-1Father

Part 8

The air was still cool as a breeze blew in from the sea, causing the young redhead to shiver slightly. Asuka stood on the balcony and unconsciously hugged herself to keep warm as she watched the sun slowly rise above the sea dominated horizon. A gentle smile crossed her lips.

She felt happy. Genuinely happy and content for the first time in a very, very long time. She looked down and placed a hand on her slowly growing belly as the ocean breeze gently stirred her long, unbound locks. Asuka rubbed her belly and hummed ever so softly as she picture the little one that was growing within her. Letting out a happy little sigh, she turned her head and watched her husband as he continued to sleep peacefully with a silly little smile on his face. A blush lit up her cheeks as she remembered the previous night.

Shinji was so much…more…than she had ever thought he would be, and not necessarily in the physical sense. Asuka knew him to be a kind and loyal friend, a loving boyfriend and now spouse, and a fierce warrior. However, until last night, she never knew he would be such a gentle lover. One of the things she learned last night, much to her utmost delight, was that her fulfillment was his top priority. When she had asked him about it, he smiled and told her that making sure she was satisfied was half of his fun.

Shinji had done his job well. She had certainly been satisfied, quite a few times in fact. That was one thing Asuka had always feared when it came to thoughts of taking a lover or a getting married. She had been told by many people that men only looked out for themselves, that they would use her and then toss her aside like a piece of garbage. But for some reason, she knew Shinji would never be that way, and she was very happy to discover that she had been right.

It had been awkward at first, as was to be expected. Despite the fact that they had known each other for several years and had been with each other constantly for months, the shock of actually seeing each other fully for the first time had led to some serious blushing. Asuka's old reflexes began to come into play until Shinji took her hand and took the lead. Ever since they had actually gotten together as a couple, Shinji had discovered how to get Asuka to relax, as well as how to enflame her desires. A soft caress, a light touch, a gentle kiss and she was putty in his hands. To top it off, whenever he stared into her bright blue eyes, she would melt like a popsicle on a hot sidewalk in summer. She would never admit that to anyone, of course, except Shinji.

After they relaxed, and after a serious case of the giggles, they allowed Nature to take it's course. Asuka reminded herself to thank Nature, as well as Misato, Kaji, and even the two Stooges. She knew that there was no way in the world her Shinji could have come up with some of the stuff he had done last night on his own. She began to blush again as she wrapped her thin robe tighter around herself in an effort to keep warm. The thin robe and the even thinner teddy she was wearing may send Shinji's heart all aflutter, but it did nothing to keep her warm on the balcony. Asuka was ready to turn and go back inside when she felt a pair of arms encircle her waist, as soft kisses were placed on her neck.

"Morning," she purred as she melted back into the arms of her husband. Shinji continued to nibble on her neck, causing Asuka to become quite…warm.

"Morning," he whispered back into her ear as he held her close. "How are my ladies doing today?" Asuka grinned as she rubbed her belly and then felt him do the same. "It's a little chilly out here."

"We're both doing good, thank you!" Asuka replied as she turned to face her husband. "And I'm perfectly comfortable, now!" She looked up at him and then reached up and gave him a huge 'good morning' kiss. Shinji was cross-eyed when she finished with him.

"Wow! So…whatcha doing?" Shinji asked as he tried to catch his breath. Asuka giggled at his reaction.

"Well, if you must know, my silly Shinji, I was just watching the sunrise. And thinking," the redhead replied. Her husband smirked slightly.

"About what? What you want for breakfast? Where you're wanting to go today?" he asked as he inhaled the scent of strawberries that always seemed to linger in her hair.

"No, you idiot! About last night!" she replied with a sultry grin, causing Shinji to blush. She giggled again as she saw the red rise to his cheeks. Asuka always thought that it was so cute to see him blush, which is why she used to tease him so much when they were younger. Well, one reason, anyway. "About other stuff, too."

"Like?" he encouraged her. Shinji knew that something was troubling his love.

"Why did we wait so long, Shinji? Why did we deny what we felt? Why did we fail to act?" the crimson-haired mother-to-be asked as her eyes clouded somewhat. Shinji sighed as he pulled her close.

"We were too scared, I guess," he replied as he tried to sooth his wife. "You had your reasons, and I was too big of a coward to act…OOF!" he exclaimed as Asuka punched him in the stomach.

"You're not a coward!" Asuka growled as the fire returned, "Anyone who could leap into an EVA and do what you do can never be called a coward! You were just scared, that's natural! There's a big difference between being scared and being a coward! I was wrong to call you that in the past, I know that now. I'm sorry."

"That hurt!" he complained as he rubbed his stomach. Asuka smiled sweetly as she replied.

"It's supposed to! Don't think that just because we're married now that I won't knock the snot out of you if you do or say something really stupid, like putting yourself down! Understand me, Third Child?" she said as she waved a fist at him.

"Yes ma'am, Mrs. Third Child!" Shinji replied cheekily as he pinched her butt and ran back into the room as fast as he could.

"Ach, nein! I've been demoted!" Asuka exclaimed as she took off after her husband, her thin robe flapping in the breeze. "Shinji Ikari! Get your ass back here!" she laughed as she ran back into their suite.

--

Summer, 2016

"I'm coming!" Shinji called out as he rose from the couch to answer the door. Whomever was doing the knocking, they were quite persistent as the knocking continued until Shinji was finally able to open the door. What he saw, floored him.

"Guten tag!" the stranger called out as Shinji stood there and did his best impersonation of a fish out of water. "Is this the home of Asuka Langley Soryu?"

"Uh, y-yes ma'am," the pilot of Unit One stammered in reply as he continued to star at the newcomer. Despite the fact she was a little older looking and a bit more… well endowed…Shinji could have sworn he was looking at a twin of his room mate.

"Sehr gute! I am Captain Heidi Zeppelin of NERV Security, Third Branch. Is Asuka home?" she asked the stunned young man, who could do nothing but stand and stare.

"Uh, no ma'am. She's at a friend's house for the day," Shinji replied, still stunned and blocking the doorway. Heidi smirked a little at the expression on the Third Child's face.

"What's wrong? You keep staring at me! Do I have a booger on my nose, or are you just stunned by my radiant beauty?" she asked with a grin on her face as she thrust her chest out, watching Shinji's cheeks turn redder than a beet at the remark. Despite the fact she was dressed in a NERV Security black uniform, her attributes were impressive and could easily rival Misato's. "Asuka wasn't kidding when she said he was so cute when he blushes!" she thought.

"Er, yes…I mean no!…uh…what I mean is…oh man…" he stammered as the redhead before him began to laugh.

"Asuka's right! You are fun to tease!" Heidi said between giggles, then felt a little bad as Shinji's face fell and he began to stare at the floor.

"I'm sorry," he muttered as Heidi gently reached out and lifted his chin so she could look into his steel blue eyes.

"No, no, I'm the one who's sorry! I'm Asuka's aunt, and I'm guessing that you're Shinji Ikari. Asuka told me so much about you that I felt like I already knew you. You wrote to me about Asuka, remember?" Heidi reassured him as she watched him relax. "May I come in?"

"Huh? Oh! I'm sorry, please come in," Shinji replied, feeling extremely embarrassed by his lack of manners. Moving aside, he allowed Heidi to enter and then led her to the living room. After fixing some tea, Shinji had time to sufficiently relax enough for the two of them to have a nice conversation as the time quickly passed.

"You know something, Shinji? You really do take after your mother," Heidi said as she sat back and sipped her tea. The young man's jaw dropped slightly before replying.

"You knew my mother, Captain?" he asked hopefully. Heidi's eyes twinkled as she studied the young man. She could see the longing in his eyes and hear the hope in his voice.

