AN: . .GOD. It's ALIVEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!. I'm alive too, sorry for the long pause.

Alright, STOP! Story time

Scar Tissue

Chapter Thirteen. Act Twelve: Serenity

The first shot shattered the reinforced window like a mirror breaking under a rock's weight. Both children froze in pure shock, yet before they could even begin to process what was happening the second bullet impacted the door's mainframe, rendering them unable to exit the apartment. The third bullet broke their table in half and would have made a hole in Shinji's chest, had he not thrown them both to the floor a second before, turning the table over with his momentum. An enormous crater was imprinted on the ground where Shinji had once stood.

The former Third Child was breathing hard, nude shock and adrenaline cursing though his veins like liquid fire as he lay under the splinters with Asuka in his arms, his eyes wide and alert and his heart pounding against his chest. He expected more shots to fly though the room, expected to feel the cold embrace of death in any second, but none came. Nothing but stillness and the random chirp of the broken mainframe greeted him. Distantly he heard Misato run through the entire place, yelling his both his and Asuka's name frantically.

Remembering he had pushed Asuka below the table along with him, Shinji suddenly realized he had not heard her utter a single word.

"Kids!? Are you alright?! Stay down, don't move!" Misato ran through the broken table, hiding behind the kitchen's counter. She was breathing hard, her ears were ringing and her hands were shaking, but she willed them still.

"Shinji!" she whispered forcefully though the room. "Are you both alright?" She heard Shinji shift around under the collapsed half of the table that covered him, but received no response from him. "Shinji!" She whispered again.

But Shinji did not listen. He could not even breathe. There was a warm liquid running down his hand, and Asuka still hadn't yelled at him for throwing her on the floor. Something was very wrong.

When he finally looked down, the boy swallowed his own voice. Asuka was holding onto him with deadly force, trying not to wince while her shirt stained crimson.

"Sh-Shin-"

She coughed, sparking drips of blood onto his shirt as she held to it like a lifeline. Shinji blinked, his heart and brain telling him the one thing he did not want to believe. The small hole in Asuka's abdomen was no hallucination. The blood that slowly stained the floor was not a hallucination. The fact that Asuka had been impacted by a bullet shard was no hallucination. She was bleeding. Asuka was dying, and he was just sitting there, holding her, watching as she died. She was dying, his Asuka was dying, and he was doing nothing. Nothing. The vultures were coming, they were going to tear her apart, and he was going to do nothing at all. Nothing.

At last, he took a long, cautious breath.

Not again. Not ever.

One of his hands flew over to the wound and applied pressure directly over it while his other hand frantically ripped a piece of his own shirt; when the fabric refused to give under his effort, he bit into it and ripped the entire sleeve and a piece off the shirt's neck in a savage yank. He felt a sharp, white pain in his still recovering arm and chest, but ignored both.

His palms were red, stained with the blood that refused to stop coming out of her. He put the piece of torn cloth against the wound, taking one of Asuka's hands away from his shirt and onto the makeshift apposite. The grip of her other hand was getting weaker. Shinji put his hand over hers, willing her to look at him in the eye.

She was scared, shocked and pale. Her skin was growing cold and wet, making Shinji realize she was suffering from shock. His free hand delicately lifted her face to him, making Shinji realize he had never seen her so scared before. For the life of him, he had never seen the Second Child so vulnerable before.

"Stay with me." He whispered, staring intently into her eyes. The redhead nodded weakly.

Before he know what he was doing, Shinji took Asuka in his arms and ran, ran directly through the door and kicked whatever remained of the button supposed to open it. The object did not move. Enraged, Shinji screamed and kicked it again with all his might, denting the already damaged device, but the door did not yield. He screamed again, and kicked it a third time with every fiber of strength he had.

The door finally hissed open a few centimeters, allowing him to push it open with his foot. Somewhere between him opening the door and running through the hallway the power went out in the entire building, but he barely noticed. He didn't even notice Misato screaming his name at the top of her lungs.

As soon as he saw the hallway, the boy ran. Ran as fast as he could, ran because if he didn't, then Asuka would be taken from him forever and this time not even the lives of every human being would bring her back. He ran because Asuka needed him, right now, and he would not fail again. Ran because Asuka could die, and he couldn't deal with that. Not ever. He couldn't live without her, whatever it was that they shared was the first true connection he had ever made, and he wouldn't let anyone steal that away from him.

So Shinji ran through seven floors of stairs, never speeding up too much or making any sudden moves that would threaten to hurt Asuka further. He never saw the Section 2 agents running behind him, calling the paramedics through their radios. He remembered, in a time of such intense stress, he remembered being carried off in a stretcher by two men in black suits. He remembered being somehow handed off to the paramedics on the ground floor, where there was an ambulance parked 24/7 in case of any emergency.

Somehow Shinji also realized there was no electrical power in the building, and that the elevator was certainly not an option. With a mind sharpened by the massive amounts of adrenaline that pumped through his bloodstream, Shinji ran as fast as the injured treasure in his arms allowed him to go. All along the floors he kept thinking of one single phrase that repeated itself with every passing second and reverberated with every step and every sharp sting in his ribs.

"Shinji! Asuka is… Asuka is…! Oh God!...

Monsters, clawing at her, disemboweling her, killing her. Asuka dying alone, forgotten, neglected. Him, sitting there, hearing her struggle in vain. Dead, butchered, alone.

Not ever again.

His chest burned with white, hot pain, but he was oblivious to everything. Even as his lungs threatened to give in, he pushed forward, always careful not to harm the prized bundle of red in his arms. Exhaustion burned through every fiber of his being, sweat and blood mixed together on his shirt as he felt Asuka grow colder and felt the grip on his shirt lessen its strength, but he didn't slow down.

"It's going to be alright, I won't let anything happen to you again, just stay with me." Shinji lost track of how many times he whispered the same thing into her ear, he stopped controlling what left his mouth altogether after the fifth floor. At some point Misato tried to pry her off him, but he only snarled at her to get help. The agents didn't even bother to offer assistance, knowing fully well he would most likely bite off one of their fingers should they touch him, or even worse, her.

The paramedic team caught up to him in the fifth floor. They saw him running down the stairs, his blue navy shirt stained black with blood and eyes as frantic as a father's eyes as he looked over his agonizing child. About fifty men in black suits were surrounding them, guns drawn and loaded, but to Shinji they were about as useless as nipples on a bullet proof vest.

They had to physically separate Shinji from her, he wasn't letting go, the boy had anchored himself to her with every last remains if his vanishing strength. His legs were shaking from both shock and exhaustion, he was breathing shallowly and his chest felt like an orchestra of broken glass shaking about, there was a hot sensation on his left thigh, but he didn't care. Even inside the car he refused to let go of her until they climbed off the ambulance and ran into the hospital.

He held her hand the entire way to the Emergency Ward, and released her only when the doctors hurried off to the operating room. He felt a dark emptiness spread all around his chest, and for once it had nothing to do with the blinding agony his healing ribs were giving him. When the light of the ER turned red, Shinji felt Death itself steal away his heart. He stared at the red, barely breathing, transfixed in a maelstrom of emotions until it somehow lost focus to him. Feeling rather sleepy, he suddenly realized the ground was getting closer before the world went black on him.

It was not until much later that Shinji found out he was bleeding as well.


The boy's burst of motion distracted Dmitri. He cursed, lifting both himself and the heavy weapon from his position, and aimed straight at Ikari's head. For a second it was difficult to readjust the rifle's scope and see his target properly, but assuming both children were hidden underneath the table, he reloaded and fired, imprinting a hole where Shinji's body had been.

The boy's movement towards the door messed up his aim again, but he shot the damn table for good measure. Surely a shard had to hit something. He caught the boy at the door, kicking it like crazy while holding the redhead in his arms.

He was about to tear both Children in half with his next shot, but his hand stilled at the last second. The image brought clarity to his idea, to their scenario. The sight of the boy's bravery and stupidity already made the gears in his head start spinning. Yes, this little improvisation had turned into quite a well-organized and quite justifiable plan. He could not help but applaud the boy's moments of altruism, which increased his blood lust that much more. Shinji would make a commendable adversary indeed, already had the boy ignored being so close to death in order to save the deranged Second Child. He could only dream of the things Shinji could do with his EVA once his control broke and the Beast awoke.

"Yaytsa etogo parnya (the balls on this kid)…" He lowered the rifle, feeling a sudden rush of elation in his chest. He'd finally found the final chess piece in his game, the last detail in their plan. It was so simple, so absolutely logical, that Dmitri felt stupid for not considering it before. Given the appropriate circumstances, he'd be able to test the boy's true worth and set forth a chain of events leading to SEELE's ultimate downfall.

It was simple and beautiful to behold. Through the rifle's scope, he stared deep into Ikari's eyes and found what he wanted.

"I bet you really love adrenaline right now, don't you Shinji?" Being no stranger to broken ribs and punctured organs, the young assassin could relate only too well to the pain Shinji was going though. The entire spectacle didn't cease to entertain him. Apparently it took Armageddon to give the Ikari brat some courage.

"You killed every last human being because you wouldn't have the guts to save her. Then, you gave a big fuck you to Instrumentality to bring her back, and I can't help but wonder…" he chuckled, "How many people do I have to kill for you to actually fight for her?"

The smile grew in size as his eyes widened in anticipation and a grudging respect that bred from the very depths of his charred soul.

"Are you just going to give up again? Or are you gonna stop me, Third Child?"

Dmitri lowered his weapon and stared apathetically at the corpse lying before him."You don't mind if I take your gun, do you?" he asked the dead man; his eyes turned to the modified rifle and briefly admired its beauty. "I was gonna leave it here with you, but it's such a nice gun. Pity it was wasted on you, but I'll put it to good use, don't worry."

He produced a picture of NERV's Sub-Commander and chuckled, imagining the face of a certain pony-tailed agent when he came with the news that he'd just shot the Langley brat. "What do you think, should I kill her first, or last?"

He smiled wickedly, running his fingers down the spilled blood lying on the floor. "He's always hungry, after all." He muttered, bloodied fingers tracing down the wall. "My entire domination is based on killing. My rule is over the planet Maadim that indicates the spilling of blood. I am the Venom of God, I am the Kabbalah. I don't give a shit." A small chuckle escaped the assassin.

He laughed, with rusted excitement rising through him, Dmitri gave a dry chuckle, wondering at how splendid it would be, how absolutely exciting the battle would be for him. To be paired against the boy who butchered the 14th and yet stood by and let his friend get devoured, how glorious.

His mother had been dead for so long he had trouble making up her facial features, but he could still remember how her blood had stained the snow as it dribbled from her body. He had no problem recalling the smell of her burning corpse, though. He recalled his brother's face perfectly, with as much clarity as the day he'd killed his first man or the day he was forced in the Entry Plug. He remembered every person he had killed; his eidetic memory never forgot a face, with the ironic exception of his own mother. He remembered his deal with the monster, too.

"Do you wish it?" The voice had growled through the darkness. "The power?"

The crude message the amateur had left drew his attention from the pit of his memories. NERV WILL BURN, it read, scratched in the wall like a child's graffiti, certainly with no originality in it at all.

Not only NERV, you witless bastard, thought Dmitri happily. SEELE.

SEELE will burn. Everything burns.


Never before had a meeting hall been so disturbingly quiet. The heads of state, representatives and pretty much every important person handling NERV's operations sat quietly in their chairs, mimicking children who had just been reprimanded. The Commander drummed her painted fingernails on the table's surface, a scowl deep enough to melt an EVA's armor present on her features.

The head of Section 2 was sweating profusely, noticing the crimson marks still staining Ritsuko's lab coat. It had never made much sense to him to have a non-military scientist as the leader of a military-based research project or whatever, but now she looked more terrifying than any general. As a military man himself, he felt ashamed of the meager results he was able to offer, but the shame that burned within him the most was the failure of his simple duty.

Both children were on hospital beds. Again. Not even a single year had passed since Third Impact, an already both Shinji and Asuka found themselves in constant danger, with the only difference being the perpetrators. While they had once had their lives endangered to save humanity from hideous monsters, now humanity claimed heir heads in a spike for not protecting them "right". And him, the single, most impenetrable line between the hungry spectators and the children who had seen and suffered too much, had failed miserably.

Ritsuko cleared her throat, cutting the Coronel's train of thought. "As of right now," she said, "both the Second and Third Child will remain within the Geo-Front. After their injuries have healed completely and the project has been finalized, they will be granted new identities and anonymity. The alibi will be completed before the month is over."

A small piece of metal fell innocently at the center of the table, thrown by the Commander herself. It clashed quite loudly against the aluminum surface, breaking the otherwise muted atmosphere. The piece was blackened, it appeared to have been a part of some cylindrical metal device. No more than 4cm long a 3cm wide, it was somewhat charred and sported a few dark crimson marks around its edges.

Glaring at the object with vehemence, the Commander cleared her throat yet again. What she wouldn't do for a cigarette right then and there… "I just had that removed from the Second Child's lower abdomen. It was lodged inside her liver, it traveled through her muscle and almost shattered her ribcage from the inside, I doubt taking up drinking will be a good choice for her in the next few years, even with the serum. The wound is just above a scar she has, a round one, where the copy of the Lance pierced. She has ten of those now."

Ritsuko raised herself a bit, resting her elbows on the table as she massaged her temples. "Did you know Shinji has nightmares? His nightmares are so bad, so vivid, that he even moves and twitches when he's sedated. I seriously doubt he's had a good night's sleep for a long, long time."

Dejectedly, she remembered watching as the boy squirmed in his sleep, sheer terror ripping at his numb mind while he lay defenseless. She understood very well why Asuka behaved the way she did, as well. She could not even imagine what it felt like; to be eaten alive, blinded, impaled and left to die alone like chopped liver. Huh, liver. Less than ah hour before doctors had to close up Asuka's own.

"That piece of metal is a shard from a .50mm hollow-point bullet. There are no .50 caliber hollow-point bullets. Someone hand-made these, and they knew exactly what they were doing. Two armor-piercing bullets, two hollow-point bullets. This is the work of a true professional. The access codes to the apartment were hacked. The electric input was shut down, and their apartment is directly connected to our mainframe. This assassin hacked the MAGI."

A cigarette. The word almost left her mouth, but the Commander reminded herself of the situation, trying to pry her addiction off her primal needs. "I'm not going to discuss who did it; we know quite well who tried to kill the Children."

Heads nodded, some clicking their tongues while others muttered profanities in a variety of languages towards the Old Men. Ritsuko wanted to snort at the hypocrisy of it all. Barely a year ago, these men and women sitting before her had licked SEELE's shoes and sent the Children to the slaughter-house, and now they acted insulted and disturbed at the news that the Second Child had been shot through the liver. As Asuka would have said it, it was pathetic. She herself had engineered Gendou's scenario so that Shinji would break at the appropriate time, and now here she stood speaking as if her hands were clean.

"I'm just going to say I'm cut off for this shit. I'm a scientist, not a soldier, but even I can see where this is going." Grim understand came to the disgruntled faces surrounding her. Idly, she remembered the man sitting with his hands crossed in the darkness of his small chair at the end of the table, gears already turning in his head. Among the traitorous cockroaches around her, she trusted him the most. Pathetic indeed.

"Another massacre. I wouldn't be surprised if the bastards manage to recruit our own armed forces and brain-wash them into another Coup d'état, and they may just succeed."

She breathed yet another disappointing sigh, eyeing the reports with disinterest. Nothing new was written on those insipid sheets of black and white. The papers offered no solutions, no answers for what she had feared would happen, should Instrumentality fail. It had just been a matter of time, really, until the attacks started. And why shouldn't they start? It was so typically human to blame one's pain on others and point fingers at the wrong direction. Sure, let's blame the brat who lost his sanity, innocence, friends and every contact with the real world for us. Let's try to kill our savior, the only human with enough gall to turn his back on Heaven and choose Life over Opium Dream; thought the Commander.

She snarled, hitting the table with all the force of her fist. Startled, the members of the council stared wide-eyed at her, some even ready to reprimand her actions until she addressed them with a glare of cold anger.

