There were times where, for all his scheming, Shinji found himself caught between forces beyond his control, and could only bow his head and wait for an opportunity for escape lest he be crushed. This was one of those times, and all he could do was pray to Tzeentch for strength and an early escape.

"Okay, we've got several million yen and three strong backs to carry our purchases. Let's get shopping!" Asuka announces.

Toji gave Shinji a look that screamed, "I hate you so much right now."

Kaji, the most experienced male in the group, had already assumed the look of utter passivity that indicated that he had switched off higher brain functions and was resigned to his fate. He had probably been dragged shopping by Misato before.

Hikari had an ambivalent expression on her face, for on the one hand she was wondering about whether it was proper to spend so much of her friend's money, but on the other hand the offer of a shopping trip with essentially unlimited funds appealed to her to no end.

Rei had assumed a neutral position, for she was relatively neutral on the whole affair. While she had got a kick out of the Commander's reaction when Asuka had stormed into his office and demanded an equalization of pay for all pilots, and the tortured look on Shinji's face was worth the price of admission, Asuka had more or less dragged her into the shower before coming shopping, something that had soured her mood somewhat. Especially the enforced use of soap.

Of course, when she had told that last fact to everyone, Shinji and Toji had both excused themselves to the bathroom for a few minutes before returning with small bits of bloody toilet paper stuffed up their nostrils. Rei did not quite understand what that had been about, but the other two females in their group had just rolled their eyes while Kaji just snickered a little.

"Okay, first order of business is to get Rei a new wardrobe," Asuka announces before leading the merry band of over-financed teenagers and one secret agent chaperone into Tokyo-3's busiest shopping district while making a beeline for the most expensive boutiques.

Their first stop ended with the saleswoman in tears, meaning that for Shinji the day was already looking up. The arrogant bitch had simply assumed that because they were all teenagers they couldn't afford to shop at the store. She and Asuka rapidly got in a shouting match, which ended with Shinji pulling out his wallet and flashing all the cash as he got out a map of the shopping district so as to recommend a competitor's store.

The fact that he did this right in front of the manager was the most priceless bit. When the manager tried to talk them into staying, Shinji had just smiled and said, "I can understand if you feel we do not look wealthy enough to shop here, but at least be polite when you try to ask us to leave so that we might explain the situation. The rudeness of your employee however has led me to ask that you politely kiss my ass as we walk out here."

Shinji got a round of applause once they were out of that store, to which he took a dramatic bow. Somebody was going to need a new job.

Several stores later and they still had not found anything that Rei wanted, although both Asuka and Hikari had done some shopping along the way. Their purchases were very telling of their character really. Asuka was very fond of loose, airy clothing that accentuated her curves while also giving her a great deal of freedom of motion. They were, simply put, the best compromise between being "girly" and "ass-kicking" that Asuka could probably find.

Hikari on the other hand, she was much more about order. Outwardly the clothing she got was very simple and plain looking, if with a keen eye towards exquisiteness of cut, but inside there were often all sorts of arcane devices whose purpose could only be divined by the female mind and presumably the designers. They lifted, supported, constrained, and quite possibly made coffee, but the effect was quite evident as Toji had to leave several times to go to the bathroom to replenish his supply of toilet paper. Eventually Shinji looked at his friend and said, "I think we need to stop for lunch, Toji is starting to look a little hungry."

This was of course a lie as Toji was starting to look rather anaemic from acute blood loss and he probably needed a large dosage of fluids, proteins, and iron to help offset the loss. An American style hamburger with a drink and fries would probably do the trick. The girls still wanted to do a little shopping first, so they agreed to split off for the moment. Besides, they were talking about stopping off at the lingerie stores, and Toji probably wouldn't survive something like that.

Sitting down at the cafeteria, Toji just looked at Shinji and said, "Man, I don't know whether to punch you or kiss you."

"I would prefer the punch, I can block that less awkwardly," Shinji says while snacking on a strange concoction from a North American place. It was best described as "heart disease on a plate" but it was apparently called "poutine". It tasted alright, and it was something different.

After munching on his burger for a while Toji asks, "So what do you think was meant by Soryu 'forcing' Ayanami to bathe?"

Chuckling, Shinji says, "Oh, she probably just stood outside the shower and ordered Rei to shower and use soap."

"Yeah, but if Rei didn't want to do something like that, how could she be made to?" Toji asks.

"Oh, a stern glare and waiting impatiently for Rei to come out damp and smelling like soap instead of body odour was probably all that was required," Shinji says.

