Disclaimer: Evangelion is not mine. Disclaimers are redundant...

This takes place during the alternate reality that Shinji created in episode 26. The one where Rei actually spoke like a normal girl and said things that I never expected to come out of her mouth... *shakes head* For now, this is just a WAFFy one shot with Shinji/Asuka, but maybe I can continue with it if I want to later.

On with the show!

*********

A Beautiful Day for Piggyback Rides
By: Karina Kineshi (coronaflare@mail.com)

Late! Late!!

I didn't know whether to pound on the door or just give it a simple tap. If I had done the former, Mr. Ikari would have come out here and busted my ass before he realized who I was. But then again, there was the threat of knocking so quietly no one would hear me. It's amazing that no matter how many times I stand in front of this very door, I have no idea how to act.

Shinji's parents, namely his dad, were more partial to voices than to knocking on the door. I thought of a better approach. "Hello? Can I come—"

The door whipped open before I could finish my sentence, and I was left standing there with my fist raised in midair and hovering in front of my face, ready to knock. All the blood drained to my feet when I beheld the impressive height of Gendo Ikari filling the doorway. "Yes?"

Can this man ever greet me like I wasn't some door-to-door toilet salesman? Just once? Or does he forget my name when I go to his apartment every single day? I like to think of myself as a person who is normally unshaken, but in this man's presence... I felt myself becoming unraveled. "I... well... Shinji..."

He growled at me, a deep noise that rattled in the back of his throat. "Shinji is still—"

"—dear, who is it?" Yui pushed her husband's hulk out of the doorway, at the same time wiping her hands on a teatowel. She smiled broadly when she saw me. "Asuka! Come in, come in..."

I heaved a sigh of relief when Gendo gave me a once over before striding back to the kitchen table, no doubt going back to reading the stock market profiles in the newspaper. Yui winked at me and directed me to Shinji's room. Well, not that I needed her to do so, but she did it anyways. "Thank you," I said.

"You're welcome."

We assumed an unspoken communication that went something along of the lines of me thanking her for saving me from her husband. She said with her eyes that she knew how intimidating her husband could be to children (even though he really wasn't once you got to know him, she said) and that it was her job to save all people who knock on the door of room 317.

Why did that man hate me so much, anyways? Is it just me? Or does he treat everyone like that? Maybe I'm going overboard. I had known the family for a long time, was best friends with Shinji and a favorite of Shinji's mother, but Shinji's father? I shrugged and chalked it up as one of life's eternal mysteries.

"Shinji? Are you awake?"

What a stupid question to ask. I don't think being snuggled in your covers with your eyes closed counted as being awake. I looked around to see if he had changed anything since yesterday. Same penguin bobblehead figurine... same prudish sense of tidiness. Other than a box of mangorind candy on the floor, nothing was out of place.

That's my mangorind candy, damn you!

He must have stolen it from me, the little punk. Or wait... I think I gave it to him... oh well. I picked the box up off the floor and put it on his desktop. After a moment's hesitation, I took that same box and put it in my lunchbag. I'd have dessert today...

Of course, I'll share. Maybe.

Shinji turned over in his sleep, eyebrows close together and a slight scowl on his face. "Hey Shinji?" If he was having a bad dream, I guess the thing to do would be to wake him. I leaned in closer, not really deciding on the best way to handle this. I kept on moving closer to his face when I realized just how close I was.

C'mon, I had been this close before, and sometimes even closer. We were old friends, there wasn't a thing I knew about me that he didn't. I was comfortable enough to be really physically close to him without feeling guilt or that sense of longing between a man and a woman. I didn't have that at all.

It was okay in grade school, everyone knew that Shinji and Asuka were just friends. Just platonic. It wasn't out of the ordinary to have a girl as your best friend, or vice versa. However, that all changed when we entered intermediary school. Suddenly, hanging out with a girl meant that you had her "in the sack".

I shuddered at the assumption. We were just friends, and it's strange when someone tries to tell us otherwise. I could hear Touji's voice echoing in my head, asking why in the world Shinji and I hadn't gone on a date already. Shinji and I looked at him like he was crazy, and then we walked back to class. Together.

"Shinji?"

