"D-Day. In all historical texts, a reference to Operation Overlord, which took place on the Sixth of June 1944; the Allied invasion against the German occupied French Coast as part of a major push against the Nazis to end their reign of tyranny. And today, once again, we find ourselves set in the nexus of great events. The Germans, represented this time by one Fraulein Langley Soryu, will-"


"Soryu? Um, where the heck did you come from-"

"I am going to take that camera and place it where the sun-"

"Pilot Soryu? I must insist on him remaining intact for tonight."

"Oh, right…okay. Look, I'll hold the camera until after tonight, and then see how far it can go?"

"This would be acceptable."

If one were to watch the footage being recorded at a later date, at this point they would have had a nice view of the floor tiles bouncing and blurring as Kensuke cheesed it down the school corridor and around the corner, a rather dramatic end to the footage of one of the most important days at this school, this year.

Shinji Ikari, watching from a distance, simply shook his head as he retrieved the books from his locker he would need for this weekends homework. Asuka looked somewhat miffed as Kensuke skipped out of her grasp, the Second Child appearing to debate chasing after him and doing things to him with his camera in exchange for his…colorful monologue, but she somehow managed to contain herself, turning back to her locker.

Shinji just gave thanks that that was the end of it. Since Asuka had gotten up this morning, she had been acting rather…twitchy. Hell, all the girls had been acting twitchy today, leaving the guys of his year dodging and running the hell away from them most of the day. He had seen Hikari, 'Miss Conservative and Control 2015' herself throw a rather large book across the classroom and peg Toji when he made a relatively harmless crack about the relative level of estrogen in the room. Asuka had put two guys in the nursing office when they made desperate, last ditch pleas for her to have pity on them and take them to the dance, by grabbing her shoulder and turning her around to beg.

And even on a 'good' day, that approach could be best described as suicidal. Asuka had damn near made sure they wouldn'tbe going to the dance, even if they wanted to, necessitating a reprimand from the principal in his office that probably hadn't had the slightest effect on her given the cheers she had received.

Chiniko Tanaka had slammed her date -a popular track and field star- against the wall -who out massed her by three to one- and blasted him for five minutes straight with a tirade that had even Asuka clapping, after he commented that he would try to get around to pick her up around 'five o'clock-ish' rather then exactly five o'clock.

But perhaps the strangest thing he had seen was Rei Ayanami, generally as cool and gracefully calm as always, following her fellow classmates around with an intent expression on her face, as if she was mentally taking notes about everything going on.

She had stood against the wall with an intent expression as Chinko berated her date.

She had silently glided behind packs of girls roaming the halls during recess and lunch as they chatted about everything, almost as if she was taking notes the whole time.

Then she had tried out most of it on poor Kensuke at various times throughout the day, at one point channeling Asuka in a bad mood as she had all but turned him into a quivering wreck for giving the 'wrong answer' when she had asked him what time he would be ready by.

It had earned her a standing ovation from a nearby gaggle of girls, but Shinji had quickly pulled her to the side to ask her to tone it down somewhat, for the sake of Kensuke's sanity. She had readily agreed, probably confusing and terrifying Kensuke even more when she had walked over to the cowering boy and apologized, kissing him lightly on the cheek before walking away with her usual placid expression on her face.

Kensuke had just walked away in turn, lifting his glasses off and rubbing his nose slowly as his brain started to overheat. And now of course Asuka had finally all but crushed the last remnants of his sanity…but he should have known better then to make such an insanely stupid comment to Asuka on this day.

Well, we've got a few hours to rebuild his confidence Shinji shrugged, guessing that all three girls would calm down considerably when the dance itself actually came around. Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at Rei waiting nearby, a calming presence in the chaos around him. He smiled tightly to himself as he saw that the 'bubble' she had always carried, an air of personal space that had kept people away like an AT field had vanished some time in the last week, watching as now she traded slight smiles and nods with all manner of classmates.

Rei hadn't really changed that much in most ways.

She rarely laughed. She often didn't do much more then smile slightly at people. She still spoke in soft, somewhat clipped and direct sentences…

But for all that, for all the things ninety nine percent of people would look at and say 'oh, she's still the same old Rei', Shinji rejoiced in her changes. She was just so much more alive compared to the memories he had of her. So much so in fact that it had been very difficult not to laugh as she had 'politely' screamed at Kensuke, his poor friends face going almost as white as Rei's plug suit, probably not understanding that Rei really didn't mean most of what she was saying.

He would have to try and explain that to Kensuke. That she actually didn't mean any of it, just that her current role model could be a little…excessive.

And speaking of Rei's mentor, where had Asuka gone?

Frowning, he reached for his locker door and swung it shut, turning to the side…and took an instinctive step back as he was presented with Asuka's unsmiling face at point blank range.


"Aren't you finished yet?" she demanded without preamble. "We have to get going if we're going to make our appointment Baka and so help me, if Hikari Rei and I are late because of your screwing around…"

She left the threat unfinished, but Shinji got the gist of it; he wouldn't live to have the glorious honor of accompanying her to the dance tonight.

Some small part of Shinji's mind therefore let him know it probably wasn't going to be a good idea to point out to Asuka that their hair styling appointments were not for another hour. And that it was only a twenty minute train trip from a nearby train station to Francesco's hair studio.

"Of course, I was just finished," he instead replied quickly.

"Well what the hell are you waiting for then?" she demanded with a roll of her eyes, grabbing his wrist and yanking him after her down the corridor towards Rei Hikari and Toji, Shinji barely managing to get a hand on his bag and drag it after him.

"Uh…well you see," he tried to explain as he stumbled after her, "I'm not actually going with you to get your hair done".

Asuka stopped.

"Then WHY THE HELL am I dragging you along?" she all but screamed causing every male in a thirty meter radius to flinch away from the shockwave as they waited for Shinji Ikari to pass into the realm of legends from the land of the living. The first person in their year to score a date with Asuka, who was then killed by Asuka on the day of their 'date'; an object lesson to all future generations that some things came with too high a price tag…

Fortunately for the Third Child, the Second took five seconds to close her eyes, take a deep breath and recover her poise, speaking in a deceptively calm voice as she relayed simple, easy to follow instructions as if speaking to a six year old.

"Go home. Get the stooges ready. Pick us up at five thirty. Got it?"

Shinji swallowed.

"Go home, get the stooges ready, pick you three up at five thirty," he repeated her words carefully back to her.

"Good," she declared, letting his wrist go and whirling around, hair charming auburn hair appearing a particularly burning shade today, sparing his life for now as she collected the other two girls and hurried them out the door without a further word.

Yeah, this is so much fun Misato he silently muttered as he wondered why in the hellhe had ever thought getting the dance put back on was a good idea...

Toji appeared to read his mind.

"Do you understand now Ikari?" Toji said in a somewhat bitter, despairing voice, perhaps unconsciously rubbing his muscular arm where Hikari's math's textbook had crashed into it, leaving an impressive bruise. "This is the end result of your tampering with things that should have been left the way they were! It's the natural order of things man, but no, you had to go and be a hero! Game over man, game over!"

The 'tough guy jock' then moaned and placed his head in his hands, leaning up against the wall of lockers.

It was a surprisingly common pose today Shinji reflected as Kensuke shakily moved up to join them, having seen the Demon safely off the school grounds.

"If Shinji hadn't tampered with things, you wouldn't have hooked up with Hikari," Aida pointed out. "Nor I with Rei," he added, clearly wondering if the dance at the end of this really would be worth it.

Shinji could appreciate that.

Unlike Toji, who appeared to really be getting into a serious 'thing' with Hikari, Kensuke's relationship with Rei was much more poorly defined. She had invited him to the dance as her partner and was acting rather friendly towards him. But he couldn't help but remember that initially when he had suggested Kensuke to her, she had agreed on the grounds that he was an 'acceptable choice'. He granted that Rei had grown up a great deal since then, but how much of Rei's activity towards Kensuke was Rei doing what she 'should' do in this situation, and how much came from her, he just didn't know.

On the other hand, Kensuke had never had a girlfriend before, let alone one as molten hot as Rei had suddenly become. So it was rather unlikely he would give her up if he had a choice.

Toji meanwhile had paused on the verge of a rant, raising his head from the wall as he frowned slightly at Kensuke's point.

"Well yeah…uh…I think-"

"Don't think, your brain can't handle it," a younger female voice put in. The three men turned to see Kana Suzuhara, Toji's younger sister walking up to her brother with a knowing expression, before placing her hands behind her back and beaming a dimple filled smile at Shinji that was all too cute. "Hi Shinji".

"Kana," he smiled back, still getting a kick out of seeing her walking around and beating up on her brother, rather then in traction learning to walk again. If that was the only thing he had changed with all his efforts, he would still go through it all again, all the pain, the horror, just to see this result of that mistakes correction. "What do we owe the honor of your presence?"

"Since you didn't invite ME to go with you to the dance I'm not exactly happy with you," she pouted. "Still, Hikari was nice enough to let me help out with getting you ready," she said, squaring her stance. "Hikari gave me the job of making sure all of you get home and get ready on time," she declared, with not some small bit of pride, placing a vaguely serious look on her face, her brown eyes narrowing ever so slightly in a way that was probably supposed to look intimidating, but she didn't have quite the experience to pull off, given the age difference between her and the trio of guys across from her.

Kensuke just smiled slightly condescendingly. "Sorry kid, we were going to go to the arcade and take an hour to just calm down for…."

Kana simply turned her gaze on him for five seconds and Kensuke, already fragile from the events of the day, crumpled like cheap tinfoil.

"…but heading right home sounds like a far better idea," he finished lamely.

"And you," she said, turning to face Shinji, "need to get going. You have to change and be ready to pick up these two by four at the latest!"

"Kana, I think you're taking this a little too seriously," he tried to calm her down with a smile, then hesitated as she pulled a cute pink mobile phone from her pocket and pointed it at him like a weapon.

"Failure to comply will result in a call to Asuka stating that you are all dragging your feet and not taking this seriously," she pointed out, getting instant silence and dropped jaws from two of the three guys, none of whom had ever suspected Kana, cute little old Kana, could be so ruthless.

Shinji though well recalled what she had done to Toji the first time around, after Toji had punched his lights out in her name. It took a lot to get Toji coming to someone and begging them to hit him. And he kept that memory firmly in mind when dealing with the healthy, vital Kana.

"Don't worry Shinji, she's bluffing," Toji declared with narrowed eyes at his sister, as if trying to see through her mind.

He did not however sound entirely confident.

Kana just raised an eyebrow at his statement and flipped her phone open. And as she started to methodically dial Asuka's number, Shinji folded.

"Okay okay! We're going!" he surrendered, yanking his bag up. Kana smiled and canceled the call, but kept her phone at the ready as if it was a gun pointed at him…which he guessed it was, from a certain point of view.

"Good!" she said happily, as if she hadn't just threatened them with the horrible fate of a rampaging Asuka coming looking for them, pointing towards the exit. "Now MARCH!"

The three boys exchanged a look, and then headed down the corridor, herded by the 6th grader. It was a state of affairs that would have been patiently absurd any other day of the year, but just appeared to fit in perfectly with the way the space time continuum had warped for this day as he wondered how and when Hikari had co-opted Toji's younger sister as part of her 'team'.

"So um, I'll pickup Toji first, Kensuke, at about or a bit after four, and then we'll swing by and pick up you?"

"K," Kensuke nodded with a subdued voice as they exited into the school yard, not a girl from their year in sight, just a whole bunch of shell shocked guys.

Well, at least they had a weekend after the dance to let everyone calm down and restore normalcy.

"I'll see you then" Toji said with a salute, breaking off at the gate to head for his house with Kensuke following. Kana shot him a dimpled smile before turning to follow, Shinji just shaking his head and walking the other way for his house, almost, almost wishing that Sandalphon would just get it over with and launch an attack on Tokyo-3 tonight.


The thought of trying to deal with Asuka after such a hypothetical attack had the dance called off, however, put any and all pain today into perspective rather clearly.

"The Section Two detail reports that the venue is secured and has been confirmed cleared of any surprises. Section Seven also just reported that the press is remaining in the dark about the pilots identities, I have to admit I'm quite surprised that the censorship is still holding so well".


"Captain Katsuragi will be leaving shortly to begin preparations for the dance. She has met the protective detail and supervised their preparations, her last report at thirteen fifty stated that all was in readiness for tonight, including the contingencies in the event of an Angel attack".


"The First and Second, along with one of their classmates, will be getting their hair done for some time, then a NERV car will drop them off at the First's apartment to finalize their own preparations".


Kozo Fuyutsuki looked up with slight irritation as Ikari continued to ignore him, brooding out across the vast expanse of the Geofront in the mid afternoon light, but he knew better then to say anything about it, simply closing his folder and waiting.

"Things are beginning to happen," Ikari finally said after a two minute silence, broken only by the low hum of the air conditioner.

"Such is the nature of scenarios; they reach moments of transition and points of mutation," Kozo replied after a short pause to consider the statement, finally edging one of his stones on the 'Go' board out, after several minutes of thought, pushing towards Gendo's flank.

"The committee wishes to speak to all three children at some point soon," Gendo replied, not even hesitating as he glanced over and made a counter move, aggressively pushing a stone out of line before he turned back to the huge windows in front of him. "Their meddling could have significant consequences to the team dynamic Captain Katsuragi has built up through the training programs." Gendo slightly tilted his head as if studying something only he could see. "Fortunately, this dance has generated the ideal opportunity to reinforce their inter-team bonding and resist any external interference."

