A/N: Ah what the heck, why not ^_^

Also, if there are any people who think this story just doesn't bring out enough emotion, try adding this song www DOT youtube DOT com/watch?v=L4bPxqlC_cU

The Rose, sung by Judy Collins

The sidewalk undulated into the distance, disappearing into the bleak gray fog that often enveloped Tokyo-3 whenever the air was moist. He shivered, drawing his coat tighter about his neck. Cold temperatures were foreign to him, he having grown up his whole life in a post-Second-Impact world. The harsh words of a loved one only served to make the chill worse, both inside and out.

Dummkoph! If you came along, it wouldn't be girl's night out, would it? -no, don't even say it! Don't you dare say it! We do tons together, you know that! Besides, if you really think we don't do enough together as a family, whose fault is that?

Her tone had become almost plaintive near the end, and it cut him. In his own view, his job had pretty lax hours, which would have allowed him to spend more time with her and their child. Would have, if he chose to. Whenever they were together it felt like she was constantly picking at him, constantly beating him down, always pointing out his faults.

It wasn't constant, he knew that. It ebbed at times, but it never stopped completely. What frustrated him the most was how the more he tried to fix things with himself, the worst it seemed to get, as if she saw his attempts and was actively trying to sabotage him. Sometimes he swore that if he completely fixed himself to her liking, she would leave him because there wouldn't be anything more to complain about.

The one thing that always helped soothe his nerves was walking. Buildings rose before him, then fell into the distance as he passed. The new theater that had opened a week ago. The department store that had been there for years. The slew of eating establishments and novelty food stores. Those he knew very well. The one thing she didn't complain about was his massively expanded cooking repertoire.

He idly wondered how different things might have been if he had taken on as a cook somewhere, as opposed to returning to government work. He could easily have done it. Movement drew his attention to an alleyway just up ahead. He tensed, wondering if it was some nameless hoodlum waiting for a passersby. He knew how to fight, even if he didn't like doing it.

It wasn't an assailant. It was a little girl. He relaxed slowly. She was watching him calmly, perhaps curiously. She couldn't have been more than six or seven, and she was vagrant. She had a utilitarian jump suit and a light jacket, but her clothes and shoes were well-worn. Sudden feeling welled up in his chest, erasing his own problems. Whatever he faced, it was nothing compared to this little girl's life, and there wasn't even anything he could do. However curious she was, she would undoubtedly run if he approached her, no matter what he said.

Despite knowing this, he found himself slowly walking towards her, trying not to make any sudden movements. The closer he got, the more wary her expression became. He could see clearly the short puffs of steam her breath made in the cold air. He stopped a dozen feet from where she stood, wondering what to do next.

Was she hungry? Would she follow him somewhere to get something to eat? The only other option was to leave and bring something back to her, but she might not be there when he got back. He bent down to a crouch, resting his hands on his knees as he searched her youthful face. The Nightmare had been seven years ago. He wondered idly how close this girl's birth was to that date. Had the mother already been pregnant? A part of him couldn't imagine bringing a life into such a world.

His lips twitched into a ghost of a smile. He himself had done exactly that, with the one person he thought would never agree to be with him. Her conditions had been simple. 'Look at me.' It had turned out to be more complicated than that. The young girl before him blinked calmly, and he came back to the present. Her eyes never left his. He decided there was no harm in at least asking.

"Would you let me get you something to eat?"

The words obviously startled her, but only for a moment. "Yes," she answered. She walked up to him, her steps crunching on the gravel and dirt, and took his hand. He looked at her in surprise, afraid to move. She looked at him calmly, then, "If I act as your child, people won't ask questions."

He blinked dumbly. It was a startlingly cogent line of reasoning for a seven year old. "Okay." He stood, and they turned back towards the food establishments a few blocks over. "I know a good place." He smiled at her. She hesitantly returned his smile. Minutes later they were in the comfort of a heated environment, eating.

The warmth he felt as he watched her eat began to flicker and die when he thought of returning home. Even so, at least he had a home to return to, as uncomfortable and prickly as it was. The girl sitting across from him would undoubtedly be grateful to even sleep in a bed, no matter what 'abuse' was required. He wiped at his eyes, hiding the evidence of his sorrow. Not that it mattered, probably. His guest appeared to be too engrossed in her meal to notice. Everything he endured at the hands of his family was psychological. He felt shame at even thinking of it as abuse, compared to what the girl before him undoubtedly went through on a daily basis.

"What's wrong?"

He froze. "What do you mean?" he asked. She had finished her meal and was looking at him questioningly.

"Why are you sad?" Her question cut him to the core.

"I'm not-" the denial was automatic, trained into him by years of red-headed abuse. He stopped himself. "How do you know?" he finally asked, when he got his voice back.

"On the street," the girl replied, "you notice the little things. Or you don't survive."

He nodded, swallowing past the lump in his throat. When he opened his mouth, though, the words wouldn't come. It felt like he was gossiping about someone behind their back, and he couldn't do it. Tears came to his eyes, but before he could lift a hand to wipe them, she had put her small hand over his.

"I'm sure they love you very much," she said quietly. "They just show it in ways you don't recognize." She held his eyes for a moment, then slipped out of her seat and out the door into the cold. He watched her go, his eyes swimming with tears.

The sun continued its lone journey across the sky down towards the horizon. People came and went, going on their individual or shared journeys. One particular meeting took place, between a young man and a young woman, each in their twenties, and a child who looked to be about five. The young woman seemed to carry a permanent fury about her like a cloud of ethereal armor that protected her from the world around her.

