A/N: So I was looking for a break from the rather grim fic I'm working on now. I wanted something light-hearted or happy, and this is what came out. Hopefully it will appease the readers who expressed dissatisfaction over this fic's abrupt end. Enjoy, and be prepared for WAFF. :)

Epilogue: Itoshiki-Mono Yo

"God damn it, Shinji. Why can't you hold one simple object in one simple place?"

The idiot gives his baseball cap an angry tug, pulling it almost low enough to conceal his sunglasses, and glares at me. In the harsh afternoon sunlight, he's sweated through most of his t-shirt, and the red water we're standing in has soaked his jeans thoroughly. "You really want an answer, or are you just asking because you're mad?" In the shallows next to his legs is a shiny length of metal ventwork, half-submerged.

What a dick. Folding arms over my chest, I glare right back at him. "I want an answer, smartass."

"It's sunny out," he answers tightly, pointing one finger at the sun above. "And that thing," he adds, shifting to point at the tube, "is made out of metal. It feels like it just came out of an oven. So it hurts my hands and makes them sweat, and then when I try to shift my grip on it, it slips and falls because it's heavy and you want it pointed at this stupid angle."

"Oooh, how very plausible," I acknowledge, lifting a cool eyebrow. God, he's probably right. I didn't think of that. We're trying to connect the tube to a boxy makeshift boiler we dragged into the water here. It's supposed to carry steam to a condensing chamber, which is in fact just an oversized hard-plastic cooler. One of these days I'll rig something up to make it cool in there instead of room temperature, but it'll still sort of work this way. Enough to get us clean water.

His face darkens further as ruby waves lap against our thighs. "Well, maybe you want to hold it up instead, if you don't believe me."

I laugh at this. "And trust you with the soldering iron? No fucking way."

"You don't trust me to hold up the vent thing either," he sighs, "so what's the point? Maybe I should just let you do this yourself." Giving his head a shake, he turns and wades away, back towards our supplies on the beach forty meters away.

I stare after him for a time, then grimace and set the soldering iron back on the second generator we grabbed yesterday. Finding a waterproof one was a bitch. Above, seagulls circle and drift along with the wind, crying their stupid shrill cries. I don't even know when they started showing back up -- we haven't been by the water much until just recently -- but I was glad to see them. Now they just annoy me, though. They don't fucking shut up, and they shit on everything.

"Shinji," I call halfheartedly, "wait." He doesn't wait, though, since he's almost back to the shore already, and he doesn't stop or turn around either. With a shake of my head I start slogging after him, making a face at the thick scents of salt and blood. Insistent sea breeze tugs at my hair and shirt as I move, but the shirt doesn't move much since it's almost as wet as my jeans. I can't wait to finish this and clean up.

When Shinji reaches the beach he drops to sit next to the little picnic basket we brought along, then pulls his hat off and runs a hand through his hair. I reach him in moments and collapse at his side. Today hasn't been a good day.

After a moment I swallow. "Shinji, it's... hot, and this is frustrating work, and I don't really like doing it either. I'm sorry."

He waves a hand, then tugs off his sunglasses and squints out over the water. He actually has a faint but noticeable tan from wearing them, thin pale lines on either side of his face stretching from eye to temple. "Don't worry about it."

I nod, shifting my gaze back to the ocean, like him. Rei's distant stone face hasn't changed at all since I first saw it a month ago, but at least from this beach we can only see one of the petrified mass-produced Evas. Shinji wanted to make our setup at the beach where we first appeared, but I pointed out that if other people show up there too, I don't want them poking around with and maybe breaking the stuff we put so much effort into making. Not to mention the potential weirdness of awakening from something as bizarre as Third Impact to find something as mundane as an electrical generator chugging along nearby. So instead we're at another beach, closer to home and actually a little bigger and nicer than the other. Jagged stone bluffs rise out of the water to our right, decorated here and there with clingy little grasses and shrubs and such, while to our left the beach stretches for at least a half-kilometer of smooth sand.

"We should eat something," mutters Shinji, reaching back for the picnic basket. "Some food would help my mood, at least. What do you want?"

"Give me the trail mix, and some of that orange Jock-Ade or whatever it is." Another gust of wind pushes my hair around, bringing a little relief from the day's heat.

He complies without speaking, pausing to grab something for himself. In silence we crunch through the assorted snacks serving as today's lunch. Sunlight glitters on the waves ahead, dries the bloody water soaking my clothes.