"Please, call me 'Heidi'. Yes, I knew your mother, Shinji. She and my sister, Kyoko, would sit around for hours and talk about the more technical aspects of Project E, which was truly over my pretty head! My specialty is security and psychology, but they would include me in their conversations from time to time. They wondered about what the psychological responses of the pilots would be like after synching up with a life form such as the EVAs, or even about the psychological responses of the EVAs themselves. I helped them as best as I could, but I reminded them that there were many better qualified people they could ask. They would smile at me and tell me that although that was true, there was only one they could trust." Heidi recalled as her eyes grew distant, with just a hint of moisture detectable. Shinji sat there, riveted by the NERV captain.

"Kyoko? Why does that name sound familiar?" Shinji pondered as Heidi continued to watch him, her mind trying to evaluated the condition of her friend's son. "She was your sister, which makes her…"

"Asuka's mother," Heidi finished his statement for him. Shinji was flabbergasted to think that he and Asuka's mothers knew each other. Heidi smiled as she continued on with her story, " They were good friends, that's one thing I can tell you. We did a lot of things together: talking, shopping, stuff like that. When Yui became pregnant with you, we were all so thrill, even your father. Kyoko was so happy, she was beside herself!" Heidi looked at Shinji with narrowed eyes, which was something that Shinji knew would not be a good thing. " In fact, I have a little secret for you! Would you like to hear it?"

"Uh, I guess so," Shinji gulped nervously. He recognized that look, it was the same one that Asuka and Misato would have when they would begin to tease him.

"Okay then, listen closely," Heidi said softly as she leaned forward, causing Shinji to do the same, "Did you now that you were the reason Asuka was born?" Heidi giggled at the look on Shinji's face as the blush ran to his face.

"Huh? What do you mean?" he stammered, causing Heidi to giggle harder. She could see the utter confusion in his eyes.

"Well, it wasn't too much longer after Yui became pregnant that Kyoko decided she wanted a baby, too. They used to giggle amongst themselves about how it would be so cool to see you two grow up together and get married some day!" Shinji's face turned redder than Unit Two's armour when Heidi said that, causing the German to start laughing heartily. "You know that Asuka was born just six months after you, right? Believe it or not, you two knew each other before you met last year. When you two were babies, Yui and Kyoko would put you two in the same crib with one another when ever they visited with each other. It was the strangest thing, though…" Heidi voice trailed off, as if pondering some sort of mystery from the past.

"What was so strange?" Shinji asked. Despite the teasing, he was enjoying listening to stories about his mother. Heidi looked back at him with a warm smile on her face.

"Well, whenever we heard one of you two crying, we would go in and check on you. Usually, the crying stopped before we could get to you, and each and every time we would see one of you rolled over on your sides, comforting the other. It was so cute seeing one little baby with it's arm on the other, like it was telling it's friend it was okay." Heidi recalled fondly as she continued to watch the highly embarrassed young man. "Most of the time, you were the one who was comforting Asuka. She was always such a sad and cranky little baby, but she was never that way around you. It was like you were made for each other."

"Well, things change," Shinji snorted, sadness coming to his eyes. "It seems that no matter what I do, all I do is make her angry. It's like she can't even stand to be in the same room with me, most of the time."

"You're right, things do change, Shinji," Heidi agreed, taking note of the utter sadness in the Third Child's eyes. "But you have to remember, you two have gone through so much since then. Asuka was about a year old when we were all transferred back to Deutschland. She never seemed to be the same after that. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to spend any more time with you and your mother before your mother had her accident." Heidi's eyes reflected Shinji's sadness as she thought of her lost sister and their friend.

"What was she like? My mother?" Shinji asked, but before Heidi could answer the front door opened and a familiar voice called out.

"I'm home," the bored voice of Asuka announced as the young redhead walked into the living room, just to stop dead in her tracks as she watched Shinji and Heidi stand to greet her. Her jaw dropped as her eyes grew wide in utter astonishment. She knew that her mind had finally snapped, and that the sight before her was nothing more than a hallucination.

"Hello Asuka," her aunt said as she noted the condition of her niece. Asuka was thinner than Heidi remembered, and the haunted look in her eyes frightened Heidi. Asuka looked like she was ready to collapse from shock, before her voice finally gained enough strength to say something.

"Aunt…Aunt Heidi?" the younger German croaked, still not trusting her eyes.

"Yes, little one, it's me," Heidi said gently as she watched Asuka's face crumple. After taking a small, hesitant step, Asuka leapt across the room and was immediately enfolded in the arms of her aunt. Silent tears streamed down her face as she and Heidi embraced one another, muttering softly to each other in German. Shinji looked on for a moment before stepping out of the living room and leaving the two to catch up with each other.

--

As the weeks passed, Asuka seemed to improve slowly due to the ministrations of her aunt. Shinji was pleased to note that the fire that had always seemed to drive Asuka was ever so slowly beginning to return. Misato and Heidi got along quite well, which also pleased the young pilot of Unit One. It wasn't until later that Shinji discovered that the two had known each other back in Germany, where Misato had actually joined NERV.

What Shinji hadn't noticed was the change that was slowly beginning to over come himself. Misato had taken Heidi aside and asked if she could help Shinji as well as Asuka, to which the elder German readily agreed. She had seen the damage that the events of the past had caused Shinji, and she couldn't stand the fact that the happy little baby she had known had grown to become a very introverted young man. It took all her force of will to keep from marching into Gendo Ikari's office and putting a forty caliber round right between his eyes.

Heidi made sure to pull Shinji aside everyday to talk to him, and had learned quite a lot about the young Third Child. She learned how much his father's abandonment had torn him asunder when he was but a small child. She was pleased to discover that he had finally made friends when he came to Tokyo-3, but was saddened to learn that he had been forced to cripple one and destroy another. She was shocked to learn that he had a sister, but proud at how quickly he had embraced her as a member of the family, despite the fact her emotional growth had been severely delayed.

The thing that made Heidi the happiest was when she discovered that Shinji had feelings for her niece. It had taken a lot of poking and prodding, but he had let the clues slip out in bits and pieces. She realized, however, that he would never actually come out and do anything about it due to his fear of rejection. It wasn't until toward the end of summer that she got her first actual sign that he truly felt deeply about Asuka.

"Hey, Shinji, what's up?" she asked one day as she walked into the apartment to check up on Asuka. Heidi had noticed that despite the progress her niece had made, she seemed to start to slide back into the black well of despair that always seemed to threaten the young redhead. "Is Asuka around?"

"Oh, hello Heidi," Shinji called back as he walked toward the open balcony door with a cello case in one hand and a chair in the other. "She's in her room, but I don't think she's feeling to well today. She's only been out a few times today to go to the bathroom, that's it."

"Really?" Heidi frowned as she turned her attention to her niece's room and knocked before walking in. "Asuka?" She was shocked at what she saw.

"What the hell do you want?" the Second Child croaked as she sat upon her bed, her knees pulled to her chest. Heidi was shocked to see the dark circles around her eyes, at how pale her skin was, and how listless she seemed.

"Excuse me?" The elder redhead snarled as she placed her hands on her hips and stared down her niece. Asuka cringed at the look she aunt was giving her. "Watch your language! And is that how you're supposed to greet your aunt?"

"Uh, no ma'am. I'm s-sorry," Asuka replied, sniffling a bit. Heidi's face softened as she saw how badly Asuka felt. "I just don't feel too good today, Auntie."

"I can see that," Heidi said as she walked over and sat on the edge of her niece's bed. "What's wrong?" Asuka refused to look up into her aunt's eyes.

"I didn't get any sleep last night, that's all," Asuka replied. Heidi reached over and stroked her limp, lifeless hair.

