DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fan fiction incorporating characters and situations from the Gainax manga/anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion and its related feature film releases. Gainax and its various media distributors hold sole exclusive rights to their use. The author is in no way affiliated with Gainax or its distributors, nor has this story been submitted for any commercial purpose.

The Hurt/Comfort Aspect – Ouch
by Ikarus Onesun

Shinji Ikari raised a hand to his mouth and stifled a yawn, shifting uncomfortably in his seat as he stared blankly at the images being displayed at the front of the darkened room.

It's Saturday morning, he thought dully, as he did his best to keep his heavy eyelids open.

What are we all DOING here?

The small conference hall in the heart of Central Dogma was barely half full, its occupants displaying various degrees of attentiveness as Dr. Ritsuko Akagi continued on with her debriefing session at the front of the room. Behind her, projected on a wall-sized video screen, was a still image of the spider-like Ninth Angel. Its black, multi-eyed torso lay askew on the asphalt in the middle of a major intersection of Tokyo-3, clearly displaying the large, ragged hole that had been blown straight through its body by Evangelion Unit 01's palette rifle the day before. Its four long, spindly legs towered overhead, lying motionless and at awkward angles, giving the dead Angel the odd appearance of an enormous bug that had been crushed by an even more enormous hand.

Normally, debriefing of the pilots and senior bridge staff occurred shortly after the conclusion of a battle, but due to the special circumstances surrounding this attack – namely, the sudden loss of power to the entire headquarters minutes before the arrival of the Angel – both Ritsuko and NERV's Tactical Operations Director, Captain Misato Katsuragi, had decided to postpone the debriefing until the following morning. The power failure had meant that almost no data had been collected during the battle itself by NERV's MAGI supercomputer system, which had been cut back to only 1.2 percent of its operational capacity when the electricity had been lost. Ritsuko had decided that the time would be better spent gathering as much information on the Angel as possible by direct examination of its corpse, and also to determine exactly what had caused the entire Geofront to lose power, before debriefing the pilots and staff on the events of the battle.

Unfortunately for Shinji, this meant dragging himself back into NERV early on a Saturday morning, and though he understood the necessity of the meeting, it didn't mean he had to be happy about it. He felt absolutely wiped out after yesterday's battle, and he'd been looking forward to sleeping in. The dry-as-dust technical content of Ritsuko's lecture certainly wasn't helping him to stay awake and maintain his focus.

"…highly corrosive secretion from the conjunctiva of the Angel's primary eye, situated here on the ventral part of its body," Ritsuko was saying from a dais to the side of the screen, as she indicated with a laser pointer where the Angel's primary eye had formerly been located before Unit 01's volley had virtually obliterated it. "Our analysis of the samples we were able to collect indicates that unchecked, this substance would have burned its way through all twenty-two levels of the Geofront's defensive armour within fifty-seven minutes, approximately ten times faster than the Fifth Angel's attempted incursion into headquarters…"

Shinji felt another yawn coming on.

He did his best to suppress it… and failed.

This is taking forever…

"… most likely conclusion is that the Angel could not release this acidic substance without first lowering its A.T. field, which left its underbelly vulnerable to an attack from below…"

He let his eyes drift across the room, noting the expressions of the others who had been called in to the debriefing. At the front of the room, on the opposite side of the screen, his father, Commander Gendo Ikari, and the Sub-Commander, Kozo Fuyutsuki, looked on impassively as Ritsuko continued her presentation. The pair were as still as wax figures – Fuyutsuki, on his feet as always, with his hands clasped behind his back; and his father, his folded hands and tinted glasses obscuring much of his grim countenance as he listened silently to the doctor's report.

"…currently reviewing the available data from all previous Angel attacks to determine if this is a common phenomenon that could possibly be exploited in further…"

Surrounded by a group of technicians, the three senior bridge staff – Lieutenants Makoto Hyuga, Maya Ibuki, and Shigeru Aoba, were sat together to the Commanders' right, directly in front of Ritsuko. Hyuga and Ibuki were tapping away at their laptops, glancing up occasionally at the doctor as they typed, while Aoba seemed content to merely sit quietly and listen to Ritsuko's presentation. Shinji could see his left foot tapping though, and he could also see the wires from the earbud headphones that were only partly hidden by his long brown hair. The faint sound of rock music was barely discernable as Aoba contemplated the projection screen with a feigned look of seriousness on his face.

Seated to Shinji's left in the front row, Misato was staring silent and stone-faced at the screen. Shinji couldn't be sure if Misato's hard expression was due to her hatred of the Angels, or because of the close proximity of NERV Special Inspector Ryoji Kaji, who was seated next to her. Or perhaps both.

Kaji appeared to be studiously taking notes on the debriefing on a yellow steno pad, but when he raised the pad to show Misato, Shinji's eyes widened when he saw that he had instead been sketching an extremely risqué drawing of a naked Ritsuko, and something that vaguely resembled a penguin… or perhaps a panda. With an outraged "hmph," Misato abruptly swatted the steno pad out of Kaji's hands, causing it to tumble to the floor. At the front of the room, Ritsuko paused at the commotion, glaring green-eyed daggers at Misato to Kaji's delight, before continuing on with her discourse.

"…coordinated effort from all three EVAs was well-executed, with each Unit assuming a vital role in the strategy…"

A familiar voice next to Shinji piped up. "It was my idea," the indignant voice muttered.

Shinji turned to see his roommate and fellow EVA pilot, Asuka Langley Soryu, seated a few places away from him, her arms crossed expectantly as she glared at Ritsuko with her brilliant blue eyes. If the doctor had overheard the Second Child's comment, she took no notice of it as she continued to break down the battle plan that the three Units had utilized to defeat the Angel. Asuka's expression grew more sour by the moment as she waited for Ritsuko to acknowledge her as the author of the successful strategy, and when it became apparent to the redhead that no credit would be forthcoming, she blew a stray strawberry forelock out of her face with an audible huff and rolled her eyes, scowling, as she slumped back in her seat sullenly.

