Disclaimer: Neon Genesis Evangelion is owned by Studio Gainax and not me. Should they, or anyone affiliated with them, request it, this story will be taken off of the web.

Acts of Kindness

By Random1377

"Absolutely out of the question!"

Asuka Langley Souryu awoke, blinking in the darkness of her room as she sat up in bed. "What the hell was that?" she wondered, rubbing her bleary eyes and looking at her clock, "Two AM? Oh, this had better be damn good…"

She swung her legs over the edge of her bed and got to her feet, yawning expansively as she crossed her room. As she got closer to her door, she identified the source of the disturbance that had roused her.

She came up short as Misato Katsuragi's voice (the one that had broken her wonderful dream of Ryouji Kaji into small pieces) rose again, "I said no! There is no way that you are going to…" her voice dropped suddenly.

"What's going on?" Asuka whispered, tiptoeing to her door and pressing her ear against it. Closing her eyes and breathing as shallowly as she could, she just made out a faint male voice.

"It's the right thing to do…" the voice said, "and you're going to wake Asuka."

-Kaji?- Asuka thought hopefully. –Maybe they're having a fight…- Since the night she had kissed Shinji Ikari, her other roommate, she had sullenly conceded that Kaji and Misato were an item… but now, maybe – just maybe…

She concentrated, trying to focus on the voices coming (as near as she could tell) from the living room.

"She's sound asleep," Misato retorted, "and don't try and change the subject… you are not going to marry that girl!"

"Marry??" Asuka gasped, immediately covering her mouth.

She waited tensely, hoping they had not heard. –If Kaji gets married,- she thought sorrowfully, -what am I going to do? He's perfect… I can't find someone else like…-

Her thought trailed off as the other voice (Asuka decided firmly that is was Kaji – who else would be talking to Misato about marriage at this hour?) replied, "Misato… I have to. Since she's… pregnant, I can't just leave her alone."

Asuka suppressed the gasp this time… barely. Kaji… a father! She could hardly fathom it.

Misato sighed, "I'm too tired to deal with this right now… I'm going to get a beer… drink it, get another… and another… and another… until I forget that this conversation took place. Tomorrow is my day off, so I'm going to do the same then." Her voice grew hard, "The day after that… we'll discuss this. Until then… until then, I think it would be best if you don't let me see you…"

"I understand," came the soft reply, "and I'm sorry."

"Yeah," Misato replied sullenly, "me too. Now goodnight."

Asuka waited several minutes after she heard the front door close before cautiously opening hers and peeking out. Both of her roommate's doors were closed… and both lights were on. –Wonder if Shinji heard too?- Asuka thought, -He's a light sleeper… but how he can sleep with the light on at all is still beyond me.-

She decided to ask him in the morning, though the thought of talking to the Third Child about the possible marriage of her beloved Kaji made her vaguely ill. "I'll just say, 'Hear anything strange last night?'" she whispered, closing her door and making her way back to her bed.

She smiled at her craftiness, already trying to figure a way to get Kaji to decide that marrying someone just for the sake of a child was a stupid idea… and that maybe he should consider dating someone younger this time.

"Someone younger… but wiser…" she whispered, slipping under her covers, "someone… who loves you…"

She smiled as she drifted off, already envisioning the day he confessed his love for her.

**

Misato looked over edge of her beer can (the third of the morning) as Asuka came in to the kitchen. "You look awfully happy," she observed after finishing the can, "have a good dream?" she really wasn't interested in hearing why Asuka was grinning like an idiot – she had other, more important things on her mind… like a certain someone she was likely to kill for his stubbornness.

Her lips pulled back from her teeth in an unconscious snarl as she opened her next beer.

"Mmm hmm…" Asuka hummed as she reached into the fridge for some juice, "a very, very good one, actually." She peered into the living room, "Hey, where's the envy of geeks everywhere?"

Misato slammed her beer down, making Asuka jump. "If you're talking about Shinji," she said tersely, "he left early."

Asuka blinked at the anger in her guardian's voice. –He must have heard them last night and asked Misato about it before I got up…- she reasoned, -bad timing…-

Misato stared at the table in silence for a minute, then said softly, "You should get to school."

"Yeah," the redhead replied, "I'm gone…"

She grabbed her bookbag and headed out the door without another word, determined to find out what the Third Child knew.

As she neared the school, she was flagged down by her friend, Hikari Horaki. "Asuka!" she called, "Wait up!"

The Second Child paused, tapping her foot impatiently. "What is it?" she demanded, "I've got to find my dufus coworker."

Hikari shook her head as she drew alongside her friend, "He's not going to be in class."

"Why not?" Asuka asked, baffled.

Hikari shrugged, "I don't know. He dropped by my house before I left and told me he wouldn't be there today. He said, 'I thought I should tell you, since you're Class Rep… and I was wondering if you could give this to Asuka for me.'" She held out a small, brown paper sack.

Asuka took it, opening it and peering inside. "It's… lunch." She said, confused.

Her friend scratched her chin thoughtfully. "I tried to find out what was happening… but he said he couldn't tell me," she offered apologetically, "but he did say he'd be back tomorrow. I thought it must be a NERV thing… but if you don't know about it…"

Asuka nodded, "I'll find out when I go home," she said firmly, "he won't keep secrets from me!" -Could he be going to talk to Kaji?- she thought as they continued walking, -No… they hardly talk – he wouldn't know, and he wouldn't have the nerve to ask Kaji about something he overheard in the middle of the night…-

As they entered the school, a thought began to form in Asuka's mind… a terrible, almost inconceivable thought.

"Are you ok, Asuka?" Hikari asked her, "You look pale."

"Hikari," the redhead replied, "weren't you telling me something last week about Tomoe being sick a lot lately?"

The brown-haired girl nodded, her brow drawing down in confusion. "Yeah? What about her?"

Asuka paused outside the door to the classroom, "I'll tell you in a minute…" she said, feeling rather ill as she thought of the quiet girl with the black eyes. –Please don't let me be right…-

**

Tomoe Yokohama looked up from her laptop as the blue-eyed girl walked up and stood in front of her desk, crossing her arms and staring at her with an odd expression.

"Is there something I can do for you… Asuka?" she asked politely, struggling only for a moment with the girl's name as she moved an errant strand of her long black hair out of her face.

"How far along are you?" the girl replied quietly.

Tomoe paled, "How did you know?" she whispered, looking around to see if anyone was watching them.

"Your father works for NERV, right?" the redhead pressed, "You visit him at work a lot… don't you?"

Tomoe dropped her eyes, "Y-yes," she stammered, "but he was just relocated…" she forced herself to meet the other girl's gaze. "What do you want? Why are you bothering me?" She knew her voice sounded desperate… frantic, but she didn't care. All she wanted was to be left alone.

She was not so lucky. The other girl put her hands on her desk and leaned forward, "I know who the father is…" she whispered.

Tomoe stood abruptly, "What do you want from me?" she whispered hoarsely, struggling not to let her fear show.

"Stay away from him," Asuka said flatly, "he's mine."

Tomoe's eyes widened. This was the last thing she had expected to hear, "Yours?" she whispered, wondering if this was a dream, "What kind of freak are you??" she exploded, pushing her way past the surprised redhead and running out the door, her tears nearly blinding her.

-How can anyone be so cruel?- she thought as she fled, -God… I just want to die…-

**

"Miss Souryu," the principal of the school stood looking out the window of his office, "would you care to tell me what you and Miss Yokohama talked about? Perhaps you can help me understand why she left school in such a hurry."

Asuka stared at the man's back, feeling more confused than ever. The tone of his voice was almost… cautious, as if he was trying to find out how much she knew without giving away what he knew.

"I told her to stay away from my boyfriend," Asuka replied, deciding to go for a slightly modified version of the truth, "she freaked out and ran off."

Toyo Harada was fairly new to being a principal (at five years, he was considered a veritable rookie) but he knew children. Also, he knew more of Tomoe Yokohama's situation than anyone else in the school – save one boy – he knew that there was more here than met the eye.

"Indeed…" Toyo said softly, "a simple clash over a man, eh?"

"That's right," Asuka replied airily, "not my fault she can't take rejection."

Toyo sighed, "Miss Souryu…" he began, turning from the window to regard her, "Miss Yokohama is a very strong young woman,"

-Could have fooled me,- Asuka thought angrily, remembering how the girl had run off in tears.