"The nightmares again?" Heidi asked, to which Asuka slowly nodded. "You told me you had a way to deal with that. What happened?" Asuka shrugged. She didn't want to tell her Aunt that Shinji had spent the night at Kensuke's, and the sweet music he played for her when she needed it wasn't there. She didn't want Heidi to know she depended on anyone, especially Shinji Ikari.

"I…it…he…I just couldn't do it last night," Asuka sighed, a very terrible soul shaking sigh at that.

"Why don't you tell me about the nightmares," Heidi prodded carefully, hoping to get her niece to open up and confront her demons head-on. The elder German was frightened, as Asuka was beginning to look like Death warmed over.

"It's the same one," Asuka croaked as she tried to keep the images back in the farthest reaches of her mind, "the same one I used to have back in Germany, about …about…" her words trailed off. Heidi became concerned as Asuka just stopped everything and began to stare off into space. The NERV captain silently cursed all Angels, having seen what had happened to her strong, self-confident niece after the Fifteenth's attack.

"Asuka? What's the matter?" Heidi asked anxiously as the younger German stood up from her bed and began to walk towards the door, as if she were in some sort of trance. She reached out and grabbed Asuka's hand. "Asuka!"

"Huh? What?" the pilot of Unit Two asked as she slowly turned her head and gazed at her aunt.

"What's wrong?" Heidi asked once more. She made a mental note to go and ask the NERV psychiatrists to run an evaluation on Asuka as soon as possible. As a high ranking member of NERV security, she had the power to do so. The welfare of her niece was extremely important to herself and to NERV. So far, no one else had been able to synch with Unit Two, other than the Seventeenth. As of right now, NERV was down to one functional EVA and one functional pilot. Unit Zero had not yet been regenerated, and Unit Two refused to synch with Rei for some strange reason, as did Unit One. God help the world if the Angels attacked at this time.

"Oh. Nothing," Asuka mumbled as she stumbled past her aunt and left her room, followed quickly by Heidi. Asuka made a beeline for the balcony door, as if she were drawn it by some supernatural force. Heidi was at this time extremely frightened for her niece until a low droning that had just been on the edge of her senses increased in volume.

Much to Heidi's surprise and relief, she watched as Asuka walked out to the balcony and took a seat on the floor at one corner of the balcony. She watched as her niece closed her eyes and visibly relaxed, a small smile appearing on her face. This wasn't a false smile like the one she would put on at times to keep everyone from seeing how miserable she really was. No, it was a true, contented smile. Heidi stood in the doorway and watched in amazement as she realized that the low sound she had heard was coming from one Shinji Ikari, who continued to play his cello with his eyes closed and seemingly oblivious to the rest of the world.

An hour passed before Shinji finally set his cherished string instrument aside and stood up to stretch his legs. Heidi had stood in the doorway, enraptured, the entire time. She was so pleased to discover that Shinji had developed the same talent as her long dead friend had so many years prior. The redheaded NERV captain glanced back toward her niece and was pleased to see Asuka's eyes were closed and she was breathing steadily. The young lady had finally fallen asleep to Shinji's music.

"Oh, hello again, Heidi," Shinji whispered as he finally noticed her in the doorway as he began to walk toward Asuka. "I didn't disturb you, did I?" Heidi shook her head.

"No, Shinji, you didn't. You play quite beautifully, you know? It reminds me so much of Yui's playing," she responded softly, so as not to disturb Asuka. Shinji's eyes widened a bit at this bit of information.

"Really? I never got to hear her play," Shinji replied as he walked over to Asuka and gently lifted the young lady up from the ground, bridal style, and turned toward the door. Heidi was both shocked and thrilled at the shy young pilot's actions. She walked back inside the apartment, allowing Shinji to follow after with his slumbering burden.

"Huh? Shinji?" Asuka mumbled in her sleep as the young man stepped toward the living room sofa.

"Shhh," he replied so very softly and gently, causing her to snuggle closer to his chest. Slowly, he lowered her to the sofa, then quickly retreated and returned with a soft blanket. He carefully tucked her in, then gently stroked the side of her face, causing a smile to appear on Asuka's lips. Shinji smiled back as he bent back down and gave her a quick little kiss on her forehead, causing the young German to snuggle down deeper into the sofa and blanket. The image of one young baby comforting the other flashed before Heidi's eyes.

"You really do care for her, don't you?" Heidi observed as she followed Shinji back out to the balcony, where he proceeded to repack his cello.

"Well, sure I do. She's my friend, after all, whether she wants to admit to it or not," Shinji replied as he made sure that everything was packed correctly before closing the case. "I care for her and Misato both. If I don't take care of them, they'd both starve to death, and drown in a sea of garbage!" he chuckled lightly as he picked up his case and the chair he had been sitting in and began to walk back inside. He stopped as he felt Heidi's hand on his shoulder. She turned him to look back toward her.

"That's not what I mean, Shinji, although I am very grateful for you looking after them both. If they had to live off of Misato's cooking…well…let's just say her cooking should be loaded into missiles and fired at the Angels. That would probably kill them in a single shot!" Heidi said, earning a smile from the young man. Her eyes and face became soft with compassion as she plowed onward. "Do you really care for Asuka?" Shinji cast his eyes downward as the blush, once more, made it's appearance on his cheeks. "That's why you play for her, right? You can always tell when she's really feeling out of sorts, and that's when you get your cello out."

"It helps to relax her and let her sleep, that's all. She probably can't stand my playing, but it sooths her anyway," he replied as he stared through the doorway at the slumbering redhead. "It's the least I can do." Heidi smiled at the warmth she could see in the young man's eyes. She really hoped that the two of them could help each other out.

"To answer your question: yes, I care for her, a lot!" Shinji continued. Heidi hoped that expressing his feeling openly would help him to move forward. "But it doesn't matter, Heidi. I know Asuka hates me. She could never care for a guy like me! I'm a coward and a weakling. I'm everything that Asuka despises. I couldn't save her, I failed her. She can't forgive me for that!" Shinji seemed to deflate before her eyes.

Heidi frowned. It seems that the self-loathing Shinji had for himself ran so deep he even projected it on others. He believed that everyone else hated him as much as he hated himself. She knew for a fact that Asuka liked the boy, whether she actually came out and said it or not. Asuka's letters were filled with things about Shinji, especially about a certain event that occurred between the two of them the previous year. She decided to probe deeper.

"Have you ever told Asuka how you feel about her? You'll never know how she truly feels about you until you give it a try! Tell me something, have you two ever held hands, or hugged?" she asked, watching intently for the boy's reactions.

"Uh, no ma'am," Shinji replied as he fought his hardest not to allow himself to blush. The only time he ever held Asuka was that one night he had had that strange dream. Other than carrying her to the sofa anytime she fell asleep listening to him play, that was the only time.

"Okay then, have you two ever kissed each other?" the elder German asked, knowing full well the answer to that one. Asuka had written her shortly afterwards and told her how pleasant the kiss from the Third Child had been, and that she was disappointed at him for pulling away, and disappointed with herself at her reactions.

"Um, um, um," Shinji stammered, his face redder than a lobster and so flustered that he almost dropped his cello. He remembered that night as one of the best and one of the worst nights in his short life. There was nothing like giving your first kiss to a girl you cared for, and having said girl go running screaming into the bathroom. "Y-yes ma'am," he stammered softly.

"WHAT?! You and Asuka kissed?! When the hell did that happen?!" a certain dark-haired Major screamed from the open doorway. Shinji's eyes grew as large as Unit One's as his head whipped around and saw his guardian standing there in a complete state of shock. The Coward ran over and kicked Shinji in the balls and began to drag him into the shadows, causing Shinji to want to shrink down and hide in his cello case, bawling his eyes out in shame and embarrassment. It was then The Man came out and beat the crap out of The Coward and threw Shinji back into the light.

