

The two turned to look at her. Then they looked back at their desks.

"Oh! Thanks Hikari!" Touji said as he retrieved a book he had left on his desk and resumed leaving the classroom.

Hikari glared at him.

"Touji," Shinji said, feeling uneasy with Hikari's fierce gaze raking him. "I don't think that was what she meant…"

"Indeed it wasn't!" Hikari folded her arms and continued to eye the two teenagers. "You two have clean up duty today with Ayanami."

Touji groaned as he remembered that it was their turn to clean up the classroom. Shinji stayed silent and turned to Rei Ayanami, who already had a broom to start sweeping the floor. Her skin was pale, and her eyes were crimson. Her hair was a very light blue. Shinji thought her very attractive; however, she was really a mystery, Rei Ayanami. Even her fellow Eva pilots knew almost nothing about her, aside from what everyone knew, like that she followed orders without question, that she always stared out the window in school, or that she almost never showed emotion on her face.

It was true. Rei's face almost always had the same expression, or lack thereof, and there were only a few people who had ever seen any other emotion touch her features. Shinji had been one of these few. When he first saw her, she was badly injured, and she was accidentally thrown from her stretcher; the pain was extreme, and it caused her to wince and gasp. The second time she had slapped him and was clearly angry; he had insulted his father, the commander, whom Rei held in high regard. The third time, however, was when she smiled at him.

"Well, I guess I'll be seeing you two later," Kensuke Aida grinned at them as he exited the room. "Later," he said, waving a hand behind him as he walked away.

"But it's such a nice day outside!" Touji complained to Hikari. She just continued to stare at him.

Seeing that pleading would get them nowhere, Shinji went and retrieved his own broom. Touji followed him soon after, grumbling about how it was a crime to make them clean on a day like this.

"I'll take this section, Shinji, and you and Ayanami can split that section," Touji said as he walked to the front of the room with the broom over his shoulder.

"Uh, right. Is that okay with you, Ayanami?" Shinji asked Rei.

"It is acceptable, Ikari," she responded, not looking at him.

"Okay. Well, we had better get started then."

All three of them started sweeping in each of their designated areas. Shinji swept his dirt into a pile in the middle of his area, and he was amazed at how much dirt was dragged in onto the floor. Soon enough, he had to start another pile.

I hope it will be a while before the next Angel attack, Shinji thought as he stood there, sweeping. I really don't feel like piloting Eva anytime soon.

Shinji was the Third Child, the designated pilot of Evangelion Unit One. Along with Rei, the First Child and pilot of Unit Zero, and Asuka Langley Soryu, the Second Child and pilot of Unit Two, Shinji fought against the Angels. The Angels were supreme beings with unimaginable power who were attempting to destroy the human race. When the first Angel, Adam, was discovered, it caused Second Impact.

The Great Impact occurred when a meteor hit the Earth and caused the dinosaurs to become extinct, as well as knocking the Earth off of its axis. Because the organization that discovered Adam didn't want the truth to get out, they named the incident Second Impact, attributing the cause to a meteor. Everyone was currently taught that Second Impact occurred when a meteor slammed into the southern pole, knocking the Earth back onto its original axis and fixing the seasons in place. The truth of the matter was that with the awakening of Adam, the First Angel, Adam released untold amounts of energy, and the resulting blast was what caused Second Impact.

For 15 years, there would be no more Angels, but those that knew of Adam weren't prepared to believe that they wouldn't return. The organization NERV was charged with developing weapons to fight the Angels with. Conventional weapons would be of no use because of the Angels' ability to generate the AT field, a sort of force field that would keep the Angel from all harm. The only way that they would be able to defeat the Angels would be if they had a weapon with power equal to the Angels. Thus began the creation of the Evangelions.

The Evangelions were clones of Adam, the original Angel. They, too, could generate an AT field. By manipulating their AT field in such a way, the Evangelions could neutralize the AT field of the Angels, making them vulnerable to attack. Each of the three existing Evas were piloted by a child of fourteen years. One must sync one's mind with an Eva to pilot it. If the pilot moved his arm, the Eva would move its arm. If the pilot took a step forward, the Eva took a step forward. This made the Eva's very easy to pilot; however, the synchronizing with an Eva worked both ways. The pilot would feel anything that the Eva felt. If the Eva's arm were cut off, the pilot would feel as if his arm was cut off. If a hole were bashed through the Eva's skull, the pilot would feel as if a hole was bashed through his skull. There was rarely a fight where an Eva did not sustain some type of injury, so the pilots had to endure extreme pain.

Only certain people with the correct genetic code could sync with an Eva, and of those, only children whose brains haven't completely developed could survive the experience unharmed. It might seem harsh, using children as humankind's last defense; however, it is humankind's only choice.

Shinji was sweeping the same spot over and over, lost in thought.

Fifteen years after the first angel awoke, the Angels returned. They came in all shapes and sizes, but more often than not, they were colossal. Adam was this way, and as such, the Evangelions were just as huge. The pilots of these giant mechas would put on their plug suit, a piece of apparel that enhanced their ability to sync with their Evas, and get into an entry plug. Once the hatch of the plug was sealed, it would fill with LCL, a yellowish liquid that smelled of blood. When charged with electricity, the LCL would directly oxygenate the pilots' blood. The entry plug was then inserted into the back of the Evangelion, and the syncing of the pilot with the Evangelion would commence.

Because of their enormous size, and of the proximity the Eva must be in relation to the Angel to neutralize its AT field, the pilots must engage in hand to hand combat with the angels. Sometimes this couldn't be done because of other defenses that the Angel's had. The Fifth Angel, Ramiel, had a beam weapon that destroyed anything that got relatively close to it. It was finaly defeated with a high-energy, positron cannon that took the entirety of Japan to power it. If not done by an Eva, it takes an enourmous amount of energy to penetrate an AT field.

"Hey, Shinji! What are you trying to do? Dig a hole in the floor?" Touji yelled to get Shinji's attention.

Shinji looked down. The spot he was sweeping was almost sanded completely smooth from his repetitive sweeps across it.

"Oh," he said. "Oops." He started sweeping other spots that needed it.

Shinji could see Rei out of the corner of his eye. She was sweeping the last of her piles into the dustpan. Making sure he continued to sweep different areas, he watched her empty the dustpan, and place the broom and the pan together back in the closet. She retrieved a bucket from the closet, and shut the door. Holding onto the handle of the metal pail, she left the room to fill it up with water and soap.