"…allowing Unit 01 to fire a full-clip volley of 105-mm explosive palette shells into the Angel's exposed underbelly, penetrating through the primary eye and destroying its core…"

At the mention of Unit 01, Asuka glanced toward Shinji, and the Third Child could almost feel the burn from the redhead's contemptuous glare on his skin. His eyes quickly darted away from the fuming girl, lighting eventually on the blue-haired form of Rei Ayanami, sitting by herself on the other side of the room. The First Child was leaning forward at her desk, her chin resting in her palm… much the same way as she normally sat in school, Shinji noted. But instead of the dull, detached expression she usually displayed in classroom 2-A, the ruby-eyed girl was keenly watching and listening to Ritsuko's presentation with an almost rapt attention, scribbling notes occasionally into a small pocket-sized notebook, and generally acting as if the doctor's lecture was the most critically important thing she'd ever heard in her life.

Shinji recalled how Rei had once told him that without EVA, she had nothing else. As he watched the slender girl carefully jot down another point in her notebook and then turn her full focus back to the doctor, lost in a world of facts and figures and theories, Shinji was all the more convinced that she had spoken the truth.

"That's about all I have, people," Ritsuko finally concluded from the front of the room, causing Shinji to quietly sigh with relief. "I'm sorry to make you all come in so early on a weekend, but it was vital to get this information to all the relevant parties as quickly as possible. I'd like to thank you all for your… undivided attention." She looked directly at Kaji as she spoke this final line, who responded to the remark with his trademark impish grin – a grin that quickly faded as he followed Ritsuko's gaze to the floor and realized that his artwork was lying out in the open for the entire room to see. The sheepish look on the ponytailed agent's face was more than ample compensation for the embarrassing subject matter in the crude drawing, and it was Ritsuko's turn to grin as she watched Kaji squirm in his seat while chuckles and giggles broke out all around him – the loudest coming from Misato.

"For those of you who neglected to take notes during this morning's briefing – most of you, from what I've been able to see – I've prepared copies of the dossier, which will now be handed out by… " The doctor's jade eyes swept the room before settling on her next victim, "…Lieutenant Aoba."

There was a pregnant pause as an oblivious Aoba continued to look intently at the image of the dead Angel projected on the main screen for several seconds, toes tapping, his head bobbing minutely.

Eventually, the long-haired technician realized that every single pair of eyes in the room was trained on him, and he abruptly sat upright in his chair as he met Ritsuko's expectant gaze. "Erm, sorry, Dr. Akagi, say again?" he blurted nervously.

"Mister Aoba, if it's not too much trouble, would you mind passing these reports out to everyone?" the doctor repeated coldly.

"Huh? Why me?" Aoba asked with a hint of indignation, as he glanced at a gaggle of junior-rank bridge officers snickering quietly nearby.

"Because, Lieutenant, this is a high-level NERV debriefing, not Music Appreciation 101," Ritsuko replied sternly, before adding with a wry smile, "oh, by the way, 'Black Dog' is a great tune, isn't it? Although 'Rain Song' is my personal favourite. If I'd heard that, I might have given you a free pass. Now please remove your earphones and hand out these reports, or you'll be the one 'swingin' from the gallows pole.'"

"Yes, ma'am," Aoba mumbled, rising from his seat and shuffling to the head of the room to collect the stack of files. Inwardly, he suddenly realized a new level of respect for his superior officer, not just for her musical tastes, but also for the sharpness of her hearing.

Behind him, Ritsuko called out, "Once you get a copy of the report, you're free to go, people. Thanks again, and have a good day," before striding over to where Ibuki was packing away her laptop, and engaging her protégé in what appeared to be a serious discussion.

Shinji looked on in anticipation from his seat as Aoba made his way through the lecture hall, passing out the stapled sheets to each staff member in turn. Once he got his own copy of the lecture notes, he thought to himself, it would be back on the train, back to the apartment, and back to bed. He figured he'd sleep in until lunchtime, and after that, he'd worry about what to fix for dinner that night, take care of some homework, maybe watch some TV, listen to some music on his SDAT or play a little cello – the kind of peaceful, lazy Saturday he'd been craving before Ritsuko had called this meeting. But the day could still be salvaged, and as soon as Aoba reached him, he planned on getting right on it.

The Third Child watched as Aoba handed a copy of the dossier to Rei, who silently reached down for her briefcase and began to unbuckle it as the lieutenant turned and made his way toward him. Shinji was wondering why Rei would even need a copy of the report, as she likely had taken enough notes during the lecture to have already covered all of the information Ritsuko had prepared. As he watched the blue-haired girl fussing with the straps on her bag, his train of thought was abruptly derailed by Asuka, who had plunked herself down in the seat next to him and was regarding him with a scornful expression.

"So, once again, Shinji saves the day, huh?" she smirked, her blue eyes glittering. "What kind of a sick joke of a briefing was that, anyway? I was the one who came up with the battle plan! I was the one who saved your sorry ass by taking an acid bath! But I guess none of that matters to Ritsuko, or Misato – all they care about is who pulled the trigger, and who got the kill! I've never heard anything so pathetic in all my life!"

Shinji shrank back in his seat as the Second Child ranted away at him, before he finally managed to work up the nerve to respond. "I'm… sorry, Asuka," he stammered, unable to meet her intense, piercing stare, "I mean… I – I know I couldn't have taken the shot without your help… and it's not like I'm taking credit for the kill… Ritsuko and Misato, they probably just figure we all did our part, that's all."