"Misato! Hush!" Shinji hissed softly as he stormed into the living room. "Asuka's finally asleep!"

"Huh? Oh! Sorry!" the Major whispered back, slightly taken aback by the intensity of Shinji's response. "She have a bad night last night?"

"Yeah," Shinji relied quietly as he bent down and checked on the young redhead. Shinji shot a rather naughty warm-water penguin a dirty look as Pen-Pen quietly crept up on Asuka's bare feet with a feather in his claws. Pen-Pen realized that look meant that he would be eating nothing but Misato's cooking for the next month if he continued on his course of action. He quickly thought better about what he was doing and rapidly retreated back to his refrigerator. "Okay, good! She's still asleep," Shinji whispered softly as he turned to go to his room, only to be stopped by Misato.

"Where do you think you're going, mister?" Misato hissed softly as she stood before the young pilot with her hands on her hips. " I still want to know about that kiss! Have you two gone further than that? I'm your guardian, for Pete's sake! If I can't trust you two alone with each other, than I may be forced to separate you!" Shinji's eyes grew wide in fear before he opened his mouth and began to explain.

"It was only one kiss, Misato," Shinji began as sadness started to creep back into his eyes. "It was last year when you went to that wedding. Asuka was bored and pretty much dared me to kiss her. After teasing me to no end, I took her up on her offer. It…didn't end well. I really don't think she enjoyed it too much. She…uh…well…" he faltered and cast his eyes to the ground. He couldn't see the sparkle in his guardian's eyes, or the teasing smirk on her face.

"She what?" Misato urged him to continue. Heidi covered her eyes with her hand and shook her head as she stood behind Shinji, like she was trying to back him up.

"I must be a lousy kisser, Misato, because she ran away and began to brush her teeth, screaming about how she never kiss to kill time," he replied softly, a trace of hurt in his voice. Misato's face softened as she felt the pain that was coming from her young charge like it was a physical force. She looked up at Heidi, who silently mouthed that she would explain it later. "Other than that, the only physical contact we have is when she's hitting me, or when I pick her up and put her on the sofa when she's asleep."

"Oh," Misato replied softly as she stood aside and let Shinji pass by her. "So, whatcha doing now?" Shinji looked up with his sad, puppy-dog eyes.

"I'm a little tired, Misato. I'm going to go lie down for a while. Don't worry about dinner, I'll get up and make it later," Shinji replied as he trudged to his room, his mood completely shot as depression once more began to close in on him. Heidi and Misato watched as he closed his bedroom door before the two of them retreated to the kitchen for tea and beer.

"Well, that didn't go well," Misato huffed as she took her seat at the table and cracked open a beer and downing half the can in one swig. "Urp!"

"Those kids," Heidi sighed as she took a sip of tea, "I have worked so hard these past few weeks to get them to open up, and when they finally do, it lasts for only the briefest of moments." She stared at her tea glass for several seconds and silently wished it was something a bit stronger. She cursed herself and reminded herself that she needed to keep a clear head for those two.

"They actually opened up some?" Misato asked, somewhat incredulous. Heidi nodded her head, as a frown continued to mar her features.

"Yeah, but just a little. I finally got to see Asuka's vulnerable side today, as well as Shinji's caring and decisive side." Misato raised an eyebrow at this.

"Shinji's always caring, Heidi," the dark-haired Major spoke up, defending her charge. Heidi nodded her head in agreement.

"Yes, he is. However, his own self-loathing tends to overshadow it. He believes himself to be worthless, despite everything he does for people. Therefore, it tends to taint everything he does, in his mind at least." Heidi affirmed.

"And today was different because?" Misato urged as she finished her beer and opened a new one.

"Because there was no trace of his self-loathing when he took care of Asuka. I watched as he played for her to get her to sleep, then picked her up and got her comfortable before kissing her head," Misato's eyes shot open wide at this little bit of information, and she tried to keep from spraying her guest with beer. "The only thing I saw in his eyes was his deep…feelings…for Asuka," Heidi answered, a warm smile caressing her face.

"Aww, that sounds so cute!" Misato gushed, " I wish I could have seen that! Shinji actually kissed her?" Heidi giggled as the two continued to chat about the young pilots.

"What are you two hens cackling about?" grunted Asuka, her eyes half closed as she stumbled into the kitchen. She reached for a glass and filled it with water. The two older women jumped at the interruption.

"Eep!" Misato squeaked as she lost the battle this time and shot beer clear across the table. Luckily, Heidi's reflexes kicked in as she leaned to the side and avoided the spray.

"Uh, nothing!" Heidi chimed in as her niece leaned back on the counter and finished her drink.

"Yeah, sure, whatever," Asuka muttered as she trudged back across the room before stopping in the doorway. "So, who did Shinji kiss?" Both women stopped dead, their eyes widening as the color drained from their faces.

"Well, it wasn't really a kiss," Heidi began, her eyes looking up toward the ceiling as if deep in thought, "It was more like a small peck on the head." Asuka snorted in disgust.

"Whatever. Like that wimp would ever have the balls to kiss someone! He doesn't care for anyone other than himself," the younger redhead said softly as she began to turn to leave.

"Asuka! That's not true and you know it!" Heidi snapped back. "So quit acting like that! You know, it was Shinji that wrote me to come and see you! I had no idea what had happened to you until he sent me a letter explaining everything! He did that for you!" Heidi was extremely upset at her nieces attitude. Asuka just shook her head and left the room, a small smile carefully hidden on her face. She knew Shinji had kissed her, even if the other two were too much of cowards to tell her. Asuka loved to see that side of Shinji: the strong, caring side. She curled back up on the sofa and closed her eyes, her dreams no longer haunted, but warm and secure. Her dreams were of a certain blue-eyed boy.

--

"Do you really have to go?" Asuka whined as she held her aunt tightly. Heidi gently stroked her niece's hair, trying to sooth Asuka.

"Yes, little one, I do," she said somewhat sadly. "I only had so much leave time built up, you know? Don't worry, I promise to be back next summer, okay?" She looked into Asuka's eyes and saw the sadness had been replaced with hope. "Now, let me take my leave of your room mates."

"It was good to see you again, Misato!" Heidi said as she and Misato hugged tightly. "Take care of those two, will ya?"

"I always do," Misato replied, trying hard to fight back the tears. It had been good to see her old friend again. Heidi let her go and turned toward Shinji. The pilot of Unit One had his head bowed and was looking at his feet. Heidi sighed, because no matter how hard she had worked with both pilots, they had made so little progress. She took a step forward and lifted his chin with her fingertips, but his eyes still refused to look up.

"Shinji, look at me please," she commanded gently, causing the young man to look up at her bright blue eyes. Her eyes reminded him so much of the girl he cared for. "What did I tell you about not looking at people when they talk to you? Some people may think it's rude."

"Sorry," he muttered. Heidi could feel his pain. "I'm going to miss you," he added softly. Heidi smiled warmly at this. Maybe she had more of an influence on him than she had thought.

"Quit apologizing so much!" she admonished playfully, gently rapping him on the side of the head, bringing a small smile from the young man. "I'm going to miss you too, Herr Ikari! Now listen closely, I want you to do two things for me, okay?" Shinji nodded his head. " First off, I want you to keep looking after Asuka for me, just like you have been. Can you do that for me?"

"Uh, sure," Shinji agreed readily, wondering what the second thing could be.