"Staring at Ayanami again, Shinji?" Touji said once she left the room.

"What! Of c-course n-not!" he stuttered.

"Yeah whatever. Me and Kensuke saw you staring at Rei that time when she had swimming class." He grinned at Shinji while leaning on his broom handle.

"Look, it's not what you think!" Shinji desperately defended himself.

"Oh yeah?" Touji said. "Then what is it?"

"I was just wondering why she's always alone," Shinji said.

"Yeah, that's what you said last time we saw you ogling her," Touji said.

"I wasn't ogling her!" Shinji screamed at Touji.

"Who was Shinji ogling?" a voice said.

Shinji and Touji stiffened, and they turned to regard the redhead who was currently staring at them, Asuka Langley Soryu. Because school had just recently ended, she was in her school uniform. Her hands were on her hips and she held her briefcase in one of them. She was tapping her foot. "Well?" she said.

"No one!" Shinji said, holding his hands up in front of himself.

"Right," she said and turned to look at Touji. "Who was he ogling?"

Touji glanced at Shinji from the corner of his eye. He had definitely not expected that Asuka would overhear him teasing Shinji. He knew that Asuka would make Shinji's life miserable if he told her about Rei. Asuka didn't particularly like the First Child.

"Uh, not one. I was just teasing him," Touji said nervously. He was desperately trying to avoid the Second Child's wrath.

Asuka narrowed her eyes at him, and opened her mouth to say something when Hikari yelled to her.

"Hey, Asuka!" she said. "I need your help with something!"

"This isn't over," she growled at them as she ran to the other side of the room and out the door.

When they were sure that she was out of listening distance, Touji wiped his hand across his forehead.

"Whew," he said. "For a minute I thought we were done for."

"Thanks for not telling Asuka," Shinji said.

"Hey, no problem, Shin-man. I may tease you, but I wouldn't intentionally bring the fire demon's wrath down upon you," he smirked. Then he realized what Shinji had just said. "So you were ogling Ayanami! I knew it!"

"What? No!" Shinji tried to cover up for his slip. "I mean…"

"Hey, don't worry about it. It's not like you're the only guy here that looks at the girls." He grinned at Shinji.

"Yeah," Shinji said. Then he grinned at Touji. "I've noticed that you've been paying a lot of attention to the class rep, haven't you Touji?" he said.

"What! Where did you get that crazy idea?" Touji said nervously, clearly caught off guard by Shinji's comment.

"I didn't get the idea, Touji. It's a fact. Kensuke noticed it too," Shinji said as he continued making small piles of dirt.

"Listen, you don't tell this to anyone, you hear?" Touji said as he grabbed Shinji by the color of his shirt and lifted him a bit into the air.

"Sorry, I wont! I wont!" Shinji said as he frantically tried to get down.


Touji put Shinji back down and resumed his sweeping. Shinji took his broom and did likewise. Rei lugged in the metal pail full with water a moment later and brought it over to her space. Shinji was able to concentrate on his sweeping for a while. When he heard the sound of water dripping, however, he looked over towards Ayanami. She was kneeling over the bucket of water. Shinji's hands slowed until they were no longer moving the broom, but merely keeping it from falling.

Rei had a washcloth in her hands, which she had just drawn from the bucket of lukewarm water. The dripping that distracted Shinji had been the water draining off of the cloth as she withdrew it from the water. Taking the cloth in both of her hands, she twisted it to drain it of the excess water, which she wouldn't need.

As Shinji now openly watched Rei wring the cloth in her hands, a thought popped into his head. She looks like a mother, he thought. It's silly that I would think of that, but I think Rei would make a great mother. He suddenly blushed furiously when he realized where this train of thought was brining him. Fortunately for Shinji, or possibly unfortunately, depending on how one sees it, before he could indulge in the coming fantasy, a sudden feeling of pain jerked him back to reality.

"Hey! Get back to your work!" Shinji heard Touji yell as he felt the brush end of a broom come down on his head.

"Ow! Sorry!" Shinji winced from the pain, thinking about how it might have not been a good idea to bring up Touji's seeming fascination with Hikari of late.

Right on queue, the class rep stuck her head into the classroom. "Why don't you get back to work, Touji!" she yelled at him.

Hearing Hikari's voice from behind him, Touji pulled the broom back to himself, spun around and yelled, "Yes, ma'am!" and he once again resumed his sweeping of the floor.

Rubbing his head to rid himself of the pain, Shinji swept the last of his dirt into one big pile in the middle of his area. He went to and from the utility closet to retrieve the dustpan. He swept up his pile of dirt into the dustpan, and dumped it into the garbage can. As he was about to return his broom and dustpan to the closet, Touji called to him.

"Hey, Shin-man!" he said. "Leave the dustpan out, will you? I'll need it in a few."

"Sure," Shinji replied, leaving the pan on a desk before returning his broom to the closet.

"Thanks, man," Touji said, determined to finish with his sweeping soon.

"No problem," Shinji said to him over his shoulder as he took a washcloth from the closet. He looked for another bucket, but there wasn't another one in sight. Rei must have taken the only one available for classroom 2-A. Turning around, Shinji approached Ayanami, who was slowly washing the floors.

"Um, Ayanami?" he said to her.

"Ikari," she said, acknowledging his presence, but not looking up from the floor.

"Um, there isn't another pail for me to get water. Do you mind if I share with you?"

Rei stopped her scrubbing of the floor. "I do not mind, Ikari. Do as you wish." She resumed scrubbing the floor.

"Thank you, Ayanami," Shinji said as he bent down and dipped his cloth into the bucket. Pulling it out, he wringed it as Ayanami had done earlier. Once he was satisfied that he had enough water, he returned to his area and proceeded to scrub the floor.

Even after Shinji's thorough sweeping, the wooden floor still seemed encrusted with dirt. Shinji had to vigorously scrub the floor with the soapy cloth forever. By the time he was a quarter of the way finished with scrubbing his area, he was sweating, and his fingers looked like prunes. Soapy prunes. Making his way back to the bucket to rinse his washcloth again, he found Ayanami about to pick it up and refill it. She was halfway done with her side.

"I'll get it, Ayanami," Shinji said as he rushed to grab the handle of the bucket before she did.

Rei looked at Shinji for a moment before nodding and returning to the floor, attempting to get the most dirt off with her washcloth while Shinji went and refilled the water bucket. Most people would think that she was rude, not even uttering a word of thanks, but Shinji didn't mind. He knew that she was always like that, and he took no offense.