"The JSDF is barely functional as it is, commercial flights are non-existent, military aircrafts over-fly this crater every five minutes, the UN's representatives are pointing fingers at each other, riots and anarchy are exploding all over the world." She eyed the men around her. Generals, former presidents, military tacticians, political advisors and PR professionals, all were about to tremble at her next piece of news.

"SEELE is recruiting mercenaries, giving away propaganda that states them as the only line of defense between the innocents and NERV, they're basically trying to unite any and all survivors they can and use them to crush us, since we're the only organization trying to maintain some level of control. Never mind they're directly responsible for Second and Third Impact." The Commander noticed the rapid intakes of air, nervous gulps and beads of sweat rolling the faces of the fattest and oldest members of the committee.

"Keel is dead, and he's not coming back. We´re dealing with a different SEELE now; one that wants control over whatever's left of this world so they can turn it into their personal Petri dish." In between the papers on the desk, the X-marked folder stood out noticeably. Muraviov, the Russian general, gulped audibly when her fingers brushed ever so slightly against the harmless file. Ritsuko sighed and hoped in vain Misato would call off the search for five minutes and kick some sense into the useless group of individuals she was dealing with.

"We already know they have an army, and they know we know. They're just buying their time until they have enough influence and military power to overrun our government, as decayed as it is." The Commander opened the red folder and threw the pictures at the center of the high table, glaring at the Russian General while she picked a picture that showed the black mask of an Evangelion.

"Mr. Muraviov, would you be kind enough to explain Proyect X to our guests here?" The General looked down at the photos with a frown deep enough to make him look intimidating, but the cold atmosphere in the conference room seemed to cool down Muraviov's preference for sending everyone to hell. As for her part, not for one second did Ritsuko failed to keep her eyes locked onto the Russian's head.

"Proyect X," began the old General, wiping the sweat of his brow, "was supposed to be the next step in human evolution, should Instrumentality fail." The large man sighed, running his fingers through the fine layer of falling hair on his head. "It began in 2005, long after NERV managed to decode the genetic material of Lilith and Adam. There was one of SEELE's members, Udre Kalashnikov, who never truly believed in the Human Complementation Project. He was a material man, interested only in the profits to be produced out of creating weapons with the genetic information at his disposal. He was, and still is, one of the biggest economical contributors to the EVA weapons development project."

Heads turned faster than Ritsuko anticipated. Coronel Katsumoto, the head of Section 2, glared at the Russian representative with renewed vehemence. "You bastards…" uttered said Coronel Katsumoto as Muraviov cleared his throat to continue. "You were making genetically engineered soldiers, weren't you? Like Ayanami?"

"No." replied Ritsuko dryly. "Their test subjects were already born human. We took half-made clones of Ikari Yui and turned them into the key to Third Impact. They wanted an endless supply of super-men to fight their private wars. Besides, you didn't use Adam or Lilith, did you?"

Muraviov returned the Coronel's glare and scowled, but otherwise refused to acknowledge the Coronel's statement. He nodded to the Commander and continued.

"In 2004, the Russian government found an embryo in the depths of Siberia, in the bottom of an abandoned diamond mine in Myr. It was lodged inside a geological structure akin to the Geo-Front. We know not who or what made it, but there we found an Angel that shared 98% of Lilith's genetic material. Most of the government wanted to blow it up of course, given the experience of Second Impact and the devastation the country suffered, but Kalashnikov pushed SEELE into keeping the specimen, and blackmailed his own home country men to agree that keeping it would be a greater benefit than trying to destroy it. It didn't take long before they started experimenting with human subjects, with SEELE's approval of course."

"Unbelievable," said the head of the remaining Japanese forces. "SEELE was creating super soldiers, and weapons of mass destruction from an Angel we didn't even know existed, with the approval of the UN, all for what? They wanted to end the world, not own it! How do we know you're not lying?" Muraviov cleared his throat again, and wiped off some more sweat off his forehead.

"SEELE wanted what they thought was the next step in human evolution, they wanted to become gods, and you will all excuse me if I vomit," growled Ritsuko angrily. "But neither me nor you can talk to this man from a moral high ground. Let's not forget we all partook in Third Impact's design, SEELE didn't build the EVA Series by themselves. We all approved to something far worse than super soldiers." She nodded to the Japanese brigade general, one who most certainly still had the blood of many of NERV's employees dripping from his hands. "You were saying, General…"

The Russian nodded and cleared his throat, again. "Had it not been for this research, the serum which saved the Second and Third Child's life would not have been available, nor would the N2 bomb exist. That means we would have been forced to use nuclear power against the Angels, thus destroying all life on Earth." Seeing the news did not discourage the entire table from glaring at him, he continued. All life on Earth had already been almost wiped out.

"By 2008, the results with the Angel DNA were promising. Many tests subjects had assimilated the angelic material with minimal side-effects, increasing their stamina, healing velocity and general strength in most cases. Others developed their cognitive response to unpredicted levels, while others… did not fare so well. "

"What he means," interrupted the Commander, "is that most of their tests subjects died painful, horrible deaths when their bodies rejected the angelic stem cells."

"The General coughed. "Be that as it may," he continued, "most of these soldiers were designed for one purpose, to attempt an activation test with that thing. There was an incident in 2011, however, and Keel had the project shut down. He made good use of the test subjects but sealed away all evidence of their existence, or the project's existence for that matter." The large man wiped perspiration from his brow, feeling the increasing glares of the committee around him.

"Even after Third Impact they kept it buried, but our Intel states another member of SEELE insisted on using project X on NERV. Kalashnikov, the head of the project, allegedly refused, but it was nevertheless re-activated. That thing, they're going to set it loose." He pointed at the black mask on the desk.

"However did you come by these test subjects you speak of?" interjected the former British prime minister smoothly, trying to distract himself from the image the General referred to. Muraviov scowled at him for a second before he mastered himself.

"There was no lack of orphaned children after Second Impact, "he answered coldly. "You should know, ser, England provided more than en-"

"This is pointless." Ritsuko interrupted. "You two will shut up and sit down, or so help me God I'll call the Sub-Commander and let her deal with you." Both men continued to glare at one another, but otherwise said nothing.

"What matters is the following," she said icily. "The project was an alleged success. That incident in 2011, it was them trying to domesticate an Angel somehow. Given our popularity nowadays, it wouldn't be too hard for them to justify using that thing on us. I bet it has an S2 organ, endless energy and durability, and it's probably piloted by a highly trained killer. We, on the other hand, barely have enough firepower to repel a small battalion, two unstable and painstakingly traumatized and injured pilots, and a mutation of the First Angel that should not even exist anymore, let alone breathe."

"You speak as though an attack is on its way, Commander," provided the American Ambassador. "Should we assume battle stations? The US government would be more than glad to provide naval protection to your shores."

Ritsuko scoffed at the offer. "An attack is on its way." She replied. It was dubious the US government was interested in the wellbeing of the Japanese society, or the survival of NERV for that matter. They simply wanted dibs in inspecting the vaults under NERV once SEELE wiped them out. "Your concern is appreciated, but we would benefit more from a few weapons and certain parts we require to finalize the project."

The American scowled, but said nothing. Even in the meeting room, Ritsuko was full of enemies. "So much faith in your Unit 2," he replied smugly. "Does your last Evangelion provide so much protection? I hear it did not fare so well last time, even with your top pilot."

"Unit 2," muttered the blonde doctor tersely. "Is in no condition to be even remotely operational yet, and furthermore, I will not force any pilot to get in that thing against their will. This issue was already dealt with in our last meeting, if you recall, and I specifically pointed out the EVA is a last resort. I'd rather blow it straight to hell along with that monster SEELE's planning to unleash than put someone inside that death trap again."

Silence was her only answer. She would need a conversation with Misato regarding certain demises, to be sure. Most of these people cared naught for Japan, innocent people or life in general. More than one was probably trying to bring about a Fourth Impact. The Commander shook her head and sighed.

"Now that everything is cleared out, we need to prepare for this attack. We need anti-aerial firepower, AT-Field generators, workers to reinforce and seal the vaults, core piercing ammo, -"

"All of this is useless," the Japanese General cut Ritsuko off brusquely. "No weapon we posses was ever able to even stop an Angel, much less a fully armed Evangelion. It'll tear any shields we raise and crush our forces like worms!" He rose from his seat and began speaking with some level of desperation.

"They'll all come here and slaughter us, don't you see?! Our only option is Unit 2, it has reactivated! It has consumed eight S2 engines and been reborn!" Sweat rolled off the man's brow as his look turned more and more deranged.

"If we use it against them, even if they have an entire army behind them it'll be nothing! The EVA will tear them to shreds and even beat that black monstrosity! Don't you see?! It's pointless to put the safety of two brats before the interests of our country! They should be glad they are of use to us! Soon, with enough research, we can engineer a Fourth Impact, a perfect one! You mean to tell me you want to stay in this hellhole?! Unit 2 is a copy of Adam, and that thing a copy of Lilith! We could-"

BANG.

Blood splashed over the walls as the man's brains burst out through the bullet hole. The lifeless body of the general slid off to the ground with a wet sound, making everyone cringe. The Coronel put away his still smoking side-arm and saluted Ritsuko as the members of the committee began to rise from their seats. The Commander eyed the corpse dispassionately.

"I do believe this meeting is adjourned, and I don't think I should warn you about following the General's train of thought. You have your orders, see them through and we might just survive another year." Slowly, all members but one left the conference room, gloom was written on their faces while they slowly walked to their impending demise. They would all face trial once it was all over, after all. Nakamura eyed her warily before departing, yet he was still the only one to approach and offer his condolences for the new trauma the children had been put through.

From the dark corner of the table, Ikari Gendou smirked. Ritsuko's eyes found his glasses' reflection, and she idly noticed he was sporting a new hand, which together with his left hid away his small smile.

"How are your balls?" she asked, smirking despite herself.

"Still tender." replied Gendou. She sat down heavily on her chair, going over the files with a lazy stare. Her eyes never left his bearded face, "That report was very informative, extremely detailed as well. I should thank you, but I won't." she said. Ikari chuckled, remaining impassive under his poker face.

"You think we stand a chance without Unit 2?" Ritsuko asked him, already knowing and dreading the answer.

"Not likely," said Gendou; he removed his hand and prosthesis from his face. "But you needn't worry about that."

"You're putting a lot of faith in him, that's totally new." Ritsuko snickered, eyeing the man warily. "You really think he'll fight for you?" Gendou gave a weird growl that could have passed for a snigger.

"Not for me, never for me, and with good reason." he answered. "But he will fight."

The black mask stared at him from the picture, red eyes shining with malice. "He will fight."


The world was always tinted with crimson. Whenever he opened his eyes, there was something red to be observed and to cause the deepest disgust in him. He always felt sick. It smelled like blood, like death and rot wherever he went. It made him sick. He made himself sick.

Ever since emerging from the Ocean, he had felt a new hope grow inside his heart, a hope that like a mother's warm embrace lulled him to sleep the first couple of nights. Silent it remained while he searched for food and shelter, glistening like a jewel in a desert of death. It kept him somewhat sane for the first four days, but it faded now, as the moments passed on and the crimson remained. No-one had come back yet. There he was, alone in the rubbles of a once imposing capital of technology and greatness, abandoned and cast aside like the ruined buildings as the days went by and humanity turned its back on his sacrifice, as if it had all been a practical joke from her mother and the universe.

Had it all been for nothing? No, he told himself. Just give them time, they'll come back, they'll come and I'll see them again and we'll smile. I'll be happy, I'll apologize and everything will go back to normal. These things he told himself over and over, but in the back of his mind the dark questions remained. Would it ever go back to normal?

He survived as best he could, scavenging anything he found that wasn't rotten or in the process of rotting away. More than eating, the problem became keeping the food in his stomach for an extended period of time after the first four days. The visions came, they looked for him in his sleep and sometimes when he was awake, getting stronger with the stench of decay and blood that permeated the world. The night terrified him; he'd sleep on the beach, enlightened by moonlight and whatever fire he was able to create.

He slept out of exhaustion, but never for more than three hours straight. The nightmares were never kind to him. Whenever sleep did not come he would walk through the streets, the houses, the shopping malls and the falling ruins of whatever remained from the impact until the sun rose through the clouds. Smiling faces mocked him from the burnt pictures of magazines as they flew through the wind and onto the collapsed infrastructure. Broken shards of glass clung to him as he broke windows to extract precious food, but none of these things did Shinji acknowledge.

"Where are they now, mother?" He wanted to ask her, to scream at her lying face, but he screamed it at the windows, at the wind, at Rei's half head, at the fallen trains and broken electric lines. "Was all of it for nothing?! It was, wasn't it? All that blood, all that death, all that pain, all for you. So you could live on forever in that tin can. I hope you drown in it. I hope you fucking rust!"

He closed his eyes and screamed.

Whenever he lost himself in strange memories that were not his own, opaque and unfinished as if looking through broken glass, he would see them. Their worlds, their glee, it was addictive even to him. They were happy, out there being goo and singing that beautiful symphony of Death and Rebirth. He had no right to steal that away from them, but a bit of company would help him cope with the visions. With the dreams. With the pain and loneliness, with his wretched, broken self. After the fourth day he stopped noticing the passage of time.

"Asuka…"

Soon, most of what came out of his mouth besides half-digested food and bile was her name. Her face was the last thing he had seen with any resemblance of sanity. Sometimes he even wondered if it was truly the real world, or just another one of Lilith's lies. Maybe he'd wake up at some point and Asuka would be yelling at him to get up and demanding breakfast, Misato would scream out in glee as she drowned out her first beer, and he'd be happy just being with them again. For what, though?

He had choked Asuka with his bare hands, he knew, and would do so again if he saw her, he was sure of it. So why did Shinji want her back? To be treated as nothing less than dirt by a girl who had openly refused to save his life? To be subjected to her constant abuse only to see her face? What did it matter if she came back anyhow, she was dead. Dead, dead, dead. Gone in the dream, never to be his, but he wanted her back. He wished the stupid self-repeating cycle would end.

The nightmares, however, did not end. Whenever he saw red, he'd see them, grinning maniatically at him as they devoured the one person he had ever been somewhat close to. He could almost hear the slurring sounds of wet blood as it dripped from their opened jaws. He could hear the cracking of bones as they ate her, they ate her alive.

"And what did you do? What did you do? Nothing. That's what you are, that's what you deserve…" Oh, but he had done something. He had pleaded like the pathetic worm he was, pleaded for her help; her company, her hatred, anything, and she had refused. So he killed her again.

He didn't realized how long it passed, what day it was, what year. How long had he stayed in that ocean of Blood? A month? A year? A millennia? How long had he awakened from it, and how long would he be alone, just like this? Maybe three days, he thought idly. Shinji no longer existed, only a shell tormented by the sight of horrors too crude to understand. Perhaps two weeks, perhaps more, perhaps less had passed. Who cared, anyway? He could fall and die in the middle of all that rubble, and no-one would give a shit.

Sometimes he'd blink and see Rei take away the children, the mothers, the men. He felt people die; saw bits and pieces of lives he didn't quite remember, he saw as he failed again and again even in the eternity of Instrumentality. Images of naked bodies grinding against each other, the feeling of a smooth neck and a fragile windpipe giving under the pressure of his fingers, the touch of a grown woman's lips on his own, the promise of something that never occurred. Thought and sensations cursed though him, but he was already numb to it all.

He walked through the bones of the once imposing metropolis, his haunted stare fixated on the splashes of reddish liquid lying all around, the abandoned clothes that lay forgotten and shook with the cold wind. He suddenly realized he was cold, but made no attempt to find shelter or any sort of warming garments.

A thought ran though his head as he walked through rubble and blood, unconsciously heading towards what remained of the Geo-Front, munching on some half-eaten, half-rotten canned pineapples. Maybe they deserved it, maybe they all ganged up on him and forced him to do it. Nobody helped him, suddenly Asuka was dead and so was Misato, suddenly there was a giant Rei-like monster glaring down at him, suddenly the world demanded him to choose. What did they expect, really?

And Shinji chose. He chose death, and ran away from it.

