When Misato woke up, nobody was at her bedside, nobody cheered, and nobody noticed it. Her body felt odd, stiff and uncooperative as she felt about herself. She was alive, she felt tired despite everything, but she needed to know what the situation was. Sitting up, her body felt alien to her as she did, as if she didn't fit in her skin anymore. The room was well light, a vase of flowers sat at her bedside but they looked older and starting to wilt. Plucking the card, she smiled softly as she read the names. Most of her coworkers names were there, even the three pilots. "Of course Asuka's is the biggest on it," but that was great!

If Asuka was willing to put such flourish on just signing Misato's card there was hope that Asuka had forgiven her! The card slipped through her fingers, she was having slight issues gripping it. "My head hurts," she grasped at her head and brushed away her hair. That was when she first noticed something strange, her hair was far longer than she remembered…far longer. Just how long was she sleeping, how did she get to this hospital anyway? Last thing she remembered were those pricks asking her questions. Reaching for the nurse-call button, she sighed, "No time like the present to find out."

It took the nurse, a young looking man in his thirties and quite burly, a full minute to arrive. He dashed into the room, not a great sign, wide eyed and stunned. "K-Katsuragi-san you're awake! You're awake! This is…I need to get Akagi-san!" the man gushed looking between the seated woman and down the hall. His thick fingers gripped the door, torn between what he should do. Licking his lips he took a slow tentative step in, "Anything I can get for you Katsuragi-san?"

She didn't recognize this man, not at all, but he knew her? Flipping her locks over her shoulder, Misato nodded and pointed at the jar of water. The condensation on it gleamed in the light from the window. "I'm thirsty enough to drink out of a rusty tailpipe and eat my weight in expired lunchmeat. But I'm betting you have better for me?" she winked at the man hoping to get him moving. Where was Kaji, Asuka, hell she'd even take that little cutie of Asuka's right not. Anybody to tell her what was going on. Hopefully Asuka got her thoughts together regarding that boy, they had been great for one another.

Reacting fast, but not Misato's best time, the man quickly poured a water into a plastic glass. "Sorry about that, Katsuragi-san, just wasn't expecting you to…" he handed her the cup and looked away. His green hospital issued uniform hung loosely on his frame. Pulling off his belt a small walkie-talkie, he twisted the dials on the top as he tapped his foot against the ground. "Yes, galley, this is Nori up on three, I need some breakfast sent up to room 312, yes she's woken up," he shyly looked out the window as he put his walkie away. "It might not taste better than expired lunchmeat, but it's better for you," he joked.

"As long as it's ready for consumption I'll love it," oh how Misato didn't like how he was avoiding looking at her. It was as if she was a celebrity for all the wrong reasons. Men had a way of looking at her, a casual lust in their eyes, that was not what this man had. "So care to tell me how long I've been sleeping? Where I am? How I got here? Anything about the angels?" she had to know. Oh how she wanted a phone so she could try calling Kaji or Asuka, they'd tell her all she needed to know. And just knowing they were alive would be great. Sipping the water, it soothed her parched throat like a divine mist, "Nori-kun, d-don't just leave me in the dark."

It was comical to see a man nearly twice Misato's size gazing at the woman fearfully. Falling back to the safety of the door, he pointed at the hallway. "I'm sorry Katsuragi-san, but I don't have a lot of time to stay and chat. I've rounds to make. But I will inform your doctor that you woke up, that's Akagi-san. What I can tell you is this is Tokyo-3 general hospital, you were brought in from Tokyo-2 after things calmed down," he informed. Without giving Misato anytime to respond he fled and shut the door softly behind him.

"When things calmed down? Ritsuko is my doctor?" Misato said aloud and fell back down. Spotting a television hanging in the corner, the woman groaned. Something was telling her to leave the thing off, just wait for her ex-friend to show up. Temptation was resisted for a full three minutes before she found the clicker on the nightstand by the flowers. "Likely somebody had it installed so they could watch while I slept," but how long had it been? Flipping through the stations, paid adverts, comedy shows, and plenty of other things she didn't recognize filled the woman with more fear. "Finally the news," she saw the welcome face of her morning news anchor looking back.

The plain woman, a few more lines around her eyes than Misato remembered, smiled pleasantly at the camera. "Good morning Tokyo-3 I'm Takano Aribitaki, and welcome to week two of our retrospective from last year's tragic yet triumphant end to what some call the Angel War," the anchor droned on. Images of Nerv, the Eva's, and crowds holding signs claiming how appreciative they were up. The screen went dark a moment later, the controller fell to the ground.