As he was about to exit the classroom, Shinji realized that Touji hadn't asked to share the bucket with them. He looked behind himself and couldn't see Touji. Only when Shinji turned back to go out the door did he spot Touji sleeping under the desks. His floor still needed sweeping.

Shinji was about to wake him up, but decided that he would wait until he returned with more water. He still needed to give Touji some payback for hitting him on the head with that broom earlier. He knew that Touji wouldn't be happy when he woke and realized how much work he still had to do.

Shinji exited the room and walked down the hall towards the room where he would get fresh new water.

Rei finally gave up on trying to get the floor cleaner with the dirty rag she was using. Rather than scrubbing the dirt away, the cloth seemed to be putting dirt back onto the floor. Rei gave a barely notice able sigh and pushed herself onto her knees. Placing the filthy cloth on the ground next to her, she sat on her knees and waited for Shinji to return with fresh water.

Rei frowned a bit as she thought of Shinji. The boy puzzled her. He acted differently towards her than anyone else did. Most people avoided her because of her introverted nature. Shinji's father, Commander Ikari, would occasionally talk to her, and he even burnt his hands while trying to open the door to her still scorching entry plug to save her. Of course, Shinji had also done the same thing after the fifth angel attacked, yet it was somehow different than when the commander had done it. Shinji had seemed genuinely worried about her for her sake, while the commander had seemed worried that he might lose a pilot.

Unlike most people, who tried to avoid her, or people like the Second Child who would constantly insult her, Shinji always tried to talk with her and get to know her better. He claimed that it was good for pilots to get to know each other, but she rarely saw him talking to Pilot Soryu without trying to get away. Not only would he talk to her, but he would also do things for her, like getting the water for her just know. He would take it upon himself to deliver things to her apartment when it was needed.

Suddenly Rei's thoughts were interrupted by a loud sound that was reminiscent of someone tearing cloth. She looked over towards the source of the noise and saw Suzuhara lying on his back underneath the school desks. The noise came again. Rei looked at the snoring boy in disapproval.

Normally, she would have let Suzuhara just lie there and waste time because he was irresponsible enough to fall asleep while he should have been cleaning. However, after a few more notes of cloth-ripping music, Rei decided that it might be a favor to humanity if she woke him up. Arising from her previous kneeling position, Rei walked over towards Suzuhara.

When she was standing to his sleeping form, she tried to awaken him.

"Suzuhara," she said and waited for him to respond.

When his response was another ear-splitting snore, she tried again.

"Suzuhara," she said, this time a bit louder.

Another snore.

This was getting her nowhere. She decided to leave the room while she waited for Shinji to return with the water. Fortunately, she didn't have to wait long, because soon she saw Shinji coming walking down the hallway, the heavy bucket just barely above the floor.

"Ayanami? What are you doing out here?" Shinji asked as he reached her with the water.

"The environment within the classroom has become inhospitable for the moment," she said to him, her face void of emotion as always. Had it been any other person, Shinji might have thought it a joke. But he knew full well that Rei never displayed any sense of humor, if she even had one.

Seeing the confused look on Shinji's face, Rei opened up the door behind her. Immediately Shinji's ears were assaulted with an onslaught of the horrendous sounds that accompanied Touji's dreamland.

Understanding Rei's meaning now, Shinji entered the room and set the bucket down in its previous position. Then he walked over to Touji, noticing that Rei was still outside. Knowing that they needed to return to their work, Shinji nudged Touji with his foot.

"Touji, wake up," he said.

As with Ayanami, he was answered with a snore.

Kicking him a bit harder this time, Shinji yelled, "Touji, wake up!"

Still no response. Well, at least not the response he was looking for.

His ears throbbing from the noise, and knowing that Ayanami's ears must feel the same way, he bent down next to Touji, grabbed his ear, and hollered, "TOUJI! WAKE UP NOW!"

Startled from his nap, Touji leaped up from his sleeping position, an action that didn't turn out so well, as he was still underneath the desks. Touji smashed his head into a desk, causing it to flip over.

Rubbing his head, Touji glared up at Shinji. "What the hell was that for!" he yelled at him.

Before Shinji could say anything, Rei spoke up, surprising the both of them. "Pilot Ikari was attempting to make the room more hospitable.

Touji blinked, not knowing how to react to that.

"Touji, you fell asleep and you still have a lot more to clean. I needed to wake you up so you could clean," Shinji told his friend, leaving out that he was afraid that if he didn't wake up, the school might have collapsed from his horrendous snoring.

"Oh, right." Touji extracted himself from beneath the remaining desk and righted the one that he had knocked over. Picking his broom off the floor, Touji resumed his sweeping.

"Let's finish scrubbing, Ayanami," Shinji said as he lead the way back to the bucket. He reached the bucket first and noticed her washcloth still on the floor. When she arrived by the bucket, she reached down for her cloth so she could rinse it, only for a hand to grab her wrist and stop her.

"Here," Shinji said as he held out his own washcloth, which was clean and free of dirt.

Rei nodded and accepted the cloth he held out to her. Then she returned to her spot on the floor and continued scrubbing.

Dipping Rei's filthy washcloth under the soapy water, Shinji squeezed and wrung the cloth until it was clean. Then, withdrawing the cloth from the pail, he wrung out the excess water, and returned to his spot on the floor.

By remarkable feat of intense scrubbing, Shinji managed to finish cleaning his side at the same moment as Rei did. At the moment that the two dropped their washcloths into the bucket, they heard Touji sigh with relief. They looked over to him. He had just dumped the last of his piles into the trash.

"Thank God you're done," he said. "Now you can help me!"

Sighing, Shinji was about to pick the bucket up to once again fill it with clean water, when Rei grabbed his wrist in a fashion much similar to when he had grabbed hers earlier.

"That will not be possible, Suzuhara," she said. "Ikari and I must report to NERV immediately."

She released Shinji's wrist and he glanced at the clock. His eyes widened when he saw that it was almost time for their sync test with the Evas.

"Sorry, Touji," Shinji said. His pruned fingers weren't sorry, that's for sure, but Shinji didn't feel the need to express what his fingers thought of Touji's suggestion that they help him.

"Sure you are," Touji grumbled as he grabbed a hold of the bucket and dragged it out the door, leaving Shinji and Rei in the room.

Rei went to collect her things, and Shinji did the same.