They deserved it, he thought as the can dropped from his numb fingers and his feet wobbled over to the massive crater where his city had once stood. They earned it, the bastards. All of them, the soldiers, the NERV techs, the doctors, the classmates Misato. Asuka. Rei. They had all left him, so he took their lives. He left Asuka to die; he killed Rei and left Misato bleeding on the cold steel floor. But they deserved it. In the end, it didn't matter, because all of it, it was a lie. An illusion. He was still in that Ocean, and whenever he wished the world would crack like an eggshell and he'd rebuild it to a more fitting scenario. He had only done it twenty thousand times before.

The Geo-Front came into view, and the first thing that assaulted him was the stench of rotting flesh. He hadn't taken ten steps towards the crater when he saw it, eyes dangling and jaws skeletonized.

Unit 02's head. It was right there, staring at him, waiting for him just outside the crater. It occurred to him that it was real, that it was all real. Then he saw them, getting up, grinning, always grinning. He saw them tear the red behemoth to shreds with their teeth from a thousand different angles. He heard bones snapping, organs being ripped out and tissue being chewed on and swallowed. He might just as well have done it himself. He had killed her, for real, and the severed head with two holes in it and bluish blood surrounding it was very much real. She was Not coming back.

"She deserved it, huh? She deserved this, to be mutilated while you sat there and felt sorry for youself?! You make me sick, you make yourself sick. You're the one who deserves this, you idiot. This is Hell. This is your hell. This is punishment, know that she died waiting for you, and you let her die… You killed them all… all of them…."

He threw up.

Two days later he found Asuka, and tried to choke her to death. He could feel it, feel his fingers digging into her throat. He could feel her heartbeat, but her eyes said nothing. You will react. You will react to me. You will see me. If you don't I'll kill you. I'll kill you. I hate you. Die, you're not real. Asuka's dead, and if she's alive I'll kill her again. You're not real. Die, disappear. Go away, leave me alone. Save me, kill me, hate me. Do something. DO SOMETHING!

Fingers touching his skin, a single reddish orb glared up at him. She was real. She was back. And he was the most disgusting being on the face of the earth. Tears leaked through his eyes, the million thoughts in his head turned to ashes and mush, leaving him like a raged doll watering his eyes out.

When she lost consciousness and Shinji realized he was in fact, alive, he threw up again.

White lights came into contact with a very tired and dilated retina. For once in over a week, Shinji woke up feeling like absolute shit. He came back to consciousness covered in a thin layer of sweat, eyes frantic and the dull hammering of his broken bones grinding against his healing tissue, gasping for air from his memories and nauseated from the sedatives. Having spent so much time healing old and new wounds with his fiery roommate; and knowing what it was to share human warmth and skin while sleeping, he felt like puking after waking up in a stiff bed he knew very well.

The sedatives clouded his mind, so much so that Shinji wondered why the hell he couldn't just hold Asuka from her waist and slip into a peace…full…

"ASUKA!"

The former pilot tried to sit himself upright, but his body failed to respond appropriately. More than sitting up, his neck merely cracked with tension, giving him a strained neck on top of the exploding headache that threatened to crack his skull. He tried to bring a hand to his aching head, but found his body lacked the strength to do so.

"You are awake." The detached, emotionless tone broke him out of his reverie, making Shinji blink and turn to his side, where Rei was sitting reading a book. She appeared unbothered, serene and otherwise the Rei he remembered, not the girl who had savagely brawled with Asuka the day before. She did not even resemble the giant monster who had offered him godhood. She just seemed like herself, his friend, although not quite the person he had met once he arrived in Tokyo 3.

"I have been informed that it is impolite to stare." He blinked again, noticing the bruises and reddish spots on her face. Mere seconds passed before his brain connected with the growing emptiness in the pit if his stomach.

"Asuka! Is she… is she…" he tried to formulate a proper sentence, but the fear of stating his worst fears got the better of him.

"She is recuperating, yes." Shinji's worry did not diminish by the bit of information, as his haunted stare told Rei. "A bullet shard hit her right side, but it is not lethal. She will make a full recovery". Shinji's frantic stare did not move from her crimson eyes. The machines around them started beeping, indicating his pulse was rising and he was just about ready to jump out of bed. Rei saw all this and felt…something. Something spiteful, bitter and not at all what a sister should feel after watching her brother return to consciousness.

"The Second Child is in this room, Shinji." The boy's eyes widened even more to the news. "Turn to your right." He did, almost mechanically so. The need, the craving Rei saw in his eyes made the foul feeling intensify that much more, but it went unnoticed by him.

Shinji stared out and felt a weight lift from his shoulders and situate itself in his stomach. There she was, also surrounded by machines that beeped away and told him she was hurt, probably really bad. He stared unblinkingly until his eyes started to sting. He heard the former First Child sigh and close her book, and suddenly remembered she was there. Somehow it registered to him; he had barely even acknowledged Rei at all.

"Rei," said the boy, making the former First Child blink. "I'm sorry I… I'm sorry." He said lamely, trying to make her understand what he meant. Seemingly out of pure intelligence she did, yet her understanding did not diminish the feeling she was starting to identify as jealousy.

"There is no need to apologize," she said, staring at Shinji who, not surprisingly, had his gaze once again fixated on the redhead. The entire atmosphere of the room felt tense, as if her being there somehow interrupted whatever it was both children had. She disliked it. "I am not the one in a hospital bed."

Shinji cleared his throat, his eyes still locked on her. "What… happened?" He asked finally. Rei's brow furrowed, but once again he took no notice. "An assassination attempt," As she spoke, her tone maintained her traditional monotone, but a hint of anger laced behind her words. "Someone hacked into Sub-Commander Katsuragi's security system. The window defenses were disabled and shots were fired into your living quarters. One of the bullet shards hit the Second Child in the abdomen, and caused damage to her liver and adipose tissue."

Shinji's hand was clutching the sheets with brute force, but his head bowed at the news. "Somebody…someone tried to kill us?" He asked, despair evident in his voice.

"Yes." Rei responded brutally. "And who ever it was, almost succeeded. Had you not moved the Second Child the moment you did, the internal bleeding would have suffocated her or she would have gone into shock and most likely proceeded to cardiac arrest. Had you not opened the door, you eventually would have been shot as well, or the paramedics would have been too late." The boy had almost no reaction to the news, his eyes moved from the white sheets covering him to the bed next to him. He seemed lost to her, gone away into some little world where people could not reach him.

"Someone tried to kill us… again." Shinji said tiredly. His shoulders slumped even further and his entire figure seemed to shrink in Rei's eyes. He looked… tired, worn-out, like it was nothing new to him.

"This has happened before." He simply nodded, eyes turning over to the redhead once again and shying away a few seconds later, as if he were afraid she'd wake and scold him. Anger, at least she could identify said emotion as it spread through her chest at the sight of him being afraid of an unconscious teenage girl. Something stirred, and for a fleeting moment Rei felt herself engulfed in the strange coldness that consumed her stomach.

"There was this one time… with rat poison…" She blinked, turning her face to him. "Someone put it in the sugar, you know, because it's white and all…" His shoulders slacked even further, and for that moment Rei actually saw what she had failed to acknowledge all this time. The Shinji she had imagined, the one she knew from the broken memories of her past lives was no more. The boy sitting in the hospital bed was nothing but a cracked, hollow shell of the boy who had told her to smile, a very different person, who had withstood almost nine months of psychological hell by himself.

"I don't like sugar in my coffee, but Asuka does…" His eyes drew back to the Second, and Rei felt like screaming. Look at me. Me. I am sitting next to you. Stop. Looking. At. Her. "She…umm, she was sick for two days. We had to… break into a hospital to get the, you know, medicines. Pharmacies were no good, people had already broken in." He shut his eyes once again with full force; the regretful expression she had seen so many times drew itself on his face. "I made her coffee that morning, I… if I had even bothered to try the sugar I would`ve… it was my fault. She almost died after a few months of being alive and it was my fault."

He still refused to even look at her, but Rei noticed the young former pilot was quite distressed, he looked sleep deprived even though he had been dozing off for the past eight hours. Somehow all these details registered in her brain, but the very meaning of what he spoke took a bit longer to sink in. When it did, it brought a tinge of bitterness to her tone.

"She blamed you, did she not? For the poisoning." The words themselves left an ugly taste in the Fisrt Child's mind. For once, Shinji did look at her. His eyes were haunted, hollow, but determined and hard.

"No." answered Shinji truthfully. "She doesn't even know. Asuka thought it was a fever from her injuries when she…fought the Evas."

A strange look fell on his face, as if he was reminiscing something foul and displeasing. His brow remained stoic, but the look on his eyes was cold, filled with a rage she could not comprehend.

"I made Misato tell me who did it. She didn't want to, at first, but I found out anyway…I had this girl point him out to me. It was just some man, he was in his twenties, I think. She told me his mother never came back from the Ocean, nor his little sister. And his father had been killed when the 15th attacked." Rei felt strange having that conversation; she of all people knew Shinji had never truly spoken with anyone about his time living with Asuka or in the UN shacks. It made her feel somehow special, to be the one he opened up to, yet at the same the look on his eyes scared her.

"I found him scavenging a store once… I…I'd seem him before in the camp. We'd even…shared some soup once. I wanted to talk to him…just, to apologize for his family, but…. But then all I could see was Asuka puking and all pale and bleeding, hallucinating…" His hands were grasping the sheets with defiance, and his voice sounded hoarse for a bit, but he continued.

"I really just wanted to talk to him but… but then I saw a tube on the floor. All I could think was how close Asuka had come to dying right after having died already! I saw red, never really realized at what point I picked it up…" Shinji's heart rate increased exponentially, making the beeping sound around him much louder.

"When I saw his face…I knew he recognized me, how could he not? I just… I just hit him. I hit him with the tube as hard as I could." Rei's eyes widened at his cold words. The way he looked, he resembled his father so much at that moment. Pose, tone, eyes cold with grim determination which oozed from him like it had once oozed from the Commander. His left hand clenched the sheets vigorously; turned it under his fingers as if it was a neck he was crushing.

"I don't…remember much after that. When I finally stopped, I couldn't even lift my arm. There was blood everywhere, and I was sweating so much I thought I'd pass out." Rei remained silent, watching Shinji as she relieved the incident in her mind. How, if she knew most of what had transpired during those months, had the importance of such an event escaped her? And why was Shinji opening up to her like this? It made her feel…intimate. It was a feeling she had seldom experienced before, and it did not fail to make her uncomfortable.

"Misato told me he survived, but I really didn't care. I hated him so much… and for no particular reason. But it just makes me angry… that we have to hide even after all of this… that Asuka and Misato and now probably you are in danger just by being near me… it makes me so…angry."

The cold bravado shattered, and his shoulders sank once again. The Shinji she was used to finally came back, even for a split second.

"Do you regret hitting that man?" she asked at last, curiosity hinted behind her monotone.

Shinji remained quiet for a while, watching Asuka's prone form. Of all the things he had ever done, he had never regretted fighting to defend what he had come to treasure with his life, however late he might have realized those treasures existed.

"No."

No one had tried to poison or threaten their lives after the incident for as long as they remained in those shacks. Perhaps it was due to the fact that NERV was reactivated and they moved to a safer location, but nobody had attempted anything like that in months.

Now Asuka lay on a hospital bed with a bullet wound on her stomach. Because he was the most hated and now most known person in the world, someone was trying to kill those close to him to make him pay. For taking away their mother, or their son, or brother or friend. For being the Destroyer, the Third Child who broke down when he should have fought.

"They'll come after you too, you know." He turned his eyes to her, worry and regret etching through his blue orbs. She didn't quite understand why Shinji was telling her all this all of the sudden, or why he seemed to alter his state of mind so quickly, but Rei patiently waited for him to unburden himself with whatever it was he needed to get off his chest.

"I am not afraid," she answered at his sudden silence. "Doctor Akagi has already informed me the UN is demanding I be subjected to a series of tests to demonstrate my human condition, lawsuits have been fired demanding I be imprisoned at once." Shinji's eyes hardened again.

All sorts of strange emotions cursed through him; the same rage he felt that day when he saw the man who had put rat poison in their sugar, insecurity knowing not even in their fortified apartment were they safe anymore, the feeling of utter uselessness he so detested and something he hadn't felt ever since the fourteenth angel had attacked.

The need to climb into his Eva. To fight.

"I wish I could fight," Shinji whispered, yet again surprising Rei. Said girl looked up at him, seeing once again a flicker of determination in his eyes. "I wish they'd all just come after me and leave you all alone. All you've ever done is save my life. Twice. All Asuka's done is get hurt by me being stupid… Misato spends her days and nights just trying to keep us safe, just because I…"

"You do not have to fight anymore," answered Rei. The unsaid question hung heavily on the air of the hospital room. "You have been though enough as it is." Instead of calming him, however, the statement worked wonders in upsetting him that much more.

"And what about you, then?" asked Shinji, a bit forcefully. Something foul regarding Rei had been eating away at him for some time; even before she came back he had felt the weight of guilt and helplessness tie around his neck like a noose.

"Haven't you been through enough?! All my father did to you, to the three of you…Ritsuko's pills and tests, all the pain and… and raising you to give your life him… I…"

"I did not give my life for him. I gave my life for you. And as you can see, Shinji-kun, I am alive." Shinji's desperate gaze found her crimson stare, and for once she could not keep the torrent of emotion in his orbs from assaulting her very being. Anger, despair beyond any understanding, need, love, shame, hate and pain looked right at her, right into her very soul.

"I know…"

It made her sick.

"I chose, at the very end, as did you." He produced a humorless chuckle, making Rei wonder more and more exactly who this character was, this Shinji-lookalike that wore his face but not his spirit, his essence. Her Shinji would have never laughed like that, never.

"And what did I choose?" he asked, more to himself than to her. Suddenly Rei felt like leaving, or like slapping him in the face. "I chose… this. This world, where people try to kill Asuka and want to take you into a prison and treat you like a lab rat. Where people are starving and riots go on every day." The bitterness of it all, it was stifling her. How could this being be her Shinji? The despair and anger and plain trauma. Had the Second done this to him? Had she succeeded where his father had failed?

"I chose a world that treats us like shit, a world that will never, ever leave us alone." Anger, fueling the very insides of her soul basted off at the sound of his resigned voice. She attacked, unbeknown to her, she attacked. Eight months, a year, two years or fifteen, she suddenly could not control the emotions that rose in her chest and stomach.

"You would rather go back to Instrumentality, then?" Asked Rei cruelly. She knew, oh she knew better than nobody the answer to that question, but apparently he did not and such a thing made her blood boil in her veins.

Startled, and suddenly feeling trapped and insulted, Shinji frowned. The nerve of her…. How could she possibly ask him that?!

"Of course not!" Just after raising his voice, Shinji felt a now familiar stab of pain in his chest. He hissed, looked down onto his bandaged midsection and turned to Asuka to make sure his scream had not woken her. Rei felt sick.

Relentless, she continued. "Then why do you regret living in this world? If you are alive, you have a chance to achieve happiness. You cannot hope to change human nature, but you can choose to fight for your peace. Are you giving up? Are you running away?" again, anger flooded through him, and Rei found it to be much easier to deal with than the pained look he had given her before.

Just as it went, the anger subsided, as did his heartbeat. Somehow it occurred to her that all the strain and stress of the conversation were in no way beneficial for Shinji's recovery. Nevertheless, the sick little part of her that whispered words of hatred for the Second wished to listen to his answer.

"I'm sorry…" he uttered, sounding strangely resolute. "I just don't want to see any of you get hurt. I know it's selfish, but… I… I lost everything once already. I can't go through that again. I won't. " His tone carried an edge of resolution strangely familiar to her, but Rei could not quite place why. "I'll fight."

He turned to the Second once again, and Rei knew she just had to get out of the room. Something was stirring and yielding against her chest, threatening to choke her entire being. For her, her mind whispered bitterly. You will fight for her. Always her.

"Well," stated Rei quietly as she rose from the chair. "That is good for you." Getting up, she unfolded her hands and headed for the door. Before she exited, she heard him sigh disappointedly.

"You're leaving already?" he asked with sincere sadness clear in his tone. She turned her head to stare apathetically at him.