"Oh come on, you don't really believe that's all that happened. I bet it was all like… a highly civilized affair," Toji says, catching one of Shinji's cues for 'the person you're talking about is standing right behind you so shut up'.

"Hey Rei, how goes it?" Shinji asks.

"I did not need any new undergarments, so I decided to meet you early," Rei replies softly while sitting down at the table with a bowl of natto.

Shinji was somehow not surprised Rei had acquired a taste for fermented soy beans. He suspected she was also eating a lot more cheese as well. Shinji had a sudden horrific moment as he wondered what a sudden taste for fermented foods would do to Rei's digestive tract.

"Why did you just shudder, Shinji?" Rei asks while beginning to eat her fermented soy beans.

"Oh, no reason," Shinji says.

A long string of congealed soy paste hanging from her chopsticks, Rei says, "I can assure you that as a young lady I do not have any problems with flatulence."

Toji toppled over in shock at that statement.

I broadcast that thought, didn't I?


You're getting better at this sort of thing.

You are a skilled teacher.

And you, incidentally, are still a poor liar.

I am certain that if I were to have any roommates, they would be grateful for the fact that I live alone.

Smirking at that little joke, Shinji helps Toji get back into his seat just in time for Asuka and Hikari to show up, Kaji trailing them with the distinctly blank look of a man hauled through a women's lingerie store. It was the kind of look that said, "I'm just here to hold the bags and I can assure you I am not looking at anything."

Asuka took one look at what Shinji was eating and then said in exasperation, "You can get poutine and I can't find a decent German restaurant anywhere? What the hell?"

Shrugging, Shinji says, "It's capitalism. The Americans like to spread their influence and all that."

"Poutine is actually a Quebecois Canadian dish," Kaji points out.

Looking at the food quizzically, Shinji asks, "Okay, how the hell did this stuff get into Japan anyway?"

"Probably a market from the Canadians brought over to teach English," Hikari suggests.

"If that were the case, wouldn't there be more donut shops?" Kaji counters.

"Canada jealously guards the secrets to its donuts. It's a well known fact," Shinji points out with an utterly serious tone.

"If the Japanese eat that natto stuff, I can see why someone could see poutine catching on here," Asuka puts in sarcastically.

"That seems unlikely as there are no sauerkraut places. I have looked," Rei says, not taking the jab at her taste in food lying down.

The rest of the lunch was a bickering match about tastes in food, although they eventually let the conversation peter out as they finished their meals. Then it was back to shopping.

After a few more hours of fruitlessly trying to find something Rei enjoyed, although Asuka and Hikari's wardrobes certainly expanded considerably. Much to the horror of the males, it looked like the girls were going to have to make a repeat trip to actually accomplish their mission of getting Rei some new clothes.

And then Rei paused in their journeys to look through the window of a second hand clothing store.

"Oh, you don't want to shop there," Asuka says.

"No… wait…" Shinji says, raising his hand to stall things while going up to Rei.

He sees her eyeing the ratty looking clothes and whispers to her, "It's a bridesmaid's dress. Someone loved it intensely for one day. Then, tossed it... like a Christmas tree. So special, then bam; it's on the side of the road, tinsel still clinging to it, like a sex crime victim, underwear inside out, bound with electrical tape."

"It's not a bridesmaid's dress," Rei corrects quietly.

"It's a quote, to sum up your feelings. You are attracted to the abandoned, to the despairing, to that which is decaying from the beauty it once had. It is not the price that attracts you; it is the essence of the item. You would buy antiques simply to revel in their obsolescence, to watch them crumble with time. Nurgle teaches that there can still be joy in despair, so find your joy where you may," Shinji tells her.

Absorbing this, Rei immediately walks into the store, leaving Asuka to glare furiously at Shinji.

Shinji was quite amused by the fact that she didn't even notice the fact that she wasn't paying attention to her precious Kaji. Kaji was also quite amused by it as well, and relieved.

"What was that about?" Asuka demanded.

"I was just telling Rei what she needed to hear," Shinji replies.

"And we couldn't hear it?" Asuka asks.

"Would you like it if I paraded your dirty laundry about for everyone to hear?" Shinji asks.

That made Asuka shut up right quick.

Following Rei into the shop, what happened next was a descent into a surreal world of Rei getting excited and happy as she almost maniacally went through dozens of second or even third hand outfits before assembling a wardrobe that could best be described of as "fabulously ghetto". It was an embracement of urban decay and poverty by a very wealthy individual.