Once they had their things, they left the room in silence. They walked through the school and soon out onto the streets. It might be a long walk to NERV headquarters, but they had time enough to take it slow as they walked there.

Rei and Shinji walked down the sidewalk side by side as they left the school and went towards their destination: NERV headquarters.

Rei and Shinji reached NERV headquarters with only minutes to spare. The sync tests would be starting soon.

Rei walked ahead of Shinji and swiped her card through the reader in front of the steel door that led to NERV head quarters. The reader beeped, a green light appeared, and the door slid open. Rei stepped through, and the door shut behind her.

After Rei had gone through, Shinji stepped up to the reader, and swiped his own NERV ID card through. Just like when Rei did it, the reader beeped, a green light appeared, and the door slid open. Shinji stepped through.

Rei was nowhere in sight. Shinji sighed in disappointment. He hadn't really expected her to be there. Much to the contrary, he had expected her to be gone just like she was. However he had been hoping that she might have waited for him to come after her, but she hadn't. She had probably gone straight to the women's locker room to change into her plug suit. Shinji knew he, too, should be changing into his plug suit, so he sighed and headed towards the men's locker room.

Shinji retrieved his plug suit from his locker and proceeded to strip himself of his current clothes. As he unbuttoned his white shirt, Shinji started thinking about earlier when he was cleaning with Rei. He had refilled the water bucket for her, and gave her his clean washcloth to use while he washed her dirty one. Shinji wasn't delusional; he knew that he liked Rei and that there was no fooling himself into thinking otherwise.

Shinji liked Rei, and therein lied his problem. Shinji was a very polite, and shy, young man. He had no idea on how to go about getting Rei's attention. Not only that, but also many people would say that he had set an impossible goal for himself: trying to get the attention of Ayanami. Everyone knew how emotionless she acted. Only because Shinji had seen her show emotion did he not think as all the others did. If Shinji were anyone other than himself he might think that he had a chance with Rei, but he wasn't someone else. He was Shinji Ikari, a boy plagued with the hedgehog's Dilemma.

The Hedgehogs Dilemma told of how no matter how close two hedgehogs wanted to get to each other, the spines on their backs would always hurt them. The same was true for humans, though they would hurt each other in different ways. Shinji has always been afraid of being hurt, and not physically. Because he was an Eva pilot, he constantly had to deal with pain. It was emotional pain that he couldn't stand. His father abandoned him when he was just a little boy, leaving him to live with his teachers until he was called back to pilot Eva.

Shinji desperately wanted to be close to Rei. As he sat there pulling on his plug suit, he started thinking that maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to try and get her attention. He would always run away from everything he couldn't handle, but maybe there was something else he could do. After all, if he never got into a relationship, what would his father think of him?

Like any boy, Shinji desperately wanted his fathers approval, Shinji even more so because his father had abandoned him. Shinji had thought that he had hated his father, but when he realized that the reason he continued to pilot his Eva because it was the only way to get his father's approval, Shinji's feelings about his father became confused. Things had been so much simpler when Shinji could just blindly hate his father.

However, his father might not approve of a relationship between him and Ayanami. She was the commander's favorite, as Asuka so sorely put it. While Shinji had some doubts of the reasons his father was so protective of Rei, he was fairly certain it wasn't out of kindness. His father had brought her up instead of him, but he wasn't jealous. On the contrary he felt quite sorry that Rei had to grow up with his father as a guardian. He half suspected that his father never let her have fun, and had instilled her with a sense of duty since she came to be under his care, though perhaps un-care would be a more appropriate term.

Though his father might have given him words of recognition when he helped defeat the tenth angel, Shinji was certain that there was no real meaning behind them for his father. To him, they were probably only words to make sure that Shinji would continue to do his best at piloting. What made Shinji angry was that he would continue piloting if he could only hear those words from his father. He hated the man for it, and for how he used people to get what he wanted. But still the words of his father echoed in his mind, Well done, Shinji, and causing Shinji's feelings to become confused.

Even so, Shinji expected that his father would not approve of a relationship between him and Rei. In all honesty he believed that his father would forbid it just to cause pain to Shinji. He could tell that Rei had been brought up to be cold and emotionless, just like his father. He thanked the Gods that Gendou had not been able to instill his cruelty into the young, blue-haired girl.

Shinji pulled his legs into the rubber sleeves of the plug suit. It might not be a bad idea to try and talk to Rei some more than he normally did. Shinji rationalized this idea by think how it would be beneficial for pilots to know each other better, disproving his earlier belief that he couldn't fool himself about his attraction to Rei.

He pulled his arms into the plug suit, and then zipped up the rest. The suit looked like it was a size to big, but then it always did when first put on. Reaching up to his wrist, Shinji pressed a little button on the plug suit's control panel. The suit contracted itself and conformed to the shape of Shinji's body. Putting the neuron connecters on each side of his head, he turned to the door of the locker room and strode out, wondering about how he should start his conversation with Rei.

Rei Ayanami entered the women's locker room only to be greeted by a familiar, and unwelcome, redhead.

"Guten tag, Wondergirl," the German girl said as Rei stepped through the doorway.

Rei, ignoring the Second Child, walked over to her locker and started undressing so she could get into her plug suit.

Asuka sniffed at Rei's lack of attention, and continued to get into her own plug suit. "It's no wonder people avoid you, Wondergirl," she said. "I wouldn't even be gracing you with my awesome presence if you weren't a fellow pilot, but since you are I guess you deserve some acknowledgement."

Asuka continued to ramble on about her overall greatness, but Rei wasn't listening to the second pilot's egotistical speech. She was just getting ready for the sync test. She was paying no attention whatsoever to the Second Childs words, and they just flew on over Rei's head. That is, until Asuka mentioned something that caught her attention.

"Can you believe Shinji? I mean he's got such nerve to be staring at someone else besides me. I'm the only one worthy of his attention! The two stooges tried to cover it up, but I'll figure out whom Shinji was ogling if it is the last thing I do!" Asuka yelled as she thrust her fist up in the air. "How dare he! I'm the only one worthy of his attention, or that of any other boy for that matter. After all, I am all that which a man wants in a girl."

Rei never turned to Asuka, but she started listening to what she was saying about Shinji.

"I mean it's not like anyone would ever be interested in him. He is always apologizing for everything, even if it isn't his fault. He's just a piece of worthless scheisse! He's always bowing and scrapping this way and that. He's also got no good qualities! Why would he think any girl would be interested in him anyway?"

