Disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is a Studio Gainax production, its characters created by Hideaki Anno. They say the word, and this story ceases to exist.

It is a sad commentary on the life of Asuka Langley Sohryu that Mariko Buick is not the worst thing to have ever happened to her…

In the Dark Room: Portrait

By MidnightCereal

"Asuka? Are you home?"

"Yeah, Misato," the young woman answered from the floor of the living room, not bothering to look up from her magazine.

Her guardian trudged into the space, obviously weary from yet another day of avoiding the Commander's icy wrath, Dr. Akagi's rampant bitchiness, and Kaji's relentless, harrying romantic overtures.

"Damn Kaji," Katsuragi muttered. Asuka looked up just in time to watch Nerv's Operation Planning Manager shamelessly scratch her butt. "Ouch."

"Should I be concerned -at all- that you're rubbing your sore ass while mentioning Kaji?"

"No you shouldn't," the woman answered, glaring at the smirking teenager on the ground. "Young girls like you shouldn't be thinking ab…you know, we shouldn't even be having this conversation!"

Then Misato did what she always did when she got flustered; she went to the refrigerator for a beer.

The first of many.

"Where's Shinji, Asuka?"

The German snorted as she flipped a page. "What, am I his keeper or something? You're supposed to be his guardian."

"So…" Behind her, Asuka heard Misato tap something metallic with a fingernail. "Youdon't know where he is?"

The Second Child's head dipped, and she sighed in her upturned palm. "He went to go see Rei."

"Don't you mean 'Wondergirl'?" the older woman said with a mirth that didn't just touch Asuka's raw nerve; it spilled coffee in its lap and called its mother names. It didn't help that Misato's last word was spoken in a high-pitched, nasal, mocking tone.

"Shut. Up."

Asuka heard Misato set the can on a table. "C'mon, Asuka. This is Shinji we're talking about. This is Rei we're talking about. The most I've ever seen them do is talk quietly. You don't have a thing to be worried about."

"I'm not worried," Asuka lied.

"I…do remember him saying something about getting some help with schoolwork…"

"Yeah Misato," Asuka began dryly, "I only graduated from college at the age of thirteen. How could I possibly help him with his homework!"

"Maybe you just need to be a little nicer, Asuka…just… a little."

The German girl shook her head to Misato's advice, and perhaps also from the unease that came with the feeling that she had heard that suggestion before…

"What I need, Misato, is to go out, do something tonight."

"You can come with me." Did Misato say that? Yes, she did. But it didn't sound like her for some reason.

Asuka tried ignoring the sickness in her stomach. Couldn't, and her face squirmed. "You'd want me going out with you and Ritsuko? And Kaji? To some pathetic singles bar? Don't I need lavender perfume for that?"

"Not there. But they will be where we are going, too."

That voice, slithering between her ears like cold mud, made Asuka sit up, and she turned to look at its owner, who would have her eyes closed…

They were. Where we-

"-are going,"

you will not-

"-need lavender perfume."

Don't. Asuka could not move, but Misato could, and instantly the woman was standing over her, somehow looking down and through her with shut eyes. Please…

"You don't need to do this." Asuka whispered fearfully.

The last surviving Katsuragi smiled.

"Misato," Something gnawed greedily behind one of Asuka's wide, panicked eyes. "Don't." A raspy sob snaked its way from the teen's clenched teeth as she shook her head. "Please."

Maybe Misato heard her, perhaps not. But Asuka's plea did not stop things from now swimming behind the woman's closed eyes. Their movement was slick and eager, and rippled the thin sheet of skin with sick waves as they wriggled. Somehow, Misato was even closer.

"Mis-Misato…say something."

Misato opened her mouth to speak.

Thick, putrid ichor replaced words. Asuka screamed. She still couldn't move. Black bile continued to stream from her guardian's grinning lips from an inexhaustible source. Asuka knew what was going to happen next, and that she couldn't stop it powered the shrieks rising with her every shuddering breath.

Misato opened her eyes. White things, brown things, all small, all wriggling, all squirming over and under each other, all tumbling, countless, from those empty sockets to swim in the black ooze all over Asuka's frozen legs.