Rei left the shop wearing a light, frilly Western style bridesmaid's dress, a battered looking long jacket that had probably been donated to charity by a dead hobo, a paint-stained grey toque, threadbare red gloves with the fingers cut off, and combat boots two sizes too big for Rei that had probably first seen use shortly after Second Impact. The rest of her purchases were similarly eclectic, and Rei had actually asked to see some of the items that they store had been considering tossing as being too badly damaged to sell.

Everyone but Shinji just looked at Rei in exasperation at her bizarre choices.

"Aren't you hot wearing all that?" Asuka finally asks.

"Yes. Very. Thank you," Rei replies.

It took several moments to parse that statement, at which point Shinji and Kaji started chuckling and Asuka just shrieked in frustration and clarified, "I mean warm, your temperature excessively high, the flow of thermal energy not being in your favour in this climate."

"Yes," Rei says with a smile.

"Gah! You'll have a heat stroke!" Asuka says.

Considering this for a moment, Rei answers, "Then I shall use all that money I saved to buy water so as to avoid that."

"You'll sweat like crazy!" Asuka points out in frustration.

"That is acceptable," Rei replies, obviously relishing the prospect.

"And after I held you down and soaped you up this morning too!" Asuka cried out before realizing that perhaps that was too much information.

Shinji managed to clamp down on his nose in time but Toji suffered an explosive nosebleed and promptly collapsed.

"Toji!" Hikari cries out while rushing to her fallen boyfriend, Kaji moving to administer first aid to the overwhelmed teenager.

Blushing bright red, Asuka says, "It's not like it sounds! It was at one of the school showers and we were wearing our bathing suits!"

Cocking her head to the side, Rei says, "You were wearing your bathing suit, I was quite naked when you pinned me beneath the shower and began scrubbing."

"They didn't need to know that!" Asuka shrieked while turning a brilliant vermillion colour.

"You were quite insistent in fact. I am in fact wondering if… what is the phrase? Ah yes. If 'I am still suitable for marriage'," Rei replies.

Asuka was at this point somewhere between burgundy and maroon, and she screamed out, "IT DID NOT HAPPEN AT ALL LIKE THAT!"

"Do you deny saying, 'Every inch of your body is getting a good hard soaping!' after I protested your insistence that I bathe before we went shopping?" Rei asked.

"Uh…" Asuka replied, trying to come up with an appropriate response.

Fortunately at that point Kaji interrupted by shouting out, "Toji's lost a lot of blood! He's going into shock! Quick, call an ambulance!"


"You know, if you flashed the class, I bet you could kill half the male population," Shinji says hours later back at home while working the blood out of his Tyrian purple shirt.

"Toji's an idiot and Rei's a liar," Asuka grumbles.

"Toji's been hospitalized and you never denied that quote from Rei," Shinji replies.

"Alright, she's a horrible exaggerator! Happy now?" Asuka shrieks.

"No! This shirt was brand new," Shinji complains while holding up the stained garment.

"Gah! Why must you take her side?" Asuka screams.

Smiling, Shinji says, "I'm not. I just enjoy winding you up, or have you not figured that out by now?"

Growling in frustration, Asuka says, "Why? Why must you be like that?"

Returning to his work, Shinji says, "Because your responses amuse me. You have a fire and passion that I don't, and it excites me to see that. When the world hits you, I want to see you hit back. It's beautiful."

"Yeah, right," Asuka says while rolling her eyes.

"No really. I was in awe of you when you were fighting with Israfel the other day. Your movements were so fluid, so sure, that I did not feel like I was looking at Unit 02, but you. It was incredible," Shinji explains.

"Should I feel 'complimented'?" Asuka asks.

"Hell yes! You're that good. When you spun your Eva about to deliver that axe blow to the half behind you, it was like I was seeing you there, hair flashing behind you and skirt twirling about your legs dramatically. I was a little turned on by it," Shinji says, pausing in his work to savour the memory.

"Pervert," Asuka mutters sarcastically. There was however a small smile on her face.

Shrugging, Shinji says, "Hey, what can I say? I like my women confident, wielding a huge axe, and blood drenched. Ensures they'll be wild in bed."

Nodding his head to the side to avoid the pillow thrown his way, Shinji smiles and says, "I kid, I kid, for I am but a kid, juvenile in my humour."

"Please, you're less juvenile than Misato-san and she's an adult," Asuka replies.

"That speaks not highly of me but poorly of her," Shinji replies.

Suddenly putting on a sullen look, Asuka says, "No… no… Misato can be mature when she wants to be, as much as we all hate to admit it. You… you only pretend to be a kid. You're stronger than me."