Rei frowned as she pulled her hand though the rubber sleeve into the glove at the end of the arm of the plug suit. Ikari has many good qualities, she found herself thinking. He is always helping people and doing things for others, and he is very polite. He pilots his Eva very well. She could not fathom why the Second Child had such an apparent dislike for him.

Flexing her fingers so that they would be all the way in, she pushed the small button on the wrist, making the entire suit conform to the curves of her body. After placing the neuron transmitters on her head, she turned and regarded the fire-haired pilot of Unit Two.

Asuka had just placed the transmitters on her head and also turned to look at Rei.

"Well?" she said. "Aren't you going to say something?"

Rei stared at the pilot for a long time before turning to leave.

"Hey! Get back here Wondergirl! I haven't finished!"

The steel door slid open and shut behind Rei as she left the locker room. She heard a frustrated scream followed by a loud crash in the room she had just left. Rei decided that she definitely did not like the Second Child.

She walked along the corridor until she came to the elevator that would bring her to the level where the sync testing would take place. The first thing she noticed was that Shinji was there, obviously waiting for the elevator to open.

"Oh, hi Ayanami!" Shinji turned and said to her as she stepped up beside him.

"Ikari." She nodded and acknowledged his presence, although she didn't turn to look at him. Even it had been something she normally would have done, she still wouldn't have looked at him. She was thinking about Asuka's earlier rantings. The doors of the elevator opened, and they stepped in as Rei continued to think. She had thought of four good qualities about Shinji, but that hardly seemed like enough. She realized that she didn't know much about Shinji, and that it might be pertinent if she knew more about her fellow pilots. Seeing as how she had a dislike for the Second Child, she decided that it would be good to get to know Shinji better first.

Shinji, meanwhile, was sweating profusely and on the border of having a nervous breakdown. Not only had he been trying to start a conversation with Rei for the last few minutes, but also he currently had a problem that he was desperately hoping that Rei wouldn't notice. Why, oh why did Rei's plug suit have to be like it was?

Because the plug suits would conform to the body, they had the impression of being very revealing when the only visible skin was the face. Even though it was a plug suit that still didn't change the fact that Rei was wearing a suit of white, skin-tight rubber. The suit hinted at everything while showing nothing. It had an effect on Shinji that he really didn't want while he was trying to start a conversation that would allow him to get to know Rei better. She would probably think that he was a pervert if she noticed. It's what Asuka would think. Not to mention that it made the plug suits very uncomfortable.

Sitting down in the corner of the elevator because his legs were tired (and because he needed to make a certain problem unnoticeable), Shinji put his hands in his lap and stared at the ceiling. Now assured that Rei couldn't discover his problem, he started thinking on what he should do. Thinking of what he decided earlier, Shinji glanced at Rei and started thinking of something to say. Finally, Shinji opened his mouth, intending to say something, but he never got a chance to.

"Ikari," Rei said.

Shinji's mouth fell open. As far as he knew, Rei had never been the one to initiate conversation unless she was ordered to deliver a message. She had a policy of speaking when spoken to, and had never broken that policy, until now.

Regaining control of the muscles in his jaw, Shinji said, "Yes, Ayanami?"

"Why do you pilot your Eva, Ikari?" she said, believing that she should start with something that they both had in common.

Shinji was confused. He was sure that she knew the reason, as he had told her, Asuka, and Misato when they were all celebrating the defeat of an angel. "Well, um… I pilot it because my father approves of me when I do."

Rei turned to look at Shinji. There was another reason for starting with this question. She had known that that was the reason that Shinji had told everybody, but she knew that earlier he had hated his father. She knew that it couldn't be the reason he started piloting Eva.

"Ikari, why did you start piloting Unit One?"

Shinji stiffened. He had not expected a conversation with Rei to go this way, not at all. Had he been the one who initiated the conversation between them, it wouldn't have gone this way, but he didn't start it. Rei wanted to know the answer, but Shinji was reluctant to give it. He closed his eyes and thought back to when he first saw Eva...

"Hey, why's it so dark in here?" Shinji said as he groped around in the darkness.

The lights flicked on, and the giant, purple, horned face appeared before him.

"AH!" Shinji yelled as he fell back onto the catwalk. The sudden appearance of the giant head had scared the wits out of him. He had thought it some giant demon come to devour him.

"It's a face. A giant robot?" Shinji stood up and quickly pulled out the copy of Welcome to NERV that Misato Katsuragi had given him when she picked him up. He started to furiously flip through it, looking for something about the giant mecha standing before him.

"You won't find this in there," the shorthaired, blond Dr. Ritsuko Ikagi told him.

"What?" Shinji said as he glance up at the lab coat swathed woman who had rescued him and Misato from being lost forever in NERV's maze of pathways.

"This is man's ultimate fighting machine, the synthetic life form known as Evangelion, Unit One. Built here in secret, it is mankind's last hope," the doctor said as she looked up at the beast.

"This, this is my fathers work?" Shinji said, assuming this because his father called him here.

"Correct," a voice emanated from the speakers, a voice that Shinji hadn't heard in seven years. Shinji spun around and looked up at a man standing behind a glass window that was a hundred feet above him. "It's been a while," Gendo Ikari said.

"Father…" Shinji said quietly as he saw the man above him that abandoned him all those years ago.

The commander turned to look at Dr. Ikagi. "We're moving out," he said.

Misato's eyes widened as she looked up at the commander, her long, dark purple hair falling behind her as she tilted her head back. "Moving out! But Unit Zero is still in cryo-stasis!" she yelled up at him. He just stared back down at her, and her eyes widened even more. "Wait a minute—your gonna' use Unit One!"

"There's no other way," Ritsuko said as she turned to Misato.

"Now wait! Rei can't do it yet can she? We don't have a pilot!" Misato yelled.

"We just received one."

"You're serious?"

"Shinji Ikari," Ritsuko said as she turned to look at the boy, "you will pilot it."

"But even Rei Ayanami took seven months to synchronize with her Eva," Misato said, waving her hands. "It's impossible for him to do it, he just got here!"

"He just has to sit in the seat, we don't expect more than that."


"Listen, defeating that Angel is our ultimate priority. If we have someone who has a chance at synchronizing with an Eva, then we've got to risk it. You do understand that don't you, Captain Katsuragi?

Misato had her mouth open to protest, but she changed what she was going to say when Ritsuko had said her rank in the tone she did. "Yes, Ma'am."

