Witness

Disclaimer: I do not own Evangelion.

/\/\/\/\

It was fourth period, Algebra, on Tuesday when Asuka found out Shinji had a girlfriend. She was casually punishing her computer's Hearts program for daring to ruin her perfect game when the girl one seat behind her leaned forward to address Shinji in the kind of tactless teenage whisper deployed to inform the student body while keeping the adults ignorant.

"Is it really true you're going out with Kirishima from 2-B now?"

Asuka rolled her eyes as the rest of the class held its collective breath. Probably yet another rumor initiated by the gossipmongers desperate for drama. Living through a war with giant monsters that routinely made the city their playground apparently was not enough.

"It's true," Shinji whispered back, and the world tilted on its axis.

He slipped out of the class as lunch began, before Asuka could demand answers from him, like who was this harlot and how much did he pay for her companionship. His natural cowardice was no excuse for keeping secrets but she wasn't about to chase after him like a fool.

"There they are!" one girl by the windows said, sounding entirely too excited for Asuka's approval. Most of the class had joined the girl, struggling to catch a glimpse.

Asuka decided to demean herself and see what the fuss was about, if only to stay ahead of the school's rumor mill. If it involved Shinji, it was her grim duty to be aware of it; she was forced to cohabitate with him and that required a degree of outside interaction as well. When he inevitably screwed up it was her task to clean up the mess and avoid social upheaval.

She marched to the bank of windows. Some of the other students saw her coming and offered a wide berth.

Asuka cast an imperious eye out the window. Shinji was on a bench near a tree in the central courtyard, sitting next to a girl. The girl was plain, the best Shinji could ever hope for. Asuka didn't recognize her. She wasn't in their class, or one of the idiots that hollered at Shinji during Gym.

"She's a transfer," Hikari explained, coming up beside her, following her line of sight.

"Really."

"Yeah," she went on, suddenly feeling she was on dangerous ground. Her name was Mana Kirishima, she explained. Two months ago her father was stationed in Tokyo-3 as a military liaison to NERV. She was fairly popular in her own class but had repeatedly turned down potential suitors.

"Why do you know so much about her?" Asuka kept watching the couple. They were both blushing as they ate.

"Well… um, one of the pilots finally dating someone is kind of big news."

"What do you mean 'finally'?"

Hikari cringed into a smile. "Ah, you know. You have quite a following. So does Ayanami, even. And—"

"Do not tell me Shinji has a fan club."

Hikari stayed silent.

"Unbelievable," Asuka muttered. "Children. This school is filled with children." She drummed her fingers against the windowsill. "When did the happy couple hook up?"

"Before school this morning."

"So that's where he went."

"Apparently she left a note in his locker yesterday to meet today," Hikari said, smiling in spite of herself. "She must have confessed and he accepted." She stared out the window. "It's kind of romantic."

"If you're twelve."

"Aw," Toji called out from behind her, "upset your husband found a mistress?"

Asuka restrained her hands from picking up a nearby chair and hurling it at his face. The rest of the class broke out laughing, and Hikari breathed a prayer to keep it civil, just this once.

"Maybe you're just not feminine enough for him."

Screw civility. "I'd think you'd be more upset," Asuka said back, not bothering to look at him. "You lost your wife."

"… Excuse me?"

"Now who's going to cook for you, clean up after you and do your homework? Poor Suzahara, abandoned by his beloved Miss Shinji." She turned around when he stayed silent. "Or maybe Shinji wore the pants in your relationship."

Toji wore murder on his face. Kensuke piped up before the escalation.

"Didn't you just describe your relationship with Shinji? Doesn't he cook for you, clean for you, and do your homework?"

"It isn't my fault if he's housebroken," Asuka said breezily, returning to the window. "I'm the one who has to live with him. What's your excuse?"

"Screw you."

"Ooh, good comeback."

Below in the courtyard the two continued to talk over lunch. The girl was enthusiastic in a restrained way, eager to show interest without scaring him off. She seemed unable to stop from smiling. Her cheeks were stained red.

Shinji blushed and fumbled with his hands and only dared brief glances at his girlfriend. He looked wildly uncomfortable yet refused to bolt for safety. Like a trapped animal making the best of a grim situation.

Asuka turned away and found the rest of the class staring at her, awaiting her reaction. More than a few looked nervous or afraid. A pair of girls near the back were smirking. Hikari wore an uncertain smile.

"What?" Asuka asked, daring someone to answer. "Like I care if he found someone eager to disgrace herself by willingly associating with him. He'll just bore her to death by the end of the week, anyways. Why is everyone so excited over this?"

She left the window to return to her seat. The jovial mood successfully slain, Asuka took her bento out from her desk. Her hand rested on the lid. After a moment she shoved it back.

/\/\/\/\

Friday was swimming in Gym. Using the private facilities within NERV was one thing but at school anybody could steal a look. Asuka could feel all the boys' grotesque eyes ogling her, violating every inch of her admittedly perfect body. Getting the admiring glances of her female classmates was little consolation. But it helped.

She waited in line to swim laps with the other girls, wracking her brain to figure out what sort of dimwit would confess to Shinji. The obvious answer was some superficial opportunist looking to score a famous boyfriend, but why did this Kirishima girl wait so long to make a move?

Asuka avoided her since the advent of the relationship, likewise punishing Shinji with the silent treatment. For him to start dating without her input was a blow to her vanity. Who better to guide him than the most talented, most beautiful girl he'd ever see? He went behind her back and was stuck with subpar wares. He lessened his worth as an elite pilot by mixing with the lower class, and in turn lessened her.

The period ended and Asuka accomplished nothing besides getting upset with Shinji all over again. She returned to the locker room and spied Kirishima at the end of her row.