As opposed to your interference Kozo thought but would never dare to say, although both men knew perfectly well he was thinking it.

"It is somewhat lucky that your Son went to such lengths to get this dance put back on then," Kozo replied, edging more stones to Gendo's apparent mistake.

Gendo actually smiled…chillingly.

"It is the reason I had it canceled in the first place," he replied without turning as he reached out and moved another stone, into a rather foolish position.

"You…had it canceled?" Fuyutsuki asked in both astonishment and confusion with a raised eyebrow, something of a rare dramatic expression of emotion for him in the presence of Ikari.

He had killed the dance, and then given the okay to use NERV's influence to have it put backon?

"Correct," Gendo replied coolly. "The Third Child since his arrival has shown a predication for acting to actively help others, rather than acting out of his own self interest. All reports also indicate he only had the most casual of friendships and relationships at his old life, yet he has quickly made several close friends here."

Gendo finally turned away from the windows to face the Vice Commander, reaching over to slide a stone forward that Kozo had ignored as strategically worthless.

"By presenting him with the ability to act and help them, we have further encouraged him to put down roots and we have given him a taste of exerting the influence and authority that an Evangelion pilot can expect, within reason, to help others. The illusion of controlling one's destiny can be a powerful tool."

Kozo just stared at him, then down at the board, where in move Kozo had never seen coming, Gendo had lured him into the jaws of a flanking maneuver that would rapidly eat up a quarter of his remaining space at the cost of a sacrificial pawn or two, winning him the game handily. He could fight it out, but the endgame was no longer in doubt.

It was a valuable lesson, if he hadn't learned it many times around Ikari, that he was more then willing to sacrifice 'lesser' units to achieve his own goals.

Signaling his surrender with a slightly admiring incline of his head, he leaned back in his chair.

"And it could not possibly be because you would like to see the children actually have some degree of happiness in their life before the end?" Kozo asked, with the slightest edge of sarcasm he couldn't keep out of his voice.

Gendo smirked slightly at that, looking across at the Vice Commander.

"You were always the sentimental one, Sensei," he noted. "If they are able to find enjoyment out of tonight, then I have nothing against that. Indeed, it can only help building links between them, further anchoring Shinji to this city and his purpose". Now his eyes narrowed slightly. "Solong as they continue to fight and all play their appointed roles, then I have not the slightest care if they are able to find any enjoyment in the little time we have left".

"Come on in, it's open!"

Shinji tapped the 'open' button next to the door and sure enough, the door to the Suzuhara residence neatly slid along its tracks, allowing him to walk into Toji's apartment at precisely 3:59:32 PM, Japan Standard Time.

"You're early Shinji," Kana's voice came from the living room. "Asuka will be pleased".

"You planning on telling her?" he asked with a slight smile that faded into a look of confusion as he walked down the hallway to the living room, to find Kana facing the TV while hanging upside down off the lounge, her shins over the back, her body on the seat and her head hanging down to the floor.

He felt understandably confused at the sight.

"Uh, if you'll pardon the question…why are you doing that?"

"The games are too easy the 'normal' way," she shrugged in response without looking away.

Looking across at the TV, he saw that sure enough, she was playing the families video game console…and she was doing it upside down, with one hand and still beating the crap out of the AI.

"And yes," she added as an enemy was thrown across the screen to smash into a brick wall, her spare hand picking up her phone which had been lying on the ground next to her head, and pressing 'SEND'. "She wanted to know when you arrived, and I just sent her a message."

"Asuka asked you to report on my progress?" he asked in slight amusement…and fear.

"Oh yes" she replied with a giggle. "You have a very interesting girlfriend Shinji, almost as beautiful as me."

"She is not my girlfriend," he replied sternly.


None the less, his face went somewhat red at her claim.

"Is too".


"Is too times infinity!" Kana declared in a rather petulant tone as she, for once, actually acted her age, perhaps distracted by a fifteen punch combo that sent her virtual opponent into virtual oblivion.

"Kana, last warning," Toji put in as he stomped in from his bedroom down the hall, ready to go. "Dad says you'll kill your eyes doing that. And Shinji for the record got dragged into this by the Demon; he has more sense then to date her."

Kana glared, but clearly knew she had probably pushed as far as she could for the day, flinging her legs up and crashing onto the floor before rolling upright, her face a rather curious shade of red as she got to her feet.

"Whoa…that really rushes to your head," she laughed as she collapsed into the lounge. "And I think Shinji has more then enough sense to date Asuka," she added. "I mean six months ago if I had told you that you were going to date Hikari…"

"Okay, you made your point," he muttered.

"What was it you called her? Oh yeah, that 'pig headed pig tailed'-"

"Okay that's it," Toji said as he started to flush red, reaching down to yank the cables out of the games console, liberating the dull black box with a triumphant gesture.

"Hey!" Kana protested as her night's entertainment vanished.

"Do your homework," he ordered her. "I've told dad that you're going to have it all doneby the time he gets home tonight and you wouldn't want to disappoint him would you?"

Kana glared.

"Oh I love that look," he muttered, before leaning over and giving her a surprisingly tight hug that she –grudgingly at first- returned, tightly in turn.

"Don't screw this up," she simply said. "I likegetting lunch at school".

"Har, har," he muttered as he stood. Like Shinji, he was dressed in his black pants, a white shirt and polished black school shoes he had very rarely worn to school, in favor of his omnipresent tracksuit. The bow ties, vests and jackets had been picked up by a helpful Kaji in the morning and dropped off at Misato's, letting them get dressed while waiting to pick up the Girls, and prevent any kind of accidents taking place with their clothes. "Come on Ikari" he said, heading for the door.

Then he stopped, turned and picked up the console before heading out, ignoring the muttering from his Sister.

Misato was waiting in the car park, still in her NERV uniform as she greeted Toji, who for once appeared to be a little too preoccupied to drool on sight as he and Shinji climbed into the back seat…and took a hold of the door armrest.

He had driven with Misato before too.

A short –in time, if not distance- drive later and Kensuke was added to the cars occupants, his usually messy hair actually combed into something neat with a part in the middle of his head, the hair still just wet enough to signal that he had showered and dressed at the last minute, Misato getting them back to the apartment by twenty past four.

"Make yourselves at home," she cheerfully said, breezing past the boys and turning into the bathroom, while continuing to shout instructions. "I've got to go and have a shower and get ready. Shinji, if the limo and Section 2 car arrive, just tell them to wait."

"Okay," he called back, gesturing everyone to leave their shoes on, the trio sauntering into the lounge room where the rest of their outfits were hanging from an indoor clothes line to make sure they didn't get wrinkled.

"Asuka, please stop pacing before you wear out the carpet."

Asuka Langley Soryu, milliseconds away from spinning around at the apogee of her cycle and walking back down the carpet glanced up at Rei, who to her great irritation, was looking as calm and untroubled as ever, sitting on a beanbag, as if she didn't have the slightest care in the world.

"How can you sit there and be so calm!" Asuka simply demanded in reply, energy seething along her nerves and demanding to be released, barely able to fight the urge to move, to do…something!

"Would not being calm have any direct effect on making time run faster?" Rei asked, an expression of mild curiosity lining her face.

"ARG!" Asuka just exploded in response, crashing down onto the lounge opposite Rei's TV.

"Be careful," Rei chided her. "You do not wish to upset your hair or makeup".

"Does it look okay?" Asuka quickly asked in sudden worry…for the 19th time this afternoon, by Rei's count.

"It looks very okay" Rei confirmed as she suppressed an annoyed sigh, wondering why pilot Soryu, who had always appeared so self confident, so self assured, needed continual reassurance today.

For that matter, this whole exercise had been a most irritating mix of confusion and enlightenment. Since Shinji had arrived, she had been thrown into a kaleidoscope of emotions and situations that she had not been prepared for, but was eternally grateful to have experienced, rapidly -almost recklessly- plunging into it all head first as she tried to absorb and understand everything of a world that had been hidden from her for too many years.

She had felt a great deal of confusion at the way so many of the girls in her year had been berating their dates, people they trusted and cared about to at least some degree and had decided to 'try' it on Kensuke to gain a better understanding of why they did it…and had only discovered that it had made her very uncomfortable and had hurt Kensuke, something she intended to make up to him tonight at some stage.

Still, for now, her only real concern was to keep the over excited Second Child under control before she exploded. The sheer energy Rei had always seen in the Second Child had always quietly awed her, but right now, with no outlet, it was doing considerable harm.

"Close your eyes," she ordered her.

"What? Why?" Asuka asked with a frown.

"Please," she asked quietly, holding her gaze levelly.

Asuka's frown deepened, but she complied with an exasperated sigh, closing her eyes and leaning back into the lounge. "Fine".

She's probably worried I'll knock the TV off the wall Asuka thought with a sigh as her thoughts continued to chase themselves in small circles. She didn't knowwhy she was so nervous. She had been to a few dances back in Germany and she had never felt this way. She had even attended the Oktoberfest festivities in Munich last year with Kaji, Germans (quite rightly) having a much looser view on underage drinking then many other countries. And while notallowedto get drunk, she hadgotten a mildly enjoyable 'buzz' that she would kill for right now.

Damn Misato for banishing us to Rei's apartment and not Shinji and the Stooges! Her beer may suck but it's still something!

Her disgruntled thoughts came to a halt however as with a whisper of air, Rei sat down next to her, Asuka slightly surprised that she hadn't even heard her walk over. Even more surprising was when Rei took her hand in her own, Asuka flinching from the cool contact as she started to pull away-

"It's okay," Rei said softly. "Just…breathe".

Asuka hesitated, not exactly feeling comfortable with the close contact, but forced herself to relax and humor the First…

And the strangest thing started to happen. Little by little, she felt her tension and anxiety start to fade off as Rei did nothing more then just sit there, holding her hand.

She didn't say anything. She didn't move closer. She didn't offer anything more then her hand. Her grip was light, but none the less, Asuka somehow felt powerless to pull away, so she just sat there as the minutes passed as Rei took the 'edge' off her emotions. Noteliminating them…but calming her enough so she wasn't about to go kicking down walls.

She opened her eyes, blinking to see Rei calmly move across to give her back some personal space.

"Calmed down?" she asked.

"Um…yeah" she nodded slowly, not entirely sure she had done it, but not able to argue with the results. She still felt her excitement for the dance, as well as the nervous energy she had been felling all week, but it was no longer overwhelming her.

The bathroom door opening down the hallway cut off any further thoughts.

"Um…I coming out," Hikari called from down the hall, sounding slightly nervous.

"Toji's going to be rather disappointed," Asuka called back with a sly grin on her face.

Rei could feel the flush of embarrassment from all the way down the hall at Asuka's jibe.

"Please, come out Hikari," Rei called in a softer, reassuring voice, shooting a slightly amused if chiding look at Asuka.

Asuka had to blink several times as Hikari entered the room.

Hikari was her best friend and she loved her like a sister, but she was justway too conservative for her own good, either unwilling or unable to make the leap from 'girl' to 'woman'. She still carried her hair in the same pigtails she had worn since she was six and she still dressed in somewhat 'girly' clothes.

Now however, the girl had gone through the same crucible Rei had several weeks ago and at the hands of Francesco and his team, the woman had finally emerged. She now sported lighter brown highlights in her dark hair, her forehead covered with a fringe to just above her eyes that bridged the shoulder length haircut that wrapped around her skull, the thin and randomized highlights that layered throughout justperfectly accenting the cut.

The style was so foreign from her usual and rather severe 'pull back and pig-tail' effort, when combined with the expertly applied mascara, eye liner and slightest touch of lipstick, that Asuka hadn't even recognized her at first.

The dress she was now wearing, however, shifted the 'Hikari Improvement Project' into second gear.

The sleeveless black dress started as a thick strap on her left shoulder, one side of which curved left to wrap around her left side and the other which shot right across the top of her chest, defining the 'high' watermark of the front of her dress. It was higher then Asuka would have wanted if it was her dress, but it still showed off a respectful amount of skin as the line crossed to her right flank just under her armpit, wrapping steeply down and around the side to emerge at the base of her ribcage, zipping straight across her back and connecting to the dress on her left at the same height. The soft fabric strip that curved around the back of her left shoulder then split into twin, thinner strips. One shot straight down defining the edge of the dress coming around, with a loop under her armpit to leave it free, while the other slashed diagonally down and across to where the right flank emerged, supporting that side.

There was a slit at below knee length that teased views of her legs, again without showing too much, but the dress halted just above her ankles, to show off a pair of black stilettos she had borrowed from her elder sister.

It was perfect for Hikari, a huge step forward, but not so much she was going to faint the first time she looked in the mirror…at least Asuka hoped she wouldn't.

"Wow," was all Asuka could say as she completed her circle around Hikari, finding everything exactly as it should be. "When the stooge sees you, his mind will probably blow so keep at least a ten meter radius for the first minute," she advised.

Hikari just smiled shyly, looking at herself somewhat nervously.

"Are you sure this-"

"You look beautiful," Rei stated gently, greatly surprising Asuka.

I've never heard Rei say something like that to someone before she thought.

But the sheer honesty and truthin Rei's tone passed right through Hikari's rather nervous and defensive air, the class Rep actually smiling and straightening slightly in pride at Rei's statement.