"That's funny, I don't recall hearing the words "Asuka Langley Soryu" or "Unit 02" anywhere in that long-winded snoozefest," the redhead shot back. "All I heard was 'Unit 01 destroyed the Angel.' As if that was the only thing that mattered! Don't forget, I was supposed to be the group leader!"

Yeah… you were the group leader who got us all lost, Shinji thought to himself, as he cringed under the Second Child's caustic gaze.

If it hadn't been for Rei, we'd probably all still be stuck in a ventilation duct right now…

He bit back the thought, out of self-preservation more than anything else, replying only with a mumbled, "s… sorry, Asuka."

The redhead snorted derisively. "What the hell do you have to be sorry about? You're the Invincible Shinji, and apparently Wondergirl and I are just your goddamned entourage! Well, it's going to be a lot different when the next Angel comes, Third Child, I can promise you that!"

With that, Asuka rose from her seat and turned to leave, just as Aoba arrived to hand her a copy of the briefing notes. "Keep them," she muttered to the lieutenant as he held out the pages to her, "there's nothing in there that I'm interested in reading."

"Dr. Akagi said everyone's supposed to get a copy," Aoba replied, confused by the redhead's refusal to accept the report. "What am I supposed to do with these?"

The technician was even more confused when the Second Child smiled up at him coquettishly. "Do you really want me to tell you?" she purred sweetly, before her smile melted into a contemptuous sneer and she turned on her heel, her ruddy mane flouncing behind her as she stalked off toward the exit.

As she headed for the door, Asuka passed by Rei without so much as a single word or a glance. Shinji's eyes followed the redhead before settling again on the First Child, who had paid no notice to Asuka as she had stormed by, and she was now doing up the buckles on her briefcase as she prepared to leave the room herself. All around the lecture hall, others were doing the same, chatting informally amongst themselves as they slowly made their way out the door and into the main corridor beyond.

As if she somehow felt Shinji's eyes on her, the blue-haired girl paused in her preparations and glanced up from her seat, fixing her deep crimson eyes on Shinji's own. Several seconds seemed to pass as the two Children regarded each other from across the room, a faint mix of surprise and curiosity crossing the girl's delicate features. Suddenly feeling as if he'd been caught doing something improper, Shinji flushed a bright pink and abruptly tore his slate-gray eyes away from hers, casting his gaze downward to stare mutely at the desktop in front of him.

In those few short moments, he had completely forgotten that Aoba was still standing in front of him. "Here you go, kid," the lieutenant said with a grin as he held out another batch of papers toward him, "hey, do me a favour and take Soryu's copy too, will you? I'm in enough hot water with Dr. Akagi as it is."

"Sure, no problem," Shinji mumbled in reply, absently holding out a hand to receive the reports. At the same time, he turned his head and glanced back in Rei's direction, where the slender girl had turned her attention away from him and was now fussing with her briefcase again. Apparently, one of the buckles was broken, and she was having difficulty closing it. Shinji found himself wondering if perhaps she would like a new briefcase for her birthday, before realizing he had no idea when her birthday even was.

Maybe I should ask her sometime, he thought, as he felt the briefing notes sliding into his outstretched hand.

Immediately, he felt something else – an intense, stinging pain in his left hand, as if someone had drawn a sharp knife across one of his fingers.


He dropped the reports on the desk and brought his hand up to his face, clutching his smarting left hand with his right as he gazed wide-eyed at the thin crimson line that was now running down the inside of his left index finger.

Paper cut, he thought morosely.

Ugh… it's a beauty, too…

The cut was deep, and Shinji was dismayed to see that it ran straight across both joints of his index finger. He flexed the digit slightly, hissing through his teeth as the pain immediately intensified and bright red blood started to flow freely from the wound, pattering onto the floor of the lecture hall. Cursing under his breath, the Third Child wrapped his right hand around the injured finger and squeezed, feeling it throb painfully in his grip. More blood began to seep through the fingers of his right hand, and Shinji glanced around the room, urgently looking for anyone who might be able to help.

His eyes lighted on Ritsuko, who was just now passing through the door of the lecture hall with Ibuki in tow.

She's a doctor, Shinji thought, maybe she's got a bandage, or some antiseptic cream or something with her…

He rose from his seat, leaving his own briefcase and the reports behind, and hurried past Rei and through a small group of junior techs as he followed the blonde woman and her subordinate out into the hallway.

Shinji could hear the two women talking in serious tones as he trailed behind them. The topic of their discussion seemed to be the blackout that had crippled NERV the day before, moments before the Ninth Angel had attacked.

"…could the Angel have somehow caused Headquarters to lose power?" Ibuki had queried.

"It's an outside possibility, but highly unlikely," the doctor replied. "We lost our main circuit grid as well as all three backup systems instantaneously, which almost certainly rules out an attack from outside, and data from the JSDF indicates that the Angel was still dozens of kilometers away at the time. No, whomever was responsible for this had vital information about the Geofront's electrical layout – they knew exactly what they were doing."

"So… it was someone from inside the Geofront that sabotaged the grid?" the lieutenant speculated apprehensively.

"There's no way of telling until we've collected more data – but so far, all the signs seem to be pointing that way. Is the dummy program still handling the power restoration process?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ibuki replied, "all systems are scheduled to be back online by 1400 hours."

"Very good. Let's get to the command centre and start running checks on all the separate subsystems," Ritsuko sighed, "we're going to have to go through each individual circuit in this entire facility and look for any fluctuations in the electrical current prior to the blackout. Hopefully, we'll be able to pinpoint the location where the power failure initiated, and then we can investigate from there."

