DISCLAIMER: The characters, universe, etc. of Neon Genesis Evangelion
are not mine. I make no claim to them. They are used without

Foreword: This is a sub-story. That's a term I invented for use in
this fic. It's not just a side story, which in my definition is a
quick add-on to explain a few things, and which no one could
understand if they hadn't read the story it was a part of.

This story, on the other hand, you _could_ look at this as a stand-
alone one-shot Eva fic. However, it _was_ written to explain a few
things. It will go into details about a few things that happened
before my fic, "Angels of Armageddon" started. That means very little
Rei. Sorry.

It also means something else, which I'm sure couple fans have been
interested in. Rei/Shinji fans, I hope you have strong stomachs.

" " = speech
^ ^ = thoughts
_ _ = italics (emphasis)

The Fire Still Burns
Sub-story of Angels of Armageddon
Author: Ryan Xavier

Shinji trudged into the clearing he'd found some short time ago. His
clothes were caked with dust, and his feet were sore inside of his
plain walking shoes. Yet the glazed, unseeing expression in his eyes
showed that he didn't care.

He moved as though sleepwalking, each step only coming because the
other foot had just stepped a moment ago. His eyes stared blankly
into space. Yet his arms nearly vibrated with the effort of lifting
what they were carrying. Bundled under his armpit was a cluster of
everything he could find that would burn: driftwood, legs from chairs,
even dry grass.

He walked slowly out of the desecrated city of Tokyo-2. The walk here
had nearly exhausted him, and the subsequent search for fuel had
finished the job. And there was still no guarantee he could rest

He got into the clearing, where there waited a small pile of other
flammables, a pile that had been growing in the past hours. He
dropped his armload onto the pile without even bothering to look at
it, then turned around to go search for more.

He didn't get very far. His legs, unable to take handle any further
exertion, collapsed underneath him. He went to his knees, then kept
going, falling onto his face. He didn't try to move for a long while.

Finally, his hands clenched. He turned himself around, rolling over
so that he was on his back. With no small effort, he forced himself
up onto his elbows. His eyes looked at the pile of flammables with
the same blank, glassy look they'd held for some time now. He had
intended to start a fire, so he could have some warmth for when night
fell, but it looked like that wasn't going to work. He still needed a
spark...and he had no idea where he could get something like that.

Also, making a spark would mean conscious thought. Shinji didn't want
to think. He didn't even want to be alive, right now. Because if his
brain still worked, then he might remember...and remembering what he'd
seen was not something he _ever_ wanted to do. He was sure of that.

Some measure of time passed. He didn't know how long; all he knew was
the the sun slowly crept towards the horizon, as he stared into the

The sky. It was dominated by a broad red slash, as though it was cut
and bleeding. And the rest of it was orange. Dyed that color by what
had just happened. No clouds floated in it; it was lifeless. Just
like everything else around the near-comatose boy.

Footsteps crunched at the other end of the clearing. Shinji turned
his head, not wanting to make eye contact with the other person. He
was still avoiding conscious thought, in spite of a voice in the back
of his mind that kept telling him he was acting in a shameful manner.

It didn' matter. Nothing mattered, anymore.

* * *

A pair of feet, coated in a red, rubbery material, approached. Red-
brown hair swayed slightly as a weak breeze blew through the air. And
hands - one sore and scratched, and the other wearing a rubbery red
glove - dropped another load of fuel onto the pile.

The new arrival's blue eyes, normally sharp and arrogant, now had the
same glassy, lifeless, and uncaring look as Shinji's. Her mouth,
customarily twisted up into a smirk or a smile, stayed as a flat line.
Every few seconds, her eye would twitch, her fist would clench, or her
teeth would grind. Every few seconds, she could almost hear them:
inhuman roars from inhuman beings.

Asuka sat down on the red, dusty ground. She stared at the pile, as
though willing it to ignite. She continued twitching, signs of half-
forgotten rage and mind-numbing fear still creeping about in her mind.
Another long period of time passed, as she watched.

The sun slowly began to disappear over the horizon. As the light
disappeared, the wind's temperature dropped precipitously. Even
before the sun was halfway gone, the breezes were enough to send
shivers through both children.

Asuka curled her legs up and touched her knees to her forehead. She
hugged her legs up close to herself, trying to keep warm. The
plugsuit she wore was really only good for synching with an Eva; it
provided very little protection against the elements. Shinji, wearing
only his old school uniform, was not doing any better.

Asuka shuddered at the cold. It felt like it was burrowing into her,
digging towards her heart. It was such a close imitation of death
that, for a time, she didn't know whether she was alive or not. Then
she became aware of the sound of her heart still beating, her pulse
weakly thudding in her ears. That, and her own breathing, were the
only sounds she was aware of.

She admitted to herself that she was going to have to think, sooner or
later. And sooner would be better, given the environment.

There _was_ an alternative to thinking, of course. But it flickered
in and out of Asuka's mind in the space of a microsecond. In that
microsecond, she saw the image of her mother hanging from the ceiling.
And calling out her name, beckoning for her to come to that sweet,
blissful sleep...

No, that was not the right way out.

She lifted her head, as her eyes regained focus. She closed her eyes
and forced herself to take a long, deep breath. She felt her eyes go
watery, but through habit and force of will, shoved the tears back.
She couldn't let herself cry. Not yet, anyway.

With a dispassionate expression on her face, she reached into one of
the few pockets on her plugsuit and removed a small box. She slid it
open with her thumb, revealing several small wooden rods inside.

She'd found this inside of the city, while looking for things that
would burn. Her half-sane mind had registered that matches burned,
and so she'd taken it. But now that she'd made herself start thinking
again, she recognized them as the spark they would need.

Her one remaining glove squeaked and stretched as she removed a match,
and methodically struck it on the side of the box. With its
characteristic scratch-hiss, the match ignited, bringing fire back
into the world. Asuka stared at it, at the thing that could warm or
destroy with equal ease. She couldn't help feeling an odd sort of
kinship with the match; it was also slowly being destroyed, eaten away
by a flame it was helpless to stop.

She leaned forwards, touching the flame to the pile, letting bits of
newspaper and grass ignite. She dropped the match before it could
burn her suit fingers, then sat back to watch. She hugged her knees
to her body again, and just stared, blinking only when her eyes began
to burn. Shinji had gotten up, as well. The match had grabbed his
attention, and the infant fire was holding his gaze.

