Disclaimer: Evangelion and its characters are copyright to Project Gainax and creation of Hideaki Anno.

One-shot Shinji/Asuka set in between "Both of You! Dance Like You Want To Win!" and "Magma Diver".

Author's notes at the very end of the fic. Enjoy!

*********

Prologue

"You want us to shovel shit?!" Sohryu Asuka Langley leapt to her feet, eyes ablaze. Never one for sugarcoating statements, she found the teacher's suggestion infuriating. "Is it our fault that we have to save you every time an Angel attacks? We're getting punished for this?"

"Miss Langley, if you'll let me explain"

She stomped her foot on the ground, not willing to be appeased. "Are we convicts? Why do we have to do this?"

The entire class cowered behind their desks, fearful of the redhead's temper. She had barely been here a week, yet the not-so-subtle way everyone kept their distance from her was striking. Shinji pleaded silently with whatever God existed to make her stop ranting. Someone had to have the balls to stand up and calm her down, someone had to...

His prayers were answered in the form of Touji Suzuhara.

"Sit down, Devil Woman."

Shinji groaned. That wasn't really the answer he was expecting. All the students cringed, waiting for the thrashing verbal or otherwise the poor jock had brought upon himself.

Asuka glared at Touji, who stared back, hands behind head in a manner of ultimate relaxation. It didn't seem to faze him one bit. After a few heartbeats, Asuka sank into her seat. Once down there, she flipped her hair over her shoulder and sneered. "You're just an idiot, anyways."

No one spoke. The teacher wiped his forehead with his hideous yellow tie, no doubt wondering why he hadn't already retired. "Err, thank you, Mr. Suzuhara..."

The redhead started mumbling unintelligibly again, but the storm had already passed. Everyone dared to relax into their seats, but only slightly.

"...err, now... as I was saying... the recent Angel attack left our city in shambles..."

Everyone's eyes immediately darted over to Asuka. "I already told you, Shinji did that, not me."

The teacher put up his hands and started sweating profusely. "Fine, Miss Langley, we aren't here to point fingers. As I was saying... yes, please pass these out for me Miss Horaki... thank you..."

The teacher rambled on. Although whatever he had to say was probably pretty important, Shinji found his attention occupied by something else. Right after Asuka had declared that the destruction to the city was all his fault, Kensuke shot him a look and typed something on his laptop. Seconds later...

Liar. I got proof

Shinji blinked at the red 36-point font Kensuke used for all his personal messages. After his retinas burned through his eyes, he typed back: What are you talking about?

The response was immediate. Check it out

A new window popped on screen. After viewing it, Shinji closed the window and sighed. You really shouldn't be videotaping Evangelions in combat. Isn't that a security breach or something?

He could see Kensuke snicker at his screen. I'm documenting it, not taping it

Is there a difference?

Kensuke turned around, shrugged at him, and accepted a paper Hikari passed out. Seeing as how she was still on the other side of the room, Shinji replayed the "documentary" that was sent. Even though the video was captured without sound, Shinji could still hear the clangs and groans of that fight in his mind.

Israfel.

He shook his head when the giant purple Eva was thrown into the air and landed face down in the sea, but chuckled when Asuka's Unit 02 cheerily crushed buildings under foot while trying to hack the Angel in two. Then it was Asuka who first lost timing during the synchronized attack, catapulting both Evas into a pit of fire and molten rock...

The video cut out briefly after blanking out. Then it started shaking up and down, giving a dizzying view of both sky and ground. It made the Third Child feel queasy just looking at it. After the zoom tried to focus (and failed), the video spun around and Shinji found himself video to face with—

"Aida Kensuke!"

On reflex, Shinji slammed his laptop shut and looked around dazedly. Hikari pulled Kensuke's ear and demanded to know why he threw the paper in the trash. He replied that he didn't want to come. She yelled that his opinion didn't matter; it was a school function and he must attend.

Remembering his oath to help a friend in need, Shinji raised his hand. "Can... can I have a paper?"

Instead of having Hikari answer him, Asuka slammed her paper down on his desk. "Read it." Shinji did so...

On Growing Roses...
By: Karina Kineshi (coronaflare@mail.com)

"What kind of a lame ass title is that?"

Shinji shuffled beside me, still examining that paper. "On Growing Roses..." he mumbled. I didn't know how he could walk and read at the same time, especially since he had his face buried in it.

I rolled my eyes. "Geez, it's not that interesting."

He stared at it for a couple of seconds more before folding it in quarters and giving it to me. "Misato will make us do this, you know."

I sneered, grabbed the paper, and stuffed it into my schoolbag. Despite the woman being a total slob when it came to living, she was actually quite an environmentalist. Even had those crazy color-coded bins in her kitchen, one for glass, one for paper, one full of beer cans... "Is this the thanks we get for saving them from the Angels?"

He shrugged. "I guess this is the least we can do after destroying half the city."

As much as I wanted to come back with a snappy answer, I found I couldn't. It was true. "Well, those buildings shouldn't have been in the way then."

It was a flyer advertising EarthSave day. Oddly enough, I didn't remember seeing this date circled on the calendar at home, because I'm sure Misato would never let something like this get by her. Rumor was that it had been declared just because our latest fight left the south side flattened. Fortunately, we found out that there hadn't been any people hurt and they were going to clear that area for a park...

"They want us to plant trees? Roses?"

Shinji nodded. "This part we're working on is supposed to be a rose garden. But, the area hasn't been cleared of rubble and stuff yet."

I put my hands on my hips. "How the hell do you know that?"

"It was in the paper. They must want us to move the rocks first..."

