Disclaimer: You know the drill. I don't own Evangelion or any of its characters, and I'm not making any money off this. If I DID own Eva, I wouldn't be writing fanfiction. I'd be making fan movies - like Anno.

Shinji walked through the school's halls on the way back to classroom 2-A. It was lunchtime, and in the scramble to escape Asuka's wrath over his fellow stooges' latest affront, he'd forgotten to grab his bento. Approaching the open door of the classroom, he heard familiar female voices inside and stopped short, his back pressed to the wall.

"-good qualities? Name one, I dare you. And don't just tell me some bullshit about how the other girls think he's cute."

"Well for one thing, I think he's got impressive self control. How anyone could put up with everything you put him through without snapping and flying off the handle-"

"Ha! The only reason he puts up with all the shit I throw at him is that he's a spineless little coward, too afraid to stand up for himself. If he had any guts at all he would have told me off by now, but obviously he doesn't so it'll never happen." A sigh. "He'll never change. I don't even know why I bother."

Shinji quickly edged away, knowing the German girl would kill him if she caught him eavesdropping, even if it was only by accident. Maybe he would just bite the bullet and buy a school lunch today.

As he made his way back toward the cafeteria, he considered what he had just heard Asuka say. There was no question that she and Hikari had been talking about him; he'd heard her call plenty of people stupid or perverted, but he was the only one she ever called a spineless coward.

He sighed, recognizing the truth of her words. Her constant abuse and teasing drove him up a wall, but he'd never do anything about it for fear of reprisal. It was easier just to let it wash over him, push down any impulse to fight back, and apologize for being so worthless. Even if half the time his apologies sent her off on yet another rant. It was easier than chancing a confrontation and making her even angrier.

It was easier than taking the chance that he'd do or say something that would make her leave him alone.

And that was the problem, wasn't it? As much as the nagging and bossing and yelling irritated him, at least she was speaking to him. Well, usually anyway. He was lonely enough as it was, most of the time; Misato was often busy with work, and he mostly only saw Toji and Kensuke at school. Ayanami was unpredictable, and as much as he enjoyed her quiet, stoic company, there was still something discomfiting about trying to interact with her.

Asuka was the only real constant. As difficult as she was to understand, she was just there; walking to school in the mornings, yelling at him and making fun of him during the day, nagging him for dinner in the evenings, and one way or another giving him a hard time afterward. The more he thought about it, the more he realized just how much time they spent either interacting or simply in each other's vicinity. He wasn't sure what he'd do if she shut him out completely, if she just started ignoring him. It was a risk he didn't think he could afford.

And yet... she'd almost sounded disappointed. Almost as if she wanted him to fight back, to stand up to her.

That didn't make sense though, did it? The Great Asuka Langley Sohryu, who always had to be number one at everything, wanted him to - to what? Not to show her up at something she took pride in, that would be asking for a date with the bottom of Unit 02's foot. But maybe to show her that he could stand up for himself, at least a little. That he didn't always have to just accept her bullying with downcast eyes and a muttered apology.

Could he even do that? He stopped, standing outside the door of the cafeteria, not wanting buying food or finding his friends to distract him until he had figured this out.

Her words echoed in his mind. "He'll never change. I don't even know why I bother." He'd been so afraid of what could go wrong if he ever fought back, but what if the real risk was in letting things stay the same? When it came right down to it, wasn't his current way of doing things the same as running away?

As much as he still often wanted to run from Eva, that had never fixed anything before. He could plug into his SDAT or escape into sleep for a few hours at a time, but when he came back everything he wanted to run from was still there. But if Asuka meant what she had said to Hikari... if she was really giving up on him because he wouldn't stand up to her... what would she do? Would she stop being there? Sure, they would probably still live together with Misato, and he'd still see her around, but without that daily interaction he'd unconsciously come to depend on, what would he do?

More importantly, what could he do to keep it from happening?

I mustn't run away. I mustn't run away.

He had to prove to her somehow that he wasn't a waste of her time. He could beg her not to leave him alone, but she'd just sneer and laugh at him for being a whiny little crybaby. No, if what he had heard her say was true, he needed to show her that he could change. That he could choose not to back down.