"Sehr gute! Now, for the second thing. I want you to take care of yourself! Quit telling yourself that you're worthless! Shinji, you are probably the nicest guy I have ever met, and you seem to hate yourself! Please, for me and for Asuka, see the good inside yourself, and see the good that you do!" Heidi pleaded. She hated seeing Shinji being so down on himself.

"I…I'll try," Shinji replied softly, finding it hard to even think about himself in a positive light whatsoever. He just knew, that deep down inside, he was a horrible, awful person. He knew that no matter what anyone else ever said, he would never be able to change his mind. Heidi saw the inner battle taking place, and prayed to what ever deity was listening, that good would come from it.

"Do more than try, just do it!" Heidi whispered back as she placed her forehead to his and looked him squarely in the eyes. "For starters, why don't you follow your heart and tell Asuka how you really feel? You never know what the answer will be until you actually follow a determined course of action!" she giggled softly, doing her best to put her military and security persona on and failing miserably. Her giggles brought a smile to the young pilot's face for the first time that day.

"Maybe some other time, like after I've lived a full life and I'm ready to die! I'm pretty sure that Asuka would kill me if I even thought about telling her that!" he laughed softly in reply. Heidi continued to giggle before she ruffled his hair and took her leave.

"Okay, folks! I'm not one for teary goodbyes," Asuka and Misato snorted as Shinji smiled sadly, "So I'll see you later! Take care!" With that, the fiery redhead that had invaded their home for the summer and had brought about some much needed healing, turned and walked through the gates to the waiting transport.

"You two stay here while I go get the car," Misato said as she began to walk toward the doors and out to the parking lot, "It's probably going to take a while to get the car out, so you can stay here and watch her plane take off. Now, don't do anything I wouldn't do while I'm gone!" With a wink, a giggle, and a swish of her hips, Misato spun and walked out the door before her two charges could come back with any sort of comeback.

"Humph! What wouldn't she do?" Asuka fumed, angry she couldn't snap back at her guardian, who was now a pretty good distance away. How she could move so fast in those heels, Asuka could never figure out.

"No telling," Shinji commented as he leaned against the rail that overlooked the tarmac, only it and a thin sheet of bulletproof glass between him and a three story fall. He stared out the window and watched as a redhead in a black NERV uniform climbed the steps that lead into the nearest military personnel transport.

"Shinji," he heard Asuka call out to him much more softly than usual. This puzzled him a bit as he turned around.

"Yes, Asuka?" he asked as he turned around, seeing the look on her face, as her mask fell once more, revealing the young girl beneath the hard exterior. Shinji was shocked as his friend came forward and slid her arms through his and around his waist, planting her head on his shoulder.

"Thank you," she whispered softly in his ear, causing Shinji's face to turn red as a shiver ran down his spine. He did the unthinkable and responded to her hug by wrapping his own arms around her and embraced her back. "Thank you for bringing my auntie to me. She told me everything. I know I don't thank you for everything that you do, but I really do appreciate it. I can't promise that I won't be a bitch to you like I usually am, but I will try to be better. Just don't stop being the sweet guy you always are, okay?"

"As you wish, Asuka," he replied, not too sure where he got that from, but it may have had something to do with a movie Heidi kept watching about some sort of pirate and his friends. His breath caught in his throat, at the next thing Asuka whispered to him.

"I forgive you."

"Thank you, Asuka," he whispered as he did his best to check his emotions. He felt like crying, feeling a huge weight being lifted from his heart. Asuka had finally forgiven him. It sent a huge shot of warmth and courage flowing through his body. It was right then he decided to follow some advise he had just been given to him by a dear friend. "Asuka, I need to tell you something…"

"Yeah, Shinji?" Asuka asked, leaning back some to look into his eyes, eyes that she could get lost in if she wasn't careful. As everyone knew, Asuka was always careful. Not. She wondered if he finally had gotten the courage to tell her what he felt. "What?" she continued softly.

"Oh, hell, I can't do this! She just now forgave me! What the hell am I thinking?!" Shinji thought to himself as he stared back at the object of his affection. "Uh, it's nothing! Don't worry about it." He watched as Asuka's smile turned into a familiar smirk as her eyes narrowed for just the tiniest fraction of a second.

"Sure, whatever, Shinji," she replied in her normal tone of voice as she pulled back somewhat, only to discover that Shinji really didn't want to let her go. She smirked some more. "I guess we need to go, Ikari, before anyone sees us and thinks that you reached over and grabbed me! Everyone will then know what kind of pervert you really are!"

"What?!" he barked as he reluctantly began to release his hold on the redhead, " If I remember correctly, you are the one who grabbed me first! Perv!" he teased back, surprising Asuka somewhat before she shot back her reply.

"Yeah, right! Like anyone would believe that! I swear, if you tell anyone about what just happened, I'll shove my EVA's foot so far up your ass you'll never be able to sit in an entry plug again!" Asuka warned as she and the pilot of Unit One finally released their hug.

"As you wish, Asuka," Shinji replied once more, drawing a strange look from his room mate.

"Is that going to be your standard answer from now on, instead of 'sorry'?" she barked as she turned to head out the door. Misato managed to get back quicker than they had expected, and was waiting for them at the curb.

"Perhaps," Shinji answered back as he followed Asuka out the door toward the car. He didn't see the small smile on her face, or the small blush on her cheeks as she muttered one single word softly as she climbed into the front seat.

"Good!"

--

School started days later, and much to their relief, all their friends came back for their first year of High School. Despite all the time the pilots had missed, all four had been promoted to the next grade, on urgings from NERV, of course. Asuka quickly fell back into her previous school behavior: namely acting as if she were God's gift to everyone. Shinji could only smile and see that as a sign of his friend's continuing recovery. Touji came back, not nearly as chipper as he once was, but a certain class rep had helped over the summer, and the two now seemed inseparable, despite Touji still trying to retain a cool image for himself.

Rei came back, and much to everyone's surprise, she seemed much more animated than before, which in her case meant that she actually tried to smile a time or two at her friend's jokes. Shinji would shake his head and chuckle as his sister did what she could to try to fit in and act like a 'regular girl'. Shinji had to remind her that she was a very remarkable girl indeed, and that she should take her time in learning how to fit in. She would always smile and thank Shinji for his concern, stating that he was a 'good big brother' which always made him blush. Rei loved to see him blush.

As for Shinji himself, he tried his best to follow Heidi's advise, but the hurt and pain had scarred him deeply, and wounds like that are hard to heal. He was always there for his friends though, whether it was words of encouragement to Touji or Rei, or watching Kensuke's back whenever the school bullies thought it was a good idea to try to beat up the young otaku. Whenever he saw the blackness try to creep up on Asuka again, which was happening less and less, he would send her a teasing message over their laptops, just to get a rise out of her, or send a file full of cello music to her to listen to. She would always glance back and give him a silent 'thank you'.

Things back at NERV were progressing much slower than things at school were, however. The process of regenerating Unit Zero was going so much slower than anyone had planned, mainly due to the fact that so much of the recovered material had been corrupted by the Angel's DNA. The only truly viable part that had been recovered had been the head, so the growth process was slow. The biggest hassle was going to be finding a suitable human soul to inhabit and animate the EVA. The biggest reason that Rei had ever had problems linking up with Unit Zero was because the soul that animated it was the same one that had sent Rei's first body to the grave. The elder Dr. Akagi hated Rei with a passion, and it was Rei's Angelic side that finally seemed to override her EVA's hesitation to accept her.