They both sat back, entranced, as flames engulfed the few things
they'd been able to find. Slowly, smoke began to crawl out of the top
of the pile, followed shortly thereafter by the light and heat of a
real fire. They both shivered again, as their bodies began to warm
back up to acceptable levels. But the warmth refused to touch their
still-wracked minds. No comfort would come, to the place where it
most mattered.

As Asuka became warmer, she shifted her position, leaning back, but
keeping her arms looped around her legs, grabbing her wrists. As she
shifted into this position, the fingers on her left hand brushed up
against the rough bandages on her right arm.

At first, she gave no sign that she noticed. But inside, the gears of
her brain began to move again, as thought re-instated itself.

She stared at the wounded limb. It had been bandaged when she'd first
woken up. She knew there was something very important about how those
bandages had gotten there in the first place...but she couldn't
remember what. Either her mind was blocking it out, or it had been
wiped from her memory.

Whatever the case, she couldn't feel any pain. Studying her arm as
though it were someone else's, she looked it over, seeing that there
was no visible sign of any injury.

She licked her lips. Blood. For some reason, that made the torrent
of emotions inside of her grow even stronger. She could remember
seeing a _lot_ of blood. And a burning desire to see more and more of
it. So much of it, in fact, that at one point it had been washing
over her in rivulets, in a gory waterfall.

Her eyes widened, a feral kind of hunger lurking in them. Her left
hand crawled up her right arm, towards the edge of the bandages on her
forearm. For some reason, she remembered having seen this arm hurt,
split in half somehow. She felt an irresistible urge to look and see
for herself.

Her fingers grabbed the edge of the bandage. She ground her teeth one
more time and then pulled. The bandage, however, didn't budge. She
pulled harder, and it still didn't work. Her arm quaked and began
sending pain shooting up into her. Asuka again felt tears coming, and
again she repressed them.

Asuka let out a brief scream of frustration, the sound echoing all
around them, fighting uselessly against the oppressive silence. She
tugged with everything she had left. Finally, the fabric parted,
tearing underneath her grip. With that single move, she popped off
every bandage at once, coming away with a few gauzy strips.

Breathing hard, she dropped the bandages and looked at her arm. It
was bare; that arm of her plugsuit had been missing, for some reason,
when she'd come to. Her arm looked to be in good condition, and
almost fully healed from whatever injury it might have received.
However, there was a thin scar, as though made by an unbelieveably
fast cut, going lengthwise along the top, mirrored by another scar on
the underside. Asuka licked her lips again, at the sight of this.

She flexed her fingers, feeling the muscles underneath tighten just
like they should. She rotated her arm, looking it over. Finally, she
clenched her hand into a tight fist.

That last part was a mistake; as her fist formed, her arm exploded
into pain, right along the new scars. Asuka grunted, repressing a cry
of pain as she un-clenched her hand. Her arm shook, both with pain
and exhaustion. Sweat dripped down her face, and her breathing became
labored. The pain had only lasted a moment, but it had been enough to
make her mind explode with agony. It was taking its time leaving,
too; soreness lingered in her arm, only receding very slowly.

She didn't notice because of the pain, but as she went through this
little experiment, Shinji began to move, finally. Focus re-entered
his eyes, and his gaze shifted, so that he was no longer looking
_through_ her, but _at_ her, instead. However, he said nothing. His
eyes still lacked focus; he appeared to be looking at her solely by
chance, and not by any kind of conscious choice.

Asuka glanced up at him, their eyes locking for a few heartbeats,
before Shinji looked away. Asuka remembered this boy. She could
remember how she couldn't depend on him. How he hadn't come to help
her, even when she'd been thrown against the unholy demons of
mankind's own creation. And now, she was stuck with him. She had to
fight to contain the urge to take everything out on this boy. It was
a true effort not to exact revenge on him in exchange for her torture,
because deep down, she couldn't be convinced that it wasn't at least
partially his fault.

She wished she could just walk away, and leave 'baka Shinji' behind to
rot. But she couldn't. She told herself that her legs were just too
tired. But she knew she was still capable of walking. It was
just...whenever she thought about leaving, her mind froze, the chill
of fear seeping into her. Even being with this useless, undependable
idiot was better than choosing to be totally alone.

They sat like that, both confined in their own minds, their only
outside movements being the occasional blink. They stared at the
fire, becoming hypnotized by the dancing colors, slowly eating away at
what they'd gone to such lengths to collect.

* * *

There were a few things even Third Impact couldn't affect. One of
these things was the passage of time, though neither of the children
appeared to notice it. Slowly, the sun set on the horizon, seemingly
melting into the burnished-gold surface of the LCL. As its last rays
disappeared, a cold breeze picked up, whisking through their small
encampment. The fire shied away, as though trying to avoid the wind.
Shinji huddled more in upon himself to keep warm. Asuka, on the other
hand, shivered, her whole body quaking for a moment.

This shiver, however, was enough to grab Shinji's attention off of the
flames. His mind had also slowly begun to work again, as he began to
realize he would either have to think or die. And as thought
returned, so did the familiar feelings of loneliness. That feeling
had grown tremendously as he thought about their current situation.
All they had was each other, nothing more. This realization was
enough to finaly push through his barrier in the way of speaking.

"Hey..." he mumbled, as he saw her shiver. "Are you OK...Asuka?"

Asuka's eyes glanced away from the fire almost immediately, meeting
his. It was several seconds before recognition flickered through
them, during which Shinji felt fear crawling up his gut.

Asuka's right eye twitched again, as her left hand clenched into a
fist. "No, I'm not," she bit out. "I'm cold, I'm tired, I'm
hungry...I want to go home." Her voice became no less caustic as she
continued. Asuka closed her eyes briefly as she finished, quaking
with the effort of some internal struggle Shinji could not comprehend.

Shinji, for his part, let out a tiny sigh of relief that Asuka was
still sane.

"Sorry..." he said, also out of habit. But as he took a moment to
think about it, he figured that he would have apologized, anyway.
^Sorry I can't help, sorry I'm such a baka, sorry we're in this
hellhole, sorry...^

Asuka grimaced, hearing his apology. Shinji could actually _see_ her

"Sorry?" she asked, quietly. She stood up, and started walking over
to him. Shinji drew back, as she approached.

"Sorry?!" Asuka repeated, her voice having risen to a much higher

Shinji tried to back away, but Asuka was upon him. She grabbed
fistfuls of his shirt, almost completely oblivious to how doing this
made her arm explode into pain again. She lifted him to his feet,
bringing them eye-to-eye.

"What the fuck am I supposed to do with a _sorry_?" she screamed into
his face. "A _sorry_ doesn't help us at _all_! You little twerp!
You're useless!"