Sweaty manual labor. Hauling boulders bigger than Touji's ego. Throwing smelly compost on rose beds. Putting up with tree-hugging hippies. All at eight in the morning.

Oh yeah. This was going to be loads of fun.

"What I still can't believe is..." I opened the door to Misato's apartment and strode inside, "... our teacher has the gall to call this a 'field trip'."

"I guess it's better than being lectured on Second Impact..."

I fished around in my briefcase and threw the flyer on the table. He had a point. I don't know which was the greater evil, but I'd much rather be moving than sitting around listening to something I've heard before. Besides, Mr. Sasaki was just parroting whatever NERV told the public. It was a lie.

"Hey Shinji?" When I got no answer, I took off my shoes and sighed. He probably already had his earphones in and was relaxing on the couch, staring blankly at the ceiling.

After changing out of my uniform and into my lounge clothes, I took something else out of my schoolbag. "Do you know anything about this?"

Shinji took a temporary break from his music (it was Tuesday, Tuesday is Vivaldi day) and stared at the items in my hand. "You got more?"

I scowled and waved the love letters in front of his face. I must have had at least ten clenched in my fist. "Your friends are all morons. Every guy in the school is a moron. Though I have to admit..." I picked out a random letter and read the front. "... it's flattering to be called 'An Angel Incarnate'." I put them on the table and sat down beside Shinji. "I really hope there's no double meaning in that."

He smiled at me. "Writing love letters isn't easy, you know."

"And what would you know about writing love letters, Third?"

Shinji blushed and put an earplug back in. "Nothing, really."

I picked up all the letters again and started shuffling them. "'The One I Love Is you', 'my Phoenix Rising', 'Lean on Me', 'you Burn my soul', 'if being with you is the Price of Life, I'll pay it...'... Scheisse. They're freakin' terrible at addressing these." When I came across one vulgarly titled "I Smell Sex and Candy", I instantly ripped it up and fumed. "Morons."

The boy beside me kept gazing at the ceiling.

It was about this time I realized... I was bored.

God save us all.

"Hey Shinji... have you ever written a love letter before?"

He blinked, quickly shook his head and stammered. "N-No."

"Do you want to learn how?"

The Third Child stared some more. "Uh..."

I figured, hell, maybe he'd like to learn. And it would be nice to know that all men weren't idiots and get a love letter done the right way for once.

I grabbed his arm and hauled him to his feet when he didn't answer. Done. "I'll teach you how... but only because you're a spineless loser who could use my help." I whirled him into a chair at the kitchen table and reached on top of the refrigerator. I handed him an assortment of pens and put my hands on my hips. "Now, thank me."

It wasn't a suggestion.

"T-Thank you, Asuka..." His hands were shaking.

I grinned and gestured to the flyer on the table. "Flip that over. Yes. That's your canvas. In your hand you have the power to... yeah, pick that up... now, the first thing you have to do is address it."

When he didn't move for several seconds, I knew that he was in trouble.

"You know, a salutation."

He blinked.

"You do know what a salutation is, right?"

"Yeah... but... what am I supposed to..." he trailed off.

I fought the urge to give up so soon; after all, if anyone could teach a weak willed boy to become a Casanova, it was me. I then realized how absurd that sounded, even in my mind. My God, what mess have I gotten myself into now? "You're going to take a lot of work."

The boy sighed.

I clapped my hands together, trying to revive my falling spirit. "Now listen up. Let's start with the basics. First, the paper. Well... if you want to wow the girl you're writing this to, simple white paper won't do. You get your wallet out, pay an extra yen for nice paper. Most guys don't know that it's all about presentation. Stationary with hearts, bunnies, sunshine, whatever. Bonus points if scented."

Shinji nodded and stared into the space behind me. He wasn't looking at me anymore, and I hate it when people blank out while I'm talking. I hate that almost as much as wet hair on my shoulders.

"Hey, Shinji?" That must have been too much for him to process.

It's only stationary, Shinji. I thought. If you can't handle—

My thoughts were interrupted as a shadow fell over the table from behind. Shinji's eyes had a crazed, almost frightened glint. "M-M... Misato... you're—"

"Misato?!" I spun around; right into our guardian's smiling face.

"Hello, Shinji."

This woman must take great pleasure in giving me heart attacks. Acting as composed as possible, I coolly breathed, "Hello, Misato." I simultaneously scooted over and tried to cover her sight of the table. If she found out I was teaching Shinji how to write a love letter...

Oh God.

Misato didn't seem to see. "What are you guys doing?"

My eyes flitted over to Shinji, and he started stammering in a pathetic attempt to buy time. The look I gave him said that if he didn't come up with something fast, it would be his skinny neck I would wring. He spluttered, "Asuka... well, she n-needed... no, wanted to show—"

C'mon, think!

"—show show... show you this!" I snatched the flyer out of Shinji's hand and thrust it at Misato. Our guardian raised an eyebrow at my abnormally loud voice. I dropped it down a few decibels, cursing myself. "We've... we've got a field trip tomorrow... and... and... and we need your signature on the bottom!"

Lame, Asuka. Really lame.

Misato examined the paper after questions of my sanity pooled in her eyes. "There isn't a line for me to sign on," she finally said. Her eyes narrowed.

"Well... um... the teacher said we had to get a signature!" I nudged Shinji with my elbow, and he started nodding his head. "Yeah. So sign it."

Her eyes narrowed even further.

Dammit. I thought there was a signature involved. At my old school, the staff wouldn't let you go anywhere unless you had permission from your guardians. Liability and whatnot.

"You guys aren't just saying this to get my signature right?"

I quirked an eyebrow. "Why would we want to do that?"

"In case you want to get in my bank account."

What?