"Thank you, both of you," she beamed with a slight bow. "Now I think it's…Rei's turn?"

Rei nodded and left the room as Hikari carefully sat down leaving Asuka to wonder if she really had done enough to stand out.

Shinji made a final adjustment to his bow tie in the mirror before he decided that he had gotten it about as good as he was going to get it and turned back to his friends.

Kensuke was still staring at his reflection in a second smaller mirror, as if trying to find himself in the mirror…and Shinji could see how this might be a bit of an issue for him. The contact lenses he was wearing in place of his glasses, combined with his hair actually being somewhat neatly combed rather then just hanging out all over the place, had done a remarkable job in changing his appearance completely. Hell, he almost looked respectable, ready to interact with normal people in a normal environment!

Toji, in contrast, fidgeted. He was continually in motion, bouncing from one wall to the other as his athletic nature continually tried to dissipate his nervous energy by doing things, a state Shinji wouldn't be at all surprised to find Asuka in at this moment either.

Toji was also of two minds about his tux. On onehand, he hated wearing anything tighter then a track suit, which was why he wore one to school every day in place of his uniform. How exactly he was able to get away with it was unclear to Shinji but he had never asked how, deciding somethings were better left unknown.

But on the other hand, he looked damned sexy in the Tux, Shinji knew. Mostly because Toji had said so at least seven times in the last fifteen minutes until Shinji and Kensuke had made him stop.

Both of his friends however stopped and turned to face him as he cleared his throat.

"Okay, the time is ten past five, I think we're just about ready to go down to the limo" he said with a slightly nervous grin, the Limo having arrived several minutes ago and a typical section 2 agent calling up to let them know.

"Except Misato" Kensuke pointed out with a glance towards the closed bedroom door Misato had vanished into half an hour ago.

"Yeah she better hurry" Toji muttered. "If we're not there at the Demons appointed time, she'll-"

Toji cut off from delivering his dire warning as Pen-Pen suddenly emerged from his fridge.

The warm water Penguin halted in his trip to the kitchen to stop and glare at the trio for at least thirty seconds, not a sound coming from his beak the whole time, before he turned away and waddled on.

"What was that about?" Kensuke called after the bird which pointedly ignored him.

"I think he is insulted by your choice of 'penguin suits' to wear to this dance" a rich and amused female voice came from behind them, causing the trio -whose nerves were not exactly calm- and avian –whose sense of decency was mildly insulted- to turn…and drop their jaws (and beak) in perfect unison.

Misato was wearing a slinky black dress, one Shinji recognized as the one Asuka and Rei had brought her in the shopping trip they had all taken a few weeks ago. It hugged her like a second skin, held up by thin spaghetti straps that arced into a deep 'V' neckline letting any male within visual range known that she was definitely a woman, and don't you forget it.

Asuka had long since stolen his heart, as much for the fire in her spirit as for her looks but when you got down to it, she was still a young teenager, a month or so away from her 15th Birthday. Misato on the other hand was a woman and not in any way shy of advertising the fact. And while she often enjoyed wearing loose T-Shirts and shorts around the house….nothing she had ever worn in his presence before today had blasted him with such raw, overwhelming, sexuality.

"Um…wow" were the only two words his stunned mind could think up, vaguely noting that Toji and Kensuke, in synchronization and without prompting, had both fallen into deep, respectful bows…possibly because their bodies were chasing their jaws as they dropped towards the floor.

Pen-Pen just continued to stare with an open beak for several seconds, before snapping out of it and continuing on to the kitchen in haste.

Misato just laughed goofily at them, thankfully shattering the moment as she took in their reaction.

"Oh come on, I know I look good, but if Asuka Hikari or Rei find you three drooling over me when we pick them up, you'll regret it".

Well that was a buzz kill Shinji thought, none the less grateful for it as Misato somehow turned back from the high priestess of sexuality to his beautiful, if slightly quirky guardian.

"You look almost a pretty as Toji feels" he nodded slowly with a rather sloppy grin, shattering the stasis lock his two friends were caught in, generating laughter from one and a sheepish look from the other.

"My, you three do turn out nice with a little work" Misato nodded in approval, then frowned as she stepped closer, sliding a glittering black evening bag onto her shoulder. "But what have you done to your bowties?"

"What's wrong with them?" Shinji said a little too defensively at her tone.

In truth, they had rather screwed up that whole part of getting dressed and despite a dozen attempts each, along with following step by step instructions pulled off the internet on Shinji's laptop; they had made something of a dog's breakfast of the whole deal.

"Men" Misato said with a rather theatrical roll of her eyes and a loud, exaggerated sigh. "You're all hopeless. Here, let me".

All three boys made it a point to stare at the apartment's rather uninteresting ceiling as Misato expertly and rapidly untied, then retied their bow ties one after the other.

"Hey, that's awesome" Toji perked up as he leaned into the mirror, a perfectly symmetrical bow tie now sitting proudly around his collar, above the light gray vest he wore under his black tux jacket. "Thank you Misato!"

"You're welcome" she beamed. "Well, shall we go pick up your dates?"

The group moved towards the door, with Pen-Pen muttering a rather annoyed 'wark' in a low tone that earned him a scowl from Misato, the Penguin ignoring her look and heading for the TV as they entered the hallway.

"Okay, lets do this thing" Toji declared in a voice that suggested he was starting a basketball match as he opened the door, Kensuke following him towards the lift as they looked over the concrete railing to make approving noises at the cars waiting in the street below.

"Don't you forget your promise Shinji" Misato said softly to him as he started after them, bringing him to a halt as she stepped out and locked the door. "You owe me one night of fun and relaxation".

"Even if you just increased my blood pressure twenty percent by walking out in that, Misato-San?" he muttered back.

Misato grinned in a disturbingly…wickedly way, extending her arm in an clear gesture for Shinji to link with her, which he did, the two walking after Kensuke and Toji in the slowly cooling evening air, his guardian leaning in slightly towards his head…and Shinji trying not to shudder at the scent of lavender coming from her.

"Oh Shinji, if this little number raised your blood pressure, I'd better call Ritsuko and get her ready for the heart attack after you see Asuka".

Shinji managed –somehow- not to faint dead away at Misato's whispered comment, but he did feel his bowtie tighten by an order of magnitude as he got into the lift with her, Kensuke and Toji just smirking slightly at the linked arms as they descended.

The lift arrived at the ground floor with a ping and they exited, Shinji carefully untangling himself from Misato, who looked vaguely disappointed…but he wanted to get plenty of horizontal separation from her by the time they reached the limo.

A Section 2 Agent in what looked to be a some kind of standard issue tuxedo was waiting at the door and quickly opened it for them, Misato giving him a professional nod which he returned as the group descended the steps to the street from the apartments front door. A black limo was waiting right in front of the building, along with an unmarked black car with tinted windows, which Shinji guessed belonged to the quartet of agents standing around the Limo, vigilantly watching for the threat that probably wasn't there…but one day, might be as they approached the limo. One of the agents, his back turned, reached over and opened the rear door as they approached…then turned to grin at Misato from his –for once- clean shaven face.

"Well, don't you look lovely tonight?" Ryoji Kaji asked with his omni-present sloppy grin, causing Misato to come screeching to a halt from her previously graceful strides.

"YOU!" she gasped, all her poise lost in an instant as Shinji just enjoyed the look on her face, once again cursing his lack of a camera to capture Misato dumbstruck with shock and surprise before her eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"Yes, me" Kaji agreed with an overly dramatic bow. "Don't worry dear, I'll be on my best behavior" he promised as Toji and Kensuke, knowing the history between the two, quickly ducked inside the stretched limo and started gawking. "And if you would be so kind as to supervise the other children and keep them away from the alcohol, I need to have a quick talk with Shinji".

Glaring at him, but clearly happy at the opportunity to get away, Misato edged past him and into the limo, letting Kaji shut the door behind her.

"Nowthat dress could set a man straight" Kaji sighed, before stepping away from the limo and apprising Shinji with a critical, but approving eye. "Well, I have to admit Shinji I'm impressed. And I have a feeling Asuka will be as well" Kaji grinned, his eyes studying his closely. "How are you doing kid?"

"I feel like I'm going to throw up and suffocate at the same time" he admitted with complete honestly to Kaji.

"Ah the first date" Kaji said, letting a nostalgic look come across his face as he threw an arm across his shoulders, leading him a few meters away from the Limo. "Cherish this night Shinji; you'll look back on this in the future with fond memories".

"Assuming Asuka didn't kill me by the end of the night" he corrected Kaji, conquering his desire to throw up for another minute or so as he become increasingly convinced he would rather go five rounds with an Angel then take Asuka out into such a critically public event. "I'm terrified I'm going to upset her or embarrass her in front of the entire year and she'll never forgive me for it" he stumbled out his worries out in rapid fire.

Kaji just broadened his smile as he let go of his shoulder, turning to face him with a semi serious look on his face.

"The fact that you're more worried about Asukathen youis actually a good sign Shinji. As long as you keep that in your mind, she'll pick up on it, take care of you, forgive you for any small mistakes you might make, don't worry about it".

"But I am" he gulped as it continued to sink into Shinji's increasingly terrified mind that this was real, it was about to happen and he was about to take Asuka Langley Soryu to the biggest social event of the year, a dance, when he was still so utterly unskilled in such social events he didn't have a cluewhat he was doing here!

Some of the sudden spike of panic must have shown, because Kaji stepped back close and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Don't worry, I'll be keeping an eye on you" he assured him.

"And won't it look slightly suspicious if you keep coming over to the table and offering advice?" Shinji muttered back, wringing his hands nervously.

"No, because I won't be" he smirked, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a tiny nub of plastic with a flourish.

"What's that, a sedative for Asuka?" he asked in hope.

"You want to start your relationship with Asuka by drugging her? You're kinkier then I thought kid!" Kaji chuckled, causing Shinji to groan and, for the lack of any nearby walls to hit his head against, reach up and rub his temples as he realized what he had just said. "Seriously though, just hang on" Kaji asked in a suddenly professional tone, leaning in…and Shinji flinched slightly as Kaji pushed the oddly shaped thing into his ear-

"It's a microphone and speaker combo" Kaji explained, stepping back. "I'll be watching and listening, but this is your night. Asuka didn't invite you because she hates you, just keep that firmly in mind and be yourself, and you'll do just fine" he smiled, walking back to the car and opening the door for him, smiling at Misato who pointedly ignored him.

Shinji gave him a wry smile, but ducked into the limo-

Wow he thought as he looked inside, gawking at the interior before he carefully stepped over Misato with an embarrassed smile to an empty seat.

"Now this is why its useful having a famous Eva pilot as a friend" Toji declared as Shinji looked in, his friend clearly finding this 'little date' far superior to the one Misato had dragged him on, that had ended up with him on Over the Rainbow getting slapped by Asuka…

Shinji just hoped she would have a less hostile reaction to him tonight if (when) he screwed up as badly as he knew he would.

The interior of the Limo was white leather with polished brown wood paneling that turned the limo from a simple vehicle into a luxury transport. The seats were arranged in a backwards 'L', with a three place seat at the back of the car curving around and up the right hand side, facing a cabinet filled with all manner of alcohol and crystal tumblers, with a small plasma TV mounted on the low wall separating them from the drivers compartment.

Misato was sitting in the seat nearest the door and Shinji sat next to her with one seat between them, noting that Kensuke and Toji had claimed the 'sideways' seats in front of the liquor cabinet, both young men studying the drinks in front of them with considerable interest him as the car pulled out from the side of the road.

"They have every form of alcohol under the sun!" Kensuke near squealed in delight, reaching up to adjust his non existent glasses before he blinked in annoyance and leaned in closer to examine the labels. "Champaign, scotch, vodka-"

"Oh boys?" Misato called lightly as Kensuke started to reach for a bottle.

The trio turned to look back at her…then did a double take as she raised her right leg slowly and crossed it over her left, getting their undivided attention as she let the dress slide away up the leg…and reveal the mate black barrel of a Heckler & Koch .40 USP in a thigh holster.

"There will be no drinking tonight" she said, her tone rather substantially reinforced by the muzzle of the gun glaring at them before she uncrossed her legs, letting the dress shiver back down.

"You brought your gun to the dance?" Shinji asked in amazement…and not a little fear.

Misato just shrugged.

"Regulations" she dismissed in an airy tone. "Technically I'm here as part of a security detail. Consider it incentive for you three to stay away from the drinks over there".

Shinji mentally sighed as his somewhat desperate plan to take the edge off his rather shaky nerves with hard liquor was rudely eliminated by Misato.

"Trust me" Kaji's voice suddenly came in his ear from the front of the car, somehow guessing his thoughts. "The last thing you want is to say hi to Asuka with Vodka on your breath".

Well, fair point.

The rest of the trip passed quickly. Partially because his mind was elsewhere…but mostly because Rei's place really wasn't far away, but he had no time (or liquor) to try and calm himself down, meaning his mind was a whirlwind of emotions as the car pulled to the side of the road.

Rei's apartment building sat on the same ring of the Tokyo-3 valley as Misato's, but it was built on a slope that necessitated a line of shallow steps to the front door, which was flanked by well trimmed hedges that made it very difficult to see anyone walking up or down them from any point but the bottom of the stairs. Misato swung her legs out onto the pavement as the Limo door opened, accepting Kaji's offered hand without thinking as he materialized at the door and helped her too her feet, only to pull it away in reflex with a glare as she realized who was holding it.

