I do not own Neon Genesis Evangelion or the rights to anything associated with it. Gainax created this world, I just play in it.

I do however own any and all original characters that appear within this story.

Welcome to the fourth and final chapter. I hope you enjoy this and I look forward to your response. Quite frankly, this chapter kicked my ass while I was trying to get it done.

Please, enjoy and review.

Long Way Home

Chapter Four:

Dr. Ritsuko Akagi, Shinji observed, as smart and as beautiful as she was, could be a very frightening individual when she put her mind to it. Currently an unfortunate orderly was experiencing her wrath first hand, and deservingly so, since he was the reason why Misato was missing from her room.

Misato's room was on the third floor and at the front of the institute, straight down the hall from the watch station. Each floor was set up in a manner so that a single orderly at a central point could watch the patient's rooms. There was the hallway straight ahead and a hallway to the left that led to the patients rooms, twelve of them in all. To the right was an open recreation room and a secured hallway that led to the alcove for the elevator, the access to the stairwell, and a set of doors that led to the medical wing.

The orderly manning the station had one basic job. Make sure that none of the patients wandered off and make sure that no unauthorized visitors entered the rooms. It was an easy job since all of the doors were visible from the station and each room had a camera that activated when the door was opened to record who was coming and going. The hallways were also monitored by a three way camera mounted in the ceiling in front of the watch station.

The orderly that had been monitoring the third floor, the same orderly whose throat Ritsuko was currently squeezing with her right hand, had failed to mention on his resume that he had lost his last job at the local hospital due to allegations, all true, that he was a pervert who liked to take pictures of unsuspecting patients and occasionally handle his victims. The unconscious or unresponsive ones were his favourites because they didn't fight back. He also wasn't very smart.

In an effort to counteract the cameras he had tripped the electrical breaker that the monitors and the computer at the watch station were wired into. What he didn't know was that there was a secondary circuit for the system. If the primary power supply was disrupted, a battery backup would keep the system on line until the emergency generator in the basement kicked in twenty seconds later.

Thus, unbeknownst to him, he was still being recorded as he left the station, went down the hall, and entered Misato's room. The images on his digital camera confirmed his crime, and his confession and the broken nose he had acquired told the rest. When he was lifting Misato's shirt to snap a few more pictures, she came out of her near catatonic state and lashed out at him, smashing his nose. The door and hall cameras had caught a very frightened and sobbing Misato as she stumbled out of the room and down the hall.

Security had alerted Dr. Yoshida to the situation after one of the institute's computer technicians came to investigate the power failure at the watch station and checked the camera logs. When they reached the third floor, Ritsuko, being more aggressive than Shinji, beat him to the orderly and seized the pervert by the throat. He was currently bent backwards over the desk in the watch station with the enraged faux blonde in his face. Shinji, Dr. Yoshida, a security guard, and the computer technician were all in the watch station and none of them were eager to pull her off of the orderly. Besides having no sympathy for the sick bastard, they all valued their health.

"Give me one reason why I shouldn't kill you, you fucking worm!" she raged.

The choking, gasping response she got was unintelligible.

"You can kill him later if you want to," Shinji told her, hoping he could prompt her to let go. "But right now we need to find Misato." If he hadn't been so concerned for Misato, he would have joined Ritsuko in her assault. His right fist opened and closed several times as he fought the desire to put it through the sick bastard's face.

"I think she took his security card," Yoshida told them. He was holding a broken nylon strap in his hand. "All of the interior and exterior doors, the stairway doors, and the elevators require a security card to access them. The staff members wear them on straps around their necks and they are supposed to keep them tucked in their clothes where the patients can't see them."

"I can track the card's usage," the computer technician said as he typed in his password to access the tracking program.

The orderly's gasping and wheezing became less pronounced and his arms and legs were no longer flailing around quite as much.

"I should rip your balls off and feed them to you!" Ritsuko seethed.

All of the other men in the room winced uncomfortably. The guy may have been a lecherous pig who deserved whatever he got, but Shinji couldn't let her kill him. Not for the orderly's sake, but for her own. He wasn't keen though on trying to get between the enraged doctor and her prey, but it had to be done.

'Well, I survived Asuka…'

In an act of bravery rivalled only by his last battle in the Eva, he went over to her and placed his left hand on her shoulder and grasped her wrist with his right.

