"Hey, did you hear, Asuka?"
"That group that Kaworu mentioned, Seele?"
"They found the last member, Keel. He'd been hiding in some ditch in the Middle East, but they found him."
It had been several months since the Third Impact incident. Life had returned to normal in Tokyo-3. The Evas had been put in cryostasis, perhaps never to be used again in warfare, like the atomic bomb. The Angels, all seventeen of them, no longer existed. They had all either been utterly eradicated or assimilated during Instrumentality. Even Arael had left Asuka's heart. She could feel that. The same with Toji, even if he hadn't been caught in the explosion. Somehow or other, the Angels were no more.
Hikari slumped down next to Asuka, a smile on her face. "It's over now, isn't it? All over now. Seele's gone, the Angels are gone…"
"Rei's gone, too," Asuka added, on a melancholy note.
"Hey, don't say that," Hikari replied, frowning, "Misato's still looking for her."
"She'll never find Rei," sighed Asuka, miserably, "But that's okay, right? I mean, losing Rei was horrible, but she wanted me to be happy. She sacrificed herself for me, so I guess this is what she wanted."
"That's right," Hikari replied with a nod, "She wanted you to be happy."
"That just figures," sighed Asuka, "Figured Wonder Girl would want something strange like this."
Hikari smiled, slightly.
The bell rang, signaling the end of the school day. Asuka pushed herself up, stretching her arms into the air. She felt the tightness that had filled her body all day leave her as she watched Hikari sprint over to Toji. She watched her friend wrap her arms around Toji's neck, kissing him right on the cheek, unashamed what the other people around her might think, what they might insinuate. And, naturally, Toji returned the kiss with the same unabashed nature.
They had been dating solid for all this time, which Asuka found amazing. Hikari had been, at first, more than a little timid about the entire dating ordeal, but Toji's confidence, or at least acts of confidence, had developed Hikari's self-esteem to the level that she could kiss her boyfriend out in public without caring what her critics had to say about her actions and her style.
Asuka approached Shinji Ikari, the Third Child, as he heaved his heavy bag onto one shoulder. She glanced up to Asuka, a smile on his face. "Oh, Asuka! I'm almost ready."
"Almost? What else do you need, anyway? That bag looks like it weighs more than I do!"
"Well, I still need to just get my other arm through the—"
"Don't feel like waiting. Come on, you idiot!"
Asuka grabbed Shinji by the arm, dragging his protesting body out of the room, out of the school, and onto the street. Turning to her comrade, she said, in a laughing tone, "You can just put your arm through that thingy out here while you're walking, okay?"
"Fine, but did you really need to pull me?"
"Yup. I don't want to wait. Besides, there's a really cool show on TV I wanna watch that'll start the moment we get home. If you delayed any longer, I might've missed it."
The two of them walked home. It was strange. Even though it had been so long since Instrumentality, she couldn't get used to the lack of a third person walking with them. The loss of Rei was monumental to their little group, by far. She frowned, sadly, wondering just where in the world the blue haired girl could have gone? Perhaps she was simply disbursed over the planet like oxygen, or maybe she was so small that even atoms dwarfed her.
"So when does this show of yours start?" Shinji asked, curiously.
"Soon enough," Asuka replied, "Sooner than later, so you better get your butt in gear."
"I see," Shinji replied, approaching Asuka, slowly, tentatively reaching out for her hand.
Asuka glanced down at Shinji's hand, and, very slowly, extended her own. Slowly, the two palms embraced one another, the fingers interlocking slowly around the other's knuckles, until they were combined like a single unit, separated only by the other's skin. Asuka felt a fluttering feeling that, by this point in time, she had grown very used to. She felt her lips curl at the ends, blush filling her face entirely.
The truth was that they had, by this point in time, been dating for some time. Not truly dating, and Asuka was too pigheaded to actually admit that she was dating an idiot like Shini. They simply held hands on walks, hung out together, maybe even exchanged a couple of kisses here and there. Nothing serious, she supposed. It wasn't like Shinji was the man she was going to marry or anything. That was in the future, so far away. Who knew what would happen? Maybe she'd meet another man.
"Asuka," Shinji replied, "My father testified against Keel today."
"I heard Keel was captured, but your father actually testified? Now that's something."
Commander Ikari had been put on trial for crimes against humanity, but had been found innocent due to a lack of evidence. They could not prove that he had killed Ritsuko Akagi, nor could they prove that he had anything to do with the Giant Rei creature. If anything, because NERV protected Tokyo-3 with the Evas, he had used that to his advantage, claiming that he had actually been protecting the human race from Seele. Naturally, after that claim, he had lead a group to capture the Seele members, all of them, and today his mission had been completed.
However, as recommended by Commander Fuyutski, Commander Ikari actually stepped down from the head of NERV, allowing Fuyutski to take control. Since Fuyutski's ascension, Asuka felt NERV's rather intense, serious atmosphere to lighten up, almost relax under the new command. It was almost fun to take a visit into NERV headquarters now, especially without Ritsuko there.
"Now it's over, Asuka," Shinji replied, frowning, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but it's all over. Seele, the Angels, even the Evas. So now what do we do?"
"What is that supposed to mean? We've been living our lives since then. What are you, stupid?"
"No, I know that, but I always thought that you wouldn't be able to handle life without Eva," Shinji said, a smile on his face.
"Well, truthfully, neither did I," Asuka admitted.