Shinji clammed up again, looking down at the ground. Asuka let out
another shout of frustration and then threw him to the groud, turning
away quickly.

Shinji grunted as he crash-landed onto his back. All his breath was
pushed out of him, and he was stunned momentarily when his head banged
against the ground. After a while, though, he pulled himself up,
curling up and resting his forehead on his knees. There was no going
home this time. There could be no more guilty comfort in running
away, not anymore. Even apathy was no longer a sanctuary; the full
magnitude of their situation was dawning on him, making him draw
further and further in upon himself.

Asuka, for her part, had sat back down on the other side of the fire.
Had anyone been watching _very_ closely, they would have seen her eyes
soften, as she looked over at him. She took a breath and let it out
slowly, before looking away from him again.

The rest of the evening passed in silence. After a long while, the
fire, starved for want of fuel, began to die down. The two children
took that as their cue to lie down, trying to fall asleep while there
was still some warmth left. They closed their eyes, trying to will
their ravaged minds to rest, to shut off and forget, for just a little
while. They knew they'd get nightmares, but they figured any dream,
be it a vision of paradise or a nightmare from hell, would be much
better than where they were now. Or at least, they hoped so.

Unfortunately, their bodies didn't seem to want to comply with their

After what could have been hours, Shinji's eyes opened. He rolled
onto his back, putting his hands behind his head and staring into the
unfamiliar ceiling that was the sky. He had a memory - already nearly
repressed - of somehow going up into that sky. In fact, of going
beyond it. He was sure that slash was somehow related to what had

But he didn't want to remember it. He didn't want to think about the
horrors he'd seen, which were still only barely buried by the dust of
time and mental repression. He was sure that if he ever unearthed
those moments, he would go completely, and irrevocably, insane.

He realized then that he was _not_ going to be getting any sleep that
night. He wasn't surprised. He probably wouldn't sleep for several
nights, and even then only because raw fatigue would overcome him. He
sighed, resigning himself to that fate. He'd take rest any way he
could get it, right now.

He shivered in the darkness. It was getting very cold, now. Probably
because of Third Impact, the earth wasn't holding onto heat very well.
The fire had died down long ago, and was now nothing more than a pile
of crackling cinders. He hugged himself, closing his eyes and trying
to remain still, hoping for some kind, any kind, of rest.

It was then that he heard the first gasp.

He opened his eyes again, not really believing he'd heard it.

It came again.

He turned onto his side, looking across the small encampment at the
only other human being he could see. His eyes widened as he saw the
girl's shoulder's jerk, the movement accompanied by another sob.

"Asuka..." he mouthed, his breath having left him. He couldn't
believe it. Asuka, the girl of steel, the girl who answered to no one
but herself, the girl who said she needed nobody else in this world,

But, shock or not, it was happening. More sobs filled the night, as
Asuka slowly cried herself to sleep. Shinji watched, the whole time.
He knew he should be helping; they both had a lot to live down, at the
moment. But he was too scared. All he could do was watch, until
Asuka finally fell asleep.

When the girl's sobs had quieted, Shinji rolled onto his back again.
^I shouldn't be surprised,^ he thought to himself. ^She _is_ a normal
girl, no matter how much she tries to hide it. Maybe I'll talk to her
about it tomorrow...^

* * *

The next day, Asuka awoke to find that Shinji was gone.

She looked around, blinking her grainy eyes and forcing them to see.
She looked over the pile of ash, at where she remembered the boy
lying. Then she looked around, her head slowly turning to get a view
of the whole clearing. The boy was nowhere to be seen.

She stood up, her eyelids drooping. She rubbed at them, trying to get
them to stay up. She didn't _feel_ tired, though her body was
disagreeing with her on that point.

"He's gone," she said, quietly. The only real reason for speaking out
loud was to hear her own voice.

She became aware of how quiet it was. There was literally _no_one_
around. Once again, the only sounds Asuka could hear were her pulse
and her breathing.

Finally, her eye caught a shallow set of footprints, leading away from
the camp, in the direction of the city. Since the winds had already
pushed dust over the prints from yesterday, that meant these were
fairly fresh.

She felt a twitch down in the recesses of her mind. She tried to
ignore it, but it just kept getting worse, like an itch you can't
scratch. She tried to fight it. What use did a conscience have
around here, anyway?

Ultimately, however, she lost. She started following the footprints,
feeling the twitch in her mind grow slightly less severe as she did

^I can't just let that idiot run away,^ she thought to herself. ^He
_owes_ me. He didn't help me before, even when he should have. I'll
be damned if I let him run off like this.^

The tracks led her back to Tokyo-2. There, they stopped, broken up by
patches of pavement that had survived Third Impact. Asuka kept going,
looking around to try and find him. She still said nothing; she had a
feeling calling for him would be useless.

All around were the burned-out husks of buildings. Once-proud
structures now slouched against each other, their very foundations
uprooted by Third Impact. There was not a single pane of glass that
was unbroken, not a single piece of road that hadn't been cracked. It
looked as though there had been a war. And this whole city had been
one of the casualties.

It was really only by chance that she came upon Shinji. As she turned
down one street, nearly hypnotized by the rhythm of her footsteps
echoing on the walls of the shattered buildings, she heard a pane of
glass shatter somewhere further down the street. She turned onto that
street and walked quickly, finally making it to a squat building,
sagging in between two larger ones. And inside was Shinji.

Asuka ducked in through the destroyed doorway, looking down to avoid
stepping on any loose rocks or shards of windows. As she looked up,
she became aware that Shinji had made it into a small grocery store.
She found him sitting between two aisles, staring at one of the

Asuka said nothing as she came up to him, then stood at the head of
the aisle, looking down at him. Anger flowed through her mind; the
boy had tried to leave her behind! Yet that feeling was unable to
emerge, for some reason. Asuka had just taken her first step towards
him when -

"I can't just abandon it, anymore, can I?" Shinji asked.

Asuka stopped moving, still looking at him. Her eye twitched. "Why
are you here?" she asked, her repressed anger beginning to show in her
voice. The feeling was almost a living thing, trying to climb up to
the surface of her mind. Failing at that, it just simmered, a caged
animal wanting to be set free.

"I tried running away this morning," Shinji continued. "I didn't want
to have to deal with it. But I have to. Either that, or..." he
finished, trailing off.

Asuka again saw the image of her mother hanging from the ceiling. She
shook her head, not in response to what Shinji had said, but to clear
her mind.

"So I just hid in here," he said. "I just wanted to find a place
where I could be safe."