"Um… excuse me? R-Ritsuko?" Shinji stammered nervously from behind the doctor. "S… sorry to bother you, but do you think you could…"

"Shinji, I'm sorry, but I just don't have any time right now," Ritsuko replied shortly over her shoulder without breaking her pace, "if you need to see me about something, I'll have office hours available on Monday afternoon after your next sync test. Come on, Maya, it's going to be a long day…"

With that, the two women strode off toward the command centre, leaving Shinji behind still clutching his bleeding finger as he watched them disappear around a corner. Frowning, he glanced down at his hand and eased off on the pressure he was exerting on the cut, but the moment he did so, a fresh flow of bright crimson trickled into his palm. He squeezed the wound closed again, wincing at the sting the pressure caused as his finger resumed its painful throbbing. His eyes darted around the hallway – there were still a few people hanging around from the debriefing, and surely somebody would be able to help him out – but who?

At the other end of the hall, he saw Aoba chatting with Hyuga near a row of vending machines. Shinji didn't really know the two male lieutenants all that well, but they seemed nice enough – Aoba was actually pretty cool, for a technician – and maybe they'd know where he could at least find a first aid kit, or something that would help stop his finger from bleeding…

As he approached, he could overhear the two bridge staffers discussing Hyuga's exploits of the previous day, when he had commandeered a passing vehicle that had been broadcasting a local politician's campaign ads to alert NERV to the presence of the approaching Angel… an act that had produced an unexpected side benefit for the bespectacled technician.

"So… she gave you her card? That's awesome!" Aoba exclaimed cheerfully. "Is she hot?"

"Yeah, she's… kind of cute," Hyuga replied sheepishly, seemingly reluctant to talk about the sandy-haired woman in the van who had been making announcements over the vehicle's loudspeaker. "Her name's Eriko, Eriko Shibata… she's a PR rep for that Takahashi guy who's running for city council."

"Well, you are gonna call her, aren't you?" Aoba prodded, clearly enjoying his colleague's discomfort. "You know, she probably thinks you're this big hero, crashing her van through the Geofront's main gate to warn everybody about the big, bad, Angel – dude, if you can't score after that performance, you're hopeless."

"Yeah, thanks for the confidence boost, Shigeru," Hyuga muttered, rolling his eyes, before he noticed the Third Child stepping warily toward the two men. "Oh, hey there, Shinji, how's it going?"

Before the young pilot could reply, Aoba had moved next to him, oblivious to his cut finger as the long-haired technician clamped an arm around his shoulder. "Now, here's somebody you could learn a little something from, Mak," Aoba prodded, giving Shinji a good-natured shake. "Shinji here's kind of like you – shy, quiet, nerdy, totally useless when it comes to the ladies…" – Shinji glared up indignantly at this comment, his expression mirroring Hyuga's, before Aoba subjected him to another whiplash-inducing shake – "…but he always steps up when it's time to take care of business, don't you, buddy? He doesn't look like much, but he's one tough little dude! Did you see what he did to that giant bug yesterday? Once he gets into that EVA, man, nothing stops him! He doesn't feel fear, or pain, he just kicks ass and takes names! Right, kid?"

Shinji's finger continued to throb as he nodded his head weakly, staring at the floor in mute embarrassment. How could he possibly complain about a little cut now?

"Yeah, but I don't have an EVA, I'm a desk jockey – just like you – so the comparison doesn't really hold up," Hyuga shot back, his annoyance building. "Besides… I'm not really sure she's my type…"

Aoba raised his arms to the heavens, sighing audibly in mock exasperation. "What do I have to do?" he protested. "C'mon, Mak, let me buy you a drink, and we'll try to sort you out, okay? Catch you later, kid – Hyuga and I have some "man stuff" to talk about."

With a wicked grin, Aoba grabbed his protesting colleague by the upper arm and proceeded to drag him down the hall in the direction of the staff canteen. Hyuga glanced back at Shinji and gave the teen a resigned shrug before turning around and meekly following the long-haired lieutenant. Shinji looked after the two men bemusedly, still clutching his smarting hand, as they continued to argue all the way down the corridor.

"What do you mean, she's not your type? Don't tell me you're still hung up on Katsu…"

"Don't say it," Hyuga cut him off sharply.

"Well, hey, that might not be a problem… you could always ask Eriko if she'd be willing to dye her hair purple…"

"Shut up, Shigeru…"

Shinji sighed, shaking his head, as the conversation trailed off into the distance.

I wish Misato were still here, he thought to himself glumly, as he gazed down at his wounded finger and watched another scarlet bead drop from his hand to the floor with a tiny splat.

At least she'd probably pay some attention to me…

A sudden commotion from behind him caused Shinji to whirl around, and he was startled to see that his wish had been fulfilled – though not quite in the matter that he had intended.

Misato was rapidly stalking down the hallway directly toward him, hunched forward, hands balled into white, bloodless fists, teeth set in a fierce snarl, and thunderheads darkening her brow. Shinji's eyes widened at the sight, and he unconsciously took a step backward – he'd seen Misato angry before, but never like this.

Right now, the lavender-haired woman looked downright homicidal.

Shinji swallowed hard, frantically searching his brain for anything he might have done recently that could have sent his guardian into such a towering rage, before he recognized the ponytailed figure striding along behind Misato, and relief washed over him as he realized that it wasn't he that the apoplectic woman was angry with.

The Third Child suddenly felt very, very sorry for Ryoji Kaji.

"…can't believe you! Ever since you've been here, you've been making me miserable! MISERABLE! Don't you have anywhere better to be, anyway? Back in Germany? The States? Antarctica? Anywhere but HERE?"

"Oh, come on, Katsuragi, admit it – you know that no matter where I am, you'll always carry a part of me inside you," Kaji cajoled merrily after her, "and hey, while we're on the subject…"

"Don't flatter yourself, slimeball," Misato spat, "you were never that good to begin with."