"A year? I've been here for a year?" Misato felt her chest tighten as her pulse quickened. How the hell was she sleeping for a year? The war was over too? What did that leave here to do now? Closing her eyes, her consciousness faded in and out as her mind played circles with that little tidbit of information. She tried to roll to her side, but found her strength lacks for the task. Friends, family, pets, and how many other things have changed since those bastards got their hands on her. As the exasperated sigh plunged out of her, "A whole year on my back."

Taking that moment to announce her presence, Ritsuko tapped Misato on the shoulder, "It's more like eighteen months to be accurate. We didn't 'officially' end the war, or even name it that, the press took the name and date from the end of the trials against those responsible." Helping Misato to sit up, Ritsuko kept a hand on her shoulder for a moment before hugging the woman tightly. "We've missed you Misato," she gave Misato's back a small rub.

Basking in a familiar face for a few moments, Misato clung to Ritsuko like a life preserver. "You have to tell me what's happened, Ritsuko, everything," Misato found her fingers running through Ritsuko's hair. After she had her fill of hugging one of her least favorite people, Misato gently pushed the woman away and was awestruck. The year absence had been GREAT for Ritsuko apparently, the woman appeared rejuvenated and brighter than ever. Against her better wishes, Misato let her hand move down Ritsuko's arm to her hand, she felt the ring. Was it what she feared, likely, considering how long she'd been sleeping. "Sit and talk while I…you have my food with you!" Misato saw the cart at Ritsuko's side.

"You were zoned out when I came in, not surprising," Ritsuko handed the tray over to Misato and some silverware. Getting the woman another cup of water, Ritsuko just had a small content smile on her face. A face that was lacking a lot of the hard lines it used to feature, relaxed and at peace with herself and the world. Fixing herself back into her chair, Ritsuko felt the wilting flowers and knocked a few petals off. "So work or personal info first, I know you want answers to what's been going on," she crossed her hands on her lap and tried to hide the ring.

Eating the bland tasteless food, Misato grimaced as it offended her palette. "That nurse was right, this doesn't taste good," she hesitated. Ritsuko was married, she knew that without a doubt now. The ring and how the doctor tried to hide it were perfect tells, and the fact she did try to hide it was also pretty evident. She wanted to cry even harder, but she'd no balk before this woman. "Tell me what happened to me, to Nerv, and what the rest of you have been up to while I got my beauty rest," she felt a liar for smiling but something about Ritsuko's expression was contagious.

Taking her phone of her pocket and turning it off, Ritsuko gazed at the door over her shoulder and shook her head. "Well you were injected with a synthetic drug designed to get answers out of you. Thanks to what info we got after the fact, we learned why it's considered illegal to use. It induces a state of torpor that the mind might never recover from. You might have woken up the day after injected, a year and a half away, or maybe never at all," Ritsuko took hold of Misato's hand as it started to tremble. "You were moved about to keep you safe until after the attack on the base and the city recovered. Then you were put here until…that was about a year ago you were moved back," she gave the hand a squeeze as true emotion, joy, radiated off the woman. Ritsuko was damn happy to have her friend back.

Sadness shifted into pure anger at the audacity of those thugs, Misato gritted her teeth so hard her jaw hurt. "I remember…remember them telling me about it. But I knew I wouldn't let it beat me, knew I'd survive," she had thought it bravado at the time. Now that she woke up, and those assholes were gone, Misato knew she was victorious. Sniffing hard, and freeing herself from Ritsuko's light embrace, Misato continued eating. "So tell me about this attack?" she stuck her tongue out at the runny eggs on the plate.

For the next ten minutes, Ritsuko informed Misato of all that came to light post invasion attempt. Nerv's hidden purpose, Seele and the months of hunting them and the rich fools stealth attempts to reclaim Nerv assets, everything she knew. Through all of her talking, the blond kept checking the door with increasing aggravation and impatience. "And after that we found the last of Seele's hidden caches of money, and Kehl, arrested him, and that was the last we had to worry about the fool and his aims," Ritsuko got out of her seat and took the now empty tray of food.

Having known part of Gendo's plans for post angels, Misato was still disgusted that the betrayal didn't end there. To think people in the UN were hoping to destroy humanity too, and that even after the aborted Third Impact they hid like roaches trying to achieve it. "If I was awake back then…I'd run them over with a tank!" she felt fatigue working back on her. "Why am I so tired, Ritsuko, why does it hurt to move my arms and legs?" she held her hand up shakily no longer able to ignore it.