"You mean you found a hole to hide in," Asuka shot back. Her eyes
narrowed as she looked around. Shinji was sitting in a pile of dust,
leaning against a row of shelves that looked like it was ready to
collapse. All he'd have to do is just sit there and wait for the
building to fall on him, and it would all be over.

"What were you thinking?" she asked, finally.

"I wasn't. But...I think I might..._we_ might be able to get through
this, Asuka."

Asuka twitched, before starting towards him again. "By running away?
You still think that will work, don't you? You're as bad as...as..."

^Me,^ came the unbidden thought in her mind. Asuka's eyes widened,
before she cleared her mind again. Shinji was speaking again before
she could say anything more.

"No, I mean...look. Some of these cans are actually still in good
condition. And I bet we can find other things in this city.
We...might be able to keep living, Asuka. Without running away."

Asuka looked back at the shelf he'd been staring at. Sure enough, it
was loaded with an assortment of canned food. A commodity she'd
thought so little of not too long ago...and now it was actually a
luxury. Asuka felt disgusted, not with herself or with Shinji, but
with the world, and whoever could have made it be this way.

"And how do you plan on getting into these, baka Shinji?" she asked,
picking up a can of corn and looking it over, wondering if what was
inside was still any good.

Shinji said nothing. He just reached down to his side and lifted up a
small device: a can opener.

"I found this, a while ago," he said.

Asuka looked at him, blinking rapidly. Shinji...had actually found a
_solution_ to a problem? Instead of just creating more and more

Shinji let a ghost of a smile pass over his lips, as he saw Asuka's
reaction. This snapped Asuka out of her shock. She would _not_ let
Shinji get all smug on _her_.

"Well then, come on," she said, picking up an armload of the cans.
"Don't just sit there on your ass, baka Shinji."

She started walking away, slowing down until she heard Shinji
beginning to move. Then she sped up again, making good time back to
the camp.

^If he thinks something _this_ simple will save us, he really _is_ a
baka,^ she thought. But she had no choice, really. She had to take
what she could get, even if she didn't like it.

* * *

The next few days thoroughly convinced Shinji that whatever God there
may have been had left the world, leaving the two survivors in what
was a surprisingly good imitation of hell.

Although the basic necessities of life _were_ available, they could
still be difficult to find. They risked going into the almost-
destroyed city of Tokyo-2, taking whatever they could find that had
survived Third Impact. In the next few days, they found a few sets of
clothes to change into, giving them some greater protection from the

They paid special attention to food, both of them knowing it was the
most precious posession, right now. They mostly relied on cans,
because they knew those were still edible. But they also both knew
that eventually, they would run out of cans. Then they'd have to rely
on something else.

And the prospects were not very good. Even the insects were strangely
absent. The buzz of cicadas, once an ever-present annoyance, was
gone, leaving a deathly silence whenever the two weren't talking.

And they didn't talk much. Both of them were still drawing in upon
themselves, not wanting to reach out so soon after Third Impact.
Shinji and Asuka often had to split up in the mornings to search,
coming back in the evenings with what they'd found and to tell what
they'd seen. But even in these evening meetings, they only said the
bare minimum of words. For all their efforts to keep up their
spirits, a shattered, desolate quality remained in both of their
voices. Every night, Asuka cried herself to sleep. And every night,
Shinji would watch and listen, being too scared to try to help.

One day, however, they lucked out. Asuka found a farm outside of the
city. Much of the land was still blasted clean, but some of the
plants had actually survived. That day, they both felt a little more
hope in their lives, since it meant that at least _some_ land in Japan
was still capable of supporting plant life.

With this new hope, they also began setting up something that passed
for a shelter. Using some of the debris they'd found in the city,
they erected a small shanty. It wasn't much, but it was enough to
keep out the rain that fell that night.

* * *

That night, they sat in the cold, watching the rain fall. Asuka
leaned against one wall of the shelter, staring out the doorway with
her arms crossed. Shinji, sitting on the ground, was staring at the
ceiling. But in time, he glanced over at Asuka.

Fear flickered across his face, as a thought went through his mind.
He put one hand over his heart, feeling it beating evenly under his
fingers. He'd started doing that recently; if anything, it reminded
him that he was still alive.

But now it seemed like he wasn't fated to a slow death. He'd often
considered the quicker way out. But, either out of determination to
live or out of lack of courage - and he was sure it was the latter -
he couldn't bring himself to end his own life.

But it was so _difficult_ living this way. Loneliness threatened to
eat him alive, and it was growing worse every day. Asuka was his only
companion, and she hadn't tried talking with him. She scared him.
Every little nervous twitch, every glance, every word, betrayed anger.
The few times they made eye contat, he could see accusation lurking in
her eyes. Accusation...something he was quite familiar with, despite
his efforts to avoid it at all costs. It was synonymous with 'enemy'
in his mind. It meant there was someone else to add onto the long
list of people who hated him. And that was why he'd been avoiding
talking to her.

But now, with the rain coming down, and both of them not tired enough
to sleep...

He took a breath and closed his eyes. It had been long enough.

"Hey, Asuka..." he said, his voice shaking a bit.

The girl didn't move. "What?" she asked, sounding upset that he dared
to disturb her, like she always did when he tried talking to her.

"It's...uh...it's good that we finally found some plant life, huh? I
guess it means we might make it."


Shinji sighed. He couldn't understand why Asuka Soryu Langley, self-
proclaimed most popular girl in school, would be so quiet. Or, maybe
he could; he just wouldn't admit it to himself.

"Asuka, you know, I...I hear you, crying at night."

The girl stiffened, at his words. After a long pause, she turned away
from the doorway. She faced him, an unreadable expression on her

"I'm sorry..." he said, getting up. They could at least talk eye to
eye. "I'm sorry I didn't mention it earlier."

"Why did you even listen?" she asked, anger creeping into her voice.
"Just leave me alone, baka Shinji." At that, she turned her head
away, sticking her nose in the air.

"Asuka..." Shinji began again, hesitantly. "Asuka, I just wanted to
say...I'd like to help. We shouldn't have to go through this alone.
If you want, you can tell me what's bothering you."

Asuka looked back at him. For a moment, her mask cracked. For a
moment, Shinji could see the desperation in her eyes. How very much
she _did_ want someone to help, someone to at least _listen_.

The moment passed.

Asuka's eyes narrowed. She turned and slowly walked up to Shinji, who
began to back off, nervously. Before he could get out of range,
though, Asuka's hand flew through the air.