Kaji clutched at his chest in mock agony at the retort. "Alas, the lady's words are like daggers in my heart!" he proclaimed in stentorian tones, before he stopped short, cocking an eyebrow pensively. "Wait… compared to who? It's not… it's Hyuga, isn't it? I've seen the way he looks at you – you've been having your way with him behind my back all this time, haven't you, you shameless little minx?"

"…a moon base," Misato seethed as she continued on down the corridor, "… why couldn't NERV have a moon base?"

"Look, I'm sorry about the drawing, okay?" Kaji shouted after her, the half-grin on his face undermining the sincerity of the apology, "I don't even know if Ritsu really has a tattoo on her hip, and Pen Pen... well, I wasn't trying to be anatomically correct… or are you still upset about that whole elevator thing yesterday? It's not like the power failure was my fault, you know."

"Too bad," the Captain shot back over her shoulder, "because sabotage is treason, and we execute traitors! And right now I'd be more than happy to pull the switch!"

As she marched past, cursing under her breath, Misato's chestnut eyes glanced to the side of the corridor, and she finally noticed that Shinji had been standing there watching her the whole time. He stared up at her uncertainly, his expression a mixture of confusion, fear, and an odd… expectation. Her anger seemed to deflate somewhat as she regarded the nervous teen, who was clutching his hands in front of him awkwardly. A thoughtful look crossed Misato's face, and she stepped over to the Third Child and crouched slightly so that she could look him directly in the eye.

"Hey, kiddo," she said softly, "It looks like you could use a little help."

Finally, Shinji thought gratefully, as Misato graced him with a small, kind smile.

Finally, someone noticed…

"It's not bad, really," he murmured bashfully, glancing down at his finger, "I think I just need a…"

And then, as he glanced back up again, an icy horror chilled him to the bone as Misato's smile suddenly twisted into a frightening, venomous scowl. A series of veins as purple as her hair suddenly erupted across her forehead and began to pulse rapidly, as her nostrils flared impossibly wide and her hot breath pushed his bangs out of his eyes. As terrified as he was, Shinji also felt an odd, detached fascination at the sight. He had never actually seen a person's head explode before, and he felt like this was as good an opportunity as any.

"You're still a boy, Shinji, but soon, you're going to be a man – so I'm going to help you out right now," Misato rasped, in a tone full of razor blades and rusty nails. "I'm telling you that when you get older, if you ever, ever, turn out to be just like this…" – she turned and started jabbing a menacing index finger at Kaji, who looked on nonplussed – "…this… no-good, slimy, lazy, egotistical, self-absorbed, scruffy-looking, two-faced, disrespectful, perverted, conceited creep, I swear to God, Shinji – EVA or no EVA – I will break into your room in the middle of the night, and smother you to death in your sleep! You got that? Nod your head if you understand."

Shinji nodded his head.

Misato fixed him with a stare that could strip paint. "You're a good boy, Shinji," she stated flatly, "you stay that way, and nobody will get hurt." She swept her incendiary gaze to Kaji, and Shinji was mildly surprised that the agent's long hair failed to spontaneously combust, before the lavender-haired woman turned on her heel and stormed off down the corridor again. Kaji merely looked on as she stomped away, his arms folded across his chest and his eyes gleaming with amusement.

"Who's 'scruffy-looking?'" he called after her jovially. Misato responded by jabbing another finger in his direction – not her index one, either.

"Well, I'd say that was a bit on the harsh side," he remarked dryly, before glancing down at Shinji, who seemed slightly shell-shocked over the whole encounter. "You okay, Shinji?"

"Uh… yeah," he finally stammered, bewildered, as he watched his guardian stalking off into the distance. He glanced up at Kaji, who reached down and good-naturedly tousled his hair.

Shinji winced as he curled his injured finger and another jolt of pain shot through it. A small voice in the back of his head was telling him that it would be absolutely futile to ask the question that was right now sitting on the tip of his tongue, but he ignored it.

Hey, it's worth a shot, he figured.

"Um… Kaji?" he began hesitantly. "I was… well, I, um, sort of need a…"

The tall man cut him off with a sly wink, before his eyes darted to the retreating form of Misato. "I'm very sorry, my young friend," he chortled through a lopsided grin, "but I'm afraid I've got to run… the game's afoot!"

With that, he turned and strode off down the corridor in pursuit of the seething woman, calling out after her, "Katsuragi, wait up! C'mon, sunshine, let me make it up to you! Let's go get a drink! I'll take you out to dinner! How about we go shopping, and I'll buy you something nice? Hey, I know a great lingerie shop downtown - from what I saw yesterday, you could definitely use some new underwear…"

"You… you DID look up my dress! AUGHHH!!! Just stay the hell away from me, you pervert! You know, I've got a gun, you sleazy son of a…"

Shinji looked on with a doleful expression as the sounds of the couple's bickering slowly faded away.

Nobody cares, he thought morosely, as he stared down at his throbbing finger.

Everybody's got better things to do than worry about me, I guess…

He was considering just returning to the lecture hall, retrieving his things, and making his way to the medical centre, when he heard the click-clack of hard-soled shoes advancing down the corridor toward him from the opposite direction.

Shinji whirled around at the sound, and his heart leapt into his throat as he saw his father, Commander Gendo Ikari, striding toward him, followed closely behind by Sub-Commander Kozo Fuyutsuki. There was urgency in their pace as they marched down the long hallway, and as the two grew closer, he could hear them talking in hushed tones about something that had been found near the South Pole, before the bearded man noticed his son staring at them and immediately fell silent.

Any faint hope he held that his father might notice his distress and stop to ask him what was the matter, like any other father would do, was immediately dashed as the Commander merely shot him a cold, dismissive glance from behind his tinted glasses, before turning his gaze forward again and proceeding past the teen as if he wasn't even there.