Shinji had heard the entire exchange and looked up at his father. "Why did you send for me?" he yelled up to the figure behind the glass.

"You know why I sent for you," his father replied in an emotionless voice.

"So, you're asking me to take this thing and go out there and fight?"


"How could you do this to me! I thought you didn't want me!" Shinji balled his fists up in anger as he stared at the ground. "Why? Why did you have to call me now father?"

"Because I have a use for you."

The cold tone in which his father said that struck Shinji hard. Tears of anger started to form in his eyes. "But why? Why me?"

"Because there is no one else who can."

"No I can't. I've never even seen anything like this before. There's no way I can do this!"

"You will be instructed."

"But still—there's no way—I can't pilot that thing!" Shinji yelled as he squeezed his eyes shut.

"If you're going to do it, do it now. If not, then leave!" His father yelled down from his perch.

Before Shinji could reply, he stumbled to the ground because of a rumble that was felt throughout the entirety of the NERV complex.

"It's close. It must sense us," the commander said, looking up at the ceiling.

Ritsuko looked at Shinji. "Shinji, we don't have much time."

"Get inside," Misato said.

"This is all wrong. I came all this way. Why did I come!" Shinji said as he shook with anger.

"Why Shinji? Exactly why did you come here? You mustn't run away, you must confront your father and you must confront yourself," Misato said. She knew how Shinji felt since she too had hated her father.

"I know that. But—I just can't!"

"Fuyutsuki," Gendo Ikari said quietly, and Second Commander Fuyutsuki appeared on the screen beside Gendo.

"Sir," he said.

"Wake up Rei."

There was a not of surprise in Fuyutsuki's response. "Can we use her?"

"She's not dead yet," the commander said in his emotionless voice.

It was a while before Fuyutsuki answered. "Understood."

"Rei?" the commander said.

A very weak and faint voice drifted over the communications system. "Yes," it said.

"Our spare is unusable, you will do it again," he commanded the person on the opposite end.

The same weak voice answered. "Yes Sir."

Hearing the exchange, Dr. Ikagi yelled to the technicians. "Reconfigure Unit One's system for Rei! Then activate!"

A female voice answered from the speakerphone. "Roger. Calling off current program and beginning activation."

"I knew it, I'm not needed after all," Shinji quietly said.

A sudden squeaking, like the rolling of small wheels caught Shinji's attention. He looked up.

There was a girl being rolled in on a hospital bed. Her hair was blue and her eyes crimson. He skin was pale, and he could see her long slender arms which were bare while the rest of her body seemed to be encased in some white plastic suit. Shinji would have gasped at her beauty, but instead he gasped at the multitude of bandages covering her pale skin. There was one around her waist, her legs, her abdomen, her chest, and even one around her head and left eye.

Shinji stared at her as she was wheeled past him. He knew that she must be in considerable pain. This must be the other pilot, Rei, whom his father had been talking to. She looked like she would die if she tried to do anything more than lie there. Shinji's hands clenched again in anger at his father for making this poor girl go through this.

Suddenly the entire room shifted, knocking Shinji down and dumping Rei from her bed. Some debris fell from the ceiling of the Eva's cage.

"Look out!" Misato yelled in panic as the debris fell down towards Shinji.

Shinji yelled and through his hand up in a futile attempt to save himself from the elephant sized chunks of metal hurtling down at him.

He heard a screeching of metal and an enormous splash as something moved over him, blocking the light away. He heard the debris bounce off of something and splash harmlessly into the liquid that enveloped the Eva from shoulders down.

Shinji opened his eyes to see a gigantic purple arm shielding him. Shinji stared at the thing in shock, unable to move. He heard an alarm in the background and people yelling.

"The Eva activated itself!"

"It ripped right out of the right arm restraints!"

"No, That's not possible!" he heard Ritsuko say. "The entry plug wasn't even inserted. That just can't happen!"

"You mean it reacted without any kind of interface? Was it willing to protect something? To protect him? It's him!" Misato yelled in surprise as she pointed to the arm hovering over Shinji.

Shinji was taken from his state of shock when he heard a soft voice gasp sharply. He whipped his head to the right and saw the girl that had been on the hospital bed crumpled up on the floor. He scrambled up and ran to her.

When he reached the girl, he slowly reached down and put his arms around her neck and her back, helping her get out of the contorted position she had landed in. She winced and gasped in agony. She was on the border of tears, and had her eyes squeezed shut as she let out gasps of pain..

Shinji's eyes widened when he felt something sticky and wet on her back. He pulled his hand from behind her and saw the blood that now covered his hands. He could still here people in the background yelling. He could only stare at the blood until he heard the girl give another whimper from the pain.

She was suffering in agony, he thought. He cradled her to his chest, trying to comfort her, while his eyes narrowed as he remembered what his father has said, She's not dead yet. Shinji knew that if this girl got into that monster of a robot, she would surely die.

Holding the girl to his chest, Shinji squeezed his eyes shut again. He didn't want this girl to die, as she surely would if she had to pilot that thing. He hated his father for it. There was only one thing to do. I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away, I mustn't run away...

"I'll do it!" he yelled, turning his head to face his father, silencing the cacophony of yelling that had been there a moment before. "I'll pilot it!"

Shinji opened his eyes as he finished remembering the events that led him to pilot Unit One. He knew his father had known that Shinji would pilot to save Rei, but even if he hadn't, his father still would have forced her to enter the plug. No, his father definitely didn't care about her, or any other human. They were all expendable to him. I can forgive him for abandoning me, and I can forgive him for all the pain he's put me through, but I can never forgive what he did to Ayanami. He looked at Rei and found her staring intently at him. His face reddened as he looked down, and wondered what to tell Rei.

"I apologize," Rei said. "If you do not wish to talk about it, you do not—"

"It's alright," Shinji said as he looked up from the ground. Still not looking at Rei, he cleared his throat before saying, "I, uh—I piloted Eva so… so you wouldn't have to." There he said it. He looked down at the ground as he felt his face redden again. Had he not done so, however, he might have noticed that Rei's usually pale face had turned a light shade of pink.

Rei was confused by her reaction to what he said. She had rarely ever been embarrassed before, and she had no idea as to why what Shinji said should bring such a reaction from her. Not only that, but she felt… she felt something. She couldn't describe the feeling, other than it felt warm and that she felt like leaning toward the young pilot of Unit One. She had believed that he had originally piloted Eva because the commander had ordered him to, regardless of his feelings for him, just as she would have done. She wasn't expecting him to say that he had piloted it for her sake.