Tugging on her collar, Ritsuko's face lost some of its joy, "We did move you and exercise you while you were in your coma, your muscles did atrophy a little. You'll recover fully, but you will need some physical therapy and you won't like it. But judging by the fact the door is about to break open, you won't be alone for it." With an exasperated groan, Ritsuko slithered out of her chair and headed to the door. "Just say the word and they go though. Your recovery is imperative and you'll need sleep, funny, to get your mind and body back up to shape. We still need majors for Nerv's new purpose," and with that Ritsuko opened the door.

A flash of red was neigh instantaneous to the door opening, followed by a metallic clank as Misato's bed glide across the floor and hit the wall. Rubbing her face against Misato's chest, a teary eyed Asuka cried, "I knew you'd come back to me! I just knew it!" Laying on the woman, Asuka just wormed herself fully onto the bed and wrapped her arms tightly around the woman. "You are SO in my mad book for how long this took you!" Asuka took a moment to scowl before returning to her blissful.

Her hair was longer too, a fuller figure, and just as vibrant as back when they first arrived in Tokyo-3, Misato marveled. "Asuka you're…not angry at me anymore?" she said dumbly. The memories of the fights over Kaji, Asuka moving out, the depression from the lowering sync score…it was as if none of it happened. Movement caught her eye as Shinji and Rei walked in hand in hand, oh bugger. "Ikari-kun, Ayanami-kun you're visiting me too huh? This is all a bit much for me right now!" both other teens looked happier too if more subdued. Misato had never really seen Rei happy, but she could pass for it now. Shinji though, Misato had come to really like that boy and what he did for Asuka. But with the open display of affection, it was likely Asuka and Shinji called it quits during her time asleep.

With her ever present lack of social graces, Rei grabbed the old flowers and just threw them away. "We came with Akagi-san, but she would not let us into the room until she let us. Asuka nearly came in regardless," Rei dusted the fallen plant off her onto the floor. Offering Misato a small smile, more than most ever saw, Rei bowed slightly to the woman. Turning to Shinji, a look of utter caring etched on her face, "They were most worried about you, but they never lost hope."

Walking around the bed, releasing Ayanami, Shinji took the open side of the bed. "Asuka-chan never lost hope ever. Each day was always the day you'd wake up. Figures the day you do we had a…memorial to go to," Shinji reaching out and took Misato's extended hand. He gave her a small shake. "We don't want to overburden you today, but we'll be back…if we can get Asuka-chan to ever let go of you. We have therapy today," the lad ran a hand over Asuka's mane of hair.

What was this? Was the caring and polite boy she had thought so perfect for Asuka two-timing her? Well Misato was not going to let that happen. "So Shinji-kun, any reason you came walking in here holding Ayanami's hand and now you're petting my soon-to-be daughter?" Misato felt Asuka wiggle against her. But when Ritsuko hid a laugh behind her hand and walked out of the room, Misato could only look at the three sets of eyes fixed on her. "D-don't take me for a fool now, I know I've missed a lot but…but…" she didn't know what to say. She HATED being in the dark and everybody had a year and a half of secrets on her!

"I became Asuka Langley Katsuragi over a year ago," Asuka propped her chin between Misato's assets. Propping herself off and accepting Shinji's help to the ground, Asuka kept hold of his hand. "As for this one," she flicked Shinji with her free hand, "Aside from his new last name, Akagi by the way, he's a sexist pig who has two girlfriends. We take turns with putting up with him, but Puppy-kun is worth it." Wrapping her arms around him, Asuka showed Misato she wasn't kidding with a very open and amorous showing of affection.

Quick to act, Rei was over to the two and separating them. "You speak as if this was not fully agreed upon by all of us, and that you are not the one seeking his bed just as much as I," the flat tone was just a little more edgy than normal. The firmness of her eyes was evident to everybody then softened just a little. "Now we are keeping doctor Sakomoto waiting. You may visit with Katsuragi-san again afterward," Rei took both hands and started leading them to the door. The trio did stop to individually wish Misato a speedy recovery and to assure they'd be back once they could be.

"What the devil was that," Misato still couldn't believe what she had seen. The Asuka she had known would never share her man with another, but what she had just seen was to real to be an act. Just more fuel on the fire of things she needed to learn. Pointing at the trio, Asuka had stopped to wave at a window, to Ritsuko, "Details now…you adopted Ikari-kun? I adopted Asuka? What were those three playing at…and why are still trying to hide that ring?"