Her first impression of the girl was torn to shreds as Toyo went on. "She also happens to be fourth in your class… a very talented girl with a bright future." He sat down at his desk, leaning back in the chair, "But some recent events have applied pressure on her otherwise quiet life… and it is my duty to make sure that she is cared for and not harmed. Am I making myself clear?"

Asuka didn't like the underlying tone of threat in the man's words. "Not even a bit," she retorted, "I know all about her 'condition," she spoke the word almost contemptuously, "and she brought it on herself."

"I doubt you do, Miss Souryu," he said seriously, "or you would not be so cold – or rather, if you did know about her situation, and you were still this cruel… I would recommend to your guardian that she get you some therapy."

Asuka flushed, "Look," she said hotly, standing and placing her hands on the man's desk, "it's not my fault she went and got knocked up. I don't see why I have to treat her-"

"Miss Yokohama was raped, Miss Souryu…" Toyo said flatly, cutting her off, "she didn't choose for that to happen, I can guarantee you that."

Asuka's mouth gaped open, and she sat back in her chair, all of her strength gone. –Raped… oh Kaji, how could you?- she thought. –No!- her mind screamed, -There must be another explanation… Kaji would never –could never do that! EVER!-

"This is private information, Miss Souryu," Toyo said quietly, "I'm not sure what you think you know, but I would advise you – strongly – to make sure of your facts before you say the wrong thing again." He cleared his throat, "Since you are an Evangelion pilot, I know that I can count on you to keep this information confidential… correct?"

Asuka nodded dumbly, still trying to work things out in her mind. –Maybe he was talking about another girl…- she thought, a trace of hope seeping in to her otherwise confused and saddened mind, -I'll bet that's it. Damnit, Shinji! Where are you when I actually need to talk to you!-

"You are excused for the next three days, Miss Souryu," Toyo said, his voice promising that he would not brook any kind of argument, "I suggest you take that time to think of a way to properly apologize to Miss Yokohama."

"Yes sir," Asuka said softly, thinking that that was a task that might be easier said than done. She rose and bowed, reminding herself that this situation was actually her fault (at least partially), and that yelling at the principal was probably not a good idea at that point. –Three days…- she thought, -well… it'll look bad on my record, but it should give me enough time to find out what the hell is going on…-

Toyo watched the girl walk out the door, wondering what was going through her mind. –She knew Tomoe was pregnant…- he thought as the door swung shut, -but I don't think she knew by whom.- He sighed and put his head in his hands, -Nor should she… it's bad enough that the girl was forced… and the way NERV is handling it…- he shivered, pushing the thought from his mind.

Though he believed that people should be punished for their transgressions, he also believed that the punishment should fit the crime… and he felt that this punishment was a step too far.

Of course… he wasn't a girl.

Had Asuka known the details of the attack, and the punishment, she would have said that the attacker got off easy.

**

Misato awoke slowly, sitting up in her bed and staring out the window at the city lights with eyes that would not focus.

She shook her head to clear it. "Wonder if Shinji's home yet," she whispered, "probably not…" she cradled her head in her hands, remembering the calls she had made that afternoon before passing out… wondering if she had done the right thing.

There was a soft knock at her door, "Misato… can I talk to you a minute?"

The purple-haired woman sighed. –She must have found out somehow,- she thought, -Asuka's never that quiet.- "Yeah," she said, "come in…"

The redhead opened the door and peeked in. "You look like shit," she commented quietly.

"Thanks," Misato replied dryly, sighing and sitting up, "what do you need, Asuka?"

Asuka fidgeted for a moment before asking softly, "Is Kaji in trouble?"

Misato stared at her blankly, "Kaji?" she repeated, "What do you-"

"Misato?" Shinji's voice came from the front of the house, "I'm home… and I… she's here."

Asuka frowned in confusion as Misato's whole body tensed. "Can this wait?" the older woman asked, getting to her feet, "And can you come to the kitchen? You should be here for this…"

"Ummm… ok…" Asuka replied, waiting as Misato passed her, then falling in step behind her. –What is going on…- she thought, more confused than ever. Things started to fall in place as she stepped into the kitchen and found Shinji standing hand in hand with, "Tomoe?"

At the sound of her name (and the voice of her tormenter from that afternoon) Tomoe flinched, instinctively drawing closer to Shinji. "What is she doing here?" she asked, her voice shaking. –I don't think I can take this…- her mind whispered, -it's too much…-

From the corner of his eye, Shinji noticed his companion starting to sag. "Tomoe!" he gasped, turning to catch her as she fainted… stumbling a bit at her unexpected weight.

Misato stepped closer to them, helping Shinji before he fell. "Let's put her on the couch," she said, her voice surprisingly gentle.

Shinji nodded and they headed that way, with Asuka bringing up the rear. –I don't get it…- the redhead thought, -Mister Harada said… damnit, someone better tell me what's happening!-

Misato laid the girl down on the couch carefully, and Shinji knelt at her side, fanning her with a magazine.

"Ok," Asuka said firmly, looking from one roommate to the other, "talk."

Shinji flushed and stared at the floor as Misato said disapprovingly, "Shinji and Tomoe are… together."

"Like… dating?" Asuka asked, trying to make the pieces all fit.

"No…" Misato corrected, folding her arms over her breasts, "like engaged."

Asuka sat down hard on the chair next to the couch. "Engaged??" she gasped, "Why? How?"

"Tomoe's… pregnant," Shinji said guiltily, "it's mine."

-No,- Asuka thought immediately, -no way. Harada said she was raped… and there is no way that you can convince me that you did that – not with the way she was holding your hand.- She looked at Misato, who was frowning at Shinji. –Something doesn't add up…-

Tomoe moaned and stirred on the couch, opening her eyes slowly. Seeing Shinji, she smiled, reaching for his hand. She tensed as she realized that Asuka was still in the room, her eyes traveling from Shinji's to Asuka's to Misato's, begging silently for an explanation as to why the cruelest person she had ever met was sitting three feet away from her.

"Tomoe…" Asuka said quietly, bowing her head, "this afternoon was… a mistake. I'm sorry, I really didn't know…" she paused, looking from Misato to Shinji, "what I said I knew. Please accept my apology."

"What did you think?" Tomoe asked, her voice shaking, "What… you said," she instinctively sensed what Asuka was trying to avoid, and gladly assisted in hiding the nature of their conversation, "was very specific."

Asuka nodded, licking her lips as she chose her words very carefully. –If Shinji or Misato ever find out what I said to her…- her thought trailed off, -Shinji…- she thought, -it was Shinji last night – not Kaji. His voice was so low I couldn't make it out…- "I… thought it was someone else," she answered.

Tomoe nodded slowly, some of the tension leaving her.

"Are you really going to marry this dork?" Asuka inquired, changing the subject by jerking a thumb at Shinji (who made no reply… though he did flush slightly at the insult).

"Yes," the dark-haired girl responded immediately, "I'm… carrying his child, and I love him…"

Asuka frowned, -Two lies in seven seconds,- she thought, -something definitely stinks here.-

Tomoe could tell that Asuka wasn't convinced, but she pressed forward. "We've been going out secretly for several months… and a few weeks ago we went too far," she stared at the floor, ashamed at her dishonesty, "we… didn't have any protection with us, but we did it anyway. And now… I'm pregnant."

-Very well rehearsed,- Asuka thought suspiciously. Another thought struck her, and she looked up at Misato. "You approve of their marrying?" she asked, "You are his guardian after all…"

Misato flushed, "Well, I didn't…" she admitted, hesitantly, "but after giving it some thought, I realized that Shinji was right: this is the right thing to do… for Tomoe and for the baby."

-Thought so…- Asuka thought as the pieces began to click, -she's in on this too. No one here is going to give me the whole story…- "What about Commander Ikari?" she inquired, "Will he approve of der wunderkind being hitched?"

"He's aware of… everything," Misato said slowly, "and he has no objections, so long as Shinji still pilots…"

Shinji cleared his throat. "The wedding will be in three weeks… and it's going to be small." He forced himself to meet Asuka's eyes, "Asuka… could you please not tell anyone about this?"

"It's going to be kind of obvious when the class role-call changes to Tomoe Ikari, don't you think?" the redhead replied.