I felt his soft breathing on my face, and my eyelids drooped as I stared at him. Boyish, not incredibly handsome, but above average. The innocence was the trait that endeared him most to the girls of my class. Oddly enough, no one had ever asked him for a date because they always assumed that I was his girlfriend.

Which I certainly was not.

I remember seeing this same childlike face playing in the sandbox the day that we met. He was playing all by himself, patting down sand in an attempt to build a mound. The boys' consensus was that he was too wimpy and didn't like playing rough boy sports like wrestling. The girls whispered amongst themselves that his father was a very powerful trading tycoon, and whoever angered Shinji would be struck down by the wrath of God.

I said they were all airheads.

None of them had even bothered to talk to the boy before, so how did they know? My family and I had just moved here from Hamburg, Germany. While getting to know everyone in my elementary school was no easy task, I found myself being drawn to the silent boy with the sad, expressive eyes. The one who wasn't afraid to play by himself.

"Asuka, be careful!" one of my friends named Megumi cautioned. "I hear that whenever someone talks to him, they turn up missing the next day."

I snorted at her and told my friends to watch me talk to him. In that burst of confidence only a second grader can possess, I sauntered over to the sandbox and set my foot on a wooden plank. Of course, I was scared, but I'd never admit it. I cleared my throat to get his attention. "Hi, I'm Asuka. Sohryu Asuka Langley. Pleased to meet you."

The boy's head slowly lifted upwards, as if tearing his eyes away from his sand mound would somehow flatten it. "Are... are you talking to me?"

"Who else would I be talking to, dummkopf?" I sneered. Almost immediately, I slapped my hand over my mouth when I said that German word. Mama always uttered it when my Dad says something stupid. Mama never gave me an explanation as to why I can't say it, but I know it's bad all the same.

"I don't know..." He looked puzzled. "What's that word you said?"

"It's a bad word. I can't say it again." I said in a conspiratorial tone. "Mama might wash my mouth out with soap if I say it again."

The boy blinked and nodded with me, eyes wide open. "Oh... right..." Parents could instill such fear in children, and we were no exception. I glanced around, frightened that somehow my Mama was watching me from somewhere. She said that she had eyes in the back of her head, and I wondered if she also had them in the school.

Once I was positive that she wasn't watching (I can't tell you how I knew), I asked him what he was doing. He said he was making a sand pile. I remarked that he does that all during recess, why didn't he play with the other boys? "... and you get dirty from the sand!" I added.

Shinji said that the boys hurt him when he tries to play soccer, and plus he liked the feel of the sand between his fingers. He said like he felt like he was playing on the moon. My second grade mind was awestruck by the magnificence (or strangeness) of his words. Playing on the moon? Man... this kid really was weird.

"C'mon, it's fun."

I knelt down in the sand, cringing when the lace border on my dress got half submerged in the sand. But once I ran my fingers through the grit, I started to enjoy it. Mama would never let me join in such a messy pastime as playing in a sandbox, but I really didn't care at the moment. The sand felt really good, cool to the touch. "I bet I can build a bigger mountain than you can," I challenged.

He smiled at me. "We'll see."

Looking back, I was glad I took the time to know this boy. If I had taken everyone's advice and stayed away from him, I wonder where I would have ended up.

A frying pan being slammed against the stove snapped me out of my reverie, and I found myself in a rather awkward position. I was hovering not an inch from Shinji face, just staring at him. I snapped back in horror. What if he woke up and saw me? What if he thought I was trying to kiss him?!

"Not that that'd be a bad idea..."

What did I just say?!

"Argh! Stupid Shinji!" What I tried to pass off as an excuse for my closeness came out as blaming Shinji for it. His eyes snapped open, and I found myself without a plan. I put my arms on my hips and tried to act in command. "Wake up, stupid Shinji!"

If there's anyone who can mask uneasiness, it was me.

I watched him as he slowly turned his head and got his eyes to focus. "Oh, it's you Asuka."

I rolled my eyes. He was just like his father when it came to recognizing people. "Is that the best greeting you can give to your oldest childhood friend?" I come every day, endure that painful decision at the Ikari's door, put up with Gendo's scrutiny, and for what?

Shinji pulled the covers around his face and turned over. "Thanks Asuka. Now let me get back to sleep."

I fought the urge to smack the boy. "You're so lazy! You can't skip school... so get up already!" I grabbed a corner of his sheet and yanked it from his body, hoping to stir him from sleep.