Shinji's head was turned to the side with the force of the slap. His
hand immediately came up, touching the hot, glowing handprint on his

"You stay the _fuck_ out of my problems," Asuka began. She leaned
towards him, continuing to speak. "You keep your shitty comments to
yourself, and you stay the _fuck_ away from me." By now, her nose was
touching Shinji's. "I don't need pity from a weakling like _you_. Do
you hear me, Shinji Ikari?"

This was the most frightening thing Shinji had ever seen from Asuka.
What truly terrified him was how she kept her voice completely even
and calm, the whole time. Her eyes burned with what could have been
hatred, boring into Shinji and touching his very soul. Shinji found
himself wishing that she _would_ just explode, throwing a tantrum like
she always did. Then she probably would have just been teasing. But

Asuka turned away and went over to the other side of the shanty. "And
don't listen to me tonight, either," she growled out. "Now I'm going
to sleep."

At that, she lay down. Shinji slid down the opposite wall, stunned
and hurt. His cheek felt like it was going to burst. But what really
hurt was the rejection. He'd just been trying to help...and she
didn't want any of it. No, she actually _did_ want it. But she was
too mule-headed to admit it. So she took it out on him.

Shinji knew that he should have been angered by this, but he was just
too weary to be angry. He lay on his side, his back to Asuka, and
tried to ignore what noises she was making as he forced himself to

* * *

^Baka,^ Asuka thought, as she listened to the rain falling. She told
herself that she was directing the word towards Shinji, but it kept
feeling like she was talking about herself.

^I didn't want to cry anymore.^

She cringed. She hadn't wanted _anyone_ to know she could be weak.
Now Shinji, the weakling, the baka, knew that she could cry. She had
a few hazy memories...of moments of weakness, of times when she'd
broken down near him. But she couldn't remember clearly.

She clenched her hand. Her palm stung, a lingering trace of the
recent strike. Her stomach turned, at the memory.

Her brow furrowed at this. ^No,^ she thought. ^No, I can't feel
guilty over _that_ idiot.^

Even though he'd offered to help...offered to listen to her. Asuka
had seen the look in his eyes. She'd known, right then, that even if
she'd told him straight out that she couldn't stop blaming him for
what had happened, he wouldn't have been offended. He'd have just

^I don't need his help,^ she thought to herself, curling up into a
ball. ^I don't need _anyone_.^

But the tears wouldn't stop coming.

* * *

The next day, things returned to what was, more or less, normal. They
children went out every morning, coming back in the evening. They
talked about as much as they normally did. However, the lost tone in
their voices slowly vanished, as they began to find more hope from
what they saw.

Because as they looked, they began to see that the Earth was healing.
More plants were discovered, all around the city. The sky's color was
slowly paling, going back to the blue they could remember. And the
red streak cutting across the sky was shrinking, just as a wound
slowly heals. That last discovery was the most comforting of all,
Shinji found. Hopefully, one day, he would be able to look up, and
see the sky he remembered.

Then one day, Asuka 'let' Shinji accompany her. At least, that was
what she _said_ she was doing. What she was in fact doing was
following Shinji, as he led the way. She didn't want to admit it, but
she didn't know where else they could go. And Shinji _had_ been the
one who'd found food.

They walked past the city, and kept going, into the hills of the area
around it. Shinji said himself that he had no idea of where they were
going, but that he felt like heading in this direction today. Asuka
saw no reason to disagree; one direction really _was_ as good as
another, right now.

Asuka eventually tired of the sound of their own footsteps. She
needed to hear _some_ kind of noise. To that end, she figured she may
as well start talking. ^And apologize to Shin...^ she began thinking.
But she couldn't complete the thought. She shook her head violently.
^Yeah, right. Like I owe him anything. He brought it on himself, the

She looked at the boy in front of her, one corner of her mouth
quirking upwards. She studied him, trying to find something in what
she saw. She didn't know if she saw it or not.

"So..." she began. "You think anyone else might come back?"

Shinji turned his head, looking at her, surprised. He hadn't really
expected her to try talking to him after what had happened the other
night. But he mentally shrugged and responded to her question. He
was also tired of the imposing silence.

"I don't know for sure," he said. "They have to find it in
themselves, I think. Have to give up the dream in favor of the

Asuka rolled her eyes. She looked away from him and crossed her hands
behind her head, coming up beside him as she did so. "Yeah, I
figured. But really...who do you think might come back?"

Shinji shook his head, shrugging. "I really don't know," he said.
"It's _really_ tempting to take the easy way out, you know."

"Well, take a guess!" Asuka snapped back, whipping her head to the
side and glaring at him. "C'mon, there's no harm in guessing. Maybe
you'll be right."

"I don't know," Shinji replied.

Asuka considered finishing the conversation the way most of their
conversations ended: her saying 'what a boring little boy,' or some
other such phrase. But that would mean the silence would come back.
Along with the guilt that didn't sem to be going away.

"Well, _I_ think Misato would probably do it," she said, trying to
sound superior for having been the first to guess. "And I know Hikari
was _way_ too strong to settle for a dream."

"Maybe," Shinji replied. He caught his breath as they started walking
up a particularly steep rise in the terrain. "Well, I don't
know...Misato-san probably _would_ come back. And maybe Touji..."

"Oh, God!" Asuka shot back. "Not him! Not the stooge!"

"Asuka, please," Shinji mumbled. "I know what you think of him, but
he's a good guy."

"Yeah, but the last thing I need is for him and Hikari to _both_ come
back. I'd have to watch my friend getting all _mushy_ on him again."

Shinji laughed, quietly. "Maybe," he said. He'd seen some of the
signs of Hikari's affection for his friend. That would be
interesting, if something would work out, between them.

^Of course, first they'd _both_ have to come back,^ he thought.

"Maybe..." he began. "...nah."

"What?" Asuka asked, raising her eyebrows haughtily and looking over
at him.

"Well, I wonder if Ayanami could come back."

Asuka blinked, her brow furrowing. "What's _she_ got to do with

Shinji shrugged. "I'm not sure. But I keep thinking that the last
time I saw her, I did something that...hurt her, really badly. But I
can't remember what it was."

"Like she'd _care_ if you hurt her," Asuka shot back, tossing her
head. "C'mon, Shinji, this is _Wondergirl_, here."

Shinji went silent, not responding to this.

"And what would she _do_, anyway?" Asuka asked, spreading her arms.
"Freak people out for a living? It's not like she could find an Eva
to go drive around in."

Shinji shook his head. "...I don't know. But I wish I could see her.
Just so I could say that I'm sorry. For whatever it was that I did."

