Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion or anything associated with it. I'm writing this story simply because I enjoy writing.

The Favor

Sighing wearily as he rode the elevator up to his home, Shinji Ikari found himself strangely lethargic that day. Mainly because so little had been going on. Class had been boring as usual, Asuka had been strangely mellow in class, and there was nothing going on at NERV to require his presence there. Leaving him with really nothing to do except go straight home after school.

When he opened the door to the apartment he shared with two other females, Shinji was greeted by the one other male in the Katsuragi household. "Hey, PenPen," Shinji smiled, looking down at the warm-water penguin that stood before him. Stepping past the genetically enhanced waterfowl, Shinji made his way into the apartment proper.

"I home!" Shinji called out gently as he made his way into the living room, where he saw Misato sitting on the couch, watching the television. As was usual, the purple-haired woman was wearing little but a tank top and cutoffs. "Hey, Misato."

"Huh?" Misato started, as if surprised to hear anybody's voice. Slowly looking in his direction, the Major's eyes widened slightly at the sight of the boy. "Oh, Shinji. I…w-where's Asuka?"

"Oh, she and Hikari went to the mall. She said she might not be back in time for dinner tonight," Shinji explained easily.

That was when he realized that something was wrong. Normally, Misato was full of life and greeted Shinji with a brilliant smile. Today, however, was different. The purple-haired woman was looking at Shinji worriedly, almost shamefully.

"Is…something wrong?" Shinji wondered, cocking his head to one side as he scrutinized his guardian.

"Uh? Oh…no. It's nothing…I guess," Misato answered, returning her gaze to the television.

"Oh. Okay," Shinji returned, looking away, unsure of what to say. He could tell that something really was wrong with Misato, but he really didn't know how to go about finding out exactly what it was. "Uh…so what would you like for dinner tonight?"

"I dunno," Misato answered, her voice flat and dull. "Just…whatever you feel like making is fine."

"Well…alright then," Shinji finally spoke, before going to his room. Setting down his bag, the boy then lay down on his bed, and brought out his SDAT. Selecting a tape, Shinji turned the device on, and relaxed as his ears were filled with clear, classical music. Music that helped him distance himself from a world that was sometimes too painful to be borne, and from things he really didn't understand.

Something was wrong with Misato. And not did Shinji not know what that was…he had no idea of what he could do to make it better.

Later that evening, Shinji was puttering about the kitchen, preparing a dinner of Cantonese-style sweet 'n' sour pork. He fussed and hovered about the various pots and pans, making sure everything was perfect, as was normal. PenPen was already gulping down his dinner of sardines, which was normal.

As before, however, Misato was not normal. The purple-haired woman was just sitting at the kitchen table, staring off into nothingness, her hands wrapped about each other with frightening strength. As if she were about to snap of her own fingers. And the expression on her face was probably the most frightening thing about her. Like that of a scared little girl, who had just been caught doing something forbidden by her parents. A face of shame, sadness, and fear.

"Dinner's almost ready, Misato," Shinji spoke, walking into the dining area with a can of her favorite beer in hand. "Just give me a few minutes, and I'll be ready to serve."

"Right. Thank you," Misato returned, her voice as quiet as that of Rei Ayanami. Just as Shinji was about to set the canned beer down before her, she looked at him with deepening emotion. "Um, Shinji?"

"Yes?" the boy replied, frozen in mid-motion.

"Could you…get me a glass of tea, please?" Misato asked nervously. As both Shinji and PenPen turned to look at her in astonishment, the woman looked down at the floor. "I'm…not in the mood for beer tonight."

Shinji's eyes expanded out of there sockets as his mouth popped open. PenPen followed suite, a sardine falling from his beak before the penguin ran to hide in his refrigerator. Once safely inside, he began waving a sign that read, 'Repent, ye sinners! The end of the world is upon us!'

"Uh…" Shinji paused, his mind emptied by the shock of Misato actually refusing a beer, something that ran counter to everything that he knew about his guardian. After a short time, his mind finally rebooted into something resembling a functional state. "O-oh, sure, Misato. If you say so."

Quickly returning the can of Yebisu to where he had gotten it from, Shinji quickly made ready a glass of tea. "Here you go," Shinji said as he brought it out to Misato.

"Thank you," Misato responded, greeting the boy with a faint smile. Taking the glass in hand, Misato stared at it for a short time, before taking a slow, careful sip from the glass. After watching her joylessly sipping the tea, more and more aware that something was wrong, Shinji slowly returned to the kitchen, and continued his labors.

It wasn't much longer before dinner was finally ready, and when Shinji served it, Misato responded to his efforts as quietly as she had before. Quiet and meek, almost ashamed as she began to eat. As Shinji then sat down to join her, and dinner began to pass as quietly as the rest of the day had.

This quiet was finally broken by Misato, as she stared thoughtfully into the kitchen. "Shinji…I drink too much, don't I?"

"Huh?" Shinji started, looking up at the woman in surprise.

"You've said it yourself," Misato elaborated, still looking off into the kitchen. "I drink way too much, its not good for me, and that you wish I'd stop it."