Shinji followed Misato, not really noticing the supporting look Kaji shot him as he and his friends assembled into a line next at the front of the Limo, still well short of the steps to the apartment, feeling his heart starting to try and pound through his chest as he realized that he hadn't even felt thisnervous when he had woken up to find Asuka holding onto him like a limpet…probably because she had been unconscious at the time.

"Alright" Misato beamed, giving them all a final critical look over before nodding, Shinji giving thanks that she hadn't reached over to try and rub some smudge off their faces or something. "Perfect, don't move" she ordered, flipping open a cell phone and waiting for a few seconds before someone picked up on the other end, simply stating "we're ready", Shinji missing the small but expensive camera sneaking into her hand from her bag as she retreated to the rear of the limo behind them, his focus entirely on the apartment.

Shinji heard the apartment door open...and the butterfly squadron launched.

A figure, sheathed in black, moved down the stairs but he couldn't make out anything more then that until Hikari Horaki stepped onto the street and turned –with just the slightest self conscious hint in her stride- towards them…

My God…that's Hikari? Shinji thought incredulously.

In between her totally new hairstyle, the ever so subtle use of makeup and the deep, dark black dress, Hikari looked…well…sexy.

Sure, he had never thought of her as ugly,far from it. But nothing about her had ever caught his eye in a 'drop-dead gorgeous' sort of way, her rather severe attitude not helped by her rather conservative tastes.

And being best friends with Asuka, like a candle trying to show off next to a bonfire, meant she was often rather overshadowed in his mind. Probably.

But right now…


He managed to tear his eyes away from Hikari feeling a blush on his face from his naked stare to glance over at Toji.

Shinji had always suspected that while there wasa real relationship building between the two, but that Toji may not have taken it as seriously as Hikari clearly did.

After all, Hikari had somewhat followed the 'Asuka strategy', hiding her feelings by mercilessly 'beating up' on Toji for quite a time. And despite the time they spent together, Shinji had always wondered if all his efforts might have been in vain, if Toji would hesitate in really giving Hikari a chance…

But from the look on Toji's face right now, Shinji had a sneaking feeling that it wouldn't be a problem, as Toji stepped out of line, both partners visibly swallowing as they just stared at each other, flushed in unison, and walked back to the limo with small smiles on their faces, pausing for Misato to take a picture, before getting in.

All without saying a word. At least audibly.

"I'll book the church" Kensuke muttered.

Itwas afunny enough joke, but Shinji was so highly strung out with tension right now that it just washed over him as he spotted a second figure making her way down the stairs, this time a figure of white and blue that Shinji knew in an instant from her movements, as graceful as a ballerina and precise as a surgeon, the identity both lowering and raising his tension as Rei Ayanami stepped out onto the street.

Yet again, Shinji felt the powerful –and somewhat disturbing- duality of lust followed by pride coming forth as his 'Sister' walked forward in an utterly perfect white dress with light blue highlights that perfectly complemented her new spiky, 'thick' haircut. She wore her dress with a poise that a Supermodel would have traded her soul for as she strode up towards them and as her eyes flickered to meet his, Shinji felt a deep amusement at his gob-smacked expression coming from her, before she smiled almost shyly at Kensuke who Shinji guessed was even odds to pass out on the street right then and there.

But surprising –and impressing- Shinji, his friend simply offered an arm to Rei which she took calmly, Kensuke utterly absorbed and/or smitten with her as he moved up to the door of the Limo, again pausing for a photo from Misato before he helped Rei inside and then followed her in.

Leaving him alone on the street as he heard the door open for a final time…and he saw a figuremoving slowly down the stairs.

Red. Of course it would be Red was the only thought that came to his mind before Asuka stepped out onto the street, turned to face him and stopped.

'Beautiful' wasn't anything like a strong enough word to describe the young woman in front of him. 'Vision' was a little better, as were –paradoxically- 'indescribable' or 'un-quantifiable'. There were several choice epitaphs and curses which might express to some degree, the emotion explosion going on in his mind, but they seemed a trifle crude for the occasion. He knew on one level that she was still a fourteen year old teenager in the blurry line between girl and woman, still growing, still filling out, that she wasn't a 'woman' as Misato, in the strictest physical sense was.

But it didn't change his feelings in the slightest.

Asuka, was a Goddess.

It was the nearest word in his vocabulary to put in words, the flood of emotions running through him at that point in time as he simply absorbed what his senses were relaying to him.

She wore a pair of heels that perfectly matched the color of the dress, boosting her height to exactly match his own, a fact that he dismissed having any possibility of sheer coincidence. Her dress reached to her ankles and…her dress…

It started with an embroidered strip perhaps one and a half centimeters thick that wrapped around her elegant neck, crossing just under her throat, thickening to a modest width halfway down each of her breasts to create a thin triangular shaped gap in the precise center of her chest, as the embroidered pattern gave way to pure, smooth, silk thatresonated in the sunset. The 'outer' edge of the 'strips' continued down, cupping around her outer chest and wrapping around both flanks of her slender body to meet just above the small of her back, the scarlet dress closing in on her hips before flaring out again to partially cloak her legs, though the knee length slit somewhat defeated the purpose of hiding her legs –if indeed it ever wasa design goal of the dress.

Above the stunning, adult dress however –which was more then potent enough to blow his mind away- was her face.

Her hair was no in any of her usual styles, but had been worked into an astonishingly elaborate series of highlighted strips and curls that wound around, through and over each other at the top of her head, then cascaded like a waterfall down the rear of her head and her back, covering most of the skin exposed there, with a few curls teasingly rolling down the sides of her head to rest on her shoulders…and a fringe that masked her blue eyes behind a forest of dark red highlights in her auburn hair.

Lightly applied mascara framed her sapphire eyes which dancedwith emotions Shinji could not name, her lips forming a tiny smile, but if it was because she was happy to see him, pleased with his presentation, or just delighted that she had blown his mind somewhere into the ionosphere, he didn't have a clue, those twin orbs impacted with such an awesome presence, a feeling he had not felt outside of that seething siren call of humanity during the Third Impact. But if his mind had always shuddered away from thatmemory, right now he was desperately trying to burn every facet of this single, perfect moment into his mind.

She was nothing more or less then living proof that humans couldfind just as much joyand understanding in a world separated by AT fields, as the world where they were linked as one. Standing there, he confirmed, for the last time he would ever need to that he was irredeemably inlove with Asuka Langley Soryu. If the USS Missouri had been within a hundred kilometers of Tokyo-3, he would have asked Asuka to wait for few minutes while he ran to the quarterdeck to find an the instrument of surrender to sign, but he ruefully admitted it was little more then a formality, she had claimed him a long time ago…

Asuka felt her heart jump giddily as she walked out on the street and turned to face Shinji alone, the two Stooges having collected their dates and retreated inside the Limo. Steadily, she closed the distance with all the poise and demure presence she could muster…and in that one moment as she looked at Shinji, she knew she had done it.

His mind had been blown clean into low Earth orbit.

All the effort she had gone to, all the panic shopping, all the work today to get ready…it was all worth it for this single perfect moment as she looked at Shinji's eyes and knew without any doubt that she finally had cracked the Shinji Code, and she had him in the palm of her hand…

Two weeks ago, she would have had a delightful time over the next few hours, doing everything she could to assert her dominance over him and put him in 'his place' relative to her. Not that she would try to make his time miserablejust for the sake of it, no; it was just a case of making sure he knew his place in the pecking order of Eva pilots.

Asuka at the top, followed by either of the other two, she didn't really care who came next, as long as neither of them dared to presume they ranked up with the great Asuka Langley Soryu!

Even two days ago she would have smirked and done something to throw him off balance, just a little, just for fun without any real malice behind it.

But yesterday, Misato had taken her quietly aside while Shinji was in the shower.

And she had been uncharacteristically direct.

Shinji, Misato had told her in unequivocal terms, needed to have fun at this dance.

Misato had then pointed out –in case Asuka had been living in a cave on Mars for the last few months- that Shinji had been working all but non stop since he had arrived in Tokyo-3. That in between his crash course in Evangelion piloting, settling into a new school and having to deal with a new home with a new group of people –not to mention the occasional Angel attack- he had not had any chance to stop and just have fun.

Asuka had seriously considered Misato's pleas.

She had been brought up as an Evangelion pilot; it was all she had really ever known. Shinij on the other hand had had all of this dumped in his lap not four months ago, without the luxury of years of testing, training and frankly, time to stop and blow off steam. And Asuka knew perfectly well, he had had all of it dumped into his lap in a city under attack and in full knowledge of what Unit One had done to his Mother.

But Misato's damn near deadly insistence that Shinji needed to have a good time…and the implications both said and unsaid that she would make or break this evening for him…

And in that moment, leaning against the Balcony railing with her guardian in the rather pleasant evening breeze, Asuka finally cracked the 'Misato code'.

Gott knows how many times she had triedto crack it back in Germany, but her blunt warnings about Shinji had finally provided the clue she needed to understand the core ideal that underpinned so many of her actions.

And it was so simple in hindsight. All the drinking, the debauchery, the overly happy and giddy attitude…

There was no point in saving the world if you couldn't enjoy the world.

Reflecting on her sudden epiphany, Asuka had walked back to her room without saying a word, not out of spite, just in deep thought. Granted she wanted –had- to go to this dance to complete her arrival in Tokyo-3 in a grand, formal style. And granted Shinji was an important part of that…but in between when she had conscripted him and now, she could quietly admit she had come to look at him in a rather…different way.

No, not that way…but, as someone much more then he had been to her…

And as Misato had so bluntly pointed out to her, if she screwed this up, the friendship, one of her few genuine friendships with someone who was so much like her in so many ways, could suffer.

And Asuka, although she hated to admit it, was tired.

She was tired of being the Second Child.

She was tired of being the designated pilot of Unit Two.

And she was tired of being the most beautiful, most popular girl in the whole school.

She still was all these people, but a week of non stop Evangelion training, followed by a week of non stop school plotting had just left her wanting to go and have fun and to hell with the wider concerns for the night and her future, just this once.

And if Shinji wanted to do the same after months of non stop Evangelion training and combat, well, what was the harm in two friends just enjoying each others company?

Not that any of this meant she wasn't happy when she saw the effect she had on him as she stepped into view…

"Don't forget to breathe," Kaji's helpful advice came over his earpiece, breaking the moment and making Shinji blink, realizing rather belatedly that much of the incredible tightness in his chest was probably due to the fact that his lungs were screaming at him for oxygen.

Asuka meanwhile, glided to a halt a few meters away, waiting calmly for him to get himself under control.

Inhumanly calmly in fact.

"Shinji," she acknowledged him in a soft voice.

"Asuka," he acknowledged her back, after swallowing several times. "You look…" he hesitated, the old Shinji in greatform tonight as she raised the edge of her mouth slightly in clear amusement at his state of stunned absurdity, which in turn triggered his mouth without his mind realizing it.

"Like a Goddess," he near stuttered out.

Then the corniness of what he said hit him

Why the hell do I keep doing that? Shinji wondered, his mind flashing back to his impulsive complement of Asuka's hair style a week back. Okay you might think that about her and she might think it about herself, but you don'tsay it to her face!

How in the hell is Kaji so damn smooth at this?

Asuka however, to his immense surprise, didn'troll her eyes or snicker at him…in fact, she blushed–if only slightly- at his horribly clumsy complement, keeping her eyes locked on his as her upturned lip was joined by its other side, twitching into a perfectly genuine smile.

"Thank you," she said in a maddeningly calm tone, Shinji just focusing on his breathing as she let her eyes wander over him in casual study before returning to his face. "And you look quite well turned out as well".

"Th…thank you," he replied, but with a maddening stutter as she stepped closer -directly in front of him- with the light scent of strawberries crashing into him on the evening breeze as her smile turned into a tight grin.

"Relax Shinji, I'm not going to bite," she whispered softly for their ears alone but with an almost playful undertone to it. "Just keep breathing and everything will turn out fine," she advised as she stepped to the side and offered him her arm, which Shinji carefully took.

Apparently too carefully for her tastes.

"I'm not made out of porcelain Baka," she muttered at his light touch, Shinji again feeling a wave of heat on his face, but throwing caution aside, he linked his arm and found her hand, gripping it…and getting gripped back.

"Much better," she sighed. "Just relax. It's just me, Asuka, you know the person you live with? Train with? Go into combat with?"

The girl I fell in love with, shared my first kiss with, the Girl I abandoned to die-


For her sake, he wouldn't, he couldn't think of her in that context. Not any more.

Not ever.

And right now standing right next to her, so vibrant and alive, frankly Shinji, for the first time since he had returned from the terrible events of that final day of his first life just didn't careabout what had happened that day.

He was far more concerned about what might happen, now. Drawing strength from Asuka's firm yet gentle grip, he walked her to the Limo.

"Oh this is perfect," Misato grinned broadly as she studied both of them together, an ominous whine coming from her cameras flash as it recycled for another shot. "I'll send out the wedding invitations!"

Misato was confronted with two separate glares that as always, had not the slightest effect on her enthusiastic energy.

"How long have you been saving that one up?" Asuka demanded.

"Most of last week," Misato shrugged with an utterly unabashed look at her cameras ready light flashed on. "Okay, smile!"

Asuka's face immediately shifted from 'Laser Death' to 'Angelic Innocence' and Shinji, almost helplessly, felt a smile resonate onto his face as he again took in her perfection, before turning to look at Misato. Just in time too, as the flash went off and dazzled his eyes.