One part of Shinji was up bright and early.

When I saw what I saw, I screamed. Never mind the fact that I've seen it before considering I wake him up every day, but still... I slapped him and screamed that he's such a horny moron. He shot back that it was morning and he couldn't help it. I dragged him to his feet and threw his uniform at him. "Put that on right now!" I demanded.

He still moved sluggishly, pulling the shirt over his head like a turtle coming out of its shell. "Asuka, you're so loud," he complained. There was only one thing to do to this remark. I slapped him again. That shut him up quickly. Once we had said goodbye to his parents, we bolted down the stairs and into the morning sun.

"Let's go!"

He scowled and started to run. The collar to his shirt was upturned so I quickly fixed it in mid stride. That's no easy task, but I could do it. Once he rubbed his cheek again and glared at me for making it, he slyly remarked, "It's not like you haven't see it before, lighten up Asuka."

My face turned bright red, but I kept it under control. True, but it's... weird. I mean, he's my best friend! "You just can't control yourself when I come to wake you up, can you?"

"Don't get too big headed," was his retort.

I glared at him and continued running. After a brief pause in talking (he was pulling lint out of his shirt pocket), we started talking about any old thing that crossed our minds. "Isn't the sky beautiful today?"

I snorted. "Christ Shinji, try to sound like a man..."

"At least I take time to enjoy life unlike you..."

"Enjoying life isn't an excuse to be late for school, you idiot."

He lightly punched me on the arm and I punched him back. We stared at each other and started laughing. Sort of an inside joke that I don't care to repeat. Shinji switched the topic. "I hear that there's a new girl coming to school today."

New girl? Yeah, I heard about her yesterday. Our teacher announced that someone would be sitting in the vacant seat next to mine. Her name was Rei Ayanami, a transfer student who had migrated from the old capital. "Yeah, we're seeing a lot of new people nowadays since they moved the capital to here." We had no shortage of newcomers, our class was filled to capacity.

Shinji wasn't even listening to me. He looked into the sky and his face got dreamlike. "I sure hope she's cute."

Don't ask why this comment pissed me off so much, but since that day I befriended him in the sandbox, he was slowly opening himself up to other people. Not that it was bad, of course, but he accepted mannerisms that seemed very out of character for him. For example, the old Shinji wouldn't have said that, he would have blushed just thinking about it.

Was this my fault as a best friend?

Was I even his best friend anymore?

In an attempt to show my displeasure, I cut in front of his stride and ran in front of him. He stumbled for a bit, arms flailing, as he tried to run on wobbly legs. I laughed and turned around. "I'm all the cute you'll ever need," I declared. It pleased me that he almost tripped. But...

Before being blasted into a dizzying kaleidoscope of colors, I remember two quite well. A flash of light blue hair and outlandish red eyes. Something slammed into me with enough force to knock me to the ground. "Goddammit, what the hell?!" I was looking at that sky, the same one that Shinji said was gorgeous earlier.

It was spinning.

"Asuka!" In the time it took me to regain my senses, I felt two hands on my shoulders, shaking me. "Asuka, are you okay?"

The sky spinning wasn't the worst of it though. My right ankle felt like it was just pounded by a meat tenderizer. Shinji shaking me like a rag doll didn't help matters much either. I shielded the sun with my hand and snapped, "Stop shaking me! I'm not dead!" I scowled and pulled down my skirt which had flown up while I got knocked down. "And quit peeking, you pervert."

"Sorry."

He wasn't sorry at all, the jerk.

"You're just saying that!"

Ignoring the pain, I sat up with help from Shinji and saw what it was that had the power to knock me senseless. I was expecting an American football player, but I saw a petite girl with blue hair. She was rubbing her head while sitting up, and her half-eaten toast quickly became a paradise to some passing robins. "Ouch... ouch... ouch..." she groaned.

You don't have to say it more than once... it's killing me too...

I groaned when Shinji tried to haul me to my feet, and I quickly found that I couldn't stand on that damn ankle. I sank back to the ground again. "Great... just great..." I muttered.

The girl finally opened her eyes and she immediately apologized. Unlike me, she didn't seem to have a broken ankle or a pounding head, because as soon as she said she was sorry, she picked up her briefcase and started running. She called over her shoulder, "Sorry! I'm late for school!"