"The doctor must be informed you are conscious." The answer and its logical cryptic tone came easily for her. "Oh…" he said, looking down. "Right…" Feeling the conversation was over, Rei was about to exit until Shinji spoke yet again.

"Ayan-Rei!" he said, correcting himself moments before. "I'm…sorry for yelling at you. I was wrong to talk to you like that, it's just… it's hard to you know… I… don't really know which Rei you are but… I…" Shinji took a deep breath, remembering how much Asuka disliked his senseless rambling. "It's hard to know how to address you sometimes, but I really appreciate your reaching out to me. I'll do better."

Something inside the blue haired girl broke. There it was, she had heard true caring and concern from him. For her, Rei. Not for Asuka. Hot tears threatened to betray her for unfathomable reasons, so she turned to look at the hallway instead.

"I'm sorry Asuka hit you, I'll talk to her about it. And… thanks for listening. I've never…really talked to anybody about this…. I appreciate it. A lot." The last part was laced with embarrassment, as if his mental damage was nothing worth talking about. Yet he had opened up to her, to Rei.

"You are welcome." She whispered lamely, fleeing just before he could say anything else. When the door hissed closed and she was out of the room, Rei stood perfectly still for a full minute. The tears fell on the cold concrete floor as she walked through the halls. Bile rose to her throat.


Shinji stared at the door absently, missing Rei's presence already. All matters aside, it still somewhat scared him to share a bedroom with the fiery redhead sleeping in the bed adjacent to his. It brought back memories both good and bad, but the thoughts that entered his mind made him feel ashamed of himself.

Worry ate away at his stomach. Rei said Asuka would be alright, but there had been so much blood then. So much noise, his ears were ringing and everything about his recent memories was engulfed in a strange fog. He remembered the first shot, flipping the table over and seeing Asuka lying on him, clutching the wound that was meant for him.

Never had he seen her so vulnerable, and yet even in those moments the strong, resolute redhead had not screamed, nor complained of their situation. Granted, she still had not woken, but Shinji knew she'd carry the scar like a medal, a test of her survival and her will to live, while unconsciously feeling insecure about it. To him, as her other scars, it would forever be a reminder of his uselessness.

He wondered if she was sleeping well, or if the sedatives were keeping her from escaping the horrors inside her own mind. She'd said she found some solace when sleeping beside him, but the cold hospital bed provided no comfort for the traumatized psyche, and Shinji was still too unsure where he stood with her to just get up and snuggle next to her. Sure, she'd done it without so much as a by your leave, but she was Asuka, and he was still wimpy little Shinji.

He dared another sideway glance at the redhead; somehow feeling irrationally shy around her. Shinji was suddenly aware of the time he'd been in a room with an unconscious Asuka and done…that, so with a renewed sense of self-disgust, the boy forced himself into a sitting position and swung his legs out of bed, feeling the now familiar sting of his healing ribs. Only after he tried to stand did the former Third Child notice a sudden pain on his thigh, and realized he had bandages going up his knee.

Shinji tried putting some weight on the leg, and while it gave under him a couple of times, he managed to wobble over to Asuka's bed and just stare at her face for a solid minute. Once he came back to his senses, the former Third Child felt a sickening Déjà-vu and almost fell on his back. His hand, which had been slowly making its way to Asuka's, retracted as if burned. Her face was a bit puffed, her eye had a painful-looking blue tinge to it, her throat was a mess of red and purple and on her side, Shinji could see the slightly blood-stained bandage under her robe.

Taking two steps back, the boy let his eyes travel down to the small tray holding Asuka's meal, should she awaken. The gruel on the cup looked more like a heavy stew than soup, and was probably cold by now, aside from being tasteless hospital food. Deciding to at least make her stay a little better, Shinji wobbled over to the door, his mind was already classifying the ingredients he would need, the cooking time and how long it would take him to bring the food to the room.

While a part of him desperately wished to stay with Asuka until she recovered consciousness, the feeling of being of no use threatened to choke him in the small room. If he could at least make her feel a bit more at home with a nice meal, Shinji would do it. He chuckled inwardly; another strong reason to leave the room would be to avoid the doctors and their damn prodding all over his body. He had just recovered enough to walk, and the former Third Child felt no inclination to stay strapped to a bed with no Asuka on it.

Shinji blushed, felt ashamed and encouraged while something warm fluttered in his stomach, all in one second. For whatever reason, he felt somewhat positive, despite the fact that he had almost died the day before, and was once again stuck in a building he despised. This time though, he had Asuka to protect, and Rei and Misato, and probably even his old friends, so he'd face whatever came his way instead of running away.

Right now, thought the young pilot as he left the room, right now all I can do is cook her a nice meal. But I'll do better. He stepped into the elevator and saw his father's black coat. Shinji frowned, but walked inside without so much as a nod towards the elder Ikari's figure.

I'll do better, no running away this time.

No running away.

"Shinji." His father said. For once, he did not flinch under Ikari Gendou's presence.


"Why were you choking me?" The answer was obvious, as obvious as the fact that the sky was dark and the ocean red, but she asked the question anyway. The idiot was shuffling some of their meager supplies over to a duffle bag, but his hands dropped the few cans he was holding at her question.

"W-what?" he babbled as he usually did, but there was something different. His eyes looked weird, sort of detached now, disturbed. So much like her own eyes it gave her nausea. He didn't turn to her, the brat just stood there, frozen in shock.

"Are you stupid?" she asked icily, trying to sound as nonchalant as she possibly could. She knew now, indifference was a far more powerful weapon on him than insults. "The beach, you moron. You were trying to kill me again. Did you forget? Why'd you stop? The fact that I had my eyes open didn't turn you on?"

He stood straight, but kept his head bowed and still would not turn to her. She scoffed, but didn't bother getting up from her chair. Her bag was packed, her mind made. She'd just leave him to die, the bastard. Another day in Shinji's presence and she would most definitely lose whatever sanity she still had. Before leaving, however, she'd have some answers from him.

"Was it because I wouldn't help you in there?" she prodded, noticing with dread and something like dark excitement that Shinji's hand was clenching and unclenching. So she'd hit a nerve, huh? "Because I let you die in that puddle? Feels bad, right? To be left to die."

Asuka heard him whimper a small sound, but it was so minimal she failed to register its meaning. "Come again?" she asked cruelly. "I didn't quite catch that."

"Please," whispered Ikari Shinji. "stop." They were probably the first words he had uttered to her since his pathetic declaration. But she didn't stop, she needed answers. Then, she could finally leave him to rot with some peace of mind. She rose from her chair and pushed him, not hard enough to make him fall but to let her look at his face.

"Why?" she asked again. Her hand found his shoulder and she pushed him. "Why won't you answer my question? It's not complicated, here; I'll even make it a yes or no answer." She stepped deep in his personal space. "Was it because I'm not your precious Wonder Girl?"

Shinji said nothing. He lowered his head even further, refused to answer.

"Was it because I'm not like the Asuka in your mind? Or maybe because you'd always wanted me dead, huh? Huh?!" she pushed him again, feeling the rage pile up with every step she took. "Why were you choking me?! Why? Give me an answer; it's all I'll ever ask of you. Why? Why were you trying to kill me? Why? Why?! WHY?!"

"SHUT UP!" She was so close to him, close enough to kiss, and then she was knocked into the wall and her vision blurred for a second. When she managed to focus again, Asuka saw his snarling face far away from her, and while her eyes travelled to his left arm she noticed the pressure on her throat. His left hand was squeezing her neck, and his mouth kept saying something over and over again, but her ears were ringing and she was paralyzed with fear. She had fought dreadful monsters and seen her mother's corpse dangling from a rope, but Shinji's rage somehow managed to grind her instincts to a halt.

"…up, shut up, shut up, shut up, Shut UP!" she regained full awareness of her senses, but still Asuka could not move. Her basic fighting reflexes stirred, but before she could hit him, Shinji suddenly lost all color on his face and released her as if her skin burned. He changed from absolutely enraged to shocked and scared in a second.

Asuka was shaking, still frozen. She took a few calming breaths, located her bag on the floor by her chair and forced her body to move away. "A-Asuka…" he said, extending his left arm. She cringed away, silent, and he lowered both his arm and head. "Asuka, I'm so sorry, please…"

"Please, don't… don't go…" Not daring to look back, the redhead grabbed her bag and headed for the door of the abandoned house. Her body shook with fear and adrenaline, but her mind was still a swirling mess. "Asuka, I swear I didn't mean to, please… please don't leave me alone." He sounded so pathetic, but something broke in her. There were tears in her eyes when she left.

The world shifted, but otherwise stayed the same; a disastrous wreck of a city with a crimson ocean and a cloudy sky. She stayed in a small house with good locks and kept a small handgun with her at all times. The house was barely habitable, there was broken glass everywhere, but the bed was comfortable and there was plenty of moonlight in the night. In three days, however, she had gotten eight hours of full sleep at best. The nightmares were so vivid it scared her to fall unconscious, and when awake she was constantly jumpy and defensive, always looking for things that weren't there and paranoid of every sound.

Shinji knew where she was. He went to the corner of her housing area every morning and every afternoon, right before sunset. The bastard screamed her name and left her whatever he was able to find. Food, clothes, toiletries and bottled water. She'd let the offering stand for the first two days, but on the third she was too tired to scavenge herself, so the redhead ended up wobbling over to the supplies. She'd devoured the food, which had been the best she'd had in too long, and was able to sleep for seven uninterrupted hours.

The following day, while she heard Shinji scream out her name, Asuka realized he needed her. She had power over him, and if she managed to take a position of power once again in their interactions, she would never again have to be afraid of him. She stayed alone for two more days, just to torture the brat. That was the first time she'd found honest pleasure in hurting him.

On the fifth day, he came in tears, screaming until he was hoarse, crying "FORGIVE ME!" as loud as he possibly could, driven to the madness of solitude, and he wasn't the only one. While Asuka managed to sleep a few hours every couple of days, her paranoia increased exponentially, she was constantly attacked by phantom pains on her arm, eye and midsection, and almost always woke up screaming. She had panic attacks and fits of blind rage where she'd lash out on doors, beds, windows and even food. Her knuckles were a bloodied mess from hitting everything all the time. The gun at her side suddenly looked appealing for something more than self-defense.

On the sixth day, she went back. She found Shinji huddled on an old couch, eyes distant and hollow. The black eye she'd given him on her first day back was almost gone, but the purple rings under his lids were just as bad. Her bag was heavier than when she'd left, thanks to the clothes he had found for her. Asuka kicked him on the leg to rouse him, and he eyed her closely, with an incredulous look than bordered on the deranged.

"You're here…?" he asked. He didn't even blink, and it freaked her out. "You're… real?" Something quite unpleasant stirred in her chest, and before she knew it Asuka was slapping him across the face.

"Wake up, idiot," was all she said. "You're useless like this. Come on, if we're gonna survive we need at least a First Aid kit and some meat, more water and a safer place, in case others return." She saw some sense begin to return to his blue orbs, and felt a bit relieved, before reminding herself she should be disgusted by him. "Y-yes, Asuka, sorry." She slapped him again, harder this time.

"Stop apologizing. Just shut up and do as I say. And don't ever touch me again." Hitting him became more natural after that, but it never failed to make her sick.

The world dissolved again, and she was lying on her bed, twisting while she felt hands and claws and jaws tear away her skin, open up her belly with bare fingers and take out her entrails. Her arms and legs, her chest, her stomach and liver, they tore away at anything they could find. They pulled on her insides and let her fall into a tangled, helpless mess. Soon after came the Lance, piercing through her flesh and bone in one fluid motion.

She rose, screaming in shock while she clutched her right arm desperately. She felt for her eye socket out of sheer habit, and released a big sigh when she discovered no hole on her forehead. Asuka's body continued to tremble, small spasms of phantom pain traveled through her tired limbs, sweat leaked from every pore in her body and the small breeze made her shake with cold. She doubled over and vomited on the floor, the tremors became more pronounced and the pain more acute. Before she knew it, she was screaming "I'll kill you!" at the top of her lungs and trashing at her bedding in blind rage.

But the Evas never came. Shinji did.

He washed her brow with a wet cloth, held her hands while she kicked and clawed and pulled at his hair, changed her sweated attire while she tried to bite and slap him, and fed her hot spoonfuls of soup when she was finally too tired to resist. He tucked her in and held her hand for a bit, but the sheer warmth of his presence awoke a primal need in her. When he finally left her to sleep, she was almost swallowed by the crushing cold of his absence. She knew it was wrong, but she needed it, needed him.

Asuka picked the condom she'd taken from the store the day before, marched over to his room and kicked him awake. Good riddance, he was having nightmares again. When he looked at her questioningly, the redhead simply took off her shirt and said "Pants down."

He stared at her but didn't move. She climbed on his bed, kissed him the way she'd seen Misato do it and stroked him through his shorts. He looked scared, and it made her feel all the more sick for it. "Pants down, Shinji," she whispered in his ear, feeling his arousal through the layers of clothes. "I need this right now, and you promised to do what I said. So…"

She kissed him again, harder, possessively. Mine, her mind whispered again and again. Mine and mine alone. Mine. She grinded against him, the raw need of Shinji overloading her senses as his warmth became hers. His hands came to caress her cheeks, and she slapped them away.

"Don't touch me." Asuka told him icily. "You don't get to touch me." But she did, she touched him everywhere, stole his warmth and left the morning after as if nothing had happened.

The world fell out of focus; the sound of her own voice became distant as the slow hum and beep of something in her vicinity overloaded her tired senses. A pounding needle was making its way to the back of her head but wasn't quite there yet, and her mouth felt like it was filled with cotton. It took three seconds for Asuka to realize she was in the hospital and about five to notice the dulled pain on her side. The young redhead cringed when she tried to move, her vision swam again and for a second she was afraid of going back to that room deep within her memories.

When Asuka tried to move her body to a sitting position she almost blacked out, and only after the fourth try did she notice the doctor speaking to her. The man was apparently of European descent, he was tall and blonde, and was muttering some medical gibberish to her. "What…" she tried after a while, feeling her parched throat. "What the hell… happened?"

The doctor cleared his throat. "There was an assassination attempt. The defenses of the apartment were breached, and shots were fired into your living quarters. A somewhat large bullet shard hit your lower abdomen, but the trajectory forced it deep into your liver. We have removed the shard; you should make a full recovery in two weeks, given your body responds well to the serum. Do you have any further questions?"

The detached objective tone of the man sickened her, but she nodded slowly. It was clear he wanted nothing more than to leave, but she required information at the moment. "Where's… the idiot?" She all but whispered. "Where's Shinji? And Misato?"

The man sighed impatiently and closed the clipboard he was writing on, eyeing her warily. "The former Third Child opened his wound when he carried you from the apartment. He suffered minor trauma to his left thigh, nothing of consequence, and the bandages held his bones in place when he decided to go down three flights of stairs with you on his arms. He will require two extra weeks of treatment thanks to his heroic stunt, but is otherwise unharmed. Sub-Commander Katsuragi is personally leading the search of this gunman. Will that be all, Miss Sohryu?"

"Yeah…" she rasped. "Get on… out of here, but first gimme some water…" After drowning the entire glass in a few gulps, Asuka fell heavily on her stiff mattress and tried to remain conscious and mull over the information. The memories returned sluggishly, the first few images were of her actually enjoying Shinji's company while he dressed her bumps and scratches. There had been loud noise, and suddenly she was on the ground and something had stung her on the stomach. After watching the crimson stain, for a second the former Second Child felt herself in the darkness of her Entry Plug as blood oozed from her eye, and she had frozen.

Then Asuka remembered Shinji's face, and somehow feeling secure in the midst of her pain and state of shock. At some point everything turned black, and the needle that had been making its way to her head hit its target.

"Oww…" the young pilot muttered, staring at the ceiling when she finally managed to open her eyes. So Shinji had saved her life. He had opened up the wounds she had so generously provided while trying to keep her breathing. The entire scenario left her feeling somewhat empty, as if his debt to her had been settled and now he had no obligation to stay with her.

But he needs you, remember? A part of her whispered maliciously. She felt tired, her nightmare-memories had left Asuka sweaty and sickened, as was usual, but the anesthetics were making her even more nauseated than before, and the lack of any food in her stomach made her feel weak. He needs me, huh…she mused inwardly. He saved me, he actually saved my life.