"Come on, let's get this show on the road, we're on a tight schedule!" Asuka demanded with a great deal of enthusiastic energy. Shinji let Asuka's arm go as he gestured her forward, Asuka carefully and quickly threading her way into the limo with the agility and flexibility of a gymnast, her right leg shamelessly sliding loose from her dress and getting his undivided attention for a few seconds as she swung down and in, before he followed.

The rear of the Limo was designed to seat seven people, which was rather convenient given the size of their party. The 'long' seat heading up the right hand side took four people, already filled with the other children who were all chatting to their partner, utterly oblivious to their arrival for a few seconds.

Then the two boys noticed Asuka sitting down on the right most seat at the back, carefully adjusting her dress as Shinji sat to her left and Misato to his.

They both blinked. It had never been her looks they had had a problem with, after all.

Then they both snapped their attention back to their own dates and continued their inane chatter, as Shinji and Misato sat down and the car moved off.

"So where is she?"

"She's coming with Soryu of course. She should have been here earlier…but it's not like we really have anything to do or that we had to be here early, it's just about showing how dedicated we are, getting here this early".

"Oh please Riko, Hikari is so dedicated to her job she'll probably report herself for being late by five seconds. So we can cut her a little slack tonight."

There was a giggle among the four other Class Reps of the year represented at the dance as they considered the absent representatives legendary reputation for strictness and conservatism that had made her something of the 'Alpha Female' in her group of all girl Class Reps.

"Well she better get here soon, or she'll miss the start of this."

"Ohplease, there is no way Soryu will let them get here late. You just knowshe is timing it for a dramatic entrance."

"That's the truth. Damn that girl has an ego."

"She has a fifty meter tall robot. It's not really that surprising she's a little…excitable."

"Ayanami isn't anything like her," one of the Reps protested mildly. "And Ikari is just so…so…"


"I was going to say heroic and amazingly self effacing, but I'll take that."

"Cute too," another put in.

"Asuka's property," Riko commented lightly. "Unless you feel like fighting her for him?"

"Uh no, that's okay…and speaking of the devil…"

The quartet standing at the edge of the sprawling reception center followed Representative Ayano's gaze to see a black four door sedan of some kind stop in front of the building, well ahead of the red carpet that led from the road a good fifteen meters to the floor to ceiling glass wall that was the front of the reception area. The second floor of the building jutted out almost to the road forming a large overhanging area people could assemble in, but everyone had moved inside to the reception area, which was little more then a large room backed by closed doors and steps that led to the upstairs dance area.

Almost their entire original year was standing around and talking inside the reception area, the girls busy complementing each others appearances, the boys just sharing a continual series of collective shrugs. Both groups also spent a great deal of time catching up with old friends who had been invited back for the dance, students whose parents had transferred them out in a panic with the first Angel attacks. More then a few of that group would soon move back in with their parents in Tokyo-3, as the initial panic after the 3rd Angels attack gave way to a weary acceptance of their inevitability, combined with the proven civil defense success that had kept civilian casualties from the Angel attacks at zero.

But right now, attention steadily turned from idle small talk to the car that had pulled in well ahead of the red carpet, blue and red lights flashing in its window as a half dozen men in tuxedoes exited the car and were suddenly confronted by an identical looking group who materialized from behind the stone pillars and shadows out the front. The two quartets conferred for a few seconds before six of them headed back inside, threading their way through the interested students, politely smiling and nodding to inquires, but not engaging in conversation before they headed upstairs.

"Those three get their own bodyguards?" one of the four class Reps muttered in disbelief.

"Don't you ever attend the school council meetings?" another rolled her eyes at the ignorance of her friend. "Their lives are just too valuable to risk given what they do."

"Oh yeah, like Asuka needs a bodyguard? Lest we forget what she did to two idiots early today?"

The quartet shared a laugh at the fate of the two idiots dumb enough tograb onto Asuka's shoulder and spin her around. Asuka's reflexive punch-kick combination had been extremely impressive, cementing her place as a 'do not screw with' girl in the minds of many and ensuring those two guys wouldn't be doing any dancing tonight…

Though the fact that they haddone something as stupid as touching Asuka and –barely- lived to tell the tail had made them some kind of minor celebrities in the eyes of those guys.

The girls –sensibly- just rolled their eyes. Men, who could understand them?

Out the front, a black Limo now pulled into the curb, stopping with its rear door precisely lined up with the red carpet and setting off a wave of hushed murmurs as the class drifted towards the floor to ceiling windows. Parents or friends had dropped off most of the class, though a few hadput together the money to take a limo or hire car of some kind.

None of them had a car full of bodyguards however, which made the identities of the people inside a forgone conclusion as the year waited for them to show themselves…

The door finally opened…and Misato Katsuragi stepped out, flicking her hair back over her shoulder as she adjusted her dress slightly.

The utter silence from the males in the room staring out the window was rather conspicuous.

"What"Representative Riko asked in an awed, low tone as she studied Ikari and Soryu's guardian, as she made her way towards the building, "is holding up that dress?"

"The mental powers of every girl in this room who has a date," Representative Ayano guessed shrewdly, cocking her head slightly as she heard the curious sound of almost a hundred sets of teeth grinding behind the males who had crowded the windows.

There was a wave of deep bows from the guys as the NERV Operations Director glided through the front doors and into the reception area in her midnight black dress, the lady smiling in a friendly enough way at them but not saying anything as she breezed over to where a cluster of parents and teachers were finalizing their preparations, quickly making herself one of the group who headed inside to the relief of the girls.

At least until all attention refocused on the limo as Toji Suzuhara got out, followed by…

"Hikari?"all four Reps spluttered in perfect synchronization as the final member of their group was helped out of the car by the jock.

"No…way," Ayano managed to get out as they started down the carpet, holding each others hands with a suspiciously practiced ease, Hikari's new hair and dress styles making it extremely difficult to believe that this was Hikari Hokori.

Actually, only the fact that Toji was on her arm appeared to lend credence to this conclusion, because this girl was very much hot,a label the absurdly self conscious Hikari took great pains to avoid

"Nice shoes," Riko said in an outwardly clinical voice that dripped with envy to the female ear. "I think they're Kodama's, that dress is new though."

"That Hikari is new," Ayano corrected her. "I think Soryu is having some kind of weird effect on girls she hangs out with," the Rep said, swallowing slightly.

"Why do you say that?"

Ayano just inclined her head fractionally and yet again, the Reps gasped as they watched Rei Ayanami step out of the Limo, along with Kensuke Aida.

Rumors had circulated wildly and widely after Rei's so called 'transformation', though most of the girls had quietly dismissed most of it as something of an exaggeration. Sure Rei was much moreactive now, but honestly, it was Rei Ayanami! The idea that she could turn into some kind of sex kitten overnight had been widely dismissed by more then a few of the girls.

Such thinking wasn't just eliminated, it was shattered as Rei and Kensuke walked up the red carpet.

Rei walked the carpet as confidently and proudly as any celebrity or supermodel might walk such an event, her absurdly stunning dress and exotic haircut grabbing attention like a magnet.

Former classmates who had not heardof this transformation just stared, working their jaws as they tried –and failed- to make some kind of comment on the situation, the two couples arriving soon after each other and soon being swamped by classmates and old friends, Hikari making her way over to the reps, who's more traditional Kimonos and dresses looked rather pathetic in comparison.

But all that attention stopped as Shinji Ikari exited the limo and reached an arm back inside…

Asuka got to her feet carefully with Shinji's help, adjusting her dress slightly as he shut the door and let the Limo move off to find some place to park.

"Well. This is it," she declared to Shinji, noting the stunned expressions from their classmates out of the corner of her eye as she carefully made sure her hair was in place and her dress flawless, before generously taking the time to give Shinji a once over to make sure he hadn't lost his jacket or something.

"Yes, it is," he replied to her announcement with an only slightly nervous smile at her, extending his right which she took easily with her left, again gripping his hand and ignoring the slightest shakes she could feel from him. All things being equal, he was actually doing much better then she had thought he would be doing. Apparently he had used the Limo trip between Rei's and the convention center to try and pull his shattered brains into some kind of order.

"Just remember Ikari," she gave final instructions as they headed in, the pair slowly walking towards the building and the faces pressed against the glass wearing expressions of envy and lust in the female and male areas respectively. "Have fun and enjoy yourself."

She paused for a second to shoot him a look, unable to help herself.

"But try to feel me up and you're a dead man."

"Situation normal then," he replied with the slightest twitch of a grin on an otherwise all too serious face, getting a half snort, half snicker from her, and a slight grip of reassurance which he returned as they walked inside.

They were instantly all but mobbed.

The next five minutes were an astonishing blur for Shinji as they broke apart into the surging crowd. Fully a third of the people at the dance were school students who had left before Shinji had finished his first week in Toyko-3, being buried deep in NERV running combat simulations that whole time and Toji and Kensuke happily took him around introducing him, as Asuka conquered the female half of the room.

It was even money in Shinji's opinion, if the 'newcomers' were more stunned by the new German student, or, by Rei 'Ayanamis and her 'new look'.

"And this," Toji proudly introduced a giant of a friend, uncommonly tall for a Japanese guy of their ages, "is the second best basketball player formerly in our year, Osami Watanabe".

"What do you mean second best," the giant shot back in a surprisingly high pitched voice with a glare at Toji. "I out shot you by three baskets last season."

"If you include them and the other nine fouls that were called on you," Suzahara snorted, crossing his arms in an unimpressed, but amused way.

"Ref had his eyes shut," Osami muttered, glancing across at Shinji. "So,you are the famous Shinji Ikari? The pilot of Eva Unit One?"

"You've heard about me?" Shinji asked with a raised eyebrow and slight smile. "I thought there was a news blackout on most of NERV outside of Tokyo-3".

"The news blackout is almost total," Osami assured him with a roll of his eyes. "I have no idea why given that that huge blue thing sat downtown for weeks where everyone could see it, but when you get outside Tokyo-3, news is hard to find on anykind of official publication, meaning there are millions of rumors going around that hide the truth. I haven't seen anything about you or Ayanami…or that new pilot…?"

"Devil Girl," Toji supplied helpfully.

"Her name is Asuka," Shinji put in with a reproachful, if amused tone, this conversation helping him greatly to just loosen up and calm down.

"Yeah, she's pretty hot," Osami agreed in appreciation as he tried to study Asuka through the pack of Girls around her.

"Uh no, I meant she's a total…bother to be around at times," Toji caught himself from saying anything more descriptive as Hikari started to drift in hearing range, getting a betrayed look from Kensuke.

"Coward," Aida muttered at his friend, who shot him a helpless glare.

"But hot," Osami insisted, clearly not going to let it rest until they acknowledged it, looking across at Asuka and the dress that hugged her body like an oil slick with a great deal of approval.

"Yes, okay, she's hot," Toji said with a sigh that said louder then words, that his friend just didn't get it and never would.

Fortunately, Toji was saved from trying to explain as the doors to the dance floor finally opened and the school's principal in a rather new looking suit moved to stand just inside the doors, waving for their attention and slowly getting silence from the crowd.

"Can everyone hear me? Yes? Good. Well, I'd like to welcome you one and all to the Summer Dance," Shinzo Suzuya said with a smile that got him a round of applause from his students, dutiful at best from the boys, but somewhat more enthusiastic from the girls.

The fact that it was the middle of autumn and going into winter had confused Shinji slightly when he had first heard the dance's name, until he had been told it was something of a mocking name over the fact that post Second Impact, it almost always felt like Summer in Japan, regardless of the time of year.

"Now, you've all signed your permission slips and handed them in so I know you all carefully read the rules…" -there was a general snickering at that- "…but to be sure, I'll go over them again. No drinking, no fighting. Oh and the men with the earpieces are from NERV intelligence, Section Two and are authorized to use lethal force, so play nice with some of our more…famous alumni, if you please."

To Shinji's disappointment, none the guy's still shooting looks at Asuka whenever their dates were not paying attention looked in any way deterred by the threat.

"And on the topic of NERV, I'd like to pay a special thanks to a personfrom NERV, an organization that went to extraordinary efforts to get this dance put back on, after it was taken off."

Shinji felt his blood turn to ice at the casually announced doom upon his head, exchanging glances with Kensuke and Toji, who suddenly looked tense.

All of them were thinking the same thing and all glanced over at Asuka, who had inclined her head slightly in confusion with a frown. Apparently he had caught her eye and she returned his glance with a frown and shrugged, misinterpreting his look as confusion rather then near panic, before they both turned their gaze back to the principal.

"As you may or may not know, the dance was called off for reasons of insurance, but we were lucky enough to have the insurance issue dealt with by NERV, allowing us to reschedule. Without this organizations help, we would not be here tonight."

Shinji felt Principal Suzuyas eyes focus on him for a second and he desperately gave the slightest shake of his head, not daring a more violent reaction that might give the game away, getting a rather worrying smirk in return.

"So please give a round of applause…" their principal continued, clearly about to turn this night into a nightmare for him…

When Asuka found out that not only had he known about this dance all along, not only had he gotten it put back on, but that hadn't told her anything about it until Rei spilled the beans, his previous defense that he hadn't cared about it blown out of the water-

"Captain Misato Katsuragi!" Suzuya declared with a beaming voice, getting a thunderous applause from both sexes –for different reasons- as she stepped down the stairs next to him, taking her hand and lightly kissing it to a flattering smile as she waved out at the students.