Wait! Hey!

I yelled at her to come back, but she didn't hear me. Why does this sort of thing always happen to me? Shinji didn't know quite what to make of it either. She certainly was rude!

"Do you need help?"

I gritted my teeth and used Shinji's arm as a pole to help me climb up. As soon as my injured ankle got pressure put on it, I fell to the ground again. "I can't stand on it!" I exclaimed pointlessly.

"—I... I don't know..."

"Well, do something..."

Shinji thought about it. "I could run to the school and get some ice..."

I clung to his arm and ordered him not to leave me here in the middle of the road. Truth was, I didn't know what to do either. I couldn't crawl to school... maybe I can hop there on one leg, you know, like those performers in Kabuki theater... yeah, and maybe...

"I have to carry you there." Shinji sighed. When he saw the shocked look on my face, he added, "Unless you want to be dragged."

No. I'd rather be carried. "But... but what about..." I knew I didn't have to finish that sentence. We thought so alike that sometimes it scared me, and I knew he was thinking the same thing I was.

What if someone sees me? It's indecent...

He put his fingers under his chin and tilted his head slightly forward, just like he always did when he was thinking. "Let them think what they want to think. We have to get to school," he said. Without another word, he lifted me to my feet. I tried not to put weight on that ankle for as long as I could, and when I did it sent painful needles up my leg.

After the arduous task of getting me up, I glared and asked acidly, "So what next, genius?"

"You'll have to jump on my back and I can carry you."

I almost fell over again. "What? I thought you were going to carry me... you know... " I made a cradle motion with my arms.

He quirked an eyebrow and looked at me curiously. "You know I'm not strong enough to do that, Asuka."

"Yeah... I know... but..." He glared at me, and I didn't want to continue that train of thought. I guess being on his back was better than being carried like a newborn. It won't do a damn thing for decency though... I sighed. "When are you going to start lifting weights already?"

"Shut up."

Of course, this was all mild mannered teasing. Once I taught Shinji how to stand up for himself, I don't think he's acted spineless since. I was proud of myself. "All right, brace yourself." I hopped up onto his back (with one leg, I might add), and clung to his neck with all my strength. I already knew the boy had no muscle and that wasn't his fault, but if he toppled over backward I was taking him down with me.

He staggered and teetered on one foot, and I closed my eyes and prepared for the worst. Miraculously, he righted himself after throwing his arms in the air to regain his balance. Shinji hooked his arms under my legs and linked his hands together under me, forming a nice seat. "Now don't be getting any funny ideas, Shinji."

To my surprise, he said nothing. Shinji took a shaky step forward, and then another. He caught on quickly and soon walked rather fast, though I realized that we'd never make it to school before the bell at this rate. "What's the time?"

I rested my head on his shoulder to look at my wristwatch. "There's no point in it now," I stated, "we're already eight minutes late."

At this announcement, Shinji let up on his pace. Eight minutes late, twenty minutes late, it was still late. No sense trying to rush for a deadline impossible to make.

"Asuka?"

"Hmm?"

Shinji turned his head very slightly to the right. "Weren't you carrying a purse?"

I would have hit myself if I wasn't holding onto Shinji's neck. "Shit! My lunch... I think... it must have been knocked away..."

"Your lunch?" Shinji stopped walking and turned his head even more to face me. I felt ready to fall off. "In your favorite bag?" It was the oldest lunchbag I had, dating back to our second grade days. I remember Shinji writing my name on it in permanent black marker one day during lunch. He said that this way, it'd never be lost or stolen. A second grader's lunchbag was a pretty important family friend back in those days, ranking up right there with your mother and father.

"Don't worry about it," I sighed. "I can always get another one." I felt bad enough straining him like this, and there's no point in being worked up over a tiny piece of nostalgia. "Just go."

Without ceremony, Shinji turned around on his heel and marched in the opposite direction of the school. He strained under my weight; I could feel the back of his neck getting warm with sweat. "We're already late anyways, might as well. That lunchbag... means a lot."

I tried to tell him to stop sounding so damn wistful, but the roar of a red car hurtling down the street drowned that attempt. Shinji stumbled when the car raced past, and within I spotted the pale visage of our teacher.

Misato Katsuragi.