But it couldn't be about just anything. He had to find the right moment, the right thing to push back on. If she were already angry, it would be no good; she'd just beat on him verbally and physically until she got her way, and the attempt would be wasted. If it was about something big, things might get out of control and she might still decide he just wasn't worth her attention anymore. It had to be something small, something inconsequential. Just enough to prove he could do it, at least to himself.

Sighing and finally entering the cafeteria, Shinji made up his mind. He'd have to be patient, and pay attention. He had to pick his chance carefully, so it wouldn't do to let the right opportunity pass him by.

"Baka-Shinji, get me a drink."

Shinji blinked and looked over at his roommate. She was sprawled on the couch staring at the TV, not even facing him. He put down the manga he was reading and took out his ear buds. "Huh?"

A sneer crossed her pretty face. "What, are you stupid and deaf now?" she inquired acidly. "I said get me a drink, dummkopf. Now hurry up, I'm thirsty!"

The boy sighed and started to rise to his feet, then hesitated, remembering the conversation he'd overheard earlier. Slowly he sat back down. "Um."

Finally the redhead turned to look at him. "Um what, Third? Are you even listening to me?" Irritation radiated from her face, her blue eyes piercing into him.

Shinji turned away for a second and bit his lip. Was it worth the risk? She could certainly be petty when she felt like it, but surely something this trivial would be... relatively safe. He turned back. "N... No."

Asuka's eyes narrowed and she growled in exasperation. "No what? No, you're not listening? You'd better get your head out of your ass before I come over there and kick it in even further!"

Shinji hesitated a moment, but firmed his resolve. "No, I won't get you a drink. G-get it yourself!"

"WHAT!" Shinji flinched as the always volatile Second Child boiled over. "Excuse you? Care to repeat that, Third Child?" She stood and stalked over, tossing her hair and standing imperiously above him, glaring down with eyes that promised swift retribution if he dared resist her will.

Shit, he thought. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea. His brow furrowed and his fist clenched and unclenched at his side. No! Mustn't run away...

He stood, looking her uncertainly in the eye. "I said... I said no, get your own drink."

Sky blue eyes bored into dark blue as she stared him down. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore and turned his head, breaking eye contact. But he didn't move toward the kitchen.

"Shinjiiii?" Her voice was suddenly saccharine, so sweet he could see her pleading expression even without looking. He imagined her batting her lashes, eyes wide with innocence, her soft lips pursed in a cute pout. "Won't you please go get me a drink?"

She was leaning around, trying to get her face into his line of sight. He screwed his eyes shut and refused to meet her gaze, knowing that if he saw that look - no matter how fake he knew it was - he'd be unable to deny her anything. "Sorr-" He caught himself. No, no apology this time, that would ruin it and just make her madder. "I said... no," he enunciated carefully, to make sure his mouth wouldn't betray him.

"Hmph." Shinji flinched as she cuffed him on the back of the head while sweeping past him. "Stubborn jerk."

He turned and watched with wide eyes as she walked over to the kitchen. When she passed out of sight he sat down hard, breathing heavily. I did it. I stood up to Asuka. It wasn't about anything important, but still. He smiled to himself, just a bit, and put his ear buds back in. He picked his manga back up and tried to find his place, but it was hard to focus with his little victory so fresh.

He jumped as a can of juice clunked on the floor beside him. Looking up, he watched the redhead return to her place on the couch while opening her own can. "A-Asuka?"

She took a sip, keeping her eyes on the TV. "Don't get used to it, Third."

Somehow, he thought she didn't sound as irritated as before. Picking up his juice and popping the tab, Shinji allowed himself a slightly wider grin. Focused as he was, he didn't notice Asuka's lips slowly stretching into a small, triumphant smile.

A/N: So there it is, not my first attempt at an Eva fic, but the first one that's really finished. I'm pretty happy with it, but I'm sure a large part of that is the euphoria of actually finishing the damn thing, so please leave a comment and let me know what you think. If you like it, let me know. If you don't like it, please tell me why in a coherent, constructive manner.

Thanks for reading!