Shinji managed not to fall to the ground, instead closing his eyes for a second and taking a deep, long breath, giving silent thanks that Misato had apparently talked their principal out of publicly congratulating him,accepting the thanks on NERV's behalf.

It was a very Japanese thing for the company to take the credit for the actions of someone working on its behalf, and right now Shinji couldn't be any happier for it as the pair retreated and the students started on in-

"Are you three ready to dance?" Hikari's voice suddenly came in his ear, making all three stooges jump a foot into the air before they turned to find the cluster of class Reps had dissolved, with the quintet heading back to their dates, the other four already pushing forward to get in at the front of the line.

Toji just grinned rather goofily at Hikari, before turning to his friend.

"Uh, you remember Osami-San, don't you Hikari?" Toji replied, gesturing to his friend and causing both of them to blink.

"This," he said in utter amazement as he looked at the girl in the shear black dress in front of them, "is "Hikari?As in Hikari Hokori?"Osami demanded.

His unbelieving tone earned him a rather cute (in Shinji's mind) blush in return from Hikari as he scrutinized her face. "Damn, you've, um…changed!"

"Oh great, another stooge," Asuka joined her best friend with a roguish roll of her eyes, clearly having overheard the conversation and deciding to come to her friends aid. "So, you're breeding now?"

"Yeah, we reproduce like amoebas," Toji deadpanned, earning him a snicker from Kensuke and Shinji.

"And have the intelligence of one," Asuka replied sweetly, not giving ground for a second.

"Peace," Hikari cautioned. "Let's just try and have fun, okay?"

"We are!" Toji and Asuka simultaneously protested, then blinked and looked at the other in clear confusion, before almost unconsciously taking a step backwards away from each other, identical looks of suspicion on each others faces that damn near made Shinji burst out laughing.

"And on that note," Kensukesmiled as Rei glided in looking prim, proper, and gorgeous as always. "Chow!" he declared, offering her his arm which she took, smiling faintly as they headed inside.

"Good idea," Hikari beamed, holding out her arm to Toji, who abandoned his confrontation with Asuka willingly with a final trade of smirks before moving over to join the slowly thinning group at the door that were heading upstairs.

"Did you have any idea Misato was responsible for getting the dance put back on?" Asuka demanded without pre-amble when they were alone.

"No, I had no idea," Shinji replied with absolute honest.

Asuka studied him for a few seconds and thennodded.

"Well…we'll have to find some way to thank her," Asuka muttered, exchanging a smile with a girl Shinji vaguely remembered was in another class as she dragged her date in, the boy stealing glances at Asuka until he noticed Shinji's glare at him and he promptly directed his attention elsewhere, before turning back to Asuka.

Asuka who had seen and actually felt, slightly, touched by Shinji's defensive reaction on her behalf –not that she needed anyone to look after her- just smiled and took his wrist.

"Well come on, we're going to be the last ones in," she sighed, walking up to the door and leading him in then up the dim stairs to the top…

The dance room was dimly, but adequately lit by a series of windows behind the stairs that looked out over the street, currently framing a stunning view down over Lake Ashi as the sun set on the horizon. There was a large open area –clearly the dance floor- directly in frontof the stairs, with a stage against the fall wall closed off with curtains, a smaller 'DJ-Stage' set up in front of it, with a rather…'ghetto' looking DJ finishing his setup.

An upper area ran in a horseshoe fashion from either side of the stage, down the walls and around behind the stairs, elevated from the dance floor with a railing separating the two areas and filled with dozens of large tables, already quickly filling up. A small number of rather formally dressed men with lists were directing people at the top of the stairs and Asuka strode up to the nearest.

"Names?" he asked politely.

"Asuka Langley Soryu," she supplied carefully and slowly, clearly surprised –or annoyed- that he hadn't known who she was at first glance.

"And you are Shinji Ikari?" the man asked after quickly consulting with his list.

"Yes," Shinji said with a polite nod.

The man bowed with a great deal of grace. "You are seated at table nine," he informed them, gesturing to a nearby table which Shinji quickly spotted their friends sitting down at and Shinji smiled slightly, clearly Hikari had taken steps when planning the seating with her other class reps. "And if there is anything you need tonight, do not hesitate for a second to ask for it."

"How about some dance music?" Asuka didn't quite demand, holding firm in place as Shinij started to step away.

The man simply smiled, pulling a tiny radio from a pocket and giving a brief order.

At the far end of the huge room, Shinji saw the DJ act and suddenly some generic J-Pop song started blasting through he speakers.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the Tokyo-3 Moonlight Lounge, let's blast off the night with some classic Hamassaki. Come out on the dance floor and lets get this started, don't be shy!" the DJ called, his voice amplified over the PA system.

"Thank you," Asuka smiled happily at the staff member before turning back to Shinji.

"No, way," he said flatly.

"Baka, it's a dance" she pointed out in an irritated voice. "It's what we came here to do!"

"Yes but no-one else is out there," he pointed out in a rather pathetic voice, knowing the eyes of almost two hundred fellow students would lock onto them as Asuka dragged him out there, knowing in such a situation he would screw up horribly and embarrass Asuka so badly he would be begging for her to just kill him and get it over with later…

"You can pilot a Fifty meter tall weapon of mass destruction, fight against the greatest enemies mankind has ever seen in its history…but you're afraid to dance with me?" Asuka asked in a tone that magically mixed amusement and exasperation into a whole new level of sarcasm.

"Look…I just don't want to embarrass you," he told her in a low, highly embarrassed tone, feeling the confident façade he had put forward to Asuka for weeks starting to crack.

Instead of just rolling her eyes and dragging him out anyway as he expected, Asuka narrowed her eyes and studied him before she lost focus, looking at apparently nothing much at all.

"You actually mean that don't you," she muttered, talking as much to herself as him, before she shifted her attention back to him, appearing to take a deep breath.

"Listen Shinji, I've invested a lot of time in teaching you to dance to something other then Mozart over the last couple of weeks. If you can't trust yourself, then trust me, you'll be fine."

"Told you so," Kaji's voice smirked in his ear, Shinji pointedly ignoring him.

"Well," he took a breath and met her gaze helplessly, "Okay, let's do it".

Asuka grinned. Now she yanked him out, Shinji happy to see two or three other couples had formed on the floor happily bouncing and bobbing to the music, with more heading in, generally with one partner dragging the next with a great deal less enthusiasm, Asuka letting him go at the exact center of the lightshow being made of the dance floor, raising her arms above her head and starting to gyrate in a highly distracting way to almost every heterosexual male in the room between the ages of fourteen and fifteen.

Fifteen minutes later, Shinji crashed into his seat, his face flushed but feeling alive in a way he had rarely felt in his life, ever. After a few awkward minutes of feeling hundreds of pairs of eyes on his back, he had just gotten lost in the music and Asuka's movements, the NERV synchronization training stamped –twice- into him taking over and the two started to move to the music, then unconsciously to each other and just had fun.

Finally, as more and more people overcame their reserve and moved onto the dance floor –or just moved in closer for a better look as Asuka's hips gyrated doing interesting things to her dress- they had finally called it a dance and with an exchange of friendly smiles, headed off in different directions, Asuka pounced on by a pack of girls and Shinji just slinking back to his chair and blushing at more then a few 'appreciative' comments from some female classmates as 'his moves'. Asuka herself had cocked an eyebrow as their final song had ended and commented a simple "Not bad Baka" before moving off, which Shinji took to mean that he hadn't utterly screwed up.

The boost to his confidence was...considerable.

"You looked like you were having fun with Asuka," Toji noted as Shinji crashed into his chair, the jock having just returned to the table himself after having just finished circling the room and chatting to friends and former students.

It wasn't quite an accusation from Toji.

"As I told you, Asuka really isn't that bad once you get past the daily beatings…in fact, I have to say both of you have been a lot more…civil to each other, the last week," Shinji pointed out, that nagging detail he had meant to talk to him about.

Especially in comparison to their screaming matches the 'First Time' around, where Asuka had never really gotten over Toji's 'change' on Over the Rainbow or had the moderating influence of the Hikari-Toji factor…

"Uh yeah, about that," Toji muttered, looking rather embarrassed. "Look…um…we just came to an arrangement".

"You, made a deal with the Devil?" Shinji asked with mock horror.

"Oh shut up, it was for your benefit, sort of," Toji grumbled. "We came to an understanding. As we were seeing each other around Hikari a lot, we decided it would be best if we acted civil so we didn't upset her…and there you go…and well, we sort of stopped screaming at each other when she wasn't there either, it was just easier, you know? To keep track of everything?"

"Well, if you and Hikari can fall in love," and Shinji tried not to smile as Toji's face instantly flushed and he looked away at that naked accusation, "then Asuka and I can at least be friends, can't we?"

"Well, I guess…" Toji conceded with a grunt, clearly eager to change the topic. "Say, where are the girls anyway?"

Shinji looked around and frowned. He couldn't' see them…

"Hikari and Asuka both went into the ladies room a few minutes ago…and I amnot going to look," Kaji supplied as Toji muttered something about going to look and walked away.

"Where are you?" Shinji asked, keeping his voice low and moving his lips as little as possible, after Shinji managed to pick out two Section Two agents, but none of the others, nor Misato, nor Kaji…

"Oh, around," Kaji vaguely supplied and Shinji could hear the grin. "Great dancing by the way, I see you've been paying attention to Misato when she gets a little buzzed and starts running around the apartment."

Shinji just rolled his eyes and got to his feet, locating the ladies room and starting to walk in that general direction, raising his hand over his mouth as if in deep thought as he continued to talk.

"So where is Misato?"

"She's talking to a few of the parents and your teacher; I think the poor woman is being lectured on the Second Impact."

Shinji felt a sudden wave of pity for Misato as he wandered around the room, nodding and smiling at various classmates. The dance floor had emptied a little, with the first wave of dancers taking a break and the timid staying away due to the lesser numbers of people to 'hide' in. There were perhaps twenty people on the huge floor, but the night was young, as Misato would say, the sky outside steadily darkening as a new song started, although it wasn't Japanese, he could at least recognize some of the words as German. Great beat though.

"Hey, Kensuke," Shinji waved as he saw his friend moving around, Kensuke turning and hurrying over.

"Hey Shinji…have you seen Rei?" he asked with a somewhat confused look on his face.

"Um, not since we were downstairs," Shinji admitted, frowning. "What happened?"

"Well, we were just walking around the room and talking to people and I turned around…and she was gone suddenly."

"Well she couldn't have gone far," Shinji tried to calm his rather worried looking friend down, knowing just how much of a hammering his friend's nerves had taken over the day. "She can't have gone far," he assured Kensuke, glancing around the immediate area and not seeing Rei, most of the people sitting at the tables watching the dance floor with increasing interest on their faces.

"She's probably found someone better to go and have fun with," Kensuke sighed. "It's probably for the best, I'll just circle the room and stay out of her way," he continued, with enough self pity to make even Shinji rolls his eyes.

If I used to be like this all the time, its little wonder I drove Asuka nuts he thought to himself.

"Look, she is not going to dump you, don't jump to conclusions like that just because she's walked off for a second. Asuka and Hikari are in the bathroom, Rei might be as well".

"Nope,"Kaji's voice, sounding highly amused came back in his ear.

"Well where is she?" he asked back.

"I don't know, that's why I'm asking you," Kensuke replied in a slightly confused voice.

"Uh, just thinking out loud," he apologized. "Come on, Rei stands out just a bit in a crowd, she must be around here somewhere…" he tried to cheer his friend up, getting at least a semi-enthusiastic response as he started looking around the crowd of people in the upper area, noting that more and more of them appeared to be turning their attention to the dance floor, with expressions of amazement on the faces of the girls and a familiar hormone driven expression on the faces of the guys…

Then it clicked. And slowly, he turned his gaze tothe dance floor.



"Found Rei."

Asuka and Hikari had retired to the bathroom in a timed honored tradition that had forever confounded the male mind. It was a social event in of itself, separate yet intricate part of the larger events taking place outside and around it.

Safe from the men's gaze, the women –including a female Section Two agent who sat like a fly on the wall- could communicate, plot or fight as needs be.

Asuka had quickly used the facilities before stepping in front of the huge wall of mirrors and painstakingly checking her dress, hair and makeup to ensure they all remained perfect, basking in the looks of envy more then a few girls inside shot her that she caught out of the corner of her eyes as Hikari leaned in closer, painstakingly checking her mascara to ensure it hadn't started to run.

"You're going to have to go out on the dance floor when you get back out," Asuka said in a matter of fact tone that made Hikari wince.

"I don't know," she muttered back. "I'm not anything like as good a dancer as you".

"Few people are," Asuka shrugged back without the slightest hint of self consciousness on her face at the statement, having earned the right to claim such a title in the bathroom with a payment of sweat on the dance floor several minutes ago. "But it's not a question of being good or bad Hikari, but about enjoying yourself."

Hikari accepted that in silence, her nerves still clearly a little tight, but was saved from replying as another girl stepped up to the mirror and took out some lipstick.

"So, miss Soryu, you and Shinji make a rather cute couple," the girl said, instantly gaining Asuka's attention, though outside she kept her face perfectly calm as she adjusted her dress strap slightly.

"Oh Asuka, this is Natsuki," Hikari supplied the name, in a tone that was also a warning to her friend. "She evacuated after the Angels started attacking but she's moving back".