And now the creature biting the back of her eye was chewing through it. She tried to lift her hands – they were each a thousand thousand pounds - to clutch at or claw through her cornea to kill it. But she could do exactly nothing. Misato was laughing now and she could do nothing, and she could do nothing as her left eye ripped and boiled like a raw sore, and could do nothing as it ruptured and something came through.

She should fight this. Instead of diving backwards with a defeated wail and tumbling into nothing she should rise like a lioness to utterly crush the laughing, ruined leaking woman with all her skill and hate…

She continued to spin backwards, powerless.

With increasing frequency slick fingers, dead and cold, stole the heat from her back as they probed and slid across her spine. She was still spinning, spiraling downward, away from the light and the sick laughter…

…until finally, a new hand stayed her momentum, and pulled her up.

It was warm.

Asuka opened her eyes calmly as she swallowed the scream that never failed to gather in her throat when waking from that…bad dream. She blinked to resolve her sleep-blurred vision, and when it had sufficiently improved she looked up to see who it was casting the shadow over her.

"You're done, Shinji?"

When she rose to languidly stretch, he nodded. "Yeah. We're done talking. You're ready to go?"

She eyed him. Then she deliberately scanned their surroundings. First behind him, where a shadow of colossal radius stretched beyond her peripheral sight and blanketed the vast floor of the Geofront; it was closer than where it had been when Asuka had first dozed off.

Now behind her; looming in the far distance fully exposed and gleaming in the afternoon sun stood towers of steel and glass. Shorter structures lay at their foundations like loyal subjects. Finally she looked above her. Nothing but blue and sparse, turbulent streaks of white. She eyed him again.

"There isn't much else to do, now is there, Shinji?"

"No." They began walking.

"But you always ask me that same question."

"Because I'm holding out hope you'll talk to her one day."

"I know."

"She'd like it if you'd talk with her, Asuka."

"Shinji, all I can say to that is, you have your beloved surrogate parental figure…" She craned her neck to the stone arc they passed beneath, reading its inscription though she had memorized it long ago, "…and I have mine."

MAY THESE SEEDS OF THE NEW WORLD

BEAR ONLY THE SWEETEST FRUITS

THIRD IMPACT MEMORIAL CEMETARY AT TOKYO-3 MEMORIAL PARK

3•18•2016

He said nothing.


"How is she doing? Is she comfortable?"

As she walked up to Commander Fuyutski's side to look down at Central Dogma, Maya Ibuki, Nerv's Project E Chairwoman, nodded. "As comfortable as someone could be in one of those little metal boxes. But it's only just going to be for one night. She adjusts quickly, from what I can tell." She spared a glance at her commanding officer as she browsed a stack of printouts nestled in the crook of her arm.

"I see." He gripped the railing, and squinted as he always did. It did not matter if he was standing or sitting, teleconferencing with the United Nations or eating a tuna sandwich; in Maya's mind, Kozo Fuyutski was to squinting what Evangelion Unit-01 had been to savage beatings.

"I'm glad that's squared away then," he continued, "All that's left is the AEGIS proposal for tomorrow's meeting." He reached out to her and she looked back questioningly. "Is something wrong?" he asked.

"I…no, sir."

"Oh. I assumed that…that's not the report you're holding?"

She swallowed, and cast her eyesight downward. "No, sir."

"Oh. Well, if you can mail it to me or just put it on my desk in the next few minutes I would greatly-"

"I haven't written it yet."

"…appreciate it." Fuyutski could only stare for a moment, incredulous at the short-haired scientist. His look only amplified the heat of embarrassment that engulfed Dr. Ibuki. She felt small…

"Doctor…you knew about this meeting for a week…"

"Yes."

"And that the windfall from this project would fund Pribnow Box upgrades next month, upgrades the U.N. will not pay for, upgrades we desperately need."

Smaller…

"Yes. I know."

"Then how could you not have it ready less than a day before-"

"I don't…have an answer," she half-whispered, desperately trying to keep from drawing an audience. She was failing.