Shaking his head, Shinji says, "Alright, no more of this morose bullshit Asuka. Do you want to know why I'm always so damned strong? Because when I was four, my mother died and my father just fucking abandoned me. The day after the worst day of my life, he just said, 'Fuck you son, your mother's dead now so I'm not going to bother acting like a man, I'm just going to send you on your merry way'. After that, I had a choice: break or become stronger than the fuck head that did that to me."

Recoiling at Shinji's sudden vitriol and coarse language, Asuka says, "So you got stronger."

"No, I broke! I was four! The age of four isn't categorized by robust emotional strength, its categorized by insecurities and crying," Shinji retaliates bitterly. "You were the one who decided to get strong, not me."

This shocked Asuka to the core and she suddenly wondered how differently their lives could have been had they responded just a little differently back then.

"Then how…?" Asuka asks.

Smiling, Shinji says, "I found a mentor, or more precisely my mentor found me. I found someone who loved and cared for me, saw that I had potential and refused to accept my bullshit. Yeah, mommy is dead and daddy doesn't love me, big deal, the world keeps turning despite such earth shattering tragedies. I was broken and he put me back together."

Asuka was very quiet for a long time before she asked, "Are you…?"

"Passing the favour forward? Yeah. I've been helping Rei since I got here, she was far worse than she is now socially, and then you came along. You were the kid, the one in a million, who chose to become strong instead of break in response to such monumental adversity. But I could see it in your eyes, the tone of your voice in sheltered moments that you still carried the wounds, that you were more fragile than you seemed," Shinji explains.

The house was silent for a long time before Asuka got up out of her chair and walked over to Shinji, sat down full in his lap, and kissed him. As far as second kisses went, it was orders of magnitude better than the first, but then again that wasn't hard considering that their first kiss sucked worse than a leaky vacuum chamber.

Breaking it off, Asuka looked at Shinji, her face inches from his and tears running down her cheeks and said, "All my life… or at least since momma died, people have been asking things of me, or I of them. No one has ever, EVER, really done anything for me so freely and readily."

Smiling crookedly, Shinji grins stupidly as his brain re-engages and he replies, "Is it really free and ready if I was doing it so that I could get a hot girl sitting on my lap kissing me?"

Half laughing and half crying, Asuka says, "Shut up stupid and kiss me again. You need practice."

"You need practice," Shinji replied.

For the third go they got so into the moment that they did not even notice as they began to tip over the chair, and only realized what was happening when it was already too late. With a crash and the sound of wood splintering, they fell to the floor, Shinji smacking his head against the floor while Asuka smacked her head against Shinji's.

Also, in attempt to prevent from being crushed, Shinji threw up his hands to try and catch Asuka's shoulders, but his aim was a little off and he instead got a handful of breast each.

As dictated by the laws of cosmic irony, Misato took that exact moment to enter the apartment and find them sprawled out like this.

Looking up with half-concussed eyes, Shinji looked right at Misato and said, "This is exactly what it looks. Asuka and I were making out so hot and heavily that we tipped over and broke the chair."

Rolling her eyes, Misato helps Asuka up so that Shinji can politely disengage his hands and says, "Damn it, if you're going to fight, at least try not to break any furniture next time."

"Yes Misato-san," Shinji says while going to the fridge and getting out a beer and tossing it to their tired looking guardian.

Adroitly catching it, opening it, and downing the whole thing in one go Misato catches the next one and merely sets it down on the table, clearly intending to nurse it.

"Long day?" Shinji asks.

"Terrible. The commander was pretty pissed about the cost of the clean-up efforts for Ramiel coming in over budget and decided to take it out on all of us. He also seems to have a bug up his… err… something else has been annoying him lately," Misato says, slumping down in an unbroken chair while the two Children cleaned up the remains of the one they broke.

"So tonight you get drunk to forget your woes?" Shinji asks in a somewhat worried tone.

"Nah, I have to go to work again tomorrow, so it would be unprofessional to show up with a hang-over. I'll just get pleasantly buzzed to make the woes fuzzier," Misato replies while cracking open the second beer can.

After drinking a bit, she says, "Oh, and speaking of woes, I've got some bad news for you guys."

"Oh?" Shinji asks.

"I'm afraid that since you're on active standby at all times you can't go on the school trip to Okinawa," Misato says.

"WHAT?" Asuka cries out in horror and disappointment.

"Sorry, but that's just the way things have to be. The Angels could attack at any time, and we have to be ready for them," Misato replies.