"Oh, hi," Asuka said with a smile that was as empty as a beer can fifteen seconds after Misato opened it. "Nice to meet you".

"And nice to meet you," the not unattractive girl replied with a slight nod, her attention still on her reflection. "So, how long have you and Shinji been together?"

"We're not 'together'," Asuka corrected her on reflex. "He's a friend".

"Really?" Natsuki commented, glancing at her for a second, before letting the slightest smile flicker on her face. "Too bad, you two looked quite good together."

The girls in the bathroom continued their activities, but their attention shifted rather suddenly to the conversation as Asuka smiled back, feeling a great deal of annoyance at the audacity of this girl…threatening to touch her stuff.

"Weare good together," Asuka replied with an all too sweet tone in her voice as she leaned away from the mirror but continued to study her reflection. "We both pilot Evangelions, working together to save the city you ran from and believe me, we are verygood at it."

'Ouch'the collective looks on the other girls in the bathroom said.

Natsuki let her smile become slightly brittle.

"Oh I'm sure you've established quite a good working relationship with him," the former student dismissed Asuka's warning with a slight shrug. "I'm just thinking it might be nice to get away from all that NERV stuff once in a while and have some fun."

Even Hikari flinched at that, Asuka clearly being dismissed as 'NERV stuff', if not directly enough to be called on it.

Many of the girls expected Asuka to grab Natsuki by the back of her head and ram her into the mirror in response, but Asuka just grinned somewhat impishly, leaning in closer as if to tell a secret.

"Oh we are having fun," she assured her. "I'll have to tell you about the shopping trip we went on where I modeled bikinis for him for a while, after he asked me to the dance."

MINEthe girls translated Asuka's almost giggled confession, sounding to their ears like the bark of a particularly nasty dog at its competition, Natsuki actually flinching slightly away from Asuka like a puppy that realized it had pushed the 'big-bad' a little too far.

"Well…um, I'm glad you're having fun then," she replied in as dignified a voice as she could, smiling slightly as she backed away. "Well….see you later."

"Bye," Asuka replied, not bothering to look at her as she backed away through the door, the gaggle of girls inside glancing at Asuka before starting to chat away again, all clearly thinking the same thing.

What does Shinji Ikari mean to Asuka? She denied she was 'an item' with him, and then warned Natsuki away rather…pointedly.

Outside of Hikari, none of them guessed that Asuka was thinking much the same thing.

"Ready?" Asuka asked Hikari simply as she finished her inspection in the mirror.

"As I'll ever be," the still rather shy Class Rep sighed, clearly gathering her courage to go out onto the dance floor.

"That's the spirit," Asuka congratulated her, heading for the door and back out into the somewhat loud music with…German vocals?

Cocking her head slightly, she listened and the song clicked. It was 'The Ding-Dong' song, one of Misato's favorites back when she had been back at the Third Branch…and she wouldn't put her guardian to have supplied the CD either.

She giggled slightly at the lyrics as the chorus came around, getting an odd look from Hikari as they walked towards the dance floor, giving thanks that as far as she knew, there were no German speakers among their year except her who knew what the words meant, spying the Three Stooges among the rather impressive crowd on the railing looking at the dance floor from the perimeter.

With a wicked look on her face, she easily moved up behind him with the noise of the music covering her tracks, easing into position next to his ear.

"Shinji," she whispered.

He jumped about a foot into the air and slammed back down to Asuka's delight, turning around from his place at the railing where he had been watching the dance floor to smile somewhat sheepishly at her.

"Ah. There you are."

"We had to go freshen up," Asuka explained, offering him a smile as she looked into his own smile, again feeling…she didn't know whatfor him...but again throwing aside those questions for another day, just wanting to havefun. "So, what is everyone standing around for? Let's dance!"

Shinji's smile twitched slightly and he gestured her forward. Confused, Asuka pushed in next to Shinji, several people making way for her…and felt her jaw drop slightly as she looked out at the dance floor.

Rei was dancing, with the two dozen other dancers on the floor having formed something of a ring around her as she moved her body in ways Asuka didn't think were possible for a human.

By herself...

In the middle of the dance floor...

'You touch my Tra-la-la…'

'La la la la la la la la la la la la la la…'

'Hmmm, my ding ding dong…'

And hell, she can dance!

Rei Ayanami didn't care about the fact that close to two hundred pairs of eyes were staring at her as she moved in a way most men in the western hemisphere would classify as 'interesting'.

Nor did she care about any 'social protocols' which she had only something of a passing familiarity with.

Shedid like the music however.

She had spent the last several days studying examples of 'dancing', practicing based off research she had conducted with the same methodical and total concentration of her attention she applied to her school work or Eva piloting. Research over the internet had provided a wealth of material she had looked over…and gotten nowhere.

Pages of text just didn't help her understand.

The breakthrough had come when she had stopped listening to the songs she was practicing against and started to listen to the music. And it had clicked as she stood in her apartment, music blasting from her new stereo system. For hours, she simply become lost in the incredibly intricate symphony of vocals and instruments that wound together in a way Rei found somewhat profound, for lack of any other word to describe it. Expressing emotion was something Rei found difficult at the best of times. But dancing to the music just came naturally for her and she just moved with it.

In some ways her style might have been called almost mathematical. Or perhaps clinical.

But she enjoyed it none the less.

So she stood in the middle of the dance floor, her eyes closed with an expression on face that might be described as a slight smile, moving her body as an expression of the music. Her hands, her head, her hips, her arms, all of her body moved in a whirlwind of motion that kept building until the song finally climaxed and she snapped to a halt with a final jerk of her head and her dress spinning around her legs, breathing deeply, but not truly hard as she opened her eyes.

A hundred people broke out into applause, cheers and more then a few wolf whistles as she stood there.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, MissRei Ayanami," the DJ announced, generating even more noise from the crowd.

Rei flushed, very slightly feeling somewhat embarrassed at becoming a spectacle, but the feeling quickly faded as she realized the crowd was simply signifying its approval and enjoyment of her performance, quite possibly the first time she had ever felt so…accepted, by such a large number of people.

It was intoxicatingly addictive.

As the applause slowed, she walked to the side of the dance floor, exchanging smiles and thanks from countless people as they rushed past her onto the dance floor, almost as if a dam had burst and suddenly everyone wanted to dance.

"Rei, where did you learn to dance like that?" Asuka demanded as she reached the small group of people among the crowd, who were unique in as they were people she classified as friends. "Have you been sneaking out to clubs over the last week or something?"

Rei cocked her head slightly in curiosity over the question. Truly, the possibility had never occurred to her.

"No. Should I have?"

"Not without inviting me," Asuka grinned wickedly, before impulsively reaching over and embracing her. Rei blinked in surprise before slowly returning the gesture, feeling a strange comfort in the physical contact before Asuka let go, Kensuke easing forward and clearly in some kind of distress.

"My apologies for leaving you without informing you," Rei said with a slight bow at him, suddenly feeling a shiver of unease and even guilt over the fact that she had left him without warning, the siren call of the music all but taking over her body, finding herself on the dance floor almost without realizing it. "I…just wanted to go and dance for a while by myself."

Kensuke just continued to stare.

"Kensuke?" she asked, starting to feel a worry that she had somehow harmed him by leaving him without warning.

"You were fantastic!" he spluttered out, to a strange simultaneous roll of eyes from three of the four other people around him, only Hikari abstaining from the strange synchronized action.

"Thank you," she smiled at him. "Would you like to dance with me?"

"Uh huh," he nodded.

"Then come," she said, extending a hand he took as she led him back out to the dance floor.

"His mind can't take much more of that," Shinji commented with a raised eyebrow as they vanished into the growing crowd on the floor.

"Uh huh," Asuka agreed. "Not that there was that much of one to begin with."

"Asuka," he sighed.

"Oh I'm just kidding," she laughed, turning to glance at him with a grin. "Think you can hold out another round with me, Baka?"

"Always," he smiled, again getting hopelessly lost in that face. Asuka held his gaze for a few seconds before turning to face Toji.

Toji stared back.

Asuka's smile intensified into something more akin to a glare and flickered to Hikari, who was studying the patterns on the carpet with great interest…and Toji finally got it.

"Um…Hikari…would you…um, like to-"

"Yes!" Hikari blurted out.

"Uh…cool," he said, trying –and failing miserably- to keep the 'too cool for school' look on his face before he took her hand gently and they headed out into the thickening crowd.

"I hope he wasn't going to say 'marry me'," Asuka sighed at the lack of polished class from her friend, as they vanished into the mass of crowds bounding to a fast paced dance track of some kind.

"I don't think it's much of a danger," Shinji assured her, before extending his hand and recalling some of the German Asuka had tried to teach him one boring weekend so long ago.

"Daf ich?"

Asuka smiled and took his hand.

"Bitte," she replied, firmly taking his hand and leading him out to the dance floor.

Several hours later, Shinji sighed in contentment as he continued to steal glances at Asuka next to him as they lounged about at their table. Misato had come over and told them they would be going in less then half an hour which was a bit of an annoyance to Shinji, who had never in either of his lives had anything like as much fun. Once the shock of Asuka's stunning beauty had worn off earlier in the evening and he had found –to his shock- that Asuka appeared to be working hard to make this night easy on him for some reason, he had simply tried to enjoy everything.

And he wasn't the only one.

After their first dance, Hikari and Toji had rarely been off the dance floor until dinner had come up. Kensuke and Rei somewhat less so, but they were almost never apart from each other.

With Rei and Kensuke too busy to talk, he and Asuka had become the targets of mobs of people desperate to hear from NERV's Evangelion pilots about the war they fought. Shinji had lost count of the number of times people had congratulated him on his defeat of the 4th Angel and the creation of 'Nike-Ridge' as the imprint of Unit Ones feet on the Cliffside above Highway 16 had been dubbed by the locals. And Asuka of course countered with the story of the combat against the 6th Angel every time. The gasps when she –with only slight embellishments- described grappling the thing on Over the Rainbow before sinking under the water, getting swallowed, ripping its mouth open and being flung a thousand feet into the air by a gigantic nuclear detonation had continually won her thunderous applause from groups of admires…and protests from Kaji as the number of progressive knife strikes she had managed to put in again Gaghiel rose from zero to fifteen by the end of her retellings.

The fact that he had been in the cockpit as well was mostly the punch line after she had landed, turning around to find he was snoring.

Shinji wasn't entirely sure if one couldsnore in LCL, but he just smiled and mockingly bowed in honor of her superior skill each time, finding the whole celebrity experience something of a novelty to enjoy with her.

Then they would go and dance together, though the sheer energy Asuka put into her efforts often left him calling a time out that earned in a playfully scornful look as she sighed and left the dance floor with him.

Now however, the dance floor was empty, light music circling through the room as the students finished off their dinners. Their table had been one of the first served –thank you Hikari- so they were mostly just waiting around watching the clock tick down…

"I hope we can get a final dance in," Shinji spoke up as he fiddled with a fork against an empty plate, Toji having 'liberated' the remains of his fries when he turned his head for a few seconds to gaze at Asuka's stunning profile yet again. He felt he had made a great deal of progress with her tonight, hoping that she had enjoyed it as much as he had…but he just felt something was still lacking. His impulsive 'Goddess' comment was sinking into history as every minute passed him by and he just couldn't think of any way to make an impact on her…

"Right now Shinji, you're thinking 'how do I end this night' aren't you? Just tap the fork twice if you agree," Kaji's voice came from nowhere, almost making him jump. His 'shadow' had vanished for an hour or so without a word even when he had tried to talk to him but he was back.

Shinji tapped the fork against the table. Twice.

"In exactly twenty seconds, turn to Asuka and ask if you can have this final dance and you'll be set. Oh, try not to screw this up, it's probably the most single important thing you'll do tonight. Have fun!"

Shinji made a mental note to hit Kaji in the face the next time he saw him for returning every one of his nervous emotions to life, with interest on where they had been waiting for Asuka in front of Rei's place.

He sat and went over the line several times as he counted agonizingly second after second, took a deep breath and stood, turning to face her questioning look.

"Asuka…may I have this final dance?" he got out in a surprisingly smooth voice, holding out a hand, part of him noticing that there was no music as yet and cursing himself for jumping the gun, but not daring to sit down.

Asuka opened her mouth, probably to point out that there wasn't any music, when the speakers started up again and a soft slow drum beat started to play.

Her expression became somewhat amused, but as she sat there and listened it softened quickly, before she looked back at him with an unfamothable expression, before getting to her feet without a word and accepting his hand.

They got a moderate amount of attention as they walked through the tables, but when they stepped out onto the dance floor as a series of synthesized strings started up; Shinji felt every eye in the room tracking him as they walked to the center.

Asuka turned to face him and Shinji started to move to take her left hand with his right, but she pre-empted him by carefully, almost delicately wrapping her hands around his neck, forcing him to swallow slightly and place his hands ever so lightly on her hips.

"You asked me to dance, so hold me," she said in an odd tone that caused him to flash back at once to a memory from her mind as the 16th Angel destroyed it…

("Why are you there?!")-

("You won't do anything! You won't help me!")-

("You won't even holdme!")-

No…not this time he decided…and throwing aside his nerves, he gently, but firmly, pulled her closer, getting a surprised but pleased look as she cocked her head, then smiled as the vocals started.