"He means until they're married," Misato interjected, "for now… they're just dating. Ok?"

Asuka nodded. "Yeah," she said, getting to her feet, "I won't say anything to anyone." –Not like I care anyway,- she thought, -I'm just glad Kaji is still free.- She frowned, -Kaji… I'll bet he knows what's going on. Misato trusts him.-

Tomoe rose to her feet, feeling relieved that the redhead had agreed so readily. "Sorry about fainting…" she said quietly to Shinji, "I was just… it's been a hard week." –I must have been really out of it,- she thought as Shinji patted her shoulder, reassuring her gently, -I knew Shinji had a roommate… and Suzuhara is always making jokes about 'the newlyweds'… I should have figured it out.-

"I'm going out," Asuka announced suddenly, "Shinji… Tomoe… I hope everything works out for you guys."

The engaged couple nodded, and Misato walked Asuka to the door. "Don't do anything stupid, Asuka…" the purple-haired woman said softly, leaning close so the others wouldn't hear, "just leave this alone, ok?"

Asuka shrugged, slipping her shoes on. "Like I said," she replied, "no big deal to me. If she wants to marry that goob, far be it from me to try and stop her." She frowned as it suddenly occurred to her that Shinji would most likely move out. –So what?- she thought angrily, -Good riddance!-

Misato watched as the Second Child's expression flickered from determined, to angry… to confused and sad. "Are you ok?" she asked softly.

Asuka shook herself. "Of course I am!" she said dismissively, "Why wouldn't I be?" Before Misato could reply, she stepped out the door, "I'll be back before dinner."

Misato sighed as the door closed, then headed back to the living room.

She had a wedding to plan.

**

Ryouji Kaji was a man with a lot on his mind. "Yeah," he said into the phone resting on his shoulder, "that's all the information I have right now… yes… alright, I understand…"

He returned the phone to its cradle with a sigh.

-Serving two masters certainly has it's… charm…- he thought wryly, -and this business with the girl…- his mouth turned down, -most unpleasant…-

"Kaaaaaaaaaaajiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii…."

A softly feminine voice interrupted his thoughts, accompanied by a pair of slender arms wrapping around his shoulders.

"Asuka…" he said, thankful that his computer monitor was off (there was no need for her to know what he knew about the Marduk Institute… it would only confuse her), "Nice of you to drop by."

Asuka giggled in spite of herself, thrilled by the genuine note of pleasure in his voice. "I'll stop by more often," she said into his ear, "if you want…"

Kaji sighed inwardly and gently slipped free of her encircling arms. "As lovely as that sounds," he said apologetically, "I don't think the NERV 'Office Cleanliness Acceptability Handbook' includes young ladies."

"There's a manual for that?" Asuka asked incredulously, letting him free himself… but remaining close to his side.

"My dear Second Child," he said dryly, "NERV has a handbook for everything." He turned his chair around (putting a little distance between them) and leaned back, "Now is there something I can do for you? I'm rather busy today…"

"Actually…" she replied, edging closer to him, "I did want to ask you a little something…"

The move did not go unnoticed.

Kaji sighed. While she was not the first young lady to fall for him, Asuka was certainly the most persistent. –Now if I could just get Misato to chase me like this…- he thought with a grin, -nah, that wouldn't be any fun….-

"I was wondering what you know about a girl named Tomoe…" she said, watching him closely.

He covered his shock very well. "Tomoe?" he repeated, forcing his smile to stay in place and trying to sound nonchalant.

"Yokohama," she offered, "she's in my class."

"Hmmm…" he said thoughtfully, "don't spend a lot of time at your school, Asuka… did she borrow some lipstick and not bring it back?" he dropped her a wink, "Want me to have security look into it for you?"

While it was true that he didn't spend much time there (he could count the times he had set foot on the school grounds on one hand) he did know who she was talking about. Not only because he had memorized the names of every one of her classmates, but also because he knew about her situation… though he would have given anything he had not to.

Asuka gave him a withering glare. "It's not about lipstick, Kaji…" she said tersely, "this is serious."

-More so than you know,- he thought. He stretched in his chair, opting for half of the truth. "Well, Asuka…" he began, lacing his hands behind his head, "I wish I could tell you something…"

"So you don't know anything about it?" she pressed.

-Didn't say that…- he thought, realizing she was not going to be dissuaded so easily.

He was saved by a knock on his door.

"Mister Kaji?" Maya Ibuki's voice reached them through the thin metal, sounding reluctant, "May I come in?"

"It's open," Kaji replied, noting Asuka's frustrated sigh with some relief. –Maybe she'll give this up…-

"I'm sorry to bother you," the young tech said, sounding incredibly hesitant, "but Semp- I mean, Doctor Akagi has been trying to call you for an hour… and since she couldn't get through…"

"Yeah," he said with a grin, "the ringer's off – I hate to be disturbed."

Maya nodded. "Well, she needs to speak with you… it's about the Yokoh-"

"Ok," Kaji said quickly, cutting her off and getting to his feet, "let's go. Can't keep the doctor waiting, eh?"

Asuka blinked. "Did you just say Yoko-"

"You're wearing Katsuragi's lavender perfume, aren't you?" Kaji inquired swiftly, "Did she say it was ok?" he grinned as Asuka started in surprise, -Weren't expecting that, were you?- he thought, putting a hand on her shoulder and guiding her gently – but firmly – towards the door.

"I… I bought some myself…" she stammered, trying to regain her mental balance, "But Kaji – I really need to know about To-"

"Tell Shinji and Misato I said hi," Kaji said quickly, cutting her off again, "I'm sure I'll see you again soon… lovely chatting with you."

Before Asuka could say another word, Kaji took Maya by the upper arm and hurried off down the hallway, ignoring the young woman's startled yelp as he all but dragged her away.

**

Coming out of NERV headquarters, Asuka felt more confused than when she had gone in.

-Kaji knows something…- she thought, -why won't he talk to me? He looked almost… scared.-

"Find what you were looking for?"

Asuka jumped as a voice from her right spoke up. Putting a hand over her heart, she gasped, "Tomoe! Don't do that!"

Tomoe smiled faintly. "The first two times we've spoken, I wasn't really prepared…" the dark-haired girl said, pushing away from the wall she had been leaning against, "thought I would return the favor."

Asuka's eyes narrowed. "Well, don't get your hopes up…" she muttered darkly, "What do you need?"

Tomoe approached the redhead slowly, then shocked her to the core by dropping her head and whispering, "Miss Souryu… you're the only girl besides Major Katsuragi that knows about… everything." Her voice dropped lower, and Asuka could tell the words she was speaking were not easy, "Would you please help me?"

"Help you?" the Second Child echoed, "I don't know anything about… about kids!"

"Not with that," Tomoe said quietly, her head still submissively low, "I mean… I don't have any bridesmaids… or a maid of honor… I don't have anyone to help me get ready…"

"You want me to… be your maid of honor??" Asuka blurted, completely stunned.

Tomoe thought about this for a moment, then nodded. "Well, I guess for lack of a better term… yeah." She smiled – a bit sickly, Asuka thought – and continued, "I can't do it alone… and Major Katsuragi said I can't tell anyone about this until the week of the wedding – and that's not enough time to get things ready. I need a dress, shoes, flowers – everything." She uttered a short laugh, "Shinji is a great guy… but can you really picture him helping with any of that?"

Asuka couldn't help but laugh too as she pictured Shinji in a flower shop, trying to decide if Gerber daisies would be preferable to day lilies.

"So…" Tomoe said quietly, "will you help me, Asuka?"

Asuka considered it for a moment. –No one else is going to…- she thought, trying to decide if she felt pressured… or excited.

Tomoe waited tensely as the other girl seemed to ponder the situation, and an awkward silence fell.

Asuka finally broke it by clenching her fist and saying, "Right!"

"Where are we going?" Tomoe inquired as the redhead turned and grabbed her arm, pulling her away from the NERV building – her stride decidedly determined.

Asuka turned to look over her shoulder. "What are you, stupid?" she said, exasperated, "Flower shop… shoe shop… gotta find a gown…"

"So… you'll do it?" Tomoe asked, her tone hopeful.

Asuka shrugged, "Might be fun… and besides – you won't find anyone with better taste than me, so it's probably for the best."