Once I'm done, I wipe my palms on my still-damp jeans and give my mouth a twist. Our equipment is still glittering sadly out in the water, waiting to be put together into a functioning machine. "Hey, let's just work at it for another hour or two, okay? There's no real rush, and we could just as easily do it on a cloudy day."

"Why didn't you just say that this morning?" he mutters around a mouthful of soy nuts.

I shrug. "Because I didn't feel like it."

"Great. Okay."

Rolling my eyes, I down the last of my orange drink, then stand and stare down at Shinji. He blinks up at me without expression, glugging a drink from his own bottle. While he's watching, I unbutton and unzip my jeans.

Predictably, he chokes, spraying me with water. "A... Asuka! What the hell are you...?" He trails off, doubling over and coughing, but makes no move to stop me as I slide the waist of the garment down over my hips.

After stepping out of the legs, I toss the jeans at him and he jerks to catch them. "Calm down, dork."

Still coughing, he wipes a tear from one eye and glares at me, then throws my pants carelessly aside. "What the hell was that for? At least you're wearing the swimsuit under those. I didn't think...."

I laugh at him as I start tugging my shirt off as well. "You really think I'd come down here to wade around in the water, and then not wear a swimsuit to do it? You've got a pretty high opinion of yourself if you think I'm going to walk around in my underwear for you, let alone naked."

He catches my shirt when I throw it at him, then throws it right back at my face. "Why'd you wear clothes at all if you were just going to do this?"

"I didn't want to get sunburned, genius. Plus the jeans protected me from scratches and stuff when we were moving all the junk off the truck and into the water. And I knew your reaction would be funny." The pants were ruined well before this anyway, worn, torn and mud-stained.

He shakes his head at this, then starts counting points on his fingers. "Okay, first of all, that swimsuit is actually more revealing than just your underwear. I used to wash that stuff for you, remember? I know what it looks like. Not that it... well, anyway. Second... you're going to burn anyway if you stay like that now. You're really pale, and with the birthmarks I'm not sure how they'll...."

"Fuck you very much, Shinji." Planting hands on my hips, I fix him with a cold glare. "Then it can be your job to stop me when you think I'm in danger of burning, since I won't think of it."

He blinks again, and his face slides from anger through caution and into thought. Cobalt-blue eyes roam my face for a moment before he nods. "That's... yeah, that's... fine."

I nod as well, then turn and start striding back into the water. I suppose he wasn't expecting my retaliation to involve placing my comfort and safety in his hands. The rules are different now.

When I reach the setup we left out in the waves, he's wading after me. Grabbing the battery-powered soldering iron, I switch it back on, then wait while the tip heats up to a faintly-smoking readiness.

Shinji arrives shortly, then strips out of his shirt and uses it to grab the metal ductwork still lying in the water. A good idea, I suppose, and it does leave his top half bare for my inspection. He's not really well-built, to say the least, and he probably never will be, but what muscles he has are toned and quite visible under his skin, a benefit from the way we've been living since coming back. He has a nasty farmer's tan, though, sun-dark forearms shifting abruptly to a dorky pallor over the rest of his arms and chest.

Once he's ready with the tube, he stands there holding it and blinking at me... and it occurs to me that I'm just staring, checking him out. With a toss of my head I step aside, allowing him room to fit the duct onto the answering port I've made for it on the boiler side. Then, with iron in one hand and a wire of solder in the other, I set about trying to make two pieces of metal into one.

Two hours later the tube is attached and I'm messing around with the intake of the makeshift boiler, a rectangular metal hole a half-meter under the water's surface. It's annoying work since I can barely see what I'm doing, and I'm not totally sure any of it is going to work, but if it doesn't I suppose we can just try it all again. Eventually.


"Hmm?" After a little bit of re-shaping work, I'm grimacing as I try to fumble the intake back into place.

"You're starting to burn, I think. We should go."

I frown at Shinji, then at my upper body, which is indeed turning pinkish, at least where it's not already pink on account of the scars. After a moment I nod and turn back to the equipment. "Okay. Just let me get this thing in, then cover it all up, and we can...."

His hand grips my shoulder, gently but firmly. "No. It's time to go. No rush, remember?"

Facing away from him, I smile at the water. Then I spin around and push his arm roughly away. "I don't know who the hell you think you are," I growl, wading past him and towards the shore, "telling me what to do, but it's a good thing for you I was ready to stop anyway. If I were a vindictive person I'd be thinking of a way to mess you up now."