Behind him, Fuyutsuki glanced down at Shinji as the two men passed by, and frowned as he noted that the boy was clutching his red-stained hand. The old man opened his mouth, almost as if he meant to tell the Commander that something seemed to be wrong with the Third Child, but his superior had begun talking about the "recovery operation" again, and was clearly not interested in anything else. Fuyutsuki glanced back over his shoulder and gave Shinji a sympathetic look before turning and following the Commander toward the lifts.

As the two men stepped into a waiting elevator, disappearing behind the sliding doors, Shinji felt a cold sweat beading on his forehead, and he noticed that he was trembling. Every encounter with his father left him feeling the same way – sick, small, worthless.

Even his own father had no time for him.

He turned, crestfallen, and slowly plodded back toward the lecture hall to retrieve his things. Instead of going straight home like he had wanted to do, to relax and enjoy a lazy Saturday, it seemed he'd have to stop by the medical centre first, and then he'd probably just return to the apartment, shut himself away from the world, and dwell on just how insignificant he felt at that moment. The small amount of pride and satisfaction he had felt, after helping to defeat the Angel only the day before, had been effectively shattered.

He had just reached the door to the room, lost in his depression, when he was startled by the sight of the redheaded Second Child, who had nearly bumped into him as she came through the doorway.

"Watch where you're going, idiot," she snapped, as she moved to push by him.

Shinji was confused. "Asuka… I thought… I thought you left already," he stammered.

"Yeah, I thought so too, but then I ran into Ritsuko, and she wanted to know why I didn't have a copy of her precious lecture notes," Asuka grumbled, her irritation obvious. "Can you believe she's actually put a freeze on my NERV ID card? She won't let me leave the Geofront unless I show the Section Two guys at the main gate that I have the notes! So then I had to find Aoba, and he said that you had them, and that you were still here…"

"I took them for you," Shinji mumbled quietly, "they're inside on one of the desks."

"Already got them," Asuka replied, holding up the stapled sheets. Shinji neither expected, nor received, any words of thanks. "Ritsuko can enjoy her little power trip all she wants, 'cause I'm still just going to throw them in the first trash can I find as soon as I get out of here… hey, what's wrong with your hand?"

Shinji was stunned. The last thing he would have ever expected was that Asuka would show him any sort of concern at all. Yet, here she was, staring down at his clutched hands, her bright blue eyes wide as she studied his blood-caked fingers intently.

The German girl had been the bane of his existence since she had arrived in Tokyo-3. Asuka never seemed to pass up an opportunity to tease Shinji, or insult him, or humiliate him, or berate him for even the smallest of perceived offences. Despite her acerbic personality though, she was still a stunningly beautiful girl, and at that moment, as she gazed down at his hands with a soft, sympathetic expression, her sapphire eyes framed by her strawberry forelocks, Shinji felt his heart skip a beat.

"It's… I… I, um, I just cut my finger," he finally managed to blurt out.

"Oh, no… is it bad?" she queried softly, as she reached out and gently took his hands in hers, before she looked right at him with those impossibly deep, azure eyes. "Do you… want me to kiss it better?"

Shinji could feel the cold sweat breaking out across his brow again, and his cheeks suddenly felt hot as the redhead cradled his hands in her own, holding them up to her face as she gazed directly at him with a small smile. The look in her eyes, and the feel of his hands being caressed by hers, was utterly captivating to him, and he felt an odd flutter in his stomach at her touch. This was probably one of the most surreal moments he had ever experienced – Asuka Langley Soryu, the brash, competitive, headstrong Second Child, who usually treated him like dirt, cared about him, was worried about him, wanted to kiss…

And then, surreality was abruptly replaced by reality, as Asuka suddenly burst out into a fit of laughter.

"Mein Gott, if you could only see the look on your face right now, Third Child!" she giggled, as Shinji visibly deflated before her. "Oh, this is too much! I wish Ritsuko and Misato could see this… the Invincible Shinji, the mighty Slayer of Angels, brought down by a little boo-boo on his finger! What is that, a paper cut? Better not let anybody know… if they ever send an Angel against us with paper-thin arms, we'll be doomed!"

Asuka then strode straight past the mortified boy, headed for the elevators, as Shinji looked on with a mixture of hurt, embarrassment, and indignation. "Oh, and just so you know," the redhead called back over her shoulder, "I'd never kiss a loser like you in a million years! See you back at the apartment, dork."

Shinji just stared blankly as the Second Child walked away, much the same way a person might regard a retreating tornado after it had just obliterated their home.

Are you really surprised? the small voice in the back of his head asked him.

Shinji sometimes wished that little voice would just shut the hell up.

His shoulders slumped as he turned toward the door to the lecture hall. Get your stuff, get yourself a bandage from the medical centre, and then get the hell out of here, he thought to himself, as he stepped through the door and into the empty room.

His eyebrows shot up in surprise as he entered the room, though, as he realized that the room was not quite as empty as he thought.

He caught his breath as his slate-gray eyes fixed themselves on the slender figure of Rei Ayanami, who was sitting in the chair next to the desk he has been occupying during the lecture, regarding him with a curious expression.

An eternity seemed to pass as he stared silently at the blue-haired girl, before Shinji finally remembered how to make his mouth work.

"Ayanami… what... what are you still doing here?" he whispered.

Rei tilted her head at the question. "I… have been waiting for you to return," she replied, in her familiar flat monotone. "Please come here, Ikari," she requested, her ruby eyes fixed steadily on Shinji's.

After what had just happened with Asuka, it would be understandable if Shinji might have been somewhat wary of the girl's appeal, but as he carefully scrutinized her face, he could detect no trace of duplicity in her expression. After all, this was Rei, Shinji reminded himself, and no one had ever heard of Rei telling a lie, or worse, pulling a prank on someone.

Shyly, like a young deer being offered a treat from a stranger, Shinji slowly shuffled over to where the First Child was sitting patiently waiting for him.