Shinji turned around with a confused look. "Why would we want to do that?"

"It's empty, Misato," I said dryly. "If I was going to go through all that trouble, I'd choose a person who—"

"Atta girl. I was just kidding, anyways." Our guardian grinned, took a pen from the table, and scratched her name onto the front of the flyer. She sighed and pulled off her shoes. "Um... if anyone needs me, I'll be in the bathroom." Misato then started removing clothing before she even got to the shower, dropping her blouse to the ground before sighing again and closing the door.

We sat there and stared after her. When I looked down at Shinji, I found him strangely unaffected by the encounter. Most men would have rivers of blood gushing out of their nose. "No decency whatsoever." I commented. "That's just sick."

"Maybe she had a bad day."

"Whatever..." I flipped the paper over again. "Back to work. You've got this. Now, the pen. It doesn't really matter, any pen will do. But remember, blotches and spots are sloppy. You'll get a date if the pen is scented, and she's in the bag if you do it the old fashioned way."

"Old fashioned way?"

I smiled, almost conspiratorially. "Calligraphy."

At the mention of that word, Shinji paled. Yes, I knew how hard it is to write those characters, but it really showed that the sender of the letter cared. Also, attention to detail is critical when writing to females. "Asuka, I don't know if this is such a good idea."

"Of course it's a good idea!" Did he dare doubt me? A female? I pounded my fist on the table and effectively shut his mouth. "Every guy in love is a blubbering idiot, and they've got to learn how to do it right, dammit! You're a blubbering idiot even when you're not in love, so you need all the help you can get. Got it?"

He nodded his head quickly. "G-Got it."

"Good. Now, the body of the message... you know the salutation? Ignore that. Most guys writing it look like dumbasses, and it really isn't needed. We like to get straight to the good part: the message. Do you understand all this?"

"Yes."

He didn't sound so sure of himself, but I had to continue. "The message is quite simple. This is where you write poetry."

"Poetry?"

I nodded. "Poetry. C'mon Third, if you just wrote down something childish like "I lurv you lots n' lots", it's a waste of stationary. You'll run home crying to your SDAT because it's the only loving you'll ever get. Even an attempt at poetry is better than nothing at all. If anything, the girl will think it's adorable you tried. But if you do it right, she'll be falling all over you. That's how important it is."

We both gazed at the flyer, awestruck by the power. Or maybe, Shinji was just lost and I was impatient.

"It's not going to get up and dance, if that's what you're thinking."

He snapped out of his thoughts and apologized. "Sorry. I just... I can't write a poem."

"Sure you can." I nudged his shoulder. "Just think of the girl you like. What do you want to say to her? What is something you share with her? How much do you love her? Why? Talk about her looks, that's always a plus. Her red hair shining, the way her cute mouth pouts, how smart she is, how she is the most beautiful girl in Tokyo-3..."

Shinji stared at me. "So... I'm supposed to be writing a poem to you?"

That statement took a couple of moments to register, but when it finally did sink in, I shot up from my stool. It tipped over and clattered to the linoleum. "What?! What did you say?"

The boy stammered to explain, and he'd better be coming up with an explanation fast. "I-I mean... you started t-talking about red hair, and I thought... I thought you wanted me to write about you. You're the only... you know. Red hair..."

It was my turn to stammer something. Actually, I went off onto that tangent because I was envisioning Kaji writing a love letter to me. Shinji ain't no Kaji, but it would be nice to get a love letter done the right way for once...

"Yeah, that was part of my plan." I said haughtily, hoping he didn't catch the waver in my voice. "Since I know you don't like anyone, what better person to practice on than me? I'm beautiful, smart, sexy, an Eva pilot..."

A blast of hot steam on my neck cut off my self-praise. "I'm done," Misato announced.

Whoa, that was quick...

Instead of helping Shinji on the fine-tuning, I decided that he needed time to write the poem on his own. It certainly isn't something I can watch him do, because everyone has their own way of doing it. "I'm going in first. You keep on working."

"Um... okay."

Misato, who was toweling her hair, gave me a curious look as I brushed past. I rolled my eyes and shut the bathroom door. Once safely inside, I put my elbows on the sink, cradled my head in my hands, and stared at the drain. "Why am I doing this?"

Outside, I heard Misato closing the door to her own room. After that, silence. Shinji most likely had his headphones in his ears, Vivaldi's "Autumn Concerto" humming away inside his brain. He'd stop every once in a while and chew on the middle of his pen when inspiration ran dry. Yes, the middle of the pen, not the end like most people. Once struck with a good idea, he'd put it back to paper and write again.

I knew his every move.

I'm glad he didn't question my judgment when I told him that handwritten was the way to go. Nowadays, everything is done by computer, and various fonts can be made to look like the prettiest calligraphy. But handwritten letters are always best. It just isn't the same printed out.

I started the ritual of undressing myself, neural plugs always first to come off. Left, then right. After those were free, I turned my head from side to side. I need a haircut.

Someone knocked on the door. "Asuka?"

I did what came most naturally and screamed. "You're trying to peek, you pervert! Stop jiggling the doorknob!"

"I'm not jiggling the doorknob!"

"Yes you are!" I ranted on about how he always tries to catch glimpses of my naked body, and when I get out what kind of torture I'd inflict on him...

Never mind I was still fully clothed.

I finally wound down. "What do you want, stupid Shinji?"

Faint scratching. "I'm done with the poem. What should I do now?"

I pulled my shirt off over my head and waved it at the door, trusting that he wouldn't barge in. "Close it with something. Something cheesy."

"Like what?"

"I dunno... a sentence or two afterwards about... well, anything."