Shinji pauses to reclaim his dripping-wet shirt from the water, then tags along with me, saying nothing. He's not impressed, of course, neither alarmed nor threatened. A little annoyed at me, maybe, but that should be pretty normal for him by now.

Once we reach the beach, I bend to retrieve our picnic basket and we continue on without a pause towards the truck. "Home?" I prompt, tugging open the passenger-side door and waiting while the sun-boiled heat inside the cab dissipates out into the surrounding air. "Or do you want to go somewhere else first?"

Shinji shrugs, then frowns out at the water again. "You want to go explore that ship that washed up under the bluffs?"

I deliver a halfhearted punch to his stomach but he slaps my hand away before I can hit him. "I really doubt it's safe enough to explore, Shinji. And it's a commercial transport anyway; there's probably nothing in it but sparkplugs or cans of paint or something equally stupid."

He shrugs again, twisting seawater out of his shirt. "Then you want to throw rocks at it or something?"

"Sure." Without further ado I hop into the truck, then flinch at the feel of the hot seat on my bare back and thighs. The swimsuit doesn't exactly offer much protection.

Shinji climbs into his own seat, and then we're rumbling into motion. Despite all the running around we've done in the last few days, he still drives like a grandma.

After a quick jaunt to a residential district to shower -- a rare luxury now -- and change into clean clothes, we plow through a barbed-wire fence and onto a narrow private drive that'll take us near the ship. The vessel itself is a smallish one, of Chinese origin; I can't read the name but Shinji seems to think it's a place name, like "wooded ridge," or something, and that makes me laugh. In any case, it's maybe a hundred fifty meters long, it's slanting drunkenly in the rocky shallows, and our thrown rocks do absolutely no damage to it. It's fun, though.

When we finally get back home it's almost dark; the sky is a clear star-dusted violet, crossed as always by the red ring of souls, though the moon won't be up for another few hours yet. Shinji cooks some packaged Italian stuff and I clean up afterwards. The whole meal takes less than a half-hour.

Afterwards, I sprawl next to him on the ground, leaning back against the log, staring up at the glittering sky. My hip is pressed against his. "Hey, dork."


"I don't know why I even feel the need to ask this, but you've never had a girlfriend before, have you?" Ahead of us, the fire crackles away, warming my face.

He laughs out loud. "Me? Are you kidding?"

I laugh as well, but more quietly, and I stop first. "I just... you and Rei always seem like you had something going on."

"Rei?" I'm not looking at his face, but his voice betrays clear confusion. "She... no, not really. I think she was more like a sister, or maybe a friend."

I have my doubts about this, and the pressure of his hip against mine conveys a little tension despite his still-fading chuckles. He's lying, or not telling the whole truth. "Perv like you probably wanted more, though."

He sighs. "I... don't know. Sometimes, maybe."

So yes. Figures. With effort I clear a scowl from my face. Then I force a chuckle. "Of course, with the two of as socially inept as you were, I don't suppose there was anything to worry about."

"Well, no." Shinji pauses to scratch an itch on his arm, and I can feel him moving against me. "But now that I think about it, she was kind of... free, in some ways. I saw her naked once and I don't think it really bothered her."

What a slut. I rub my face tiredly. "Yeah, that... figures, I suppose."

"Yeah. Plus I touched one of her breasts."

"Ah. Yeah, you... wait, what?" Sitting up, I twist to punch his shoulder, hard. "How the hell did that happen?"

He jerks upright as well, clutching his arm and scowling at me with those dark twilight eyes. "What the hell's your problem? She was naked and I got clumsy and fell on her!"

"Oh, very convenient." Lips twisting, I punch him again. "Were you going to tell me about that, you dumbass? Like, 'By the way, Asuka, I've seen yours and probably Misato's and I've touched Rei's. I'm the fucking Don Juan of losers!'" Another punch. Serves him right. "Who else? Hikari, maybe? Ritsuko?" Another punch, folded knuckles into his shoulder muscle.

"Nobody else! You never asked, and it's not like I'm just going to drop that into a conversation at random!" He bats for a moment at my flailing arms, then catches and pulls them to cross my wrists over my chest. He's glaring at me from centimeters away now, not a snarling I'm-going-to-hit-you-back sort of glare, but more of an outraged how-dare-you-strike-me kind. Like I've offended his sensibilities more than I've angered or hurt him.

I can't move, though. It seems I've never really appreciated how strong his grip is now, or maybe it's just that his breath on my cheek has a paralyzing effect on me. I find that I'm just... staring at him, wide-eyed. Waiting to see what he does.