"Thank you…" the dark-haired girl said, her voice breaking.

"Don't get all mushy," Asuka said distractedly, already deciding which of the four malls in Tokyo-3 to head for, "you just caught me in a good mood."

"Ok…" Tomoe said happily. She smiled as the redhead dragged her off into the city, -Shinji,- she thought, -you were right…-

Had Asuka been able to read the other girl's thoughts, she would have been shocked to find that it had been Shinji's idea to talk to her.

'She's really nice when she wants to be,' Shinji had said to Tomoe, not two hours prior, 'just ask her… I… I think she'll say yes…'

Together, the two girls set out to gather the things Tomoe would need.

**

In the darkness of Gendou Ikari's office, Kouzou Fuyutsuki frowned at his former pupil.

"The… Yokohama situation has been addressed…" the older man said, distaste evident in his voice, "as you instructed."

Gendou's face remained impassive. "Very good," he replied.

"Ikari," Fuyutsuki began, leaning forward in his chair, "don't you think you were a bit… extreme in handling this?"

Gendou met his former teacher's eyes steadily. "No…" he said calmly, "and I'm surprised you do."

Fuyutsuki cleared his throat. "Well… rape is a serious matter," he began "but to have the man-"

"I will not have people like that in my organization," Gendou said coldly, cutting the other man off in mid-sentence, "it is unforgivable."

Fuyutsuki dropped his eyes, unable to match the Commander's intensity. "I just think a lesser punishment would have been… more appropriate – especially considering the man's… status and importance."

Gendou considered his friend for a moment before speaking. "I won't allow it, Kouzou," he said, his voice low and firm, "not only will this serve as judgement, it will also serve as an example to others. They will know that NERV does not allow such conduct – especially in those with higher ranking…"

Fuyutsuki nodded reluctantly. "I suppose you are right," he conceded, "but-"

"Was there anything else?" Gendou interjected.

Fuyutsuki sighed, knowing any further discussion on the matter would be pointless. "No, nothing else."

Gendou nodded, lacing his fingers together and letting the room go quiet.

After a moment, Fuyutsuki stood and bowed, then headed for the door.

The Commander's voice stopped him as he reached for the handle. "Before you judge me, my friend…" he said softly, "consider this: what if it was your child?"

The gray-haired man bowed his head. "There is a difference between a father's justice and the justice meted out by an organization such as ours, Ikari…"

"Indulge me," came the reply.

Fuyutsuki turned to face him, offering a halfhearted smile. "If it were my child," he began, "they never would have found the body."

Gendou nodded, satisfied with the response.

"But you can't tell me that you think of all the children of NERV employees as yours," the sub-commander insisted.

Gendou met his friend's eyes steadily for a moment before replying. "When it comes to forcing a child to perform those kinds of acts… I most certainly can. As I said before – some crimes are unforgivable."

Fuyutsuki bowed once more. "As you say, Commander…" he whispered.

Gendou leaned back in his chair and considered the Tree of Sephiroth on the ceiling as his second in command left the room.

**

"So," Asuka said, pausing to take a drink of her soda, "the gown and the shoes and we're all set, right?"

Tomoe nodded, staring in wonder at the array of bags collected on the floor by their table in the food court. "Yeah," she said, some of her amazement creeping into her tone, "I think we've got everything else… and then some…"

Asuka grinned. "Well," she said matter-of-factly, pleased by the other girl's wide eyes, "you needed some new clothes anyway."

The dark-haired girl looked from the bags to the other girl… and grinned just as widely. "Oh, I'm not complaining," she said with a wink, "I'm just surprised that NERV pays its pilots so well – and that you would spend so much… especially since more than half of it was on me."

Asuka flushed slightly and shrugged. "Well," she said absently, taking a bite of her lunch, "I can always use more clothes – and you obviously needed the fashion help."

"Uh-huh," Tomoe replied, eyeing the other girl over her drink, "though I did notice that you picked up the same shirt I was wearing yesterday…"

Asuka frowned. "Did I?" she asked, "I better take it back…"

Tomoe laughed. "Don't worry," she said, "I'll lend you the skirt that goes with it."

The redhead blinked, her eyes narrowing. "I don't need you to help me with-"

"Calm down," the other girl replied, waving her hand, "geez… I wasn't offering to come over and dress you."

"Whatever," Asuka mumbled, letting the conversation die.

Tomoe watched her eat for a moment. –She's so defensive…- she thought, picking at her own food, -I was like that… before…-

"What's wrong?" Asuka said through a mouthful of ramen, "Is it cold or something?"

"No," the other girl replied with a shrug, "I just… can't eat too much salty stuff – makes me throw up."

Asuka grimaced. "Can I ask you something?"

"Umm, sure."

The redhead leaned forward. "You don't want this baby… so why don't you abort it?"

Tomoe bowed her head. "I could… never do that…" she said softly, unprepared for (though not unsurprised by) the abrupt, straightforward question.

"Why?" Asuka asked flatly, "You know it's going to be hard. You're fourteen… single," she waved her hand, as Tomoe's mouth flew open to protest, "yeah, yeah, don't give me that 'Shinji will provide' crap – I don't buy it. You're no more in love with him than I am!"

Tomoe regarded her for a minute. "So you're saying… I am," she said quietly, folding her arms.

Asuka flushed. "Please!" she snapped, "Shinji's an immature, sniveling little weakling… I'm about as in love with him as I am with you – and trust me, Miss Yokohama, I don't go that way!"

Black met blue as each girl willed the other to admit that she was wrong, neither willing to back down.

Asuka finally spoke, never looking away. "The subject here isn't Shinji…" she said firmly, "it's you."

Tomoe sighed. "I could never…" she paused, making sure she had the other girl's full attention, "kill a child – let alone one of my own."

Asuka finally broke eye contact. "It's not like its aware yet…" she muttered, "you'd be doing it a favor…"

"Asuka…" the dark-haired girl whispered, "it's my child – mine. A little life, growing inside me… how could I kill that?"

"I know you were raped…" Asuka said softly, looking into the other girl's dark eyes once more, "I know it's not Shinji's…"

It was Tomoe's turn to look away. "It doesn't matter," she replied, "it's still my child – no matter how it came to be, it's still mine."

"Who's the father?" Asuka inquired.

"It's late," Tomoe said abruptly, pushing back from the table, "I should get back to-"

"It's not Kaji, is it?" Asuka pressed, praying that the girl would say no.

"Who?" Tomoe asked, confused. She shook her head, "I can't… can't tell you, Asuka… I just can't. Thank you for helping me today, but I have to go…"

"Tomoe!" Asuka called as the black-haired girl rose to leave, "I… I won't ask anymore. Come on… sit down and finish your lunch. We still have things to do." She waited tensely, ignoring the ringing cell phone in her purse. –If it's important, they'll keep trying,- she thought, just as it stopped.

Tomoe stared at the table for a moment, biting her lower lip, then nodded. "Ok…" she said, taking a deep, steadying breath and returning to her seat.

Asuka relaxed as the other girl resumed eating. –Why do I care?- she thought, suddenly becoming aware of how worried she had been that Tomoe might leave, -it's not like we're close, or anything… I don't even know anything about her.-

As they finished eating, Tomoe stood. "I'm sorry I can't talk about it," she said, unable to meet Asuka's eyes, "it's just… I can't right now… I'm sorry…"

The redhead waved a hand, dismissing the entire incident, "Whatever… no big deal. I was just curious is all…" –And besides,- she thought, -I'll find out somehow.-

Asuka nearly slapped her forehead as she realized that Shinji probably knew… after all, he was going to marry her.

Tomoe nodded, and together they gathered the bags and started off for the Bridal Boutique, a place Asuka insisted was the best bridal shop in Tokyo-3 (though she refused to say why she knew this…).

As they walked, their thoughts unknowingly mirrored one another's… as they both – for different reasons – thought about the father…

**

Shinji lay on his bed, one arm out to the side and the other resting on his forehead. "Three weeks…" he whispered to himself, "doesn't seem like that much, all of the sudden…"

"Shinji?" Misato's voice reached him from the other side of the door, "Can I come in?"

"Yeah…" he replied, "sure…"

The door slid open and the purple-haired woman walked slowly into the room and sat on the edge of his bed, saying nothing.