"Will you sit?"

She gestured to the seat beside her, and Shinji, almost as if he had been programmed to, quietly sat down beside the blue-haired girl, never taking his eyes off of her as she carefully unwrapped something that she was holding in her pale, delicate hands.

"Give me your hand, please," she asked him in a prim, schoolteacher's tone.

Shinji felt a sudden reluctance – his hands were a mess, covered in dried blood, and he was afraid that Rei might find the sight of his cut finger a little distasteful – but her crimson eyes all but insisted that he do as she had asked him. Slowly, he released his finger from the clutches of his right hand, wincing inside as a gleam of bright red from the wound glistened in the light, and hesitatingly held it out in front of the First Child.

He caught his breath as he felt Rei take his hand – her hands are… warm, he thought absently, not at all what he expected from the look of her pallid complexion – and he was inexplicably drawn into the pools of her eyes as she regarded the long cut on his index finger with a serious expression. As Shinji continued to stare into the First Child's ruby eyes, mesmerized, he could feel her wrapping something around the injured digit, and vaguely heard the sound of plastic backing being pulled off of an adhesive strip.

"There," she murmured, with a slight trace of satisfaction in her quiet voice.

Shinji blinked, pulling his eyes away from hers, and glanced down to his left hand, and his eyebrows shot up as he saw that a wide, cream-coloured Band-Aid was now bound around his index finger. He raised his hand as stared at the bandage, perplexed, as the First Child looked on calmly.

"Um… thank… thank you, Ayanami," he stuttered, as he gazed at his hand. She said nothing in reply, but merely regarded him calmly as he gazed at his finger in wonder. The finger was still throbbing beneath the wrapping, but somehow, it didn't bother him so much anymore. "That was really nice of you… but you must have been sitting here for a while – how did you know I was even going to come back?"

She looked at him as if he had just asked her what colour the sky was. "All of your things are still here," she replied simply, "it was only a matter of time before you returned for them."

He glanced past her, to where his briefcase and his copy of the debriefing notes sat waiting. "Oh, yeah," he murmured, feeling slightly foolish, his cheeks colouring slightly. "But… how did you know that I'd even hurt myself?"

Shinji was surprised to see Rei's own cheeks turn a faint shade of pink at the question.

"I… I saw, when it happened. You cut yourself when Lieutenant Aoba gave you the notes. I attempted to attract your attention, but you did not notice me, you stood up and ran past me after Dr. Akagi."

Shinji's eyes widened at the statement, as Rei's eyes dropped to the floor, her expression unreadable.

She saw me, he thought to himself. She was looking at me.

She was waiting for me all this time, while I was running around outside like an idiot.

Everybody else was ignoring me, but I ignored the one person that actually wanted to help me...

He felt more foolish that ever after the girl's revelation, but he lowered his head, regarding her through his brown bangs, and gave her a small smile. "Well… I'm really glad you waited for me, Ayanami," he offered gratefully, as he rose from his seat and gathered up his things from the desktop beside her. "I guess I was lucky that you happened to have a bandage in your bag."

She gave him an enigmatic look as she rose and picked up her own briefcase, preparing to leave. "I did not have one," she corrected.

You could almost see the question mark floating over the Third Child's head at the remark. "You didn't?" he asked, confused. "Then… where did this come from?" He held up his left hand, displaying the bandage on his finger.

She gave him a slight shrug. "I obtained it from the first aid kit that is hanging on the wall by the door," she replied matter-of-factly.

Shinji's eyes flew to the door of the room, and sure enough, right beside the doorframe hung a small, white plastic box with a conspicuous red cross on its front.

"You left the room before I was able to bring it to your attention," Rei continued.

Shinji resisted the strong urge to smack himself in the forehead as he continued to stare at the first aid kit on the wall.

"Wow… can't believe I missed that," he muttered sheepishly, before glancing back at his hand. "Well… I guess it turned out okay though – you, uh, you did a pretty good job fixing me up."

He turned back to her, and his eyes widened as he saw that she was regarding him with an oddly pensive look.

"I… am not finished," she murmured quietly.

Something in her tone caused the hair on the back of Shinji's neck to stand on end.

Time seemed to shift into slow motion as Shinji watched Rei reach out and take his left hand in hers. He was gripped by a sudden mute, paralyzing fascination as the blue-haired girl raised his hand close to her face, and gently placed a tiny kiss upon the bandage covering his injured finger.

For almost a full minute, Shinji could only stare at the slender girl in shocked silence, completely astonished by the First Child's uncharacteristic act.

Rei considered him for a moment, as if studying his reaction, before she released his hand, and then abruptly turned and made her way toward the exit.

Shinji was utterly stupefied by Rei's behavior, and he struggled to say something, anything, before the girl departed.

"Ayanami… w-wait," he eventually managed.

She had just pulled the door open when he spoke, and she turned back to him, regarding him flatly as she stood framed by the doorway.

"…why… why did you… do that?" Shinji murmured, feeling the burn spreading across his face once more.

Rei gave him another puzzled look. "I heard Pilot Soryu speaking to you outside of the room," she explained, "she said that if she kissed your injury, it would… feel better. I do not understand how this would be beneficial from a medical standpoint, but I… wished to give whatever assistance I could."

She tilted her head slightly as she glanced down to his bandaged finger. "Does it not feel better?"

Shinji had to admit that at that particular moment, the cut on his finger was the absolute last thing on his mind, as he gazed into the crimson eyes of the blue-haired girl before him.

"Uh… well, yeah… actually, it does," he finally admitted, as he unconsciously clenched and unclenched his left hand.