Asuka glanced at her as they changed back into their uniforms. She was average height, build and looks. Messy auburn hair drifted around her face and her very bright eyes. Asuka peered lower. Barely a handful of breasts, but her behind wasn't terrible. Asuka felt an ugly, unwanted degree of relief at the examination's total results.

"Um, Ms. Soryu?" Mana began.

Asuka redirected her attention back up. "Yeah? What?"

"I appreciate the interest, but I'm afraid I'm taken."

The few girls around them giggled. Mana wore an amused smile.

"Exactly the kind of deviance I'd expect from someone willing to date Shinji," Asuka shot back. She gave a condescending shrug. "Just trying to find something that would justify such a lapse in common sense." She eyed her. "But when all you have to work with is that, I guess I can understand."

The girls around them were silent.

Mana shrugged into her shirt. "Hmm. The other girls warned me about you."

"Oh, really?"

"They said you'd hate any girl that liked Shinji. I guess they're afraid of you."

"They respect me," Asuka said. "And I couldn't care less who decides to abandon their integrity and go after Shinji. It's your social funeral. But just so you know: He has responsibilities and I won't allow him to shirk them."

A small crowd had gathered around them, partially fencing them in and preventing easy escape for Asuka. She set her jaw.

"Sorry," Mana said, smiling pleasantly. "I didn't know. Shinji barely mentions you."

"What do you talk about?" Asuka asked through gritted teeth. "His exciting hobbies and thrilling personal life?"

"No offense, but what business is it of yours?"

"He's my responsibility, as much as it sickens me. The only reason he hasn't fouled up more than he has is because of my supervision. You should consider it a favor."

"Well, maybe he can be my responsibility from now on," Mana said. She shut her locker and turned to leave. "Have a nice day, Ms. Soryu."

"What do you see in him?" Asuka called after her.

Mana stopped and glanced over her shoulder. "He's cute."

The girls around them giggled again. A few nodded. Some looked disgusted. Asuka squinted dangerously.

"He's sweet," she went on. "He doesn't expect anything, but is grateful at the same time. I like him." She shrugged. "And, I mean, come on. The guy's a hero. How many girls can say their boyfriend saved the city? More than once?"

"So that's it? The idiot has some success as a pilot and you're all over him? I know it's his only redeeming trait, but how shallow can you get?"

"If that's all you can see," Mana said, walking away, "then I feel sorry for you."

She left the changing room and the pack of girls dispersed too, whispering amongst themselves. Asuka waited until they all left, still staring after Mana. She forcibly uncurled her fists. She scoffed.

"I feel sorry for you," she muttered. "You have to date Shinji."

Asuka slammed her locker shut.

/\/\/\/\

Shinji defied Asuka's expectations by still being involved with Kirishima after two weeks. He never invited her over to the apartment, though some days he didn't come home until dark. Misato always wore a strange smile when he did arrive, like she was in on some private joke. She had taken to calling him Romeo or, much to Asuka's chagrin, Little Kaji. Shinji would fidget and say it wasn't like that.

He had not lapsed in his housework: he had gotten more efficient, completing his chores faster to escape the apartment like it was on fire. He walked to school with Mana now, going far out of his way to meet her at her home. He ate lunch with her every day. He walked her home after school. On Sundays they spent the day together.

His friends complained when he was with them in class, but it was with a jealous, good-natured tone; they didn't think it would last.

It was Saturday before classes. Asuka sat alone at her desk; Hikari was busy helping another girl with a last minute assignment. Behind her she caught the painful blathering of Shinji and his cohorts, wading through the clueless morass of the male gender. She glanced over her shoulder and saw them gathered around Suzahara's desk.

"So," Toji said, sliding close to Shinji with a leer, "how far you get with Kirishima?"

Kensuke, though silent, did refocus his camera on his friend.

"'Get?'" he repeated.

"Yeah. You know." He made a subtle gesture with his hands. "Get. As coach, I'm asking what your batting average is like. The respectable single? The enviable double? The rare triple? Or perhaps…"

"Perhaps the ball has left the stadium of childhood," Kensuke finished, zooming in.

Shinji looked uncomfortable. "I don't know what you're talking about—"

"Cut the crap, Ikari. You ditch us every single day. You spend all your time with her. You cannot tell me you two are just chatting the whole time."

"And this is on top of living with Ms. Misato."

"You are drowning in girls, Shinji. I'm throwing you a life preserver. Grab hold and sustain your life among men."

"What?" Shinji asked.

"He means as the first one of us to get a girlfriend," Kensuke explained, "it's up to you to give us some details. As a show of good faith to the dear, dear friends you abandoned. Living vicariously through you is a small price to pay to maintain the friendship." He refocused. "I shall record for posterity. And…" He signaled to start. "… action."

"Yes," Toji said. "Action."

"I think you have the wrong idea," Shinji began, debating his words. He looked away. "Mana and me aren't… It's different than what you think. We spend a lot of time together because Mana gets me." He frowned as his friends leered. "I meant she understands me. We understand each other. I like being with her. There's no big secret to it."

"Come on, man!" Toji called out. "You're killing me here. What's the point of having a girlfriend if you're not getting any action?"

"Suzahara!" Hikari exclaimed, shooting to her feet. She was red. "That is indecent! If that's what you think, it's no wonder you don't have a girlfriend!"

The other students laughed gleefully.

"Damn," Toji muttered, sinking in his seat. "Getting burned by the Class Rep. A new low."

Kensuke turned the camera off in sympathy, though he was grinning. Shinji was disinterested.

The teacher hobbled through the door and headed to the podium at the front. Hikari rose to bring the period to order, still fuming.

"Everyone rise! Bow! Be seated!"

Asuka stole one last look at Shinji. His face remained placid. A hand propped his chin up on his desk. He stared out the window. She shot him a dismissive sneer.