"You have to let go Rits-chan," he said as calmly as he could. "He's a worthless scumbag and he's going to go to jail for what he's done. I don't want to see you end up there instead. I know you're angry, but you have to let go of him."

He felt the tension slowly ease out of her arm as she loosened her grip on the orderly. She had to take a couple of deep breaths before she got herself under control and let go completely. The orderly slumped to the floor and tried to catch his breath. For good measure she stomped one of her high heels into his groin. The security guard drug the wheezing and squealing pervert out of the room.

"I'm sorry Shinji," she apologized. "I let my anger get the better of me." She was ashamed of herself. She had thought that she was over that kind of outburst.

"I understand," he said. "If you hadn't got to him first I might have beaten him to death."

"She's used the card four times," the technician spoke up, getting their immediate attention. "First was the door to the right of this watch station. It leads to the elevator, the stairwell, and the door to the medical wing. She used the card the second time to open the door to the medical wing."

"She would be familiar with that route," Yoshida explained. "We've taken her through there a number of times to have her medical tests done."

"The third use of the card was to gain access to a stairwell at the back of the medical wing," the technician continued.

"That's in the area where the supply and maintenance rooms are on each floor of the medical wing," Yoshida told them. "She was never taken anywhere near that part of the building."

"Maybe she's been hiding back there," Ritsuko suggested. "You saw how frightened she looked on the recording, she could be just running blind and looking for a place to hide."

"That's quite possible," Yoshida said, as he picked up the phone. "I'll let building security know that she may be in that area."

"If she still has the card, she's not there anymore," the technician informed them. "It was just used to access another door."

"Where?" Shinji asked.

"The roof."

Misato stumbled out of the stairwell door and fell. Instinctively, she put her hands out to help break her fall, realizing a second too late that it wasn't a good idea. She had fallen several times since she had escaped her room, her legs too weak to keep her upright for very long at a time. She had already re-broken her left wrist in an earlier fall that had left her writhing in pain on the floor in a maintenance room, hoping that no one had heard the scream she had managed to choke off. This time when her hand hit the unyielding surface of the roof, she didn't bother trying to hold in the scream.

Once the pain had subsided to a tolerable level, she half stumbled, half crawled to the edge of he roof, scraping her good hand, her knees, and her bare feet on the roof's rough surface until she was bleeding. She propped herself up against a stack of roofing materials that had been left by a contractor who had been making repairs to the building. Five stories below her was the loading dock where supplies were brought in to the institute and her head swam for a moment and she nearly blacked out when she looked down. She quickly averted her gaze and took a deep, shuddering breath. She wasn't ready to go over the side just yet, but when she did it wasn't going to be because she passed out and fell over. It would be by her own decision, the only decision that would truly be her own since she awoke from her coma.

She wondered what she had done to deserve all that had befallen her since she had awakened from the coma. Was she being punished for the way she lived? Was she being punished for using the Children as her instruments of revenge and destruction against the Angels?

She felt her stomach lurch as she thought of the orderly lifting her shirt, the spot on her belly where his fingers had lightly touched her skin making her feel like she'd been branded. A cold chill shot down her spine as it prompted her to recall Nakamura's touch. It had been cold and clammy and full of malice. He would make her strip and beg and plead for the drugs her body so badly needed and her mind so badly didn't want. He would grope her roughly, making her tell him what a disgusting, filthy woman she was. If she didn't denigrate herself enough to earn her next dosage he would slap her around, always careful to use just enough force to cause pain but not enough to leave marks. Fighting back only earned her his hand around her throat, cutting off her air until she passed out, wondering if she would wake up again.

He always chose his words to her very carefully. Every word that came out of his mouth and every action he made was carefully designed to have the maximum amount of pain and despair fill her mind both when she was awake and when she was sleeping. His words would lay dormant in her subconscious until she fell asleep where they would awaken and spawn terrible nightmares that would leave her in such a state that when she awoke she couldn't tell if it had been real or not. She lived in constant fear and turmoil, rarely ever able to determine the line that separated reality from nightmare.

The only tactic he had used on her that hadn't been a complete success, had been his attempt to insinuate Shinji into her nightmares. He knew that she was using Shinji as her anchor to try and hang onto her sanity, so he tried to make her mind defile the relationship between them.