"Uh, well…yeah, I guess so," Shinji admitted meekly. "Why?"

Misato didn't answer his question right away. Instead, she looked him straight in the eye. "Do you…think I'm dangerous?"

"What?" Shinji started, taken aback by the question.

"I'm serious, Shinji," Misato continued, her voice taking a more familiar edge. "Do you think I'm a dangerous person? That I would hurt someone?"

"Uh, no! Of course not!" Shinji returned earnestly. When Misato answered by looking away again, the boy felt his heart sink. "Misato…what is it?"

Once again there was silence, an agonizing quiet as Misato looked down at the table, unable to speak. When words finally came to her, they were not what Shinji could have ever expected. "I was watching the news earlier, before you got back home," she began, sadness and shame interwoven in her words. "Four children were killed last night in Tokyo-2. They had driving to the mall to meet some friends of theirs, and…"

"And what?" Shinji prompted when the purple-haired woman faltered. "Misato, what is it?"

"Some drunken woman came out of nowhere and rammed their car head-on," Misato continued, her words growing heavier. "She was so drunk that she didn't even noticed the kids' car, and…she just smashed right through them. Didn't even notice that she had hit anyone."

Blinking as he looked at Misato, Shinji had no idea of what to say to that. He simply didn't know what to say at all. Not a single word would come to him.

"Shinji, you know me. You know I like to drink a lot, and…" Misato went on, her eyes falling to the table again. "Do you think that I…could do something like that?"

"What?" Shinji started, struggling to deal with the emotion in the woman's words. Then, putting on a brave smile, he looked at her earnestly. "No, of course not! I've never seen you drive around after drinking! Not ever!"

Though Shinji spoke as bravely and honestly as he knew, Misato was not reassured. "Can you say I won't do that tomorrow? Or the day after? Or ever the day after that?" she asked with words filled with shame. When Shinji failed to respond, Misato slowly shook her head. "Shinji…four children died last night. Some of them weren't much older than you are now. And that women…she had been drinking all day! She had been warned by her friends, and even the police! And she still went out and killed those kids! Four children are dead right now, all because of one person's selfishness!"

"B-but, Misato! You're not like that!" Shinji spoke desperately, standing from his seat and bringing both hands down upon the table.

"Am I? Really?" Misato wondered, still looking at the table. Only to turn to look at Shinji, the boy who had done so much for her. Who had cooked and cleaned and put up with her drunken as disorderly ways. Who piloted an uncontrollable purple monster at her behest, who went out to battle the Angels and face pain and fear and possibly death, all to feed her need for revenge. A boy so much like those that had died. Died for another woman's selfishness.

"Shinji…that woman cost those children their lives. I know she might have had problems, but…that's no excuse for what she did," Misato went on, thinking of her own life. Her own shame and difficulties. And the things she did to the children under her command. "And I…I can't help but wonder if that…could be me, one day."

"No, of course not!" Shinji protested immediately. "There's no way you'd ever do something like that!"

Misato wished she could believe that. She wished that she could look herself in the mirror and say to herself that she wasn't capable of doing something that selfish, that stupid. But she had done more than her share of stupid things, had gotten herself so thoroughly drunk that she wound up throwing up, that she couldn't even stand on her own feet. And she knew that she was something of a reckless driver under normal circumstances. Though she never tried mixed driving with alcohol, she couldn't help but wonder what would happen if she was stupid enough to get behind the wheel when the booze was polluting her thoughts, her judgment.

For a time, Misato just sat there, thinking about the face of the woman who had four souls on her conscience, who had just kept crawling into a bottle to deal with her woes. Who had fought alcohol and ultimately given into it. And wondered if someday, it would be the face of Misato Katsuragi on the news, who went down as another example of an alcoholic fool, and a killer of children.

Misato didn't like thinking like that way. She truly didn't. But she was also a woman in the military, and part of her background was considering every option, every contingency situation. Including the worst case scenario.

After an untold number of minutes passed, Misato finally returned her focus to her ward. "Shinji…I need you to do me a favor," she spoke somberly.

"Oh, sure, Misato! Anything!" Shinji returned instantly. "What is it?"

"You know where I keep my car keys, right?" Misato asked. When Shinji nodded in agreement, Misato eyes grew even more focused. "If I ever drink too much, and you think I'm not safe to drive…then I want you to take my keys, and hide them."

"Huh?!" Shinji started, looking incredulously at his guardian. "H-hide them? Misato, are you sure about that?"

"I'm sure," Misato responded earnestly, thinking of what could happen. Images of Shinji, Asuka, Rei, Hikari, Toji, or Kensuke dead on the streets. Dead because she had made a bad choice under the influence of her own excesses. "Shinji…I may not be as bad as that woman is, but…I'm no saint, either. And I don't want to find out if I have a serious problem by waking up with someone's blood on my hands. So please…could you do that for me?"