His squinted again, but not from contemplation this time. No…she knew that look well. "I know, Dr. Ibuki…you never do."

"Sachiko has the data from the experiments and we just have to condition it. I promise to have it done by tomorrow morning, sir."

He rubbed his temple in slow, practiced circles. "I know. That's why you're still here. You always get it done…somehow." Confusion passed over his old face.

Maya Ibuki wordlessly dismissed herself to get started. The sooner she could get to work, the sooner she could get the look that Fuyutski had in his eyes out of her mind…

It was disappointment.

Smaller.

Someone snickered.


Bathed, loose, and comfortably clothed, Asuka walked into the kitchenette of the apartment they had shared with their former guardian. "That doesn'tsmell like miso soup." She smiled, leaning her rump on a wall.

"I found some noodles and some tomato sauce. I hope you like spaghetti." Shinji answered without turning from his work at the stove.

There, just now, those were the most words they had spoken to each other since they made their way from Nerv. It was always like that, that she would meet Shinji at Misato's grave at the end of his communion, and if a silence didn't immediately dominate the air between the teenagers, it inevitably came a minute, two minutes later. And today, they had maintained it throughout the battery of tests they were religiously subjected to by Dr. Ibuki. They had maintained it on the way back to the apartment and on the path branded into their memory after walking it everyday for the last two years.

She stared at something indiscriminate between his shoulder blades and answered him. "I'd kiss you, Shinji, but then you'd just pass out, and then no one would finish dinner."

"You could kiss me after," he suggested, his back still turned so he didn't notice Asuka's smile fall a bit at the melancholy in his voice. He was hiding something.

"But I wouldn't be kissing just to kill time, Shinji," she purred teasingly, pushing off the wall and moving directly behind him. "You…would have my undivided attention…" She unfolded her arms from beneath her chest, one hand on his shoulder and the other moving up to cup his chin, both gently turning him to face her. "…you think you can handle that, Ikari?"

"Yeah." He calmly and quietly breathed, his measured, easy answer unnerving her for some reason as she looked up into his eyes. There was a time, she vividly remembered, that she could literally look down her nose at him, usually to scream about…something. Usually nothing. She still screamed at him for no good reason, just had to look up now, is all.

"Good," she whispered in return, the sound and smell of bubbling sauce returning her to the present, "then you can handle telling me what the hell is wrong with you."

A dull but persistent ache ran through her as he pulled his face away from hers and turned out of her grip, back to the simmering pot.

"It can wait until after we're through eating," he sighed, his hands moving again to prepare their food.

"Shinji…look…I know how you are after you go to see Misato. You've done it every week for the past…whenever-"

"She'd probably like it if you stayed longer, if you came earlier and talked to her."

"I don't doubt that, Shinji, but don't interrupt me and don't try to change the subject, either." She re-crossed her arms, now putting forth effort to abide the familiar tide of anger at the brown-haired boy's evasiveness. "This isn't even about her. It's about what's wrong with you today, right now. Out with it."

"It won't be much longer, Asuka. The noodles are getting soft. Just a few more minutes. When you're full. And satisfied…and relaxed."

"No," she commanded, sincerely hoping the Third Child, her roommate, comrade in arms, bringer of food, would not find out just how close he was to a full-on German blitzkrieg. Her fears were unfounded.

"A new pilot's been found. They're going to be here tomorrow, at school."

Hold that thought. "No," Asuka repeated, though the meaning and inflection of the word had changed. "I thought…" she started, consciously trying not to stammer, "but there haven't been any Angels in the…wait, how the hell do you know about this!"

"Maya told me, today, after the briefing, before we left." He pushed the limp noodles around in the boiling water.

Asuka quickly shook her head side to side as she screwed her eyes closed. She began to speak, the heat in her voice rising. "What I mean is why do you know about this, and I don't? I know the good little doctor is a busy woman, but I think this qualifies as need to know information, Shinji!"

"But you know now," he added quietly. His roommate's eyes narrowed. If his words were meant to diffuse the red-headed time bomb ticking behind him, then he had accidentally cut the blue wire.