So Kirishima "gets" him? she thought. What's there to get? How dare he act so high and mighty, trying to impress everyone. Like he's the only one to ever date someone.

Listening to him paint his involvement with Kirishima as some special, grown-up relationship was sickening. Children didn't mature overnight and Shinji was the biggest child she knew. Having some tasteless little girl tell him he was cute or heroic might delude him into getting a swelled head but reality always crushed such grand delusions.

Asuka turned around and tried to banish him from her mind. The image of Mana walking away from her kept reappearing, bragging about her unique insight into Shinji. Asuka lived with him. Asuka fought beside him. No one knew him better than she did. And she knew he was still a child.

/\/\/\/\

Classes ended.

Asuka fulfilled her responsibility on cleanup duty by reclining in a chair by the windows, idly rubbing a cloth over one of the panes. Most were clean enough and there was no school tomorrow. She saw no need to be meticulous.

"Uh, Soryu?" one of the other boys on cleanup whined. "You need to wipe down all of the—"

"You're lucky I'm even helping you," she said, watching the last of the students mill about outside. "If you don't like how I clean, do it yourself."

The indignity of chores only added to the misery she suffered for the last two weeks. It seemed everyone was convinced Shinji having a girlfriend meant he was somehow cheating on her. Aside from the nauseous humiliation at the concept of dating Shinji Ikari, it was infuriating how intertwined their social existences had become. She lived with him because she had to. He made her lunch because he was decent at it. They used to walk to and from school together because it was convenient. He did her homework because it was beneath her. And she interacted with him because someone needed to reign in his pathetic, selfish, childish stupidity.

Now with so many of those roles diminished or destroyed she was relegated to Shinji's leftovers in the student body's psyche. She got looks of pity and compassion from other girls. The number of love letters she received had picked up again. One small group of girls even offered to torment Kirishima for her.

She was not Shinji Ikari's jilted lover, or his tagalong, or his desperate ex longing for him to take her back. She was Asuka Langley Soryu. She knew who she was. She did not need anyone to tell her and she did not need anyone forcing their own grossly inaccurate perceptions of reality on her.

It would just be easier if everything went back to normal, she thought, still wiping over the same windowpane. If she was in charge of him again all the whispered pity, the sympathetic glances and condescending smirks would stop. And there was the chance of reshaping him into a worthwhile human being someday. Who knew what that inferior Kirishima girl was molding him into?

Asuka kept wiping, waiting for the other students to fulfill the necessary pretense of team unity and cleanliness, when she saw Mana and Shinji appear in the courtyard below. Asuka craned her neck to watch them.

She led him by the wrist, all but dragging him. Mana glanced around them, assured they were alone, and pulled him down a narrow alley by the gymnasium. Asuka's breakfast asked for permission to exit via her mouth.

"They wouldn't…" She swung her legs to the floor and tossed the rag on the desk. "I'm taking off," she announced as she strode to the door. "Finish up for me."

"But we all have to—"

She left.

Kirishima was probably just looking for a remote place to chew him out over something stupid he did. She ordered him around enough. He catered to her every whim and doted on her, so when his innate incompetency reared its head, it was only natural she reprimand him.

That's what Asuka kept telling herself as she hurried down to the ground floor and ran across the courtyard to the gymnasium's back alley. No other explanation made sense. But she wanted an insight into how this girl was managing to make Shinji change when her own efforts were always met by his wall of stubborn incompetence.

She halted as a small supply shed came into sight, approaching as quietly as she could, straining her ears for anything unusual. Her adrenaline was singing, her heart was punching her ribs, she felt warm and itchy.

Just the run here, she thought, trying to catch her breath.

Asuka crept along the gymnasium's wall, spying a pile of empty crates beneath the shed's window.

"You're like this every day," she heard Mana say.

"Sorry," Shinji replied.

"There's no helping you. Is the door locked?"

There was a pause. "Yeah."

Asuka stepped on top of the crates and stood on her tiptoes to peer inside the window.

Mana sat cross-legged on a pile of hurdles, an arm propped on her knee and a hand holding her chin. She looked bored and regal. Shinji shrank by the door, peeking up at her as he faced the ground.

"Come," Mana commanded.

Shinji dropped to all fours and crawled to her on hands and knees, bowing his head in deference. He stopped at her feet, keeping his head below them.

"Good boy." Mana toed his hair. "Well? Aren't you going to show me how grateful you are that I chose you?"

Shinji cradled her foot and removed her shoe, carefully placing it on the ground. He peeled back the sock, folded it and laid it atop the shoe. He reverently held her naked foot and lifted it to press his lips to the sole. Mana bit her lip and shivered.

He kissed each toe. He ran his tongue between them. His lips found the toenails, then up to the ankle, then her calf. Mana pulled her leg away.

"Who said you could go up that far?" She hesitated, then shoved his face away with her heel.

Shinji let his body fall and landed hard on his side. He struggled up on his hands and knees. "I'm sorry. Forgive me." He bowed, touching his forehead to the floor.

"Stand up."

He obeyed. She looked him over.

"You're such a pervert," she said, nodding at his crotch. "Getting hard from licking my foot." Mana grinned. "Do you want me to help you with it? Do you want me to use my foot to get you off?"

"Yes," Shinji whimpered.

She rubbed him through his pants, wiping her foot over him like she was scraping gum off the sole on a curb.

"Well, I won't." She withdrew her foot. "You really thought I'd let you stain me like that?"

"Please," he whined. His hands trembled near his zipper.

She issued a soft, dismissive snort. "I'll take pity on you. Go on. Just do it like you always do."

He undid his belt and pants, and pulled them around his knees with his underwear. He held himself tightly.

"God, it's ugly," she sneered. "Hurry up. I'm already sick of looking at it."

His breath tumbled out in manic syncopation. He gritted his teeth. His back arched.

"Mmnn."