Asuka discovered she didn't quite know how to feel about that. It was like that time on the volcano, but immensely different all the same. Even before Third Impact, she'd come to the conclusion that Shinji wasn't capable of doing anything as selfless as to put himself in harm's way for anyone's safety, not even his own. For so long he'd run away from his problems that Asuka often forgot he'd been the one to put an end to Instrumentality, he'd been the one to bring her back and take her unrepressed rage for nine months in silence. He'd taken on the 14th by himself and cared for her, sincerely, even after all the hell she'd put him through.

I shouldn't be surprised, really…thought the redhead. He's the Invincible Shinji, after all. For once, there was no spite or bitter sarcasm when she thought of the surname, on itself the fact surprised her hazed mind, while at the same time it brought a warm feeling to her chest and stomach and made her cheeks color slightly.

The former Second Child turned to her left, noticing the empty bed and the endless beeps of machines measuring the vitals of someone who wasn't there. Idiot, she thought calmly. Worry about yourself a bit more. The fact that they were sharing a room was an immense comfort for her, even if the former Second Child wouldn't say it out loud. The nightmares were almost impossible to keep at bay alone, but with him they were at least muffled t a controllable level. The young girl redirected her stare to the ceiling, a habit she'd picked from the idiot at some point, and mused over the fact that she'd just faced death again and came out breathing.

For Asuka, as a pilot, facing death was an occupational hazard, but knowing she was being targeted by people, the ungrateful shits, left a bitter taste in her mouth. True, she'd never really fought for them or anyone but herself to begin with, but she'd given it her all, and now the wimpy bastards came crying over their weakling mother or sister or brother or friend, some douche who never even managed to walk away from the dream. Even babies had the gall to leave for fuck's sake, yet these stupid child-like wimps crawled and complained and tried to kill them out of some absent sense of self-righteousness.

The sedatives were making her dizzy, but Asuka refused to fall asleep until she saw the idiot's face, then at least she'd know he would be there to wake her up if the nightmares became too vivid. There was still so much she needed to explain, so much to atone for and heal, and yet all she could do at the moment was lay there and try to get better as soon as possible. The feeling of despair and lonesomeness that consumed her since opening her eyes lifted bit by bit, and she was overcome by a sudden calmness, a sudden realization that she'd put a lot of demons to rest in her personal life.

The peace, however did not last long. After a few minutes of quiet musing, the redhead was brutally reminded of why she was in a hospital bed to begin with. Her attention turned to the door when it opened, but instead of a cringing Shinji, she saw her legal guardian enter the spacious room with an aura of pure gloom about her. The elder woman's hair was a mess, her attire was dirty and she reeked of alcohol, Asuka also noticed her slacked shoulders and downcast expression as the Sub-Commander made her way to her bed.

"So…you didn't get 'em?" she asked with as much sarcastic bite as she could, but the former Mayor barely seemed to register her remark. She danced drunkenly around the room, located the chair on Shinji's bedside, dragged it to her bed and sat heavily on it, collapsing on her mattress with her head between her hands. "Hey!" Asuka protested. "Watch it, you drunk! Geez, I'm injured, you know?!" She tried to sit, but the girl's belly was empty and her body was too weak, so she settled for taking the controls by her right hand and lifting the bed itself to a sitting position. The sting on her midsection flared, but she bit her cheek and let the pain disperse.

Misato ignored her, but continued to nuzzle at her thigh and refused to meet her eyes. "Don't tell Shinji-kun…" she slurred lamely. "He doesn't like it when I drink."

"You think I'll have to tell him? You stink of booze Katsuragi, geez." She sighed and resisted the urge to both slap some sense to her guardian and place her hand on the woman's hair in an attempt to soothe her somehow.

"I didn't get them." She slurred further, never lifting her head. "Bastards hid their tracks too well, city's too damn empty and wrecked anyways… they could be hiding under my nose and I wouldn't see them." Asuka rolled her eyes, released a frustrated sigh and pouted, but otherwise refrained from biting Misato's head off for invading her personal space.

"You'll get them eventually, don't be so… freaking dramatic about it," provided Asuka lamely. Boy, this was not her forte at all. Nevertheless, she sighed again and placed her hand on the woman's shoulder, looking at everywhere but the mass of purple hair resting on her lap.

"I did it again…" said Misato, sniffing. Asuka groaned in her head, and pouted when Misato started sniffeling. "Just like… before. I keep making up excuses, then it was work, the Angels, SELEE… I left you all alone after the 15th…. I never even tried to talk to you, then the whole mess with Third Impact happened… and then… and then…"

Aw crap, she just had to go there, thought Asuka, defeated. And I'm too damn weak to even yell at her some more. "Hey, it's… it's okay…" she tried, feeling more awkward by the second. Mushy crap came easily when it was her and Shinji, but the redhead found it very hard to relate to other people, or even try to understand them. Besides, there was a very sore part of her that bitterly remembered Misato's negligence.

"O-okay?" croaked the former Mayor. "How is any of this… any of it ok?!" Strong sobs rocked her entire body, making Asuka feel more than uncomfortable. Stupid body, she mused. She has the worst timing with this stuff, I swear to God…

Misato's train of thought was a tumbled mess. "You're in a hospital bed, last month Shinji was in one, and you put him there! That's not okay, that's messed up! I should've been there, I should've stopped you both from… from… g-god damn it…" She'd been up for about forty-nine hours with virtually no rest, and the last fifty minutes she had used to drown out a bottle of sake by herself in the women's restroom while she tried not to break. Everything was spinning and all she wanted was to cry and scream in frustration.

"Well," Asuka provided. "You weren't there, so there's really not much sense in babbling about it now." She shrugged, even when the motion sent a jolt of pain through her belly and ribs. Oww… I guess karma's a bitch; Shinji's ribs were hurting even worse though; so this is nothing. Misato kept sniffling pathetically, clinging to the bed sheets and drooling all over her mattress. Gross…

She kept her hand on her guardian's shoulder, and after a few seconds felt Misato relax and breathe a bit more evenly. "I know you'll get them, those SEELE bastards," she all but whispered. "But getting smashed isn't gonna take you there any faster, so you better sober up before the idiot gets here."

Misato snorted and finally lifted her head enough to let Asuka see one reddish brown orb, she was pouting too, from what the redhead could see. "You really suck at this mushy crap, you know." Misato complained drunkenly, "You're only mushy with Shin-chan…" Asuka blushed and looked down, grinding her teeth in despair. God kill me now… she thought desperately.

"So …where is the idiot, anyway?" she barked, closing her eyes and trying to sound nonchalant and angry. Misato sniffled some more and tried to lift her head, succeeding only half-heartedly.

"He's in the kitchen, cooking," replied Misato with absolute calm; Ritsu had said it was okay, anyway. Asuka' mind, on the other hand, came to a grinding halt.

"He's doing what?!" she half-yelled, half-rasped. God, she was weak. "Didn't he open up his stitches or whatever? He should be in bed! How the hell did he even get to the kitchen?!" The effort to yell left her drained, so Asuka collapsed back on the mattress and allowed the sedatives to dull out the pain and the world in general to a low hum.

"He walked," replied Misato, yawning. "That serum really is good, Asuka. All that's left to patch up is his bones, and that what the bandage's for." She snuggled back on the mattress, making Asuka grumble even more.

Damn, I'm so drunk and so comfy… thought Misato. She was beginning to fade away when Asuka's voice roused her back to semi-consciousness.

"You're not as bad as you think… you know…" Asuka muttered, looking at the window impassively. "You're here now, so that counts for something I guess…" The statement brought a smile to her lips, so Misato beamed at her young charge.

"Thanks…" she whispered back. "You're not that bad either…"

Asuka snickered. "You're so drunk." The mass of purple hair on the mattress groaned.

"Shut up, you. Haven't drunk so much in five and a half months, what'd you expect…?" Misato readjusted herself and sank more heavily on the mattress, using her thigh as a pillow. A while more and Asuka wouldn´t be able to feel her leg.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever…" she said dismissively. There was something she'd been meaning to ask Misato for a while now, and having her drunk and vulnerable was the perfect chance, however cruel it was. "So… when were you going to tell me about Unit 2?"

Misato just sighed, defeated. "So you know, huh…" she muttered, not looking at Asuka.

"Of course I know, stupid. We live in the same house, and you've never been any good at encoding your own files." The purple-haired woman glared at her, but Asuka just shrugged. Misato gave another big sigh; her glare became a sad expression in seconds and she went back to holding her head in her hands.

"Sorry…" she slurred, closing her eyes and succumbing to the numbness of alcohol-induced sleep.

"Does the idiot know?" Asuka asked the zombie-like guardian. But Misato just groaned loudly and shook her head. "Good…" said the redhead to herself. "Good, we'll tell him later."

Soon enough Misato's breathing slowed and became deeper, and before a full minute had passed she was snoring softly, profoundly asleep. Asuka gave an overdramatic sigh of relief and closed her eyes; staying conscious was getting harder by the second. Luckily, she didn't have to wait long; as her lids fell half-closed she saw the door open, and Shinji came carrying a wheeled tray with hot, steamy soup served in three plates, some sort of buns and other bite-sized goodness that made her mouth water the moment she smelled the food's aroma.

"Hey," said Shinji from the door, blushing slightly. The idiot's shyness affected her, and Asuka found herself looking away, her cheeks burning. "How are you feeling?" Shinji asked, rolling the cart closer to her bed. Asuka's tummy grumbled.

"Like a train just made me his bitch." Asuka said snidely, making Shinji chortle despite himself and blush ever deeper. "I feel like shit… I swear, I can't even get this slob off me."

Shinji frowned when he came near the sleeping Sub-Commander. He sniffed the air around him and glared mildly at Misato. "Is she drunk?" he asked the redhead.

"She was drunk," clarified Asuka. "She's sleeping like the dead now, so what the hell are doing outta bed, anyway, dork?" Even while trying to reprimand him she couldn't muster up enough bravado to sound like her normal self. She knew it was lacking because Shinji snickered some more before he carried placed the cart close to her bed.

"Pity," he said. "Her soup's gonna get cold. And I was cooking; you mean to tell me you want to eat that bland hospital food?" The redhead pouted, but still wrinkled her nose when she noticed the tray holding the cold gruel supposed to be her supper.

"That's not the point, idiot!" complained Asuka, even when the sweet smell of Shinji's food was starting to drive her insane with hunger. "If you don't start taking better care of yourself you'll be a skinny brat all your life!" she smiled at her own joke, but her head swam and her stomach was about to rebel against her body. Shinji pouted at her, but refused to answer her snide remark.

"How are your ribs, anyway?" she asked awkwardly as she stared at the ceiling. He chuckled and occupied himself with bringing Misato a blanket and pillow from a shelf near her bed. The former Third Child removed their slumbering guardian from her leg and gave her the pillow instead, earning a satisfied grunt from Misato, then covered her with the blanket before going over to her side.

"Oh, you know, they still hurt, but at least I can move around now, I was going crazy sitting in bed all day long." Asuka rolled her eyes at the last part.

"Yeah," she agreed. "Tell me about it…" A small silence fell over them, but Asuka's belly grumbled in protest when it noticed it was being ignored.

"Say, what'cha got there?" she asked innocently, observing the tray with crazed hunger. Shinji shrugged and smiled at her expression, unraveling his surprise for her.

"Um, some miso soup, a couple of freshly baked buns and some strawberry jam I made." Asuka's mouth was watering at the mention of Shinji's miso, but her mind crashed when he said strawberry jam.

"Wait, what? You made strawberry jam?" Shinji smiled at her, and for once her only instinct was to hug him tightly, but her body was too damn weak to even lift her hand, let alone throw herself at him.

"Yeah," he answered, taking a cup filled with soup before he set the tray on her lap. He picked the spoon and started feeding her spoonfuls of miso, like he'd done in her dream-memory. The resemblance gave her a terribly odd sense of Déjà-vu, but Asuka was too weak to complain and too hungry to bicker, for once. "I found some strawberries in the kitchen area, go figure where they got those from, so I thought I'd made some jam. How's the soup?"

To her overtired brain and ravenous stomach it was heavenly, but she answered "A bit bland, to be honest, but reeeally good." She took another spoonful eagerly, already feeling a bit of energy return to her tired limbs. Shinji looked at her apologetically.

"Yeah, sorry about that…" he said. "The doctors told me not to use too many spices since it can upset your stomach or something…" He fed her the last spoonfuls of her cup and wordlessly picked up the second one, as if reading her thoughts. "That serum really numbs you out, right? I remember how hungry I got the first days, it was crazy… I was starving all the time, and felt so weak I could barely stand."

"Like a train made you his bitch." She provided again, making Shinji chuckle. "It's because the stupid serum accelerates your healing factor and pushes your metabolism to abnormal working speed, so you need the…" she devoured another large spoonful of steamy broth. "the extra sustenance."

Oww…Asuka thought again; thinking so much made her head hurt. Now I know how the idiot feels when I talk science stuff… She continued with the second cup of broth and gave a satisfied sigh with every mouthful. The redhead flexed her hands and toes, feeling the basic functions return to her bit by bit as she ate. She was still too weak to even sit, bit her stomach was satisfied and Shinji was in the room, so she could drift off with some level of peace once her meal was finished.

"So… I saw my father on the elevator…" muttered Shinji while he fed her. She arched an eyebrow at him, not failing to notice the nonchalant way he commented he'd just seen the man who had manipulated and ruined his whole life.

"You don't sound too upset," she remarked. "Wanna talk about it?" That was a first; she had never honestly asked him that particular question before, and they both knew it. Still, there was a renewed sense of normalcy between them, a relaxed atmosphere that put both Children at ease with themselves. The blue-eyed boy shrugged, his eyes diverted to the tray and got a bit distant.

"There's not really much to talk about, he didn't say much, neither did I." Asuka chuckled, but felt a strange sense of pride seeing Shinji act so indifferently towards the bastard, it was very healthy and mature of him, really, and it made her smile.

"So the bastard ended a conversation with you that didn't end up in ´pilot the EVA´?" The comment earned a smile from Shinji, so Asuka concluded nothing of mayor importance had transpired between the Ikaris.

"I guess… first time for everything, right?" he chuckled, but it sounded forced to the former Second Child. "He's not the same as before, and I don't want to waste another second of my life waiting for him to approve of my existence."

"That's surprisingly well thought of, coming from you." The redhead commented while she ate the last spoonful of soup. "I was starting to think you were biologically incapable of having mature thoughts, Baka." He took the cup and placed it on the cart, looking at her strangely. Asuka, however, was full of good food and satisfied, so she closed her eyes and lay back on her stiff bed, feeling more relaxed than she had in months.

Shinji cleared his throat, feeling awkward. "Um…thanks?" Just take the compliment… the boy mused as eyed the small plates holding the bread and the jam resting on a small cup. He gulped, took a few calming breaths, and chose to act before his natural cowardice won over his will.

The redhead was starting to doze off when she heard his voice.

"Here…" Shinji offered her a small bun covered in strawberry goodness, making her open her eyes a bit wider. She was groggy, but the idea of freshly made jam activated her tired senses to a degree. Asuka noticed he was offering the bread with his hand instead of chopsticks and was looking down, blushing like crazy occasionally daring a sideway glance at her. He's kinda cute when he does that… she thought.

Asuka smirked despite herself and took a good bite off the sweet treat. She grabbed the sheets with her left hand and did her best not to moan in absolute ecstasy as the flavors unraveled on her tongue. The fresh bread mixed perfectly with the smooth taste of the home-made strawberry jam, everything about it was absolute bliss; every bite was crusty and smooth and tasteful. She waited impatiently each time Shinji coated the sweet treat again and devoured the rest of the bun in one mouthful, almost biting off his fingers in the process.

She ate two more, but noticed Shinji hadn't even touched the jam. "Hey, idiot…" she said between bites. "Did you eat your share in the kitchen?" She was getting dizzy and sleepy, but the image of the blushing idiot kept Asuka from falling asleep.