Through the use of various truth serum drugs he had questioned her about her relationship and feelings towards Shinji, using the information to formulate a plan of attack that he hoped would lock her into a permanent state of unreality where her mind would constantly formulate horrific images of one of them abusing the other in a variety of ways. He was trying mostly to plant a personality reversal scenario in her head where instead of being the kind and shy person that Shinji really was, he would be the exact opposite. He wanted the image of a cunning and sick predator who would forcefully take her up on her teasing suggestions and make her feel dirtier than she had ever desired to be. Someone who would humiliate her time and time again, convincing her that she was worthy of nothing more than that.

What he hadn't counted on though, was her view of Shinji as he really was being so unshakeable. She knew that Shinji would never do anything to hurt her and she held onto that as hard and as long as she could. Unfortunately her mind could only do so much to fight it and under the influence of the drugs she had several horrific nightmares where Shinji did horrible things to her, but it didn't quite have the full effect on her that Nakamura had wanted.

When he would interview her about the details of her nightmares he would become enraged that it wasn't working to his satisfaction. He wanted to see her breakdown and beg for it to stop, he wanted to see her fall to pieces over what Shinji had done to her in her mind and say that she hated him. It was the one thing that would most assuredly put her over the edge.

But there were four words that she would say every time he made her recount to him the details of the nightmares and those words infuriated him to no end. At the end of each interview session, when he had reduced her to a shaking, sobbing shell of herself, he would ask her what she would say to Shinji if he was standing there in front of her at that moment. Even as drug addled and broken as she was, she always said the same thing.

"I forgive you Shinji."

He would never know just how close he had come to getting the results he had wanted. A few more days would have seen her mind collapse into the state he desired, but in his frustration he gave up on it and settled for more of the same abuse he had been dishing out before, only involving stronger and more dangerous drugs. If he couldn't destroy her mind through psychological manipulations, then he would destroy it with chemicals and turn her into a walking zombie. Fortunately for her one of his little helpers finally got sick enough of what he was doing to turn stool pigeon on him, leading to his arrest.

Her stomach rolled again and she began heaving violently, but there was nothing in her already empty stomach to expel. The memory of Nakamura's touch literally made her sick. She had hoped that her ordeal was over when Dr. Yoshida replaced Nakamura, but the drugs, the nightmares, and the horrible memories had her in a death grip that she couldn't break. She had put all of her hopes for salvation onto Shinji, just as she had when he was piloting the Eva. She knew it wasn't fair, but she had been too weak to pull herself out from under the shroud of despair on her own. She had needed someone or something to hold onto and the first and only choice that came to mind was Shinji.

The sad thing was that even as a scared and lonely fourteen year old boy, Shinji had treated her better than any man ever had. He put up with her ways, cooked for her and cleaned up after her and helped her to bed when she was too damn drunk to make it there herself. He showed her kindness and compassion and made her apartment feel like a home. With everything he had done for her, both in and out of his Eva, she wished she had showed him more appreciation, maybe she could have helped him to be stronger and believe in himself.

She didn't know exactly when it was she had begun to have the strong feelings for him that she now had, maybe they had been there all along. She had found herself wishing at times that he was older, or she was younger, it didn't matter which. Under those circumstances she could see herself pursuing a relationship with him. He may have been timid and scared and horribly shy, but beneath his misplaced self loathing he was so much better than he thought. Anyone who bothered to pay attention to him and not dismiss him outright could have seen that, but so few bothered to look for it.

But it didn't matter now because he was dead. He had to be because she couldn't stomach the thought that he may have abandoned her. She was ready now to throw herself off the roof and end her pain. She couldn't take the horrible nightmares and memories or the crippling loneliness anymore and she knew that she would never get through this on her own. She didn't have the strength or the will to even try anymore. It was time to end it.

"I'm such a hypocrite," she sobbed as she struggled to get to her feet. "I made Shinji promise to keep on living but I can't do the same." She finally made it to her feet and stood on the edge of the roof, her right hand on top of the pile of roofing materials to keep her steady. "I'm sorry Shinji," she cried. "Please don't hate me for this."

"I could never hate you Misato."