Asuka had other problems, unfortunately. It seemed that each and every time she sat in Unit Two's entry plug, or even in a test plug of some sort, images of her battles with the Fifteenth and Sixteenth would come flooding back to haunt her. Her sync ratio finally made it over the borderline to activate her EVA, but just barely. Just as the borderline was breached, it was like she was attacked once more by the Angels, promptly causing the EVA to disconnect from her. Asuka's frustrations mounted more and more every time it happened, and Shinji worked feverishly to keep her from falling back into the abyss that had claimed her months earlier. Shinji finally came up with an idea after some discussion from a recently returned Kaji. Kaji had gotten some information for him concerning the event that lead to both Kyoko's and his mother's accidents. He only hoped he would survive what was to come.

--

Christmas, 2016

Asuka was miserable as she sat in the waiting room just outside the EVA bays. Christmas time was always difficult for her, especially since she had come to Japan. Last Christmas was just completely horrible, seeing how she had been in a self-induced coma at the time. Everything that had lead up to Christmas had been overshadowed by the Angel attacks, destroying what little happiness she could get from the holiday season. Since the death of her mother, Christmas had lost a lot of it's luster, but she could still hold on to a few cherished memories from the times she spent with her Aunt and Grandmother. Now, however, those memories were completely overshadowed by her pain and failure.

"Asuka? Are you okay?" Shinji asked as he watched his friend suddenly jerk from whatever spell she had been under and snap her head around to him, a snarl marring her young face.

"Huh? Of course I'm okay, you idiot!" she snapped at him, her face matching the color of her plugsuit. She was embarrassed that he had seen her space out.

"Oh, okay. It just seemed like you were nervous or something," he replied kindly as he felt his sister reach over and pat his hand. Rei was suited up and sitting next to him, a small smile on her face. Unit Zero wasn't near finished yet, but Dr. Akagi still had her suit up and try to sync up with the EVA, hoping to make some sort of connection that would allow the EVA to activate. He could feel the slight tremble in her hand, that being the only outward sign of her nervousness. Since she had stopped taking the medications that suppressed her humanity, her emotions began to grow and evolve. Right now, unfortunately, she was feeling fear for the first time, the fear of becoming one with the huge life-form known as EVA. Shinji patted her hand back and gave her a reassuring smile.

"I mean, why the hell should I be nervous? I can't seem to sync up with my EVA properly, putting everybody in danger," Asuka muttered to herself. "If this doesn't work, they're going to probably kick me out of NERV and send me back to Germany as a failure! I don't think I could handle that! My life would be meaningless." Shinji looked at her sadly before The Man walked up and handed him a folder titled Operation: Phoenix. Shinji set his jaw and turned to Rei, whispering in her ear.

"Rei, I'm about to tell Asuka something that may just result in injury to myself. Whatever you do, please don't interfere, okay?" he asked her softly. She looked at him, confused.

"Why?" she whispered back, concern for her brother evident in her voice.

"It's to help Asuka. Trust me, okay?" Shinji reassured her as he gave her a quick hug. Asuka looked over and snorted in disgust. Having no family close by, she was a bit jealous at seeing Shinji and Rei together.

"What the hell are you two whispering about?" she snarled, her bright blue eyes casting daggers at their direction. "Plotting ways to get rid of me, perhaps?" She was shocked when Shinji got up and took a seat next to her.

"No, Asuka, I was just telling her everything would be alright," Shinji said as he looked into the redhead's eyes, "She's still nervous about crawling back into an EVA, that's all."

"Join the crowd," Asuka mumbled as she leaned forward on her elbows, her head bowed in a moment of weakness. Her hair covered the face, keeping everyone from seeing the expression on her face. "I can't even get my EVA to move, let alone operate in combat." Shinji nodded to himself and braced himself for the pain. He knew he was about to follow the correct, albeit painful, path.

"Asuka," he began, searching for the right words, "I've told you before about how my mother died, right?" Asuka looked up and stared at him questioningly, wondering why he was bringing that up at a time like this. She nodded her head before he continued.

"Yeah, something about a contact experiment with Unit One, right?" Shinji nodded in agreement.

"She was absorbed by the EVA, just like I was during the battle with the Fourteenth. Only, she was never recovered. I know it sound kind of crazy, but I swear there are times I can feel her inside the entry plug. It's kinda like she's watching over me, you know?" Asuka continued to look at him like he had screw loose. "I think that's why it goes into Berserker mode, sometimes. It's trying to protect me!"

"Okay," Asuka responded slowly, her eyes narrowing at her fellow pilot, "just what the hell are you getting at? Why are you telling me this now, huh?" She watched Shinji take a big breath before he spoke once more.

"Uh, well, remember what you told me about your mother? About what happened to her after her contact experiment with Unit Two?" he swallowed nervously. Shinji saw the fire flare up in Asuka's eyes.

"No…"she hissed through gritted teeth, as Shinji continued on.

"What if…"

"Shut up!" she commanded, her fists clinched and trembling with rage.

"…somehow, some part of her…"

"Stop it, you son of a bitch…"she growled even louder, but Shinji refused to stop.

"…bonded with the EVA, acting as it's soul…"

"Ikari, you better…" Asuka seethed, her patience coming to it's limit. Shinji continued, knowing what was to come.

"What if she's in there with you every time?"

"SHUT THE HELL UP!!" Asuka screamed as she shot up and stood before the Third Child. He saw what was coming and refused to move.

SLAP! Asuka backhanded Shinji across the face as hard as she could, sending the young man sprawling across the room and landing in a heap. The redhead was on him in an instant, kicking him in the side. Rei made to get up to help her brother when Shinji turned to her.

"Rei! No! Stay out of this!" he pleaded as Asuka squatted down and grabbed him by his collar, bringing him close to her face.

"Don't you EVER talk about my mother again, you hear me, Ikari?!" Asuka spat in his face in anger. The Coward tried to show his face, but The Man gave him a roundhouse kick that sent him back to the shadows. Shinji gulped as he tasted the blood in his mouth before continuing.

"Asuka, listen! " she slapped him again, but he fought onward, "She's the soul that activates the EVA!" Asuka punched him in the stomach, causing him to lose his breath.

"I said shut up! " she snarled once more as she pulled him to his feet, looking into his bruised face. His eyes continued to lock onto hers.

"You need to accept it, Asuka…AAARGH!" Shinji moaned as the Second Child kneed him in the groin, doubling him over. He refused to give up. "You have to open you heart and mind to her if you want to activate the EVA properly." At this, Asuka began to beat him mercilessly, slapping and punching him, releasing all her rage and frustrations on the young man who refused to raise a hand to defend himself. Once he fell to the floor, she began to kick him, screaming and raging the whole time. Finally, her anger spent, she stood before the battered form of her fellow pilot, glaring down at him. She heard muffled crying coming from behind her, turning around she saw Rei standing, her hands covering her mouth and tears pouring down her face. A sudden realization hit her of what she had just done, and she cursed herself for losing control. She looked back down at Shinji, the horror of what she had done slowly sank in. She had attacked her friend and fellow pilot. She wouldn't blame them if NERV kicked her out and her friends disowned her. Her world had finally fallen apart.

"What the HELL is going on here?!" Misato demanded as the door to the room flew open, revealing a very angry Major. "Asuka? What the hell did you do to Shinji?"

"Misato, I…uh…" Asuka began, knowing that it was over, everything was lost.

"I tripped, Misato," Shinji spoke up as he pulled himself up from the floor, his face covered in bruises and cuts. "Asuka was try to help me up, just now," he said as he held out his hand, which Asuka quickly reached out and grabbed, pulling him up the rest of the way.

"You tripped?" Misato snarled, her arms crossed as she continued to glare at Asuka.

"Yeah, over my own two feet. Clumsy me!" he laughed, putting his hand behind his head and wincing somewhat. Rei made a move to go to her brother before a look from Shinji stopped her.

"Really?," Misato replied, clearly not convinced, especially since she saw the whole thing on the monitors in the lab. Turning to the blue-haired girl with puffy red eyes, Misato interrogated Rei. "Rei, is that true? Did Shinji trip over his own two feet?"