As soon as she tore past us, the sound of brakes squealing and rubber grinding against asphalt pierced the air. The entire car pitched forward as Misato managed to stop and reverse in one swift movement.

"Oh shit... she... she saw!"

"Who?" Shinji seemed even more confused than I did.

I couldn't contain my exasperation; I lightly tapped him on the cheek with a finger. If anyone should know whose car that was, it would be Shinji. He along with two other dorks from my class made up the KIVS club, long name 'Katsuragi Is Very Sexy'. I asked them why they couldn't just call it KISS with 'Super' or 'Sensationally' to replace 'Very'. They stared at me like I am the dumbest person on the planet. They knew I had a good idea, but were too chicken to...

The car pounced backwards and slammed to a halt right beside us. The reflection in her black car window mirrored two very embarrassed children.

I was one of them.

The black plate of glass that was her window sank down slowly. Misato removed the sunglasses from her eyes with a flourish and peered at us. "Whatcha guys doing?"

I wanted to punch that grin off her face.

"What does it look like we're doing?" I asked as haughtily as I could and failing miserably given the situation. "Trying to get to school. Of course." My voice cracked on the last two words, and I wanted to bury my face in the ground and never come back out.

"Asuka? School is that way."

Oh shit. I had forgotten about that. I stammered to explain. "Well see, we were going to school, and when I came around the corner, I—"

"She's hurt Misato." Shinji gestured to my ankle with a jerk of his head. "She... twisted it. Maybe broke it." After Misato bore her eyes into him, he shifted from one foot to the other. "I'm taking her home."

I sat upright, alert. I only thought we were going for my lunchbag! "Wait a second Shinji..." I turned to Misato. If I told her the truth, maybe she would... "I... um... dropped my lunchbag over there somewhere. I told Shinji he didn't have to go for it, but we came this way anyway."

Misato grinned at us, opening and closing her mouth as if to say something. Nothing ever came out. The more we stood in silence, the more fidgety I got. This is the part where she would suspend us for being late to school again. Never mind the fact that my right foot now felt detached from my body. Although Misato seemed carefree to outsiders, she severely punished students who disobeyed the rules.

After staring at us (and enjoying my nervousness), Misato casually asked, "Do you need a ride?"

"What?"

Shinji took a step back. "M-Misato?"

That was something I didn't expect.

Our teacher only smiled wider. "You need a ride to school, don't you?"

"Well, yeah, but..."

Misato held up her hand. Her eyes darted playfully to the seat behind the driver and she reached over to procure—

"—my bag! The hell?"

Misato hummed a couple bars of a song I couldn't recognize before abruptly stopping. She lazily twirled my bag around, purple strap winding around her wrist like a cloth bracelet. "You've lost it before Asuka. I wouldn't have known it was yours but..." she turned the bag over in her hands disdainfully. "... I spotted the color a mile away."

I glared at her. "Don't start that again on me, Misato." To make a long story short, on Misato's first day of teaching she snidely commented on how hideous the color of my bag was. I told her that at least it had better color coordination than her current outfit. I should have kept my mouth shut; she made me clean the blackboards that day.

Damn you.

I left soap streaks all over the boards just to spite her. I mean, what new teacher makes remarks like that? I thought that would teach her. In my glee of finally having revenge, I forgot my bag at the school. The next day, Misato was sitting at her desk, hands clasped together and my bag in her hands. She was surrounded by the soapy blackboards.

I was the only one there.

She gave me my bag and said that she was only joking. "Lighten up, Asuka. It's sad when a grownup acts more like a child than the child does." I snatched the bag from her and grudgingly said thanks. Misato grinned.

The relationship between her and me... well, not one that most of the students have with their teachers, but we shared a sort of sisterly bond.

"Asuka?"

"What!"

"Here." She threw the bag at Shinji's face, but considering both of his hands were occupied in holding me up, couldn't catch it. He flinched, but I miraculously caught it with my hand flipped around backwards. "There isn't enough room in my car for both of you. Either you keep on walking together... or Asuka can be dropped off here and you can walk."

Shinji's knees were starting to shake. Whatever we were going to do, I'd be quick about it. I don't think he could take me sitting on his back much longer. "Well... Misato... um... see I want..."