Shutting the door to the room, Ritsuko reclaimed her chair. "Yes I adopted Shinji…we adopted Shinji," Ritsuko started off averting her eyes. "You can blame that daughter of yours for her new name, she claimed you wanted it and we didn't refute her," Ritsuko had to roll her eyes at that. Crossing her legs the woman popped a piece of gum in her mouth and offered one to Misato. "As for the ring, I didn't want to upset you when you just woke up. We got married three months ago. We didn't want to rush to quickly into it," Ritsuko ran her finger over the ring.

"I…after hearing the time that has passed…I suspected he moved on," Misato felt the bile in her stomach rise. For them it was almost two years, for her it was a matter of days. But that didn't make the hurt any less. Sniffing hard, fighting back the itch of her eyes, "So woman, tell me the details! Your punishment for everything…tell me about my d-daughter and your son's tawdry little relationship and your own."

And tell Ritsuko did, of the odd situation that only the trio of pilots understood. Ritsuko didn't even both trying to explain the trio, they'd have to do that themselves when Misato was ready to hear it. As for Kaji and her though, Ritsuko spared no detail. They married a little over three months ago after enough time had passed, the situation at Nerv relented to allow it. No longer sending one of the Pilots in Unit-01 that now accepted all three of them, after remnants of Seele, the command staff was given time to act. And, Kaji took Ritsuko's last name and joined Ritsuko and Shinji's family, Shinji having nearly instantly being adopted.

It was hard on Misato, but the woman fought to keep herself in control. Life had moved on, and she had to accept it and recover. As much as she thought she should feel pain at Kaji's betrayal, she didn't. Almost as if she had always expected it, that Kaji was never fully committed to her. Oh he'd get one hell of a smack and a kick to the balls, likely never really talk to him again. But she was alive, she could adapt. A chance at a new beginning, a chance to live again without the yoke of the angels over her neck.


Life was good for Rei, it wasn't perfect but she didn't want perfect she liked things just as they were. A month after Katsuragi woke up, things were going even better than before, now that Asuka was no longer worrying. Shinji and Asuka were the two most important things in Rei's life, and she wanted them as happy as they could be. In turn they did the same for her. Sure Shinji was primarily focused on making her happy, but Asuka and she got long far better than when they first met.

Opening the window in her bedroom, the smaller of the two as Asuka needed the larger, Rei stood in her shirt and nothing else. The sun streamed down high from the sky, Rei liked to spend her Sunday's lazing about the apartment. Well she'd spend her days off being lazy unless Shinji or Asuka wanted to do something with her. Then it was music, movies, or any other number of things she enjoyed. "I should see if Shinji-kun is available," she favored herself a small smile. To think she almost gave up on all this.

Gathering some clothing, Asuka approved of course, Rei donned her attire and only gave it a moment's thought. Shinji didn't really care how she dressed, but Rei would humor Asuka and wear 'trendy' cloths. She found a small breakfast/lunch already prepared for her thanks to Shinji. Reading the note on the fridge Rei nodded as she recalled, "Asuka is helping Katsuragi-san's rehabilitation." Putting the plate in the microwave she warmed it up and got herself some juice. Food was much better than before, and Rei had taken to really enjoying some of the new things she was still discovering.

A pile of dishes lay in the sink, a testament to some of the problems life still did hold. Asuka and Rei were just not the best roommates with dynamically different approaches to how to keep the apartment. While Asuka liked to keep things clean and orderly, Rei just didn't care as much about it. Shinji would clean up and play arbitrator when the arguments got too big. And he was a part of the problems too. Sharing was hard when both of them wanted to do something with him, he hated taking sides between them in personal reasons.

"But Asuka is busy right now," another smile crested Rei's lips. Putting her plates in the sink, she contemplated washing them but opted out. Grabbing her violin, the girl headed next door and fished about her pocket. Both Asuka and Rei had cardkeys to the Akagi apartment, a fact both of them used to their advantage from time to time. Walking in, still shoeless, Rei listened for sounds of life, "Shinji, I wish to spend time with you." He never turned her town, not since this started.

A shrill yelp and a crash accompanied a more joyous call from Ritsuko, "What did I say about picking movies from our private selection young man!" When Rei entered the living room she saw Ritsuko on her knees and elbows over a laying Shinji. With one hand up holding a dvd she waggled it before the young man's face, "Care to explain why this wasn't where I put it last?"