He didn't answer me after this, so I knew that he must have gone back to the kitchen. Ah well. Maybe he gave up. I showered, dried off, and stepped outside. No sign of Shinji or Misato, but the television was blaring in the adjacent room. If I didn't already know Shinji didn't like TV., that's where I would have guessed he would be.

Walking into my room, I flipped on the light while rubbing my hair. The whole room was meticulously clean except for a single chair out of place. That chair was sitting in the middle of the floor. I walked closer, and found the flyer. "On Growing Roses...," it said on the front. I turned it over.

August 3, 2016

Miss Sohryu Asuka Langley...

I shook my head. We could work on salutations later. I could tell that he was having a difficult time with that one; there were numerous scribblings and erasings around that area. Old fashioned for sure, he even included the date and the "miss" before my name.

I liked it. Shows the guy actually had respect for us instead of thinking that we were just an easy way to sex. Or whatever in the world they were after. I deemed the first impression "good". Would have preferred it to be neater, but that was just me being extremely picky.

"Nice."

Not wanting to read the poem in between just yet, I forced myself to skip to the ending. A little known secret is that women always save the best for last, despite what I said earlier about getting to the good part first. My heart pounded.

Zum Stern der meine Nacht beleuchtet,
Shinji Ikari

An ending in German? "To the star that lights up my night?" I wrinkled my nose. What kind of a way was that to end a letter? "This better have something to do with your poem, you're losing points here Third."

But... where would he learn the German? And why?

I shook my head and dismissed it as a fluke. It was thoughtful, that's for sure, but without knowing what it tied in with... ah well. Now it was time for the poem. I made myself put the flyer down for a moment. It must have had something to do with stars; otherwise that ending wouldn't make much sense. Could it be possible allusion to when we went stargazing together during synchronization?

I took a deep breath.

A Special Star

I stared up into the heavens
Looking for a special star;
One caught my eye: I grabbed it -
Very closely, I put it to my heart;
Endlessly, it shined so bright -
Young and pulsating, its brightness grew
One day, I finally understood -
Understood that this star was my love for you.

There really isn't anything else to say. I can say "I love you" in so many ways, but I'll stay with the one that you'll understand the best. Ich liebe dich, Asuka.

...

God help the lucky girl who gets Shinji's next love letter.

*****

"No, honestly, how did you do it?"

"Um... I... um..."

I couldn't get a damn wink of sleep last night, trying to solve the riddle known as Ikari Shinji. The social outcast Ikari Shinji? Self-proclaimed extreme introvert Ikari Shinji? Love letter writer extraordinaire Ikari Shinji?

It didn't make sense.

Misato turned around in her seat and waved at me, all while driving at speeds of over 75 MPH. "I thought it was cute."

The boy beside me flushed. "It wasn't that good..."

No no no. This wasn't possible. He had to copy that poem from somewhere. Internet? One of Misato's corny romance novels? He sure as hell couldn't have written it himself. It was too... good.

I crossed my arms. "Not bad, but not great either. You still need a lot of work."

Thank God I'm much better at lying than I am at telling the truth. At my critique, Shinji relaxed and slumped. "I... yeah."

He's more at ease when people put him down than when people praise him. What a weirdo.

Misato skidded to a halt and announced that we were here. I pulled Shinji's poem out of my pocket and read the front. "Is this the place?" It appeared to be more of a construction site than anything else. Yellow forklifts, bulldozers, and other heavy machinery blocked my view out the window.

"It says that... well..."

Someone tapped on the glass from the outside; I looked up and saw Hikari smiling at me. "Never mind," I said. I folded the paper back up and shoved it in my schoolbag. Why I chose to bring that stupid letter was beyond me. And why I also brought my schoolbag...

It was eight in the morning. Give me a break.

"I'll just pick you up at three, okay?"

Shinji got out of the car, followed by me. "Okay."

I slammed the door and started to walk away, but she rolled down her car window to talk more. I leaned in closer while she grinned, "By the way Asuka, you look very nice in those dungarees. Very American."

"Shut up Misato," I growled uncharitably. You can't wear a school uniform to something like this! And since this horrid denim outfit was the only old clothes I had...

Hikari smiled at me after Misato roared down the street. She wore a t-shirt with blue paint splatters on the shoulders. I couldn't even see her shorts, the shirt being so oversized. "It's about time you showed up. Did you bring your flyer?"

"Yeah."

The park wasn't a disaster area like I had first imagined. Shallow ruts from bulldozers speckled the otherwise flat area, but I didn't see any rubble. When I asked Hikari about this, she explained that they had cleared it yesterday so the "beautification" could start. I snorted, and then asked her where our teacher was. She said he was wandering around here somewhere.

I snorted again.

We walked over to where the rest of our class was gathered, and I made especially sure to stay as far away from Shinji as I could. The boy's presence made me uncomfortable, especially since I couldn't figure him out. I chatted idly with Hikari and another girl named Mayuka until the teacher shuffled up to our little group. He started, "We need partners during this project—"

"I call Hikari!" I cut in.

The man narrowed his eyes. "They've already been assigned, Miss Langley."

Damn.

He pointed to Hikari as I crossed my arms in defiance. "You will be paired with Touji Suzuhara."

I couldn't help but snicker. At least I didn't get the worst of them all. Can you just imagine? That hulking brute tenderly caring for flowers? Hikari didn't seem thrilled with the suggestion either, but she obediently followed orders.

"Mayuka has Aida Kensuke..."

"Who do I have?"

The man ran an arthritic finger down his list, and I confidently turned around to survey the landscape.

That's when it hit me.

All the blood pulsed out of my face and drained to my feet. Everyone had a partner already except for one boy drawing circles in the ground at his feet.

Please God, anyone but...