Life spilled from his fingers in sluggish streams to splatter at his feet. His whole body wilted, a puppet with snapped strings.

"Good boy," Mana began, then jerked back. "Damn it!" She hopped off the hurdle, glaring at Shinji. "Look at what you did!" She pointed to her skirt, and a thick glob of white staining the hem. "Clean it off!"

Shinji regained his breath, staring dumbly at her. He looked around for something suitable to wipe it up.

"Now!" Her face convulsed. "Lick it off!" She stamped her foot when he hesitated. "Use your tongue!"

He collapsed to his knees, delicately holding the hem of her skirt to make it taut. The stain had partially soaked through into a dark halo. His tongue slid between his lips and he opened his mouth, craning his head forward. He curled his tongue and sluiced it inside his mouth. His whole body twitched. A low cough got stuck in his throat.

She gripped his hair and pushed him away. "Better than nothing," she said, inspecting the wet stain on her dress. "The rest better come out in the wash. I can't believe I have to clean up your mess."

"I'm sorry," he panted.

"Now clean up the rest," she ordered.

Shinji fell back to the ground. He lowered his head. He was shaking.

"Well? Go on. You'll be praised if you do it."

He slurped and gagged. His face came up wet and dusty. He swallowed, his body convulsed, and he latched a hand over his mouth. His eyes jammed shut and he shook his head.

"Don't throw up."

The stinging sickness rippled through him, working his throat up and down, then sank into his gut, pulling him into a loose pile on the ground. He removed the hand from his mouth with a blast of breath, and panted like a dog.

Shinji was pale and sweaty. He peeked up at Mana and gave her a tentative smile. She tilted her head, peering down her nose at the small creature begging for approval. Her lips molded into a thin smile.

"Good boy."

/\/\/\/\

She watched his hands, wielding the knife, holding the cucumber to let the blade sink through it and erase its length. The rhythmic pounding of the cutting board, the concentration hanging on his brow, the soft beaded sweat crawling down his face. She watched.

Shinji prepared dinner. Soup bubbled on the stove, meat sizzled in a pan. Shinji readied a salad, cutting and dicing, while keeping guard over the rest of the meal. Asuka watched him from the kitchen table. Misato was beside her, prattling on about work, something to do with her assistant Glasses the Ever-Lonely catching a bug and being absent for days thus pushing even more paperwork onto her desk.

"… So then Maya comes in and in her usual passive-aggressive way when she's asking for something starts hinting that maybe the T-337 forms are a bit late and do I possibly know anything about that and oh, wait, that's your department isn't it, Captain? So then…"

Asuka peered at his hands. She imagined thousands of wriggling sperm crawling over them, falling into the food. Asuka peered at his mouth. Whenever he turned to respond to something Misato directed at him she saw thick white globs spray from his mouth, hanging on his lips, coating his chin and neck. Asuka peered at the steaming food. His stink was saturating the room, heavy and wet and stale, a thick yellowy stench that jammed itself into her nostrils and slithered down the back of her throat.

"… Just like Ritsuko to send an underling to bother me, but when she has free time or another crisis about one of her damn cats I have to drop everything and listen and pretend she doesn't stink like week-old cigarettes and cheap perfume…"

Asuka wondered if Shinji would eat at the table or if he'd take his meal in a bowl on the floor. Maybe Kirishima had a collar and leash, and took him for walks.

"… No wonder she's still single. And she always acts like she doesn't care about that but I know it eats her up inside. She still wears those damn heels every day, like she's trying to impress someone. Pfft. Like she'd ever tell me about anything important."

"Um, dinner's ready," Shinji said, hesitantly offering his guardian a meal.

Misato rubbed her temples. "Never grow up, Shinji. Adulthood is suffering."

He laughed weakly. "Okay."

Speak, Shinji. Speak.

Asuka eyed him as he approached her. He placed her plate under her nose. All she could smell was his sweaty stink.

"I'm not hungry," she told him.

/\/\/\/\

On Sunday Kaji let Asuka impound his time for the afternoon. She dragged him to the shopping arcade's clothing strip for what she hoped came off as an impromptu fashion show. A fair portion of her time shopping for clothes was imagining his reaction to them, trying to decipher what would earn a blush or a second look or a lingering once-over. In the time she had known him she earned none of those effects. It was an ever-evolving game she was determined to win.

Asuka pulled him to a trendy boutique, drenched in pastels. The clothes were high-end and expensive, and targeted to older teens with boyfriends. Kaji was practically her boyfriend already. He just needed some motivation to realize it.

Everything she took from the racks looked the same. Boring and unworthy of Kaji's attention. She pressed a low-cut top in her hands, then stuffed it back. She suddenly felt like a child.

"This is all Shinji's fault."

She left the store and crumpled at an outdoor café, modeled after the owner's idea of what constituted European design. Asuka absentmindedly stirred a small coffee. Kaji sipped tea.

"Mr. Kaji," she asked idly, "how old were you when you started dating?"

"Who says I ever dated anyone?"

She propped her chin up on the table with a hand. "I'm not a child. Of course you dated other women. But it was before you met me."

Kaji wore a bemused smile. "How mature of you. But why the sudden interest? Has Shinji's romantic entanglement got you feeling left out?"

"Geez. Does everyone know about that? I bet he brags about it all the time behind my back."

"Actually, Katsuragi told me. It's kind of cute."

If you like feet and humiliation, Asuka thought. "They're just children playing house. It'll never last."

"Jealous?"

If I liked feet and humiliation, Asuka thought. "Please. Like I said. They're children playing. If anything I'm relieved he found someone willing to debase herself by being with him. Maybe he'll stop ogling me all the time."

"So, any lucky young man catch your eye at school?" Kaji tried and failed to restrain a grin.

"How many times do I have to tell you. All the boys at school are perverted losers." Shinji is proof enough of that. "You're the only man I think about."

