Fate. Such an unfair concept. It nullifies whatever little control one has over one's life. Scored the winning goal? Fate guided the ball. Lost it all in a game of poker? Fate dealt you the losing hand. Good or bad, best or worst, interesting or dull; Fate can be thanked or blamed for all of them.

And so it was that Shinji came to wonder whether Fate was to blame for his current predicament: he did not know where he was. It seemed like he was nowhere; yet, he had to be somewhere. But before he could find out where this somewhere was - if it was in fact anywhere - out of the nowhere came something:

It looked like a man; yet, as it drew closer, the opposite became apparent: a man it most definitely was not. It towered over him, like a herald of his doom; glowing green eyes focused on him like spotlights, one large arm outstretched towards him, it seemed to be intent on delivering one simple message:

This is your Fate.

Shinji woke with a yelp, practically jumping out of the bed. As always, his ribcage felt like it was on fire after such an outburst. He slumped back down tiredly. He almost jumped up a second time when a hand landed softly on his forehead. The only thing stopping him was the face that obscured his vision at the same time: it was Shiro. Despite her cool demeanour, she did display signs of concern, slight as they were.

A small part of Shinji's mind registered just how pretty the girl was. The rest all but panicked when she climbed into the bed beside him, shoving him to the side to give her space. Mental DEFCON 1 activated as she reached out for his head and pushed it onto her chest.

Of course all throughout this his body was completely paralysed.

Then Shiro started to slowly stroke his head, while uttering a single word:

"Sleep"

Her tone was surprisingly soothing, like a mother dealing with a child that has just had a nightmare. How ironic, Shinji realized.

But it worked. The soothing tone of her voice; the comfortable softness of her pyjama-covered chest; the feel of her fingers brushing lightly through his hair; before he knew it, Shinji was back in the dream world, and just like a clear blue sky on a sunny day, it was beautiful.

"Are. You. INSANE?!" - Zack's red afro seemed to have a life of its own as it bobbled and shook from the force of his outbursts.

Flamboyant. That is one word into which the whole of Zack's being could be summarized. From his aforementioned red afro, to his high heeled white boots, with his orange jumpsuit with orange, red and green dots, frilled sleeves and a white frilled collar that extended down to below his chest, the man practically radiated flamboyance.

His skill set was as colourful as his appearance. Not only was he a very talented dancer and DJ, he was also the self-proclaimed king of 'acquisition of goods not readily available to the general public'; in other words, smuggling. You name it, and he'll get it to your doorstep, through wind and rain and weather, for the right price. But Zack was also a man of principles, and unlike many, he actually lived by them.

"And those principles do not involve trafficking teenage backstabbers!" - Zack's afro shook in affirmation - "'Hey, Zack, want to help me smuggle a girl?', 'Of course I would'! God! What was I thinking?! I mean, come on, if it was somebody else, it's just some perv wanting something exotic (and purely above legal age, I do have principles, you know!), but with you... oh-oh-oh" - he waggled a reproving finger at Helena - "Nothing's ever simple with you, is it? Ohh no! I mean, why would it be?! But hey" - he spread his arms, like a desperate man seeking salvation - "I thought to myself, that, you know, knowing it's you, it's just some new servant for your boy. Pure and simple and, hey, with the amount of dough you usually spread around, voluntary even, but no, ohh no. No, no, no of course not!" - Zack briefly put his hands to his head before all but flicking them at Helena - "It had to be a FREAKIN ASSASSIN!"

"Companion"

The single word froze Zack on the spot. He turned his angry gaze towards the source of the voice. It was the very girl that was the source of his current dilemma. That very girl was standing right beside him.

"Gah!" - Zack jumped back in surprise, immediately taking up a fighting stance - "How dare you sneak up on me?! Looking for a fight, are you?!"

"If I was, you would be lying at my feet, bleeding out of that large mouth of yours" - the girl's tone was neutral, but her eyes clearly conveyed her annoyance.

"Enough!" - Helena called out. She tolerated a lot from Zack, but only because of how useful he was. Even then, her patience had a limit - "Zack, I appreciate your concerns, but this is now officially none of your concern"

"But-!"

"None. Of. Your Concern. Is that understood?"

"I... Yes" - Zack sighed in resignation.

"I also added an appropriate bonus for your troubles"

And with that she was gone, with the girl in tow.

Zack dug out his mobile and went for the first number on the speed-dial.