"Ikari Shinji."

I noted with annoyance that God never listens to me.

Figures.

Once Shinji got the hand shovels, we were ushered to our designated corner of the park. The whole place was drier than the Sahara . I looked at the rosebush I was carrying and questioned if it would live. Getting no answer from the roses (I wasn't expecting one), I asked my teacher where the compost was. "You can't expect these things to grow without compost," I explained.

He only gave me a lopsided grin and said quietly, "Oh, you'll see. It's a surprise."

I never, ever, want to see that kind of smile from a teacher again.

While walking back to our area, I saw Shinji sitting cross-legged on the ground looking at the potted roses beside him. Every once in a while, he would blink his eyes and keep them closed for a fraction of a second longer than normal.

"Enjoying the view, idiot?"

Shinji snapped his head around and gave me a slight glare. "You don't have to call me that, you know."

"Yeah, whatever." I knelt down beside him and picked up a small spade. Everyone was already hard at work digging the holes to put their roses into. Touji and Hikari were actually working pretty well together, and their dirt mound was the biggest so far.

Shinji moved into position and pointed at a giant orange "X" on the ground. "Here, right?"

"Obviously." I stabbed at the "X" with my spade to loosen the dirt... and found that it was solid as rock. I looked at Shinji with a disbelieving eye and stabbed it again. Solid chunks of dirt chipped off. I started ramming it into the ground repeatedly. "What the hell is the matter with this!"

"Need help, Devil Woman?"

"Not from you, idiot." I snarled at Touji before ordering Shinji to help me. "Don't just sit there, dig!"

How ridiculous we must have looked, two powerful Evangelion pilots vainly attempting to loosen packed dirt. As for the other pilot... Ayanami Rei wasn't in sight.

"Probably... skipped... school... again..." Each syllable was enunciated by a hard thrust. To my satisfaction, the tough earth was only existent in the first two inches. Once Shinji and I carved away a two-foot area, our desperate hacking slowed. Good thing too, because my wrists were starting to hurt. "Where exactly is Wondergirl, anyways?"

Shinji shrugged, and started a more even pace of shoveling. "Maybe she was sick today."

Could be.

Seeing how he could handle the work, I leaned back on my knees and felt the displaced dirt. The layer beneath was slightly wetter than the one on top. It had a very smooth, non-gritty feeling to it. Clay. Shinji didn't seem to mind me stopping, and I think it was understood that we should work in turns.

He can take the longer shifts, of course.

Just for idle chitchat, I motioned over to where Hikari and Touji were digging. "Their roses aren't as big as ours."

Shinji paused, gave me a strange look, and started digging again. "Their roses aren't as pretty, either."

"Are you joking? I'd rather have their red roses than these yellow ones." I touched a rose, gently enough so it would not be bruised. "They're... nicer."

"Yeah."

I stopped. Why was I saying this? It made me sound like a huge softie for flowers, and that's not the kind of image I want to convey. He kept on digging, and I changed the direction of the conversation to something that didn't make me feel uneasy. "Oh look, there's a tag in the pot."

Shinji didn't look up. "A what?"

"You know, the piece of plastic that says the kind of rose it is, idiot."

"Oh."

I pulled it out. It had a tiny picture of our yellow roses followed by the given name. You know, hopeless romantic rose breeders would stumble onto a new variety of rose and dub it something sappy. We had people like that all over Germany . I squinted.

Then gasped.

Class 2. Variety: "Evening Stars".

"Huh?"

Growing infinitely more paranoid, I stared at that tag for a sizeable fraction of my life. My thoughts raced to the piece of paper that had been given to me the night before. More specifically, the poem. I must have read and reread that name, making sure it wasn't some trick of the light.

"Evening Stars," I murmured.

I threw my hands in the air in frustration. All right. That's it! I was getting to the bottom of this silly love letter nonsense once and for all. That boy must have the greatest dumb luck of any kid I've ever met. This was just too huge of a coincidence.

I tapped Shinji on the shoulder and glared at him. Well, maybe "tap" is not the correct word for it; he lost his balance and toppled over into the dirt. I looked around me to make sure no one was listening. "All right Third, how'd you do it?"

"Do what?"

Shinji gazed at me with those annoyingly confused eyes, and that made me even madder. Didn't he have any clue? I've lost so much time thinking about this, and all he could say is 'do what'? I leaned forward. "How'd you write that love letter?!"

"What do you mean?" He blinked, and I gasped. That's when I knew. Shinji wasn't playing stupid; he honestly didn't know what I was talking about.

Shinji wrote it himself.

If he hadn't written it, he would have gotten defensive. This simple fact left me speechless. That poem was far better than any love poem I had ever read, and the feeling behind the letter almost moved me to tears. And the sad thing was, he gave me the impression that he didn't even try to make it good.

I didn't speak, not really knowing what to say. My only two paths were dead ends. If I admitted it was good, that would show weakness on my part. If I said it was bad, I would be lying to myself and the conversation ends there. I wanted to hear an answer from his mouth, explaining why such a boring boy can turn out such a fantastic letter.

What do you mean?

I went for the option that would make me feel the best.

"I mean..."

I bit my lip. Don't blow your cover, Asuka! Hide it under an insult! An insult! "Well... for an amateur, you didn't do half bad. I mean... yeah... stop looking at me like that."

A bright flush rose in his cheeks, and to my horror, I felt the same heat crawl into my own. Embarrassed, he resumed digging again, if you could call stabbing at the ground digging. Part of me was tempted to hit him for having such a stupid expression on his face, but the other part of me was angry that I was hesitant to do so. I chose not to storm off to the nearby Port-O-Let. No, that would be an admission of weakness. He would think I was lying to him.