"You don't think this is a poor, poor time to show me how perceptive you are? You think this is funny, baka?"

"No, I …she just probably forgot to tell you, Asuka. Like you said, she's a very busy woman."

"Don't throw my own word in my face! I know what I said!" She seethed, then, "You know what? You should've told me after dinner."

And with that, neither teenager spoke for the next few minutes, Shinji steadily working on the food, Asuka intermittently looking at the floor and his back, digging her nails in to her palms. They had learned to do this –allow a few minutes of silence- whenever she they started to bicker. It gave Asuka them a moment to regain her their composure and continue to argue the point of contention in a civil manner.

Like this.

"You know…I can't really say why I'm so worked up over this," she chuckled. When, after a few seconds Shinji said nothing, she continued. "It just bothers me, that's all. I don't think Dr. Ibuki likes me. She doesn't even say anything to me unless it's about those damned synch tests."

It was Ikari's turn to chuckle. "Do you honestly believe that woman's capable of hating anyone?"

"I said 'not like', not 'hate', Captain Hyperbole," she said as she gave a small shrug. "My point is this; remember that time I got you that ten Gig SDAT for your birthday, and the jerk at the front desk wouldn't sell it to me at first because I was gaijin? Did I even get an apology from him?"

"Yes."

"That's beside the point!" Asuka responded, quickly shaking her head. "Not that I've done anything to her, but people hardly need a reason for them to dislike you, or hate you." I should know, the thought came suddenly, and just as quickly she crushed it. She took a small breath and glanced at the kitchen clock. With that, the auburn-haired pilot was relaxed again. She was getting better at this.

"Maybe, Asuka, just maybe, she knew how you were going to react to this, and asked someone you get along with to break the news to you." He stopped his motions when he heard nothing behind him. "You're not getting mad again…are you?"

"No, I'm not getting mad," she finally said, placatingly so, "I can see your point. But that's a stupid reason to not tell me. I mean, I know I'm not the easiest person to get along with, granted, but WHY ARE YOU SNICKERING!"

"No reason."

She successfully quashed the urge to beat him with something hard, and continued her point. "Even though we're not fighting Angels, we still have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. Just getting in the entry plug takes about a thousand things to go right, especially with the hunk of scrap sitting at Nerv right now." That's exactly what Evangelion Unit-14 was to Asuka; it was catching a bus to Hawaii when you needed to have been there by jet two weeks before.

"Shinji, I just don't want to be in there when something goes wrong. This place runs on information, and if she's too afraid to tell me something I might not like hearing, I don't want to be in there at all. "

"I see your point, Asuka."

"We're done fighting, and I'm not dying over some mistake. I don't need to be here anymore, you know? It isn't like there's anything keeping me here."

"…Dinner's ready."

A few minutes later they were sitting down at the table, a sizeable helping of pasta between them, when Asuka began complaining about the meal's…sparsity.

"Sorry." Shinji grinned sheepishly, for a moment looking all the world like the introverted fourteen year-old he once was, and not the introverted seventeen year-old he was now. "If I knew I was going to make spaghetti I would've ran out and got some meatballs or something."

"That would've been a first..." Asuka mumbled under her breath, smiling to herself darkly.

"Huh, wha?"

"I'm gonna quench my thirst," she piped, getting up and moving to the refrigerator. "You didn't drink the rest of the Caplico, did you?"

"There should be some left," he said, arms crossed on the table as he waited for her to sit down before eating, "the only thing that's mine is the vegetable juice. I don't drink that sugary stuff anyway. There should be as much in there as when you last drank it."

Asuka snorted. "Okay, okay, no need to get our neural clips in a bunch. I see it anyway." She emptied the plastic bottle into her cup, deftly tossing the empty container in to the trash before looking at the mountains of food stockpiled in the open appliance.

"There's not a goddamn thing in the fridge, Shinji."

He sighed knowingly. "I'm going to the store tomorrow, right after school, since we don't have to go to Nerv tomorrow."

Nerv. Refrigerator. Liquid refreshment. Here it comes…

"That thing was never empty with Misato here," he breathed wistfully before leaning back in his chair.