"Baka Shinji," she said, her voice taking the familiar demeaning tone
it normally did when she said that. Then she went silent, as a half-
forgotten memory hit her consciousness. "Then again...maybe she can't
come back."

Shinji's mouth turned down at this. "That's what bothers me."

Asuka rolled her eyes at this, not wanting to continue in this vein of
conversation. It was, overall, too depressing for her. What did she
care about Ayanami, anyway?

"OK, I've got one," he said, as they came to the top of the hill.

"What is it?"

"Well...if people start coming back, who's going to be...you know,
leading them?"

"Ha," Asuka said, tossing her head. "Well, they'd _obviously_ pick

"But, Asuka...you've never led anyone anywhere."

"I order _you_ around all the time," she shot back, smiling haughtily.
"And anyway, you and I have been here the longest. We'd at least know
where to go to get food and supplies. We could help people get set

"We?" Shinji asked, surprised. "But, Asuka...I can't lead people
around. I'm just not good at it."

"Yeah, I know," she replied, nodding. "I dunno, really."

"I guess we'll just have to see what happens, if people come back."

"_When_ they come back, baka Shinji."


They kept walking, sending occasional comments back and forth. Some
span of time passed; the sun hit its peak and began to crawl back down
for the horizon.

The monotony of their traveling was broken, all of a sudden. One
moment, they'd been walking along normally. The next, Asuka stopped,
her eyes focusing on something in the distance. Shinji's brow
furrowed. He turned to look...

...only to be pushed almost to the ground as Asuka shoved past him.

Shinji stumbled, just barely catching himself by falling onto one
hand. He pushed himself back up to his feet, and looked after the
German girl, who was now running very rapidly towards the horizon.

"Asuka!" he called. "Asuka, what are you doing?"

The girl didn't respond, or even slow down. On impulse, Shinji looked
up, to try and get a look at what the girl had seen. It couldn't be
_that_ bad...

Shinji's eyes widened as he saw it. "No way..." he muttered to
himself. "No, it couldn't be..."

But it was. Shinji took off, as well, running as fast as he could to
cover the distance.

Asuka was faster than he was, and had a head start to boot. She
reached their destination long before he did, and had ample time to
catch her breath. She looked up, at what she'd reached.

Red armor plating dominated its frame, but it was scorched and nearly
melted in dozens of places. The armor _should_ have been covering its
entire body, but it had been exposed to demons far more powerful than
it had been designed to withstand. As such, dried blood and massive,
decaying organs were splayed out from its torso, forming a sickening
lesson in Eva anatomy. Asuka's body quivered in an empathetic
response, as she remembered every wound, every cut, every bite.

Unit-02. Asuka's Evangelion, once a defender of humanity. Now, its
shattered, useless form leaned against a cliff side, having fallen
there after Third Impact. It was nothing now, save a monument to
broken dreams, and to valiant deeds that had ultimately been in vain.

Somewhere in the back of Asuka's mind, she knew that she shouldn't be
surprised that Unit-02 had survived Third Impact. She'd heard Ritsuko
and the other techs talking for long periods of time about how the
Evas were equipped with umpteen plates of custom armor, and how it
could withstand a point-blank atomic-scale blast, even without its AT
field in effect.

But technicalities like that were not at the forefront of her

Shinji finally caught up to her, breathing hard and trying not to fall
to his knees. He looked up, opening his mouth to say something to

The words never made it out. The expression on Asuka's face, of total
shock mixed with...fear?...made it quite obvious that the girl wasn't
even aware he'd joined her.

Asuka's hands clenched and unclenched, as though of their own
volition. Her breath came slowly and deliberately. As Shinji
watched, her lips started moving, shakily mouthing a word. It wasn't
long before her vocal cords started supplying force to those words.

"M...M...Ma..." she mumbled to herself.

"Asuka..." Shinji said, standing up. She still gave no indication
that she noticed him. Gingerly, he reached out and touched her arm.

With that contact, something snapped in Asuka. The air was shoved
from her body in a rush, all to power one simple word.


She shoved Shinji away without even looking at him. The boy stumbled
backwards at the unexpected force, eventually losing his balance and
falling onto his rear end. He grunted with the brief pain, then
looked up to see what Asuka was doing.

Asuka had rushed forwards, covering the last of the distance to the
Eva in a heartbeat. She was now climbing up the still-intact tread on
the bottom of its left foot.

"Mama!!!" she called out again, jumping down onto the Eva's leg and
running up it, towards its gutted torso.

"Asuka!" Shinji called out, getting to his feet and chasing after her.
"Asuka, don't!"

Asuka didn't listen. She jumped from the Eva's hip, clearing its
waist and landing on one of the few remaining plates of armor covering
its abdomen.

"Mama! Mama, can you hear me?" she called out. "Mama, tell me you're
still here!"

There was no response. Shinji, for his part, climbed up the Eva's
foot, chasing after her. As the boy cleared the huge foot and slid
down to its shin, he again glanced up at Asuka. Asuka, not satisfied
with the silence, gathered her strength and jumped, going right into
Unit-02's torso, where flesh and bone had been torn asunder, creating
a deep cavity that swallowed her whole.

"Asuka!" Shinji called out, as he saw her disappear. "Asuka, wait!
It's dangerous!"

The girl still said nothing to him. She just kept calling out 'Mama',
her voice echoing from the dark, damp cavity. He had no idea what
Asuka was talking about; he hoped she hadn't gone nuts on him. He
wouldn't know what to do, if that happened.

He crawled along the Eva's leg, being more safety-conscious than Asuka
had been in sprinting down the limb. It took him several minutes, but
he finally made it to the waist. He threw his legs over the edge and
dropped down, landing in the hole of Unit-02's torso.

It was damp and smelled strongly of decay inside the hole. Shinji
_really_ didn't want to know what had squished under his feet when
he'd landed. At least there were no insects; one of the small boons
of Third Impact. He doubted he could've stood the sight - or the
smell - if flies had been devouring Unit-02's corpse.

In front of him, he could only see pitch darkness. But in that
darkness, he could hear fervent activity. He could also hear Asuka's
voice, now weak. She was still calling for her mama. Hesitantly,
Shinji advanced into the Eva's guts.

Fortunately for him, it wasn't _quite_ as dark as it had first seemed.
As he left the sunlight behind, his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He
moved forwards, getting views of slick, moist protrusions on the
'walls'. And in front of him, he could see Asuka.