"Hey, Niki. What? No, no, everything went great. Hey, is the costume ready? It is? Great! See you there. Love you too, sugar"

"Where is that idiot..." - 'though, with me actually coming, I'm not sure who the idiot is in this- ah there he is' - "Oy! K-Man! What's the haps?"

Kensuke jumped up like a shot rabbit. A swift turn-around and a dash later, he was conveying every single type of 'silence, you fool!' known to man.

"What? What?!" - Toji, despite himself, actually lowered his voice to a whisper.

"No time to explain. Follow me!"

"What-Hey, wait up, you crazy-!"

It quite a sight indeed: two teenagers dashing to and fro between trees, their attempts at inconspicuousness making them ever so... conspicuous. Then just as suddenly, Kensuke called for a full stop. Putting one finger to his lips and pointing with the other, he looked so pleased with himself, it was unsettling. Still, his curiosity piqued, Toji leaned out, only to be pulled back in.

"Not so much! They'll see us!" - Kensuke hissed urgently.

"Yeesh! Whatever, man!" - annoyed, Toji shrug off his over-excited friend's grip. Still, he was more careful in his second attempt. Once he realized what he was looking at, he hastily pulled himself in.

"Before you ask, yes, no idea and she's out of your league, dude" - Kensuke's laugh was cut short by a punch on the shoulder - "Ow!"

"Aaahh... This is nice" - Shinji sighed contentedly as he leaned back on the bench. He glanced at Shiro - "Thanks for letting me do this"

"You were adamant upon it" - Shiro replied, making Shinji cringe at the disapproval in her voice.

"Y-yes, but-"

"You needed fresh air" - Shiro interjected. Despite her rudeness, her tone grew a shade more understanding.

Just then something caught Shinji's eye. In an interesting twist of fate, the combination of the placement of the bench and Shiro's position on it, just past her right ear, he had a clear view of the very tree Kensuke and Toji were hiding behind. And what he has seen - unbeknownst to him - was Toji's head disappearing back behind it. What surprised him more was the look on Shiro's face that told him she knew exactly what it was that he had just seen.

"He was following us for a while"

"W-what? Who was following us?" - Shinji felt fear paralysing his body. AS if in response, his side started throbbing again.

"A boy. High-schooler. Brown hair, glasses" - Shiro replied, dispelling his fears.

Instead he felt a pang of sadness, shame and guilt.

'But wait, I saw a black-haired head. Ah. Must have been Toji'

"Do you want me to make them go away?" - the glint in Shiro's eyes made Shinji scared for the boys' safety. He did not even think to ask how she knew there were now two of them.

"N-no!" - Shinji waved his hands - "If we're lucky, they'll just leave us-Oh no..." - the hands went to cover the face - "They're coming here"

Shiro turned in her seat, only to be stopped by Shinji's hand on her arm.

"Please don't do anything hasty" - Shinji implored. After he got a nod from her, he let go.

"Why, look who it is. Do my eyes deceive me, Toji? Could this be Shinji Ikari?"

"Kensuke, quit fooling around. You know it is"

"And we know you have been invading our privacy" - the scorn was all too obvious in Shiro's voice and face - "What do you want?"

"We... Uh..." - the unexpected hostility gave Toji a moment of pause.

"...We came to see how our friend was doing. Who are you anyway?" - Kensuke picked up the conversational slack. Considering the girl's attitude towards the two of them, he wisely packed away his camera.

"I-I'm fine. Thanks" - Shinji desperately prayed that this tense situation would resolve itself without bloodshed. Luckily, his silent pleas were answered as Shiro stayed her hand, as well as her tongue.

"Yeah, man. We heard what happened"

"You mean you heard it from me" - Kensuke corrected.

"Whatever, man" - Toji waved him away, before turning his attention back to Shinji - "Thing is... This... uh... this is not easy for me to say... but... I'm sorry!" - standing straight for a brief moment, he bowed as low as he could.

"Uh... thanks?" - Shinji was honestly taken aback.

"And now, you have to punch me!"

"W-what?!"

"Please! Otherwise I won't be satisfied!"

"Hah! You're so embarrassing sometimes!" - Kensuke chuckled

"Shut up!" - Toji shook a threatening fist towards his compatriot

"It is a matter of pride to him" - Shiro commented - "And fairness to you" - nodding in approval as Shinji stood up and took a hesitant stance, she added - "Make sure you don't hold anything back"