"Uh," Rei began, as she turned to Shinji, who nodded his head ever so slightly, "yes, Shinji was quite clumsy, Major." Misato's jaw dropped. She never expected Rei to flat out lie to her.

"I don't know what the hell is going on here, but I WILL get to the bottom of it later!" Misato seethed as she glared at all three pilots, who unconsciously huddled together in an act of unity and self-preservation. "Alright, you three, fall out for your tests!" Misato spun on her heel and stormed out of the room.

"Shinji, I…uh," Asuka began to stammer, but she was cut off as Rei deliberately got between her and the pilot of Unit One. Rei sent a glare to the stricken redhead as she reached out and took her brother by the arm and lead him out of the room and towards the EVA bays. Asuka was taken aback somewhat by the blue-haired girl's behavior, but Asuka knew that she deserved whatever anger was directed at her.

--

Asuka always hated the taste of LCL. She could never really place the taste before until Shinji made a comment one day about it tasting and smelling like blood. Now, the taste made her want to gag, but she pulled her thoughts away from the taste and concentrated on trying to get her EVA to move. The start up sequence went as planned, as Asuka sank back into the mental state needed to sync with the huge artificial bio-form. However, no sooner had the borderline been breached then the memories once more reached out and assaulted her. She tried as hard as she could to hold them back, to fight with everything she was worth, but it was to no avail. Her EVA promptly shut back down, leaving her alone in her entry plug with nothing but the emergency lights to keep her occupied. She was at her wits end as she continued to sit there and try to fight back the tears that were trying to force their way from her eyes.

"Contact re-established," she heard the voice of Maya Ibuki call out over the com channel as the power once more flowed into the entry plug.

"Is she still in there?" the voice of Dr. Akagi called out over the open mike, causing Asuka's anger to flare.

"Yeah, I'm still here," she barked back as she glared into her video screens at the faux blonde, "for all that's worth," she muttered softly.

"Okay, we'll try again in a few minutes, Asuka," Dr. Akagi said as she turned back to Maya. "If she doesn't make it next time, we'll have to drop her from the combat rolls, and maybe even the entire program!"

"I can still hear you, you know!" Asuka yelled into the com line, her anger and fear taking on unheard of dimensions. "I'll show you! I'll prove who's the best pilot!" Inside, Asuka wanted to curl up in a ball and die.

"Oops!" Maya chirped as she quickly cut the feed to the control room. Asuka fumed as she turned and watched her fellow pilots over the view screens. Rei still was making absolutely no head way with Unit Zero, while Shinji's sync level showed him at a good seventy-four percent.

"Shinji," Asuka croaked, still feeling awful whenever she saw the bruises and cuts on his face. One eye was almost swollen shut, and his lip was split, but he managed to look back at her with a small smile on his face.

"Hey Asuka, you okay?" Shinji asked, concern clearly evident in his eyes. He watched as she seemed to tremble somewhat, biting her lower lips.

"Well, it looks like you're going to end up being the Number One pilot after all," she managed to say past the lump that was growing in her throat, "If I can't get this thing to work on the next try, they're going to kick me out!" Shinji thought he heard a small sob, but with the distortion created by the LCL, he couldn't be sure.

"Asuka, please, I know it sounds far-fetched, but please give my idea a try! I don't want to see you leave! All you have to do is open your mind up to the EVA!" Shinji implored as a flicker of doubt flashed across Asuka's eyes.

"You know," Asuka snorted, "that sounds an awful lot like what Rei told me last year!"

"The same holds true now as it did then, Soryu," Rei responded over the line, angering Asuka a bit. She didn't realize that the line to Unit Zero was open. Before Asuka could yell back at his sister, Shinji spoke up.

"Asuka, I really think it will work, just watch my ratio the next few minutes and see, okay? Please?" Asuka rolled her eyes, but silently nodded her head in agreement.

"Okay, mother, if we're going to do this, we really need to do it now! Asuka is counting on us!" Shinji thought as he slowly opened the barriers to his heart and mind, feeling the warm caress of his mother's spirit pour over him and urge through the body of the EVA.

"Dr. Akagi! Shinji's sync ratio has just jumped to ninety-nine percent!" Maya called out over the com lines. Asuka's eyes bulged as she watched Shinji's ratio climb and remain steady , achieving a level Asuka could only dream about.

"Does it show any sign of climbing any higher?!" Dr. Akagi barked nervously, fearing a repeat of the events that led to Shinji being absorbed by Unit One. Maya quickly shook her head in the negative.

"My Shinji," a soft voice called out in Shinji's head, "My special little boy! I have missed you!"

"I've missed you too, Mother!" He replied as he felt his spirit float in a sea of LCL as he was gently embraced by loving arms. He felt the warmth of his mother's smile as she looked down proudly at him.

"I see you're here to help Kyoko's daughter, despite the fear you have of what happened last time," Yui's voice said as it surrounded him, "How that truly warms my heart! Come, we have much to discuss…,"

"Sync ratio is starting to come back down," Maya called back out after about a minute had passed, "It's leveling out to about eighty percent!"

"Thank goodness!" Akagi exclaimed as she turned her attention back to Shinji. "Is everything alright in there, Shinji?"

"Everything's alright, Dr. Akagi," Shinji replied with a sad smile on his face. While only a minute had passed in real-time, several hours had passed in his mind while his mother had let him in on many secrets that had been kept from him, including the true reason for her demise. Quickly, he opened a secure line to Unit Two. "Asuka!"

"What the hell just happened, Shinji?" the redhead asked, very worried about her friend.

"Just what I said earlier, I opened myself up to the EVA," he replied, a sad look still in his eyes. "Asuka, please just try! What will you lose by doing so?" He watched as Asuka continued to bite her lip, then nod in agreement.

"Dr. Akagi? I'm ready to give it another try!" she stated defiantly as she went about resetting her controls for a restart. She watched as the doctor looked at her dubiously, before barking orders for the restart. As the power began to build, Asuka sank back into the necessary state of mind to allow her to sync with the EVA.

"We are now at the threshold for EVA startup!" Maya exclaimed as the borderline was breached. "We have synchronization!" Asuka felt the familiar sensations once more of being one with her EVA, but the memories began to attack her once more. In desperation, she thought back to what Shinji said.

"Momma?" she called out with her mind, not expecting anything to happen, as the memories of the mind rape bore down upon her. "Momma!!" Suddenly, a warm feeling began to surround her as a righteous fury began to build up all around her. Just as the memories began to break through her defenses, a bloodcurdling roar was heard, and a creature of light dove from the darkness and physically attacked the memories head on. The claws and teeth of the beast tore the memories to shreds, forcing them to vanish like snowflakes on a warm spring day.

"Holy shit! Dr. Akagi! The sync ratio for Unit Two have shot up to ninety-five percent and is still rising!" Maya called back out, causing numerous voices to yell out over the com line.

"What the hell is going on here?! And what the hell is that?!" the doctor asked as she watched a monitor situated next to Maya. "What is that waveform?"

"Unknown!" Makoto called back from behind the startled doctor. "It's not a normal reading!"

"Dr. Akagi! The Magi have just listed that waveform as Type: Blue! It appears to be a remnant of the Fifteenth!" Aoba called out as soon as he got the readings back from the Magi.

"Mental contamination?! You mean it remained dormant within Asuka all this time?" Misato screeched, her eyes ready to pop from her head.

"Not Asuka! The EVA!" Maya replied as she watched the combined waveforms of Asuka and the EVA obliterate the Angelic remnant.

"It may have been a booby trap to keep Asuka from synchronizing with her EVA ever again!" Akagi barked as she watched the readings coming from the EVA.