Instead, I turned to look at the roses and decided to give him the cold shoulder. I knew that he didn't really deserve it, but it was sloppiness on my part. Sloppiness because I didn't plan out what I was going to say before I said it. I guess ignoring him was more to my benefit than to his. This way I wouldn't say anything dumb.

Trying to act detached, I rubbed a petal in between my fingers. Soft, almost velvety. If I pressed too hard though, a brown depression of my fingerprint appeared. Roses are so frail. Supposedly, in the language of flowers, a rose says "I love you". A dozen roses means "I love you lots", while a single rose means "romantic and mysterious". I don't know, I think a single rose is indirectly saying "I'm a cheapskate".

But in all seriousness... roses wither, blacken, and die. Why would anyone use it as a declaration of love? Doesn't matter how vibrant the color is, it still dies. Even white roses turn black.

Kaji once told me that all the colors meant different things. He came to my dorm and looked around before he went back to Germany . He said red meant passion. That was the most frequent color I found waiting for me in my college dorm, no doubt from my posse of horny college boys. They must have had a Lolita complex, considering I was only 13 at the time. I got a couple of white roses, and Kaji said those meant purity. I don't know why the hell guys gave me those.

Our roses were yellow.

I scanned all around me. Reds, whites, a couple of corals, even pinks, but Shinji and I had the only one with yellow flowers.

I never got yellow roses. What does that color mean?

"Hey Shinji—"

"Hey Asuka—"

...

What? Still synched?

We just stared at each other, not really sure what to make of that. It broke the silence so quickly, and so unexpectedly. That made for a very awkward situation, especially since Hikari and Touji strolled by at the moment it was said.

"Say... what are you doing?"

Shinji face flared, but I couldn't find it in myself to tear my eyes away. Why? I... I guess I don't really know. We probably would have kept staring at each other if I hadn't realized a depressingly simple fact. If Shinji's face was red, I'd hate to see what color mine was.

"Um... Asuka?" Hikari said tentatively. "Are you finished?"

Shinji was the one who answered. "We're finished... digging I mean." As if this was discomforting to him, Shinji started to blush again. I regained my dignity and stared up at the two looming over us. Hikari had a decidedly worried look in her eyes while Touji... well, he wasn't looking at me.

"Don't you guys have to put that in the ground first? You can look at each other all you want later."

Touji's tone made my blood boil. Thankfully, I didn't have to resort to violence. Hikari did it for me. "Why can't you keep your big mouth shut?" the class rep demanded. She dragged him away by his ear towards the podium, where everyone was gathering.

The others had already finished their planting, their roses standing tall in the hard soil. One hole wasn't deep enough for a bush of lavender flowers, and it was leaning at a 45-degree angle. The two students assigned to that one sprinted over and saved it before it slumped to the ground.

Not wanting to make myself appear lazy, I took a small shovel of dirt out of the hole and let it drop on top of the mound beside it. It looked deep enough to me.

"I guess we're supposed to put this in," Shinji said quietly.

"I guess."

I was analyzing how to take the damn thorny bush out of the pot when Hikari came back with a beat up, rusty watering can in her hands. She said, "One of you is supposed to get the water, and the other one..." she pointed to a gathering of students, "... is supposed to go over there for a special surprise."

Hikari actually sounded excited about it. A special surprise? I rolled my eyes, "Gee Shinji, it's an awfully tough choice for me. What do you want to do?"

He paused. "Are you sure you want me to choose, Asuka?"

I rocked back on my knees and stood up. Contemptuously brushing dirt off my thighs, I sighed. "Whatever." I forgot to add, "It's too lame to waste my time thinking about it".

Shinji didn't take long to ponder this. "Then... I guess I'll do the watering and the planting."

"Fine then." Typical answer. I shouldn't have even bothered asking; I knew what his answer was going to be anyways. Shinji tried to stand, but I waved him down. "No, don't get up. I'll spare you the walk over and get your damned water. I'm going that way anyways." I whirled around and wiped my forehead with the back of my hand, not wanting to see his reaction. Stupid boy probably though I was going soft on him. In reality, I just wanted a refreshing drink.

Ugh. This is so... stupid.

When I trudged away, it struck me to how incredibly hot the sun was. And the jeans didn't do much for keeping me cool either. The ground seemed to shift right before my eyes.

Keep it together, Asuka. Can't be passing out before the surprise.

"Oh goodie..." I mumbled. The tree-huggers and flower enthusiasts were using us for child labor. At least they had the compassion to give us water. Problem was, the water was in tiny sake sized cups and it was also lukewarm from sitting on the end of the tailgate. I downed six and didn't bother to throw the used cups in the "proper trash receptacle".

It was too hot, dammit.

I brought back a watering can with a daisy on the front to Shinji. Our roses were already in the ground, and he was patting down the earth around it. Resisting the urge to pour water on him took strength, but I caved in anyway. I told him that he was in my way and if he didn't want to get wet, he should move.

Shinji didn't answer and kept on patting the ground.

"Fine, you asked for it." I tipped the can over slightly, and a bit more water than I had anticipated came out.

He yelped and whirled his head around to look at me. "What was that for?"

I shrugged. "I asked you to move. You didn't say anything."

"What? You didn't say anything! You just stood there!" The entire back of his shirt was drenched.

I heard someone call my name, but easily ignored it. "Eh. Whatever. It's not like it didn't feel good. Besides, you should feel honored that Sohryu Asuka Langley chose to pour water on you to alleviate your misery."