They were in English so Shinji didn't have a clue, but Asuka clearly approved…and as they started to sway around the floor slowly, utterly unconcerned about what anyone else might think as Asuka lay her head on his shoulder, her eyes open as she once again enjoyed the warmth of his body against hers, letting the words of the song wash over her…

'I've never seen you looking so lovely as you did tonight …'

'I've never seen you shine so bright... …'

Fifteen meters above them in the catwalks, manipulating events from the Shadows as he always did, Kaji grinned as he watched the two dancing. He knew Asuka well enough to see that the absurdly formidable walls around her heart were starting to waver as she danced with Shinji alone under the spotlights under the catwalk. He had picked this song with much care, finding it so excruciatingly perfect that he suspected some kind of karma had been at work when the DJ had let him flip through his CD collection earlier in the night.

The fact that Asuka was one of the few people in the room who would understood the words, was just a bonus.

'I've never seen so many men ask you if you wanted to dance'

'Looking for a little romance, given half a chance…'

Lifting his radio to his mouth, he gave his final instructions for the night to the Third Child, finding this to be the most entertainment he had had for a very long time…and the utterly least possible thing he could do to try and help Shinji find some enjoyment, in a life which could at best be described, on a good day, as 'FUBAR'.

"Just dance it out, hold her, don't say anything unless she does, I'm outta here, have a nice night," he signed off, killing the radio and starting to stand up from the railing he had been leaning against-

"You,"a familiar female voice accused from behind him. Long practice let him keep calm and not jump over the railing on top of the Second and Third Children. Turning around, he found Misato looking as appealing as she had ever looked, the dress hugging her rather impressive figure and her hair swirling most enticingly down her hair.

But after Shinji had detailed the heroic actions that had led to her bleeding to death, exchanging her life for his as the JSSDF hunted him down; it had become an excruciating exercise to hold his sarcastic, sloppy façade in place every time he looked at her.

It gave him some small insight into the steel that must be in Shinji's spine, if he was able to livewith both Misato and Asuka. If he was able to find the strength to face them one day at a time and just take one more step forward…

"Well I have to admit I'm impressed you managed to track me down," he smirked as he stepped out, casually slipping the radio into his pocket without her seeing it-

"It was you all along," Misato repeated, crossing her arms in front of him and not quite glaring, but definitely holding him with an intense stare as she slowly shook her head with a look of disbelief on her face.

'I have never seen that dress you're wearing'

'Or the highlights in your hair that catch your eyes…'

'I have been blind…'

"That scene at the shopping center, where Asuka asked Shinjito the dance…" Misato said, slowly walking towards him. "Some of his, how shall we say, actions tonight…with Asuka," Misato continued, glancing down at the blissfully happy children rotating slowly and feeling her anger reduce, despite himself at the fact that regardless of how they were brought together, they were clearly at least having fun.

'Lady in Red…is dancing with me…'

She made another mental note to thank Asuka for easing up on the War on Shinji for the night, and then turned her glare back on Kaji at full force.

Although he maintained his slightly smug expression, Kaji knew from long experience that that look was a rather serious one. And he knew perfectly well that Misato was willing to kill to protect Shinji.

This meant he probably had ten seconds to explain why she shouldn't put a bullet in his kneecap.

"I didn't do anything more then help Shinji be confident enough to stand up to Asuka," he replied, letting the smug tone drop.

"Go on," Misato ordered after a slight pause, giving him a look that suggested she was listening, but he was on very thin ice.

"I'm sure you know that Shinji wanted to ask Asuka out the second he met her on Over the Rainbow," he started without preamble, getting a nod that was cool, but edged with the faintest curiosity.

Kaji took the opening and dropped his tone into utter seriousness.

"Then you know that despite how much Asuka may love to flaunt herself off as the desire of any man, she is desperately afraid of letting anyone get close to her. You also know just how similar she and Shinji are to each other, what they both went through as kids and how quickly they've been forced to grow up."

Misato just continued to stare at him with a level expression, but she did not look away and he could tell he was getting through to her, as much as she might not want him to make sense. Taking a step towards her, he held her gaze and refused to flinch away, recognizing her anger was little more then a mask for her concern over his intentions with 'her' kids.

"Shinji came to me for help to get through to Asuka. I didn't talk to her; I didn't tell him anything about her, or her history, I care about her too much to betray her confidence, even for Shinji. I agreed to help him because frankly, they might just be able to find something worthwhile out of this whole insanity of using kids as Eva pilots."

Misato just stared at him for a good thirty seconds as the dance continued below, seeking something that she apparently found as her face softened slightly and she shook her head, almost in disbelief.

"Whatever happened to the Ryoji Kaji whose idea of 'responsibility' was skipping a week of lectures to fool around with his new girlfriend from dawn to dusk?"

"Ask yourself what happened to the girl who was just as eager to fool around with him back then and you'll have your answer," he replied, giving her a slight nod before heading for the door, noting with a bit of amusement the look of stunned surprise that came across her face with his utter lack of an attempt to grab her and kiss her into submission she expected.

"What. That's it? No complements? No flirting? No annoying coming onto me?"

Misato sounded strangely both pleased and upset, causing him to stop and glance half over his shoulder with a slight smile on his face.

"Not today Misato…if both of us are still alive after the Angels stop coming, give me a call," he said, keeping the look on his face until the door was shut behind him, granting himself all of five seconds to let his face fall to a bleak depression as he leaned against the wall, suddenly feeling old.

God he loved that woman.

But all it took to get him walking back down the stairs with straightened shoulders was the memory of Shinji's testimony, when he reached the bit about how both of them had finally gotten back together, then him dying a matter of days later and utterly destroying her.

Well that his new, modified roadmap to starting over with her.

Step one, defeat the Angels.

Step two, Kill Keel.

Step three, Kill Gendo.

After their confessions of course.

And step four, get a bunch of flowers and start to try and make up for years of screwing around the love of his life.

Not that far away, the Second and Third Children were oblivious to the thoughts running through Kaji's mind as he entertained himself with recall the various methods of executing war criminals the UN still sanctioned, or Misato's mind as she wondered who the hell that man was and where Ryoji Kaji had gone. Their concerns were entirely 'local' to an area only a few meters in radius.

Asuka had long since placed her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, breathing deeply. Only the fact that she still kept a solid grip on his shoulders and moved her legs in perfect time with the music let him know she was awake and aware, Asuka apparently perfectly happy to just listen and dance.

Shinji also quietly reflected that holding Asuka like this, her perfect scent overwhelming him also wasn't exactly a bad way to end this school dance for him. He had no idea what the song was about, guessing it was some kind of love song, but while Asuka spoke fluent English, she wasn't sharing with him and he was disinclined to break the mood by asking for a running commentary.

"Shinji…" she asked softly into his ear, causing him to shiver. From the sensation or from sudden stress, he didn't quite know.

"Asuka," he replied, not daring to say anything else. Since Kaji had left him, he suddenly felt like he was on a tightrope, walking across one of NERV's many bottomless shafts in Central Dogma, without a net.

"What…" she asked slowly, "do I mean to you?"

'Oh…fuck' was the first thought that came to his mind. To say that was a loaded question was a bit of an understatement.

But Kaji's advice came back.

Speak from the heart.

And don't say the L word, DON'T say the L word!

"You mean…a great deal to me," he admitted softly into her ear, forcing himself notswallow, notshake and notfall to the ground whimpering. "I think of you as a close friend".

"How close?" she asked, her head shifting off his shoulder to move in front of him, her eyes looking into his. Not in hostility, but with a definite tension behind them that let him know that regardless of what he had just thought, lying to her would be the biggest mistake of his lives right now…even as he knew that if he said "because I love you", she would think it utterly insincere and slam her walls up higher then she had ever built them.

"If it had been anyone but you who asked me to this dance, I would have turned them down" he told her, holding her gaze levelly. "I just…I just don't think anyof the students in our year could understand what I've, what we've been through."

He paused for a nanosecond, debating bringing up Rei before deciding that he had to clarify the statement before Asuka drew her own conclusions about their 'relationship'.

"Well except Rei," he amended his statement quickly, "but she is much more like, well, a Sister I never knew I had. I don't feelfor her in the same way I feel around you."

The air was becoming dangerously charged between them as Asuka narrowed her eyes. Not in hostility so much,but as if she was trying to see through him; he felt like he had been placed under a gigantic microscope.

"And how," she asked quietly, "do I make you feel?"

"Alive," he answered in just as quiet a tone with utterly sincerity, congratulating himself on finding a word that supplied an idea of how he felt that didn't sound corny or insincere, before he broke the visual standoff and glanced away, feeling his face flush with a surge of emotions, continuing to dance, but feeling like he was dancing on egg shells.

Asuka continued to stare at him for a few seconds as he managed to bring his face back around, studying him before she nodded slightly and leaned forward again, once again placing her head on his shoulder…and perhaps even tightening her grip slightly as she sighed and muttered "good" into his ear.

Asuka…let down her walls.

It was the hardest thing she had ever had to do. For most of a decade, she had built them as high and as thick as she possibly could, trying desperately to keep everyone out…or herself in, she just didn't know.

But for the next two minutes and fifteen seconds of the song, she just relaxed into Shinji's arms and closed her eyes, secure in his grip that he would not let her fall or try to do anything to her.

And not because he feared her or because he would need to workwith her later, or livewith her…

But because he respected her.

She didn't kid herself that they really had any chance of a real relationship in the long term, or that they even really had anything now, beyond the shared pain of a childhood both would rather forget and a fifty meter tall burden they had to carry, because no-one else could.

But for the next few minutes…she could at least pretend they did.

And so just listened, and danced.

'Lady in red is dancing with me...cheek to cheek'

'There's nobody here'

'It's just you and me'

'It's where I wanna be'

'And I hardly know'

'This beauty by my side'

'I'll never forget the way you look tonight'

Finally, the song ended and she returned to reality, slowly letting go and feeling a similar sort of reluctance from Shinji, both of them blinking slightly as they looked around and found several dozen other couples had appeared on the dance floor and continued to dance, another slow dance from Japan this time, started up.

"Let's go home," she said simply, offering him her hand, again something that may or may not last beyond the night…but while the rules were suspended…

He accepted it and they headed off the floor, Asuka noting with a flicker of her ego which she had chained to the floor, that almost every person in the room was looking at them with expressions from envy to heartbroken, with the exceptions of the relatively few dozen people on the dance floor, who might have just found some kind of happiness.

Asuka wished them luck, as she reunited with the quartet and Misato…and the six Section Two agents who just appeared from nowhere again, heading out to the Limo and home.

Shinji yawned as he stepped out of the bathroom, noting that the clock was nearing midnight and giving thanks that Tommorow was not a school day as he headed out into the corridor, making for his room.

He and Asuka hadn't said a word to each other outside of 'housekeeping' such as organizing the showers and their collective farewells to their friends on the way home, the Limo taking a circular route around Tokyo-3 to drop them off one by one. To his delight, Toji and Hikari had said little the whole trip, Toji just keeping and arm wrapped around a slightly tired Hikari as she leaned into his chest…a pose reversed and mirrored with a slightly amused looking Rei holding her date, Kensuke finally looking like his brain had just shut down from the overload, though he did manage to stumble in his front door with a wave back and a chaste kiss on the cheek from Rei.

Rei had of course been the last to be dropped home, sliding out of the limo and heading inside with a slight smile on her face the whole way that gave Shinji enormous hope that he might have just shoved an Eva sized stop sign in the way of his Father and SEELE, while Misato, had actually said goodnight to Kaji as he opened her door in a tone with rather little in the way of spite or flirting on either side that had rather confused him.

But Asuka…

Putting it out of his mind, he turned to head for his room…and there was Asuka, studying him in a rather simple T-Shirt and shorts that did rather little to detract from her beauty in his mind.

"So. That was a fun night," she offered him, Shinji trying not to sigh at the fact that her walls had clearly gone back up…though he was heartened by the fact that he didn't think they were nearly as high as they had been even this morning.

"I'm glad you asked me to go," he said in complete honesty.

"Of course you are," she rolled her eyes, albeit with a twitch of a smile on her face, levering off the wall and strolling towards him slowly, before she let the grin fall back off to a more…serious expression, Shinji not daring to move, that 'deer in headlights' situation that so often occurred with him around Asuka once again seizing his limbs as she closed and stopped.

"Did you mean it?" she asked simply, her vibrant eyes again making him feel like he was under a microscope. "Or was it just something you said in the heat of a slow dance. I'm not going to get angry or-"

"I meant every word I said," he replied without waiting for her to finish her defensive proclamation.

Asuka studied him, then let a slight smile come onto her face as she leaned in quickly…and kissed him softly.

On his cheek.

"Thanks for the night Baka," she sighed into his ear with a smirk in her tone, stepping around him to her bedroom.

"Bitte schön," he replied a few seconds later to her back.

She stopped, but didn't turn, Shinji catching a tiny part of the tight smile on her face as she shut the door behind her, before he headed into his room and flopped onto his bed, savoring that single, chaste kiss on his cheek, feeling it throb for many, many hours before he finally fell to sleep.

Asuka on the other hand, for the first time on a Futon, fell to sleep at once, into a sleep once again devoid of any of the specters that had haunted her so many times.

Suck up the WAFF while it's here, cause after next chapter, things start to happen :)

Not that I plan on killing everyone next chapter or something. But as Winston Churchill would say, 'This is not the beginning of the end but rather, the end of the beginning!'