The gentle voice made her freeze, afraid to move, afraid to breathe. It wasn't possible, it couldn't be him. She had to be hearing things again. She had heard and seen a lot of things that weren't really there over the last couple of years and more than once she had heard and seen Shinji, only to have her hopes crushed when it turned out to be a hallucination. She couldn't bear to look behind her, but in the same way that people found themselves compelled to look at a car wreck, she couldn't resist it either. What did it matter now if another dagger of pain stabbed her already broken heart?

She turned and looked behind her and sure enough there was her usual vision of Shinji. He had grown tall and looked strong and healthy, his hair a little long and unruly. He was dressed in a pair of black slacks and a white dress shirt, her silver cross peeking out from his open collar. He wore a sad little smile on his handsome face.

"If only you were real." Her voice was barely audible and cracking with emotion. Her hallucination then did something it had never done before. It walked towards her.

As soon as the technician told him that Misato had gone to the roof, Shinji demanded directions to the stairway she had used. Once he had that information, he took the man's pass card and ran for the doors to the medical wing. He sprinted down the hall, making doctors and nurses jump out of his way. He found the door that led to the maintenance rooms and the stairway to the roof.

When he arrived on the rooftop he saw her over by the edge, struggling to get to her feet. He slowed to a staggering walk as he moved in her direction. He could scarcely believe it, it was really her. She had never looked so good and so horrible to him at the same time.

The pale blue hospital scrubs she was wearing were dirty and the knees were torn. She held her left arm away from her body and her heavily bandaged wrist seemed to be aligned at a slightly odd angle. She was sickeningly thin and unsteady on her feet and he could tell from her body language that she was at the end of her mental rope. He knew that feeling well, he had been there himself. When he heard her speak it made his heart hurt. There was so much despair and pain in her voice and he wasn't surprised by her reaction when he spoke to her. Dr. Yoshida had told him that she had suffered hallucinations and occasionally still did as they slowly weaned her off of the debilitating drugs Nakamura had fed her.

When she turned and looked at him he almost started to cry. She looked so sad and beaten and tormented. Worst of all was her eyes. They were sad and full of fear. They held no life. They held no hope. Tears were streaming down her face as she looked at him, seeing what she knew just had to be another drug and desperation induced spectre, sent to torment her one last time. The eyes were the window to the soul and it was clear to him that Misato's soul had been beaten down and torn apart. He could see that she had nothing left, that she had hung on as long as she could and she didn't have the strength to hang on anymore.

"If only you were real," she said.

"I am real Misato," he told her, trying to keep the waver out of his voice. "And I'm really here."

"You can't be," she sobbed. She fell to her knees, her good hand going to her head and clutching a handful of hair. Her head hurt and she couldn't focus. "Please, no more!" she wailed. "I can't take anymore! Just let me die. Let me end it."

Shinji knelt down in front of her. It was killing him to see her like this and her anguished words nearly tore his heart out.

"Did you abandon me Shinji? Did you get sick of me and walk away?" she asked, her eyes meeting his, pleading for an answer. Her heart was screaming at her that he was really there, but her head was afraid to believe.

"I would never abandon you Misato," he told her, tears starting to roll down his face. He just couldn't hold them back anymore. "You mean too much to me, I could never do that to you."

"Where were you Shinji?" Her voice was barely discernable through her sobs. "I waited for you every day."

"I thought you were dead Misato." He had to suppress a sob of his own. "I thought you were gone and I fell apart."

She struggled back to her feet again and stood on the roof's edge. He followed. "I tried to hang on Shinji, I tried so hard."

"I know you did Misa-chan," he told her with a slight, sad smile. "I know you did. You always were stronger and tougher than I was. I let you down. I shouldn't have believed you were dead. I should have told them they were wrong and made them prove it. Instead I went to pieces and tried to run away, just like always." He took a deep shuddering breath. "If I had been strong, you wouldn't be here now, ready to throw yourself off this roof. Put the blame on me Misato. Put the weight that's crushing you on my shoulders and I will carry it. Hit me, scream at me, tell me you hate me, but please Misato, I beg you, don't end your life."

"None of this is your fault Shinji," she gasped, her soul wracking sobs stealing her breath. "I can't…"

He didn't let her finish. "If you jump Misato, I'll jump right behind you."

He had said it softly, but it affected her as if he had shouted it and slapped her in the face. "Shinji…"

"If you want to die Misato, then go ahead and jump," he said in as firm a voice as he could manage. "And I'll go with you so that you won't be alone anymore. I don't want you to, but if you're determined I wouldn't be able to stop you. Watching you kill yourself and being left behind would be far worse than dying."