He lifted his tea to hide his mouth.

"You never answered my question," Asuka realized. She hated how he could redirect their conversations so easily. "How old were you when you started dating?"

"I was eighteen," Kaji told her. He grinned at her shocked face. "My teen years were a little hectic."

She issued a tiny hum of understanding to cover her lack of understanding. "I bet the girls were disappointed."

He shrugged, looking blithe. "If they were, they never told me. I think it's better to wait to start dating. Kids are so desperate to grow up nowadays."

"Maybe for boys. Girls mature faster."

"So you think Shinji's too young?"

"You're twisting my words," Asuka growled, though she smiled. This was what she wanted. Someone who challenged her without demeaning her. "I just think he's in over his head. Like he'd ever understand women or anything."

"I take it you don't approve of Ms. Kirishima?"

"She's a freak," Asuka blurted.

"That's a bit harsh," he said slowly. He set his tea down.

"Well… I mean…" She scoffed. "She likes Shinji. Of course she has freak tendencies."

"Hmm."

Asuka kept stirring her coffee. She knew what she saw was wrong. She knew it was unhealthy. Beyond that, it disturbed her on a deep, private level to see how readily Shinji submitted to such degradation. Asuka never guessed Mana was a sadist, and she knew Shinji was a spineless coward that always crumpled under pressure, but for him to so willingly throw himself into her twisted fantasies was truly surreal.

She watched Kaji return to his drink, looking out over the shopping arcade with a carefully pleasant expression. It was the face he wore when he was humoring someone. Was that the summation of adult relationships? Facades and public personae around others and unknown deviance in private? Not that she had a lot to compare it to but she refused to believe Shinji was in an adult relationship.

Even if he is doing sex stuff. It doesn't mean he's more mature or anything. It just means he's more perverted.

Asuka stared across the table. "Are you a virgin?" she asked Kaji.

He choked on his tea. "What's all this suddenly? You never asked about anything like that before."

"So?" Her coffee was cold. The spoon tapped the edge of the cup. "I'm asking now."

"What's this really about? You've been off all day. Am I boring you?"

"You're never boring. I'm just… I don't know. Adults do that stuff, right?"

"Some do," Kaji admitted. He adopted a cautious smile. Something approaching tender. "It isn't a race."

Asuka turned and gazed out over the passing throng of shoppers. There was an unwarranted preponderance of couples. Some held hands, some linked their arms at the elbow, a few were all but hugging as they walked. They were all laughing and talking, smiling and looking at each other, oblivious to the rest of the world.

She tried to imagine Shinji and Mana among the couples, shyly holding hands, sneaking quick peeks at each other and smiling in embarrassment when their eyes met. Every image Asuka constructed fell apart as soon as she built it; all she could picture was his desperate beam for approval and her detached smirk.

She remembered how grown-up he tried to sound to his friends, pretending nothing was amiss and that he was involved an emotional relationship with Kirishima based on mutual understanding and respect. Showing off, like he was so mature.

She knew she was more mature than Shinji. She'd prove it by showing him how wrong he was. He was lying to everyone, trying to act like an adult when he was just childishly submitting to the first person to show an interest, like always.

"Not a race," Asuka repeated. The couples strolled by without glancing at her. "Like I need anything to prove I'm an adult."

"Glad to hear it," Kaji said. The cup was hiding his mouth again.

She thought of Shinji, on hands and knees, crawling towards Mana. He was the one blindly racing towards a hopeless illusion of adulthood. He was the one placing his value as a person in another's hands and believing it was the mature thing to do. He was the one who needed something to prove.

Asuka glanced back to Kaji. She stood. "Let's go back to that boutique."

He assented with a grin, refusing her any further reaction when she hugged his arm tightly. They walked into the flow of couples, moving against the stream.

/\/\/\/\

Kaji dropped her off as the sun dipped below the mountains fencing Tokyo-3. He declined Shinji's invitation to join them for supper. He declined Asuka's pleaded demand. He wriggled from her grasp and slipped out the door.

"It's just us tonight," Shinji said from the kitchen. "Ms. Misato's working late again."

Asuka kicked off her shoes and stomped into the apartment, stopping at the threshold of the kitchen. Shinji was at the sink, doing the day's dishes before starting dinner. He was in his apron, forearms under a bubbly white landscape of foam. The clatter of dishware hiccupped through the room.

"You can take a shower if you want," he told her over his shoulder. "Dinner will be awhile."

Asuka didn't move.

Being alone with Shinji meant she'd have to think about all the disgusting things she saw again. She still refused to eat anything he touched. She hated having him talk, sending the remnants of his putrid seed into the air around her. When she sat at the table with him all she could smell was him.

There was a problem only she knew about. So it was a problem only she could solve. Dragging the other adults into it would just get messy. She'd prove to Kaji she was grown up. She'd prove to Misato she was capable alone. She could do this by herself. She could do this.

"So how's your darling Kirishima?" she opened. "Not serving her every whim tonight?"

"I saw her earlier. She had plans with her father."

His voice didn't hitch or hesitate on the word father. Asuka noticed he was less prone to visible misery the past week or so. He wasn't dancing and singing in the sunshine, but he wasn't ruining everyone else's day with his sour attitude.

Is he that desperate for perceived affection? she wondered. Some weirdo bothers to spend time with him and he surrenders completely.

"A daddy's girl, huh?"

"I guess." He slid his hands from the soapy water and dried them on his apron. "He's real busy, so they don't see each other often."

"She introduce you to him yet?"

Shinji paused. "Um, he doesn't know about… about me and her. She said he might not approve of her dating."

So he's a little pet she keeps secret from daddy. Pathetic.

"Do you feel like anything special for dinner?" Shinji asked, smiling. "I could make something new, or we could even get something from that new takeout place by—"

"Stop acting so familiar with me," she told him. "I'm not your little girlfriend."