I half expected Shinji to ask if he could leave me here on the sidewalk while he rode in Misato's car. Yeah, he had that big a crush on her. He didn't want to carry me to school but he wanted to ride with Misato.

Fine, leave an injured girl here by herself. I'll just claw my way to school.

"What'd you say, Asuka?"

I whipped my head around and felt my face get red. Did I say that aloud? Crap! "I said... uh... I'll go in the car and Shinji can walk by himself to school."

"Fine. Either way works," Misato said.

"Plus," I remarked to Shinji, "you don't need the extra weight." I started to shift and pry his fingers out from under me. Shinji didn't turn around to drop me off in the seat as I had expected. Instead, his fingers clamped even tighter together under my legs. I stopped moving long enough to ask what he was doing.

I felt him swallow. Hard. "I'll... I'll take her to school myself."

I gasped. "What?!" Was he crazy?

What if we couldn't make it?

We'll be passing right in front of the school building. What if the students saw us?

What if they made fun of me? Of him?

What if...

Misato looked stunned. Obviously, she had been expecting that I'd ride in her car. "Shinji... I..." After the three of us stared at each other for a minute, Misato closed her mouth and placed her hands on the steering wheel. She rolled up her window and the car roared to life. Before she dashed down the street, I caught the faintest hint of a smile on her face.

"Good luck kids," she had said.

Shinji and I watched it as it swerved to avoid a rolling trashcan before finally disappearing around a corner. Once it was out of sight, I exhaled, not remembering that I forgot to breathe. "Shinji... what the hell are you thinking?"

He pushed me up further on his back and started his shaky walk. "I don't know... maybe I like carrying weight."

I snorted. "It'll put some muscle on that scrawny frame of yours, that's for sure." Despite my repeated attempts to get him to go with me to a gym, he always shied away from that. Of course, he claimed that he was already in shape. Maybe this would help him after all. "Well, if I was a sack of rice, you wouldn't hesitate to drop me off."

"If you were a sack of rice, you wouldn't be talking either."

I loosened my grip around his neck. "Touché, Shinji. I see you still don't like walking with people."

He shrugged, but didn't answer.

I knew exactly why. He wouldn't walk to school with anyone else but me. Not even with Touji or Kensuke. He'd rather walk alone. I never understood why, but that's the way he is. Maybe I should be flattered that he'd choose me. However, he acted pretty uncomfortable with this, and I was the only one he would walk with. Why?

"Are you embarrassed that people will see us like this?" he asked.

Not really.

"No, why?"

Shinji slowed down, as if trying to delay the inevitable. "I don't know... I was just wondering."

"How long have we been best friends?" I asked suddenly.

Shinji paused before answering. "Since second grade."

"Do you remember when our families went swimming together in second grade?"

He laughed a little bit. "Yeah." His stride grew a little longer and a little less shaky. "The water was freezing, but we didn't care."

"And when we went swimming again?"

He looked up into the sky as if to gather his thoughts. "Um... in the summer... I think..."

I could hear the thin whistle of a lark overheard. The air suddenly grew stagnantly hot. "Do you remember what we were wearing?"

He paused for too long. In fact, he didn't answer.

"Then if you know the answer, you'd have to agree that we're pretty comfortable with each other, right?" I pressed.

Shinji nodded.

I leaned in closer to his ear so he would hear me. "Then tell me the truth. Why are you not comfortable with me now?"

Have you really changed that much?

The lunchbag wrapped around my wrist slapped against his arm, and the only noise was that of the tiny zipper tapping against its track. "Well?"

"People change, Asuka."

"Oh." My heart broke in two; I didn't feel like I knew this Shinji anymore. He carried me for a sense of duty, not because he wanted my company. Because of him I was hit by the girl, and if I hadn't hit her then he would have. Typical Shinji, he put the blame on himself. "Yeah. People change."

"Do you think I've changed, Asuka? Is that what this is about?"

I bit my lip. "Sorry I asked."

"Have I... changed?"

I didn't answer.

"Why do you think I've changed?"

I answered him with a question of my own. "Why are you carrying me on your back?" He was probably doing it just because he felt bad. Or maybe to thank me so that he wasn't hit. Or maybe to show to Misato that he was a strong boy and deserving of her love...

I scowled. Like that was going to happen.