Shinji continued staring at the ceiling, his thoughts moving in odd slow motion. –I wonder if it will look like him…- he thought, -I wonder if she'll hate it if it does…-

"Shinji…" Misato began slowly, finally breaking the silence, "I'm… sorry that I came down on you so hard. I know you think this is the right thing to do – and for her, I think, you're right – but I'm supposed to protect you. I just… don't want to see you hurt…"

He looked at her in the dim light coming from the hall. Since it was late afternoon, he hadn't bothered to turn his light on yet, and the light seemed to soften her features a bit… taking away some of her usual hard edge. "She doesn't have anyone else, Misato…" he said softly, "I have to help her…"

She nodded. "I know how you feel…" she answered, "but I wish there was another way."

A sick smile appeared on his face as he replied, "Me too…" He sighed and swung his legs off the side of the bed, sitting up beside her, "I'm… scared, Misato…"

She bowed her head. "So am I, Shinji…" she whispered, "you're both so young… you shouldn't have to do this…"

He closed his eyes. "She shouldn't have to do this…" she said, his voice trembling, "compared to what she's had to go through, me being scared is nothing… nothing at all…"

"I guess you're right," she sighed, "especially when the father…" she trailed off.

"Yeah…" he said softly, thinking of how it had all started.

It had been a fluke that he had gotten involved at all.

Five days prior, he had been on cleanup duty with Kensuke Aida, one of his best friends. Kensuke had left early to go to a one-day exhibit of military craft, but Shinji hadn't minded.

'Don't worry about it,' he'd assured his friend, 'I've only got a few more things to do.'

'You sure?' Kensuke had replied, unable to hide his hopefulness, 'I mean… I can stay if you need me too…'

Shinji had waved him away, smiling softly at his friend's ill-concealed glee.

A half-hour after the bespectacled boy had departed, Shinji was just finishing up their classroom.

Carrying the last of the garbage to the incinerator, he had heard a quiet sound coming from one of the other rooms.

Curious, he had opened the door… and found Tomoe Yokohama at one of the desks with her head in her hands, crying softly.

'Miss Yokohama?' he'd said hesitantly, 'Are you ok?'

When she looked up, Shinji's heart had nearly broken. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her hair was in disarray.

'Ikari…' she'd said, 'I…'

He had fought the urge to run away, and instead had laid a hand on her shoulder. 'What's the matter?' he had asked, offering a hesitant smile.

Shinji still didn't know why she had broken down and told him what had happened… but her face had crumpled, and she had thrown her arms around his waist, crying into his shirt as she confessed the whole story.

He had listened with growing shock and horror as she told him that she had been raped… and four hours prior she had been informed that she was carrying the attacker's baby.

'Oh God!' she'd moaned, pulling away halfway through the story, 'I'm so sorry… I… I shouldn't be telling you this… please forgive me…'

He had stood irresolute for a full minute… before finally making the bravest decision of his life and replying, 'It's ok… tell me the rest…'

Her lip had trembled, and she had nodded, deciding against her better judgement that she had to tell someone what had happened – or else go insane…

"How could anyone do something like that, Misato?" Shinji asked his guardian as she stood to leave, "To… hurt someone that badly…"

"I… I don't know…" she replied, still struggling with her own concepts of love and comfort, "but… he's been punished for it…"

Shinji looked ill. "I know…" he said quietly, "Doctor Akagi told me."

Misato nodded. "I guess I should have known she would," she said, her tone a touch sad, "did she… tell you everything?"

"Yes…" Shinji said quietly, staring at the floor, "she said I had the right to know it all…"

"She was wrong…" Misato whispered, putting a hand on his shoulder, "you've got enough to think about." She put her other hand on his other shoulder, forcing his eyes to meet hers, "Tomoe can never know what happened to him… you understand that, don't you Shinji?"

He looked away. "If she finds out," he said softly, "it won't be from me. I don't even want to think about it… I sure won't talk about it – least of all to her…"

Misato nodded, then pulled him into a tight hug, surprising them both. "I'm proud of you," she said fiercely.

Before he could reply, or return the embrace, she released him and quickly strode from his room.

**

"Done yet?" Asuka asked, leaning back to rest her head against the smooth tile of the bathroom.

"Yeah…" came the weak reply.

Asuka heard the toilet flush, and the black-haired girl came out of the stall, looking pale.

"Here," the redhead said, "thought you could use this…"

Tomoe nodded thankfully and took the handful of paper towels from the other girl, "Thanks…" she said softly, wiping her mouth distastefully. –At least I got the gown before I started getting sick,- she thought, -that would have been bad…-

"Just eight more months, right?" Asuka said with a wink.

Tomoe grimaced. "Nine more, actually…" she said, "a full-term pregnancy is actually ten months altogether… and if I have morning sickness the whole time," she added darkly, "I might just have to kill myself."

"Why is it called morning sickness?" Asuka asked suddenly, "It's like, five in the afternoon."

"Usually hits in the morning," Tomoe said with a shrug, going to the sink to wash her hands and rinse out her mouth, "not everyone gets it, either… I'm just lucky I guess…"

"Yeah, lucky," Asuka said, folding her arms, "and lucky you – you get to put on a whole bunch of weight and squeeze a big fat baby out of your-"

"Thanks for your support…" Tomoe said blandly, "because this really wasn't hard enough yet, I'm glad you're here to remind me of all the bad parts."

"There are good parts?" Asuka asked seriously.

"Well, the doctors tell me my hair and nails will get really strong…" the other girl offered.

"Woo hoo…" Asuka replied, twirling a finger in the air, "that sure makes up for everything…"

"I also get to hold my child…" Tomoe said quietly, "a brand new life that I helped make…"

Asuka pondered this as Tomoe dried her hands, finally deciding that a change in topic was in order. "What are you going to name it?" she asked.

"Ruriko, if it's a girl," Tomoe replied almost immediately, "it's the name of my best friend. She moved away after the fourth angel attack."

"And I presume you'll name it after your father if it's a boy, right?" Asuka inquired. This was a fairly common practice, and she assumed that Tomoe was a traditionalist.

The black-haired girl's hands trembled slightly as she turned off the water, and she forced her voice to remain level. "No… he's gone – transferred to the Second Branch in the United States, three weeks ago…"

"Sorry…" Asuka said, quickly pushing forward, "so what will you name it? Not Shinji, I hope…"

Tomoe turned to her and grinned. "You could do a lot worse than Shinji Ikari…"

Asuka frowned, choosing to ignore the double meaning in the words. "One is enough…" she mumbled, picking the bags up from where she had laid them down when Tomoe had run into the stall.

"Indeed…" Tomoe agreed. She watched the redhead gather their parcels… wondering idly why the girl had never made any advances towards the shy, handsome young man who was going to marry her.

-She likes him…- she thought as Asuka began walking towards the door, -she hides it well, but she definitely does like him…-

"That it?" Asuka said as they left the mall bathroom, "I think we've got everything taken care of."

"There is one more thing," Tomoe said softly, waiting until the redhead turned before bowing deeply, "Thank you…" she whispered, "I couldn't have done this alone…"

"Stop that!" Asuka muttered, looking around at the people passing them by, "You're making a scene. It's not a big deal, now come on!"

Tomoe straightened. "If you say so… but somehow, I'll find a way to make it up to you…"

"Sure…" Asuka mumbled, "whatever…"

They left the mall and boarded one of Tokyo-3's many trains, bound for the outskirts of town.

When they arrived, Asuka was surprised to find that Tomoe lived in a rather nice four-bedroom house. "Does anyone live here with you?" she asked as they climbed the stairs to the front door.

"Nope." Tomoe replied, fishing for her keys in her small purse, "It was just me and… and my father. But since he's gone, it's just me."

"How do you manage?" Asuka wondered, "Do you work, or something? This place can't be cheap… and keeping up two houses would be really expensive, I think."

"Father is a very important person," Tomoe answered, her voice holding a trace of bitterness, "he's well paid… I have an expense account – nothing fancy, but enough to pay the house payment and buy clothes and food and stuff…"

"What about your mother?" Asuka asked as they entered the house, "Are they divorced?"

"She died when I was very young," Tomoe answered, her voice soft, "all I have left is a few pictures and a necklace that she left me."