Taking a seat on the couch, Rei placed her instrument on her lap and tilted her head. "I requested it for our last 'date' as Asuka puts it. I do not want to bore him with my lack of…" Rei found both sets of eyes on her with different expressions. While Shinji was flush for more than one reason, Ritsuko's eyes were wide with disbelief. Pounding her right fist to her left palm, "Oh this is another of the items I was not to tell others, as Asuka reminds me." Social stigmas would forever be her bane, she just didn't understand or care about them. Why would Shinji's adopted parent care if he was having relations with people.

Sitting down on Shinji, Ritsuko just grabbed her forehead and shook. "Sometimes Rei I worry about you and wonder if therapy is helping at all," she groaned. Getting off Shinji she slide the DVD back in the smaller binder on the counter. Helping the young man who was content to gaze at the ground up, Ritsuko patted his back. "Shinji-kun, I know you three have some odd little relationship going on, and I won't get in your way. Just ask us first before taking things. Ryouji and I wanted this one last night, its new," after realizing what she said Ritsuko quickly fled the room.

"So that was why you stayed over so late yesterday with Asuka and her games," Rei nodded checking off that fact. It was rare for Shinji to stay late for no reason, guess he had one after all. Her heart still warmed to this day when Shinji sat next to her at slim distance. "Would you like to play in the park today or maybe the roof? Or something you would like to do?" both Asuka and he had great ideas.

His head flipped from side to side for a moment before he got off the couch. "Walking the cello to the park is a pain, but you do like it, and I've not been in a while," he relented. Shinji truly had a habit of spoiling Rei. Asuka attributed it to Rei having much less than either of them in the past, but used the fact to force him to spoil her too. Grabbing the cello case he gestured to the door, "Enjoy the breakfast…lunch? And I thought you would be working on that project for the literary club."

Ah yes school and her 'growing social life', Rei thought that a mixed bag. Outside of the Akagi family and Asuka, Rei really didn't want to interact with others. They confused her, they alienated her, and some even hated her. Thanks to the efforts of the new defunct Seele group, a lot of her rather questionable creation was known to the world. A lot of people hated her for being a clone, feared she was different or a monster. Those that didn't know her anyway, but while she didn't care if they treated her bad she did get offended when they drug her significant others into it. To try and help Rei socialize outside her small circle though, Shinji got the Literary club to accept her. The books were great, one other girl in the group was to, but the others she could do without.

"Shinji-kun, if you're leaving could you pick me up some coke for tonight on your way back?" Ritsuko called out from the kitchen.

With a hand on Rei's back, gently guiding her to the door and just to enjoy the sensation, Shinji crooned his head back, "Sure thing, Ritsuko." He never called Ritsuko mom, but Shinji would occasionally call Ryouji dad. Nobody questioned it, but Asuka said she wondered why at times. The duo chatted as they walked, Shinji asking how the morning was and how the club was going. Rei was content to listen, and from time to time ask a small question. It was just a blessing to be with him, somebody that understood, somebody that accepted her regardless of everything. Stopping by a small grocery store on the way to the park, "I'll just buy this now so we can have some drinks too. It's going to be a hot one today."

Her own instrument case held in both hands, Rei nodded as Shinji headed in. Still finding no real reason to speak unless necessary, she watched the crowds moving. Areas of the town were still being repaired to this day, but it was mostly back to normal. Both of Shinji and Asuka's friends, Hikari and Kensuke, had returned to the city as did one Maya Ibuki. A small part of Rei felt bad for the tech, but neither Asuka or she were going to hint that Shinji was free. The girl took it harder than most would have expected, but not everybody could have what they wanted. Though Rei had observed Aoba had been snooping around the girl from time to time.

"Hey good looking want a date," a smooth sounding voice called out at Rei from behind. "Got a nice butt on ya and being alone on a Sunday is a crime," the guy casually grabbed Rei's arm and spun her around. Upon seeing her face the guy's eyes went wider, "You are a looker, familiar too."

Her mind froze up, this THING was touching her…Rei's eyes hardened. "I did not give you permission to touch me," Rei's brow creased angrily. Jerking her arm out of the man's grasp, Rei took a defiant step back from him. To this day only Asuka and Shinji could touch her without her bristling up. Her therapist said in time she'd get over it, but she didn't want to! She could tell when it wasn't somebody she trusted, and she saw no reason to trust others. Life had proven that most people had nothing but selfish interests in mind, and Rei wanted nothing to do with them. "I am waiting for my boyfriend who is procuring drinks. Leave," she said flatly.

Rebuffed the man, a good foot taller than Rei and apparently older by at least a year, took a step closer regardless. "Look I got off on the wrong foot. And I…wait…aren't you one of those," the teen's face scrunched up in disgust. Pointing a finger in Rei's face, other people walking about stopped at the display. "You're that mutant Nerv made that nearly killed us all aren't you! I saw your picture on the news," he yanked his hand at her as she tried to escape into the store, "No running freak! My buddy lost a sister thanks to you!"