After a moment he blinks, then clears his throat and offers a nervous smile. "Oh. Um... hi."

I close my mouth -- I didn't realize it was open until now -- and swallow. His hands are shaking, I th-- no, those are mine. I'm shaking.

As though he realizes this at the same time, he releases me like I'm burning his hands, then reaches to toy with the hair on the back of his head. "Um, I'm... sorry. I shouldn't have, um...."

"Oh!" I twitch, then fold my hands into my lap and purse my lips. "No, I'm sorry. I guess I shouldn't... you know, hit you and stuff." I feel a little childish now, and he didn't even say anything.

"Yeah," he exhales, talking more to himself than me, I think. He's no longer meeting my gaze. With a frown and a little shake of his head, he shifts around, leaning back against the log once more. "That was sort of weird."

"Mmm." Eyeing him sideways, I chew my lip a moment longer, then join him against the log.

"Anyway," he murmurs over the crackling of the fire, "what about you?"

"What? What about me?"

He shifts. "I know you've gone on dates and stuff before, so you must have had boyfriends."

It actually takes a moment's thought to remember what he's talking about, and then I just smile ruefully up at the stars. "Never more than one date with any given guy. I guess they found me sort of... hard to get along with, I guess."

"Weird," he acknowledges after a moment. "I don't understand that at all."

"Yeah, fuck you." Stretching arms above my head, I take the chance to shift a little closer to him. "Not like you were a prize either."

He shrugs again, unconcerned by this insult, and his arm finds its way around my shoulder. "Wanna play cards?

I shake my head. "Nah. This is nicer."

"Yeah, I thought so too."

I roll my eyes at this. "Why'd you even ask, then?"

He doesn't answer, and I find myself grinning at the sky. Then I blink, abruptly aware of how close we are, how we're touching.

It's strange, still. There are times, like this, when it just strikes me how new this still is. It was only a few days ago we started sleeping in the same tent. A week ago I was sure I still hated him. And now we're a couple, and we cuddle. I cuddle. With Shinji.

"You okay?" he murmurs, giving my shoulder a squeeze without looking over at me. "You sort of twitched there."

I'm still not sure how this all happened, how easily I shifted from one extreme to another in my opinion of him. Or maybe I was always like this, and my frustration with all his weaknesses just made me pissed-off and disgusted. I don't know. What I do know is even though this strikes me as weird intellectually, it doesn't feel weird. It feels normal.

"Asuka?" He turns to give me a concerned frown.

"I'm fine." I flash him a sunny grin and he nods, turning his attention skyward again.

I keep studying him after he looks away. His face is the same as when I met him, half-boyish, half-manly, only now it's seasoned by a confidence I doubt I could shake if I spent my whole life trying, confidence he's probably not even aware he has. His brow is a little creased now, as if in thought, like he's pondering something profound as he stares up at the red ring of souls. And maybe he is. He's always asked deeper questions than I have.

A casual observer would think he's just another quiet kid, but he and I... we were gods once. We did shit no one would believe if they hadn't seen it. And Shinji... Shinji's a guy who can literally hold the world in the palm of his hand and hate everything about it, and still choose to let it go on living, even on the assumption that he'd be doing so in eternal loneliness.

That's why I know he'll never hurt me again. He got all of the hurting out of his system already.

Eventually he glances over at me with confused look on his face. Then he smiles, a little uncomfortably. "What is it?"

I shake my head and settle back against the log again, pausing to hug his arm to myself. Then I place a kiss on the skin just below where his shirt sleeve ends. He still smells like soap, after bathing hours ago. Soap and wood smoke.

He freezes, then gives me an awkward one-armed hug. I figured our first real kiss, as such, would surprise him, and though it has, he seems somehow even stiffer than I would've expected. Only when his fingers twitch against the shirt over my stomach does it occur to me why this is: he's trying to hug me while I'm holding his forearm between my breasts, and he's trying to do it without touching them further.

I'm sure he can feel my smile against his bicep. On impulse I squeeze his arm tighter against myself, hoping to make the message clear. Then I rub my cheek against his arm and speak in a low voice. "Shinji?"

I can hear him lick his lips. "Yeah?"

I let my eyes slide shut, though my smile remains. "Whatcha thinkin?"

"Oh. Um, that this is nice." His fingers begin to trace absent circles against my stomach.

I bet that's not all he's thinking. "Mmm. Shinji?"

He swallows. "Yeah?"

"You can say it."