"Sorry…" Asuka said softly as she set the bags down. –Sounds like me…- she thought, -but at least I got to know my mother before… before…- she shook her head, ruthlessly forcing down that dark memory before it could surface fully.

"It's ok," Tomoe assured her, "I'm used to it now. I hardly remember her, so it's hard to miss her…"

Asuka knew she was lying, but said nothing. "Well," she said with a shrug, "guess I'll get going. Good luck."

"Thanks again," Tomoe said, bowing once more, "I really appreciate it."

"Stop thanking me or I'll slap you," Asuka said, exasperated, "I said it was no big deal."

Tomoe smiled. "I know," she said, "I just like seeing you get all flustered."

Asuka blinked, then wrinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue.

Tomoe laughed. "Maybe I'll see you around some time?" she said, opening the door for the redhead.

"Don't see how we can avoid it," Asuka said with a shrug, "you're marrying my coworker."

"Too bad…" Tomoe said, smiling, "that means you'll be forced to see me all the time."

Asuka looked away, hiding her smile. "That would be too bad…" she mumbled, "and besides – I am your maid of honor. I'll have to help with the preparations, so I'll see you then, at least…"

"Well, there is that…" Tomoe said with a laugh. Her smile fell away, and she leaned against the door, "Don't wait until then, ok?"

The redhead considered this request only for a moment. "Ok," she said with a nod, "maybe I'll drop by later this week… I got suspension for making you cry, so I'm basically off until next Monday."

Tomoe averted her eyes. "I'm usually not that… easy," she said quietly, "it was just… I get mood swings now."

Asuka shrugged. The entire incident had been her fault… but that was not something she was likely to admit out loud. She liked Tomoe – she wouldn't deny that – but to admit wrongdoing… that was another story entirely.

"Well," Tomoe said, "baby's hungry… so I'm going to make dinner."

Asuka nodded. "I'll stick around, if you want me too," she offered.

"Thanks," Tomoe said, "but you told Major Katsuragi you would be back before dinner… and I'd hate to see you get in more trouble. She doesn't seem like she's in the mood…"

Asuka grimaced. "Good point. Ok, well, I'll see you in a couple days then…"

"Ok," Tomoe said, "hey, I know! Come over on Friday – remember the bridal shop said the gown would be delivered then? I want to make sure it looks right."

"Deal," Asuka replied, "take it easy."

Tomoe nodded and shut the door as the redhead walked down the stairs.

-Who would have guessed…?- both girls thought at the same time.

**

Halfway back home, Asuka remembered that her phone had rung.

"Maybe it's Kaji," she said hopefully to the empty train, "calling to spill his guts."

She quickly dialed the number to retrieve her messages, smiling as she heard that it was in fact the pony-tailed man.

"Asuka," the recorded Kaji said, his voice hesitant, "what you were asking me about your friend Tomoe… drop it."

Asuka blinked in surprise as Kaji went on, sounding urgent.

"This is bigger than you think it is, Asuka…" he said "there are some dogs that should be allowed to sleep… don't wake this one."

"What is he talking about?" she whispered as he concluded.

"I don't mean to scare you…" the message went on soothingly, "I just don't think you'll like what you find if you keep digging. Tell you what – I'll take you out for dinner, any place you like, and we can talk about anything you'd like to talk about… besides this. I've got to go now, Asuka. Remember what I said."

With a soft click, the message ended.

-Why can't the man just use plain Japanese?- she thought, turning the cell phone off and pocketing it, -'Some dogs should be allowed to sleep'? How about just telling me what I want to know?-

"Mister Kaji is right," a quiet voice behind her said.

Asuka nearly jumped out of her seat. "Wondergirl!" she gasped, turning to find Rei Ayanami sitting behind her, an open book in her hands, "Don't do that!" –That's twice in one day…- she thought, -I'm slipping…-

Rei turned the page, not looking up as she whispered, "I would recommend taking his advice."

"What do you know about it?" Asuka snipped, angry that the girl had managed to sneak up on her. –The train was empty,- she thought, -how the hell did she slip in without me seeing her?-

She concluded that she must have been so wrapped up in her thoughts that she hadn't noticed the quiet girl move up from one of the other cars.

"I am fully aware of Miss Yokohama's situation," Rei said coolly, "but I am not at liberty to reveal the identity of the father."

"Wait," Asuka said, confused, "why do you know?"

Rei spared the other girl a brief, bland glance before turning the next page. "When you do not speak all the time," she said softly, "you are better equipped to hear more…"

Asuka bristled, turning away from the red-eyed girl and folding her arms. "I don't buy that," she muttered, "if it's as bad as Kaji says, they wouldn't just talk about it in front of you – NERV does have some security. And where do you get off listening to my conversations!" She waited in angry silence for over a minute, but the blue-haired girl didn't reply.

Enraged, the redhead turned to yell at the girl, only to find the seat behind her empty.

Asuka scanned the car, and then stood and walked to the back, looking into the next car as well.

"Where the hell did she go?" she muttered, as she found no trace of the First Child.

Concluding that the other girl must have moved all the way to the last car, she shrugged and walked back to her seat.

She came up short as she found Rei's book lying open on the seat the girl had occupied.

Craning her neck, the Second Child read the passage that had been highlighted.

"Human beings will always seek one another out," she read aloud, "regardless of how much the individual sees him or herself as a 'loner', he or she will always feel compelled to seek out other humans for companionship. No one can safely live without at least some form of human interaction. It's just the way we are."

"Whatever," Asuka mumbled, flipping the book closed.

She gasped and stepped back as she spied the title on the cover: A Brief Analysis of my Time as a Human, by Kyoko Zeppelin Souryu.

**

Friday afternoon found Tomoe walking home from school alone.

This was not unusual, as she always walked alone… what was unusual was the broad smile that she wore as she went up the stairs to her house two at a time.

"Right on time," she said to herself as she dropped her book bag.

The bridal shop had said that her gown would arrive promptly at four o'clock, and sure enough, the delivery truck pulled up as the last chime of the living room clock faded away.

A deliveryman came up the walkway, carrying a garment bag and a clipboard.

"Tomoe Yokohama?" he inquired. When Tomoe nodded, he offered her the clipboard, "Sign here, please."

Tomoe signed and he handed over the bag, grinning at the girl's barely contained glee. –She's happy enough,- he thought as she thanked him profusely.

The deliveryman tipped his hat and smiled, then turned and walked back to his truck to finish his rounds.

Tomoe took the bag into the living room and hung it over the door, unable to suppress a smile as she opened it to expose the garment.

-Well, it's not how I pictured myself getting married,- she thought, -but I must admit, it's not as bad as I thought…-

She smiled as she ran a hand over the gown. "Ikari…" she said softly, "how did I get so lucky?"

She sighed, idly touching her stomach.

"You're lucky too," she whispered, "he's a good man. He'll take care of us… because… because…" her brow furrowed as a cramp twisted her midsection.

"Ow…" she breathed, "what was.-AHHHHHH!!!!!!"

She doubled over as another cramp followed the first.

"What's… happening…?" she gasped, pressing her hands against her waist.

She glanced down and her eyes widened.

A dark patch of red was visible on the front of her jeans… spreading like an incoming tide…

**

Asuka walked up the stairs slowly.

-It is a big place,- she thought again, -must get lonely…-

Tomoe had dropped by to talk to Shinji the day before, and she and Asuka had talked for a few minutes… mostly just about idle things, but it had been pleasant – especially for Asuka, who had been grounded by Misato until Friday for her behavior at school.

She had tried to protest – especially since she desperately wanted to find and throttle a certain blue-haired EVA pilot for her cruel joke (that's how she saw it – why else would the girl leave a copy of her mother's book, highlighted with a passage that obviously targeted her), but Misato had been adamant.

'This will give you a great chance to catch up on your kanji studies,' the purple-haired woman had said with a smirk, 'maybe on the next test you can pull better than a B.'

"Always with the stupid kanji," she muttered angrily, "I finished college… it's not my fault this backwards country insists on using little squiggly lines instead of real letters…"

She paused at the threshold, pushing thoughts of school out of her mind and wondering if she should wait a while before knocking.

"I am an hour early…" she whispered, "she probably doesn't want me barging in on-"

A scream from inside sliced through her thoughts.

"Tomoe?" she gasped, "Tomoe!"