Memories, dark and disgusting, flooded into her mind. Memories of 'Fuyutski', again her therapist said to use his name to gain power over it and not fear him. Similar times of people recognizing her and starting a scene. It was real bad the month after the Seele documents were made public, released to discredit Nerv as ex-members of Seele fought back. Asuka suggested Rei dye her hair for a while, but she wouldn't. Shinji had commented he loved her hair, soft and silky despite its unkempt nature. Prone and seeing the eyes of the crowd on her, Rei panicked. Again emotions were a double edged sword.

A comforting hand clamped down, a familiar hand, on Rei's shoulder and didn't say a word. Shinji just smiled at her and shook his head. It wouldn't help Rei for others to fight her battles, but they could stand with her. Shinji did however grab the prick's hand and painfully remove it, Asuka had returned to teaching her favorite 'Puppy' some tricks.

Bolstered by the confidence Shinji imparted to her, Rei remembered the truth and it shone through the dark. "I was not responsible for the details in those reports. I am a human being who fought and suffered to save all of you. If you do not agree I cannot change that, but your opinion of me doesn't matter," Rei reclined into Shinji's chest. It was warm and sturdy, gave her confidence. "As for you, your words are only fueled by regret at being turned down, and the smaller size of your genitalia. Which I have no need for as Shinji-kun here is more than I can handle," Rei did take joy in watching the man pale and run.

"Rei-chan, you learned that one from Asuka didn't you…and please emit that last part next time?" Shinji kissed Rei's cheek. Her bravado eroded a little, but Shinji was there to help her through it. Later Rei helped Shinji when it came to other people. It was give and take for all three of them. They played in the park for a good hour, then just went for a walk. Eventually they returned to the apartment, Asuka was home. Shinji bid the two goodbye, and Asuka and Rei spoke of their days.

Katsuragi was going to be released in another month, and wanted Asuka to move back in with her…and Rei. Misato knew it was a package deal now, and since Misato wanted to live with her daughter extended the invite to Rei. It would be a bit longer walk to visit Shinji, but Rei agreed to it. Asuka loved Misato, Rei wanted Asuka happy, and living with Misato would make Asuka happy. And since it inconvenienced BOTH of them, Rei relented. To celebrate the decision Asuka forced Rei to play some of her games till late night…then they called Shinji over to tell him. He was obviously upset, but knew it was the best thing. Well then Rei listened as Asuka gave Shinji his reward for being the bigger man on things. He stayed the night. Rei benefitted as much as the others.

Their memories of choosing life over Instrumentality faded in time, but nights like this Rei was reminded of it. They had become one in spirit, they had communed, and they all had reasons to want to end Instrumentality or to let it continue. Individually they'd have let it continue, but together they chose to live. And they would stay together, as years went on they never once hinted at separating, life for the surviving pilots was a matched set. None of them regretted it, despite the fights they got into, they never regretted.


Holding a can of Yebisu in his hand, Kaji surveyed the madness before him. Katsuragi's 'welcome home' party was in full swing and the moderate apartment was packed. Work friends, old and new, mingled about over one of Misato's long standing cans of swill. Ritsuko and Rei were off in a corner chatting to one another, they just weren't party people. In the center of the small group of teens were Asuka and Shinji. The mighty Germany had an arm dominantly wrapped around Shinji and a can of Yebisu in the other. As it was a special occasion Misato allowed her daughter and Rei to drink if wanted.

"I'd never suspect that was the same girl in a hospital bed in a coma," Kaji just shook his can at the pair. His two drinking companions at the moment were Shigeru and Makoto. Makoto, Kaji noticed, had been spooking around both Maya and Misato all night but with little luck. Rubbing at his elbow, Kaji laughed as Asuka gave Shinji a spin in response to something the boy in the glasses said. Pointing at them again though, "But at times she does get a bit dark. They all do, the pilots. But then again they have each other to rely on."

Eating from the chips he had cupped in one hand, Shigeru nodded as he chewed. "Well she looks a lot better than the last time I saw them, they all do," Shigeru had quit Nerv and never came back. Dusting his hands free of the crumbs the local musician reached for his plastic cup. "So how is the married life treating you? My girlfriend is heavily hinting she wants me to pop the question. How bad is it?" he smirked with an upturned eyebrow.