"I don't want you to die Shinji!"

"Then choose to live," he said with a smile. "I know you too well Misato Katsuragi, you fight and you survive. So long as there is a breath of air in your lungs and a drop of blood in your veins, you always fight until the fight is over and you're not done fighting yet. You survived Second Impact. You survived the Angels, my father, an attempted Third Impact, hell, you survived me and Asuka. You can lean on me Misato and I'll give everything I have to help you. I believe in you and I'll give you my heart and my soul because I love you."

Her eyes widened and she stared into his like she was searching for a sign of deceit.

"As with me, no one has ever told you that and meant it," he continued. "That's why when I say it, I mean it Misato. I know how powerful those words are for you and I, and I don't use them lightly. I love you."

It only took a moment for Misato to let him know what her decision was. With the little strength she had left she practically launched herself at him and wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him as hard as she could.

"I love you Shinji!" she declared as she buried her face in his chest.

She felt his arms go around her and pull her close to him. He was warm and he smelled good and she felt as if this was where she was always supposed to be. His embrace felt so natural to her, it was as if they were two pieces of a puzzle that had finally been put together. For the first time since she awoke from her coma, she truly felt safe. For once, the flood of tears that were now soaking Shinji's shirt weren't from pain and despair. They were tears of relief mixed with a little bit of hope, something she hadn't felt in quite a while.

"Shinji?" she asked quietly.

He loosened his embrace enough that he could see her face. "Yes Misato?"

"Do… do you think I'll ever be able to leave this place?"

He smiled and gave her a light squeeze. "I know you will," he assured her. "But I won't lie to you Misato, you're a long way from home. But I will be right beside you the whole way to make sure you get there. When you feel like you can't take another step, I'll carry you for a while until you can get back on your feet again. And when you need a kick in the ass, I'll be here to give you that too." She actually smiled a little when he said that and it went straight to his heart. "See, I made you smile already."

"Thank you Shinji," she said as she laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes.

He felt her body going slack, her fatigue catching up to her. Physically and emotionally, she was totally spent. He carefully picked her up, cradling her in his arms.

"I knew you would come back for me," she said, her voice barely audible as she drifted off. "I knew…"

He smiled at the now peaceful look on her face and kissed her forehead. "Sleep well Misato."

He turned and began to walk back to the stairwell. A short distance away stood Dr. Yoshida and Ritsuko. Ritsuko had her hand over her mouth to stifle a sob and tears streamed down her face. She was speechless. Even Dr. Yoshida, who had seen so much of the human mind and the interactions of the human race in his forty years as a psychologist, had to wipe a tear from his eye. No one said a word because none were needed or adequate after what had just transpired. They simply followed Shinji back into the building.

Shinji sat in a chair in his living room, his sketch book on his lap, watching Misato as she slept on the couch. It had been fifteen months since that day on the roof and three months since he was able to bring her home. Her recovery had been a good, steady one and true to his word he had been with her every step of the way. He picked up her spirits when she needed it and gave her hell when she was being stubborn and uncooperative.

Physically, she had recovered well and the physical therapy she had undergone had surprisingly turned into regular trips to the gym. However, she still had days where she felt the side effects from the drugs. She would be tired and nauseous and just generally feel awful, but those days were becoming fewer.

The psychotherapy had gone well, but it had been very hard on her at times. The worst sessions for her had been the ones where she had to deal with the nightmares Nakamura had attempted to cultivate within her mind that involved Shinji. Dr. Yoshida had Shinji sit in on these sessions, which made it even harder for her, but if she wanted to get by it she had to be able to talk about it in front of Shinji. Leaving it unresolved could impact their relationship later on, perhaps leaving her subconsciously afraid of a physical relationship with him.

He found it very hard to be in those sessions. Hearing the things that Nakamura had done to her, the things he had tried to instil into her nightmares, it made him furious. He found himself needing an outlet and he would often end up at a local gym, running the track until he threw up, or pounding on a heavy bag until his hands bled. One day he had shown up with his right hand and wrist in a cast. It had scared Misato. She panicked and thought he was mad at her for having such things appear in her dreams. That had brought him to a standstill and made him realize that he needed to be more responsible in his reactions to what had happened to her.