He drew back. "I know." His voice was a relieved appeal to God. He turned away and began drying the clean dishes by the sink.

Asuka forcibly discarded the punch begging to jump from her fist. Time for some tough love. She shook her head. Tough tolerance. Tough pity.

She pushed herself into the kitchen, crossing her arms as she came up behind him.

"You overslept this morning," she said. "Were you late to meet Kirishima? Did she punish you?"

His stance shifted at her tone and he put down the cloth. "What do you mean?"

"Did she refuse to eat lunch with you? Or not hold hands? Or make you lick your semen off the floor again?"

His stance shifted again. She watched him grip the counter. "That's disgusting."

"Yeah, it is."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Shinji said. His voice was low. "I'm surprised you think about stuff like that."

Asuka bit down on a flash of rage. She was not going to let him turn this around on her.

"I'm surprised you do stuff like that," she said. "I saw you two in the supply shed yesterday. I'm sure you remember. Or do you need a reminder? Should I take my socks off? I bet my feet taste better than Kirishima's."

A tremor ran through his hands clutching the counter. His shoulders drooped. He took a deep breath through his nose. When he turned around to her his face was devoid of expression.

"Okay. Fine. You made fun of me. Good one. Can we drop it now?"

She gaped at him in bafflement. "No. No, we can't. I'd love to drop it and forget I ever saw that marathon of debauchery but I don't have that luxury. You're a pilot. As troubling as it is, I have to rely on you in battle sometimes. And I refuse to place my life in the hands of someone who abandons all self-worth at the beck and call of some girl with a foot fetish." Asuka scowled at his silence. "So, what? You're not even going to defend yourself?"

"Like you'd understand."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You've never even been in a relationship," he muttered. "How do you know what couples should and shouldn't do?"

"Because I have morals?" she snapped at him, ignoring the insult. "Because I have self-esteem? Because I'm normal? Take your pick. I know because I'm not wearing blinders around someone throwing me scraps of attention like you are. And like you know so much. This sick little thing you're involved in is your first. You can really stand there and tell me this is all okay? That you think that girl is normal?" She waited, breathing hard, glaring at him to respond. "Answer me!"

"Just leave me alone," he mumbled, escaping around the table and heading for the hall to his room.

"How can you be okay with this?" she demanded, cutting him off. She reached out and grabbed his shoulder. "You are not going to run away from me."

Shinji spun out of her hold and gripped her arms. Asuka was so surprised she froze. Their eyes met and she saw the same surprise before it was swallowed by fury. He drove her into the wall and she hit the back of her head. Stars cartwheeled at the edges of her vision.

"Don't ruin this for me," he told her. "Stay out of it. This is mine, understand?" He backed away, clenching and unclenching his hands, trying to erase the blistering sensation of her skin.

She held her head and fell backwards against the wall. She probed the injury but her fingers came away dry. He watched her in panicked dread.

Asuka reached out blindly to slap him. He jerked aside and she staggered past him, stumbling across the kitchen to the edge of the hall. She dug her nails into the wall and refused her body the indulgence of collapsing. She heard him move behind her.

"Get away from me," she hissed. "Get away or I will make you sorry."

He stopped.

Her vision was a tunnel of prickly seizuring static. She hugged the wall, feeling her way to her bedroom door.

"Just… Just leave this alone," Shinji's voice floated after her as she skimmed the hallway. The words were choked. "It's none of your business."

Asuka slipped inside her room as the dots began dispersing from before her eyes. The incensed strength of determination faded and she slid to the floor. Her head became stone-heavy and drooped. She watched her door through her bangs. She did not hear Shinji. The apartment wallowed in silence.

/\/\/\/\

The hiss of a bedroom door shutting woke her up.

Monday was a holiday, an obscure Japanese observance Asuka didn't care about. But it was a day free of school and kanji, and a day she could spend trying to figure out why she hadn't forcibly removed Shinji Ikari's head from his scrawny torso.

Talking back to her was one thing. Daring to assault her was another. But getting him that angry proved she knew exactly what was going on, despite his protests. Normal girlfriends didn't make their boyfriends lick their semen off the dirty gym shed floor. Shinji could rationalize it to himself however he wished but he had become a liability in and out of battle, and forced Asuka's hand.

She didn't want to deal with it. She had enough burdens in her life without being forced to sort out all of Shinji's problems too, but he certainly wasn't solving anything himself. He was a failure at life, relying on everyone else to clean up after him while actively hindering aid.

I didn't fail, she told herself. I just got a little sidetracked by his crazy. It was humiliating that she was caught off guard. By Shinji, of all people.

Asuka stared at the door. She heard him in the hall, walking from his room. He stopped in front of her bedroom and she held her breath.

Keep moving, she snarled in her mind. Don't you dare try to talk to me right now.

He moved away into the kitchen and was lost amid the clatter of dishware. A few moments later his voice called out announcing his departure. The front door slid open and then closed. Asuka rose from the floor and drifted out of her room.

Misato was conducting a heinous chemistry experiment on the kitchen stove. She turned and offered friendly derision.

"Hello, sunshine. Sleep long enough? It's past eleven."

"Why are you cooking?" Asuka asked her guardian. She stayed at the entrance of the kitchen held by the dread and stench emanating from within.

"Shinji's out with his little girlfriend for lunch. So, it falls on me and my refined culinary skills to provide you with sustenance."

Her guardian was, despite personal habits and decisions off the clock, a tactician. Her greatest ability seemed to be dumb luck but she had the resources and clout to force an end to her problem. And Shinji was definitely a problem. He denied her, he humiliated her, he hurt her. Now anything was justified to return the favor, even taking advantage of outside assistance. It wasn't failure if she still set things in motion.

Right?