I never thought anyone could actually fill a refrigerator with fifty gallons of beer…

"It was just…strange. You should've seen it the first day I got here. Heh, I never thought anyone could fill a refrigerator with fifty gallons of beer, you know?"

but she did it.

"I thought, 'how could anyone survive like that, on instant ramen and alcohol?' But she did it."

Asuka just retook her seat, looked down at her pasta and smiled wanly. "Shinji, dear, do you know how many times you've told me that story?"

"A lot." he said quietly, his eyes closed, trying to imagine something.

"Enough times to make me want to lock you in a room with a moose. I'm all for remembering what a drunken slob Misato was, but that's not the best picture to have in mind when you're chewing something…soft."

"She was beautiful."

That, he had never said before. Not about Misato. Not about anyone. They said nothing and just ate for a long span of minutes, Asuka knowing she would have to be the one to fill the dead air.

"This could use some parmesan cheese," she added.

"I'll pick it up-"

"-after school," she finished for him, "I know. After we meet the Sixth Child. Girl or boy?"

"I forgot to ask."

She twirled the noodles around her fork and took another bite before throwing a lazy smirk across the table. "Are you up to it, Third?"

"I'm always ready for it, 'dear'."

"Pervert."


The starless night receded as a purple dawn seeped into and over Tokyo-3. The violet itself bled away as the sun inevitably breathed warmth onto the metropolis, and as it rose so did a crescendo of noise, a thing that filled the once stagnant air with life until it overflowed, filling every alley, funneling into every tunnel, and tumbling across the perimeter of what was now known as Memorial Crater, a byproduct of the Self Defense Force's overzealous and misguided assault on Nerv Headquarters.

The origins of the rim of rock that ringed the basin of the Geofront was a basic fact, common knowledge in every apartment, every house and broken home and loving hovel and mud hut, every hall of government, every grade school home room, to anyone and everyone that had access to information in the last two years.

However, exactly how the storm that had raged over the old Tokyo-3 became so dire, why the Japanese government felt it was necessary to atomize the mechanized fortress city above the Geofront, a hundred thousand questions of little and great consequence, could only be answered by a select few. They were blessed with that knowledge as they stowed away in corridors overlooked by JSDF commandoes, afraid to breath or blink, as they hid under the bodies of coworkers, friends and C.O.'s, as they strafed enemy soldiers when daring to look over their command terminals…

Or as they cowered beneath those desks, crushing their seat cushions against their chest as they sobbed with fear, hearing nothing but the jackhammer pounding in their breast, their ragged, shallow breath, hot blood thundering in their ears, and endless rounds of hot lead punching into bodies.

The smells, Maya Ibuki recalled, shifting anxiously behind the wheel of her small Toyota, were worse than the sounds. It was the memory of those scents that lurked within her, often resurfacing at their leisure, it seemed. They chose to make themselves known with a gentle breeze tainted with bakelite, or as she would lay still in her furo, sinking until her chin formed a meniscus with the pool surface, cheated of the opportunity –the right- to relax her taxed psyche; she forced the steam that hugged her ashen face and pushed into her throat and nostrils to remain a humid vapor, and simultaneously kept at bay the black sooty tendrils it threatened to become if she let down her guard.

Very, very soon after Third Impact it became clear to the young doctor that if she were to keep her job and salvage her health, could no longer afford that 'if'. So Maya kept moving. Her state of mind, her work regimen, when she showered or bathed, when and sometimes where she slept were in a state of perpetual flux. If there was any discernable macro-scale pattern to the micro-managing of the woman's life, it was beyond her. If any pattern had been recognizable it had been uprooted and replaced with reliable, safe chaos.

As a consequence, chaos leads to conflicts of interest. At the moment, smack dab in the middle of the Tokyo-3 morning rush hour gridlock, her CVT Daikon wasting precious hydrogen, Maya seriously considered getting out of the car, leaving it on the A-21 and taking the tram down to the Geofront. She was fairly certain when she came back later that day her vehicle would no longer be there. So she stayed put, shifting anxiously. And wondering for the googleth time how in the wide world she had maintained the necessary composure to earn a doctorate in computational numerical analysis, a notoriously unforgiving field of knowledge.