"Um... say what?"

I don't answer, just sit there without releasing his arm, and he doesn't try to take it back. In a way this sort of bugs me; I'd prefer it if he just went and took what he wanted from me... but I can't really hold him at fault for that, not when I haven't done anything before now either. Plus, even though he's more attractive when he's confident, he's cuter when he's just a little off-balance and I'm not, so this is fun. And in any case, if he were on the offensive instead of me, I'd probably just get angry at him for taking me for granted, so who knows, maybe this is better.

When the silence stretches, I sigh, long and slow, and thread my fingers through his own. "Go ahead. I'm not going to judge you or anything."

He swallows again, then sighs as well. "Fine. It's just that you're... the stuff you're doing is, uh... it's... turning me on."

Huh. He actually said it. I manage to summon a glare from somewhere. "Wait, what? Here I'm trying to cuddle and your mind is in the gutter? For fuck's sake, Shinji!"

He tries to jerk his arm away. "Aw, come on! You said you wouldn't judge me!"

I elbow his ribs, making him jump. "That was before I knew what you were thinking, perv!"

Grunting, he shifts around before settling back into place. "Oh, whatever. It's not like you're really mad."

"Oh?" Sometimes I forget that he's wise now. Bastard can probably see right through me. "What makes you say that?"

"I can just tell. And you're, uh, still holding my arm." His finger pokes my stomach once for emphasis. "So nice try, but I know you're happy I said that."

Right. Damn it. I risk a dark sideways glance only to find that he's just staring at the stars. Miniature orange flames dance in his eyes.

After a moment I give my shoulders a frustrated roll. "Thanks for killing the mood, slick."

He sways in a silent chuckle. "Yeah. I killed the mood." I bristle, but he continues before I can speak. "Anyway, I have a question for you."

I release his arm to examine my fingernails in the dim light, but he doesn't move. Good. "Fine. What's your stupid question?"

Something pops in the fire, sending sparks braiding skyward for the moment it takes them to fade to nothing. Shinji heaves a sigh. "Our first kiss, back at Misato's place... what was that all about, anyway?"

Oh, yeah. My teeth clench together but I take a deep breath, forcing myself to relax. I get it now, why he didn't react, why he just stood there like a fucking mannequin when I kissed him, but that was sort of the beginning of the end for us, I think. When I can trust myself to speak again, I swallow, then do so in a quiet voice. "Basically... I was mad at Kaji for staying out with Misato. And you were there."

He doesn't move, doesn't acknowledge this, as we sit together under the stars. Eventually, though, he slumps somewhat, letting his head loll back. "Is that really why? That was all?" His voice has dropped to a fearful whisper.

I close my eyes. "I wish I could tell you otherwise, honestly, but that was almost verbatim what was going through my head at the time." I pause, turning my head in his direction without opening my eyes. "But, Shinji... if it had been anyone but you... I wouldn't have done it."

Clothes whisper and his cheek presses against my forehead. "Okay. I believe you."

I nod without speaking, glad that my eyes are closed. In retrospect it was a selfish, shitty thing to do, toying with him like that to make myself feel better, but now his forgiveness is so obvious and inevitable, at least in his head, that he doesn't even bother to say it. He just assumes I know.

"So... yeah," I whisper when I can speak again. "Sorry for... for smothering you. I guess that was pretty rude, huh?"

His cheek curves into my forehead; I imagine his smile is fond. "Yeah, maybe. But you smelled nice. And your lips are soft."

Oh? "What did I smell like? I don't even remember."

He shrugs. "Not sure. Shampoo, maybe? Something... it makes me think of... vanilla?"

"Oh. Lotion." Misato's lotion, actually. I nod, reaching over to curl absent fingers into the soft fabric of his shirt. Above us, a twinkling star etches a slow path across the heavens, probably some forgotten satellite catching the missing sun. "And what was that about my lips?"

"You heard me." His voice is low now, amused.

"Well, yeah," I murmur, sliding one hand under his shirt to touch his stomach. "I'm just surprised that you, of all people, remembered my lips when I think my chest was touching you."

He snorts -- actually snorts -- at this, and gives my stomach an affectionate pat. "You think about your boobs way too much, Asuka. You have other nice features."

I hesitate, offended, but curiosity gets the better of me. "Like what?"

"Like all of them."

I pinch his stomach, not enough to hurt him. "That's not an answer." Still, it's pretty smooth, especially for him. Maybe there's hope for him yet.

"Well," he sighs, "I could tell you, but then it would go to your head. And that's the last thing you need."