The girl had stopped calling for her mama. She was now just working,
digging into the organic wall in front of her. Her breathing was
heavy, as she tried to work in the inhospitable environment. But as
she turned her head slightly, Shinji saw the look in her eyes. She
didn't give a damn about the environment, right now.

"Asuka!" he called out, again.

The girl didn't react, at first. Finally, she turned around to face
him. Her arms, dripping with...something...fell limp at her sides.
Her hands went back to clenching and unclenching.

"Sh...Shinji..." she mumbled. She shook her head, putting her hands
to her face. "Just stay out of my way!" she shouted. At that, she
turned and went back to clawing at the guts in front of her.

Shinji slowly advanced. He didn't know what Asuka was capable of,
right now. He didn't want to take any chances.

"Asuka, stop this! Look at what you're doing!"

The girl shook her head. "I said stay away!" she shouted. "This is
all your fault! Just get out of my life!"

Shinji pulled back, stunned at what she'd said. Was this just a
product of delirium...or had Asuka really meant it?

Asuka's shouting had stolen the last of her breath. She stopped,
leaning against the wall in front of her for support.

"Asuka..." Shinji said, quietly, walking towards her. "Asuka, what're
you trying to do?"

There followed a long silence, during which Shinji could only hear
Asuka's labored breathing. "I...I'm trying to save Mama..." the girl
finally replied. "She...she's in the Eva..."

Shinji blinked. "What? You mean..."

"She...she's the core. She was always there...I have to save her!"
She turned and grabbed at the wall again, but at that moment her body,
exhausted by the work, failed her. Instead of digging, she just
slumped to her knees.

"No..." she muttered. "No!" she shouted in frustration, beating
uselessly against the wall with her small fists.

"Asuka...it's no use," Shinji said, kneeling down next to her. His
knee fell into a puddle of liquid, causing him to cringe. He still
kept his distance from the German girl.

"Asuka," he began again. "Asuka, look at the Eva. It's trashed.
There's no way you're going to find her."

"I...I don't care..." Asuka muttered, trying to get her breath back.
She literally pulled herself back to her feet, leaning against the
organic membrane in front of her for support. Her head sagged, and
she was moving as though her limbs had huge weights attached to them.

^Look at yourself!^ Shinji wanted to shout at her. Instead, he just
said, "Asuka, what would you do, anyway? Even if you could make it to
the core...then what?"

The girl didn't move for a long while. "I..." she shook her head
again. "No, I...I can't give up...not on Mama...she was the only
one...the only one who cared about me."

Shinji shook his head. "Did you really think that? Asuka, lots of
people cared about you."

"They didn't protect me!" Asuka shouted, finding some breath.
"Misato, Wondergirl, and especially _you_," she said, stabbing an
accusing finger into Shinji's chest. "None of you were there when I
needed you! Mama did everything to save me! She protected me with an
AT field! She let me stop the Angels! SHE WAS WHY I EVER PILOTED

She fell silent at this, looking so tired that she could almost fall
on her face.

"Asuka...don't do this to yourself," Shinji said, reaching out to her.
She didn't try to hit him, so he placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Asuka...I care about you," he said, finally.

The girl looked up at him, with hateful eyes. "Yeah, right.
Invincible Shinji doesn't need anyone..." Her voice lowered to less
than a whisper. "...especially not little girls like me..."

"Please don't say that," Shinji pleaded. "Asuka, if I didn't care
about you, I wouldn't have come down here. Please, don't do this to
yourself. I don't want to lose another friend."

Asuka didn't move. Her body shook with each breath. Shinji could
have been imagining things, but he thought he saw a few glittering
droplets fall from her eyes.

Asuka shook her head again. "Baka..." she muttered, her voice
quavering. "I'm just a baka..."

Shinji reached out and took her other shoulder. "Please...Asuka..."

The girl finally found the strength look up at him. She stared into
his eyes, her face betraying a torrent of emotions: anger,
frustration, and sadness could all be seen. She pulled back, letting
Shinji's hand fall back to his side.

"Well...let's go," she said, turning away. For once, there was no
hint of mockery in her voice.

Shinji followed, catching up and walking alongside her. He glanced
over to her a few times, seeing the glazed look in her eyes. He
guessed that talking to her wouldn't be a good idea, right now.

As they moved, Asuka rubbed her hands along her arms, wiping off the
blood and guts that had stuck to them. She finished by absentmindedly
wiping her hands on her shirt. Finally, they made it to the hole that
would lead them out. There, Asuka turned around, looking back into
the Eva.

"Goodbye...mama..." she muttered. Then, she turned resolutely and
climbed out. Shinji followed closely behind.

Asuka jumped down to the ground, followed shortly thereafter by
Shinji. They started walking away from the Eva. Shinji looked at
her, seeing the desolate, shattered look on her face.

"That...that was the right thing to do, Asuka..." Shinji finally said.
He tried to sound encouraging, but knew that he did miserably.

Asuka stopped. Shinji turned around, facing her. The girl didn't
look at him; instead, she stared at her feet.

"Did you mean it...when you said that you cared about me?" she finally

Shinji paused before replying, his block against opening up to others
keeping him from saying anything. As he paused, he saw a wet spot
appear in the dirt at Asuka's feet. It was joined shortly thereafter
by another spot. Then another. Shinji looked up at her face, his
eyes widening. Asuka was crying. Even after everything she'd done to
keep from doing this in front of him. She was still crying.

"Asuka...yes, of course I care about you. You're my friend."

^He...he does?^ Asuka thought. ^Even after all I did to push him
away? He still cares?^

She stepped forwards, coming up against him. Shinji froze up as her
head contacted his shoulder. Her arms flashed up, encircling him and
pulling him close, not letting him get away from her.

Asuka cried. She buried her head in Shinji's shoulder, as all the
tears she'd been holding back began to come in a torrent.

^Baka,^ she thought to herself. ^You promised never to cry again, and
now here you are, bawling into _this_ baka's shoulder!

^But he said he cared about me...^

Asuka stiffened as she felt Shinji's arms loosely go around her waist.
Any other time, this would have merited a slap, followed by a cussing-
out. But this time, it only made the girl cry harder.

They remained like that for quite some time, neither wanting to move.
Only after Asuka had run out of tears did she finally pull away. She
gave him a short glance before turning away. But in that glance,
volumes were spoken. How she was thankful to him, and sorry for how
she'd treated him earlier. How she needed his help as much as he
needed hers.

"Let's go," she said, turning away.

Shinji nodded wordlessly, coming alongside her. They turned their
backs on the ruins of the war machine, by some miracle succeding in
putting it from their minds. They walked forwards, in the direction
of their camp.