As the brake lights dimmed ahead of her she crept closer to the exit ramp. She turned on the radio, filling the space between her ears with a pop tune that wafted through the cabin in soft waves. She changed it. Interference relented to the force of hard rock electric guitar riffs that assaulted her ears. Harsh vocals and sharp drums ceaselessly concussed her temples and disrupted linear thought.

Perfect.

Maya knew, slowly but sure as the rolling tide, her unpredictability was driving her underlings and superior insane. If not for the facts that she had been a Nerv veteran for almost half a decade, and that Maya's mentor had made sure her one and only protégé knew the Magi as well as she herself did, she would've been cut by frustrated and impatient overseers long ago. She truly felt sorry for Commander Fuyutski, Hyuuga, Aoba, and other long-time Nerv officers.

She felt worse for her protégé, a tall raven-haired girl just out of Nagoya Technical Institute, Sachiko Fujiyama. No…no, it was Fugimura. Wait, it was Fujiyama, because she had met the girl's parents during her commencement. In the four months Sachiko had stayed at Nerv her sempai's tutelage had consisted of scatter-brained and half-assed explanations of the intricacies of the super computer's bio-processor (the details of which quickly drowned her poor student in a sea of confounding techno-babble), and week-long bouts of phone tag.

Maya didn't expect herself to be the brilliant and attentive task master her Dr. Akagi was, but she expected herself to be competent. She expected herself to be able to nurture Sachiko's fragile confidence in her own fledgling abilities, and Maya was afraid the way she was now, she was quite literally mentally incapable of ever doing any of those things.

She needed to try harder, for her own sake, for Sachiko Fujiwara's sake, for the sake of her coworkers, and for the Children. Both of them. Shewould try harder.

The brake lights dimmed ahead of her once more and she suddenly smelled hot solder.

Maya shifted anxiously.


Asuka's classroom at New Hakone High school was drenched in morning sunlight as she sat down heavily in her seat and robotically logged on at her desk kiosk. The chatter in the room grew as her peers streamed in. She glanced at one boy slugging his satchel over his shoulder with one hand, and then at the girl she and Shinji came in with.

Asuka never thought she would ever have reason to use the word 'buxom'. It being a descriptor of physical feminine beauty, and having no desire whatsoever to feed another woman's ego, it never found a place in the German's lexicon, until today.

Her head perched in her palms as she read through new mail at her desk kiosk, she considered their class representative, the brunette Yukie Utsumi, and could see why her boyfriend (a basketball player at Municipal, a school nestled in the hills beyond the opposite side of the crater) wanted to be near her.

Today, Asuka had met and held a short conversation with them on the train ride to school with Shinji; the veteran pilot stopped just short of asking why she was riding the tram when she knew Yukie lived a short walking distance from her own school. Then she had noticed how Yukie and her boyfriend were sharing each other's personal space, how Yukie's smile leapt from pleasant to dazzling when he favored her with a roguish grin, and realized heavy rail wasn't the only thing her classmate was riding. Asuka stole a glance at Shinji, who was steadily typing something at his own terminal.

Yukie's…recreational activities…weren't any of her business, and she didn't care either way; after all, in almost two years of having classes together, her talk with the class rep on the train was their first real interaction. The buxom (ha!) girl had always tried to befriend the Second Child, and in the past, in junior high, when Asuka was a force of nature and her ego was a pure untested thing, Yukie would not have had to make the effort.

Asuka had nothing against the girl, who, for obvious reasons, reminded her of Hikari (The middle Horaki had visited once a few months earlier, and Asuka hid her profound disappointment well when the young brunette softly and politely explained why her family would not be returning to a city ravaged by war and rife with memories of personal tragedy. Hikari hadn't mentioned Touji once.)