He blushed a deeper shade of red at her question. "Umm...no, not really. There were only a few strawberries left, so, you know, I made enough for you and Misato-san." Asuka rolled her eyes, but finally willed her body to move. She took the last bun from her plate and sloppily coated it in jam, careful not to move too much, then tried to stuff it in Shinji's mouth, but she was really tired and ended up hitting his nose with the freshly baked bread.

Shinji stared at her, wide eyed and nose covered in jam, which gave her a chance to aim and sluggishly feed him the small dessert. He chewed mechanically, still staring at her in disbelief and blushing like an idiot, which in turn made her smile and laugh slightly, before hissing in pain when she felt a stab on her side.

He was closer to her in seconds. "You okay?" asked Shinji worriedly; he moved so suddenly that the idiot almost threw the small food cart over.

"I'm fine, idiot…" she replied, and noticed how close they were. About thirty centimeters if she had to judge. The smear of jam was still present on his nose, so Asuka smiled wickedly and grabbed a fistful of his robe. "Come here…" she whispered.

Before Shinji could react, the redhead had already dragged him too close to her, and the boy instinctively closed his eyes. They opened as wide as saucers, however, when he felt the warm pressure of Asuka's lips as they placed a gentle kiss on his nose. He stood there, petrified, and after a few seconds of holding him there Asuka released his gown and he was able to sit upright, his cheeks burning a blazing red.

Shinji blinked a few times to try and get his bearings back, and noticed Asuka licking her lips and smirking at him in that way of hers that made his knees weak. He hadn't seen her smile like that in a long time. "So… I take it you liked the jam?"

Asuka shrugged, still smirking. "You're an idiot," she said dismissively and yawned. "Worry about yourself (yawn) from time to time, will ya?" She closed her eyes, but sought out his hand and turned to stare at him when she found it.

"Hey," she whispered tiredly, lazily intertwining her fingers with his. "Thank you…"

She didn't have to clarify why she was thanking him, Shinji knew. He was the only boy she'd ever shared her bed with, the only person she'd ever talked to in confidence, even when she was screaming and hurling insults and fists at him. The idiot was probably the one person she was sincere with, whether it was her mood, her thoughts or desires. Shinji knew her, he knew he was probably the first person she'd ever said an honest thank you to, the only person to receive an honest greeting from her in the morning. So when she said thank you and squeezed his hand, he understood she was thanking him for saving her life.

Right before she fell unconscious, Asuka felt a light tug on her hand, and it made her drift off completely relaxed for once in too long. "You're welcome…" Shinji whispered to her, and the fiery young lady fell asleep with a small smile on her face.


Ritsuko chewed on the gum grimly as she typed on the mainframe and analyzed a 3D map of their decayed fortress. She had managed a wonderful sum of eight full hours of sleep after her meeting, which had left her feeling extremely refreshed and clear-minded. In the two hours she'd spent awake the plans for Unit-2's armor had been completed, she had reviewed Misato's, Gendou's and Nakamura's reports and the electronic requests she needed to send had all been received.

Furthermore, she had managed to map out the possible locations for the anti-aerial weapons they were receiving that afternoon. Her coffee was hot and sour like she liked it, her gum on the desk and the files neatly piled in manageable bulks, so all in all, Ritsuko was having a somewhat decent morning, considering the crushing amount of things she needed to take care of before she fell asleep again.

Of course, there was also Gendou to keep monitored and sufficiently electrocuted.

A slight, methodic knock on her door distracted the doctor from the complicated mathematical equations she was working on, and before she could complain to her assistant about not wanting to be bothered, Sakura's voice came through the intercom.

"Sorry to interrupt, Commander," said the young mouse-haired girl. "Ayanami Rei requested a meeting with you a few hours ago, and she…um…insisted on seeing you." The girl sounded scared, but Ritsuko was in the closest thing she'd come to a good mood in six months, so the scientist-made-Commander let it slide.

"It's fine, Sakura," she said boringly, tuning to finish the equation before Rei entered. "Let her in." In all truth, the faux blonde had no desire to see Rei, the girl represented a vortex of mixed emotions in her that Ritsuko tried not to dwell over, but her curiosity was spiked. Why would Rei want seek to her so urgently of all people? She had half-expected her to go running to the elder Ikari after her fight with the Second; in all honesty she was a bit shocked when the girl came through the door, but the guilt, ever present, reminded Ritsuko to maintain her control.

"Rei," she said as pleasantly as she could when the blue-haired pilot came through the door. "Please, have a seat. Is something the matter?" The girl nodded at her offer, looking rather unkept to her trained eye, and sat down delicately on the chair facing the blonde's desk.

"Good day…Commander Akagi," even to Ritsuko the title sounded ridiculous, more so when spoken by the girl who had so closely related to the man who used to occupy her very office. "I have been informed you are very busy, so I will try to be brief." For anyone else hearing Rei, her tone was as monotonous as always, but Ritsuko had known and interacted with her for years, so she noticed the small level of imbalance in her voice.

Rei kept quiet, expecting permission to speak, and the older woman resisted the need to roll her eyes. "Carry on," she said stoically. Rei brushed the skirt she wore and clasped her hands on her lap, taking a small breath. The behavior seemed extremely off to the doctor, and she kept making mental note of everything she noticed.

"Ever since returning from the Ocean I have felt…unbalanced. There is still so much regarding human interaction that eludes me, and often I have found my self-control slipping. My emotions are…troublesome. They cloud my judgment and incite me to partake in irrational behavior. Additionally, I have experienced minor trouble acquiring the necessary hours of REM sleep and there is this… confusion that continues to blind me."

To say Ritsuko was surprised was an understatement. The gears were turning in her head as quickly as Rei spoke, but it didn't cease to shock her to see the stoic First Child in such a state of distress. "So," said Ritsuko. "What would you have me do, Rei? Not to sound rude, but this is hardly my field."

The younger girl composed herself to a degree and directed her crimson stare straight at the Commander. "I would have you prescribe my medication again, doctor Akagi," she said. "I am useless if I cannot think clearly, and these…emotions…are overwhelming me."

Ritsuko blinked, stunned. "What?" she said incredulously. "You want me to suppress your emotions with medication? Rei, the only reason it worked was because of your mixed DNA, if I were to give you those pills again you'd be no better than a vegetable." She let the information sink in for a few seconds before she continued. "You have a full human anatomy now, your AT-Field won't be able to hold your body together like before. This…medication you speak of would have terrible side-effects of your physical health." Rei sighed, but her stare didn't linger, she barely even blinked. I swear, Ritsuko thought, estranged. She has a better poker face than Gendou.

"Define terrible," offered Rei stoically. "Would I be able to function to a degree?" Ritsuko pierced her brow with her thumb and forefinger, mulling over how to answer her. From what the doctor could see, it was obvious Rei had no idea how to deal with her emotions, nor her fully human body for that matter. Just another sin to the list in your black soul, Akagi… thought the fake blonde. Just another sin…

"You'd be significantly weakened, for starters," began the doctor, observing Rei closely. "Aside from the pills that kept your body working, we dosed you with medication prescribed for bipolar disorder, cronical depression and severe psychosis. The rest of the stuff we gave you was made to numb out physical pain, we mixed drugs that should not be mixed and made lobotomy pills for you. Why do you think it was so hard for you to relate to other people, or why to this day there's so much about living that you don't understand?" The young girl's gaze hardened briefly, but otherwise remained cold and analytical, so much like her own eyes. She did not bother to answer Ritsuko's questions, making the older woman nod grimly and assume a more professional stance.

"You can expect diarrhea, constant dizziness and drowsiness, lack of appetite and weight loss for the first months. On a long-term period, the lithium will shut down your kidneys, plus you'll develop a high level of tolerance for it so you'll need larger dosages every time. There's also a high probability of developing physical addiction to these substances, especially if you want me to fix you a batch of the old recipes."

Rei's brow knitted slightly. "Physical weariness, nausea and lack of appetite. I have lived with these symptoms for years. Moreover, I have been subjected to large amounts of physical trauma; I see not how a bit of dizziness might affect my day-to-day activities. I will adapt to these symptoms, I can take them."

The doctor felt like dashing her head against the desk. "It's not a matter of how much you can take, Ayanami-san.," Ritsuko sighed, feeling all the more ashamed for how much she had affected the girl's life. "Rei, why do you want to suppress your emotions? Why not just adapt to them?" Ritsuko already suspected the answer, but she wanted to hear it from Rei herself.

The First Child looked down, as if ashamed of herself. "I…I cannot… I cannot control my emotions. Every hour I feel as though… as though I might explode. There is a constant pressure in my chest, and I know not where it comes from. When dealing with my… with Ikari-kun I am assaulted by thoughts that have no meaning, irrational ideas with no use or reason to be."

"Did Shinji say something that upset you, Rei?" Ritsuko asked calmly. The meeting with the First Child was taking longer than expected, but the Commander felt a strange sense of duty to her.

"He did not." Rei denied vehemently. There it was, it was building up again, the feeling of sickness and anxiety in her chest. The blue-haired girl felt her pulse quicken, her cheeks flush slightly and her nerves stand to no end. "Ikari-kun has every right to be upset with me after…"

"After you beat up his girlfriend?" provided the blonde, earning herself a hard stare from the other side of the table.

"I hardly believe such a word properly describes their…relationship." Rei's right hand clenched the fabric of her skirts for a moment, yet she realized her state of distress when a slight stab of pain erupted from her palms. She was moments away from breaking her skirt and skin with her own nails.

"So this upsets you? Their relationship?" The other girl refused to meet her eye, but nodded nonetheless. "Yeah, I figured as much. Is that all? You want me to numb you out with pills because Asuka was using Shinji as a punching bag? We have ways to deal with that, Rei, they're called punching bags, and didn't you beat her up yesterday?"

"No." A heavy silence fell upon them. Rei was looking at her hands, which held her skirt with so much pressure her knuckles were starting to turn bone white. "No. That is not all that… upsets me."

Shinji was always looking at her. Always. He had yelled at her, his sister, for the first time in his life, and on her first day on the land of the living as well. It stung terribly, almost as much as being prohibited by Shinji himself to intervene in the sickening relationship of domination and fear he was subjected to. If she could not help Shinji, if she could not protect him, then what good was her life? What was her purpose, her reason to exist? She had been so sure, so certain he would accept and embrace her help, but nothing she did seemed to make him feel better. What was she doing alive, if she was of no use to the only person who gave her existence any meaning? She felt useless, lost, scared, angry beyond comprehension and used, so used and so tired. Emotions she didn't understand tugged at her psyche from every direction-

"Rei…" the young girl blinked, and noticed her vision was blurry. Her hands were shaking. "Rei, you're crying…"

Knuckles white, her hands clutched the fabric of her clothes with all her strength. Her writs turned upwards and her body shook. "I…" she tried to speak, but then a sob made its way to her throat, making her body rock with its force and more tears leak from her lids. "I…I cannot…" An ugly feeling crept on Rei's midsection when she realized she was crying in front of doctor Akagi of all people. Shame…? she asked herself through the maelstrom crushing through her.

All those years of absolute service, of living her life following orders without thinking, with total obedience, of hiding the inevitable truth from the one person who deserved it, all of it had left her feeling empty at the very end, when she'd chosen to go to Ikari-kun. Now he rejected her help, already he was a different creature to the boy she'd cared so much for, a stranger who nevertheless resonated with familiarity.

And who was she? Which Rei was she? The four-year old fiend she'd found on the ocean, tormenting Akagi and Shinji and so many other with her woeful smile? Was she the Rei Shinji had known and loved, the Rei he gave his humanity for in so many realities, or was she the third one, the stranger who had inherited the need to protect him, to save him from himself? Who was she?

"I do not…" Rei sniffled, trying to control her shaking sobs. "I do not even know who I am…anymore… or what my purpose is…" She recoiled deep within, she felt her body flex onto itself, as if trying to crawl back to a cocoon. Faintly she heard the Commander stand from her chair, but the First Child was much too distraught to notice Ritsuko approach to her chair and kneel beside her.

The older woman placed a hand on Rei's shoulder, noticing how she flinched at the very concept of human contact. "These things you're feeling, they won't go away, no matter how many pills you pop, how many drinks you take or how many packs of cigarettes you smoke. You can numb them out for a while, but they won't stay quiet, they won't ever stay quiet unless we deal with them." She squeezed the girl's shoulder. "It's okay to cry, Rei, it's okay to let it out. If you don't it will consume you, trust me, I know…"

Rei failed to acknowledge her words, but her shaking body relaxed somewhat. "You can't numb yourself out, Shinji wouldn't want that. As to who you are…" At last, one crimson pupil caught her eyes from the small mass of blue hair. "You're whoever you want to be. Your essence is still the same, and if you feel confused, or overwhelmed, you can only come to me, or Shinji or Misato, even Maya would be happy to help you. Just… don't bottle it up inside you. You're not alone."

"I am… so angry." Rei sighed, swallowing the lump in her throat. "What Sohryu has done… it-"

"It's no worse than what his father did to him his whole life, Rei, and you knew all along. We can't judge them, no more than I can judge you for leaving Gendou to die or for not fulfilling your purpose in Third Impact. You chose your own purpose, the same way Shinji chose to stay with Asuka no matter what. We all make compromises, choices we can't or won't take back, so now you have to choose whether you want to deal with your emotions, or run away from them."

Rei jumped slightly and stared at Ritsuko widely. Those were the same words she had said to Shinji, and yet here she was, trying to do the exact same thing he'd done all his life. She urged him to change and stick to the choice he had made, yet escaped from her own existence at the very thought of having to deal with something as trivial as her own feelings. Moreover, she had believed she possessed the authority to cut off Shinji's relations with the Second Child, and had never stopped to consider that there was a reason, far deeper than what she could fathom, as to why Shinji withstood Asuka's abuse.

The young pilot nodded shakily and resumed staring at her folded hands. At the very least they were not holding her dress with vital force like before, so Rtisuko took a calming breath and asked whatever deity existent for a bit of patience. At best, the doctor's feelings for Rei were conscious guilt and repressed anger, but she couldn't afford to be "objective" anymore, not after Third Impact.

The both stayed there, quietly, Ritsuko's hand resting gently on Rei's shoulder. It wasn't much, she knew, but the small bit of contact and support was welcomed, however meager it was. Rei sniffled, shifting slowly under her grip, and eyed the documents and equations on her computer absently.

"Might…might I help? With these, perhaps…?" she asked, gesturing to the seemingly endless piles of documents, files and hard disks resting on the large desk. Ritsuko gave her a lopsided smile; she turned to the desk and stood from her kneeling position, glaring at the inhuman amount of variables and data thrown around the office. She'd asked for one person she could trust, a bit of help, anything to alleviate the crushing number of responsibilities piling up over her, and then this happened. I guess you really do work in mysterious ways, don't you, you old Bastard? she thought .

"You know what?" Ritsuko said. "I'd love some help."


The first few days went almost in a haze for Asuka. Her body felt heavy, the meager tasks of traveling to the bathroom to relieve herself left the redhead tired and sickly, moving about brought insufferable amounts of pain to her side, and she was hungry all the time. She remembered idly that Shinji had spent his first days in a drug-induced coma; his body had been too weak to withstand the serum, leaving his system depleted from trying to heal itself. Her wound was not particularly big, but it was deep and painful. One or two of her ribs were cracked from the shard's impact, and they never failed to drive a sharp knife of pain through her midsection whenever she made sudden movements.

She spent about ten to twelve hours sleeping, at least half of that time she managed to fall in a dreamless slumber too deep to be disturbed by even loud noises around her; the other half she spent withstanding her memories, nightmares and dulled fears, but the nights were kind to her, for once.

Shinji was right beside her, ready to draw her back from the terrors when they got too unbearable. When he couldn't wake her, he would just hold her hand steadily, and the feeling itself was enough to make Asuka's nightmares bearable. She woke him too, or tried to, when he withered in his sleep and she happened to rouse from the noise.

As per the blonde bitch's orders the Children could not yet share a bed, so Misato had Shinji's bed moved next to hers, so contact between the two was a bit easier. They talked, or tried to at least, most of the time falling into awkward silences and staring shyly at each other until Asuka dozed off.