"This is so unfair. Tell her Shinji," Asuka pleads.

Shrugging, Shinji says, "I don't know, what sounds like more fun to you, scuba diving or ploughing the spinning teeth of a chain axe through the yielding flesh of an Angel, alien blood spraying everywhere in a fountain of gore?"

Laughing, Misato says, "You sure do know how to make a girl feel loved, Shin-chan."

Her brows furrowed in thought, head turned down slightly, Asuka eventually says, "Actually the second does sound more appealing when you put it that way. I suppose even if no Angels attack it would be a chance to get away from the monkey antics of Kensuke and Toji for a while."

Laughing at that even harder, Misato says, "Good to see you're seeing the positive side of this Asuka. And the time will let you catch up on your homework." She then holds up a pair of report cards. "Don't think I wouldn't get these, your marks are automatically sent to my terminal at work, and you're both slipping."

"Physical trauma inflicted while saving the human race tends to distract from proper education," Shinji says sarcastically, covering for the pain he felt at that little blow. He valued his brains above all else and he had consistently kept his grades up as his one method of openly showing his superiority that wouldn't eventually devolving into him cackling atop a pile of lightning charred corpses.

Grumbling Asuka just makes some half formed comment about the grading system in Japan before storming off to her room, saying she would "Study".

Later that night with Misato safely passed out in her room, Asuka snuck into Shinji's room.

"Here to finish up where we left off? I think I can still find the pieces of the chair," Shinji whispers.

"Ha-ha, very funny. I… I came here for a couple of reasons, and kissing you was only one," Asuka admits timidly.

"Oh?" Shinji says.

"Yeah… one, I wanted to ask how you got us out of that… situation earlier. Oh, and I still owe you this," Asuka says before punching him hard in the arm.

"Ow!" Shinji hisses. "Come on, you knew that was an accident."

"Yeah, well, I'm probably going to have palm print bruises on my chest and it's your fault. Anyway, how did you do that earlier?" Asuka asks.

"In situations where denial or dishonesty is expected, the truth can often be dismissed as fabrication. Control of a situation is not just based off what you do, but what others expect you to do," Shinji says.

"You… lied by telling the truth?" Asuka asks incredulously.

"Think of it like pretending to make a feint in combat. If your opponent expects you to feint, if you follow through then the expected strike was the lie while the feint was a real attack," Shinji replies.

"Okay, that makes a bit more sense when put into those terms," Asuka says. She then says, "And I uh… I wanted to ask you for… uh… for some help."

Raising a quizzical eyebrow, Shinji says, "Oh do go on."

"Shut it. You see, the thing is… the reason I'm having trouble in school is that I don't know a lot of the kanji, so I have difficulty understanding the questions. Everything else is really easy," Asuka explains.

"Sounds reasonable," Shinji muses. "I presume then that you want me to help you with your written Japanese."

"If you could. I can help you with your homework, I took most of it already when I was in college," Asuka says.

Shinji's eyes went wide and he squeaked, "You went to college?"

"Yeah, I graduated last year," Asuka says with a smug smile.

Thinking over this information for a moment, Shinji asks, "Do you want to lose your virginity tonight? Because I am so turned on right now. Brains, beauty, and a degree in what I must presume is ass kicking, what more could a guy want?"

Whacking him upside the head, but lightly and playfully, Asuka mutters, "Pervert. But the reason I came now instead of in the morning is because I do want to continue making out with you. The night is lonely and you make me feel so warm."

"Sounds good to me," Shinji replies eagerly.

Two minutes in, before they had even moved on to groping, they heard Misato stirring outside, probably getting up to go to the bathroom. Asuka squeaked, "She'll find us!"

"Relax, I came prepared. There's a glass of water on my nightstand, just dump it over my head and then run for your room while I splutter and scream indignantly," Shinji whispers to her.

Glancing at him incredulously, Asuka says, "How do you prepare for something like this?"

"The glass of water is intended for a wide variety of contingencies, the primary one being me getting thirsty, but you sneaking into my room to make out and then having to beat a hasty retreat with some form of plausible deniability was one of a few small possibilities planned for," Shinji explains.

"You're weird Shinji… but I think I kind of like that," Asuka replies.

"Good. Now get to the attempted drowning," Shinji replies.

A few moments later Asuka ran out of the room with an empty glass in her hand and Shinji screaming, "You bitch!"

Misato just rolled her eyes, smiled at their antics, and went back to bed.

She would have to make sure they had both had 'The Talk' in the morning. They were so cute, if stupid, together.