She tried the door. Finding it locked, she threw her weight against it, hoping it would give way – but it was too well built.

Closing her eyes, she braced herself against the pain she knew would come… and rammed her fist through the window in the middle of the door.

Her sharp gasp of pain echoed Tomoe's full-throated scream as several shards of glass lacerated her hand and arm.

"Hang on…" she gasped, feeling around for the lock.

Finally succeeding in opening the lock, she threw the door open.

"TOMOE!!" she screamed.

The black-haired girl was on the floor in the hallway, curled into a ball with her arms folded over her abdomen.

Her pants were a deep crimson from the pelvis to mid-thigh.

Asuka ran to her side, dropping to her knees. "What's wrong?" she asked, pulling out her cell phone, "What's going on, Tomoe??"

"Hurts…" the other girl sobbed, "God, Asuka… it-AHHH!!!"

The redhead quickly dialed the operator, putting a hand on Tomoe's shoulder as the line began to ring. "Hang on…" she whispered, squeezing gently, "I'll get you help…"

Tomoe nodded, shuddering and biting her lip to stifle another scream. "The baby…" she whispered raggedly, "hurry… they have… to hurry…"

Asuka quickly gave directions to the emergency operator, explaining all that she knew about Tomoe's current condition. She hung up after getting the woman's assurance that they would be there in just a few minutes (as luck would have it, Tomoe lived not three miles from a hospital).

Tomoe screamed again as another pain seized her. "Asuka…" she gasped, "promise me… promise that you'll be good to Shinji…"--

"I…" Asuka felt a wave of fear wash over her, -She's going to die…- she thought. "You know I will," she said firmly, praying that the ambulance would hurry up.

"I know… you love him…" Tomoe panted, "please tell him… please… he deserves to be happy…"

"I don't l-"

"Ahhhhh!!!" Asuka's protest was cut off as Tomoe's body arched up off the floor, her back curving almost into a C.

"Don't die…" the redhead said desperately, "you can't die, I won't let you!"

Any further conversation was cut short as the ambulance arrived. "Please step back, miss…" one of the paramedics said gently, "we'll take care of her."

"Tomoe…" Asuka moaned, moving away to allow the paramedics to help.

She stayed by the other girl's side as they worked on her, trying to get her blood pressure stable.

She rode in the ambulance to the hospital, holding Tomoe's hand the entire time as one of the paramedics bandaged her own cuts.

And she followed her gurney all the way to the doors leading to the operating room… where she was finally forced to let go…

**

"Miss Souryu,"

Asuka looked up and rubbed her eyes as a doctor approached her, Shinji, and Misato in the waiting room. "Yes?" she said, trying to stay hopeful.

Shinji and Misato had gotten to the hospital five minutes after her… and she did not think she had ever seen Shinji so panicked.

It had taken ten minutes and a doctor-prescribed sedative to calm him.

The doctor eyed her closely. "Miss Yokohama is very lucky to have you as a friend, Miss Souryu…"

"She's alive!!?" Asuka gasped, barely able to believe it.

"She is indeed," the doctor said with a smile, "only thanks to you. Another few minutes, and she would have bled to death."

"What about the baby?" Shinji asked, "Is the baby ok?"

The doctor paused. "I've been informed of the… situation," he began slowly, "and as you are going to be her husband, you have the same rights as the father would." He looked Shinji directly in the eyes, putting one hand on his shoulder, "I'm afraid she lost the baby… I'm sorry. We did everything that we could, but we just… couldn't save it…"

Shinji seemed to collapse in on himself. "I see…" he whispered, "thank you…"

The doctor nodded. "Miss Yokohama needs to rest for the remainder of the day," he said, "but she should be well enough to take visitors first thing in the morning." He sighed, "I would recommend going home and getting some sleep, but oddly, no one ever takes me up on that suggestion." He turned away from the trio, "I'll have some blankets and pillows brought down for you…"

"Thank you, Doctor," Misato said quietly, "thank you for trying…"

The doctor tried to smile… but found that he could not.

Asuka watched as he walked off down the hall, his head bowed as if in defeat. She turned to Shinji, considering Tomoe's request… and Shinji's promise to protect the child.

"Hey," she said softly, "Misato, can you… give us a minute?"

The purple-haired woman looked confused… but seeing the pleading look on Asuka's face, she nodded. "I'll… get us some coffee…"

"What?" Shinji asked, his voice hollow, "What is it, Asuka…"

She considered her response for a minute, trying to decide what exactly she wanted to say.

Finally, she gave up.

Shinji's eyes widened as Asuka stepped closer to him… and gently pulled him into her arms.

Asuka felt his body tremble for a moment, and she wondered if he would try to break away… then he collapsed against her, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her shoulder.

She closed her eyes as he began to sob, gently stroking his back with her un-bandaged hand. –I don't love him…- she thought, -this is just a one-time thing… just because of what happened…-

Her thoughts turned to Tomoe… and the far-off, happy light that lit her eyes when she talked about holding her baby.

"Asuka…" Shinji whispered against her neck, his voice hitching as he struggled to get a hold of himself, "you… you wanted to know about the father…"

Asuka closed her eyes as Shinji told her about the father of Tomoe's baby… and what had become of the man. She held him tighter as he finished up and started crying again, unable to hold the pain in any longer.

Shinji's tears were loud and unabashed…Asuka's fell silently and unacknowledged…

**

Tomoe opened her eyes slowly and looked around the room.

Shinji was asleep in a chair in the corner, dark circles evident under his eyes. Misato's red jacket was hanging on the coat rack, though the purple-haired woman was nowhere to be seen.

And Asuka was at her side, waiting until their eyes met before nodding slowly. "You scared the shit out of me…" she said softly, reaching out to take her hand.

"Didn't… do much for me…" Tomoe whispered. She closed her eyes, tears slipping down her cheeks as she asked, "I lost it… didn't I?" She shook her head as Asuka drew a breath to reply, "Don't bother…" she said quietly, "I can… feel that it's gone…"

Asuka squeezed her hand, but said nothing.

Tomoe closed her eyes. "I never wanted to get pregnant…" she said softly, "ever since I found out how babies were made, the very idea seemed disgusting to me," she trembled slightly, "but when it was there, Asuka… I knew… I knew I would never have to be alone again…"

"I…" Asuka didn't know what to say.

The black-haired girl wiped her eyes. "When I get older," she said quietly, "I'm going to find someone that wants to have children…" She met Asuka's eyes, "Not just so I don't have to be alone, but because I think that's why I'm here…"

The redhead averted her eyes. "That's just bullshit…" she whispered, "you're not here just to have babies – you're smart and funny and… what?"

Tomoe was smiling. "Thank you…" she said quietly.

Asuka shrugged. "Yeah… sure," she said absently, a light blush on her cheeks. "I think Shinji is the kind of guy who'll have kids…" she said, eyeing the sleeping Third Child, "he's kind of a sap that way…"

Tomoe laughed… then sighed. "I hope he does," she said softly, "and I hope the mother of those children realizes how special their father is…"

"Not going to marry him now, are you?" Asuka asked quietly.

"No," Tomoe said after a moment, "but not for the reasons you think."

"What does that mean?" Asuka inquired, confused.

Tomoe smiled. "You think I would only marry him so I'd have a father for my baby," she said, "and that was true… at first."

"What are you talking about?" Asuka pressed, feeling inexplicably angry.

Tomoe sighed. "The more I got to know him," she began, "the more I found how much I liked him. He's smart, kind, thoughtful… really cute…"

Asuka stared at her, openmouthed. "You… you love him…" she gasped.

"Yes…" Tomoe said softly, "what's not to love?"

"Well," Asuka said, flustered, "he never locks the door, he stays up late when he knows we have a test the next day, he leaves his shoes in the middle of the floor, he never puts the toilet seat down, he… what? What are you smiling about?"

"Who else knows those things about him?" the dark-haired girl asked.

Asuka flushed. "Just what are you-"

"Asuka, look…" Tomoe said, cutting the other girl off, "I said I loved Shinji… and I do…" she shook her head, "but I'm not stupid – I know that he doesn't love me. Oh, I know he would keep his word and marry me – because he said he would, if for no other reason – and he might even grow to love me, given some time." She smiled, squeezing Asuka's hand, "But I have this sneaking suspicion that he loves someone else…"

"Who?" Asuka said, blinking at the anger in her voice. –What the hell is that about?- she thought.