"Is that why the Seventeenth was able to sync with Unit Two so easily?" Misato asked as she felt like a hand of steel hand had reached into her chest and grabbed her heart. She worried for her young charge.

"It's possible! Whatever just happened, it seems that the pilot and the EVA have managed to completely obliterate the angelic remnant!" Akagi replied, still watching the monitors.

"Is Asuka okay?" Shinji yelled over the com-line, looking as if her were ready to tear himself from his entry plug and rush over to help the redhead. "Somebody answer me!"

"I'm…I'm okay, Shinji," he heard Asuka gasp as her eyes finally opened, seemingly filled with more life than they had been for over a year. "I'm okay, now!"

"Sync levels are coming back down and are leveling out to around eighty-five percent," Maya called out over the din of voices that were doing their best to be heard over all others. "Pilot and EVA seem to be functioning perfectly!"

"Gee, thanks for that vote of confidence!" Asuka smirked, her eyes now closed, but a gentle smile on her face. Shinji just shook his head and chuckled slightly at his friend's words.

"All traces of the foreign waveform have been obliterated," Makoto announced as he received the data back from the MAGI, "Scanners show both EVA and pilot free from Angelic influences!"

"Thank god," Misato muttered as she fell into the nearest chair and wiped the sweat from her brow. Her heart began to slow down to a more normal rate. She watched as Asuka continued to relax and merge with her EVA.

--

Shinji winced as he carefully pulled his shirt back on, doing his best to avoid the sore ribs on his right side. Asuka had really beaten the snot out of him, and the cold LCL of the entry plug had done nothing whatsoever to help his pain. The hot shower that he had reluctantly just left had eased the pain in his body somewhat, but getting dressed to head back home quickly reminded him of his condition.

"Shinji, are you well?" he heard Rei ask from the other side of the curtain that separated the two halves of the locker room. Shinji grunted before answering his sister.

"I'm fine, Rei! Don't worry about me," he answered back as he slowly bent over and put his shoes on. "I'll be out in a little bit, okay? I just need to rest a bit."

"If Soryu tries anything again…" Rei growled, which startled the hell out of Shinji. He had never heard his sister that angry before.

"It alright, Rei! I knew what was going to happen when I told her what I did," Shinji replied as he carefully sat down on the bench, gasping slightly as his nether regions made contact with the solid surface.

"Don't worry, First Child, I won't hurt your precious Shinji," he heard Asuka snap as she came out of the showers. Shinji lowered his head and shook it slowly. He was afraid of what was about to happen on the other side of the curtain.

"You had better not, Soryu," he heard Rei snarl , "He tried to help you and you answered him with violence! I do not know what my brother sees in you!" Shinji heard Asuka gasp.

"Just what the hell does that mean, you stupid doll?!"

"I am not a doll!" Rei spat back, "You are not a very nice person!"

"WHAT!? Get your ass back here, Ayanami! Ayanami!" Asuka screamed, but was answered by the slamming of the locker room door. "Little bitch!"

"She's not a bitch, Asuka," Shinji popped back, standing up for his sister, " She may not have good control of her emotions just yet, but she's doing her best! She's just trying to look after me, that's all!" He heard Asuka huff and watched her silhouette through the screen as she sat down on the bench.

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Asuka replied softly as she calmed down somewhat. She sat there quietly for a few moments before speaking up again. "Hey, Shinji?"

"Yes, Asuka?" he answered, still sitting on the bench on his side. He was having trouble gathering the strength to stand.

"About earlier…" she began, but Shinji cut her off.

"Don't worry about it, Asuka."

"NO! I have to!" she said loudly, "Look, I'm sorry about earlier, I know you were just trying to help."

"Did it, help I mean?" the young man asked hopefully.

"Yes, it did, you big dummy! You gave me my purpose and my mother back!" she chuckled, joined quickly by Shinji. "Do me a favor?"

"Sure thing, Asuka. Whatcha need?" Shinji replied eagerly, causing his friend on the other side of the curtain to smile.

"No matter how much of a bitch I am, don't give up on me, okay?" she asked softly, causing Shinji to smile. "Just keep on being the great guy you are, okay?"

"As you wish, Asuka," he replied as he stood from the bench to walk to the door.

"One more thing…"

"Uh oh," he thought as he paused in the doorway.

"If you ever tell anyone what I just said, especially your sister…" Asuka growled as Shinji saw her silhouette raise a fist and shake it.

"I know, I know," he replied before stepping out, "Merry Christmas, Asuka!"

"Merry Christmas, Shinji….."

--

The Present

"You got everything ready, Asuka?" Shinji called out from the bathroom as he gather up the rest of their toiletries and walked back into the bedroom. He watched with an amused smile as his wife was sitting on her suitcase, trying to force it down to secure it.

"I think so," she replied as she looked up and saw the look on Shinji's face. "What the hell is so funny?" Her husband began to chuckle.

"Nothing, Asuka, nothing at all," he replied as walked over to the bag setting on his bed and carefully packed what he had gathered. "You know, if you hadn't bought so much this week, you'd be able to close your suitcase."

"Oh, shut up!" Asuka shot back as she was finally able to close the latch on the case. " I had to get a few souvenirs, you know! I didn't here you complain about that little outfit I bought the other day!" A blush on his cheeks grew, showing Asuka she had just scored a direct hit.

"Uh, well," he stammered as he began to check all the drawers and closets, making sure nothing was left behind.

"I told you I got everything," Asuka huffed as she watched Shinji look behind the dressers and under the bed, "Don't you trust your own wife?"

"It's not that, it's just…" Shinji glanced up and spotted something, before jumping on the bed and reaching up into the light fixture that hung over it. "Ah ha!"

"What?" Asuka wondered as her husband got off the bed and presented her with her favorite pair of panties, a lacey black thong that she knew drove Shinji wild. She blushed ten shades of red, remembering why that particular pair ended up in the light fixture.

"Eep!" she squeaked as she snatched them from Shinji's hand and stuffed them in her purse. He really hoped that nobody at the airport wanted to search her purse before they got on the plane to head back to Tokyo-3. It would make for an interesting discussion. "Thanks, baby! Those are my favorite pair!"

"No problem, hon," he replied as he took her in his arms and lightly kissed her before pulling back to look into her eyes. "They're mine, too!," Shinji wiggled his eyebrows. Both teens giggled as they turned to look out the balcony door for the last time.

"I'm going to miss this place," Asuka said as she melted back into Shinji's arms.

"Me too," he replied as he held her close, " but it'll be good to get back home, back into our own bed."

"And see our family, too. I miss Misato, Rei, and Heidi," Asuka added. She and Shinji turned as a knock on the door announced the arrival of the bellhop to pick up their luggage. After several minutes, they were left alone in the room where they first consummated their love. Kissing each other once more, the two pilots took each other's hand and walked out the door, heading back to their new life in Tokyo-3.

End of Part Eight.

A/N: First off, I'd like to apologize to all my fans for taking so long to get this chapter written and posted. Unfortunately, real life has a hell of a way to really screw up personal schedules. I wanted to write this chapter months ago, but it was just so damn hard for some reason. It may be because it's the first part of the next major part of the story, I don't know. I was only able to put in about half of what I really wanted to in this chapter. The rest will be add to the next chapters.

I worked on some of my other fics first to get back into the swing of things, but it's hard to shake off depression. A lot of things happened in my personal life that really kicked me in the nads, the worst of which was the medical problems of my oldest son, then the medical problems I seemed to have developed lately ( Kidney stones really SUCK!). So, I beg you forgiveness and pray for your indulgences as I present the next part of 'Father'. I hope I haven't disappointed! Lord Talon.