That year, that war, had shattered Asuka completely, had savaged her spirit. She had crawled back from her personal nadir reforged, but undeniably and irreversibly damaged. Where there was once a solid wall that shielded her heart from those things that wished to harm her, there was now a multifaceted bulwark. Hurtful whispers and guilt seeped through it, sections bulged and compressed under the weight of frustration and suspicion, desire and disappointment. And fear. Now, Asuka had to guard against taxing that barrier.

Yukie was nice and popular (and persistent), but she didn't need Utsumi to be her friend, and Asuka had only spoken to her on the train because they were forced together in a cramped space. Declining Yukie's overtures of friendship then and there would've been…rude. Feh, Asuka Langley Sohryu, Evangelion pilot elite, world class child prodigy, master of five languages, afraid of being impolite to some horny schoolgirl. Yes. She had been in Japan far too…

Just then another girl with short black hair strode into the room, and Asuka did not recognize her face. The Second Child silently appraised this new person as she shifted weight from one foot to another at the head of the class, arms clasped behind her. Her head was steady but her eyes, a rich hunter green, set in an Asian face with light freckles, found something, someone new to look at each time she blinked. They settled on the Japanese flag at the back of the room.

Blink. On the courtyard outside one of the large side windows. Blink. Her black knee-high stockings as she rocked back and forth on her loafer-clad heels and then the fluorescent lighting above her. Blink. Then on Shinji. Blink. Then on Shinji. Blink. Blink.

She was appraising him.

The girl blinked again and suddenly they were on Asuka, unassuming, non-threatening and earnest, but studious nonetheless. Blink. Blink. When the girl's smile matched the light in her eyes, it hit Asuka that she already knew who they were. Tentatively, she smiled back and uncharacteristically broke eye contact first. If Asuka had ever had that kind of openness, she sure as hell did not now.

Yukie walked up to the new teenager and after a curt bow, chatted amiably with her. She was tall, Asuka noted, using the class rep as a frame of reference. Taller than her, at least as tall as Shinji, who now stood about half a head above the Second Child. Yukie politely but abruptly ended their talk and stood next to the other young woman as their teacher, Mr. Yoshikawa, walked in and set his briefcase on top of his desk. He shuffled some papers before looking up at Yukie, with whom he exchanged a nod of confirmation, and when the pretty brunette turned around again, her face was all business.

"Everyone rise! Bow! Please be seated!"

Chairs scuffed the tile floor and all eyes were forward as Mr. Yoshikawa came around the desk, standing where Yukie had been at the tall girl's side, and spoke.

"Class, you probably noticed the new face in here today. She'll be joining us for the rest of the year, so I want you all to give a warm New Hakone welcome to…um…"

"Buick," the new girl finished for the thin middle-aged man, glancing at his graying temples before turning her attention back to her new classmates. She took a small breath. "Um…Mariko Buick. I…I'm originally from America, and, um…but I've been living here, in Japan, for the last three years or so…and, uh…Nagoya for the last two years, and…and I like photography. I'm a photographer. I like to take pictures. And…"

"Welcome to class 3-B, Ms. Buick," Mr. Yoshikawa gently interrupted after a moment. He turned toward his desk, not noticing Mariko's mouth open and then close. "I'd like to go over yesterday's notes on Laplace Transforms, so if Ms. Buick would please take her seat next to Mr. Ikari we can get started. Shinji, please raise your hand."

It did not escape Asuka that Mariko was already moving before her apartment mate gave himself away.

So the new pilot's a girl. Her name's Mariko. Asuka's small mouth turned downwards ever so slightly. And she's sitting next to Shinji.

End of Portrait

Random A/N: First. Fic. Ever. Can ya tell? This is actually the first story I have ever voluntarily written in my life, and for some reason it turned out to be thirteen chapters long. I enjoyed writing it, and I hope you will enjoy reading it. I'm thinking I'll submit one new chapter every week, barring an intrusion from the real world. So I guess I'm saying I will never meet that one week goal.

No, really, I seriously cannot believe you got all the way through that. Lots of character development, huh? I think so at least. Hopefully, I can do something interesting with the New Pilot angle that hasn't been beaten to death with a familiar stick. I'll see, I guess. And so will you. Thanks for reading.

Next Chapter: Mariko Sue