He narrowed his eyes at me, and we faced off. Was it a look of annoyance? Sarcasm? Either way, I pulled back a little bit. I found myself wondering why he was making such a big deal out of this, but I suppose I knew the consequences as soon as I poured the water. Was Shinji's spine coming to make a guest appearance? Would he yell at me? I would have yelled right back. Would he ignore me and continue playing in the dirt? I would have said he was spineless.

"Miss Langley...?"

C'mon Shinji.

The unexpected happened.

"Yeah, it did feel kinda good." He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. Then he smiled. "The—"

"Miss Langley!"

"Devil Woman! Get over here!"

I scowled and turned around. "I'm coming already!" I thrust the watering can at Shinji and ran to where approximately half of the students were standing. The other half were tending their roses.

Once I got to the congregation of students, I stopped beside Touji, out of breath. He smirked at me. "You can stare at Shinji all you want later."

I punched him on the arm, hard enough to leave a bruise. "Shut the hell up, stooge."

Our teacher was standing on top of the podium, waving a piece of paper like a flag. Everyone was talking all around me, and the distant jackhammers made his voice carry a grand total of two inches in front of his face. Someone shouted at everyone to keep quiet, and although it didn't have the same commanding air as say, Hikari's did, everyone gradually stopped talking.

The man on the podium shrugged. "Uh, thank you." Injecting some happiness in his voice, he said, "Is everyone ready for the surprise?"

Some muttering. Kensuke popped up beside me, video camera trained on our teacher. "What kind of surprise?"

I pushed the bespectacled boy further away from me; he was invading my private space. "It's probably something stupid," I declared.

"For once, you and I agree on something, Devil Woman."

"If you don't stop calling me that, I'm going to kick you."

Touji seemed unaffected.

"And then I'll sic Hikari on you," I added.

He rubbed his ear, no doubt remembering previous encounters with the class representative. That effectively kept his mouth shut. I smirked.

It was at this point I noticed a giant green barrel being rolled onto the podium. Several able-bodied boys from our class were pushing it up the incline and placed it beside the teacher. It was bigger than any barrel I'd ever seen before. Our teacher smiled and patted the barrel as if it was a loyal pet. Most of the students took a step back as if the man had lost his mind. "Did you bring your flyers? And your partner's?"

Kensuke stopped recording long enough to pull his out of a pocket. "He's been making a huge deal about this all day."

"Yeah, I know." Touji snorted and unfolded his, "Mr. Sasaki is just... yeah."

I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. "What is this stupid thing about? Why are the flyers—"

Our teacher clapped his hands to get our attention. I'd never seen him look so enthusiastic about something before. If only his Second Impact lectures were delivered with the same gusto, I wouldn't be falling asleep during most of them. "Now make a single file line here in front. Have your papers ready."

Everyone obeyed, and this was when I started getting nervous. I didn't have Shinji's flyer, but I did have my own. It was tucked away inside my pocket. To be on the safe side, I positioned myself in the back behind Kensuke so I could see what was going on.

At the front of the line, I saw a shy girl named Tomoe hand two flyers to Mr. Sasaki. He smiled, took them, marked something down on a clipboard, and gave two black things to her. I couldn't see very well from this far away, but they appeared to be computer disks.

"Wait a second... isn't today report card day?"

Kensuke nodded at Touji. "Yeah... it is."

Our report cards? So soon? I did a double take as Tomoe walked by. On the front of the disks I saw her name followed by our class number. The white label confirmed that it was our grades. My eyes darted over to Mr. Sasaki again, and I caught him in the act of...

Slicing the flyers into ribbons and throwing the confetti into the green barrel.

"What the hell?" Touji exclaimed while I recoiled. He had the same reaction I did. We both turned to Kensuke for an explanation. Of course, I did it more discreetly as to cover up that I had no idea what was going on. "Uh... what just happened?"

"Are you stupid?" I answered. "He's obviously cutting the flyers into pieces and throwing them into the barrel."

Touji glared at me. "I figured that out, but why?"

Kensuke took off his glasses, polished them on his shirt, and put them back on. "I see... this is the huge surprise he was telling us about."

"What?" The other boy leaned forward, and I couldn't help but move in slightly closer to hear what Kensuke had to say. The sound of another pair of flyers being shredded in two echoed through the air.

"Once we get up there, we give him our two flyers and he gives us our report cards..."

Giving him our flyers? But...

"... and then he rips them up..."

I only have my flyer, with Shinji's letter on the back...

He stopped. "Do you know what that green barrel is, Touji? It's a compost maker. You put trash in there, fruit peelings, leftovers, stuff like that. Since paper also decomposes, you can use it to make mulch."

My heart sank. More paper was being ripped up, and I could feel myself breaking in the process. The first love letter Shinji Ikari ever wrote (and perhaps the only), would be torn up, dirtied, and spread on the ground to help thorny flowers grow.

Once half of the line turned their flyers in, our teacher rolled the barrel a quarter turn to the right and resumed collecting paper. The whole world moved in slow motion as I watched flyer after flyer torn and thrown into the machine. I felt the folded up paper through my jeans and thought to myself...

This is unfair.

I didn't know that I had been standing still. Because of this, people from behind me in line cut in front. I was at the very end. Without really thinking, I turned around and started walking aimlessly, trying to make sense of what I was feeling inside.

Grief?

Remorse?

No, I think it was confusion.

My flyer in exchange for my report card. I watched other students cheerfully hand over their papers to receive those black disks, as if they meant nothing to them. Just a piece of paper. Something so insignificant that they'll toss them out without a care or a second glance.

I looked up into the heavens...

It meant something to me.

Looking for a special star...

In my aimless wanderings, I found myself back at our roses. Shinji was still sitting on the ground, watering. I don't know how long I stood over him, watching his back rise and fall with each breath. When he finally did notice my presence behind him, he gazed up at me and asked, "Hey... are you... okay?"