"You're such an ass."

His arm tightens briefly around my neck. "Yeah. But this way you have to keep me around to find out."

"Whatever. Fine." I shift, letting my head rest on his chest, and I can hear his pounding heartbeat. He's keeping himself pretty composed for how excited he is. "But seriously, though, you are an ass."

"You'll live."

"Mmm." I roll lips between my teeth, letting my fingers roam along his stomach. "What are you thinking?"

He shifts in a quiet chuckle. "You just asked me that, like... two minutes ago."

"Oh, yeah."

"What about you?"

"Me?" I take a moment to ponder this while tracing the shallow ridges of his stomach muscles. Then, rather than answer with words, I lift my face to his neck and pause there, letting my breath warm his skin. And then I plant a soft kiss there.

Shinji freezes; his hand on my stomach curls into a fist, balling up the fabric, and for a wild moment I fear he might actually rip it off me, but such proves not to be the case. Rather, after his initial shock passes, he twists to kiss my temple.

He can do better than that. I edge my face up, almost nuzzling his own out of the way, and kiss his cheek. My breath is coming quickly now, my chest buzzing.

He takes the hint and counters by sliding his lips to mine. Our kiss is jerky and hot, with rough edges we'll need practice smoothing out. It's also infinitely better than the disastrous first one, because not only is he actively participating now, he's even grabbing my shoulders to pull me closer, and... and he's... the, um... warm... I'm not....

Later, when we finally break the kiss, I let my head thump against his collarbone and wait for breath and reason to return to me. My fingers curl and straighten in the fabric of his t-shirt without conscious direction, and I can feel my pulse racing in the roof of my mouth with every nervous swallow.

He's still frozen with one arm around me, probably staring off at the shadowed tent behind me. I can almost see the wheels spinning in his head, can read his thoughts like text on a page. He knew we were a couple before this, but being Shinji, hadn't taken the physical aspect for granted. Now that that plane has been opened for him, however, I'm sure what's unfolding in his head is one perverted scenario after another as it sinks in that I might, just might, be willing to do those things with him, that those are fair and plausible things to ask of a serious relationship.

Or maybe that's just what's in my head, but in any case... not tonight. The thought disappoints me, makes me roll nervous lips between my teeth, but... I think it's for the best. The old Asuka would have been jumping all over such a chance, while the old Shinji would have been aghast at any human contact at all, so I think somewhere in the middle is probably the wisest choice.

Eventually he exhales, almost slumping, and shakes his head. One hand gives my shoulder a squeeze, while the other starts toying with the hair spilling down my back. "So... that was kinda...."

I clear my throat. "Yeah. We, um... yeah." I giggle, then cut myself off with a solemn frown, all without lifting my head from his chest.

He takes another deep breath, then rests his chin on my head. "I... can't remember what we were talking about."

"Does it matter?"

"Hmm. Guess not."

I slide my eyes sideways to stare at the fire still crackling away. "Hey."


I draw my brows together, considering how to word it. "I made the first move tonight, but if you ever make me do that more than, say... twice in a row, I'm going to kick you in the nuts afterwards. Be a man and take what's yours."

He sways with a chuckle. "That's sort of the reaction I'm afraid of even if I do what you're asking."

I give my lips a twist at this. "What? You're scared of taking the initiative?"

"No, I'm joking. Point taken."

"Good." My eyes drift shut. I can still hear his racing heart. "So we have an understanding?"

"I just said we do."

I smile, letting the fire warm my face as Shinji warms the rest of me; in the slow aftermath of my excitement, I'm actually starting to feel a little sleepy. It sounds stupid, a little saccharine, but... in retrospect Third Impact was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I don't even remember if I wanted anything like this before it or not -- the months preceding the end of the world are sort of a blur now -- but I'd go through it all again if I had to, a dozen times, just for this. Just for this sense of openness, of acceptance, the knowledge that I can show Shinji all the ugly and hissing parts of my soul and he'll still love me as much as he does now.

He's not going to hear such a sappy thing from my lips, however.

He already knows.

"Hey," he murmurs, "do you want to go to bed soon?" His voice vibrates through my skull, hums in my heart.

I give my head a little shake. "I like it here."

"Okay." His arms tighten around me, and I smile.

A/N: So, what's the verdict? Does it work or does it cheapen the story? I'm torn, personally, as I've never written an epilogue before. If enough people are gagging or flinching at this chapter I might pull it down, or maybe post it elsewhere.