In fact, there had been times when severe depression had overtaken Asuka, separation anxiety even. However, thanks to Dr. Tamako, she had managed to overcome many of those horrible spells of suffering. And, thanks to Misato and even Maya, she had been given the treat every so often, to just walk into her Eva's entryplug, just to feel at home inside the Eva.
In actuality, every time she walked into the Eva, she tried to find her mother. Tried to find even the slightest trace of her fallen mother. However, only on one occasion had she actually succeeded in feeling an ephemeral flame of love that reminded her of her mother. That time had been fairly recent, too, only a few weeks ago. Asuka was hoping that Misato could allow her to go in again very soon so she could try to communicate again with her Mother, praying that, maybe eventually, she'd talk to her once again.
"You know, Asuka, I'm just glad it's all done," Shinji replied, "I never did enjoy piloting the Eva."
"I could tell, you big baby."
"Oh, I know that if I wasn't there to help save your butt on the line, you probably would have been crying and making a scene about how you didn't want to pilot, blah, blah, blah! Whiner!"
"What? Whiner? I'm not a whiner!"
"Oh, yes you are and you know it, idiot!"
Asuka smiled as Shinji struggled to find some sort of comeback. He never really did, so Asuka wasn't so worried about that. Rather, she glanced up at the sky, seeing the clouds filter over the sun, the light from the star high above them shimmering down over her face and cheeks.
"Nice weather, right?"
"Yeah," Shinji replied, "To think that it's almost October, though."
"Been a little less than a year now, hasn't it?" Asuka remarked, "We're almost in high school, too. Next year, Shinji. Next year."
Those words had a nice ring to it. It made her feel more adult, something she had always wanted but never truly sought out. Adulthood. Such a mature feeling. Now, only a few months away from her fifteenth birthday, she felt so mature, so womanly. Already her body had started to mature. She had measured each change with growing excitement. Even though her body was already rather womanly to begin with at even such a young age, she valued each and every development to her body, even the bad, like the stray pimple or extra pound that would occasionally find its way onto her body.
It was only then that Asuka noticed something on the ground. She glanced down at the floor, her eyebrow raised. She bent down, and picked up a fallen leaf. She stared at it, perplexed. It was brown, dead looking. "Hey, Shinji, did you ever see a leaf like this?"
Shinji glanced at it, an eyebrow raised. "Only in textbooks."
"Hmm, strange," Asuka tossed the leaf aside before looking up at the tree above. Her eyes widened with surprise. All the leaves on the tree had turned into a fiery red and yellow shade. It was magnificently beautiful. Her mouth hung open as she took in the sheer beauty of it. Never before had she seen a tree quite like this, with the leaves that intense and full of colors quite like that. Never had she known of a tree that could become that beautiful, except, Asuka noted, in textbooks about the world preceding Second Impact, where seasons used to exist.
"I think this is called Autumn," Shinji noted.
"Pretty name," Asuka replied, noting that the air was a bit too chilly for her skirt. Her bare legs started to grow cold, to the point where she tugged on her socks to try to cover her bare calves.
"Well, maybe we should head home," Shinji suggested, "It's too cold for this."
"Agreed 100%!" Asuka snapped letting go of Shinji's hand as the two of them started running back to Misato's apartment, their home. Their warm paradise.
However, naturally, Shinji stumbled onto the ground, skidding his elbow against the concrete. Asuka stopped, glancing around with a smile. "Well, it looks like the great Shinji can't even run one hundred meters without falling flat on his face. How spectacular."
"Just help me up, please," Shinji pleaded, which Asuka obliged and pulled him to his feet.
The two of them stared into each other's eyes, transfixed in seconds. Asuka stared at Shinji, that fluttering desire soaring through her chest. Very slowly, she drew nearer, Shinji obliging slowly. Very delicately, she placed her lips upon Shinji's, only for her, in ecstasy, to feel his hands wrapping around her sides. She obliged by curling her arms around his neck, holding him closer as the fire burned into each of them. Her eyes were squeezed tightly shut in her glory, in her joy, as the kiss filled her, as the passion and love enveloped her.
Slowly, her lips still locked, she opened her eyes. There was a flock of birds that flew into the air, pigeons she thought, the sound of their feathers beating against the wind almost soothing. But Asuka could see passed them, see the two figures staring at them, simply, in the middle of the road behind them.
Standing there, simply dressed in school uniforms, was Kaworu, who was holding hands with Rei Ayanami. Asuka was transfixed, her lips locked with Shinji, and her eyes locked with Rei's own scarlet eyes. Rei's lips were curled into an innocent, happy smile. And then, Asuka blinked, and the two had disappeared, gone, as though into thin air.
Asuka wished they would return, but knew, sadly, that was not to be. Rei was happy, and that was what matters. She was with Kaworu, and apparently they were getting along quite smoothly from the look of things.
Slowly, Shinji and Asuka parted, Shinji staring into Asuka's eyes, a look of innocent joy in his eyes. "Let's head home, Asuka."
Home. Back to where she knew she could do whatever she wanted and still be loved. A warm, welcoming place that she had longed for her entire life. A place where she could be herself and not have to worry about being judged. A place where she learned just who she was in the world, not just judging herself by solitary things in her life that would eventually go away. A place where you didn't have to be perfect to belong. A place where warm, joyous people welcomed you home.
A place where angels really lived.