"Hello," Misato called out when Asuka stood staring into space. "You okay?"

"Just stunned by seeing you cooking. And by your naiveté. You're really allowing that 'relationship' to continue?"

"It's cute," she said, grinning at her. "Don't tell me you're jealous."

Do all adults think like this? Asuka thought, recalling her conversation with Kaji with a new bitterness. "Don't you know what they're doing?"

"Eating, right?" She suddenly leered and turned away. "Bad Misato. Stop that right now. They're kids."

One of them is eating. "This Kirishima girl is a control freak. She's been ordering him to do all sorts of things."

"Eh?" Misato stared blankly at her. "Sure, she bosses him around a bit… okay, a lot, but…" She shrugged and quirked a smile. "She's a teenage girl and he's a teenage boy."

"Exactly."

"What is it you're not telling me?"

"You really don't know." Asuka shook her head. "I thought we had ghosts trailing us everywhere."

"You do." Misato's voice had dropped all pretense of amusement.

"Well, they're doing a crappy job. Or they're not reporting anything important."

"Section-2 has noninterference orders for you three," she said after a moment of debate. "If there's a hint of danger they'll swarm the area." She watched her ward tap her foot and look anywhere but at her. "Damn it, Asuka. Just tell me what's wrong."

Once she told it would cement the acts. It would reshape the world based on those acts. It would no longer be a secret between Shinji and Mana. Everyone would know, and everyone would react. They would direct and control and force and resolve and steal her revenge and do everything Asuka could not do on her own. She had been reactive. She had been proactive. Neither worked. She failed and everyone would know it.

She failed.

"I followed them to the supply shed on Saturday after school." And she continued.

Misato listened with pale neutrality, staring at Asuka the whole time. When it was over she sat down and leaned heavily on the table, rubbing her eyes in her palms. She took a deep breath.

"Why didn't you tell me this immediately?" she asked.

"It was only a couple days," Asuka said, looking away. Failure. Loser.

"That's a shitty excuse," Misato said.

She gaped at her, surprisingly offended. "I tried talking to him. He freaked out. Like, really freaked out. It wasn't like I was ignoring this! This isn't my fault. You idiots at NERV dropped the ball!"

Misato stared her down. She took another breath. She rose and picked up the phone. The rapid electric tones filled the apartment. When she talked her voice was a strained good humor.

"Shinji? It's me. There's been an emergency call at headquarters. No, no, it isn't an Angel. Just get down there right away, okay? I'll meet you there. Hmm? No, I haven't talked to Asuka lately. Hurry up now, okay? See you soon."

Misato hung up and dialed again. Her voice was calm death.

"It's me. As soon as the Third Children is away apprehend Mana Kirishima and relocate her to HQ. Use route 27 to the detention block." She paused. "Subject is not to be harmed."

Misato hung up. She ran a hand through sweaty hair. She spun on Asuka.

"We're going to headquarters now." She disappeared into her room to change.

"Why do I have to tag along?" Asuka demanded.

"I need your firsthand account. I can't just go accusing her of this."

"I'm sure you can convince them to talk by yourself."

"So am I."

Something in her tone filled Asuka with genuine fear. She swallowed the rest of her argument and went to her room to change.

She shut her door and got out her school uniform. She felt some degree of formality was needed when accusing a fellow classmate of sexually abusing one of the only three people capable of saving the world.

She finished tying her bow, staring at her reflection in the mirror mounted on her closet door. The face that gazed back was a dispassionate collection of features. She didn't recognize it.

"Failure," she told the person in the mirror.

/\/\/\/\

Two days later Shinji was allowed to return home. Ostensibly the extended stay at NERV was for a lengthy debriefing session and medical workup. Unofficially, Asuka knew, it was for him to calm down. She admitted he took it better than she expected; he didn't cry or attack anyone. He just said how everything was ruined and they didn't understand anything.

Asuka was sent on a suggested holiday at Hikari's, giving her roommates a grace period to privately readjust. Another three days and Misato ended her gentle exile, allowing her home to find a dirty front hall, a kitchen filled with used dishes and half-eaten instant food cartons. Beer cans dotted the entire apartment. Everything smelled stale and old.

Misato emerged from her room in uniform. Her responsibilities at NERV could be postponed for only so long, even in the face of such a scandal.

"Welcome home," she said, sounding rushed. "Sorry about the mess." She weaved through the chaos to the front hall and her shoes.

"Someone's been slacking off around here," Asuka said, resting against the refrigerator and running a critical eye over the room.

"We've had other things to worry about." She peeked her head back into the kitchen. She hesitated. "He's in his room sleeping."

"That's one way to avoid reality a little longer."

Misato pursed her lips. "He's… he's been through a lot, okay? Try to go easy on him." She preempted her ward's outrage. "As a favor to me. I'll owe you."

Asuka snorted softly. "If anything, he should be thanking me until he's hoarse. I'm the one who brought all this to light. Is he still whining about how we ruined his life?"

"He's been through a lot," she repeated slowly. She chewed her lip. "You weren't present for the entire interrogation."

"And? Feet weren't the extent of Kirishima's hobbies? So what if I didn't hear every sordid detail? I saw enough. Are you hiding something?"

"Like you said, you didn't hear every sordid detail. Leave it at that." Misato stopped moving and fixed her with her Captain's stare. "Leave him be," she ordered her before she left.

Asuka crossed her arms and leaned against the frame of Shinji's open door. It was dark in his room, only the thin knife of light from the hall cutting over his bed to reveal him laying down, his back to her. He did not move.

"How long are you going to stay in here moping in the dark?"

He was silent.

"This is stupid. You're being stupid. Yeah, you lost your sicko girlfriend and everyone knows what a puppet you are, but at least now there's a semi-legitimate reason for everyone to give you special treatment for a while. Soak it up."