"Don't play coy," Tomoe said disapprovingly, "it doesn't suit you."

"Don't make me laugh," Asuka said, "there's nothing between me and him… and there never will be."

Tomoe met her eyes steadily. "Why?"

"Well, because… because…" Asuka fumbled for the right words. "He's an idiot," she said finally, "a whiny little coward who's never done anything for himself and relies on others for everything." Her words came out faster as she talked, nearly running into one another, "All he knows is school and EVA – he's never had a real relationship, and I could never love him the way he deserves to be-" her tirade broke off abruptly as Tomoe's eyes widened.

Silence descended as the girl's eyes locked.

Finally Asuka looked away. Tomoe took the opportunity to squeeze her hand gently and whisper, "Maybe you could try…"

The redhead opened her mouth to retort that that would never happen… but no words came out.

"You're awake!" Shinji's voice made them both jump.

Asuka stood abruptly. "I'm sure you two have some things to work out," she said coolly, "I'll go see what's taking Misato so long… probably got lost between here and the cafeteria."

"Asuka…" Tomoe said quietly as the redhead reached the door, "think about it… at least do that much…"

Asuka closed her eyes for a moment. "Maybe…" she said softly.

Without another word, she opened the door and walked out.

**

One week later, Asuka, Shinji, and Tomoe stood in the Tokyo-3 train station waiting for the departure of the nine-fifty-six to New Osaka.

"I wish you didn't have to go," Shinji said for the fourth time, staring at the ground.

"My aunt is really nice," Tomoe said soothingly, "I'll be ok there."

That she would leave, no one questioned. Since Shinji had finally broken down and told her the truth about her father, and she no longer had an impending marriage to keep her there… she felt as if Tokyo-3 was no longer home. Living somewhere else, she would be better equipped to forget all that had happened in the last month.

Or at the very least, ease the pain of the memories by distancing herself from the place of their origin.

"But you've only been out a few days," Shinji protested, "why not stay until the end of the semester at least?"

Tomoe smiled. "I've read that if you're going to make a new start, you should do it right away," she said, "why put it off if you know it's what you want… right, Asuka?"

Shinji blinked as the girls' eyes met – feeling suddenly as if he was standing under a power-line, or some large, impossible to understand machine that might destroy him should he say the wrong thing.

He decided to stay quiet.

Asuka folded her arms. "You read too much," she said absently, "if you're not sure what you want, why jump in?"

"Sometimes you have to take a risk," the dark-haired girl retorted, "or else how will you know if-"

"Isn't that your train they're calling?" Asuka cut her off.

"She's right…" Shinji said sadly, "looks like this is it…"

Together, they walked to the boarding platform, Shinji carrying her single suitcase as they went.

Tomoe smiled. "Thank you, Shinji…" she said sincerely as he handed the case to the porter, "for everything…"

Asuka looked away as the dark-haired girl leaned forward and kissed Shinji briefly on the lips.

He flushed, stammering, "S-sure…"

The two girl's eyes met, and Tomoe inclined her head slightly. After a moment, a faint smile appeared on Asuka's lips and she returned the nod.

Shinji looked from one to the other, again wondering what he was missing.

"Well, I guess I should get going…" Tomoe said abruptly.

"Goodbye," Asuka said, "I'll think about that business we discussed."

Tomoe nodded once more and turned away. "I hope you do…" she said softly.

Shinji and Asuka watched as she boarded the train, pausing at the door to wave before ducking inside.

In silence they watched as the conductor called, 'All aboard!'

"She said she'd come back to visit…" Asuka pointed out gently.

"She didn't mean it," Shinji replied, his eyes following the train as it began to move away, "you know she didn't."

"Yeah…" the redhead conceded, "I know…"

Shinji frowned. "You know something funny?" he asked quietly, "When she was in the hospital… and they thought she wouldn't make it… I kept thinking of her father."

"Her father?" Asuka asked, blinking in confusion.

"Her father," he reiterated. "I just kept thinking, 'What happened to him to make him do this to her?' and, 'If she dies… will she see him again?'" he bowed his head, "Funny, huh?"

She considered this for a moment, studying his profile in the fading afternoon light. "You're too nice," she said quietly… but there was no anger or contempt in her voice, only thoughtfulness.

"I guess so…" he replied, "I just wish there was a way I could make it so none of this ever happened. I mean, I'm glad I got to know her… but I wish it could have been another way…" –Done is done, I suppose…- he thought sadly.

"You hungry?" she asked after a moment of silence.

He looked at her questioningly, but she was staring at the sunset, her face unreadable. "Yeah," he said, thrusting his hands into his pockets… secretly thankful for the change in topic, "I am."

She nodded to herself. "Let's get some dinner… ok? My treat."

He blinked in surprise at her gentle tone, then smiled slowly. "I'd… like that," he said softly.

Together, they turned and walked away from the train station.

The End

Deleted Scenes

Like a good movie, a story often has scenes that don't work, or can't be fit in. Here are a few for your perusal

Exploration of Gendou's motivation in ordering Yokohama's death:

Gendou met his friend's eyes steadily for a moment before replying. "When it comes to forcing a child to perform those kinds of acts… I most certainly can. As I said before – some crimes are unforgivable."

Fuyutsuki bowed once more. "As you say, Commander…" he whispered.

Gendou leaned back in his chair and considered the Tree of Sephiroth on the ceiling as his second in command left the room.

"Would you approve?" he asked the empty room softly, "If it was Shinji… or Rei…"

He closed his eyes, a slight tremor of disgust running through him.

He had seen the medical examiner's photos… the tears… the bruises… the blood…

Fuyutsuki was wrong – watching over the children was his responsibility. Because he was a father (regardless of how well he expressed it, the fact remained that he did love his son… and his 'daughter'), and because he was the Commander.

And because Yui would have wanted him too.

Extended, ultra-waffy ending:

She nodded to herself. "Let's get some dinner… ok? My treat."

He blinked in surprise at her gentle tone, then smiled slowly. "I'd… like that," he said softly.

Together, they turned and walked away from the train station.

As they stopped at a red light, Asuka slipped her hand into his.

He looked down in surprise, then up at her face, opening his mouth to ask what she was doing.

"Shhh…" she whispered, "we can talk later… but now, just… shhh…"

He nodded, gently twining his fingers with hers.

Neither of them said another word, but they both smiled as they continued their walk…

Author's notes: Before anyone screams 'rip-off,' this story (and the opening scene especially) was inspired by a scene near the end of Shinagami's story, ruse… though it's not a carbon copy, and DOES change quite a bit after the beginning.

This is the longest, single chapter story I've written, and I'm still not quite sure I got it just right. Pregnancy, teen-marriage, the loss of a child, incest… rape – all are fairly heavy subject matter. I knew that I wanted to make it a long story, but I also knew that I didn't want to drag it out into multiple chapters. I can only hope that I managed to convey the seriousness of each of these topics effectively.

What happened to Tomoe's father? Well… he didn't get transferred to another branch. Suffice it to say that he was killed…but obviously, more was done to him beforehand. What, exactly, I leave to your imagination. No matter what I come up with and write down, it could never really be a just punishment for the physical and psychological damage that a rape causes its victim… so I leave it to your own sense of judgement to fill in the blanks (yeah… I take a dim view of rape).

Why not have it be a canon character that gets pregnant? Various reasons. First, it's been done many times (look no further than Axel Terizaki's Child of Love, the original pregnancy fic). Second, I wanted to explore Asuka's feelings towards children, family, and friendships. I could have done this with Hikari, but I've always felt that she had a stable family setting… and I couldn't picture her father raping her (yes, yes, I know – even if it seems like everything's fine, there could be more going on behind the scenes… well not this time :P). Third, I wanted to keep sub-character interaction to a minimum – this is a story about Asuka… not the whole EVA cast (you'll note perhaps, that out of thirty-eight pages, Asuka is on just about every single one).

Anyway, I hope (if nothing else) that I managed to tell a good story.

Thank you for reading.

Pre-read thanks go out to Ryoma, 20Eva, and Shinigami for this one… as always, I appreciate it.

Feedback is always welcome at random1377@yahoo.com