Married life? Kaji had to admit he hadn't expected much change from pre-married to married, and he was right. "It's a nightmare," Kaji joked, "I have to help clean, cook, and the sex is just draining." That part was true, but he was more than willing. Life with Ritsuko and Shinji was as close to his ideal life as possible. A son without deep emotional scars would be nice, but Shinji handled it like a champ. Both Kaji and Shigeru eyed Makoto who squirmed under their gaze, then they broke laughing. "Seriously though, I couldn't be happier with things. We fight, but it's never over anything to important. Mostly who works to hard, and what to do with the pilots," Kaji watched Ritsuko from the corner of his eye.

"Are you serious about those three are really like that? Seems a bit farfetched to me," Makoto was well into his sixth can. Still wearing his Nerv uniform, he had come right from work where the others had taken time off. Taking a savage bite out of one of the sandwiches Shinji had prepped for the party, Makoto was making a mess of himself. "Kids freak me out still, can't get that image of the three of them flying out of my mind. Blame the news for all this," he sank heavily against the wall the trio leaned.

Some things never change, and Makoto's fixation on the wrong things was one of them. Kaji pushed himself off the wall, "Well they have it worse than you do, Makoto. They had to live through it, had to weigh the option of life and death. We should be getting on our hands and knees and thanking them for us being here," Kaji did take offense to it. Nobody was going to criticize the pilots around him, and heaven help those that did so around Ritsuko. Dusting his slacks smooth, Kaji tipped his can to the two, "Think I'm going to go mingle a bit. And Makoto, don't repeat the incident from six months ago. Don't want the wife giving me another reason she doesn't want to go out."

Grabbing himself some finger food Shinji made, Kaji winked at a gaggle of teenagers who giggled at him. Asuka had invited a few friends, Shinji had one or two over, and Rei invited a sole girl from some club she was in, so mostly it was adults at the little shindig. New Nerv had taken to Misato and his command quite well. While Misato had been only part-time with her recovery, she still made an impact on those old and new. With the last threat of Seele gone, Nerv was starting to consider downsizing and deconstruction, but that was years out. The shift to commercial production was the direction Ritsuko was suggesting. The tech used to create and repair the Eva's could really help the world.

"Ssho Kaji-shan, h-how are you doi-doing tonight?" Maya waved at Kaji before stumbling into him. The drunken ex-Nerv tech held onto Ryouji to stabilize herself. After she got her bearings, Maya helped herself to a large plate of food. "Shinji-kun really could make shum good food," she took a long sensuous bite. Waving her arms wide, spilling her mixed drink on the table, "Ho-how you and sempai going?"

Kaji had known Maya was a bit of a lightweight when it came to drinking, but this was something else. The woman had come to visit Ritsuko more than once since moving back to Tokyo-3, but she never did take kindly to him. "Well just enjoying a nice evening out. Ritsuko and I don't get out as much as we'd like, Nerv is taking a lot of time right now. Ritsuko is doing good since your last visit," he leaned forward to observe her face. Kaji wasn't a fool, he knew Ritsuko still had trust issues and always would. It was his own fault, but was amazed she had suggested they come to this party. A good sign.

"Kaji-san don't go eating all of Puppy-kun's food! Save some for the rest of us! Oh hi Ibuki," Asuka chastised as she came over to the table. Asuka of course did not come alone, she had been attached to Shinji by the hip since the shindig got started. Nobody ever questioned it, Asuka was showing everybody what was hers, long and hard fought over. Listing into Shinji, her can set on the table, she draped her arms on him, "Think you should take me to my room, Puppy-kun, need to work off some of this booze."

Girl just had to antagonize Maya at every turn it seemed, but Kaji wouldn't get in the middle of that. Shinji had to deal with it. "Oh I'm hardly touching it today, Soryu," Kaji and Asuka never would like one another. Stepping out of the way between the warring women, Maya had that look of somebody going to fight. Waggling a finger at Shinji too, "And don't you be making a scene here, son, this is a party for Katsuragi not…" Well Shinji had taken Rei and Asuka's move two weeks ago a little hard. Guess having his lifelines further away was a scary thought.

Freeing himself from Asuka's embrace, easy once Asuka had a target to latch onto, Shinji got to Kaji's side. "S-she's just acting tough right now. Asuka-chan has been so worried about Misato for so long, today is a day for her to unwind," Shinji sipped his soda. Having been Asuka's accessory for the last few hours, Shinji had the expression of extreme fatigue coupled with relief. Tugging on his collar and spying the corner with Ritsuko and Rei enviously, "And I wouldn't even think of doing something like that. I think Asuka is just trying to get Maya upset."