Outside of the various therapy sessions, he tried to spend as much time with her as he could. When she was well enough to do so, they would walk out into the gardens at the institute and would often end up at the waterfall in the rock garden. They would sit in the grass or on one of the benches, wrapped up in each others arms. They would talk about their respective pasts, not wanting to leave any secrets or mysteries between them. The time they spent in the garden proved to be just as therapeutic as her other treatments.

On the weekends he brought Ritsuko, Maya and Asuka with him. Asuka had wasted no time coming back to Japan after Shinji called her and told her what had happened. Her relationship with Misato hadn't always been a good one, but despite the words that had often came from her mouth, she didn't hate Misato and never had. It meant a great deal to Misato to be able to reconcile things with her and with Ritsuko as well. The breakdown of their friendship had hurt them both pretty badly and they were glad to have a chance to fix it.

The day he had finally been able to bring Misato home had been a very happy one for her. He surprised her when he drove up in her beloved and recently restored Renault Alpine. It had earned him a patented Misato bear hug, which he was far less resistant to than he used to be. He drove her around the city for a while, letting her get a feel for the world outside the institute, a world she hadn't seen in five years.

When he began to head out into the countryside, she wondered where they were going. He told her it was a surprise. He had told her that he had bought a house, but he had refused to tell her about it. She would just have to wait until she could leave the institute and live in it. It proved to be her second pleasant surprise of the day.

He had bought the house from a landscape designer who needed to sell the property to pay off his business debts. It was in the hills, twenty minutes outside of Tokyo 2, just far enough away to be a refuge from life in the busy city. He felt that it would be an ideal place for her to continue her recovery. On the outside it looked purely traditional, but the interior was a combination of traditional and modern design. The property itself wasn't large, but it was beautifully landscaped with cherry blossom and Japanese maple trees. She fell in love with it, but the best part was yet to come.

He had her close her eyes and he led her into the backyard. When he told her to open her eyes she was greeted by the site of a hot spring and it blew her away. The previous owner had bought the property because of that hot spring and the work he had done around it showcased his obvious talents. Stone pathways, decorative boulders and stonework led to a set of stone steps carved into the front of the moderately sized pool. Carefully chosen plants gave it an almost primeval, semi-tropical beauty and there were decorative lanterns arranged around the pool that would bath it in a soft glow in the evenings.

"Welcome home Misato," he had said to her, which earned him another bear hug. A moment later she heard the same words again, only this time from many more voices. She broke into a huge smile when she turned to see the group standing behind her. Hyuga, Aoba and Fuyutsuki. Ritsuko and Maya. Kensuke and Touji. Hikari and Asuka. And standing in front of the group, PenPen.

A soft murmur from Misato pulled him from his recollections. When she started making noises in her sleep, it usually meant she was headed for a nightmare. Normally it would wake him and he would hold her a little closer to him and she would usually be fine. The night of her homecoming was the only night she had slept in her own room. The party had tired her out enough that she slept well that night. The next night however she awoke with a scream that would have roused the dead. She spent the rest of that night in his bed, held tightly in his arms. She hadn't slept alone since.

He went over to her and brushed a stray lock of purple hair from her eyes and gently kissed her forehead.

"It's okay Misato," he whispered. "I'm here." When she made no further noise, he returned to his chair.

He looked towards the kitchen and smiled lightly. It was a disaster area in there and the air in the house still smelled of burnt food. While he had been in the city running some errands earlier in the day, she had decided to try and cook dinner for him. She had been feeling kind of useless around the house and felt like she was being a bit of a burden to him. She badly wanted to do something nice for him, to show him at least some small token of appreciation for taking such good care of her. She had been watching him closely in the kitchen for a couple of weeks and she thought she had picked up enough knowledge to make him a simple meal. Unfortunately it turned into a bigger disaster than anything else she had ever tried to cook before.

When he came home he found her sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor, quietly crying and sporting a nasty burn to her left hand. A trip to the emergency room and a couple of painkillers later and she was asleep on the couch. He had apologized to her on the way back home from the hospital. He had been trying to do everything for her and he hadn't realized how useless she had been feeling. As it turned out it would prove to be a defining moment in their relationship. From that point on they became truly equal partners in everything they did, be it work or play, and it made them better together. Her psychological recovery accelerated, and while she would never again be the Misato of old, she was closer to it and maybe even better.