In the rare, precious moments of some level of mental clarity Asuka thought of her Unit 2, and the significance of it being back online. A small part of her was overjoyed, the childish side of her psyche wanted nothing more than to return to Mama's embrace and stay there forever, but Asuka somehow knew that whatever was inside Unit 2's core now, it was not her mother.

Mama had been tired of it, and so was she in all honesty. Mama had wanted her to live, to really live, not just exist through her pilot status and pursue a non-existent value of superiority. She was still angry, she still wanted to fight, she wanted to prove all of those bastards wrong, all those gutless idiots who said she had been defeated too easily. She was the top pilot, the best, the elite.

Asuka was tired, though. She was tired of fighting someone else's war, tired of being forced to fend off monsters, tired of being angry with Shinji, tired of being the spiteful and hostile towards everyone around her. She wasn't tired of her own nature, she was hard and volatile and sarcastic and loud, but piloting EVA…

Piloting will only make me the person I was before… the girl who wanted to be the best. Well guess what, I am the best, I'm the only pilot with a Unit left… The feeling left a taste of ashes in her mouth, like chasing one of her false dreams inside Instrumentality, or the fleeting sense of superiority she got whenever she punched Shinji. True, if she were to revert back to her old self she wouldn't hit him, Asuka would just act enraged by the fact that he destabilized her with his mere presence and pretend she didn't care for him, while hating herself at each passing moment for being drawn to him in the first place.

Back to that stupid circle of fuck up and repeat, that's where I'll be… she thought lazily one afternoon, while she waited for Shinji to bring her lunch and watched some ridiculous soap opera. The idiot would make her breakfast and a late lunch, since she was mostly knocked out by midday, and they'd share whatever tasteless, bland crap the hospital managed to send them for dinner. Shinji would go to physical therapy twice a day, as per the blonde bitch's orders, and came grumbling to himself and fresh out of shower with her lunch in tow.

Misato slept on the room next to theirs, and Rei three rooms to the right, but thankfully Asuka hadn't seen her since the day they had resolved some of their differences through fists. Their guardian came by as many times as she could, and after being sufficiently reprimanded by Shinji was allowed to join them at breakfast and lunch when she managed to clear the time. To Asuka's surprise, she saw a true increase in their guardian's presence and an honest effort to be nearby, even when both younglings understood she had a very busy schedule.

She saw the stupid Wonder Girl with Shinji from time to time, and it never failed to make her turn almost green with jealousy and try to lash out at the boy later. The siblings shared a small lunch sometimes while she napped, and it enraged Asuka to no end when the idiot would go and spend hours talking nonsense with the stupid doll-girl. She rarely succeeded in being snappy and biting though, for the first five days she barely managed to maintain a conversation without drifting off, the task of acting snappy with him left her unnecessarily tired and hungry. Most of the time, she actually ended up berating herself for her irrational thoughts regarding improper behavior between siblings.

After the third day went by, Asuka began to actually feel the effects of the serum. The pain subsided considerably, she slowly recuperated her energy and alertness and her fits of unrepressed hunger began to normalize. Ritsuko insisted that the walks to the kitchen helped Shinji stretch his healing muscles and bones, but his bandages were still changed and tightened every day. Whenever she could, the redhead made a mental note of how the bandages were placed on him, which points were particularly sensitive for him and which adjustments made him feel more comfortable. Her bandage change, however, was a different matter entirely.

Asuka disliked the nurse who came every day to redress both her and Shinji's wounds and help her wash herself. Aside from the fact that the harpy was (considerably) attractive, she was extremely sweet with Shinji, a little too sweet for the redhead's taste. More than once she had found herself making rude comments around them just to snap her out of her "innocent" flirting with the former Third Child.

While she redressed Asuka's wounds with extreme, calculating efficiency, the stupid nurse reserved none of the finesse and delicacy offered to Shinji, and sometimes made her cringe in sudden jolts of pain when she wrapped the gauze a bit too tight. She never failed to glare at the redhead when she saw the scars around Shinji's midsection, and Asuka felt like driving a tube thought the woman's skull every time her fingers ever so delicately brushed against Shinji's chest.

She had snickered good-heartedly with the idiot one time, on the fourth day of her recovery. The yelp she'd given had been more of surprise than pain, it had barely hurt at all. The nurse's cold hands had touched the area just below her right breast, way too close for comfort and she had yelped and hissed at her sudden movement, but the glare Shinji had given the poor woman had Asuka cracking into giggles before poor old Kazumi-san could make it through the door. The normally shy and respectful boy had treated Kazumi with such coldness, and just right after Asuka yelped, that the redhead thought she could almost taste the nurse's embarrassment.

The harpy continued to treat Asuka with forced respect and the redhead continued to treat her rudely. Shinji occasionally intervened if she went a bit too far, but most of the time he smiled awkwardly and tried not to be too uncomfortable with the woman's teasing, which was fine by Asuka, really. He looked cute when he was blushing.

Aside from her clashes with the stupid nurse, Asuka's days went by almost quickly, her nights were somewhat less torturous and her health and spirits improved with every passing moment. She was surprised to enjoy Shinji's company so much, sure the sedatives dulled her normal biting voice, but she still teased him and smirked when he blushed and acted all embarrassed. It was refreshing, to say the least.

She hated the stupid hospital, and hated being tied to a bed and feeling like a zombie even more, but something was different. Something was absent in her, and the disgust, the self-hatred and insane aggression inside her was tamed with Shinji's gentle gaze, his shy eyes and soft, strong hands. Sharing a room with him was weird, and very uncomfortable most of the time, but it was worth it for the rare moment of peace and comfort.

On the sixth day of her recovery Asuka woke up feeling refreshed, both her and the idiot had managed to stay asleep for seven hours, seven hours without a single one of them waking up screaming or trashing about. Breakfast had been very filling, but she'd also had to start her own therapy that morning, so by mid-day she was tired as hell, sore all over and in desperate need of a private bath, which was a luxury she did not have.

By the time she'd managed to unknot her large bangs, Asuka was so tired she took a mid-day nap, but as she came about the delicious smell of Shinji's food didn't welcome her back. Instead of sniffing irresistible scents, the redhead found herself being scrutinized by a pair of crimson orbs. Asuka scoffed, giving the former albino a mocking glare while she adjusted the bed to be at eye level with the girl. To her displeasure, Asuka saw that most of her marks on the First's face had disappeared.

"What's up, Wonder girl?" asked the redhead sarcastically. "Came for round two? I'm a bit indisposed at the moment, but we can bitch at each other until the idiot comes if you want." Rei merely blinked at her, expressionless, an Asuka sneered and looked away. Bah…she thought. Still a damn doll, this one's worse than the idiot.

"It is fortunate you are not dead." Rei said after a few seconds. "Ikari-kun would be most distressed." The comment earned another scoff from the redhead, who eyed her lazily with one open eye.

"Oh, so you're relieved I'm still alive? Gimme a break, doll. Are you jealous I'm stealing some of your Shinji time? Having lunch with him ain't cutting it for you? The idiot's always distressed; anyway, he pouts every time I kill a bug around the house." Asuka shrugged, placing her left hand behind her head. "I'm stuck in this stupid bed, so he's all yours for now. You can go and un-stress him all you want."

Rei blinked at her. "You are extremely paranoid," she noticed idly "and you seem to misinterpret every word I say." This time, Asuka actually chortled at her.

"Did you just make a joke, Wonder Girl? You know, I get that a lot. From the idiot too, nowadays." She gave Rei another smirk, reminding herself to be snappy with idiot during lunch. "So what'd you want? It's almost time for my lunch, and I don't want you to ruin my appetite." The red-eyed girl looked away, smoothening her skirt neatly with both hands.

"It has been pointed out to me that I may not…know all the circumstances of your…survival….with Ikari-kun," Rei said at last, looking at her frigidly.

"Geez, is that how you apologize, First? Honestly, it's like you're reading a script." The crimson eyes didn't blink, and Asuka scoffed and crossed her arms, trying to appear nonchalant. "You weren't there," was all she answered, shrugging with her left side. "None of you was, only me…and him, so it's our business." Asuka noticed Rei's eyebrow twitch a bit, the girl's hands tightened around her lap, she didn't hit the redhead.

"Regardless of the circumstances, I would advice you to refrain from hospitalizing Shinji again. Whatever may have happened between you both, you will not attack him in blind rage, nor will you verbally lash out at him." Rei's glare became pronounced, and so did Asuka's. The atmosphere around the room turned heavy with anger, the machines measuring Asuka's vitals skyrocketed and the redhead felt her nails dig into the flesh of her forearms.

"You think I don't know that, stupid?"Asuka hissed angrily, glaring daggers at the First Child. "You think I don't feel like shit every time he's in pain from just taking a breath? I thought we went thought this already, Wonder Girl; and I told you I don't need to be judged by the likes of you. We told you not to stick your nose in it. So, if you don't like me spending time with the idiot, you can wait a little while until I get better, and then I can knock some sense in that blue head of yours… Until then, you can fuck right off."

Asuka's threat fell on deaf ears. Rei had spent her week speaking with both Shinji and doctor Akagi; she was far more relaxed and in control of herself than the first time she had laid eyes upon the volatile Second Child.

"If you feel a fit of rage overpowering you, please, do not doubt to seek me out, Second. I would only be too glad to assist you," provided the First Child, glaring back with just as much vehemence as Asuka. "While we wait for your next episode of temporary insanity, though, I would inform you that while I still find your behavior utterly disgusting, Shinji-kun has asked me to at the very least attempt civility when speaking to you."

Rei cleared her throat, trying to smooth her glare and failing miserably. "I believe we should try, on Shinji-kun's behalf, to abstain from aggression towards one another until you are able to… defend yourself properly and Shinji-kun is sufficiently recuperated."

Asuka chuckled again. "So this is how you say 'Truce', Wonder Girl?" she asked with spite, scratching her cheek absently. As usual, Rei did not bother to respond. "Okay, truce then, for the idiot's sake. But you and I still have a lot to…work through… before we ever get civil."

"You are correct, Sohryu," said Rei, rising delicately from her chair. "Have you informed Shinji-kun of Unit 2's existence?" Asuka looked away from Rei's eyes; she scowled and crossed her arms again.

"No," she answered. "I don't want to tell him, don't wanna get him all worked up, not yet at least. I don't even want to think about it, to be honest." Rei nodded and headed for the door, the unspoken agreement that she would not tell Shinji either rang silently through the room.

"He will find out sooner or later, Sohryu." Rei said from the door, giving Asuka one last sideway glance. The redhead's face looked serious, pensive; she stared at the white sheets and seemed lost in thought.

"I know, Ayanami," she said finally. "But I'll cross that bridge when I get to it, and not a moment sooner. All in all, these have been the best few days I've had in too long, and I'm not letting you,SEELE, Unit 2 or even the idiot ruin it."

"I see," offered Rei, pushing the button on the door frame. "Good luck, then. Take care of him, or I will kill you." Asuka laughed out loud from her bed, the first time she laughed like that in a long time, but it was cut short by a stab of pain to her side.

"You know, it's funny," Asuka added between giggles. "I was actually starting to think you hired the guy to off me." She laughed a bit more, noticing how Rei had once again turned her face expressionless and calculating.

"I would not have made such a rookie mistake,"Rei remarked before she left. "I would kill you myself, and you would be very, very dead, Sohryu." The door closed behind her, but Rei could hear Asuka's laughter as she walked through the hallway.

The former First Child was sporting a small, almost imperceptible smile, and inside the hospital room Asuka wore the smug smirk that Shinji seemed to like so much for whatever reason. To say the least, the redhead's lunch was delicious that day.


As it turned out, Asuka had to cross the bridge far sooner than she expected to. Two days after her "conversation" with Rei, on a lazy Thursday afternoon, a deeply irritated Shinji made his way through the door, glaring at the ground as he wordlessly headed for his bed and crossed his arms angrily. Their guardian could be heard running through the hallway, trying to catch up to him.

"Shinji-kun, please, just let me explain!" Misato burst through the door, but didn't dare to take a step into the room. Shinji's glare was deep enough to melt iron; he turned away from her and tightened his stance even more.

"No!" he barked angrily. "You said we'd never have to see one of those things ever again! You promised me you'd never make me pilot again!" Misato looked crestfallen, almost on the verge of tears, but Shinji remained unmoved by her. She had the decency to look insulted by Shinji's statement, or at least she looked insulted to Asuka's eyes.

"I will never force you to pilot again, Shinji-kun. No one ever thought Unit 2 would even exist anymore, but I thought you had the right to know!" The Sub-Commander stared at her pleadingly, but Asuka only shrugged and looked away.

"Then what's this all about SEELE then?!" Shinji exploded, clutching his fists on the bedsheets. "Don't lie to me, you want us to stop them, don't you?! You want to use us again!" Shinji coughed once, twice, and hissed, and with every painful noise he made Asuka's eyebrow twitched. When the idiot coughed for the third time, she exploded.

"Are you freaking retarded?!" Asuka said brusquely; she tried to ignore the pain on her side as best as she could. "I told you to take better care of yourself, dumbass! Where do you get off screaming your lungs out? Do you want to go to therapy all your life, Baka?!" Shinji clutched his ribs mildly, but the boy relaxed a bit and looked apologetically at her.

"Sorry, Asuka." He said, dejected. The former pilot slumped his shoulders and sighed, but kept glaring at the ground and refused to meet Misato's eyes. The older woman stood by the door quietly, looking even more dejected than Shinji himself. She's such a freaking child sometimes, geez… Asuka thought.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Stop apologizing already, will you?" Asuka turned to Misato. "Go get us some food, Katsuragi, I'll talk to the idiot." Their guardian ogled at her, her eyes wide as saucers.

"Are you… did I hear you right? You actually want me to leave you alone with Shinji to talk?! How do I know you're not just gonna beat him to a pulp again?" Asuka rolled her eyes, while Shinji looked scandalized at Misato's teasing voice and rude comment.

"I'm not, stupid! I can barely get off this damn bed, let alone beat anyone up to a pulp! Now get on out, you're making it worse. Get us some food while you're at it!" Misato pouted, but relented nonetheless. With one final glance at Shinji's direction, she closed the door and left for the dining area to procure food for her young charges, her slacked shoulders more than noticeable under the cascading purple locks.

The door hissed closed, but Shinji still kept his scowl and soon enough crossed his arms again, glaring at everything and nothing. Asuka rolled her eyes, thinking of the injustice of it all. She had been having the best days lately, but now there was a big red fucking elephant in the room called Unit 2.

"So… you're just gonna sit there and sulk like a baby or do you want to talk about this?" Shinji scowled and continued to sulk and glare at his bed.

"What's there to talk about?" he answered bitingly. "Misato obviously needs us to pilot and go against whatever SEELE's planning to do. She just wants to use us for her stupid war again." The former Third Child glanced at her with his deep blue orbs. "D-Did you know about this?"

Asuka's blank expression was all the answer he needed. The boy gave a defeated sigh and looked away, feeling betrayed. Asuka gazed down at her hands; she had blessedly avoided thinking about the subject of piloting for the last two days, but now, there was no running away from it. Time to cross the stupid bridge, she thought.

"I was going to tell you, idiot," began the redhead. "Don't be stupid to think I didn't because I don't trust you or stuff like that, I was just having such a good time, everything was looking up and I… didn't want to ruin it for once, I guess."

Shinji gave her a sideway glance, the betrayed aura about him seemed to abate, but he still looked plenty sad, defeated, and angry. "I thought you'd be jumping with joy at the chance to pilot again." He offered quietly. His shy eyes never seemed to hold her stare for too long, they always reverted back somewhere in the room, but Asuka noticed the slight tremor in his voice. He didn't want her to do it, she knew.

"Yeah," Asuka sighed, chuckling slightly. "I thought so too. Funny, huh?" She stared at the ceiling, lost in thought. It was still so hard to communicate her feelings without resorting to violence or vicious name-calling, but she had promised herself, and Shinji, to try.

"How did you find out, anyway?" Shinji asked, he noticed how quiet she had gotten all of the sudden. The young girl blinked, coming back from her mental reverie.