Rei arched an eyebrow at his reply, her ruby eyes drifting off into space. "How curious…" she whispered, her expression pensive, as she attempted to fathom how such a simple act could have such an effect. For a moment, it looked to Shinji as if the confused girl wished to ask him another question, but she simply shook her head minutely before she seemed to regain control of her thoughts and turned her placid gaze back to the boy. Her usual flat demeanor seemed to have fully restored itself – with the exception of the tiny crinkle that still lingered over the bridge of her nose, and the faint flush on her cheeks.

"Goodbye, Ikari," she finally stated, before she turned and walked out the door.

Shinji couldn't have been more stunned if someone had walked up behind him with a baseball bat, lined it up with the back of his skull, and swung for the fences.

What the hell just happened? was the only coherent thought he could muster at that moment.

Suddenly feeling weak, he slumped back down into a chair and ran a hand through his brown hair as the frazzled teen struggled to comprehend everything that had just occured in the last few minutes.

One thing was certain, though – enjoying a lazy, relaxing Saturday was clearly no longer an option…


Author's notes: Another one down for the "Aspects" project! I took on "Hurt/Comfort" this time because it's one category of fan fiction that I actually have a real dislike for. The things that some authors have done to "hurt" their characters so that they can be "comforted" are downright criminal, and in some cases, a bit sick. My spin on it is, admittedly, a bit of a piss-take, but I think all of the necessary elements of the genre are still present, and I wanted to evoke the more light-hearted atmosphere of the earlier episodes of the series in this one. Actually, I really enjoyed writing this, because it ended up becoming a bit of a character study for several members of the EVA cast, which wasn't my intent when I started. It was fun for me to see people like Aoba and Hyuga getting a little screen time in a piece where they're not just spouting out technical jargon… anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this one.

And because I just couldn't get the idea out of my head… here's my first-ever omake!


Does it not feel better?

The words ran through Shinji's mind over and over, as he sat in the empty lecture hall, staring at the bandage that Rei had applied to his finger.

The finger that she had kissed.

A strange feeling welled up inside him as he heard Rei's soft voice whispering in his thoughts, again and again.

Does it not feel better?

And the more those quiet words repeated themselves in the back of his mind, the more this strange feeling grew, quickly blossoming in his soul until it took hold of him and possessed him completely.


Pure, unfiltered, unadulterated… anger.

"…that's it?" he grumbled. "That's all I get?"

One of his eyelids began to tic uncontrollably as the Third Child's face suddenly turned several shades of purple.

"I… am… so… goddamned… SICK of this…"

He suddenly shot to his feet, trembling with fury, as he glared up at a random point on the ceiling and began shaking his clenched fist threateningly.

"How many times are you going to JERK ME AROUND?" he raged. "You call this "comfort?" Huh? You think I don't read fan fiction, too? Other guys are getting laid, and I get a freakin' peck on my finger? On top of a Band-Aid? Talk about "safe sex!" You SUCK, IO! You hear me? You SUCK!!!"

He reached down and grabbed his briefcase, and then stormed out of the room and out into the hallway beyond. "Fine, you're not going to write any lemony goodness for me? Then I'll just have to deal with it myself! I'm SICK of being shy, and quiet, and nerdy! I want to be a BADASS, the way all those other writers make me! I'm going to be tough, and fearless, and dammit, I'm gonna get me some for once!"

Shinji glanced down the long hallway, where he could see the tiny form of Rei Ayanami receding into the distance.

"HEY, YOU!" he bellowed down the hall. "Where do you think you're going?"

He held up his bandaged finger, waving it in the direction of the blue-haired girl. "This is the best you can do? You think this is "comfort?" Let me tell you something, sweetheart, I ain't nowhere near being comforted YET! You get back here right NOW, you friggin' tease! I want what's coming to me! I'm tired of all the pussyfooting around, blue-ball bullcrap that that stupid hack author always writes for us! Now, get BACK here, and PUT OUT!!!"

Rei was either too far away to hear Shinji's crazed ranting, or she chose not to react, as she turned a corner at the end of the corridor and abruptly disappeared.

Shinji stood, hunched over and panting, as he stared down the empty hall in frustration.

"Girl trouble?"

The Third Child whirled at the sound of a voice behind him, and found himself staring into a pair of crimson eyes – but not Rei's. The eyes belonged to a boy his own age, whose angelic-looking face was framed by a shock of shaggy gray hair. Oddly, Shinji found the boy's intense stare, wide grin, and earnest expression slightly unsettling.

"Uh… well, I guess – I guess you could say that," he muttered, glancing back down the hall to where Rei had departed.

"I see," the gray-haired boy replied, looking curiously in the same direction as Shinji. "Personally, I really don't understand why you Lilim males go through all the trouble… so, was that your girlfriend or something?"

Shinji sighed. "No, not exactly… our relationship is kind of… complicated…"

The strange boy seemed to brighten at this. "Really? Hmm, that must be very difficult for you… say, how about we take a seat inside, and you can tell me all about it?"

Shinji felt a hand gently take his arm, and he found himself being guided back into the lecture hall by the smiling, red-eyed stranger.

Okay… this is weird, he thought to himself.

Still, he seems nice enough… he must be a foreigner or something…

"Hey, what did you say your name was?" he asked as the strange boy led him into the room.

"Oh, sorry… it's Kaworu," the boy replied, and Shinji froze at his next words. "I have been waiting a very long time to meet you, Shinji Ikari."

As Kaworu slowly pulled the door shut, Shinji's confused, anxious voice could be heard from within the room:

"Kaworu... how… how did you know my name?

And why are you… locking the…"

The soft click of a deadbolt sliding into place cut off the rest of the apprehensive boy's question…

Author's note – one serving of lemony goodness coming up, Shin-man, just like you wanted. That'll teach you to run your mouth on me. Dork.


Please feel free to leave a review, or drop me a line at ikarusonesun(at-sign)gmail(dot)com.