Three Months Later:

Misato cruised down the winding road through the countryside in her Alpine, singing along with one of her current favourite songs as it blared from the stereo. It had been a long time since she felt this good. Asuka, Ritsuko and Maya had taken her out for a spa day, which she knew had been set up by Shinji in order to get her out of the house. Her handsome housemate was up to something and her friends knew what it was. They had taken great pleasure in watching her squirm as they refused to tell her anything.

Despite that, she had enjoyed the day immensely. She had been pampered from head to toe. Hair and make up, manicure, pedicure and massage. The massage had been a bit of a worry to her at first, since having a stranger touch her in any manner still freaked her out a little, but she was able to put it out of her mind and enjoy the massage.

She was completely relaxed and had had a wonderful time talking and laughing with her friends. The shopping hadn't been bad either and she hoped Shinji liked the new dress she was wearing. It was a simple, light burgundy summer dress that wasn't too racy or conservative and she looked damn good in it if she did say so herself.

The sun was going down when she pulled into the driveway and the sight before her made her smile. Shinji had strung lanterns along the walkway to the house and tiny lights were strung in the trees that adorned the front yard. It gave the house an enchanting look in the fading light of the day. Shinji was leaning against the front door waiting for her, dressed in dark slacks and a blue casual dress shirt, a big smile plastered on his face. She thought he looked pretty good.

"Enjoy yourself today?" he asked.

"Immensely," she answered with a broad smile. "Now what exactly are you up to Mr. Ikari?"

He took her by the hand and kissed her on the cheek. "C'mon in and find out," he whispered in her ear.

The lighting in the house was subdued, with small lights like the ones outside strung around the room, and a pair of tall candles illuminating the dining room table. Soft music was playing on the stereo and a wonderful smell was gently wafting from the kitchen. Unless she missed her guess, dinner was Italian.

He turned to face her and took both of her hands in his. "I wanted to put together a special day for the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

It always made her feel so good when he told her she was beautiful, and he told her often. "Well you've succeeded so far," she told him. Her smile and the look in her eyes confirming it for him. "I always knew you would be the romantic type."

He smiled. "I'm glad you're enjoying yourself. And I like the dress, you look great."

She actually blushed. "Thank you."

"Hungry?" he asked. "Dinner's ready."

Shinji's meals were always good, but he had outdone himself this time. Misato was sure that she had died and gone to heaven, and that was before she tasted dessert. As she enjoyed the food and the conversation that came with it, she couldn't help but think about how far they had come in their relationship together. There just seemed to be a natural flow to it. They were able to talk to each other about anything and they did so with ease. There were no lies and no secrets between them, even the age difference seemed to have disappeared.

She was deeply in love with Shinji. He had become a strong, handsome young man, with a great sense of humour that he was no longer afraid to use. He had always had a kind heart and she had found out just how kind and compassionate he could be over the last eighteen months. He had literally saved her life and her soul and he had shown her that someone could love her just for who she was, no matter how damaged she may be. She knew it all sounded somewhat cliched, but she couldn't help it, that was how she felt.

"Misato?" his voice broke into her thoughts. She looked up to see him standing next to her.

"Hmmm? Oh, I'm sorry Shinji," she apologized sheepishly. "I guess I spaced out for a second."

"You okay?"

"I'm fine, I was just thinking."

"Would you like to dance with me?" he asked. He seemed nervous. She noticed that the music had changed to something with a little more tempo than what was playing during dinner.

"I'd love to."

Neither of them were great dancers, but they managed to keep from stepping on each other's feet. It was more about being close to each other than the dance itself anyway, so the fact that they weren't Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers didn't matter to them. In the last eighteen months she had spent a lot of time being held by him. It gave them both a sense of comfort and belonging that neither of them had really had before. After all that they had been through in their lives, they welcomed the sense of security they seemed to get from each other.

Distracted again by her thoughts for him, she was slightly surprised when she felt his lips come into light contact with hers. Surprised, but not disappointed. She went with it and they shared a long, soulful kiss that left them a little breathless.

"Am I…moving too quickly Misato?" he asked. He was as nervous as a teenager on his first date.

She knew that what he really meant was, 'Am I presuming too much and pushing you into something you aren't ready for.'