"I hacked Misato's files the day we went to pick you up." She admitted quietly. Shinji's eyes widened, but he didn't question how she had managed to hack their guardian's computer. She was brilliant, after all.

"At first I was ecstatic. I thought, here's my chance, I can prove I'm the best again, my life's purpose is back, but…" Asuka sighed. "I don't think that's my purpose, not now. Besides I… I don't think Mama's there anymore; it wouldn't be the same, even if I wanted to get in that thing again."

Shinji blinked, slightly stunned at Asuka's response. Of all the possible reactions, grudging and reluctant acceptance was not was he'd expected from his fiery roommate. "So…do you want to pilot, Asuka?" he asked slowly, not wanting to upset her.

Asuka stared at him, suddenly angry. "Of course I do, idiot! That's what I was trained for my whole life! I just…" As soon as it came, the anger subsided. Partly it was due to the dull pain on her side, partly the sedatives, and mostly it was her trying to not lash out at the former Third Child, for once in her life. "I just… I don't want to fight someone else's war anymore. I don't want to go out there and kill the people we were supposed to save, not again. I'll fight if I have to, but EVA's not going to be my life, not ever again."

The young boy's eyes widened again as he remembered Asuka had been the one line of defense between NERV and the JSDF; she had repelled their attacks with ease until the EVA Series arrived. Shinji sighed meekly. "I never thought I'd hear that from you, either," he said, and gave her a sad smile. "But what if there's no choice? I don't think I can get through another fight."

Asuka snorted; a strange sound between a snigger and a sob. You and me both, idiot…Asuka understood why Unit 2 had not absorbed her into its core when the Lances had pierced her. The EVA responded to the most basic instincts of its pilot, and her basic instinct was fighting until her last breath, whereas Shinji's was either running away or unleashing the full reach of his repressed rage. She knew these things, yet it still stung terribly to know her mother had left her to die butchered on the battlefield.

"Sometimes you just can't run away, idiot. You have to stand your ground and protect what's yours. Besides, it's not like you're the one who has to pilot. I'll cover your scrawny ass, so nobody's gonna push you into an Entry Plug." Asuka tried to give him one of her smug smiles, but Shinji sighed, looking dejectedly at his fisted hands.

"That's exactly what I'm scared about, Asuka…" He said sadly. The statement earned him a hot glare from the redhead, but Shinji felt too upset to even be scared of her temper.

"So, that's it? You're worried I'm gonna lose if I fight?! You have a lot of nerve, Ikari! I might not be like the Invincible Shinji, but I'm still the most skilled pilot around here! You think you can do better than me, you think I need you to fight my battles?!" she yelled, completely angered and insulted. Asuka was holding her temper by a thread, frankly she knew that if her body was fit and healthy she'd been pushing and poking Shinji with her finger. To her immense surprise however, Shinji seemed to be getting just as angry as her instead of taking the submissive attitude she'd gotten so accustomed to.

"It's got nothing to do with me fighting your battles, damnit!" he retorted, glaring at her. "Do you want to be their toy again?!" Asuka huffed and turned to face him fully, absently hearing the clicks and beeps behind her escalate as she glared at Shinji.

"No, you dumbas!" She barked. "I'm nobody's toy, you got that?! But if those guys who want to off us come knocking, are you just going to let them kill us all without even trying to fight back?! If it's not about fighting my battles, what's it about huh!?" The wound on her side flared, and immediately the machines administered a generous dose of sedatives to her bloodstream.

Shinji lowered his head, his short hair clouded the blue eyes she knew so well, but his hands kept clenching and unclenching the bed sheets. "Why do you have to be so stubborn all the time?" he groaned out through gritted teeth. "I'd kill them with my bare hands if I could…" he said to himself in hushed tones, too quietly for Asuka to hear.

"It's my nature to be stubborn, idiot. So what's wrong, then? Didn't you hear the drunk? She's not gonna force us to pilot, we don't have to if we don't want to. What's all this about? Will you stop avoiding the question already?"

Shinji shook his head angrily and refused to meet her eyes. "Can we drop it? I know how good you are, Asuka, and it's got nothing to do with that. Look, let's just drop it." He said, still unwilling to raise his head.

"No." Asuka said coldly. "Tell me what it's about, Shinji. I want to know." The young boy's grip on his own anger was thinning, every time Asuka prodded he felt closer to his breaking point. He turned to the door and shook his head again.

"Come on, idiot, don't be such a freaking baby!" Something inside Shinji snapped. The visions, the sight of the white monsters devouring her EVA had been haunting him from the moment he'd laid eyes upon the gruesome red mecha; his own guilt and shame was choking him, leaving him almost unable to breathe. "Tell me!" Asuka screamed, and hissed when her wound complained at the extra effort.

"God-damn it!" He screamed back at her, finally meeting her eyes. Furious dark blue met angry, electric cerulean. "I don't want to lose you! Can't you get that for once?! Not to an Angel, not to NERV, not to the EVA, not to any of it, not ever again!" Asuka's eyes widened, her expression of anger melted into complete surprise. She was taken aback by the sheer emotion on Shinji's face.

"Do you think it's easy for me?! I have to see those freaks tear you apart every day, every day!" Hot tears leaked from Shinji's eyes, his anger rushed out of him in waves, permeating the whole room. "Every time I close my eyes I see them, those fucking monsters…" his fists clenched tightly. "Every night I hear you scream and think 'I just sat there; I just sat there and let them kill her'. I let it happen, I let them kill you and Misato-san, I let father wake Lilith and go through with Third Impact and…and I can't do it again."

He gave a look she'd never seen on him before, pure defiance and resolution, anger blazing in his eyes and his chin steady and firm. "I won't let them, I'll do whatever it takes, but I won't let them take you away from me again. Any of you."

This time it was Asuka who looked away. A slight frown still dominated her brow, but something about what Shinji had said unbalanced her to no end. She had honestly never thought how her defeat at the EVAs' hands had affected Shinji, she'd always focused on how it had affected her, and often forgot he'd seen into her mind, he'd lived it throughout her own experience, through Maya's eyes and the eyes of so many soldiers who had watched from a distance as she was torn apart.

"You know, that sounds a lot like a declaration, Ikari." She noticed idly, trying not to blush. It was incredible how her brain seemed to jump from one subject to the other when the idiot was concerned.

Shinji, for his part, lost all seriousness and blushed a deep shade of crimson, looking away from her embarrassedly. "Well…" he said with unease, shrugging. "Maybe it is…" This thime Asuka did blush. There was a strange nagging on her stomach though, present since the day she'd woken up in the hospital, something she needed to desperately clear out.

"Why did you try to kill me, Shinji?" she asked again, looking up sadly. If things were going to develop between them, she needed a definitive answer to that question. Shinji sighed again, meeting her eyes. They were so alike, their eyes, they both carried the same loneliness and despair, the same anger, the same regret.

"I think you know why, Asuka…" she nodded and turned her eyes to the ceiling once again.

"Was it because I wouldn't help you? Because I acted like I didn't care if you just disappeared?" she commented. Shinji nodded once, even when she couldn't see it.

"I was terrified of Rei, Misato had all but thrown me to the lions again…" the former Third Child took a calming breath and released a pained sigh. "You would acknowledge my existence, even if I had to force you. Only you. At that point, getting hit by you was better than being all alone, I could barely hold myself together in that place, and then you wouldn't help me, you just stared at me like I was the lowest trash in this world, and I was. So I strangled you."

"Why'd you stop, then?" Asuka asked quietly. "On the beach, why did you stop when I touched your face?" Shinji's gaze traveled to the ceiling as well, deep in thought.

"I realized it was truly you. Not just the Asuka in my mind, or one of Lilith's illusions. You were Asuka, my Asuka, the Asuka I knew and abandoned to die… I couldn't bring myself to even breathe the same air as you, I didn't deserve to, so who was I to take your life?" Nobody, thought Shinji, I still don't deserve to breathe her air, and still, here I am…

"Oh…" was all Asuka said in response. She felt a bit drained, but lighter as well, almost free of another heavy burden on her damaged soul. She heard Shinji shuffle about, and found him sitting up in bed, facing her directly with a strange look in his eyes.

"Why did you do that, anyway?" he asked her. "I thought you'd hit me, or kick me or something…" Asuka gave a short laugh, trying to remember what was going through her head at that moment, when Shinji's hands were around her throat. "At first, all I thought was how gross it'd been, what you did when I was, you know… but then the strangest thing occurred to me."

Shinji blinked at her, his whole attention was directed at her, and its intensity made Asuka feel slightly uncomfortable. In spite of such discomfort, however, she continued, her eyes distant and her gaze focused on the scar that began on her right knuckles. "It occurred to me that it was the end, the real end of the line for us, and I'd never even done one nice thing for you. Not even an honest thank you, or a sincere compliment, not even something as simple as a hug. Nothing. It made me feel sick."

Shinji's eyes widened. I feel sick…

"So if you were going to kill me, then I'd at least do that one simple thing, no matter how sick you made me feel then… I… I guess I never stopped to consider how seriously you took me, how much it meant to you…" she shrugged, trying to rid herself of the feeling of vulnerability. Every cell in her body told her to shut up, to lock away those thoughts the way she'd always had, but there was no point to it, and Asuka was a bit tired of being so strong all the time.

"I see…" Shinji offered. "Thanks, you know. I'd be crazy if it wasn't for you. Crazier, at least." Asuka nodded, but continued to look down at her hands.

They fell into a strange silence, neither having anything more to say. Both Children felt lighter, but also empty, as if the black bile which had consumed them had been expelled, leaving void where all that anger and disgust used to be. Shinji stood from his bed and took the small chair by Asuka's bedside, moving it slightly to face her. He gingerly took her hand, waiting for her to push him away, but Asuka never did. Instead, the redhead intertwined her slim fingers through his, eyeing their joined hands with a small smile.

"So what now?" Shinji asked, squeezing her hand lightly. "What do we do about this? About Unit 2 and SEELE?" The boy's use of the word we did not go unnoticed by the Second Child. She smirked at him in that way of hers, and Shinji felt his whole body go weak and his cheeks color.

"We live our lives, idiot. We're like scar tissue, you, me, Katsuragi, even that stupid sister of yours. We'll live our lives, and if those bastards mess with us again, we'll crush 'em with my Unit 2 like cockroaches." Both Children shared a smile, and before they both knew it they started inching closer to one another.

"Sounds good to me…" muttered Shinji, merely centimeters away from her lips. His breath still tickles… thought the redhead, heavy-lidded. He was so close to her she was lost in his eyes, the endless pools of deep blue that destabilized her since she'd first seen them on the 'Over the Rainbow'.

"Good…baka…" she whispered back. They lips were about to brush when a loud bang on the door brought them out of their trance. Both youngsters drew away from each other, cheeks burning deep red; as Misato came through the door wearing a remorseful smile and carrying three trays. The former Mayor blinked when she saw her young charges looking away, beet red as Asuka's hair. Her eyebrow lifted at the look in both their eyes, as if they'd been caught stealing from the cookie jar.

"So…" Misato said placidly. "Am I interrupting? 'Cause I can come back, you know." Asuka tskd and looked away, still blushing.

"Shut up, you slob. Stop being a child and get in here already!" Shinji, who had been sitting on the chair to her right, sat upright and tried to look anywhere but in their direction. Misato smiled teasingly for a bit more before noticing Shinji's small frown.

"I'm sorry, Shinji-kun." Misato said while she slowly walked into their shared bedroom. "I'm not going back on my promise. If it comes down to it, we'll activate the self-destruct and forget all about the EVAs, but I'm not letting either of you suffer for it any longer." Shinji's glare on the ground subsided and he uncrossed his arms, turning to stare at Misato.

"Okay, Misato-san, I believe you." Their guardian beamed at them both and set the trays on Shinji's bed.

"Yeah, yeah, save the mushy crap for later, will you, you two?" intoned Asuka, feeling neglected. "So, what's for dinner, Misato?" The purple-haired woman smiled, scratching the back of her head in a nervous manner.

"Well, you know, tasteless hospital crap," she said, paraphrasing Asuka's description of the food. "Plus, some curry, some noodles, some Misato goodness here and there, guess we'll just have to make do with it!" Asuka paled when the scent of the food finally made its way to her nose. Shinji turned slightly green around his cheeks, and they both exchanged a horrified look.

"Oh crap, Misato, did you make this!?" Asuka asked frantically while the former Mayor handled them the bowls. The smell alone brought tears to both Children's eyes; the spices coming from the broth were so strong they almost choked Shinji.

"Umm, Misato-san, you really shouldn't have bothered…" Shinji offered. He dared another sniff at the food, and almost gagged when the acrid stench of terribly made curry crawled all the way to his throat.

"Nonsense, Shinji-kun! Now eat up, come on! You both need your strength to get healthy real fast! You can't be cooking every day, dummy. Let little ol' Misato take care of you from time to time!"

Asuka stared at the gruel resting on her bowl, and for a moment thought she saw the bio-hazard sign flash beet red in her mind. "Really, Misato…" said the redhead, gulping audibly while she shared another scared glance with Shinji. "Leave the cooking to the idiot…"

A few minutes later, the nurses around the pilots' block were shocked still by the sheer intensity of the scream that shook the medical ward.

"OH MY GOD, THIS IS HORRIBLE!"

"Hey you, I take offense to that!"

"You should! What the hell did you put in this stuff?! I swear, I can taste uranium in this!"

"Come on, Asuka it's not that bad, see? Shin-chan's eating it!"

"He's turning green, you klutz! You're gonna poison us!"

"Hey! That is not true! Shin-chan, don't just make gagging noises, back me up on this!"

"I think… I think I'm gonna puke…"

"See?! You made the idiot sick! This is so gross!"

"Hey!"

And thus, another day went by in NERV's medical Ward.


In the gloom of his not so spacious office, Ikari Gendou shuffled his Shogi piece forward and eyed Fuyutsuki with forced stoniness. The older man smiled at him, moved his own piece and gained a substantial advantage over him in a single move. The elder Ikari growled, readjusted his glasses and crossed his hands in his usual way.

"I hear you met with your son." Fuyutsuki offered as he poured himself a glass of the whisky resting on their small desk. "How it'd go?"

"As well as can be expected, Professor." Gendou made his next move carefully, slowly penetrating the older man's defenses in a well thought-of and brutal strategy. "The boy has a murderous left hook, even while injured." Fuyutsuki's right eyebrow rose while a small smile drew over his face. He took a small gulp of whiskey and prepared his next tactic.

"That's strange, I don't see a black eye," announced the old professor. He'd noticed the stiff way in which Ikari had entered his office, but refrained from asking the reason for the sheer fun of it. Karma really was a bitch, after all. The former Commander's legs were closed off, something entirely unlike him, and such details were easy to notice for even the untrained eye. "How do you know he's got a murderous left hook?"

Fuyutsuki made his move, as Gendou had anticipated. He crushed the older man's defenses and had him on the ropes in three calculated strikes. The elder Ikari failed to respond, but once he won the game and the old man made his way to the door, he cleared his throat.

"Fuyutsuki," he said stoically. "Fetch me the ice-bag." The professor snickered, looking down as he shook his head.

"Sucks to be you right now."Fuyutsuki said as he went through the door. The former Commander grumbled, trying to readjust his legs to a position that didn't require extra strain on his damaged genitals.

"I wonder…" Gendou said to himself. "Where did he learn to punch like that?" Another stab of indescribable pain went through his entire body, but he smirked proudly nonetheless.

TBC…..


Inspirational Music: Serenity-Godsmack. I swear the whole chapter came from listening to this song. Why? There's a certain peace that come after facing death and trauma.

AN: So, yeah. Sorry for the two year hiatus,I guess time does fly when you're uninspired. Don't miss the next chapter! Shinji's path during Asuka's recovery, the clash between siblings and the clash between father and son! Misato and Ritsuko have a talk! The time draws near for Unit 2's first activation test! Asuka heals and Shinji receives a strange phone call! Visit time with Toji, Kensuke and Hikari!Shinji confronts his inner beast once and for all! We learn more about the plan to bring down SEELE! More Angst coming, OMG!STAY TUNED. R & R! Reviews provide writing power!

PEACE.