The young man smiled and greeted her. Sparks flew. The woman berated him. His smile faltered for a moment and he almost turned away. Then he suddenly looked at her as if in a new light. He closed the distance and kissed her on the cheek, a quick peck. She looked flustered, and swatted him away. He pulled back, laughing. The angry haunted look in her eyes softened for a moment and she kept hold of his hand.

Then the moment was over, and the two parents and their child turned to walk down the sidewalk towards home. Though the walls were back up, their hands remained joined. Soon they disappeared over a rise in the sidewalk.

The sun continued its journey towards the horizon.

"B-Big sis!" At the exclamation she turned, but not as one surprised. "You knew I was here even before I spoke, didn't you?" the girl asked sheepishly. Her clothing, too, was faded and tattered, but it sufficed to keep out the chill.

"I did, Mei."

"But when did you get back in town? Nobody told me you had come back. Are you here for good this time?" Mei's jaded war-torn expression beamed with life. It wasn't often that the vagrant children experienced happiness or excitement. If it didn't feed you or keep you warm, then it wasn't worth doing.

"You know I don't like being tied down, but yes, I'm here. At least for a while."

"Business or pleasure?" the sarcasm in Mei's voice was faint but evident.

"That what passes for street humor these days?" she eyed Mei askance.

"Hah!" Mei scoffed. "Well, we can't all be at your standard, oh-wise-leader!" The mock-salute she threw off carried a little too much respect.

"I'm not a leader."

"You could be!" Mei insisted. "Hell, you could have half the town if you wanted!"

The other girl paused. "Probably," she shrugged.

"You thought about it!" Mei pointed, her eyes huge. "I saw you think about it! It'd be great! We'd end a lot of the crap around here, keep a lot of kids from dying..."

"-you don't understand." At the girl's forlorn tone, Mei cut off. "That kind of thing is part of the human spirit. Using violence to suppress violence only makes it worse."

After a few moments of stunned silence Mei slapped the other girl's back. "You know, you're a real philosophical SOB!"

"Where'd you learn the word 'philosophical'?"

"And here I thought you'd have problems with another part of what I said!" Mei guffawed.

"Sometimes I'm not sure what I am."

"Now you're making me start to wonder. C'mon, I know it's a little late, but we can still eat at that place you like, I'll gather the troops!" She pulled the other girl's arm, and they both set off at a fast jog through the chill evening air. "Why do you like that place, anyway?" Mei asked, glancing to the side as they ran.

"Memories of a past life."

Mei guffawed again at this, mostly to cover up how she saw the glint of truth in the other girl's eyes.

Walking down the sidewalk was a woman, her footsteps smooth and even. Ahead was a drab building wedged between a mini-mart and a dry-cleaning shop.

"No, Makoto, I just can't make it today! You know I do volunteer work on Wednesdays, why do always ask?" Yammering from phone as the woman smoothed her hair and came to a halt before the building. "-no no... c'mon, don't be that way...! Look, I gotta go, see you some time tomorrow!" The phone continued its anxious yammering until her thumb hit the disconnect button. She slipped the phone in her purse and stepped inside.

The small soup kitchen had long tables set up in the open area in the front, while the cooking area was in the rear. A middle-aged woman was busy sweeping up the front. She paused in her work and looked up, smiling warmly. "Welcome."

"Sorry I'm late!"

"You're not late." The woman looked back towards the kitchen. "Yukino could probably use your help, though. I'll have the front cleaned up in a minute."


Soon she was up to her elbows in food preparation. Ten minutes later the children began straggling in by ones and twos, and sometimes in groups. Soon there was a line. She scanned the line, feeling emotion well up in her throat. It always got to her, and she imagined it always would. To see these children with no homes, that somehow kept up the will to live, it reminded her how good her life was, even if she didn't always see it that way.

Suddenly the line parted like the red sea, to allow a small group of children through. Her eyes widened. She had all but given up hope, but there she was. The little girl with the strange eyes. She didn't come often, but when she did, the others made way for her and whoever she was with. She had asked the other workers why this girl was treated so respectfully by the other vagrants, but they had refused to talk about it. Something bad had happened, probably.

Physically the girl looked the same as the others, but she exuded an aura of hope. She wasn't jaded or wary like the other street-wise children. She seemed to be older than her seven years, and her movements were smooth and graceful, completely at ease. The children clustered around her treated her with awe, and the others looked on her with either the same respect, or with fear and envy.

She gave the girl her share of food, and the girl met her eyes with a look that broke to her core like it always did, as if they had known each other for a long time.

"Thank you, Miss Ibuki."

"You're welcome, child," Maya whispered. While the others might nod or smile grudgingly, this one was one of the very few that actually thanked her

This is not nothingness. I am unsure if I would have gotten my promised nothingness if I had followed the Commander's scenario. Perhaps he would have been better prepared to use Instrumentality to his own purposes. Then again, he might have gotten what he wanted and then let the world die.

I still don't know if I did the right thing by choosing you, and letting you control things. But I do know that you've found happiness, and seeing that makes me happy. Not all the time, but then I've found that happiness is best recognized when in the midst of hardship.

I know it doesn't seem like it sometimes, but you can be happy with her, and with your daughter, and your happiness is what matters. I don't think you'll need me any more, but I'll keep watching over you anyway, even if it gets harder as the days go by.

Sometimes I wonder at what might have been, if I had been more open, or had made different choices, but that life is past. This is a new life, and I've tried to make better use of it than I did with my other one. I think you'd be proud of me. I know I'm proud of you.

Always yours, Rei Ayanami.