One caught my eye: I grabbed it...

"Of course I'm okay, idiot. Why wouldn't I be?" I didn't say this with my usual confidence, but quietly enough so that only he could hear. I really didn't mean to sound like I wasn't in command for once, but I didn't know what else I could say without making me feel worse.

I bent over mechanically and picked up my bag. We locked eyes. He always seemed to know just when I was lying. "Something's wrong," he said. The water droplets on the rose petals flickered.

Very closely, I put it to my heart...

Should I tell him? Tell him that his letter is going to be mulch. Tell him you have to give it up. Surely he doesn't want to have his love letter being degraded like this. Tell him...

Then it struck me. He wasn't the one who cared about his letter.

I was.

Endlessly, it shined so bright...

"It's nothing." And I walked away.

Young and pulsating, its brightness grew...

I headed back towards the podium, towards the fate of Shinji's letter. The line had dwindled down to a total of three people, and it wouldn't be long. All the shouts and talking of the students around me blended into a chorus of nonsense. But I heard one voice very, very well.

"And you're the last one, Miss Langley."

One day, I finally understood...

I hugged my schoolbag close to me while the teacher looked down on me with expectant eyes. I lowered my head and saw the bulge in my pocket. Once I looked up again, two floppy disks were in Mr. Sasaki's hand. Shinji Ikari and Sohryu Asuka Langley.

"Do you have papers?"

Understood that this star was my love for you.

Love? Do I understand it?

No, of course not... but...

I unzipped my schoolbag. "Yes. I do."

The End

Epilogue

After getting home from school that day, a young girl sat down to write.

August 4, 2016

Shinji,

I'm sorry I was too stubborn before, but now is the best time (the only time) to swallow my pride and tell you. That letter you wrote, it was wonderful. Really. Please don't think I'm lying to you. I guess... I guess I was so taken aback by how well written it was, I just didn't know what to say to you. In truth, it was the best love letter I had ever received.

There. I said it. Aren't you proud of me? Aren't you? Please say you are... because it was hard to admit it to myself and even harder to write it on paper...

Wait. There is another reason behind this letter, and it has to do with yours as well. You might already know this, but about the "big surprise" our teacher had planned for us... Turns out we had to give our flyers to him. I only had one, and this was the same paper that had your letter written on the back, in exchange for our report cards. As much as I didn't want to, he told me to hand it over. They were going to shred it, decompose it, and turn it into mulch.

...I had to.

But...

I refused.

Instead, I gave the teacher all the love letters that had accumulated inside my briefcase. I didn't hesitate at all, because I finally understood. They had no real love in them, and that's why they were bad. He threw those into the mixture and they are now nourishing the roots of the roses.

Our roses.

However, Mr. Sasaki was still stubborn and insisted that the flyers were the only ones that would do. We don't get our report cards now because of that. So if you were wondering why, there's the reason. Sorry. Misato's going to have to pick them up, but I think it's better this way. First off, I don't have to hand my crappy grades to her myself, and second...

I get to keep your letter.

You know, I feel much safer knowing that this will never reach your eyes, so therefore I can say here what I couldn't say to you before. Even if you did stumble on this... I'm glad that you couldn't understand. It helps to know German, you know.

Well, there really isn't anything else to say. I could humor myself and write you a love letter in return, but girls shouldn't write stuff like this to boys. But since you bothered to find out how to say "I love you" in German, I could at least use my limited kanji knowledge and say...

Aishiteru, Shinji.

Kon'ya wa hitotsuboshi ga kirei desu,
Sohryu Asuka Langley

The evening stars are beautiful tonight.

With a contented smile, she languidly reached for a silver picture frame on her desk. One that had been devoid of a photograph since the day it was bought. One that was waiting for the perfect snapshot, because no ordinary one would do for such elegance.

The girl had found that picture.

She carefully cropped it with scissors, ensuring the fit. She then removed another piece of paper from her pocket and carefully unwrinkled it. She folded the two letters, one old and one new, to fit the dimensions of the frame. Once that was completed, she secured the felt backing and turned the frame over to admire her work.

On the front, a postcard with two yellow roses winked back at her from underneath dewy leaves. In the corner, printed with beautiful calligraphy: "Yellow represents friendship. A friendship that suffers the thorns will yield striking flowers". The girl smiled again, and set the frame to its original place.

Two people knew the significance of the yellow roses, but only one would ever know what lies beneath.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Author's notes: I must admit, this was sitting for a while in my "Complete us, you wench!" folder until mentions of a WAFF-a-thon came up. You readers asked me to do a sappy one-shot S/A that fits into the real Eva timeline, and there it was. This is a semi-continuation of "To My Dearest Honey", and the picture frame reference was something only those readers would catch. I think it stand well enough on its own though.

A couple well deserved words of gratitude... firstly, to "my dearest honeys" Rev'd and Javier Caine. After all my grammar/diction/syntax/stupid mistakes, I think my prereaders deserve the title. To Lord Malachite for giving me suggestions on salutations (*starry eyed*), and to all the authors I discreetly stole fic titles from. If you don't know what I'm talking about, never mind then. ^_^ Confession time: I'm not a good enough writer to pen that wonderful "A Special Star" poem you saw above. Thanks to Sean for sending that to me.

You men now have the power to please your women when it comes to writing love letters, so stop disappointing us already guys! Get those calligraphy pens to scented stationary and send all attempts (failed or otherwise) to coronaflare@mail.com along with some constructive criticism. Okay, maybe not the first part, but seriously... give me criticism. It's the only way a writer can get better. Until later... keep on writing!