"Not at all Shinji." She could feel the heat rising between them. "Not at all."

Their lips met again, with more urgency this time, and it wasn't long before they found themselves in the bedroom. They took their time, undressing each other slowly between deep, passionate kisses. They were in no hurry, wanting to make what they were feeling last as long as they could. They were in a place that they had both hoped they would arrive at someday, but it was the one thing, the only thing, they never talked about. It was as if they were afraid it would never happen if they did.

When Shinji gently laid her down on the bed, Misato found herself being attended to and pleasured in a way no man had ever tried with her. With gentleness, with great care, and, quite frankly, with great attention to detail. Shinji told her how beautiful he thought she was and when she subconsciously tried to cover the scar beneath her breasts and the one under her right arm where she had been shot, he gently moved her hands away and kissed the old wounds, telling her that she didn't need to hide them from him, they were part of her and she didn't need to feel self conscious about them.

He touched and tasted every part of her, and he was so gentle, treating her not so much like she was fragile, but more like she was a dream that he was afraid he would wake up from if his touch wasn't subtle. She was in a blissful haze, the feeling that was washing over her was unlike anything she had ever felt before.

'Is this what it's like to be with someone who truly loves you?' she thought.

When her orgasm finally arrived, it wasn't with a thunderous crash, but much like the way it had grown, it came as a gentle, rolling wave that worked its way up from her toes. It may have washed over her gently, but it was no less intense or powerful. She quivered and gasped and shook until that wave slowly receded. For Shinji, he had never seen anything so beautiful as Misato with that enraptured look on her face and her eyes sparkling in the glow of the moonlight and the lanterns that flowed in through the bedroom windows. And as she whispered in his ear that he should most definitely take her now, he knew he would get to see that look a few more times before the night was out.

Quite some time later they were relaxing in the hot spring behind the house. He noticed the contented smile on Misato's face as she gazed up at the stars.

"What's on your mind beautiful?" he asked.

"I was thinking about how happy I am," she told him. "I owe you so much Shinji, I don't know how I can ever repay you."

"You do that every time you laugh or smile and every time you say you love me," he said, giving her hand a squeeze. "That's the most valuable currency in the world."

"And what about all those other noises I was making earlier?" she asked with a playful gleam in her eye.

"A feast for my male ego," he joked.

"Thank you Shinji," she said with the utmost sincerity. "It has been a wonderful day."

"It's not over yet," he grinned. "I have something for you."

It was at that moment that she noticed PenPen floating up to them on his back. Balanced on his feathered belly was a small, velvet box, which Shinji took from him.

"Thank you PenPen, there's a beer and some fresh fish for you in the kitchen."

With a wave of his flipper and an appreciative 'Wark', PenPen exited the hot spring and waddled to the house.

Shinji knelt in front of Misato and opened the box. Inside was a simple white gold engagement ring with a single small diamond set in the centre. She got a lump in her throat when she saw it.

"My father always claimed that he threw away all reminders of my mother," he began. "Like usual, it was a lie and part of his plan to deprive me of any happiness. When they cleaned out his private quarters, Fuyutsuki found a safe among my father's belongings that held several pictures of my mother as well as the ring he gave her when he proposed to her. It's nothing spectacular, they were still in college when he proposed so he didn't have a lot of money, but it was hers and it means a great deal to me."

He removed it from the box and held it up so that the diamond caught the moonlight. "So with this ring, I ask you if you will do me the honour of becoming my wife. Maybe it's too soon and maybe I'm jumping the gun. Maybe I'm just a love struck fool, but it feels right to me." He looked straight into her beautiful, brown eyes. "Will you marry me, Misato Katsuragi?"

Her eyes were wide and brimming with tears and it took her a moment to find her voice. "Yes Shinji Ikari, I will marry you."

He took her hand and placed the ring on her finger. It was perfect. She regarded it in wonder for a long moment before pulling him to her in a tight embrace and kissing him deeply. They were both happier than they ever knew they could be and it somehow only seemed right that they had found that happiness with each other.

It had indeed been a long way home from that day on the roof of the institute, and now that journey had reached its end.

It was time to start a new one.

Thank's for reading, your reviews are welcomed, encouraged and greatly appreciated.

And please, check out my other stories. You know how to find them.