For a time, Shinji just stood there, looking at the fearful face of the woman who had taken him in, who had believed in him, praised him, given him a place in her home and her heart. He thought of the things she had said, the fears she had, and ultimately thought that there was no real basis in them. The Misato he knew was a kind, playful person, who tortured herself over the very thought of him or anyone else ever being hurt. The thought of her killing someone in an act of carelessness was anathema to him.

And yet, as he looked at Misato's face, saw the fears and concerns she had for him and the others, he ultimately found that he could not refuse her, either.

"Well…alright, Misato. I'll do it," Shinji finally spoke.

A slight smile appeared on Misato's face, bringing a bit of peace to Shinji's heart. "Thank you. Thank you, Shinji-kun," she spoke gratefully. "And the next time I see Ritsuko, I'll ask her to keep an eye on me whenever we go out. Just in case."

"Oh. Okay," Shinji returned, not liking this. Not liking this at all. He didn't want to see Misato so worried. She wasn't supposed to be this way. The Misato he knew was supposed to be teasing and playful, not worried and frightened about vague possibilities.

However, even as he considered the situation, Shinji thought of another thing. "Still…Misato, maybe if you were to…cut back on the beer, maybe…"

Blinking at Shinji's hesitant suggestion, Misato once again looked down. She thought of the section of the refrigerator she kept stocked with beer, which she used to keep back all things to dark and painful to think about. Used to balm her loneliness and soften the nightmares that hounded her in her sleep. Things that were far more intense when not softened by the embrace of alcohol.

Then Misato thought of the woman she had seen on television. She had been much older than Misato was, further down the path of alcoholism and looked even more lost and ashamed than Misato had ever seen herself looking. And while Misato didn't see herself as being that way now…there was no telling what tomorrow might bring. And how much further down that path she might find herself then.

As she thought over Shinji's suggestion, the logical, military portion of Misato's mind agreed with her ward. While getting drunk alone wasn't as bad as drinking and driving, while asking friends and loved ones to look out for her were solid steps in the right direction, not getting drunk at all was clearly the best way to avoid such a fate. To avoid having the blood of children like Shinji himself on her hands.

"Alright, Shinji," Misato finally said, her smile brightening. "Starting tomorrow, we work on my cutting back on the beer. And…maybe I'll talk to someone about it as well."

With a smile of his own, Shinji nodded, going up to Misato's side. "Thank you," was all he said. All he really needed to say.

But that wasn't all that Misato needed to say, for while the shame she felt from looking at the woman's face was with her now, the pain and possibilities with her now, she knew that they might not stay there. That with the hurry and worry of her daily routine, with the horrors of facing the Angels and all the pain that came of humanity's war for survival, those very real concerns might be forgotten. Forgotten and replaced by the temptation of alcohol. The temptation to drink herself into forgetfulness, to curl up inside of a can of beer and forget fear, caution…and the lives of those she loved most.

"Just…one other thing, Shinji-kun," Misato smiled, a hint of mischief returning to her. When the boy looked at her, she placed her hands upon his shoulders. "Just in case I'm not feeling quite as intelligent in the morning, do me another favor…and be ready to twist my arm. And remind me of what I told you. About what happened last night. Because…something like that shouldn't be forgotten."

Once again there was silence, but not the awkward, painful silences of before. This silence was filled with wonderment as Shinji looked at Misato…and was once again thankful that such a woman was a part of his life.

"Alright, Misato," Shinji finally replied. "I'll try."

With a quick nod, Misato wrapped her arms about Shinji and drew him into a deep embrace. "That's all I can really ask for," she murmured, placing her head upon his shoulder. Determined not to forget, not to make the same kind of mistakes. Determined to learn her lesson before it was too late.

"Thank you, Shinji-kun," Misato grinned, grateful for his faith…and his support.

Author's Notes: A tragedy very similar to the one Misato described happened a few days ago near where I live. Four teens were just on their way to the mall to meet up with their friends, to have some pizza and enjoy each other's company. They did nothing wrong on the road, nothing to deserve what happened. They had all kinds of hopes for their lives, for their futures, and had them cut short by one person. Someone who kept drinking, and it cost her so much over the course of her life. And ultimately, it cost those teenagers their lives, and it cost a great deal to their friends and families.

I didn't know any of the victims, either those who were killed, or their friends or families. But looking at the story, at everything that had happened, I couldn't help but feel that the saddest thing is that I will possibly forget it. That with my own problems and worries, with the challenges I face during the course of the day, I will forget. Probably not tomorrow, possibly not for a long time. But it is likely I will eventually forget.

Many people will never forget what happened. The people whose lives have been changed forever by one person's foolishness and selfishness. But many more will undoubtedly forget. And that, I think, is truly sad. Because if something like this is forgotten, then no one will learn from it. A valuable lesson will be forgotten by people who can benefit. And if that happens, then those four teens died for nothing. Nothing will ever come of what happened to them, of their lives.

This is what prompted me to write this story, and while I hope you will all read and review, I hope you will also think about what happened…and not forget the lesson shown here. That four people died, when they should have lived. And that unless people learn this valuable lesson, many more will continue to die in the same way.

Sincerely, OrionPax09