Shinji was grateful when the doors opened to the Eva cages, dispelling the uncomfortable moment.

"Uh, here we are, Ayanami," he said nervously.

Rei didn't say anything, but walked past him and out onto the catwalks, heading for the sync test room. Shinji ran to catch up to her and walked beside her into the room where they would get into their entry plugs.

"Ah, it's good to see you two," Dr. Ikagi greeted them. "Is the Second Child coming?"

Rei nodded, which told the doctor nothing except that Asuka was at least somewhere in the building.

"Well, let's get you into the entry plugs. We'll get Asuka in when she gets here."

"Yes, Dr. Ikagi," Shinji said as he approached his entry plug. Opening the door, he was about to step inside when he saw Rei at her own entry plug. She was pulling on the hatch handles, but it wouldn't open. Dr. Ikagi was on the other side of the room looking at some instruments, so there was no one to help Rei. Shinji pushed himself beck out of his plug and went over to Rei.

"Do you need help Ayanami?" he asked Rei.

Rei looked at him for a moment before nodding. "Yes, the hatch seems to be stuck, Ikari," she said.

"I can try and open it for you," Shinji said before flushing from Rei's stare.

"That would be acceptable," she said after a moment before stepping away from the hatch.

Shinji nodded and stepped to the location where Rei had been standing just moments earlier. Grabbing the twin handles of the hatch, Shinji braced himself as he prepared to twist the handles and open the hatch.

Shinji grunted when he discovered that the hatch was stuck. Really stuck. He was by no means weak, but he wasn't even budging the handles. Scrunching up his face, Shinji started exerting himself while trying to open the hatch. His face was turning read and he was sweating.

Finally the handles could resist his efforts and suddenly twisted and the hatch opened. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand before moving back and allowing Rei to enter.

She nodded to him as she stepped in. Shinji knew that it was all the thanks that he was going to get. Rei Ayanami never thanked anyone, not even the commander. With a small sigh, Shinji closed the hatch behind her and latched it before returning to his plug. Opening the hatch, he stepped inside and sat down on the seat within and leaned back. The hatch closed and latched shut, and Shinji waited for Asuka to arrive and get into her plug so the testing could begin.

As Shinji sat there with his eyes closed, he thought again about what he should do. There was no denying he was attracted to Rei. Him sweating and hopping that Rei wouldn't notice a certain aspect of him earlier proved that. He was also puzzled by the fact that she, Rei Ayanami, had started a conversation. That just didn't happen.

It did give Shinji some hope though. If she started a conversation with him, and she never had with anyone else… could it mean that she liked him? No. He squashed that idea down. It was too much to hope for. If he let himself get too hopeful, and it wasn't so, he would just have to endure pain. He didn't want that.

However, it had felt good talking to Rei. Even though he was almost having a nervous breakdown, it was still a nice feeling, being able to talk with her about personal things like that. He supposed that he could ask Rei why she asked him that after the sync test. Then he would be able to talk to her again.

Shinji's thoughts were interrupted when he heard a muffled screaming from outside of his hatch, announcing the arrival of the Second Child. After about five minutes of indistinct screaming, it seemed that the Second Child had finally ended her tirade and gotten into her plug. Moments later, Shinji's plug began to fill with LCL.

It had taken no small amount of time for Shinji to get used to the yellowish liquid that smelled like blood. He always got this sense of drowning as the liquid slowly filled up the plug, and he always had to force himself to breath in the LCL and not hold his breath. Even though he knew that his blood would be oxygenated once he breathed in the liquid, it still not easy to consciously breathe in a liquid. After the copper tasting liquid finally filled up the plug, he felt the entire capsule moving into position, and soon after he say Misato's face on a view screen to his left, and Rei and Asuka to his right.

"How's it going Shinji?" Misato asked.

"Fine, Misato," Shinji told his guardian.

"Good, we'll have this test over and done in no time, then we can go home."

"Yes, and Shinji and I are going to have a little talk when we get home. Aren't we Shinji?" Asuka said in a voice that dripped with just too much honey, causing Shinji's innate fear of the egotistical pilot to double. She had obviously not forgotten about what she had overheard earlier.

Shinji started to panic, struggling for something to say, when the most unlikely person came to his rescue. For the second time that day, Rei broke her strict rule of not speaking unless spoken too.

"Ikari," she said. Shinji turned to look at the view screen that showed her face to find her looking at him.

"Yes, Ayanami?"

"I would like to speak with you after the tests, if that is alright with you."

"Yes, it is," Shinji said as he vigorously nodded his head.

"Argh, don't think you're getting out of this easy, Shinji. I'll see you when you get home."

Shinji bowed his head and looked at his lap. "Yes, Asuka," he said meekly, while mentally thanking Rei over and over again for delaying his return home.

"Did I miss something here?" Misato asked, confused at each of the children's odd behavior.

"N-no, Misato," Shinji said, hoping that Asuka would keep silent, because he knew that she would make up some story that would humiliate him.

Shinji watched in horror as Asuka opened her mouth to say something—only to be stopped when Dr. Ikagi beat her to the punch. "Enough chit-chat, we need to get this test underway. Pilots, start synchronizing with your Evas."

"Yes, ma'am," Shinji said before sighed with relief and leaned back in his chair and concentrated on his Eva.

Misato stared at the pilots on the screen. Each was lying back in their entry plug with their eyes closed. She looked over Maya's shoulder and saw each pilot's sync ratio fluctuating the on graph shown on the screen.

"Microsis operation completed," a cool voice said over the intercom. "Inversable graph measurements analyzed."

"So, which dress are you wearing?" Ritsuko asked Misato from behind her clipboard.

"Synchro-position is normal," the intercom said again.

"Oh, for the wedding tomorrow?" Misato said as she turned and looked over her shoulder at her friend. "Well, I wore the pink suit for Kiyomi's wedding, and I wore the dark blue dress for Kotoko's shower..."

"There's that orange one, you haven't wore that one lately," Ritsuko said.

"The orange one?" Misato laughed nervously. "Well there's a reason I haven't worn it..."

"It's too tight?" Ritsuko said, grinning behind her clipboard.

"Ah, thank you!" Misato growled at the doctor. She sighed. "Maybe I should just buy a new one. Man, all these stupid weddings are killing my bank account."

"Tell me about it, we've been to so many showers I'm almost broke."