At some point, perhaps by accident, their hands became intertwined.
They both noticed, but neither said anything. Both needed just to be
sure that the other was there, right now. And neither wanted to give
it up.

* * *

The whole way back, not a word was spoken between them. They were
both full of things they wanted to say, but neither was willing to
take another step. They both told themselves that enough had been
done for one day. More than enough. So they didn't have to do
anything else tonight...did they?

They got back to their encampment as the sun was disappearing over the
horizon. After lighting a small fire, they took seats on either side
of the fire, staring into its dancing flames. The heat from the fire
slowly calmed them, relaxing their tired bodies.

They ate some of the food they'd collected in one corner of the camp,
having not eaten since that morning. More sated than they'd been to
begin with, they lay down and tried to sleep again.

Asuka was quiet, that evening. No tears came, no sobs. But Shinji
could somehow _sense_ that something was wrong. He lay there,
thinking about what to do. As the fire burned down to a few glowing
embers, he heard footsteps approaching. He sat up.

He immediately drew back, shocked. Asuka stood in front of him, arms
crossed and looking down her nose at him.

"Well?" she asked. "Aren't you going to try helping me?"

Shinji blinked several times. "What?" he asked, incredulously.

"Don't you want to listen to me?"

"Uh..." he paused, getting this sorted out in his head. Something was
up, but he didn't know what. He could only nod.

Asuka sat down. After a moment, she started talking. Words fell out
of her mouth in a torrent, finally being released after such a long
confinement. She talked about everything. About how her mother had
been in the Eva, but she hadn't known until that final battle. About
how she was scared, how she honestly didn't think they were going to
make it. About how some part of her still blamed him for what had
happened, whether he was at fault or not.

When she finally finished, she took several breaths, looking and
feeling as though an enormous weight had just been lifted off of her
shoulders. Shinji could only nod again, trying to look encouraging.
For once in his life, he didn't apologize to someone who said he was
at fault. It wouldn't help, he finally realized. Paradoxically,
hearing this actually took some of the weight off of his shoulders.
It was hard hearing what Asuka felt, but at the same time it was good
to hear she was finally getting this off her chest. For better or
worse, he wouldn't have to guess so much about why she acted the way
she did.

A moment later, Asuka took on a thoughtful look, as though just coming
up with something. "Do you have anything you want to tell me?" she

Shinji was taken aback. A sudden thought hit him. ^Could she feel
guilty for slapping me, and blowing me off? _Asuka_ can feel guilty?
Maybe so...and maybe she's trying to apologize...^

He started talking. At first, he didn't think he'd have much to say,
but he found that he couldn't stop. He poured out his heart, finding
it impossible to hold anything back.

Finally, he was finished. He swallowed, both out of nervousness and
because his throat was dry after all that talking.

"Sorry," he said, looking down at the ground. "I probably shouldn't
be loading all my problems onto you."

"Don't be, baka," she replied. Some shuffling noises followed, as
Asuka nervously crept up to him.

Shinji looked up, into Asuka's eyes. Even though the girl's face was
hard and confident, her eyes told a different story altogether. They
betrayed so many feelings: loneliness, insecurity, and, overriding it
all, desperation.

He leaned towards her, to see what she did. Asuka drew back
initially, out of habit, but then realized what she could be doing to
herself by passing this chance up. She leaned forwards, as well.

"Well?" she asked. "What're you going to do, baka?" she asked, trying
to sound haughty. But all the fervor had bled out of her voice by the
end of her sentence.

Shinji swallowed, his mind locking up.

"No, I..." Asuka said, starting again. She shook her head. "Shinji,
I can't. I can't rely on you, I...I..." she trailed off. Shinji,
with his eyes, was saying that he was there. He had said it before,
by holding her and letting her cry. He had said it later, by
listening to her pour out her heart. And he was saying it now, with
the expression on his face. Even though he'd never said the words,
they both knew that Asuka _could_ rely on him, and that she in fact
_needed_ to rely on someone.

Shinji, in an unusual show of spine, leaned forwards, closing the rest
of the distance. Asuka trembled, as her longstanding emotional
defenses, stronger than an Eva's armor, began to crack. She couldn't
do this...but she was...

Trembling, she closed her eyes. She felt her lips pucker up,
unconsciously. ^I'm such a baka,^ she thought. ^But if he doesn't go
through with it, I _will_ kill him.^

Shinji closed his eyes as well. Their lips were _just_ about to touch
when, behind his closed eyelids, Shinji caught a brief image of

A young girl. With blue hair and red eyes. In that image, her face
was not the emotionless blank he remembered it as. Instead, she
looked hurt. Even...betrayed.

"Ikari..." she mouthed. Shinji could have sworn he actually heard her

In shock, Shinji cracked his eyelids open. Like a dream, the image of
Rei Ayanami disappeared. And was replaced by the view of the girl in
front of him: full of sadness, and desperate for affection. Just as
he was.

And so, two people, searching for any comfort they could find in the
desolation of post-Third-Impact Japan, kissed. It was mostly
innocent, but hinted at something more to come, if they ever had the
courage to overcome their fear of reaching out. The anticipation
welled in both of them.

They broke off after several seconds. Asuka looked at the ground,
feeling ashamed for what she'd just done. Finally, a simple phrase
fell out of her mouth.

"Thank you."

Shinji blinked, surprised. He gently took her shoulders, feeling her
shudder at the contact. "Thank _you_, he said, quietly.

Asuka pulled away, shaking her head. She wasn't ready. She couldn't
do anything more, not yet. Quietly, Shinji agreed. What they'd done
was enough for a start. But instead of walking away, Asuka lay down
right there. Next to Shinji.

After a brief moment's hesitation, Shinji lay down, as well. With
each feeling the other next to them, both children found it easier to
sleep. That night, and the many nights afterwards they slept next to
each other, their dreams did not torment them.

Endnote: Well, that's that. If you've only read this story, I'd
suggest (OK, I'd beg if necessary) that you go read the fic this is a
part of: "Angels of Armageddon".

Writing this was hard, for a variety of reasons (cough). I did it
mostly to prove to myself that I could do it. And I have my
prereaders to thank for one of the most grueling proofreads-slash-
revisions I've ever done.
Started: May 24, 2001
Version 1 Ended: June 16, 2001
Version 2 Ended: July 5, 2001

Thanks go to the Avatar of Dragonia, Heavyarms Kai, and Judging Eagle
for prereading this. Avatar, your suggestion was what made me write