Asuka sighed at his lack of reaction.

"Kirishima's dad was transferred to God-knows-where. Everyone's keeping this real hush-hush. Why NERV isn't pressing charges is beyond me. Or doing something about that little sociopath Kirishima."

She watched his side rise and fall as he breathed.

"Well, maybe you should be pouting. What do I know? Maybe you enjoyed all the debasement. I mean, I only call you names. How can I compete with someone who makes you lick her feet?"

He exhaled hard from his nose.

"You ruined everything," Shinji finally spoke. His voice was low and tight.

"Yeah, I remember you telling me that before. Try something new. And rational."

Shinji was silent.

"Look. Kirishima was messed up, okay? What you did…" She frowned tightly and forced the words out. "What she made you do, was wrong. No one should have to do that. I don't care if she told you she liked you or whatever. It was wrong." She sighed sharply. "I'm sorry you had to go through it, okay? Is that what you've been waiting to hear? I'm sorry."

He didn't react. She set her jaw.

"But when you pushed me…" Asuka's eyes narrowed to slits. She spoke through clenched teeth. "I will give you a pass this one time. If you ever touch me like that again you will get no pity from me. Got it?"

Shinji rose on an elbow and looked at her with one eye. "You don't get it. You ruined everything."

"You keep saying that. Get over it."

"You always think you know everything."

"Oh my God," Asuka muttered. "What is wrong with you? She was abusing you. She was just using you for a sick little thrill. Some pathetic juvenile power trip with a wimp so desperate for some attention he'd debase himself for her pleasure."

"You think you know everything," he said again.

"I know more than you. I know what's right and what's wrong. I know I saved your ungrateful behind."

Shinji turned around fully, sitting on the edge of his bed. He stood, straightening slowly. Asuka pushed off from the door and squared her shoulders. He took a step forward and she curled her fists.

"Keep your distance," she told him in a low, dangerous voice.

He stopped two paces from her. He met her eyes and did not look away. His face sank in miserable anger.

"You didn't save me," he said with a wavering voice. He breathed and regained a degree of control. "You just did what you always do. You do whatever you want and never think about the consequences or what it does to anyone else. You're selfish."

Asuka never saw him this angry before and took a perverse satisfaction in it. This was what he needed to tell her what he really felt? Getting revealed as a coward and weakling made him rebel against those personae? He wasn't hiding behind passive-aggressiveness or politeness or dependency. She finally brought out a genuine reaction from him.

"Selfish?" she repeated. "Oh, yeah. Rescuing you from humiliation and abuse was so selfish of me. How dare I think of someone else's predicament and actively work to solve it. No, Shinji, you're the selfish one. You create these kinds of situations to make people feel sorry for you. You finally got caught and now you're desperate to blame anyone else—"

"Shut up!" he roared. "You never listen to anyone!" Shinji clutched at the air in front of her. "You don't… You don't know anything! You always take everything from me. Does it offend you so much to see me happy?"

"How could you be happy?" she yelled back at him. "How could you be happy with her doing those things to you?"

"Do you know why she did those things? I told her to do those things to me. I wanted her to do those things to me. I told her and she did them. Do you have any idea what that's like?"

Asuka stared at him in dawning horror.

"She didn't want to at first. I convinced her. I convinced her. Mana listened to me and did what I wanted and never judged me. It didn't matter what it was, she did it. And then she praised me for it. She praised me. She said she liked me. She was nice to me."

Asuka took a step away from him.

"I finally…" He broke off, panting hard. "I found someone who would do what I wanted for once. She didn't make me pilot like Ms. Misato or father. She didn't make me confused like Ayanami. And she didn't make me into nothing like you do. Mana listened to me. For the first time in my life I had someone who did what I wanted and who praised me for doing it. And you took it away from me."

"You're sick," Asuka whispered, backing out of the room.

"You don't know anything," Shinji told her, and shut his door.

She heard him move, then the rustle of sheets as he collapsed back into bed. Then silence.

She stared at the plaque on his door. Something dark and angry bubbled to the surface. She slapped the plaque off. It fell by her feet, sending a sharp split across its face.

"You don't know anything!" she shouted at him through the door. "You're even more miserable than I thought! You're pitiful! You're ungrateful! You're so… stupid!" She shook in fury. "I can't believe I ever felt sorry for you! You manipulate everyone around you into giving you sympathy! You use people to make yourself feel better! So go ahead and keep trying to fulfill your pathetic need for acceptance because you will never get it!"

She kicked the plaque down the hall.

"I can't stand you!" She hit the door with her palm as hard as she could. Something cracked.

Asuka turned and stomped away down the hall. She stopped as her foot hit something. Shinji's plaque had skidded in front of her door. She stared at the fracture running over its face, cutting his name in half.

Asuka snatched it from the floor and hurled it back into the dark towards his room. She heard it clatter against the wall.

She heaved her door open and stepped into the dark, slamming it behind her. She climbed onto her bed, kneeled, bent over and screamed into her pillow. Her nails dug into the fabric, contorting and twisting it as she emptied her lungs.

The scream spiraled down to a crackly moan and she pulled back panting. The pillow was a warped mass in her fists. She spun and hurled it against the wall separating her room with Shinji's. It struck with a soft breath of violence and slid to the ground.

Asuka collapsed to her side and curled into a ball, hugging her knees. She lay in bed in the dark in the silent apartment. She shut her eyes.

"You don't know anything."

/\/\/\/\

End

Author notes: Happy Valentine's Day! Yes, this is a reworking of that infamous train wreck, Witness. Mediaminer ate my account or something. So I decided to make all of you suffer again, you lucky people, you.

The original was horrible. I hope I cleaned it up a bit and made the characterizations not suck as much. It's still messy and bad, but less so? Progress.

And for the record, I don't think Mana is "average." She's a cutie-pie.