"Because..." Shinji kicked a pebble and sent it skittering across the sidewalk, all without making me feel like I was going to fall off. "Because I like having you walk with me."

I stopped examining a battered stop sign long enough for his words to sink in. That wasn't the answer I expected. Three times in one day. "And you carried me on your back just because you like walking with me?"

"I'd rather be with you than be alone."

We walked a bit of the way in silence. So... Shinji had changed. But he changed for the better. At least now he wants to walk with me instead of being forced to because I was the one who woke him up every morning.

He cleared his throat. "And... I like you, Asuka. You're my friend."

I ordered myself to let it slide. A simple "I like you" can mean so many things. Knowing Shinji, it was most likely meant in a friendly way.

"I like you Asuka."

But then again... I've never heard him say those to anyone before...

When we got to the school, I prepared myself for the worst. There was no other entrance to the nurse's office than through the front, meaning we'd have to endure the stares of everyone in the building. I heard a shriek from the fourth story window (most likely Hikari), and suddenly my classroom windows were pulsing. Pulsing with the excited hits and taps of everyone inside.

Touji threw open a pane of glass and shouted out the window, "Shinji! You the man!"

More assorted shouts followed.

"Traitor!"

"Blackmail material! Ex-ce-llent-e!"

"It's scandalous...!"

"Ah! That's the jerk who was staring at my panties!"

My head jerked up and I shook a fist at the windows while clinging onto Shinji with one arm. "Who the hell just said that?!" I most certainly was not a jerk! And what panties? What...

Shinji shuffled his arms under me as we passed directly under the window. It was the only way to get to the entrance. "Ignore them. Just ignore them..."

Just ignore them?

"You know there's another way in! The janitor's door leads right to the courtyard and we could have gone in there!" I snapped. Why did he have to go and do this? Janitor Ryouji would have been more than happy to sneak us into school. He was just cool like that. Rumor had it that our teacher had a soft spot for the man... "You know the janitor, right?"

Before reaching for the doorknob, Shinji paused. "Thank you for walking with me, Asuka." He looked down, and in doing so his chin rested on my arm.

That action quelled whatever fury I had in me of being seeing in a less than ladylike position. I stammered out a thank you, unable to decipher if that was a gesture of tenderness or Shinji simply trying to see where the doorknob was.

But the way he held it on there long after the door was open... the way he triumphantly turned to look at me when we reached the nurses' office... the way he gently set me down on the bleached sheets of the examining bed, making sure I had a pillow behind my head... the way he smiled before Nurse Akagi closed the door and ordered him to go back to class...

After Nurse Akagi removed my shoe (with a considerable amount of pain, may I add), she said, "Miss Langley, I'm going to wrap your ankle, it's not broken, but it's pretty swollen. Think of something else other than the pain." The command from the yellow-headed nurse was firm but gentle.

"I like you, Asuka."

Maybe it is just me.

Maybe I read into these things too much for my own good.

Maybe... I'm making a mountain out of a sandhill.

I turned my head and stared out of the window. The colors outside were so brilliantly bright that the sharp pains in my ankle were easily ignored. I looked up into heavens through that dirt-streaked window and thought to myself...

... the sky really is beautiful today.

The End

~~~~~~~~~~~

Author's notes: It's official. I'm a romantic. Give me angst, give me comedy, but nothing can top romance. Sappy yes, but the idea wouldn't let go. Didn't like the ending too much, but then again... I wanted to end it sappily ^_^ I might expand on this, but I think it stands well on its own.

Oh, don't even bother to tell me Shinji was OOC, I already know. C'mon, the man sighed and said, "I caught just a little peek at her panties..." I don't know about you, but the Shinji we know would never say such a thing without his face bursting into flame. I stayed true to that alternate universe and made Shinji behave the way he was outlined to behave. I sort of shied away from that as the fic went along, because for the love of me I can't type Shinji speaking like a pervert. Can't. He went back to the original Shinji near the end of the fic, thank God.

Future plans? *thinks* I have a couple of epics in mind, so expect another Shinji/Asuka serial (yeesh, how'd you guess?) coming out sometime in August. Until later... keep on writing!

Revised on July 27, 5:42 p.m. central time. Thanks to Ken Sohryu (that is what I get for not having a prereader...) and Reizig for pointing out inconsistencies. Thanks for post betaing. *smiles*