Misato and Ritsuko were friends from college, and recently all their old friends have been getting married. Rather than celebrating the joyous occasion that it should be, they feared it because in Japan they each had to give the host couple a gratuity of about 20,000 yen, roughly 200 American dollars.

"Yeah! It's like everyone's in a rush to get married before they turn thirty," Misato said as she scratched her head.

"And you don't want to be the last one still single, do you?" Ritsuko said.

"Excuse me!" Misato raged at her old friend. She stood their smoldering for a moment.

"Ok, you guys can take off now," Ritsuko said to the children. "Good work."

Asuka's voice came over the comm. "It's about time! These stupid experiments are really getting on my nerves!"

"Speaking of which, Shinji seems more subdued than usual," Ritsuko said to Misato.

"Hmm, well I think something happened with Asuka at school today, but besides that… well, tomorrow's the day."

"Oh yeah, tomorrow," Ritsuko said as she looked up at Shinji on the monitor.

Shinji peeked his head out of the men's locker, looking both ways down the hall for Asuka. He had changed out of his plug suit as fast as he could so he might be able to get to the elevator before Asuka finished changing. Seeing that she was nowhere in sight, Shinji crept down the hall like a burglar afraid of being caught, looking around corners before rounding them. Finally reaching the elevator without incident, Shinji pushed the up button, and waited impatiently for door to open.

"Ikari," a voice said from behind him.

Shinji almost leaped out of his skin until he saw Rei standing behind him. "Oh, Rei. You scared me, I thought you were Asuka."

Rei nodded, though she felt a small twinge of anger at being mistaken for… her.

The anger would have been imperceptible to everyone, except for Shinji. Shinji, who had studied Rei's face for as long as he'd known her, could tell that he had said something that upset her, though he didn't understand how he could tell.

"But I'm glad you're not." He smiled at her.

Rei looked at him and glanced away, hiding yet another blush that came to her face. She had no idea why he was affecting her so. The door to the elevator opened and she stepped in, with Shinji close behind her.

Just as the doors were about to close, Shinji saw a figure running down the hall towards them. A red haired figure.

"You get back here!" she yelled. "I'm not letting you get off easily, do you hear me? Don't you dare let that door close, Shinji! Shinji!" Just as Asuka reached the elevator, the doors shut, and the elevator began to move slowly upwards, leaving Asuka below.

Shinji let out a breath he didn't know he was holding, and he glanced at Rei. There was a small smile on her lips as she looked at the closed door. Shinji blinked. No, there was no smile, just the same emotionless face that Rei always wore. He must have imagined it.

Shinji walked to the corner of the elevator and leaned against the wall, taking some weight off of his legs. He looked at Rei who was still standing where she had since she entered the elevator.

"Um, thank you for getting me out of that bit of trouble with Asuka earlier," Shinji said hesitantly.

Rei turned her head a bit and glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. "You're welcome, Ikari; however, I really do wish to speak with you."

Shinji nodded. "I know, I didn't mean to imply that you didn't, but… thanks all the same."

Rei nodded. For some reason his thanks made her feel warm. It was a puzzling matter, and she resolved that she would think about it later.

A silence ensued in the elevator. Feeling uncomfortable, Shinji blindly groped for something to talk about until he finally grasped something.

"Um, tomorrow," he said, not quite sure how to start. "I, er, have to see my father tomorrow. What should I talk to him about, Ayanami?"

Rei was puzzled. "I don't understand, why are you asking me?"

"Because I've seen you talking with my father and actually enjoying it." When he got no response from Rei, he said, "Say, my father, what's he like?" A cold heartless bastard, he thought, but despite that, he really wished that he could know his father like a son should.

"I don't know."

"Oh," Shinji said, feeling a bit depressed that she couldn't tell him anything about his father, and that his attempt at conversing turned out to be a fluke. Then he brightened a little knowing that the less Rei knew of his father, the better off she would be.

Rei thought about how Shinji had been watching her for a while now, and about how he seemed disappointed when she couldn't properly answer his question. "Have you been watching me, because you wanted to ask that question?"

Shinji raised his hand to his head and nervously grinned. "Ah, well, you see…" Shinji trailed off. That wasn't the reason that he had been watching her, but how was he supposed to tell her that he had been staring at her because he found her to be exceedingly beautiful. Deciding to quickly change the topic, he said, "Hey, when we were cleaning, that cloth, the way you wringed it, it reminded me of a mother when you squeezed it."

Rei's eyes widened, though Shinji couldn't see it from where he was. "A mother?" she said.

"Ah, yeah. It just, reminded me of a mum." He laughed. "I bet you'll make a great mother, Rei." He laughed again.

Rei, thinking about the implications of such a statement, failed to notice how he avoided her question, and she blushed for a yet a third time this day. "You… embarrass me," she said to him.

Shinji's face fell. He had embarrassed her. He didn't want to give her any reason to not like him, so he quickly said, "I'm sorry, Ayanami. I didn't mean to. Please forgive me," while bowing and scraping.

Rei was so startled by Shinji's sudden apology that she turned around and looked at him. When she saw the urgent pleading in his eyes, she said, "I… forgive you, Ikari," her mouth contorting to form words she had never been implored to speak before.

Shinji's face lit up and he stood straighter as he said, "Thank you, Ayanami!" He looked like he was about to embrace her.

Rei nodded and turned to the door as the elevator opened onto level one of NERV headquarters. She and Shinji exited the elevator and walked towards the gate leading out of the NERV complex.

When they had exited the building and stepped out into sunlight, the sun was still high in the sky even though it was close to six o'clock. Because Second Impact hand knocked Earth back onto it's original axis and froze the seasons in place, it was summer year round in Japan.

Shinji turned to Rei. "Um, Ayanami," he said.

Rei turned to look at Shinji, "Yes, Ikari?" she said.

"Well, um, where do you want to talk?" he asked, still nervous.

"It would be acceptable if you were to escort me to my apartment, and we could talk there, as well as while en route," she said, her tone as bland as ever.

"Um, yes," Shinji said. Even if it was just so Rei could talk to him, he was still walking her home. Walking a girl home was something he had only done with Asuka, though that was because they both lived in the same apartment. He felt nervous, though he couldn't really explain why.

"Let us proceed, then," Rei said as she started walking out of the NERV parking lot and onto the sidewalk.

Shinji ran to catch up with her, and stepped into place beside her as she walked along. Hands in his pockets, he was staring at the ground as they both walked towards their destination.