Leading Shinji away from the table, where Asuka and Maya were increasing in volume. "Wise of you, and I guess it's time for the two of us to see the woman of the hour," Kaji wouldn't face Misato alone. First time he ran into Misato after she woke the woman laid him flat out and gave him more than a few bruises. Maybe with Shinji to act as a buffer she'd not make a scene. "So how are your friends enjoying the party? Good I hope, don't get to see them to often," Kaji asked after overhearing the brunette girl yell at the geek.

"They're having fun, it helps to take the nerves down about our upcoming tests," Shinji shrugged. Waving at a few of the workers that they didn't know personally, Shinji tensed up as they came to the couch with Misato on it. "Misato-san is doing a lot better today, Kaji-san. Last few weeks have been hard on her adapting to living with people again," Shinji was ridged and hardly moving.

Ah so the mother was not happy to know her daughter was getting it god from time to time again, Kaji smirked. They didn't care, Ritsuko and him, the time to be worried about such was long gone for those three. "Well more reason to talk to her without Asuka clinging to you like a wet shirt right?" Kaji teased as he pushed. He had observed more than one person interact with Misato tonight, and it normally went quite standard. But he had to laugh when he watched the tentacle like arms of the woman latch onto Shinji and suck him into the couch next to her. Guess she wasn't to upset with him, maybe Shinji feared something else?

"And here is my little girl's pet," Misato gave Shinji's temple a kiss and settled him next to her. Locking eyes with Kaji, Misato's face went stone hard for a moment before she shook her head free of whatever dark thoughts she had. "Kaji, nice of you to stop hiding in the corner with your friends. Though it did keep Aoba from oozing over me," she offered a small smile. With her left side occupied with the couch armrest and Shinji on her right, Misato appeared the queen of the apartment.

It pained him to see that look of contempt on Misato's face, but Kaji knew it was warranted. He had hurt her, not as bad as Ritsuko, but he had. But he had to choose one of them, and he had always wanted Ritsuko more. "Well I could call him over if you wanted. He'd love more time with you," Kaji waved at the man. The look of abstract fear on Misato's face told him to stop teasing, "But I could do without the doom and gloom of his 'I need a girlfriend' right now."

"Shinji you left me with that nasty mouse of a girl!" a very drunken Asuka dove at Shinji on the couch. Making a sandwich of the three of them, Asuka nuzzled close against the boy. "She said all sorts of nasty things about me. Why don't you go defend me like you do Rei," she asked sleepily before closing her eyes.

Laughing at how quick Asuka went from firebrand to unconscious, Kaji couldn't believe it. "That girl of yours is something else. I don't think I've seen her that happy when we lived together," and that was the truth. For the next twenty minutes they tried to talk civilly but it was harsh going. They'd be much like Maya and Makoto were, work companions and little else. That didn't bother Ryouji though, he had all the woman he wanted. He could feel Ritsuko watching him, and Rei had taken to sitting next to the dozing Asuka.

The party continued for another few hours and ended when Maya threw a bowl of chips at Makoto. Shinji, carried both sleeping girls one after another, to their rooms. As the party goers left, Ritsuko took Misato aside and the pair spoke outside of Ryouji's range. It didn't matter, those two were patching up their friendship as best they could. It would take two years for Ritsuko and Misato to truly become friends again, but for Misato and him it never got past strained platitudes. That suited him fine, Misato was a mistake and he was to happy with life to chance another.

After the party, the Akagi family went home and Shinji quickly hit the sack. Boy was smart enough to know to put his headphones on that night. Ritsuko was firm that Kaji perform his husbandly duties, a reminder of who he married. Fights and accusations of cheating would occasional pop up, but they never separated for long. Three years after their marriage a new woman at Nerv made a play and caused Ritsuko to throw him out for a week, but a public blowout cleared things up.

For Shinji and his companions, Kaji had been there as much as he could for them, but they was little he could do. Mostly the three tended to one another, but Shinji would ask questions from time to time. And it made Kaji's heart swell. They tried once again to have a child, but it never took, but both were content with their son. Not everybody could say they had a child that was one of the triumvirate that saved the earth. And he had chance to thank for it, a simple coin flip in his youth set into motion everything that happened. At one point Kaji did ask Ritsuko if the flip she made regarding taking him back had been legitimate but she didn't answer. Life had been hard ride to this point, and not everybody had it as good as him, but Kaji was content he was happy and he didn't doubt it. He'd never chance ruining it again, he had his wife and son now and couldn't ask for more.

- The End -